The Biggest Tourist Trap In The United States Isn't What You Think

Tourist traps are everywhere, especially in Los Angeles and New York, the country's most populous cities (via Investopedia). Think the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty, to name a few. However, according to data gathered from Tripadvisor in 2023 by Casago, a vacation rental agency, the biggest tourist trap in the country is neither of these. It's also not found in LA or NYC. It's Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. The city is a pricy but popular vacation destination in the U.S. 


Fisherman's Wharf is near various landmarks in the city, including the Presidio of San Francisco and Coit Tower. The waterfront neighborhood became a hub for San Francisco's maritime industry in the late 1800s. Per the San Francisco Chronicle, it did not evolve into a tourist destination until the 1960s. Now, Fisherman's Wharf is home to various attractions designed to lure in tourists, such as Madame Tussauds, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, and the Museum of 3D Illusions. 

The same can be said about its dining options, like Boudin Bakery Cafe, known for serving clam chowder in a bread bowl. That said, some reviewers on Tripadvisor say that Fisherman's Wharf is trashy, busy, and expensive. Others praise its distinctiveness. Nevertheless, visitors continue to pour into Fisherman's Wharf yearly, perhaps with good reason. 


Fisherman's Wharf is nostalgic

Even with its negative reputation, one thing's for sure: Fisherman's Wharf is a quintessential San Francisco destination. Visitors are met with ocean views, classic cable cars traversing the neighborhood, and old-school charm. Several attractions make Fisherman's Wharf noteworthy. This includes Musée Mécanique on Pier 45. It has vintage arcade games, music boxes, and more on display. Think of it as an antique arcade; yes, visitors can play with these games. Musée Mécanique is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free. 


Per Tripadvisor, Pier 39 is one of the top-rated things to do in the city and in Fisherman's Wharf. At Pier 39's K-Dock, visitors can view sea lions lavishing in the often gloomy San Francisco weather. Likewise, Magowan's Infinite Mirror Maze provides visitors with a colorful and trippy experience. This attraction costs $10 and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Uniquely, Pier 39 has daily performers that include everything from jugglers to rope-walkers.  

Head to The Buena Vista for a comfort meal like corned beef and cabbage or fish and chips. This classic Fisherman's Wharf eatery has been around since 1916 and is known for serving Irish coffee, which combines coffee with Irish whiskey. Another Fisherman's Wharf staple is the Ghirardelli Square. It includes an ice cream and chocolate shop housed in an old Ghirardelli factory dating back to the 1800s.


Alcatraz Island: a must-visit San Francisco tourist trap

While opinions on Fisherman's Wharf are divided, this is not the case with San Francisco's Alcatraz Island. The former prison is less than two miles from the mainland and famously housed Al Capone and other notorious names. It also inspired "Escape from Alcatraz" starring Clint Eastwood, regarded as one of the best island movies. While it is technically considered a tourist trap, publications like USA Today, Business Insider, and more have written that it should not be missed during a trip to the city. Alcatraz is historical and, most importantly, educational. 


Visitors must take a 15-minute ferry from Pier 33 at Fisherman's Wharf to get to the island. Likewise, they can choose between three tours: a Day Tour, a Night Tour, and a Behind The Scenes Tour. Visitors can expect a similar experience on Alcatraz regardless of their choice. This includes exploring the cell house, viewing exhibits, listening to audio guides, and more. 

However, the Behind The Scenes Tour is regarded as the most exhaustive option of the three, and with tickets costing over $100, it is the most expensive. On the other hand, visitors can expect to pay around $45 for the Day Tour and around $56 for the Night Tour at the time of this writing. 

According to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Alcatraz Island receives 1.4 million visitors annually. Simply put, this is a highly coveted attraction, and you should book a tour as far out as possible to secure your spot. All three tours are available on City Experiences