December 7, 2008
There's just no accounting for taste. When we asked readers to talk about the places they visited but thought were overrated, the results amazed us. Can someone really dislike the Grand Canyon? Yes. In fact, two readers did. Others registered their displeasure with Italy; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Washington, D.C. For the complete list of comments, go to latimes.com/overrated. And if you disagree, please leave your comments there.
Last visited: 2000
My perspective: It was the ending port of our cruise from Hong Kong to Bali. The weather was very hot and the humidity seemed near 100%, which we were told is normal for November. Our hotel was very luxurious. We left our patio door open about an inch while we went to dinner and came back to bugs everywhere. In daytime, mosquitoes ate us up. The hotel grounds were beautiful but couldn't be enjoyed because of the temperatures and bugs. Outside of the hotel's grounds, there was poverty everywhere and beggars. It was not the paradise we expected. Never again. We've been all over the world, and this was the worst spot we've ever been in.
Suggested alternative: Hawaii
Place: Austin, Texas
Last visited: September 2007
My perspective: Judging by the hype surrounding Austin, I thought I was embarking on a visit to the eighth wonder of the world. As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, "There is no there there." The same could be said of Austin. Once you've seen the state Capitol and a tiny strip of phony honky-tonk music dives called 6th Street, there is nothing to do. About the only thing Austin has going for it is a plethora of Tex-Mex restaurants; most are cheap, and the food is splendid. But that's about it.
Suggested alternative: Honolulu or St. Augustine, Fla.
Christopher di Spirito Penfield, N.Y.
Last visited: October
My perspective: The place is just awful. Gray, one-dimensional and boring. The surrounding geography is spectacular, but the city is nothing more than an overcaffeinated shopping mall filled with upper-middle-class white people wearing backpacks. How many Starbucks and Gaps does one need? Take an hour to visit the Space Needle, Pike Place Market and the Experience Music Project -- and that's all it takes -- and you are left wondering why you bothered.
Suggested alternative: Anywhere else
Last visited: May
My perspective: Heat, dust, crime. Pick anyplace in the entire area. It's horrible.
Suggested alternative: Anywhere but Sacramento
Place: The beach
Last visited: June
My perspective: It doesn't matter which beach. When I was a kid in Glendale, we always thought of the beach as a place where everything was mellow and everyone was beautiful and friendly. Often we found what we expected. It was fun and exciting to travel to Santa Monica or Redondo or Leo Carrillo. But now it's different. Any beach town is just like any other Valley town or anywhere in Kansas or New Jersey, only with more parking meters. The homogeneity of commercial sprawl has overtaken any charm or quirkiness the beach communities may have had, and the fortress mind-set of the residents of these places makes it unfriendly even to walk around. There are more "No Parking" signs in a linear mile of Malibu curb space than in all of Montana. Once you get to the sand, it's a competition for an open patch. And don't even think about the public restrooms. Ewwww. And if you do brave the facilities, someone will probably jack your towel, cooler, Frisbee and even your dog if he isn't in your backpack. Your probably illegally parked car will get towed or broken into and all your stuff stolen. All in all, the beach is a terrible trip.
Suggested alternative: The big pool at Hansen Dam
Place: Laguna Beach
Last visited: September 2007
My perspective: Laguna Beach is overcrowded, with not much to do. There is a dearth of quality, reasonably priced restaurants, with most of the restaurants offering abysmal seafood, considering the coastal location. The downtown is hit-and-miss for shops, and the art galleries are overrated. This beach town is beautiful but disappointing.
Suggested alternative: Encinitas
Last visited: October
My perspective: After an hour on a golf cart, there is nothing left to do. Oh, wait. You could drink. That seems to be the only activity on the island. The golf course is horrible. The water is cold. There is no beach to speak of. I'm not sure how anyone could spend more than half a day in Avalon.
Suggested alternative: Any Orange County beach town
Place: Reykjavik, Iceland
Last visited: February 1999
My perspective: This was a special St. Valentine's Day present from me to my wife, a three-day stay in Reykjavik. A special day planned, riding Icelandic horses across the frozen tundra followed by a long soak in the geothermal waters of the famous Blue Lagoon. Horseback riding on a glacier in mid-February is cold, so to stave off the chill, my wife gave me some silk long underwear. Every step of the horse had me sliding in the saddle. I was chafed in areas that I never thought could get chafed. By the end, I hurt everywhere, so I was ready for the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, a large, deep lake heated by geothermal springs. I never dreamed the changing rooms would be communal, but after recovering from the embarrassment of slipping off silk long underwear, I left for the lagoon, just 50 feet from the changing rooms. I entered, and the hot springs bubbled up through the lagoon. Here was the final insult. It was so windy that the hot water turned frigid, then hot again. People bobbed in and out of the water like fish floats. Five minutes later, I got out, went back to the changing room and back to the hotel with its inside spa, mood music and glass of wine. Why would we ever leave the hotel again?
