Top ten overrated U.S. travel destinations/attractions

Whether or not you’re an American, there are certain places that are on almost everyone’s must-visit list. Some tourist traps, like the Grand Canyon or Disneyland, are worth joining the masses and ponying up the entrance fee (although I just checked the Magic Kingdom’s website, and Mickey and friends are bilking the parents of children under nine for $68 a pop).

Other much-lauded, highly anticipated hot-spots are simply not worth the time and expense. This is, of course, highly subjective: one man’s Las Vegas dream vacation is another’s Third Circle of Hell. It can also be fun to visit certain craptacular or iconic landmarks.

The below list is a compilation of my picks, as well as those of other Gadling contributors, in no particular order. You may be offended, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

1. Hollywood
Unless you love freaks, junkies, hookers, crappy chain restaurants and stores, and stepping over human feces on the star-inlaid sidewalks, give it a miss.

2. Las Vegas
I understand the appeal of a lost weekend in Sin City, really. And I will not dispute the utter coolness of the Rat Pack, Vegas of yore. But in the name of all that is sacred and holy, why does the current incarnation of glorified excess and wasted natural resources exist, especially as a so-called family destination?

[Photo credit: Flickr user Douglas Carter Cole]3. Times Square
A dash of Hollywood Boulevard with a splash of Vegas and Orlando.

4. South Beach, Miami
At what point does silicone become redundant?

5. Atlantic City, New Jersey
The poor man’s Vegas

6. Orlando
Toll roads, herds of tourists, shrieking children, an abundance of nursing homes, and tacky corporate America, all in one tidy package.

7. Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
It’s hard to hate on San Francisco, but the once-glorious Wharf is a shadow of its former self. Hooter’s, Pier 39, seafood stands hawking overpriced, previously-frozen Dungeness crab cocktail, aggressive panhandling, and vulgar souvenir shops kill the mood.

8. The Washington Monument
The nation’s preeminent phallic symbol is admittedly an impressive piece of architecture. It’s also possible to get a great view from the car en route to other, more interesting historic sites and tourist attractions.

9. Waikiki
There is so much more to Hawaii, including beaches that aren’t man-made.

10. Mt. Rushmore
Faces carved into rock. Moving on…

[Photo credits: Times Square, Flickr user Falling Heavens; Waikiki, Flickr user DiazWerks]

Photo of the Day (12-31-08)

I chose this picture as today’s Photo of the Day for a few reasons. One is because Jeremy Baumgartner took it at Fisherman’s Wharf at Monterey Harbor in California on New Year’s Eve, January 1, 2008. Featuring it today seems symmetrical. In a year that has had so many ups and downs, symmetry feels fitting and the photo exudes a stillness and calm.

With the hoopla around New Year’s Eve and the upset 2008 has brought, there’s a need for calm and the time to consider the stars. If you look above the warm, friendly glow of the sailboats, you’ll see Orion’s Belt. It’s one of the largest constellations and the one that everyone around the world can see. Part of the belt is the three close together vertical stars.

To have your photos considered for Photo of the Day, post them at Gadling’s Flickr Photo Pool.

The world’s tourist traps and how to avoid them

What constitutes a tourist trap? Forbes Traveler’s Chris Colin argues that it’s a place that eclipses the genuine article. Postcard racks block the actual view, and prices are considerably higher than they might be a few miles (or blocks) away. They leave you drained financially, asking yourself, “Why did I do this?”

How do you spot a tourist trap? Colin suggests that anywhere a cruise ship docks is a good indicator. Also, double-decker buses tend to deposit large numbers of camera-toting tourists. Fisherman’s Wharf and sections of China’s Great Wall are good examples of tourist traps. I also think of Koh San Road in Bangkok, Thailand, a backpacker’s trap (although I love it, I’m sort of ashamed to admit) filled with bootlegged-CD stalls, bland pad thai, and restaurants showing the latest bootlegged DVD.

But you shouldn’t avoid all places overrun with tourists. Sometimes it’s a matter of wandering a bit further, or coming at a different time of year. I know the pad thai gets a lot better just a few blocks away from Koh San Road, and that the Grand Canyon is less crowded on weekdays.

Thanks to Mamabrarian on Flickr for the photo she titled “Existential Tourist Trap.”