You know what they say: one traveler’s bucket list experience is another man’s complete waste of time and money. Or something like that. Most of us spend copious amounts of our free time scrolling through social media exposed to our favorite influencers or celebrity vacation photos. But with big-time budgets and corporate sponsorships, those enviable destinations tend to be out of reach for most of us.
Staying stateside can be a great way to cure the travel bug without breaking the bank. With countless attractions across the country, the options are endless and can make choosing one seem like an overwhelming task. There are charming small towns, pristine beaches and bustling big cities to decide between. With so many choices, going with the more popular places can seem like the easy answer. But not all US vacation destinations are created equal, especially when it comes to expenses.
For this list, we’re exploring the vacation destinations and tourist attractions throughout the U.S. that pack the highest price tag with the lowest payoff. From the historical, to the flashy, to the just plain weird, make sure to look through our picks before planning your next semi-local trip to avoid overpaying for an underwhelming experience.
25 Times Square in Manhattan, New York - more expensive than anywhere else
If you ask any local about Times Square, they will tell you to steer clear of this tourist trap at all costs. Getting around is near impossible with the endless line of cabs and overcrowded sidewalks filled with visitors that have no idea where they are going. Restaurants here are notoriously overpriced, even by Manhattan standards. These are the restaurants you can find in any city (Olive Garden, TGI Friday’s, etc.) for double the price. Food, drinks, movie tickets, even everyday items from a pharmacy are more expensive in this 6-block radius.
24 Niagara Falls, New York - Canada has the better side
Yes, Niagara Falls is pretty, And yes, technically entry to the park is free. But if you plan on doing literally anything else there (park your car, eat, drink, etc.) be prepared to overpay. Attractions around the falls include expensive hotels, chain restaurants and overpriced gift shops. If seeing all that water puts you in the mood to gamble, you’re in luck! Niagara Falls also hosts two kitschy casinos nearby (TripAdvisor). Canada has so many beautiful parks, bodies of water and cities to be enjoyed, there’s no need to spend any time here.
23 Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York - no rides for kids
Coney Island’s prices are similar to a Six Flags amusement parks, but it is half the size and a quarter of the quality. A Ferris wheel and some wooden coasters are hardly groundbreaking entertainment. There are no rides for kids, which is odd considering amusement parks are widely accepted as a family-friendly activity. Another problem: logistics can be tricky when planning your visit. Hours of operation not only differ by season, but a simple day of the week will have different hours than another. Even if you get a good deal on advanced tickets, certain days or even weekends exclude these deals (TripAdvisor).
22 Daytona Beach Pier and Boardwalk in Daytona Beach, Florida - a rundown tourist trap
This city used to be a renowned beach destination, but its glory days are far behind it. Between the Daytona 500 and college spring break, Daytona Beach is consistently filled with rowdy crowds. The once-famous boardwalk and pier is now known by locals and visitors alike as a rundown tourist trap. Everything on the pier, including entry, will cost you. Once you’re in, you can choose between poorly-maintained carnival rides, 1980s arcade games and cheesy souvenir shops, all of which will cost you way more than they should.
21 Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California - no celebrities and a whole lot of people
Vice Magazine dubbed Hollywood’s Walk of Fame “America’s most surreal tourist trap,” and for good reason. Every single day droves of visitors shell out their money to ride around in an open-air truck to see this famous landmark. Once they’ve arrived, they’re treated to crowded sidewalks full of street vendors, adults dressed up as cartoon movie characters, and other tourists just as eager to get a piece of the action. Ironically, there’s one thing you definitely won’t see here: celebrities. Unless you’re lucky enough to just so happen to be there during an inductee ceremony, you should look elsewhere for your favorite actors.
20 Mount Rushmore in Keystone, South Dakota - $100 guided tour
First of all, it is much smaller than you would expect. Once you arrive and pay for parking, a fully-guided tour will cost you at least $100 and will take less than an hour to complete. After your tour, there’s nothing else to do for miles, and the few restaurants and gift shops situated around the monument know it. A meal or a beverage- even a bottle of water- will cost you double than anywhere else (TripAdvisor). Do yourself a favor and try Washington DC for your historical attractions.
19 The Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York - a long wait for an okay view
The Empire State Building is a New York institution, no one can argue that. However, it simply does not offer the best view of the city skyline anymore. Depending on the time of day, the wait can be several hours just to get in to the building. The view can also take a hit depending on the weather, which can affect visibility. Even on a clear day, you can barely see Central Park thanks to 30 Rock obstructing your view. You know what else won’t make the view? The Empire State Building.
18 Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana - overpriced and overrated
Ask anyone who’s taken a stroll down Bourbon Street and all of their stories will have one major factor in common: the smell. This famous block reeks of liquor and everything that comes in the aftermath of drinking too much of it. Travelers have dubbed this tourist trap “the world’s biggest sewer" on trip advisor.com To make matters worse, the bars and restaurants on Bourbon Street are known for marking up and watering down their cocktails. Considering there are plenty of other great places to enjoy in the French Quarter, be nice to your wallet (and senses) and go elsewhere.
17 Waikiki Beach in Hawaii - outdated attraction
Hawaii is known for its relaxed nature, beautiful landscapes and pristine beaches. Waikiki Beach, located on the island of Oahu, is arguably the most famous beach of them all. This may be the reason why it has earned its title as Hawaii’s biggest tourist trap. Constantly crowded year round, Waikiki Beach is surrounded by expensive yet dated hotels and souvenir shops, far from the authentic Hawaiian culture travelers come in search of. For the same price, you can stay on the much less crowded Lanikai Beach on the opposite side of the island.
