Americans love a good tourist trap, especially the kind that lures us in with two dozen billboards promising the most amazing experience of our lives. Every tourist trap begins the same way: someone has a brilliant idea to get people to come look at something odd or extraordinary. Add plenty of kitsch and usually a healthy dose of American capitalism, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide tourist trap.
From odd works of art to wonders of nature, whether it’s an over-hyped restaurant or a theme park with a message, we all get trapped sometimes. Our advice at Yahoo Travel is not to fight the crazy urge to see the alligator man. Just go with it. Pull off the highway, buy a quirky souvenir, and post that selfie.
Here is our ode to the best of the worst, coast to coast.
What would a trip through the south be without seeing an alligator? Alligator Alley in Summerdale has got you covered. You can feed one, hold one, and even eat some alligator sausage.
It’s Christmas all year round at the Santa Claus House. (Photo: Santa Claus House/Facebook)
We all know that the North Pole isn’t really in Alaska, but it doesn’t stop us from visiting Santa Claus House. Like many of our favorite tourist traps, it’s a family operation, going back for more than 50 years. And there’s the prerequisite giant statue outside and fudge for sale inside.
There are a few complete towns that made our list for their ability to both promote and attract tourists. The first is Tombstone, which sucks you in with history and keeps you coming for the fun.
Part theater, part museum, part tourist attraction, the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs, centers around the 67-foot-tall Christ of the Ozarks sculpture. We’re sure there is fudge there somewhere.
The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo is only kitschy if you don’t like pink. Rooms with a waterfall or a rock shower make the pink décor in the steak house easier to swallow.
Denver’s Casa Bonita, so very bonita. (Photo: Casa Bonita/Facebook)
Nobody goes to Colorado to eat Mexican food, much less watch cliff divers. That’s what makes the Acapulco atmosphere inside Denver’s Casa Bonita that much more fun. Sometimes you just have to take a break from all of that scenic beauty.
Our favorite tourist stops center around food. Any excuse to stop for a bite while on vacation, right? There is always something tasty cooking at Louis’ Lunch, the birthplace of the hamburger.
The World’s Largest Frying Pan has a new home at the Nutter D. Marvel Carriage Museum. You’ve got to wonder if they plan to sell tiny replicas in the gift shop.
In a state so filled with tourist traps that you almost can’t drive a mile without one, we find it fascinating that the world’s largest McDonald’s PlacePlace is one of the top tourist draws.
You have got to have boiled peanuts when in Georgia. Try Fred’s Famous Peanuts for boiled, fried, roasted, or coated in sugary brittle.
It could be that the whole state belongs on this list, but top honors goes to the Polynesian Cultural Center, where history and culture are actually interesting enough to make you give up a day at the beach.
Lava Hot Springs is just one example of what entrepreneurial Americans are capable of doing with nothing more than some steamy water bubbling from the ground.
Another town that makes our list is Metropolis. Merchants take the Superman theme to amazing heights; there’s even a casino for the gambler in you.
Explorers in Indiana Caverns. (Photo: Indiana Caverns/Facebook)
Everybody loves a good cave and the privately owned ones make the best tourist attractions. The tour at Indiana Caverns includes a boat ride, plus you can mine for gemstones and pick up some souvenir cave gear in the gift shop.
Spook Cave also has a boat tour, and this touristy stop includes cabin rentals and an RV park.
The Boot Hill Museum has gunfights, country-style dinners, a variety show, and of course, fudge in the General Store.
Louisville Mega Cavern takes the whole concept of tourist trap to a new level with underground zip lines and a bike park. You can’t make this stuff up.
It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between the traps and the treasures in this state. Cajun Jack’s Swamp Tours might just qualify for both lists.
Taste of Maine Restaurant – home of the “World’s Largest” Lobster Roll. (Photo: Taste of Maine Restaurant/Facebook)
It’s okay to eat at restaurants in Maine with giant lobster statues out front. The one in front of Taste of Maine Restaurant even has a name: Mainer C. Lobster.
The Awakening at National Harbor is worth stopping for. There are things to do here besides crawling over the odd giant body parts emerging from the sand, but carousels, outlet shops, and a giant Ferris wheel just don’t offer the same selfie opportunities.
Alchohol-related tourist attractions are easy to find, but Big Buck Brewery hits a triple play with a brewery, a winery, and a distillery. And did we mention the hamburgers?
Of course no place called “Paul Bunyan Land” would be complete without an giant Paul statue. (Photo: Paul Bunyan Land/Facebook)
There’s a giant talking Paul Bunyan at Paul Bunyan Land. Need we say more?
