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Monday, December 15, 2014

Best places to ride a dog sled in the lower 48

Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

With barely 1,000 miles of highway to Alaska’s more than 570,000 square miles, dog sledding is not only a popular sport, but a convenient means of transportation throughout the state.

It is a tradition for most and a lifestyle for some, namely those who take part in the treacherous 1,150 mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome (which is basically the Olympics of dogsled racing). There are companies in Alaska that offer a taste of that brutality year-round, allowing tourists to take dog sleds out for a spin.

But lucky for those of us that live in the lower 48, you don’t have to traverse the Great White North to try your hand at mushing. Here’s a look at the best places to ride a dog sled this winter that are a little closer to home.

Wintergreen Dogsled LodgeEly, Minnesota

The folks at Wintergreen invite people of all ages and fitness levels to participate in their dogsled experiences, which take customers through the boundary waters in northern Minnesota. The tours are crafted according to the customer’s skill levels, but no experience is necessary. Wintergreen’s website says its been operating for more than 25 years and had customers as young as 6 and old as 85 riding across the frozen wilderness.

Photo courtesy of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge.

Photo courtesy of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge.

You can go full Balto and do multiple-night trips where customers dog sled from lodge to lodge, or opt for a simple day trip. There are dozens of trips to choose from that vary in length, skill level, and route. There are parent-child trips, where the pair gets their own dogsled on which to explore. There are even trips aimed at improving customers’ photography skills.

Each of those categories has options for different skill levels, of course, and offers training – not just in dog sledding, but in dog care and harnessing, snowshoeing, camping, outdoor cooking, winter ecology, backcountry skiing, cold weather comfort and more.

The prices vary among experiences, age of participant and time of year, but an 8-hour day trip costs about $250 and the multiple night trips can cost more than $1,000. Prices for children are discounted. Book in advance, as some experiences are already full.

Nature’s KennelMcMillan, Michigan (Upper Peninsula)

One owner of this dogsled business has raced in at least seven Iditarods, which means the place is legit.

If you are looking for a small taste of dog sledding and don’t want to spend more than $100, Nature’s Kennel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula may be your best bet. They offer a slew of sledding experiences, but the best deal is the half-hour trip.

Photo courtesy of Nature's Kennel

Photo courtesy of Nature’s Kennel

During the half-hour trip, which cost $75, guests are given a ride around Boyne Highlands Resort near Harbor Springs, Michigan. This option is available on all winter weekends and holidays. Pay double the price for the full hour.

Nature’s Kennel is owned by a husband-wife duo (and their two toddlers). They spend most of the summer getting ready for the winter, when they bring in a couple people to help guide the tours. This year, the helpers are a woman from Newark, Ohio, who owns her own kennel of Alaskan huskies, and a woman from New Zealand, who names the Himalayas as one of the most beautiful places she’s ever been.

Adirondacks region - New York

Home to the first Olympic dog sled demonstration and its own popular dog sled race, the Adirondacks can be the perfect place to take to the sled. Several resorts throughout the mountain towns offer sled rides to their guests, and some year-round residents still use dog sleds as a reliable form of transportation.

Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

And the sleds they ride on are often made near home. Local craftsmen fashion sleds out of strong and lightweight ash trees native to the Adirondacks, ranging in size from children’s sleds to those meant to carry heavy loads.

Winter in the Adirondacks is a thing of beauty. There are cozy towns and inlets around nearly every remote turn. It’s hard to pick one little town in which to stay (they all have their allure at any time of the year, really), but Lake Placid is by far one of the most visited cities in the mountains.

The quaint town, populated with outdoor gear shops, snug breweries and inviting coffee shops, envelops Mirror Lake, which freezes over in the winter. When the snow falls and the lake freezes, dog sled drivers line Main Street and offer passers-by a ride across the lake. Prices vary, and mushers always check the safety of the frozen lake before taking out passengers. Notable places to dog sled: Golden Arrow Dogsled Rides and Thunder Mountain Dog Sled Tours.

Yellowstone Dog Sled AdventuresBig Sky, Montana

In Yellowstone National Park, winter is a nine-month experience, making the terrain excellent for mushing. In the high altitude and cold, the Alaskan Huskies thrive. Even during the three blissful months of “summer,” when most of the snow melts, Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures is operational and the dogs are running.

Photo courtesy of  Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures

Photo courtesy of Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures

This company offers two options – a one-hour trip and a half-day trip (cost is $95 and $195, respectively, for adults. Kids rates are $45 and $150.) The half-day trip seems the more desirable of the two. It takes riders through the mountains of Montana and offers scenic views and photo opportunities. There are different options within the half-day trip, in which patrons can choose to ride with a guide (cuddled up in a sleeping bag on the back), tandem (you drive while another person in your group rides), or drive your own sled.

