If You’re Not Into Tourist Traps, Skip These 15 California Hot Spots

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Tourism is a huge industry in California, which means it has its fair share of tourist traps. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy some of them, but if you’re the type who avoids tourist traps as much as you can, even world-famous ones, you’ll probably want to avoid some of the most notorious in the Golden State. As an avid traveler, the following are 15 I’d recommend you cross off your list of must-see places when you visit California.

1. Calico Ghost Town

Calico Ghost Town
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Located in San Bernardino County, this was an Old West mining town that was abandoned 10 years after its establishment. Now it’s a regional park with shops, restaurants, campgrounds, and off-road driving. In a story on tourist traps, USA Today rated this the #3 tourist trap in the whole world.

2. Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco
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It’s sort of an unwritten rule that when you visit San Francisco, you have to go to Fisherman’s Wharf and eat at a seafood restaurant there. My wife and I did that once, and we enjoyed it, but even back in 1996 when we went, it was really crowded, touristy, and overly expensive.

3. Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House, California
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Sarah Winchester was the wealthy widow of the man who invented the Winchester rifle. After purchasing her home, she had continuous renovations made, including odd things like a staircase ending at a ceiling. Rumor has it she was trying to confuse the ghosts of people killed by her husband’s invention.

4. Hollywood Walk of Fame

Hollywood Walk of Fame
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I’m only speaking for myself here, but I don’t see the thrill of navigating hordes of people to find and touch the dirty stars of your favorite celebrities. Why not just watch a movie starring them or read a bio? Since it ranked 29th in that story on the world’s worst tourist traps, I guess I’m not alone in my thinking.

5. Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, California
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Storied as the western end of historic Route 66. The Santa Monica Pier is now more like an amusement park than it is a beach destination. It’s very crowded, expensive, and filled with souvenir shops.

6. Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle
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During our trip down the California coast, my wife and I saw this Big Sur location but declined to go for a guided tour. It sits at #51 in the aforementioned articles, so we are hardly the only ones who don’t feel a need to tour a building, impressive as it is, when there’s so much outdoor beauty in the region, one of the world’s most spectacular areas.

7. Napa Valley Wine Train

Napa Valley Wine Train
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This is, for sure, a fun and luxurious way to tour wineries in this famous valley. But you have to ask yourself if it’s worth the high prices. Plus, you’re stuck with the same bunch of people in your train car all day, which can get old.

8. San Francisco Cable Cars

Famous Cable Car of San Francisco
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Sure, the cable cars of San Francisco are famous, and they make it easy to tour the hilly streets of the city. On the other hand, they’re crowded inside, there are usually long lines to get on, and you might not think the price is worth it.

9. Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument
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Muir Woods is famous for its redwoods, and it’s a beautiful place, but its proximity to San Francisco makes it very busy most of the time. Fortunately, there are less-crowded alternatives close by at Lost Coast and Shelter Cove.

10. SeaWorld

Whales in the SeaWorld
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You may differ, and that’s fine, but seeing beautiful, intelligent animals like dolphins and orcas kept in captivity and trained to perform for people’s entertainment makes me sad. If you feel the same way, skip this San Diego destination and go on a whale-watching cruise instead. Seeing a whale surface and spout in the wild makes me a lot more excited than seeing a dolphin leaping for a treat.

11. Santa Catalina Island

Santa Catalina Island, California
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It’s a beautiful place, and once upon a time, it was a fantastic place to visit. Now, though, it’s super-crowded and touristy. I’ve heard Balboa Island in Newport Beach is a lot less crowded and less expensive.

12. Venice Beach Boardwalk

Venice Beach Boardwalk
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If you’re into crowds, high prices, street performers, and tacky souvenirs, you’ll love this boardwalk. If you’re not, go tour authentic Venice neighborhoods and see the canals there. It’s a lot cheaper, easier, and less crowded than visiting Venice in Italy.

13. Dolores Park

Dolores Park
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The problem with this San Francisco public park is that on nice days, it’s packed with people. Tank Hill Park is a great alternative and has the best view of the city.

14. La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits
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A lot of movies make this L.A. site seem fascinating and mysterious. In person, though, you might find it really gimmicky and come to realize that you’re wasting your time.

15. Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge
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I’m not saying you shouldn’t go see this famous bridge or even drive across it to say that you did; we did that, after all, on a visit to San Francisco. But taking the pedestrian walkway all the way across it? I think after a few minutes you’d have the sense you’ve already seen everything there is to see. If you really want to cross it, consider renting an e-bike and exploring the area that way.

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Monument Valley Road
Image Credit: Deposit Photos

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Image Credit: Deposit Photos.

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Robert Sihler is an educator, freelance writer, and rock climbing guide and instructor living with his family in Driftwood, Texas. In his spare time, he enjoys reading fiction, streaming films, completing crossword puzzles, and rock climbing. When he goes on vacation, he likes to visit the mountains of the West and climb remote, obscure peaks that have seen few or no prior ascents.