Harold Roth Venice
Place: Downtown Riverside
Last visited: Christmas 2007
My perspective: Let's say I was distinctly underwhelmed. The big draw at Christmastime is the Mission Inn with lights and Christmas scenes and figures standing at the windows . . . tacky, worn, tattered; the upstairs figures looked like department store mannequins. No sense of the season. It was a long drive for nothing.
Place: Santa Fe, N.M.
Last visited: May
My perspective: Santa Fe once was a true artists' colony, with such greats as Georgia O'Keeffe among its residents. Now it's just a bad art tourist trap. It feels like a cross between Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland. The city is so concerned with preserving the pueblo look that it is now dominated by a look that is more theme architecture than authentic environment.
Suggested alternative: Mesa Verde National Park, Colo.
Place: Hollywood Walk of Fame
Last visited: September
My perspective: What's supposed to be a portal into the golden age of Hollywood has become the top tourist trap in the city. Apart from paying the expensive parking, this "mecca" is overshadowed by costumed characters pestering tourists for photo ops (for a "donation" of course), rapper wannabes peddling their CDs in your face, and a sea of poor, unsuspecting tourists, bumping against one another like billiard balls and photographing R2D2's footprints. Ah, the price you pay for a Kodak moment.
Suggested alternative: Go farther down Hollywood Boulevard for a more relaxed stroll along the Walk of Fame.
Place: Hollywood Boulevard
Last visited: Fall 2008
My perspective: Most tourists are expecting to see all of the glitz of Hollywood and the sidewalks lined with movie stars. They don't realize that what has been sold to them in the movies and on television is an illusion until they actually get there. All they get to see is a sidewalk, a few interesting old movie theaters and a bunch of shops.
Suggested alternative: Getty Museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall
Last visited: July 2002
My perspective: Athens was stinky, crowded, polluted, and the people were surly and mean. Prices were outrageous, food was awful. Went to a nightclub hoping to hear Greek music. Arrived fashionably late (or so we thought) at midnight, place didn't get going till 2 (when we left). We were the only people who did not smoke nonstop (including a pregnant woman). Music was bad Greek pop. Awful.
Place: Lake Tahoe
Last visited: 2000
My perspective: Lake Tahoe offers only second-rate scenery when compared with other locations in the Sierra Nevada. The hiking in summer is subpar, and the skiing in winter is overpriced and inferior to the skiing in other parts of the state.
Suggested alternative: Mammoth, Yosemite, Sequoia
Place: Napa Valley
Last visited: 2005
My perspective: Coming from Virginia, I thought wine country would be scenic. Traffic, pollution and industrial equipment are not pretty. We grow grapes in Virginia's valleys as well. It's nice for a day trip. Napa was not. Next time I go west, I'll be hanging at the beach in Solana or Del Mar. Now that's what I call California.
Suggested alternative: Solana/Del Mar
Place: Key West, Fla.
Last visited: March
My perspective: We went to Key West to get married. We pictured a tropical getaway and got a tacky nightmare. Maybe the fact that we came over from Britain gave us a slightly different perspective on the place. Maybe it's because it was spring break. But then again, I'm not old, only 29. Do those revelers really need to completely spoil a place in spite of everyone else there?
Place: Las Vegas
Last visited: 1998
My perspective: Christmas in Las Vegas? It sounded like fun.
