There’s a fine line between must-see attraction and overrated tourist trap. Some of the most iconic landmarks in the world are overrun and overcrowded simply due to their popularity. But that’s just it — they’re popular for a reason. These 20 tourist attractions are not flying under the radar by any means, but if you plan a visit in the offseason and know how to avoid getting ripped off, they’re highly worth a visit.
Alcatraz Island — San Francisco
Cost: $39.90 for an adult day ticket
Alcatraz Island is most famous for its federal penitentiary, but it’s also home to the West Coast’s first lighthouse and U.S.-built fort, plus there’s lots of natural beauty to explore with gardens, tide pools and bird colonies — not to mention stunning views of the San Francisco Bay.
Tickets to access the island start at $39.90 for an adult day ticket, which includes a round-trip ferry ride and an audio tour.
Boot Hill Museum — Dodge City, Kansas
Cost: $12 for an adult ticket (ages 11 and up)
A replica Wild West town, Dodge City was the gateway to the Santa Fe Trail way back in the early 1800s. Known for its raucous gunslinging and lawless debauchery, the Boot Hill Museum pays tribute to the rough-and-tumble lifestyle. Though most reenactments are kitschy, it takes just reading the tombstones at Boot Hill Cemetery to realize that it’s the real deal.
Tickets are $12 to explore the general store, saloon and cemetery.
The Breakers — Newport, Rhode Island
Cost: $26 for an adult ticket
Visitors flock to the wealthy city of Newport to get a glimpse inside the opulent historical mansions located there. Perhaps the biggest draw is The Breakers, the largest of the area’s “summer cottages,” which dates back to the turn of the century. The 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo originally belonged to the Vanderbilts and is now a designated National Historic Landmark.
Churchill Downs — Louisville, Kentucky
Cost: Starting at $60 for Kentucky Derby general admission tickets
The historic Churchill Downs is best known for hosting the Kentucky Derby — which attracted over 157,000 attendees in 2018 — but you can catch thoroughbred races at the track throughout the spring and fall too.
With the exception of the Derby and the surrounding events, general admission tickets to catch a race are just $5 for adults. However, Derby tickets cost between $60 and $80 for general admission, depending on how early you purchase them.
Disney World — Orlando, Florida
Cost: Starting at $109 for a one-day pass
The most popular theme park in the world, according to Themed Entertainment Association, Magic Kingdom gets over 20 million visitors a year, making it one of the biggest tourist attractions on the planet. With ticket prices starting at $109 per day, the “Most Magical Place on Earth” doesn’t come cheaply.
Empire State Building Observatory — New York
Cost: Starting at $36 for a standard adult ticket
Head to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building to get unparalleled 360-degree views of New York City. The main deck offers both indoor and outdoor views, and ticket prices include an interactive multimedia tour.
Tickets start at $36 for adults, but you can spring for a VIP pass and skip the line for $69.
Fenway Park — Boston
Cost: Game tickets start at $30
America’s oldest ballpark has been operating since 1912. A mecca for baseball lovers, whether you’ve seen one game or hundreds, a trip there is always worth the cost of a ticket.
The Green Monster ensures a sense of nostalgia for America by maintaining traditions like belting “Sweet Caroline” before the bottom of the eighth inning. Guided tours cost $15 for kids 12 and under, and $21 for adults, and game tickets range from $30 to $245.
Franklin Barbecue — Austin, Texas
Cost: $25 for a pound of brisket
Austin is known for its barbecue, and Franklin has become one of the most popular spots to get it — you’re almost guaranteed to have to wait in line to get a taste of its buttery marbled brisket. But this is one tourist trap that lives up to the hype.
If brisket isn’t your thing, you can also go for the ribs ($22 a pound), pulled pork ($22 a pound), turkey ($19 a pound), sausage ($19 for four links) or one of the sandwiches.
Gateway Arch — St. Louis
Cost: Starting at $28 for a Tram Ride to the Top and one-hour St. Louis Riverfront Cruise
You’ve probably seen St. Louis’ famous Gateway Arch — at least in photos — but did you know you can actually ride to the top of it? The Tram Ride to the Top takes you to the peak of the concrete-and-steel monument, giving riders views that stretch up to 30 miles to the east and west. The ride experience includes preboarding exhibits and trivia.
Tickets for the tram ride start at $12 for adults, but for an extra $16 you can buy a combo ticket that includes an hour-long St. Louis Riverboat Cruise, too.
Grand Canyon Skywalk — Grand Canyon, Arizona
Cost: $69 for a day pass and Skywalk ticket
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon enthralls with its prehistoric geology and exotic wildlife. It received over 6 million tourists last year, and the Telegraph says it’s worth getting “morning before Christmas” excited about it.
And one of the most exciting views of the Canyon you can get is from the Skywalk at Eagle Point, a 10-foot-wide, horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends 70 feet over its rim. Look below your feet, and you can see straight into the heart of the canyon 4,000 feet below.
