Most famous vacation spots suck. It’s just a fact. They used to be great but time and opportunism have reduced them all to expensive, crowded, commoditized versions of themselves. Nowadays taking the family to see Mount Rushmore is not so much about admiring the megalithic majesty as it is about taking a photo, buying a shirt, complaining about parking, heading home, and editing out the crowd of tourists in the photo.
That’s not to say that there aren’t hundreds of amazing sights, activities, and memories waiting for you on your future vacations, just that those good times aren’t exactly where they used to be. New must-see spots pop up all the time while the old standbys march past their prime. Here are ten of those so-called must-sees that aren’t worth the hype, i.e., ten of the worst vacation spots in America.
10 Atlantic City
For an entire century, Atlantic City was one of the premier vacation destinations for American families. In the 1910s-1930s, its newly-erected hotels were flooded with guests who flocked to its beaches and famous boardwalk. Even the post-WWII hardships caused by the explosion of suburban homes with private pools didn’t kill the city. The addition of legalized gambling revitalized it and rebranded it as the East Coast Las Vegas. And it stayed that way until the turn of the century beat the once-proud city into a pulp.
With Las Vegas on the rise and an economic recession in full swing, Atlantic City started to die in the 2000s. Five of its major casinos closed, jobs dried up, and the city currently has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. It’s just sad to be there. The skyline is darker than it used to be and so are the city’s prospects. A last-ditch revitalization effort was recently nixed due to the pandemic, and its city council president recently described the future as a potential “Armageddon in Atlantic City.”
9 Downtown Nashville
For country music fans, Nashville is a must. It’s the undisputed home of country music and one of the nation’s greatest musical hotspots. Walking down its neon-lit streets, music-lovers can hop from bar to bar, catching all of tomorrow’s greatest singers on their way up to stardom. Well, in theory.
In reality, the Nashville that people picture is just one tiny downtown area surrounded by miles and miles of suburbia. “The Music City” is really just “The Music Half a Mile and Lots of Strip Malls.” You can walk the whole main drag in a few hours and be done with that city. And sure, there are some great neighborhoods to live in, but not to vacation in. Nashville is better as a one-night stop on your way to somewhere better.
8 The Empire State Building
Manhattan’s Empire State Building is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It was also the tallest building in the world for 39 years. It’s perhaps the single most central component of the already spectacular New York City skyline. This is ironically why the view from atop it is pretty disappointing.
One of the main reasons to reach the top of one of the world’s tallest buildings (only 49th?!) is the view, especially in a metropolis like New York City. Except for the view from atop the Empire State Building is A.) not even atop it, just the 86th floor unless you pay extra, B.) obscured by crisscrossing safety rails, and C.) has no Empire State Building in it. Combine that with the insane price per ticket and multi-hour wait time and you get a tourist trap that is entirely skippable.
7 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Let’s be clear: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is super fun to visit if you’re a music fan, especially if classic rock, first wave psychedelia, or guitars are your thing. The reason the Hall of Fame is one of the worst spots to visit is entirely because it’s in Cleveland.
Cleveland, Ohio is nicknamed “The Mistake by the Lake” for a reason. The city is incredibly poor and as a result, the crime rate is staggering. It has four times the violent crime as the national average. It’s rated more dangerous than 98% of American cities. Its pollution problem is so bad that its rivers catch fire. Though Drew Carey once got us all to sing that Cleveland rocks, the parody phrase Cleveland sucks has easily become the more popular slogan.
Alien lovers rejoice! There’s a mecca for xenophiles on Earth and lucky for us Americans, and it’s just a stone’s throw from Albuquerque, NM. Any sci-fi-loving family is in for a treat at the UFO capital of the world. Roswell is famous for being the country’s most active hotspot for UFO activity… wait. Depending on the metric, that’s actually either Washington or Vermont. Well at least Roswell is home to the infamous Area 51… no wait, that’s about 700 miles away in Nevada.