The owners warn that these trips are not for the faint of heart or lung. Even at the lowest altitude in Yellowstone, you are still at an elevation about a mile high. Although the sledding trips probably won’t take you from the highest to lowest point in the park, the high altitude and thin air make the trips inhospitable to inactive folks.

Mountain Musher Dog Sled RidesVail Valley, Colorado

The Mountain Musher tour runs a private trail through Aspen groves and pine forests in the Rocky Mountains. The trails aren’t shared with snowmobiles or cross-country skiers, although they may be shared with wildlife such as elk, fox, coyote and deer.

There are several sledding businesses operating throughout the Rockies, at least one of which recently underwent animal abuse accusations. Mountain Musher has been in business since 1989 and often receives positive reviews.

Photo courtesy of Mountain Musher Dog Sled Rides

Photo courtesy of Mountain Musher Dog Sled Rides

Two trips leave daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon – and last about two hours. Two people (or one adult and two small kids, or three small kids) are allowed per sled, and a musher stands behind the passengers and controls the dogs. The ride is about six miles and costs $175 a person. But you get a snack of homemade pumpkin bread and hot cocoa midway through the trip, plus a nice photo opp. If you want the sled to yourself, it’ll cost you the price of two people ($350). Holiday prices are also elevated, so if you’re looking to get the experience on a budget, avoid the end of December, MLK Day weekend and Valentine’s Day weekend.

Reservations are required, but make sure you’re committed – you’ll be charged if you cancel your trip.

Story by: Ally Marotti

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Friday, November 21, 2014

6 city nicknames and their backstories

Calling cities by their nicknames seems to be a trait common among tourists, but that’s not to say locals don’t occasionally use their city’s nickname with endearment. These terms have become commonplace in our vocabulary, but their origin stories dig a little deeper into history.

NYC – The Big Apple

New York City. A breeding ground for culture, excitement and hope. For centuries people have flocked there, be it to visit, study or live. The city has fostered its people and their cultures, making or breaking them. There are languages spoken on the NYC streets that have gone extinct in other parts of the world. There are foods cooked in NYC kitchens that cannot be found anywhere else in America. Everyone has a story to tell or a story to write, and they come to NYC to do it. People the world over know of the endless opportunities the Big Apple presents, and seemingly everyone is eager to take a bite.

But what does that mean, exactly? Where did that analogy come from? And the even bigger question, who decided that an apple represented opportunity?

A clipping of John J. Fitz Gerald's 1920s column "About the Big Apple." Photo courtesy of BarryPopik.com.

A clipping of John J. Fitz Gerald’s 1920s column “About the Big Apple.” Photo courtesy of BarryPopik.com.

Entomologists have traced the origin of the “Big Apple” reference back to a 1924 column in the New York Morning Telegraph. A guy named John J. Fitz Gerald wrote a column called “Around the Big Apple,” which documented NYC happenings and reportedly popularized the phrase.

But where did Fitz Gerald get it? Experts think he heard the phrase being used by some stablehands in New Orleans years before his column ran. They referred to NYC as the “big apple,” and as the most desirable destination. Back in those days, when apples were sold in barrels, farmers used to put the nice big ones on top, for aesthetic purposes. People would assume the rest of the barrel was also full of big, juicy, delicious-looking apples and buy that barrel. Of course if the barrels were shipped, the small apples fell to the bottom anyway.

So the big apples were the most desirable. Horses, as you may know, love apples, which is probably why stablehands were so concerned with which ones were desirable.

Manhattan in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Sivi Steys.

Manhattan in the early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Sivi Steys.

And so, the connection was drawn. Big apples were the cream of the crop. New York City is the most enticing place to be. Both were things stablehands longed for. So New York City became fondly known as the Big Apple.

“The big apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the dream of all horsemen. There’s only one Big Apple. That is New York.”

Honolulu – The Big Pineapple

Possibly a play on New York City’s renowned nickname, The Big Pineapple is one of several nicknames for the capital of Hawaii, and it’s more than just a play on words.

Tourism has been Hawaii’s main industry since it achieved statehood in 1959, but the pineapple industry also plays a significant role in the state’s income.

Pineapple fields outside of Honolulu. Photo courtesy of San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive.

Pineapple fields outside of Honolulu. Photo courtesy of San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive.

Honolulu alone is home to multiple pineapple plantations and canneries, including the Dole Pineapple Plantation and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company.

Although some global powers are starting to move in on the pineapple business, it’s something that has for decades been rooted into the culture of Honolulu, and Hawaii as a whole.

The pineapple is also known as a symbol of friendship and welcome, which also factors in to Honolulu’s nickname.

Aloha.

