Tourist towns are small towns designed around the needs of tourists. Often nestled near scenic state parks, historical areas, or vacation hot spots, these towns cater to tourists’ needs with shows, attractions, tours, restaurants, and anything else a vacationer may want.
Though often slandered as “tourist traps,” millions of people visit these small towns yearly for a reason: They’re fun. The villages also make life easy for visitors, whether they want the best food, fun family activities, or access to tours and recreation.
These iconic tourist towns are the best places to visit for a fun, easy vacation filled with theme parks, attractions, souvenir shopping, and everything else a tourist could want.
The Top 10 Tourist Towns in America
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wisconsin Dells, located about an hour north of the state’s capital, is an ideal getaway location for Chicago residents. With 20 different waterparks, the Dells is “the waterpark capital of the world” and a perfect place for a last-minute summer vacation.
Although the outdoor waterparks close after Labor Day, Leah Hauck Mills, Communications Manager for Wisconsin Dells Visitor & Convention Bureau, says the city has plenty to do in the winter, including indoor water parks and theme parks.
There’s far more to the Dells than waterparks. The main strip boasts numerous souvenir shops, restaurants, and boutiques, while the surrounding area offers options for mini-golf, go-karting, haunted houses, scenic tours, and other exciting attractions.
Branson Mo is a top choice for a fun weekend get-away. It’s one of the most iconic tourist towns in America and less than four hours from three major US cities (Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and St. Louis!).
Branson features a variety of museums, including the one-of-a-kind titanic museum and the world’s largest toy museum, in addition to theme parks, water parks, shows, and live attractions.
Labor Day weekend is the last weekend to visit their top outdoor waterpark, White Water Theme Park, but many of the resorts in town have indoor theme parks for off-season visitors to enjoy.
Although Reno is a top spot for gambling, there’s plenty in the city for the whole family. Located near California’s iconic Lake Tahoe, Reno offers many outdoor activities such as horseback riding, river tubing, kayaking, and hiking.
The “Biggest Little City in the World” also features a variety of options for arts and culture. The Nevada Museum of Art is the largest art museum in Nevada, featuring contemporary and southwestern art. In contrast, the Wilber D. May Museum features an eclectic collection of artifacts treasured by the eccentric, wealthy explorer.
A highlight of Reno is the city’s thriving River Walk district. The River Walk features street performers, vendors, shops, restaurants, art galleries, and fun activities for the whole family.
Visiting Deadwood, SD, is like traveling back in time to the Old West. As Amanda Kille, Marketing & Sponsorship Director of the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center, remarks, “Deadwood’s colorful history is filled with Dime Store Novel characters, and we’ve embraced those characters that continue to educate and entertain our guests. Deadwood’s history is its entertainment, and that means a little something different for everyone.”
The small town showcases its historical (and often sordid) past, with staged shootouts in the street and free shows all summer long. Visitors can enjoy saloon-style gambling, a motorcycle museum, the Adam’s Museum of Black Hills History, and more without leaving the town limits.
Kille adds that September is one of the best times to visit the city. The weather is fantastic, all the attractions are open, and the town has numerous events to celebrate the end of the season.
Gatlinburg is a tourist paradise nestled in the Great Smokey Mountains. Located about 4 hours from Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville, it’s an ideal spot for Americans in the Southern States to spend a weekend getaway.
An abundance of tourist attractions, including a Ripley’s Museum and the Hollywood Star Cars Museum, fills the town. As the Gateway to the Smokey Mountains, the city also features a variety of outdoor activities, including rafting, hiking, biking, and even a rope adventure course.
Creatives will enjoy Gatlinburg’s thriving arts & crafts community, a small strip that features basket making, leatherworks, fine arts, and even blacksmithing.
Jim Thorpe, PA
Jim Thorpe, nestled in the iconic Pocono Mountains of central Pennsylvania, is an ideal getaway location for New Yorkers and Philadelphians. This tiny tourist town is an ideal spot to see the natural beauty of a Pennsylvania fall but is worth a visit all year long.
Winter adventurers can enjoy skiing in the nearby mountains, while those who prefer spring and summer can enjoy the nearby lakes and hiking.
The village is filled with shops, boutiques, bars, and restaurants. It embraces its notable past as an old mining town with historic houses, period museums, and 19th-century architecture.
Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach is a beach town and tourist trap all in one. Beach goers can enjoy the warm waters of the Atlantic by sunbathing, swimming, parasailing, deep sea fishing, and boating, while the city offers a wide range of activities for visitors of all ages.
Visitors who don’t enjoy the water can enjoy the famous sky wheel, Ripley’s Aquarium, or Hollywood Wax Museum. The Myrtle Beach Boardwalk & Promenade features restaurants with iconic southern cooking, shops, breweries, and boutiques.
Most Myrtle Beach attractions are open in the winter, but with temperatures reaching the high 30s at night, it’s not an ideal time for beach activities. Summer, late spring, and early fall are the best times to visit Myrtle Beach.
Ocean City, NJ
Speaking of Beaches, the most iconic and touristy beach town of the Northeast is Ocean City, NJ, home to the famous Jersey Shore.
Ocean City is a lively tourist town featuring an iconic boardwalk, boating, arcades, waterparks, and various themed options for mini gold. Enjoy a haunted mini-golf adventure, medieval themed-mini gold, or a traditional Pirate-themed golf adventure.
Visitors have numerous options for indulging in sweets with iconic confectionaries and bakeries around every corner. The boardwalk is filled with restaurants to appeal to every taste and budget.
Travel through time to the Wild Wild West and enjoy a shootout in America’s most iconic gunslinging old western town.
Tombstone features daily re-enactments of the infamous gunfight at the O.K Corral. Visitors can peruse Doc Holiday’s room, featuring hundreds of photos taken around the gunfight.
The town embraces its sordid history with numerous museums and attractions celebrating wild west heritage, including the gunfighter hall of fame, saloon theater, and Gleeson Jail. Historic Allen Street is home to most of these sites and offers tourists a wide array of restaurants and shopping.
Fans of UFOs need to visit Roswell, NM. The city embraces its historical roots as the site of a 1947 flying saucer crash and welcomes visitors looking for an encounter of the third kind.
Roswell embraces its paranormal history. Although it’s the largest city on this list and not solely dedicated to tourists like the others, it deserves mention due to the unique nature of its tourist attractions. Where else can you find streetlights with little alien faces on them?
Visitors can explore the Roswell Museum Planetarium and the International UFO Museums and Research Center and discover whether we are alone in the universe. Families will enjoy the Space Walk, a UFO-themed blacklight adventure, and the Alien Zone Area 51 gift shop filled with alien-themed curious and quirky photo ops.
Don’t Discount Tourist Towns for Your Next Getaway
Small towns built for tourists may get called tourist traps, but they are popular for a reason. Tourist towns offer visitors various options for entertainment, food, and drink while minimizing the stress of planning. Visitors need only to get there to find fun or relaxation around every corner.
If you’re looking for an easy, fun getaway for Labor Day Weekend and beyond, consider one of the destinations on this list. You won’t be disappointed.
Melanie launched Partners in Fire in 2017 to document her quest for financial independence with a mix of finance, fun, and solving the world’s problems. She’s self educated in personal finance and passionate about fighting systematic problems that prevent others from achieving their own financial goals. She also loves travel, anthropology, gaming and her cats.