6 Forgotten Vacation Spots

U.S. News & World Report

6 Forgotten Vacation Spots

Travel is a fickle business, with destinations going in and out of vogue as quickly as leg warmers and moon boots. Destinations that were hot only 20 years ago have since gone tepid, clinging to the memory of their glory days. But what caused the flux in the fad? Find out more about some of the travel industry's former heavyweights, what made them fall and whether or not they should have been forgotten.

[See a photo recap of 6 Forgotten Vacation Spots]

What made it popular: Anyone who has ever seen the 1960 film, Where the Boys Are, is familiar with Fort Lauderdale's scandalous Spring Break reputation. From the 1940s to the 1980s, this coastal party haven reigned supreme: beckoning to droves of 20-somethings who fled southward from midterms in search of warm sunny weather, gold-sand beaches, cheap hotels and a vibrant nightlife scene.

Fort Lauderdale's notoriety as Spring Break Central began to dwindle a few decades earlier, when the seaside debauchery came to a screeching halt back in the mid 1980s: An attempt to clean up the city's reputation included a ban on beachside boozing, which forced partiers to turn to other, more tolerant towns like Cancún, Mexico and South Padre Island, Tex. Despite students' efforts to cling to their original party spot, they were declared unwelcome in 2006 by the Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

What it's like now: In the meantime, the "Venice of America" began a major facelift. Down came the once-beloved bargain hotels like the Lauderdale Beach Hotel and the Gold Coast and up went several five-star resorts. As for the pulsating nightlife, little remains of that, either. Since exiling the party people, Fort Lauderdale has become a hotspot for more refined vacationers, offering plenty of fine dining and opportunities to set sail on yachting expeditions.

Should it have been forgotten: No. Spring Break made Fort Lauderdale famous, but its recent revamps have made it luxurious. Now that its wild ways have been tamed, Fort Lauderdale makes for an ideal (and family-friendly) beach getaway. 

What made it popular: This cozy village nestled among the peaks of the Adirondack Mountains has been the winter sports mecca of upstate New York for years, but once upon a time, this tiny town captured the attention of sports fans across the world as a two-time host of the Winter Olympic Games. In 1932, Lake Placid saw the United States win the total medal tally (which wouldn't happen again until Vancouver in 2010). However, it was the 1980 games that truly solidified Lake Placid's place in Olympic history: It was here at Lake Placid that the U.S. men's ice hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviets 4-3. The win, which has since been dubbed the "Miracle on Ice," inspired a revived sense of patriotism amid Cold War tensions.

As the buzz of the 1980 Winter Olympics wore off, so did Lake Placid's popularity as a wintertime getaway. Because it's rather isolated (the village lacks a major airport), skiers soon turned their attention westward towards Aspen, Colo., and Lake Tahoe, Calif.

What it's like now: Not much has changed in this secluded mountain village. In fact, Lake Placid continues to hold fast to its Olympic history, offering visitors the chance to ski, skate and sled on the former Olympic facilities. The town itself looks almost exactly as it did back in the '80s, with local shops, family-owned restaurants and romantic ski lodges encased in Lincoln-log architecture.

Should it have been forgotten: No. While it may not be as grand as other ski spots, Lake Placid exudes an antiquated charm that can only be found in the Adirondacks. All the favorite winter pastimes can still be found, not to mention plenty of summertime festivals and activities.

What made it popular: While "The Biggest Little City in the World" saw economic growth throughout the 19th and early 20th century, it was the legalization of casino gambling in 1931 that put Reno on the map. Like its neighbor, Las Vegas, people went to Reno to win big. However, Lady Luck wasn't the only thing that enticed Americans to visit: just as Vegas specializes in hasty weddings, Reno was once the place to go for a quickie divorce. American journalist Ernie Pyle once wrote: "All the people you saw on the streets in Reno were obviously there to get divorces." In fact, the break-up biz was so eminent that references were made to it in many forms of pop culture, including Ayn Rand's popular novel, The Fountainhead.

But other states soon followed suit in easing divorce requirements and Reno became overshadowed by Las Vegas' dazzling lights. The development of Indian casinos in nearby California also took gambling a step further and hit Reno where it hurts.

What's it like now: Reno recaptured some of its popularity as the subject of the popular comedy series, Reno 911. However, economic struggles have taken a toll on the Biggest Little City, and it's clear that there's not as much money coming in as there used to be. The city has taken on a shabby feel, with many of the hotels suffering from mediocre upkeep. There are some parts of downtown that are somewhat rough, but the five-block gambling oasis still stands.

Should it have been forgotten: Probably. Although significant efforts are being made to revitalize this once booming town, it's hard to see Reno ever regaining enough momentum to really compete with nearby Vegas. And although it welcomes some day-trippers from Lake Tahoe, Calif., the Indian casinos still attract more business. Despite valiant attempts to regain tourist traction, Reno's heyday has come and gone.