Okay, well, at least Roswell is the site of the most famous UFO incident in history, the 1947 Roswell incident. It’s in the name! Except that crash was about 75 miles north of Roswell and closer to Corona or Albuquerque. What is Roswell famous for again?
5 Plymouth Rock
The family road trip is an American staple. And because every corner of the US is dotted with monuments and landmarks that recount its history, road trips can be as educational as they are fun. What better way to start or end such a fun family trip than at Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims famously first landed on the Mayflower, beginning the first settlement of America. Oof, where to begin.
- Native peoples already settled America.
- France and Spain had already created colonies in the country.
- Even the English already had started colonies at Roanoke and Jamestown.
- The Pilgrims landed and disembarked at Provincetown before Plymouth.
- The Pilgrims didn’t land on the rock at all. Possibly not even near it.
- There isn’t a single account from any Pilgrim that mentions the rock at all.
- The first person to claim that the rock had anything to do with the pilgrims did so 121 years after the Pilgrims landed.
- And best of all, once you see it in person, you’ll know: the thing is tiny, plain, and hidden in its own little canopy.
As just a random rock only mythically associated with one of many European colonies, there are better fake monuments to stop for.
Take everything I said about Roswell, replace the words’ aliens’ and ‘UFOs’ with ‘stars’ and ‘celebs,’ and you get Hollywood. Millions visit Hollywood every year for the chance to bump elbows with a-listers, apparently not understanding that if you were a celebrity, that is the last place you would ever hang out.
Can you imagine if Harrison Ford actually spent his days patrolling around his footprints on the Walk of Fame? You wouldn’t want a picture; you’d want to find him a hobby and a therapist. Instead of actors, Hollywood is full of overpriced shops, homeless people, desperate failed actors in Spider-Man costumes, and oh yeah—thousands of other tourists.
3 The Mall of America
Malls are really in their own renaissance right now. Because online shopping was never invented, malls have only gotten bigger, better, and more alive. Oops, it’s the opposite, and malls are dying left and right. Most that are still around are left with empty storefronts and abandoned sections that make them look like a George Romero movie. But even the best and most vibrant of them, like the Mall of America, are still just malls.
Even the best mall in the country is still just a mall with the same stores as every other mall—just more of them. Is it really a vacation destination just because there are two Sephoras instead of one? Do you really need to visit the Gap, Aeropostale, and L.L. Bean back to back? Don’t you have enough fleece vests? Won’t that Sbarro taste the same as every Sbarro? Making a lame thing bigger doesn’t make it a vacation.
2 Times Square
Not much needs to be said about Times Square. The fact that it was ever considered a sight to see is baffling. It is an intersection with a lot of advertisements. That’s it. Sure, there are shops too, but they sell M&M’s in less crowded places, trust me.
I suppose you could go during the New Year’s Eve ball drop, but be prepared to wait ten hours in a standing-room-only crowd with a diaper on because there is no other way to pee.
1 Disney World
Disney World might be the single most famous vacation destination in the world. In several ways, it’s the best place ever, especially if you can suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to commit fully. Disney World is where dreams come true. But those dreams come at a price. A few dozen major prices, actually, which you’ll pay constantly and all at once.
For one, there’s the actual price. To spend one week at Disney World as a family of four, it will cost as much as a car. Not a new car, but definitely not an old one. While you’re there, everywhere you go is screaming kid after screaming kid. And everything they sell there—which is everything not bolted down—is designed to make kids scream even more. That includes the food, which is just sugar on fat on sugar.
And everything has a line. You’ll walk half an hour to then wait an hour for a three-minute ride so you can walk another half an hour to wait another hour, etc. Probably worst of all: it’s in Orlando. Orlando is its own pocket dimension ruled by meth, mosquitoes, and violent crime. Yes, it’s fun seeing Mickey Mouse, but not in exchange for half a year’s salary, 20 pounds, and a novel strain of malaria.