Chicago – The Windy City

Chicago’s infamous nickname carries two meanings, neither of which are particularly positive. (It’s kind of funny how time has a way of making these initially biting nicknames so endearing, isn’t it?)

One side of the moniker comes from the physical winds that whip off Lake Michigan and are funneled by the skyscrapers Downtown, making for a lovely commute in the winter months.

The other half is a sort of slur toward the residents and politicians of Chicago, meaning that they’re full of wind, bombastic and boastful.

Chicago skyline, 1939. Photo by Charles Dunlap

Chicago skyline, 1939. Photo by Charles Dunlap

The first recorded use of the “windy city” nickname – in the pompous sense – wasn’t even referencing Chicago. Someone in Wisconsin used the term to describe Green Bay in 1856, but Chicago’s rival Midwest cities quickly began using to the term in a more derogatory sense.

In the 1870s, Cincinnati newspapers were constantly using the term to slam Chicago, entomologists have found. The word battles newspapers in the two cities got into were so vicious other media outlets around the country reported on them. The rivalry might have stemmed from the fact that both Cincinnati and Chicago were referred to as “Porkopolis” in the late 1800s because of their meat processing industries, and Cincinnati was trying to coin a different nickname for Chicago. Of course the rivalry between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Whites didn’t help much, either.

The newspaper rivalry eventually fizzled out, but the nickname endured.

Las Vegas – Sin City

The origin of Las Vegas’ nickname might seem a little obvious, what with it offering almost any vice imaginable to the visitor. But all that sinning had to start somewhere, and that Garden of Eden was Block 16.

Located on First Street between Ogden and Stewart Avenues, Block 16 became famous in the early 1900s, first for being able to legally sell liquor without licensing restrictions and second for blatantly offering prostitution.

Las Vegas sign. Photo courtesy of  InSappoWeTrust.

Las Vegas sign. Photo courtesy of InSappoWeTrust.

It was a place out of an old Western film. Scantily-clad prostitutes worked the dusty saloons and gave owners a cut of their profit.

One of the first gambling halls, The Arizona Club, was among the saloons and bars on Block 16, the Las Vegas Sun reported. And when prohibition rolled around in the 1920s, Block 16 remained untouched.

City officials were fully aware of the scandalous behavior occurring behind swinging saloon doors on Block 16, but didn’t do anything about it until the U.S. Army built a gunnery school nearby. Army officials started raising hell about the sinning, and the city was desperate for their business, so that was that.

After World War II, Block 16 was bulldozed into a parking lot and remains so today. But the bulldozers couldn’t put an end to the sin in the city, and Las Vegas was built up around it.

Boston – Bean Town

Boston’s nickname, like the city itself, dates back to colonial times. Although experts believe that Native Americans were eating beans long before Christopher Columbus even set foot on the continent.

Brown beans and bread were a staple in colonial America – being cheap, storable and easy to cook – and remained such into the 1900s. But experts say Native Americans taught the pilgrims how to cook beans and sweeten them. Even the bean pot was a Native American invention.

A postcard from 1911. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

A postcard from 1911. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

There was one deviation from the Native American’s recipe. Experts think that if they sweetened them, they would have used maple syrup, a product native to the homeland. But the Triangular Trade – a trade route that sailed between Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and New England, often in that order – brought molasses from the British West Indies to New England. Bostonians quickly adapted that as their bean sweetener.

As the pilgrims and Puritans became more established, they strictly observed the Sabbath, and would not even cook on Sundays. Beans could be cooked on Saturday and stored in the oven until Sunday, providing a warm meal on the Sabbath.

View of Boston from Breed's Hill, 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

View of Boston from Breed’s Hill, 1898. Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library.

Beans remained a common food among the plebeians and immigrants through the turn of the century, and in the early 1900s, Boston’s nickname became nationally known as the result of a publicity stunt.

In 1907, Boston hosted a sort of homecoming event called Old Home Week. To promote it, 1 million stickers with the image of two hands clasping over a bean pot were printed and distributed. The image made news, and soon was replicated on postcards and other materials, cementing Boston’s nickname as Bean Town.

Puts a little more meaning behind the bowl of Boston’s baked beans you’re eating, doesn’t it?

New Orleans – The Big Easy

Life in New Orleans is easy going like jazz, and it’s common knowledge the city derives its nickname from its lifestyle. But the origins of the epithet are a bit contentious.

Legend has it that there was once a jazz club in New Orleans called Big Easy, but any concrete evidence of the club’s existence has yet to be uncovered.

Images of musicians in a New Orleans establishment. Photo courtesy of Lindy Duchaine.

Images of musicians in a New Orleans establishment. Photo courtesy of Lindy Duchaine.

A gossip columnist at the Times-Picayune claimed to have coined the phrase in the early 1970s, making a comparison to life in New York City, the Big Apple. Her obituary notes that she helped popularized the nickname, but James Conaway, author of a crime novel called “The Big Easy,” reportedly claims the phrase as his own.