The House on the Rock — Spring Green, Wisconsin
Cost: $29.95 for adult Ultimate Experience tickets
What began as one man’s dream home has now expanded into a major tourist attraction. Alex Jordan constructed The House on the Rock on the top of a chimney of rock (hence the name) as his own retreat, but opened it up to the public in 1960 and has been expanding it ever since. In addition to the 13 rooms of the original house, the attraction now includes a gatehouse, a model airplane exhibit, a music room, a recreation of a 19th-century street, one of the world’s largest fireplaces, an organ room, a miniature dollhouse collection, a circus room, an infinity room, Japanese gardens and the world’s largest indoor carousel.
To experience it all, it’s worth springing for the Ultimate Experience tickets, which are $29.95 for adults. If you just want to see the original house, tickets are $14.95 for adults.
Luray Caverns — Luray, Virginia
Cost: $28 for adult admission
Luray Caverns is one of America’s original tourist traps, open to visitors as a “show cave” as early as 1878, according to Atlas Obscura. You can still visit the caverns — which are the largest in the eastern United States — today, which says a lot about its “worth it” factor. In addition to granting you access to explore the caverns’ natural wonders, tickets include admission to the Car & Carriage Caravan Museum, Luray Valley Museum and Toy Town Junction.
Tickets are $28 for adults, $15 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children under age 6.
Maid of the Mist — Niagara Falls, New York
Cost: $19.25 for an adult ticket
Niagara Falls is one of the most iconic natural wonders, and the Maid of the Mist boat ride is the best way to experience it. The boat takes you right into the middle of the falls, where you can hear the sound of the 600,000 gallons of water crashing around you, feel the mist and see incredible rainbows.
Tickets cost $19.25 for adults and $11.20 for children ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and under ride free.
Portland Japanese Garden — Portland, Oregon
Cost: $18.95 for an adult admission ticket
Portland is a destination for nature lovers, so it’s no surprise that the city’s Japanese Garden is a popular tourist spot. You can easily spend hours roaming through the garden and exhibits, and while you’re there, you can also indulge in a traditional Japanese tea service at the on-site Umami Café.
Tickets cost $18.95 for adults, $16.25 for seniors, $15.25 for students and $13.50 for children ages 6 to 17. Children 5 and under are free. Note that if you plan on taking photos while there, there is a $10 per person charge for using a tripod if you are not a Garden Member.
The Rink at Rockefeller Center — New York
Cost: $40 to $65 for “first skate” passes
There’s no place quite like New York City during Christmastime, and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is certainly one of the highlights. You can get up close and personal with the famed tree with a skate session at The Rink at Rockefeller Center, located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.
You can purchase general admission tickets day-of, but to beat the rush, reserve “first skate” tickets, which grant you entrance to the rink at 7 a.m. — before the general public. Tickets start at $40 and include complimentary hot chocolate, coffee and skate rentals.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — Cleveland
Cost: $26 for general admission
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame houses multiple floors of photos, memorabilia and more that commemorate rock legends throughout history, from Elvis and The Beatles to Michael Jackson and The Arctic Monkeys. There are also free musical performances throughout the year.
General admission tickets are $26 for adults, $24 for seniors, $16 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children ages 5 and under.
San Diego Zoo — San Diego
Cost: $56 for an adult one-day pass
From cuddly koalas to fierce lions, there’s no shortage of animal life to explore at the 100-acre San Diego Zoo. Located in downtown San Diego’s Balboa Park, the zoo is home to more than 3,500 animals, as well as 700,000 exotic plants throughout its botanical gardens.
Tickets start at $46 for children ages 3 to 11 and are $56 for those ages 12 and up. The ticket price includes a guided bus tour, a ride on the Skyfari Aerial Tram and access to shows throughout the day.
Space Needle — Seattle
Cost: $32.50 to $37.50 for adult general admission
You can’t think of Seattle without thinking about the Space Needle, which plays a prominent role in the city’s skyline. Take an elevator to the top of the structure to get different views from different levels — a glass-bottomed lower floor and a floor-to-ceiling windowed upper floor.
Admission includes professional photos, an interactive exhibit and a virtual reality bungee jump experience. You can also wine and dine while taking in the views at the Space Needle’s cafe and wine bar.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island — New York
Cost: $28.50 for round-trip ferry and Statue of Liberty crown access
One of the most historic sites in America, the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and the American dream. Ellis Island is a place where you can trace your own family’s lineage. Both are quintessential New York experiences because, despite the crowds, they’re shockingly intimate.
The price for a round-trip ferry to both attractions is $28.50 if you want to climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty or $25.50 to just access the pedestal.
Universal Studios Hollywood — Universal City, California
Cost: $109 to $129 for a one-day general admission ticket
Spend a day getting a behind-the-scenes peek at Hollywood magic at Universal Studios. Take the studio tour to see how a movie studio really works, get a thrill on the theme park rides and catch a live taping of “Extra” while you’re there. Plus, Potterheads will love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions and rides.
Tickets start at $99 for California residents and $109 for general admission.
Keep reading to find the cheapest times to visit these popular U.S. tourist spots.
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Lauren Monitz contributed to the reporting for this article.