Peppered throughout the United States’ purple mountains and amber waves of grain are some of the most iconic tourist attractions on the planet. From the Lincoln Memorial to the Golden Gate Bridge, America’s best can really draw a crowd. But sometimes, even the most popular attractions aren’t all they’re made out to be.
Whether it’s tricks of the light, over-hyped travel stories, or just the never-ending crowds, America’s best and brightest spots don’t always deliver the awe-inspiring, once-in-a-lifetime experiences travelers dream up. In fact, you might be changing your summer itinerary after learning the disappointing truths behind these 16 U.S. landmarks…
1. Disneyland: Travelers picture themselves snapping a photo in front of Sleeping Beauty’s stunning castle or screaming into the starry dark of Space Mountain at this theme park. But take a trip there and you’ll see its moniker “The Happiest Place on Earth” is really just a marketing ploy…
If you can be happy standing in hour-long lines for a three-minute ride, waddling in a sea of park goers with strollers, and paying a premium for ugh food, then sure, it might be the happiest place. But others might call it “The Most Claustrophobic Place on Earth.”
2. Niagara Falls: Here, 3,160 tons of water pours from three waterfalls every second and because of that, trying to snap a picture in the stifling mist and poncho-clad crowds can be akin to light waterboarding.
3. The Hollywood Walk of Fame: Posing beside your favorite celebrity’s star might be a bit tougher than you think. The stars are on dirty, crowded sidewalks full of street performers and shady guys in costume trying to work a few bucks out of you.
4. French Quarter: Plenty assume that the iconic Bourbon Street cutting through the part of New Orleans that preserves the wonderfully unique creole culture offers non-stop cultural enrichment. And it can—but not always.
There’s less jazz than you might think. Thanks to laws permitting open containers of alcohol outside the lively bars, restaurants, and clubs, the street tends to attract travelers looking to enrich their bloodstreams with near-lethal amounts of alcohol.
Stevie Breech / YouTube
5. Salvation Mountain: A religious shrine in the Colorado Desert of California beckons the pious from all over the planet for pictures, but the zany color scheme and words of faith don’t hold up in reality.
In truth, Salvation Hill could use a religious miracle to make itself as impressive as some photographs make it out to be. It’s just a colorful, 50-yard cliff of desert dirt that gets constantly blasted and worn by direct sunlight.
Chris M Morris / Flickr
6. Hawaii’s Steam Vents: In a sort of ominous beauty, steam creeps up from the Kilauea fauna as ground water drips onto the scalding hot volcanic rocks. The sight looks like something from a fantasy world as the steam drifts above the trees.
Greg L. Jones / Flickr
Up close, however, the steam just lazily drifts out of holes that look like sewage drains in the wet, cracked pavement. Hey, you still get a peek at the gorgeous landscape around you, which can’t be said about every Hawaiian attraction…
Malcolm Manners / Flickr
7. Waikiki Beaches: Here people envision themselves laying out in the pristine white sand, swimming in the sparkling blue ocean. But good luck seeing any of that through all the sweaty tourists with their screaming, shovel-waving kids!
8. The Empire State Building: To a traveler, hitching an elevator ride to the top of Manhattan’s 102-story building sounds like a great way to get a bird’s eye view of America’s most iconic city. Of course, there’s a catch.
IanML2 / Flickr
Prices preying on tourists with deep pockets are only the first roadblock. Inside the building, you have to navigate a twisting labyrinth of lines before getting to the top of a crowded tower with limited views of Central Park and, of course, the State Building itself!
9. Lucy the Elephant: Built in 1888, the six-story attraction allures drivers en route to Atlantic City with great photo opportunities. Unfortunately, it’s in a parking lot across the street from an Italian Restaurant, which doesn’t exactly scream grandeur.
10. The Fountain of Youth: Named after the 16th-century explorer who scoured what would become Florida for the legendary fountain, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth implies magic, wonder, and sublime beauty. But does it deliver?
Absolutely! So long as you like tiny dried-up wells that look more like a medieval toilet than a magical fountain proclaiming eternal youth and unending power.
11. Times Square: If you love digital advertisements so bright they make the night look like day, a price-hiked Olive Garden in one of the best cities for Italian food, and confused travelers stopping in the middle of heavily-congested sidewalks… this is a great spot.
12. The Golden Gate Bridge: Maybe you have dreams of recreating the Full House theme song and cruising across San Francisco’s iconic bridge in a convertible. But not everyone is treated to beautiful views of a red suspension bridge spanning San Francisco Bay.
Indeed, as the third-foggiest city in the United States, the Golden Gate Bridge tends to get enveloped in fog throughout the year, no matter the season.
13. Mount Rushmore: Seeing the massive faces of past presidents permanently etched in stone sounds like a historian’s happiest day dream, but the carvings themselves look more appropriate for ants. The big ol’ heads aren’t as big as you might think!
Steve Bittinger / Flickr
14. Kingda Ka: The world’s tallest roller coaster may seem like an enticing reason to stop at Six Flags Great Adventure, but being tall comes with a price. The ride is frequently closed with technical difficulties – it was even struck by lightening once!
15. Las Vegas Welcome Sign: Most people expect taking a picture in front of the iconic “Welcome to the Fabulous Las Vegas” sign is a great way to begin a crazy weekend on the strip. But enjoy waiting in line. In the sun. In the desert. Without shade.
16. Venetian Hotel Gondola Ride: A gondola ride complete with a singing gondolier might top your bucket list, but better stick to the real deal in Italy. The Las Vegas hotel’s $72 ride takes you through what is essentially a shopping mall with a painted ceiling.
These iconic tourist attractions might offer you the photo opportunities you’re looking for—but they can just as easily provide disappointment and frustration!
Share the truths behind these iconic tourist attractions with your traveling friends below!