Everybody loves Graceland, but real fans of the King will also enjoy Elvis’ Birthplace. In Tupelo, you can also visit the hardware store where is mama bought him his first guitar.
Silver Dollar City has all the ingredients of a good tourist trap: rides, entertainment, shopping, and fudge.
There are things that make you pull off the highway just to see for yourself what all the fuss is. The science behind the Montana Vortex makes it worth the stop. And the gift shop isn’t bad either.
The Harold Warp Pioneer Village is part motel, part campground, and a whole lot of one man’s attempt to document the country’s history by hoarding pieces of it.
Fact: every time a tourist comes to Vegas and doesn’t Instagram a photo of this sign, an angel loses their wings. (Photo: iStock)
The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign is easy to take for granted amid the glare in the biggest tourist trap in the country, but one can only assume that in a city that loves endless reinvention, that it won’t always be there. Get your selfie while you can.
Parker’s Maple Barn is a quiet little place with a good breakfast and a gift shop filled with maple products to help you fill your souvenir quota.
The Atlantic City Boardwalk has shops, both tacky and trendy, arcades, street performers, food, casinos, and even a beach. You could do worse in a tourist trap.
The Roswell UFO Museum sucks you in as if there really were aliens there waiting to transport you to their mother ship. Besides, where else are you going to get an “aliens have landed” coffee mug for your collection?
Colorful Coney Island. (Photo: Getty Images)
Coney Island lives on as the biggest ongoing sideshow in the country. Don’t forget to eat your Nathan’s Famous hot dog.
Cherokee is yet another town capable of attracting tourists using a combination of history, culture, and kitsch. Besides cheesy souvenir shops and Cherokee-themed accommodations, it has a casino and an authentic 1760’s village with reenactments.
Shotgun Salley’s is a rock-n-roll saloon in both Fargo and Grand Forks, worthy of the drive for the food and the entertainment.
Jungle Jim’s International Markets in Fairfield and Eastgate are the only grocery stores on our list. Beware: you may not be able to get your shopping done for the wacky distractions scattered across six acres of food fun.
A modern-day trading post. (Photo: Cherokee Trading Post)
Of course it’s cheesy to stop at Cherokee Trading Post in Oklahoma and buy moccasins, but you know you want to.
Enchanted Forest amusement park has creepy fairytale sculptures, a log ride, and nachos. It’s well worth the stop to entertain the kids or the young at heart.
The Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine in Ashland is one of the few places in the country where you can glimpse the inside of an actual coal mine. The gift shop has rocks, minerals, and coal candy.
The history of the diner lives on at The Modern Diner and others scattered throughout the state. If for no other reason, you’ve got to stop in at one somewhere in the state for the pie.
Heading South of the Border. (Photo: Jim/Flickr)
South of the Border is the kitschiest tourist trap souvenir shop on our list. And they love it that way.
Wall Drug has 76,000 square feet of crazy attractions like a water show, a donut factory, and gold panning area. Way more than a souvenir shop.
It wouldn’t be a complete list without a Bass Pros Shop somewhere. Bass Pro Pyramid is one of the newest examples of experience shopping that makes us pull off the highway to take an indoor fantasyland tour of expensive outdoor toys.
Herds of tourists head to the Big Texan to tackle the colossal 72 oz. steak challenge. (Photo: Big Texan Steak Ranch/Facebook)
The Big Texan Steak Ranch is Texas’ long-lived tourist trap near Amarillo. It’s the home of the 72-ounce steak dinner. Finish it and all of the trimmings in under an hour and it’s free.
George C. Eccles Dinosaur Park is part science, part cheesy animatronics, but a fun way to spend time in Odgen.
Rock of Ages Granite Quarry Tour is a bit creepy since they primarily produce memorials. But get past that and you can enjoy the fun of sandblasting your own piece of stone.
Natural Bridge has something to interest almost everyone — waterfalls, hiking, history, caverns, and the “Drama of Creation.” It’s like four or five tourist traps rolled into one.
See various oddities and curiosities – like this siamese calf – at Marsh’s Free Museum. (Photo: Brandy/Flickr)
Marsh’s Free Museum has Jake the Alligator Man and saltwater taffy. Perfectly good reasons to get off the highway.
Lost World Caverns offers wild cave tours in addition to the main cave tour if you are looking for something beyond the ordinary tourist experience. Or you can just go straight for the fudge in the gift shop.
The Harley-Davidson Experience in Milwaukee is more than a tourist trap. It’s the Mecca for every HOG enthusiast and wannbe in the world.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody is a fitting tribute to the father of tourist trap-style entertainment. He knew how to reel ‘em in and make ‘em happy to fork over a buck for quirky entertainment.
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