My husband and I, longtime New Yorkers and recent transplants to Los Angeles, had never been to Vegas, so when his brother suggested a five-day jaunt over the holidays, we said yes. Of course, I have no one but myself to blame. OK, I blame my brother-in-law and spouse and the rest of the world that actually likes Las Vegas. Entering the lobby of our hotel, I found myself in the teeming, noisy equivalent of the New York City subway at rush hour. Instead of the well-dressed, louche, intrepid gamblers of fiction, there were hordes of Bermuda shorts-clad, overweight, pasty, glazed-eyed folk. The strobe-like lights and general cacophony were not helped by the garish and/or sentimental holiday decorations and elevator-inspired Christmas music. Our room, on the fifth floor of what was an allegedly luxury hotel, faced the parking lot in the back. After persuading my brother-in-law to swap rooms, as his had the view, we ventured down to the lobby again to explore. That was when I discovered I hated gambling. My husband, who was trying to juggle an unhappy wife, a well-meaning but irritated brother and his own, understandable, wish to ditch both of us, set off to flush a few hundred dollars down the toilet at the blackjack table. I retreated to our room, wondering what I was going to do for the next five days. All the good shows, we discovered, were sold out or required the equivalent of a mortgage payment. I resolved to be resourceful; I would not let Las Vegas ruin my Las Vegas vacation. I forced my husband to drive out to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area with me. Although this was scenic, the tensions between us escalated. As soon as we returned to the hotel, he fled to the casino and I hunkered down in the room watching cable. On the third day, I found a stable somewhere on the outskirts of the city and went horseback riding. On Day 4, my husband reaped the consequences of the Endless Buffet. On Day 5, we returned to L.A. I have never returned to Las Vegas. The words "cold day in hell" come to mind.
Place: Grand Canyon National Park
Last visited: 2006
My experience: Although the canyon is certainly a geological sight to behold, the campgrounds are atrocious, about as charming as pitching a tent in the alley behind your local big-box store and just as close to nature. Hiking is limited to down the canyon and up the canyon, and although, yeah, I know that's why you're there, not every member of every family is capable of such strenuous effort. Despite the family demographic, you won't find playgrounds to keep the kids grounded. The Grand Canyon is a great destination if you are under 30 with a good prostate, balance and a taste for trail mix.
Suggested alternative: Valley of Fire State Park, Nev.
Place: Grand Canyon
Last visited: January 2007
My perspective: It's now the Grand Canyon National Amusement Park, with more than 4 million visitors a year who will make you feel as though you're in Disneyland instead of the Arizona wilderness. The best way to see the park is to take an extended trek to the canyon floor or possibly even a rafting trip, but don't expect tons of privacy.
Suggested alternative: Canyonlands National Park, Utah; Capitol Reef National Park, Utah; Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Last visited: In the last year
My perspective: My experience on the island of Bora-Bora haunts me to this day. Upon arrival, I was met by large packs of feral dogs. They were starving and diseased. The dogs near the port were waiting for passengers and some relief. Others from the ship joined me in filling paper cups with water to give the thirsty dogs drinks. When I complained to a French official, I was told the common excuse, "They belong to no one and they belong to everyone." On a trip around the island, trash and debris (some dating to World War II) were evident on the roads and beaches. Bora-Bora, you need to clean up your act. Most passengers agreed that the scenery was beautiful but that the lack of compassion for the animals, along with the abundance of trash, made this island visit a nightmare.
Mary Lou Pozzo
Place: Any place that's not Los Angeles is overrated
My perspective: Seriously, what's really going to be better anywhere else? Better scenery? Nope, unless you don't like ocean, mountains, forest or desert. Better climate? Get real. It's 70-plus degrees at the beach in the winter, with snow-covered mountains a short drive away. It rains only for a couple of days every few months, just so we don't forget what weather's like elsewhere.
Better food? Not a chance.
People fly from China to eat Chinese food in Monterey Park (and not just because it's melamine-free), and there's amazing Mexican/Thai/Middle Eastern/etc. food just about everywhere.
Better-looking people? Maybe in Scandinavia, but the weather and the food (seriously, lutefisk?) pretty much cancel it out as a destination.
Travel time? You're already here.
Plus, the inhabitants speak English (mostly), and the dollar is good everywhere.
Save the jet fuel and the hassles and support the local economy by exploring L.A. If you can't have fun here, you're doing it wrong.
Place: Monterey Bay
Last visited: This fall
My perspective: The weather was overcast.
Pacific Grove, Calif.
Place: Hamptons, N.Y.
Last visited: This summer
My perspective: I can't think of a place that has been more overhyped. Everything seemed to be a wannabe version of something or someplace else. Bad restaurants, whatever beaches, Long Island locals. I could go on for days. I just didn't get it.