16 Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota - everything you do here requires money
Can we all just admit that this is weird? It’s a shopping mall, an amusement park, aquarium, concert hall, and (seemingly) a million other things all rolled into one. This mega mall also includes a spa, golf course, movie theatre, bowling alley and a children’s museum (travel mamas.com). A trip here is problematic because, at the end of the day, every single thing you do is separately paid for. And if you didn’t plan on doing them all, why did you take a trip to Minnesota in the first place?
15 Slots at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada - lowest return in winnings
When you first land in Las Vegas, seeing slot machines right off the plane is an easy way to immediately get yourself into the spirit of the city. So sitting down for a quick game seems like an obvious first move. But be warned, these machines have the lowest return in the entire state. According to the World Casino Index, they return under 85% of your bet over time, while machines on the strip offer at least 90%. Before you go try your hand at another game, keep in mind the video poker machines are just as bad.
14 Harvard University Tour in Cambridge, Massachusetts - made up stories can't be worth that much
As great of a University as Harvard may be, at the end of the day it is still just that- a university. The buildings are made of brick and the lawns are made of grass. You cannot walk into a class, or get any of the Elle Woods experience you're hoping for. On top of that, most current and former students will attest to the fact that most of what you’re being told on these tours is completely made up. Coming up with false facts and fake personal stories is one of the biggest inside jokes the students play at the expense of tourists (scripts.mit.edu).
13 South Beach in Miami, Florida - Expensive stay for a crowded beach
Most of Miami fails to live up to the hype, but no spot fails to impress more than South Beach. With no real seasonal downtime, South Beach is constantly lined with hundreds of tourists, making it difficult to spread out and relax. Once you finally find an empty space, you’ll have to clear all of the solo cups, beer cans and cigarette butts out of your way. Even more disappointing is the price you pay for this experience. South Beach has some of the highest nightly hotel rates in the world, where $300 per night is considered a bargain (Hotels.com).
12 The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington - restaurant is closed
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, big cities loves charging high prices for a subpar view. Seattle’s Space Needle is no exception. Admission to this tourist attraction typically includes access to a nice restaurant, where you can enjoy a meal and take in the panoramic views at your own pace. However, the restaurant inside is currently under renovation, therefore inaccessible. The only dining options for patrons at this time include a café, which previous visitors have described as the kind of cuisine served at a Seven-Eleven (TripAdvisor). Save your money on this stop, at least until the restaurant reopens.
11 Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee - Nashville would be a better bet
Beale Street seems to have two settings: insufferably crowded or completely deserted. Neither of which vacationers looking to stroll along listening to live music are interested in. Most of the establishments charge covers just to get inside. Once you're in don’t expect to pay a reasonable price for food or drinks. To top it off, locals will tell you how crime-stricken the famous block is now, prompting visitors to head back to their hotels well before midnight. If you’re looking for live music and a lively block, head 2 hours east to Nashville.
10 River Street in Savannah, Georgia - Pumped up prices
There are so many great sights to see and places to hang out in historic downtown Savannah, there is really no need to head down to River Street. Since this city’s status as a top vacation destination is still relatively new, local businesses do their best to take advantage of the visitors who think River Street is iconic and want to take home a piece of it. But everything from the hotels, to the shops, to the restaurants are overpriced and underwhelming. Travelers can take in all of the city’s charm in the northern historic district and still be walking distance to the waterfront.
9 The house from A Christmas Story in Cleveland, Ohio -
Despite the fact that several Cleveland landmarks are shown throughout the film, this 1983 holiday classic actually takes place in a fictional Indiana town. But that hasn’t stopped opportunists from marketing the house featured in the film as a city landmark. Unfortunately, it falls short in most movie-lovers eyes, making this tourist trap a bust for travelers hoping to get the Parker family experience. To add to the disappointment, the house was converted to a duplex sometime in between the filming and the conversion to a museum, so you can only see half of the house.
8 Brewery tours in Burlington, Vermont - the tours cost way more than just experiencing it on your own
Did you know Vermont has more breweries per capita than any other state? Burlington, one of the State’s largest cities, is the ultimate beer (and cider) lovers destination. But do yourself a favor and skip the $90 guided brewery tour. Yes, the tours include your drinks, but it is relatively inexpensive to drink here. With beer and cider flights costing around $10 and many within walking distance to one another, you can easily put in 5 minutes of research and guide yourself through the city’s best breweries.
7 The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina - cheapest time to go is when there is nothing to see
Asheville, North Carolina is known for its beautiful scenery. The picturesque mountains and hiking trails have made Asheville a go-to location for nature buffs. The Biltmore Estate attracts tourists year round, particularly during the holidays, looking for the perfect photo op. But with $60+ tickets for self-guided tours, it seems like a complete waste to travel to this mountain town just to spend the day inside. Prices decrease slightly in the month of January, but only because the gardens are dead for the winter (TripAdvisor).
6 Vail Mountain Resort in Vail, Colorado.
Vail is considered one of the most glamorous ski destinations in the US, boasting expensive resorts with celebrity clientele. However, it’s actually quite small compared to its counterparts, such as Aspen or Breckenridge, causing overcrowded mountains and long wait times during peak season. Despite the size and competition, Vail Mountain resort will still cost you almost $800 a day (Mashable.com). If you’re looking for a ski trip that comes with bragging rights, choose Aspen or Breckenridge, they cost around the same amount but come with more space and prestige.