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Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on?

by Samantha Davis-Friedman

It makes sense to ask locals for advice when traveling to a new destination, and it also makes sense to stick with tried-and-true “hot spots;” so which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on?

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on - Mount Rushmore
Photo by Chad Coppessfor Travel South Dakota

Because terms like “local secret,” “hidden gem,” or “off-the-beaten-path” often pop up in travel blogs and articles – basically directing tourists to “not-so-touristy” attractions – luxury beach rental website HawaiianIslands.com decided to compare the opinions of tourists and locals to find out which U.S. attractions they disagree on most.

Based on the most reviewed “Things to Do” on TripAdvisor, the website created a list of top attractions in every U.S. state and then separated the ratings by local TripAdvisor users (living in the state where the attraction is located) from those by tourist users (living outside the attraction’s state).

Each average rating determined the most popular attractions among tourists, attractions that locals rated highest, and – most importantly for the purpose of this study – which U.S. attractions tourists and locals disagree on.

How much do tourists and locals disagree?

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on
  • Mount Rushmore – With an average rating of 4.60/5 stars by tourists and 4.17/5 rating by locals, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota has the most significant differential of any attraction favored by tourists. What do South Dakota locals prefer? Wind Cave, Devil’s Tower, or the Badlands.
  • Venice Beach – With an average rating of 3.95/5 stars from L.A. locals but only an average of 3.63/5 stars from tourists, Southern California’s fun and funky Venice Beach has the most significant differential of any attraction favored by locals.

And the highest-rated attraction by locals that doesn’t even make the tourist list? That’s Portland Head Light, a historic lighthouse in Maine.

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on - Portland Head Light
Portland Head Light
Photo by Richard Morin

“We’re so fortunate to live within a short driving distance of this scenic place,” said one local who visited the Portland Head Light (and was already predicting an invasion of summer tourists). “We walked the seaside trail on one of the first warm days of early spring, and it was great. Quiet, not too many people. That’ll change in a few weeks!”

What are the favorite attractions among locals?

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on - Local picks

The study found that locals opted for attractions that reward repeat visitors (like Sedwick County Zoo in Kansas), that connect them with regional history (like Marble House in Rhode Island), or that do both (like historic New Orleans jazz venue Preservation Hall).

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on -Preservation Hall
Preservation Hall
Photo courtesy of New Orleans & Company

“Being born and raised in New Orleans, I always thought that Preservation Hall was a tourist trap,” one Louisiana local said. “Fortunately, a friend that also had not been wanted to go for his birthday and thank goodness we did. Tourist or local (and all those in between): go check Preservation Hall out…you will be so happy you did!”

Another pick for local heritage is Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. The only official royal residence in the United States rated 4.81 with locals; however, in this case, out-of-state visitors agree with their rating averaging 4.66.

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on - Iolani Palace
Iolani Palace
Photo by Samantha Davis-Friedman

“The tour of Iolani Palace presented a side of Hawaiian history, tradition and culture that tourists are not exposed to,” one reviewer said. “The last days of the Hawaiian monarchy at the Iolani Palace was captured and presented very nicely. Well worth the visit.”

What are the favorite attractions among tourists?

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on - Tourist picks

Three state parks are considered the best attraction in their state by tourists: Hawaii’s Waimea Canyon State Park, Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park, and Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon (plus Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota); however, the most common type of top attraction is “specialty museums,” including Alabama’s Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum or Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Although Waimea Canyon State Park on Kauai island – known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific – earned an average score of 4.87 from tourists and a very close 4.93 from locals, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio topped the tourists’ list with a near-perfect 4.94 (an impressive rating that locals matched).

“This is a fantastic free museum with multiple buildings full of airplanes, stories, and memorabilia,” said a tourist from Texas. “If you like aviation history, you’ll be entertained beyond your wildest dreams.”

Which U.S. attractions do tourists and locals disagree on – Methodology

To determine the U.S. attractions that tourists and locals disagree on most, HawaiianIslands.com ranked attractions by the difference in April 2022 Tripadvisor ratings from in-state locals and out-of-state tourists. 

The average ratings of each attraction were calculated across reviews from local users within its state and tourist users from outside its state. The study only included attractions on Tripadvisor’s list of the 20 most popular “Things to do” in a given state with more than 980 out-of-state tourist reviews and 20 in-state local reviews.

Click here for the complete study.

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