Todd Novick Beverly Hills
Last visited: August
My perspective: What is the purpose of this place and why would a cruise stop here? There is nothing to do but see a few monkeys and a cave. Anyplace that includes the airport as a tourist site should never be visited. Zero culture, full of nasty Brits and bitter locals. What a waste of a day.
Suggested alternative: Marbella, Spain
Place: Costa Rica
Last visited: July
My perspective: I have been to Costa Rica four times since 2000, and each time it gets more touristy, overcrowded and overpriced. The last two times, I was there for the sole purpose of reaching its neighbors, Panama and Nicaragua, which are nicer, not as crowded and very inexpensive. Costa Rica was great at one time, but it's like California in that it was once glorious and not crowded, but now its fame has been its downfall. California and Costa Rica are just too popular for their own good.
Suggested alternative: Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras
Last visited: January
My perspective: My husband, Fred, and I are well-traveled, so when it came time to decide where to go on our honeymoon last year, we wanted to choose somewhere we'd never been. We love Las Vegas (and gambling) and try to go there several times a year, so when we started noticing a lot of press about Macao, we thought it might be perfect for us. We decided on a two-week trip to Hong Kong, Macao, Bangkok and Malaysia. Hong Kong was the highlight; Macao was the low point. The ads and stories we'd seen about Macao made it seem as though it was the Las Vegas of Asia. Not so. It was more like the Las Vegas of 1970. Multiple Las Vegas casino companies have built hotels there in an effort to tap into the huge Asian gambling market. We stayed at the Wynn, which looked just like its Vegas sister; our room, a suite, was beautiful. But when we ventured downstairs to the gaming floor, we knew we were in for a different experience. To enter the gaming area, you had to pass through a metal detector and be patted down by a security guard. Once on the floor, we noticed something strange: It was very quiet. No music playing, no slot machines dinging, no loud cheers coming from the craps table, just low murmuring voices. It was so quiet that we spoke to each other in hushed tones. The tables were all packed in the middle of the day, and these people were serious about their gambling. We were also overdressed. When we go to Vegas, part of the fun is getting dressed up and getting into a festive mood. These people were dressed for Thursday night bingo at a VFW hall. Macao is not catering to international tourists, just serious Asian gamblers. Other than the few American casinos that have opened up, Macao is mostly populated by old, rundown Chinese casinos and most of the area looks like the older parts of Vegas. We ended up spending most of our time in the room, or out shopping, as the gambling wasn't very fun and Macao doesn't have all the shows and exhibits that Vegas does. We were there in January, so the weather wasn't very conducive to sightseeing, as it was cold and raining most of the time. I would've liked to have gotten out and seen some of the historic parts of town. On the upside, the restaurants were great and the options for shopping were just as good as the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Bottom line, unless you're a very serious gambler, I would stay away from Macao and get my kicks in Vegas.
Place: Lima, Peru
Last visited: September
My perspective: I fulfilled a lifetime dream and went to Peru. Much of the trip consisted of an organized tour (Arequipa, some islands in Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu and Cuzco), so I decided to spend a few days in Lima before meeting up with the group in Arequipa. I have never disliked a place as much as I disliked Lima. It is filthy dirty, the air is redolent of diesel fumes and the noise of thousands and thousands of taxis, all honking simultaneously while belching fumes from their clattering engines, and the streets were full of tired, tense and unhappy-looking people rushing about.
Moreover, what the guidebooks describe as the best museum in the city, the Museo de la Nación, was mainly closed, as was the best art museum. The weather I can describe only as clammy, which in conjunction with the dirt in the air was barely tolerable.
In its defense, the food was fabulous.
But if there is a hell, it has to be modeled after Lima.
Carmichael Smith-Low Santa Paula
Place: Istanbul, Turkey
Last visited: 2007
My perspective: My experience was on a cruise of the western Mediterranean. It was a gay cruise starting in Athens, traveling to various islands and finishing in Venice, Italy. One stop only was quite a disappointment, and that was Istanbul. I took the boat excursion because of the offerings and expectations. One part of the trip was a rug museum. An hour plus looking at raggedy old rugs? Gimme a break. The Grand Bazaar, thousands of years old, but we saw the same old stuff: bronzes, T-shirts, silver, gold. And just try to find a bathroom. Another stop again was a "high pressure" luxury rug store. Like I'm going to throw a $2,000 rug over my shoulder and carry it on the bus. We were held there another hour plus. Going through the Blue Mosque was interesting and colorful. But I'm a daily jogger, and I hated the overwhelming and unrestricted smoking. Bottom line: Venice, beautiful if expensive. Athens, historic. Istanbul, filthy.
