There’s no travel tip as precious as the ‘local secret.’ While out-of-town tourists tread the beaten path, a chance divulgence from somebody who lives nearby can set you en route to an overlooked attraction. Your taxi driver or Airbnb host likely knows what’s hot and what’s just hype – and can suggest a day out that offers an authentic local experience.
On the other hand, familiarity breeds contempt (or apathy). If a town is well known for a particular attraction, the locals may be tired of talking about it. And the wonder of having a remarkable landmark down the road can wear off when they walk past it every day. Perhaps it’s better to trust the fresh eyes of a reviewer whose active search for an excellent out-of-town experience channels the passion for discovery you’re seeking?
Hmm… so there are advantages and disadvantages to trusting the opinions of both tourists and locals. The solution is clear: compare and contrast! We already know which attractions are most reviewed by locals or by tourists. But now, HawaiianIslands.com has identified the attractions on which these groups most disagree.
What We Did
We started by building lists of tourist attractions across every U.S. state by pulling a list of the most reviewed ‘Things to Do’ according to TripAdvisor. Then we dug deeper into each attraction, separating the ratings given to each attraction by local TripAdvisor users (those living in the state where the attraction is based) from the ratings given by tourist users (whose location is outside of the state of the attraction in question).
With all this data in hand, we were able to calculate the average Tripadvisor rating from out-of-state tourists and in-state locals for every U.S. state’s most-reviewed “Things to Do.” Our last step in our analysis was to calculate the gap between each rating, allowing us to uncover the most popular attractions among tourists, those that locals rate the highest, and the ones both groups disagree on the most. Who are you gonna trust?
- Mount Rushmore is rated 4.60/5 stars on average by tourists, yet locals give an average rating of 4.17/5 – resulting in the largest differential of any major U.S. attraction.
- The Grand Canyon Skywalk is rated 3.56/5 stars on average by tourists but 3.27/5 by locals – the fourth largest disparity of any attraction.
- LA locals rate Venice Beach an average of 3.95/5 stars, far more than the 3.63/5 star average among tourists – the largest differential of any US attraction favored by locals.
- Maker’s Mark plant in Loretto, KY, stands out as the only distillery to rank as the attraction most loved by locals within a state.
Mount Rushmore Bores Local Reviewers
America’s most divisive attraction is one of its most iconic. Tourists rate Mount Rushmore National Memorial 10.3% higher than locals, awarding it an average of 4.60 compared to the 4.17 that South Dakota residents offer. You can imagine how those big, stony faces get locals down: “I find it a yawn,” reports one local reviewer. “After you park and walk up to it, you say to yourself, there it is and I thought it would be bigger… and leave for something exciting like Wind Cave, Devil’s Tower, Or the Badlands.”
On the whole, locals prefer attractions that connect them with regional heritage (e.g., Mount Moriah Cemetery) or reward repeat visits (a beach, a zoo). Or those that do both, such as Louisiana’s Preservation Hall, a historic New Orleans jazz venue. “Being born and raised in New Orleans, I always thought that Preservation Hall was a tourist trap,” declares one local. “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!”
Iolani Palace is a local heritage spot that can give overseas visitors a deeper insight into Hawaii’s history and culture. Locals rate it with a high 4.81, but out-of-state visitors hardly disagree, averaging 4.66. “The tour of Iolani Palace presented a side of Hawaiian history, tradition and culture that tourists are not exposed to,” says one reviewer. “The last days of the Hawaiian monarchy at the Iolani Palace was captured and presented very nicely. Well worth the visit.”
Waimea Canyon State Park Among Top ‘Out of Towner’ Attractions in the U.S.
Next, we isolated the attraction in each state that is highest-rated by tourists from beyond state borders. The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Ohio scores a near-perfect 4.94, a rating that locals agree on, too. “This is a fantastic free museum with multiple buildings full of airplanes, stories, and memorabilia,” raves a visiting Texan. “If you like aviation history, you’ll be entertained beyond your wildest dreams.”
Hawaii’s Waimea Canyon State Park makes the top ten with an average score of 4.87 from tourists. Not much disagreement here since locals reckon the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ a 4.93. Visitors celebrate the park for its unique plant life and astonishing views, all of which are best appreciated with a steady walk along a curated trail.
Waimea Canyon State Park is among three state parks to be considered the best attraction in their state by visitors from outside the state. Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park and Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area also make it to the map, as does Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. However, the most common type of top attraction is the ‘Speciality Museum,’ such as Alabama Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum or Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill Center of the West. There are nine such museums on the map.
A Maine Lighthouse is Among Top Travel Tips from Locals
Ohio’s National Museum of the U.S. Air Force also makes it to the top ten attractions as rated by locals – but loses its number one position to Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park. While tourists rate Bryce Canyon at 4.91, locals reckon it’s a 4.96, thus rating it more highly than any other state’s population rates its local attractions. “Driving all the way to the end of the canyon road and stopping at each pull out is well worth it,” advises one Utah resident, who has clearly had the time to do so.
Portland Head Light in Maine is the highest-rated attraction by locals that doesn’t feature on the tourist list. “We’re so fortunate to live within a short driving distance of this scenic place,” boasts one local. “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!” Tourists, huh?
There are fewer art or military museums on the local map than on the tourist map. Why don’t people like to visit museums in their hometown? For one thing, the museum has a reputation for being a dry learning experience – much more likely to stand out on a tourist’s “to do” list. After all, if you live locally, the museum will still be there tomorrow… or maybe the day after that… Unless you have a burning passion for the precise subject of the museum, you probably have other priorities around your neighborhood.
The Inside Knowledge
The more research you put into planning your vacation itinerary, the less likely you are to end up a turkey of an attraction. Sometimes the most-hyped places are more about the publicity machine behind them, and successful marketing just means you’ll be lost among an uncomfortable crowd. And as our analysis shows, some attractions are just a lot more fun for folks who don’t live on their doorstep. To help you avoid these, we’ve included our full data in the table below.
Is there a landmark or experience near your home where you always take visitors? Or one from which everyone should be warned? Perhaps it’s time to get reviewing on Tripadvisor and be part of the conversation!
METHODOLOGY AND SOURCES
To determine the U.S. attractions that tourists and locals disagree on the most, we ranked attractions by the difference in average Tripadvisor rating among in-state locals and out-of-state tourists.
We aggregated the average ratings of each attraction across reviews from local users whose locations are within the state of the attraction in question, as well as tourist users whose location is outside the state of the attraction in question. Only attractions with more than 980 out-of-state tourist reviews and 20 in-state local reviews that were included in Tripadvisor’s list of the 20 most popular “Things to do” in a given state were considered in our analysis.
The data was collected in April 2022.