Most Visited US Attractions

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Defining popularity is tricky business (just ask that high school computer nerd, now a multi-millionaire married to a supermodel). But America's most visited attractions have stood the test of time, ranking in the top ten for the past several years. Some benefit from rubber-tire visit accessibility, others from family-friendly appeal, but all deliver that WOW factor we crave on a vacation.
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Most Visited US Attractions

Defining popularity is tricky business (just ask that high school computer nerd, now a multi-millionaire married to a supermodel). But America's most visited attractions have stood the test of time, ranking in the top ten for the past several years. Some benefit from rubber-tire visit accessibility, others from family-friendly appeal, but all deliver that WOW factor we crave on a vacation. Of course, defining what exactly constitutes an attraction is a gray area; we've admittedly fudged slightly in compiling our list. We didn't include entire major cities, festivals, casinos, malls (like Minnesota's Mall of America which satisfies 40 million shop-aholics annually!), or otherwise worthy multi-state destinations (like the Appalachian Trail). Moreover, gaining accurate up-to-date readings is difficult, despite our trustworthy sources (from the National Park Service to impartial tourism industry reports), since many attendance figures aren't turnstile/gate receipt-generated but rather averaged or estimated. Be ready for some surprises-the Grand Canyon and Liberty Bell barely made the top 25, let alone 10-and enjoy the scenery along the ride!

Most Visited US Attractions

Some might quibble that Branson is a destination comprising dozens of attractions, but it's so compact that most visitors take in all of its prominent diversions. And talk about an American success story: No recent attraction witnessed more explosive growth than this historic Ozarks town, which people often liken to Las Vegas without the gambling thanks to the glorious gaggle of year-round performers (and a Strip that locals also joke is the "world's longest parking lot" during busy periods). Despite claiming more theater seats than New York City, Branson is far more than showmanship. The historic town center is a classic example of pure Americana, the surrounding lakes and mountains offer rich recreational possibilities, and theme parks right outside downtown like Silver Dollar City not only feature fun thrill rides but preserve Ozarks folk traditions from fiddling to whittling wood (more than 100 craftspeople provide demonstrations).

Annual visitors: 8.1-8.3 million (Source: Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB)

Most Visited US Attractions

Opened in 1916, this 3,300-foot long, 50-acre pier snaking along the Lake Michigan shoreline began life as a cargo, then military training facility before its $200 million Cinderella transformation a decade ago turned it into a playground of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, rides, stages, and sightseeing cruises. Campaniles flank its stately circular, domed Beaux Arts grand ballroom, which provides some of Chicago's most stunning skyline views. Among the top venues here: The Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Children's Museum, IMAX theater, 150-foot Ferris wheel, and Smith Museum of Stained Glass. Admission to the complex is free, but most of the individual attractions require separate entry fees (day passes are also available). Don't miss the monumental public art displays on the front lawn.

Annual visitors: 8.31 million (Source: Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority/Crain's List 2008 Top Sightseeing Attractions)

Most Visited US Attractions

Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina state line and encompassing 800 square miles of almost entirely forested land, the country's most-visited national park lures more tourists than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. Highlights include the striking scenery -- scraped and scoured by receding glaciers more than 200 million years ago, topography (ranging from 800 to 6,543 feet above sea level) that supports abundant flora and fauna (over 10,000 documented species), and the preservation of structures and artifacts documenting Southern Appalachia's mountain culture, including the East's largest collection of historic log buildings. It's a haven for hikers, bikers, campers, fishermen, and birders. Historians will enjoy the story-telling sessions describing the first European settlers, the Cherokee, even ghosts.

Annual visitors: 9.04 million (source: Budget Travel and National Park Service 2008 Annual Recreation Visitors Report)

Most Visited US Attractions

Over the years, Niagara Falls -- three cascades thundering across the U.S.-Canada border -- has gotten an unfair rep and rap as providing more "cheese" than the entire state of Wisconsin. Though no longer the World's Honeymoon Capital, 12 million annual visitors can't be wrong. Ignore the souvenir shops (unless you enjoy kitsch) and revel in the cascades themselves, led by Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. Boats, hiking trails, and observation towers provide scenic overlooks aplenty (diving in a barrel is discouraged -- and defeats the sightseeing purpose). The Maid of the Mist boat tour is informative, if short, while the Journey Behind the Falls walk (behind Horseshoe Falls) provides an awe-inspiring glimpse of Nature's power. Indeed, what makes Niagara Falls so remarkable is their sheer volume, a valuable source generating hydroelectric power (the IMAX movie provides a fantastic educational and photogenic overview). The nightly illumination show is a marvelous marriage of Nature's and man's artistry. If you have time, explore the surprisingly excellent Niagara wine region just across the border.