Thomas R. Paquin
Place: Northern Wales
Last visited: 20 years ago
My perspective: My husband and I were living in a tiny flat in London with 15-month-old twins. Broke, and in dire need of a holiday, we were delighted by the kind offer of a week in a friend's cottage in the Vale of Ffestiniog, in northern Wales. As we crossed the border into Wales, it began to rain, and it did not let up till the day of our return, a week later. The house turned out to be a deathtrap for little ones. The front door opened directly onto a road. The back door opened onto an unfenced yard, with easy access to the same road and a stream in which to drown. Inside, the house was not much better. There was a steep staircase with no kind of railing or banister and an open landing with a sheer drop to the ground floor. With no safety gate to restrict them, our children could not believe their luck, and began a campaign of climbing expeditions to test our nerves. Every day we spent in the car driving to different castles, but it was always too wet to really enjoy walking around the grounds in the driving rain. Any cozy-looking tea shop we tried to take refuge in would refuse us entry, as it was claimed that our double stroller, even if folded, would cause a fire hazard by blocking the exits. It was very hard to like the Welsh, I must say.
Mary Melling Rancho Palos Verdes
Last visited: April
My perspective: Four of us traveled to Italy, and our plan was to start in Venice and work our way down to Sicily using trains and automobiles. The first two weeks went without much of a hitch, but after we picked up our rental car in Naples, events began to go south. Sorrento was lovely, but our personalities were beginning to clash. We dealt with this by avoiding one another. We drove down the Amalfi Coast, an experience in itself, with no hotel reservations or particular destination, and wound up in Tropea, a lovely town with only one hotel open. There were two rooms available and the proprietor spoke no English. We were able to communicate with hands waving and heads nodding. We stayed two nights. Then we took the ferry from Villa San Giovanni to Messina, Sicily. We could see from the boat that it was raining heavily. So we headed south toward Catania to look for a hotel. We got stuck in rush-hour traffic; it seems to always be rush hour with seven lanes of traffic narrowing down to one or two and then a one-way street. The best thing to do is stick out your hand and move on over. We fought our way out of Catania and drove on south toward Augusta. Following the bed signs we found a hotel that wasn't open, but the owner was kind enough to give us two rooms. Picture the hotel from "The Shining." There was no food available but the bar was stocked. We drank three bottles of wine and tried to figure out a plan of attack for the rest of the day and the week. The owner's daughter, about 5 years old, roller-skated through the large, heavily chandeliered dining room.
The next morning, there was no hot water so we skipped our showers and went to the dining room to see if anyone had found any food. The owner was there with hot pastries and coffee. We learned so much on that trip. First, do your homework. Second, do not visit Sicily unless you have relatives there or are on a tour. Third, April is not the tourist season, so although there are no other tourists, there are not a lot of hotels, either. Fourth, do not plan on spending a month with another couple no matter how well you know them.
Carol Mehtlan San Marcos, Calif.
Last visited: August 2004
My perspective: If the smell of urine and sewage is your idea of romance, Paris is the city for you. Paris was the most filthy, disgusting place I've ever had the misfortune to visit. It is difficult to be romantic when the streets and the air are filled with urine and sewage. It is even more difficult to keep up one's spirits by the horrendous service one receives in the restaurants and hotels. The restaurants are unclean. The floors look horribly unwashed, and flies swarm in abundance. Their concept of nonsmoking is to remove the ashtray from your table, although your waiter may smoke while serving you. In general, Paris is a Third World country masquerading as a civilized society. The Louvre is highly overrated. By the way, you can smell the Notre Dame Cathedral before you can see it.
Suggested alternative: Rome
Mala Bucceri Northridge
Place: Washington, D.C.
Last visited: October
My perspective: As part of our trip, we wanted to see the White House. Upon arrival, I got a great snapshot of the house between the iron bars. We thought maybe we could get a better photograph at the front where the famous fountain is. As we walked, we waved and said good evening to all the people coming and going from the various security exits. Over and over again, swanky supermodels, unhappy young twentysomethings in glamorous business attire, entered with their Starbucks and exited even faster as we said our hellos. No smiles or even a good evening back, as if we were thugs. It was demoralizing to us. As tourists in the off-season, we felt fat, old and like undeserving, discarded Americans.
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