THE BLOG
09/02/2010 06:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Essential Tourist Traps, Part One: Introduction

Back when I was a kid, first lady Ladybird Johnson announced the "See America First" Campaign. Travel America before going to Europe or the Middle East. There's a lot to see in the US of A, and almost all of them are tourist traps: expensive hotels, cheesy souvenirs and lousy restaurants, you know the drill.

But a few of the things this cheesiness surrounds just have to be seen. It's a mandatory part of a person's well-rounded education, designated by the federal, state and local governments to be worthy of preservation. A few of these have also been designated as such by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, as World Heritage sites.

I'm not sure what exactly UNESCO, uses as criteria for designating them. For instance what exactly is there to see at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands? I know that something important happened there, but since it was repeatedly nuked in the 1950s and '60s, what exactly is there to see or preserve?

Nothing. I could go on for pages and pages about what deserves to go on the list and isn't (the Kaaba in Mecca) and what doesn't (San Marino? Puh-leeze!), but in the United States there are 20, and some of these are actually easy to get to from major metropolitan areas, these plus a few others like Niagara Falls and the Lincoln Memorial are the Essentials.

The World Heritage sites, in order of accessibility by local public transportation, are:

* Independence Hall (Philadelphia, PA)
* Statue of Liberty (NYC, NY)
* Redwood National and State Parks (Outside San Francisco, CA)
* Everglades National Park (Near Miami, FL)
* Monticello and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville
* Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site (Outside St. Louis, Mo.)
* La Fortaleza and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico
* Olympic National Park (Washington state)
* Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
* Yosemite National Park #(California)
* Hawaii Volcanoes National Park #
* Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
* Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)
* Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
* Great Smoky Mountains National Park(Tennessee)
* Chaco Culture (New Mexico)
* Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico/Texas border)
* Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
* Pueblo de Taos (New Mexico)
* Kluane / Wrangell-St Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek # * 34
* Papahānaumokuākea (Somewhere in the Pacific)

Clearly, not all of these places are tourist traps, Papahānaumokuākea, for example, is waaaay out in the middle of the Pacific, and unless you charter a yacht for a week, you just can't get there. As far as I know, there are no souvenir stands, no cheap hotels, no nothing. (However there's a visitors' center in Hilo, Big Island Hawaii, hundreds of miles away). This is probably good for the area, and remoteness is good for quite a few national parks and monuments as well. Natural beauty must be preserved.

However, we're not going to talk about that. We're going to talk about those other places. The ones that are easy to get to, and despite the fact that they're plagued with souvenir stands and fast food places are necessary to visit in order to have a well-rounded education.
Not all these places we're going to talk about are World Heritage Sites, or even government sponsored sites, oh no. Disney World in Orlando. FL is entirely private, and rightly so, but it's damn near close to being America's Mecca. You just have to go there once . It's an essential tourist trap if there ever was one.

First up: The Statue of Liberty, in New York City.