American Tourist Traps That Are Absolutely Worth the Trip
In some cities, the “tourist trap” defines the spirit of the town itself. Read on for 10 busy, beloved, iconic destinations in cities all across America.
We’re all locals, and we all have places in our towns we avoid like the plague. In New York City, it’s the perpetually mobbed, chaotic Times Square. In Boston, touristy Faneuil Hall. In San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf.
But as a recent road trip schooled us, some hotspots are truly worth considering—especially if locals are echoing the same place over and over when you ask for recommendations. In some cities, in fact, the “tourist trap” defines the spirit of the town itself. So here are 10 busy, beloved, iconic destinations in cities all across America.
Robert’s Western World in Nashville
Who knew a fried bologna sandwich could be so compelling, and that a nine-month-pregnant woman could break down Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” in such heartbreaking fashion? At Robert’s, anything can happen, and this beloved Nashville honky-tonk bar bowled us over. That bologna sandwich is as simple as it sounds, slapped on white bread with a side of mayo to squiggle over it. It’s part of a $5 “Recession Special” that includes a PBR and a bag of chips, and a free show (please tip!) of fantastic country music. (If the sandwich doesn’t fill you up, don’t worry: You’re heading to Arnold’s for a meat and three that will fill you up tomorrow.)
Ponce City Market in Atlanta
Sure, it’s swarmed on weekends, but when you can sample the fare of chefs Anne Quatrano, Linton Hopkins, and Sean Brock in one building without breaking the bank, that’s what you do. Try a lunch or dinner crawl: Start with half a dozen oysters at W.H. Stiles Fish Camp, follow them with a killer pork bun from El Super Pan, grab a taco at Brock’s Minero, and wind down with a classy cocktail at The Mercury. Architecture and design nerds will fall for the old-school digs (a revamped 1926 building) and the solid typography all over the market.
Franklin Barbecue in Austin
Pack your sunblock and buy a cheap chair. You’re in barbecue country now, and whether you go to Kreuz, Black’s, or elsewhere, brisket obsessives know to beeline for Franklin, a newer member of the BBQ family. Aaron Franklin’s brisket is buttery and beautifully marbled, and waiting in line is part of the experience: Line up hours early, camp out near the misters in rickety chairs, buy beers that are sold down the line, and make friends. Yes, it’s worth the wait.
Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon
In a town packed with wonderful Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants, it’s easy to forget that there’s also a gorgeous Japanese garden, restrained and resplendent, to ooh and ahh over. You can visit the PDX rose garden too, sure—this is the City of Roses, after all—but whether lit up with cherry blossoms in spring or austere and tranquil in winter, the Japanese gardens are a delight.
Three Muses and The Spotted Cat in New Orleans
These two Frenchman Street siblings are cover-charge-free and regularly feature some of the best jazz you’ve ever heard. Tourists and locals stand shoulder-to-shoulder for regular acts such as Panorama Jazz Band, the Washboard Chaz Blues Trio, Shotgun Jazz Band, and trombonist Glen David Andrews. And know that—although you’ll want to stick to canned beer and well drinks at The Cat—Three Muses actually has a top-notch bar program, so you can sip a delicious off-menu cherry bourbon sour while listening to a fabulous clarinetist.
Alcatraz Island in San Francisco
Now formally a national park, the former prison and Al Capone’s onetime home remains a magnificent place to visit. The ferry ride is fun, the audio tour is stellar, and the island itself has spectacular views of San Francisco itself. (Pro tip: Dress warmly and pack layers! Both the ferry ride and the city at large will be chillier than you expect.)
Pike Place Market in Seattle
Vegetarians, beware: The flying and still quivering fish at the Pike Place Fish Market could put anyone off her appetite for seafood. Seattle has a ton of hidden gems, from cafes to cocktail spots, but popular Pike Place Market boasts waterfront views, a great farmer’s market, and a surplus of friendly Northwestern charm.
Grand Central Terminal in New York City
See all the people with their heads tipped back admiring Grand Central’s eternally cerulean blue ceilings and constellations? A sizable portion of those people live here. Even New Yorkers aren’t immune to the charms of our gorgeous transportation hub and all the secrets it holds. Look for the whispering corners, visit the oyster bar, and don’t miss Campbell Apartment, probably the prettiest watering hole in all of New York City. (For those who can’t visit, Maira Kalman’s adorable children’s book captures much of the terminal’s magic.)
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis
Claes Oldenburg’s iconic, outsized Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture really is that striking in person, whether the ground beneath it is covered with the whitest Minnesotan snow or the greenest grass. The famed sculpture garden will be closed for construction from May 2016 until June 2017, so go now if you’re local or visiting town.
Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia
The only rule at Reading Terminal? “Don’t eat in advance!” Some of the best food in Philadelphia lives here. Skip the cheesesteak for now (and do some homework on which ones you want to try later), and belly up to the bar of DiNic’s for a “wet” (extra jus, a.k.a. gravy) roast pork sandwich. Take a spin around the premises to make room for dumplings, wonton soup, or Peking duck from Sang-Kee. Finish with super-fresh bear claw or donut from Beiler’s. Then get out of there before you go for another round. Maybe go run up the steps at the museum like Rocky, satisfied in the knowledge that you’re doing Philly right.