What made it popular: This mountainous region of eastern Pennsylvania -- about 100 miles north of Philadelphia -- began its run as a tourism destination in 1829 when the first hotel opened at the Delaware Water Gap. But it remained relatively undiscovered until after World War II, when the tiny mountain towns began to draw young lovers (many of them soldiers and their girlfriends or wives) with the promise of romantic seclusion. Soon, the Poconos cultivated a reputation as a honeymoon hotspot, complete with rustic resorts like Caesars Cove Haven. In the 1960s and '70s, the Poconos earned the nickname "The Honeymoon Capital of the World" with the help of the heart-shaped hot tub, which became a feature of most hotel rooms.

Despite the development of other tourist draws, such as the Big Boulder Ski Area and the Pocono Raceway, the Poconos lost their romantic edge. During the 1990s, the town couldn't compete with the rising status of larger ski areas out west, aiding the demise of many  of the more venerable honeymoon resorts closed.

What it's like now: The decline in notoriety inspired the remaining Poconos hotels and attractions to up the ante.  At the end of the 1990s, the Pocono Mountains Quality Assurance program was created to help tourist facilities to both better their establishments and attract new business. But the tourism boom was never really recovered. Today, tiny towns like the Delaware Water Gap and Shawnee -- once crowded with young lovers -- project a much sleepier atmosphere.

Should it have been forgotten: Probably not. Millions of dollars have been invested into the improvement of Poconos facilities and, just a few years ago, the region welcomed a performing arts center, a casino resort and a massive indoor water park. The Poconos is also home to several golf courses, and opportunities to hike, boat, fish and ski make it a great outdoorsy destination.

What made it popular: During the 1950s, Acapulco was THE place to go. This seaside town on Mexico's west coast attracted the hippest of the hip with its golden beaches and glitzy reputation. It was here that Frank Sinatra enjoyed oceanfront martinis, Elizabeth Taylor got married and Elvis filmed Fun in Acapulco. The year-round warm weather consistently attracted sun-seekers, but it was Acapulco's thriving nightlife that caught the attention of travelers around the world. Only here could you dine at midnight before dancing 'til dawn. But you still had to look your best in the morning: This was where you came to see and be seen.

As the 20th century wore on, Acapulco lost its luster. More modern resorts were popping up along Mexico's east coast in places like Cancún and Cozumel, drawing attention away from the Pacific and toward the calmer turquoise waters of the Gulf. It didn't take long for Acapulco's glory days to become history.

What it's like now: Frommer's compares Acapulco to "a diva -- a little past her prime, perhaps overly made up, but still capable of captivating an audience." The original resorts are still there, but they're starting to show their age compared to the newer properties popping up in the southern part of town and in Mexico's eastern vacation spots. And as for the glitz, Acapulco still tries to live up to its historic reputation, but problems with trash, drugs and prostitution transformed this once-beloved hangout from glamorous to grungy. 

Should it have been forgotten: Probably. Despite efforts to better this formerly thriving resort getaway, drug-related crime and prostitution are still very much an issue. And while more than 60 tons of trash was recently extracted from the nearby bays, littering is still commonplace. If you are lucky enough to find a clean spot of sand, you can expect to have to fend off the street vendors who have replaced the Hollywood hotshots as the beaches' most frequent visitors.

What made it popular: Many a Bugs Bunny adventure began with an intended trip to Pismo Beach, but a missed left turn at Albuquerque always spelled disaster. But what was it that caught Bugs' eye in the first place? While the warm weather and quiet shorelines were definitely perks, this Looney Tune was after some seafood. Known as California's Clam Capital, this small seaside town -- located about 200 miles north of Los Angeles -- earned America's affection during the 1950s, '60s and '70s with its chowders, clam sauces and everything in between. But before Bugs lost his way, Pismo Beach acted as a safe haven for partiers during the 1920s when Prohibition was at its peak. The town's saloons and brothels were another major tourist draw. At times, Pismo welcomed so many tourists that its two hotels -- the Pismo Beach Hotel and the El Pismo Inn -- had to erect tents to accommodate them.

As the 20th century wore on, Pismo's reputation began to fade. Loosened alcohol restrictions made the town's nightlife less infamous, while its reputation as a shellfish-lover's paradise was slowly usurped by New England. By the turn of the century, Pismo Beach was no longer a well-known vacation spot.

What it's like now: Since the mid-20th century, Pismo's seen some changes. The notorious taverns and brothels that were once so popular during the '20s have been replaced by several notable wineries, while the construction of new seaside resorts (like the SeaVenture Hotel) has allowed the more historic lodges to retire their tents. However, Bugs Bunny will be happy to know that, despite the introduction of digging limits, Pismo's still got clams.

Should it have been forgotten: No. While it may not be as hoppin' as it was in the 1920s or as reputable as it was in the '50s, Pismo Beach still has plenty to offer. This cozy Californian town features a sterling shoreline, verdant golf courses and ample opportunities to surf, boat and fish. Add on the promise of at least one scrumptious clam bake, and you'll see why Bugs Bunny was so determined to visit.

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