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America's No. 1 tourist spot is a place nobody ever wanted to be: Alcatraz

San Francisco's Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge ranked as the top two U.S. landmarks by TripAdvisor travelers

What is it about an old federal penitentiary that's so appealing to tourists? Alcatraz beat out the Golden Gate Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty to be selected the No. 1 landmark in the U.S. in TripAdvisor's recent Travelers' Choice awards. 

It also ranked as the seventh most popular landmark in the world, between the spectacular cathedral in Milan, Italy (No. 6) and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (No. 8).

For tourists, Alcatraz isn't just one thing, either. The island in San Francisco Bay holds the first lighthouse built on the West Coast. The original went up in 1854, but was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The new one with a concrete tower was completed in 1909 and automated in the 1960s.

It also appeals to birdwatchers (cormorants and gulls nest there) and those interested in seeing the old cells and buildings when it was used as a penitentiary from 1934 to 1963. Alcatraz opened to the public a decade later under supervision of the National Park Service.

As for the rest of the Travelers' Choice picks, New York City landmarks grab half the top 10 spots in the U.S. rankings:

1. Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay

2. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

3. Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, Washington, D.C.

4. The National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York City

5. USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

6. Empire State Building, New York City

7. Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor

8. Brookyn Bridge, New York City

9. Grand Central Terminal, New York City

10. Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pa.

The top selection for favorite landmark in the world is Angkor Wat in Cambodia, followed by Machu Picchu in Peru and the Taj Mahal in India.

TripAdvisor selected 700 landmarks of note in its analysis of reviews over a 12-month period. The company applies an algorithm to its millions of reviews from around the world in determining award winners.

For a full list, go to TripAdvisor's Best Landmarks in the World site.

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