Niagara Falls, New York
The natural beauty of the falls, once heralded as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World,” has been overwhelmed in recent years by the jangling of the casino, campy arcades, and other tourist traps. Still, Niagara Falls remains a top-rated destination. Who can resist the excitement and romance of watching 700,000 gallons of water pour over a 170-foot cliff every second?
Route 66, from Illinois to California
You can still “get your kicks on Route 66,” but this classic stretch of road from Chicago to Los Angeles was decommissioned from the U.S. interstate highway system in 1985. Intrepid travelers wishing to recapture the experience of cruisin’ “the Mother Road” can still trace the route through a series of National Scenic Byways, although many of the towns and kitschy motels that once lined the road have been abandoned. You can still find quintessential touristy spots such as Cadillac Ranch, Wigwam Village, the historic El Rancho Motel, and the Blue Whale as well as plenty of diners and gas stations along the way.
The Poconos in Pennsylvania
Close proximity to New York City and Philadelphia fueled the popularity of the Pocono Mountains in the 1960s and '70s, and the presence of heart-shaped tubs, round beds, and mirrors on the ceilings gave the region's adults-only resorts a rather risqué reputation. Today, many Pocono resorts have reinvented themselves as family-friendly vacation spots, offering skiing, golfing, tennis, swimming, hiking, horseback riding, and archery.
Wall Drug in South Dakota
To think it all started with free ice water! Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, became one of America’s most-loved tourist attractions in the 1940s and '50s, when the owners began to put up a series of road signs advertising free ice water and other delights. Today, more than 2 million visitors stop each year to visit the cowboy-themed store, Western art museum, and diner. The times have changed, as has Wall Drug, but the store still gives away free ice water.
Following the advent of legalized gambling in Nevada in 1931, “The Biggest Little City in the World” developed a reputation as a hotbed of casino gambling, prostitution, quick marriages, and even quicker divorces. Although there are still some 20 casinos in Reno, the area is now a mecca for skiing, hiking, golf, classic car shows, and other wholesome forms of recreation. The city also has a booming upscale restaurant scene, fueled by the influx of workers from the nearby Apple, Tesla, Panasonic, and Google facilities.
South of the Border in Dillon, South Carolina
What started as a campy Mexican-themed rest stop and fireworks stand in the 1950s has become a must-see for anyone traveling with children through the Carolinas on Interstate 95. Known for its kitschy billboards, South of the Border has grown far past its beer-stand-and-souvenirs beginnings to encompass restaurants, hotels, campgrounds, a shopping mall, and an amusement park complete with an arcade, mini golf, a Reptile Lagoon, and the 200-foot-tall Sombrero Tower observation deck. South of the Border often gets top billing in lists of America’s kitschiest attractions.
Palm Springs, California
Abundant sunshine, natural hot springs, fancy hotels, and close proximity to Hollywood made Palm Springs the ultimate vacation spot for the entertainment elite of the 1950s and ’60s, including the famous Rat Pack. Today, the hot springs are still a draw, but museums, music festivals, and film events draw a more down-to-earth crowd than before.
Yellowstone National Park
Designated the first national park in 1872, Yellowstone remains one of the world’s top tourist destinations. The park comprises approximately 3,500 square miles of land in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho and was originally a hunting and fishing destination until the populations of vulnerable species starting dropping. Today, more than 4 million visitors throng the park each year, leading to traffic congestion, long lines, and fewer animal sightings. Though devastating fires in 1988 burned tens of thousands of acres of the park, the rejuvenating forest and, of course, the famous geysers, hot springs, and other natural wonders are still a powerful draw for sightseers.
Disneyland in Anaheim, California
When people think of amusement parks, they think of Disneyland. This archetypal attraction, which debuted in 1955, lets parents and children enter a magical world of flying elephants, spinning teacups, fairy tale castles, and jungle adventures. If you set off this year on a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth, be prepared for many changes: Instead of Submarine Voyage, Country Bear Jamboree, Rocket to the Moon, and the People Mover, expect to find attractions based on popular movie series like Star Wars, Finding Nemo, and Toy Story.
Badlands, South Dakota
The carved face of Mount Rushmore used to be the main attraction in South Dakota’s Black Hills and Badlands, but today the massive sculpture is just one of the region's many enticements, which include numerous museums and historic sites and the in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial as well as old standbys like Badlands National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, and the Mammoth Site, where fossils of more than 60 Ice Age mammoths have been discovered.
The Catskill Mountains, New York
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner”—with that one line, Patrick Swayze’s character in "Dirty Dancing" made generations of girls swoon. Unfortunately for nostalgia hunters, many of the places that inspired movies like "Dirty Dancing" and "Sweet Lorraine" are gone. Resorts such as the Nevele, Grossinger's, Kutsher's, and the Concord were a getaway for many New York City families in the 1940s and ‘50s, but most have now been demolished. Today, however, casinos, ski resorts, outdoor art installations, and music festivals are once again making the Catskills a vacation destination.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Environmental disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Isaac, and a devastating BP oil spill, have taken a dent out of New Orleans's tourist trade. But the city continues to lure vacationers, particularly during Mardi Gras, when more than a million hedonistic revelers descend on New Orleans to enjoy its many jazz and blues clubs, Creole and Cajun cuisine, and distinctive, European-inspired architecture.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Spring break has been synonymous with Fort Lauderdale since 1960, when it was immortalized in the teen comedy “Where The Boys Are.” Inspired by the movie, 50,000 college students traveled Fort Lauderdale for break that spring; that number exploded to more than 350,000 by the mid-1980s. Spring breakers took such a toll on the city's infrastructure, in fact, that the mayor of Fort Lauderdale went on national television in 1987 to request that college students go to Daytona Beach instead. Today, Fort Lauderdale still draws vacationers, albeit of the older generation, who enjoy the sunny beaches and golf courses.
Lake Placid, New York
Famed as the site of the "Miracle on Ice"—the U.S. Hockey Team's 1980 defeat of the Soviet Union—Lake Placid is one of the few cities that can boast of having hosted the Winter Olympics twice, first in 1932 and again in 1980. Located in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York, Lake Placid was a winter vacation wonderland in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Today, the region has updated and reinvigorated its former Olympic facilities, including the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run and Whiteface Mountain ski resort, and hosts events like Ironman Lake Placid and the Lake Placid Horse Show.
Pismo Beach, California
At one time, clams were so plentiful on Pismo Beach that they could be harvested with plows. Unfortunately, over-harvesting in the “Clam Capital of the World” led to a precipitous decline in the tasty bivalves, which are only just now recovering. Visitors today can still harvest clams, under strict guidelines, and enjoy the city-wide Clam Festival in October. And all year long, they can check out the oldest surf shop on the Central Coast, the historic Pismo Beach Surf Shop, founded in 1962, and its collection of vintage boards.
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