Annual visitors: 12 million (Source: Niagara Falls Tourism Visitor and Convention Bureau and Niagara Falls Bridge Commission)

Most Visited US Attractions

Walt's visionary look into the future of American family entertainment opened in 1955; in his words, "Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America ... with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world..." The park's realms, radiating from Central Plaza, brilliantly immerse visitors in their themes. The five iconic original sections – Main Street, U.S.A.; Adventureland; Frontierland; Fantasyland; and Tomorrowland – remain. Over the past half century, Holidayland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, and Mickey's Toontown were added. Disney's California Adventure Park is considered a separate attraction, despite its location on a converted Disneyland parking lot (but you can buy a Park Hopper Pass). For a great overview take the monorail or narrow gauge railroad circumnavigating the park (Walt was a train fan/atic). Nighttime extravaganzas like frequent fireworks displays and the multimedia sound-and-light Fantasmic! (fountains to 45-foot fire-breathing dragons) delight kids of all ages.

Annual visitors: 14.72 million (Source: TEA/ERA Theme Park Attendance Report 2008)

Most Visited US Attractions

Fisherman's Wharf is San Francisco's most popular attraction; parts still function as a working pier but mostly it's a touristy (if handsome) nod to the city's maritime past, encompassing such spots as Ghirardelli Square, the Cannery Shopping Center, a Ripley's Believe It or Not, Wax Museum, "Lost Fishermen" Chapel, the marvelous Musée Mécanique (coin-operated antique arcade games and musical instruments), restored World War II vessels U.S.S. Pampanito & U.S.S. General O'Brien, and San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park. Here you'll also find pristine parkland, historic military buildings from Fort Mason to the Presidio, forbidding fascinating Alcatraz Island (noted for its eco-systems as well as the penitentiary), the fabulous neoclassical Cliff House restaurant, the Sutro Baths ruins and Sutro Heights Gardens, even sandy sunbathing stretches like China and Baker Beaches with stunning bay and bridge vistas.

Annual visitors: 17 million (Sources: National Park Service 2008 Annual Recreation Visits Report, Fisherman's Wharf Merchants Association, City and County of San Francisco)

Most Visited US Attractions

Exactly a year ago in September 2008, Disney World welcomed its billionth guest, and that should say it all-the theme park is the planet's most visited and largest recreational resort. It shouldn't come as a surprise that the franchise, with its four theme parks (not to mention four 18-hole golf courses; two water parks; 32 hotels; and numerous shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation venues) is favored around the world.
Figures state that The Magic Kingdom, with beloved rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Country Bear Jamboree, is the most popular, easily eclipsing Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. Still, each park contains an iconic structure that pays homage to Disney's greatest hits: Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom, Spaceship Earth at EPCOT, The Sorcerer's Hat for Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom's Tree of Life. There's also the Typhoon Lagoon, Wide World of Sports Complex, World Speedway (home to the Richard Petty Driving Experience), and so much more. We're exhausted just writing about it!

Annual visitors: 17.07 million (Source: TEA/ERA Theme Park Attendance Report 2008)

Most Visited US Attractions

Uncommonly pleasant for a so-called "tourist trap," Faneuil Hall Marketplace opened in 1976, a pioneer of urban renewal and Yankee ingenuity that incorporates several restored downtown historic granite buildings (including the original 18th-century eponymous structure, a National Historic landmark, and the 19th-century Quincy Market) into a glorified mall cum cultural attraction. No amount of chain stores, from Victoria's Secret to Virgin, can detract from the authentic colonial ambience, including its trademark gilded grasshopper weathervane and cobblestone-lined walkways dotted with monuments and statues of prominent Bostonians. Built as a commercial center and meeting hall (the latter, on the second floor, can be visited for free; there are history lectures every half hour), Faneuil Hall served as a gathering spot for American revolutionists, ringing with fiery speeches from the likes of James Otis and Samuel Adams and earning it the sobriquet "Cradle of Liberty." Its central location makes it a hub for exploring the city and related attractions along the Freedom Trail.

Annual visitors: 20 Million (Source: Faneuil Hall Marketplace, http://www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com)

Most Visited US Attractions

The National Mall bills itself "America's Front Yard," and in terms of pure iconic imagery and impact it's unrivalled. Stretching handsomely for 2.5 miles across more than 1,000 acres from the foot of the U.S. Capitol around the Potomac Tidal Basin, the Mall contains our most precious, profoundly symbolic public landmarks including the Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Memorials, and the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War Veterans Memorials. The Smithsonian Institution's 19 museums, such as the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, and National Museum of the American Indian, also line The Mall. Best of all-it's all free! This is also where many demonstrations, protests, and marches take place, as it sits right in front of the Capitol – more stirring testament to our national ideals of freedom and democracy. Laid out in the shape of a cross as part of the original federal plan, the greensward is a splendid place to relax or jog (perhaps past politicos and their retinues).

Annual visitors: 25 million (Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, The Trust for the National Mall)

Most Visited US Attractions

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