According to his story, the nickname was born in a fashion similar to New York City’s nickname. He says he heard the phrase used as slang on the streets of New Orleans while covering crime, and that the columnist first heard the phrase from him.

Whichever story is true, the nickname stuck, and the city continues to live up to it.

 Story by Ally Marotti

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cheap City, USA: New York City

Cheap City, USA is a CheapTickets blog series where we show you that any city can be enjoyed on a budget if you know where to look. In this breakdown of Cheap City, USA, we take a look at New York City.

Photo credit: Benjamin Vander Steen ©

Photo credit: Benjamin Vander Steen ©

Statue of Liberty

She’s the icon for New York City, and an entire nation.  Avoid the $18 ferry tours to the Statue of Liberty by hopping aboard the Staten Island Ferry from lower Manhattan’s Battery Park.  The free, round-the-clock ferry ride whisks passengers across New York Harbor and provides sweeping views of the lower Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island – and of course, Lady Liberty.  The ride is 30 minutes each way.

Times Square

The “Crossroads of the World” is a must for any first-time visitor to New York City, with its sensory overload of electronic billboards, street performers and awestruck tourists.  And it’s free!  More than 39 million people visit Times Square each year, from all over the world, making it a fabulous spot to people watch – especially at night, when lights glow bright.  Grab a seat at the pedestrian plaza, where public chairs and tables are available, and gawk to your heart’s content.  Bonus: Times Square offers free Wi-Fi, which means that you can post those selfies to social media for free, too.

9/11 Memorial

The 9/11 Memorial is a solemn tribute to nearly 3,000 people who perished during the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  Free to visit, the Memorial features the largest manmade waterfalls in North America, flowing into twin reflecting pools that reside where the Twin Towers once stood.  Note: Admission to the adjacent 9/11 Memorial Museum requires an advanced ticket purchase.

Photo credit: Jin Lee ©

Photo credit: Jin Lee ©

The subway

While not necessarily touted as an “attraction” in guidebooks, there is something to be said about the colorful experience for out-of-towners with New York’s easy-to-navigate train system.  (Just avoid morning and evening rush hours.)  Plus, it’s cheap at $2.50 per ride.  Tip: The Old City Hall Station, which closed in the 1940s, is visible when the downtown No. 6 train turns around after its last stop at Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall.  So stay on the train for a peek into the past!

Parks

Step off the concrete sidewalks and play within one of New York’s great parks.  Nearly 14 percent of the city is covered in green space, with a rotating collection of free and low-cost events taking place throughout.

Central Park

Central Park

Central Park: In the middle of New York’s urban jungle resides an 843-acre park boasting paths that wind past peaceful natural settings and attractions such as the Belvedere Castle, John Lennon Memorial at Strawberry Fields and the Central Park Zoo.  For a lush, woodland experience, head to the Ramble, located on the west side of the park.  For a deeper dive into the history and legend attached to this iconic setting, join one of the free guided tours offered by the Central Park Conservancy.

The High Line: This park dangles 30 feet in the air, built atop an abandoned, elevated railroad track on Manhattan’s West Side.  Offering great Hudson River views – as well as pedestrians navigating the streets below – it connects the Meatpacking District with Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. The park features regular public-art installations and events.

The High Line; Photo credit: Iwan Baan © 2009

The High Line; Photo credit: Iwan Baan © 2009

Skyscraper views

Simply strolling New York City streets is an experience unto itself – just don’t forget to look up! The energetic buzz of taxis and people from around the world mingle below some of the world’s most spectacular skyscrapers.  Favorite stops include Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building (step inside for free to check out the ceiling mural art).

While getting to the top of icons such as the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock come with a hefty admission fees and lines, avoid those costs by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge via the pedestrian pathway for sweeping skyline views from Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Museums

Sidestep museum admission costs across the Big Apple by visiting free museums or timing a visit with days that are free or pay-as-you-wish.  Most museums extend them.  For a complete list, click here.  A few favorites are below.

Museum at FIT: Can’t make NYC Fashion Week? Head to the only museum in New York City solely dedicated to the solely to the art of fashion.  It’s free.

Dace fashion exhibit at FIT; Photo credit: Steven Bibb ©

Dace fashion exhibit at FIT; Photo credit: Steven Bibb ©

Museum of Modern Art: The MoMA is one of the top art museums in the world, housing masterpieces by the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Dali.  Each Friday from 4-8 p.m., admission is free – but do expect crowds.

American Museum of National History: Those who are balzy enough to say “no” to the “suggested” general admission of $22 needn’t worry about paying.  For the rest of us, the museum is free the last hour of each day (4:45-5:45 p.m.).

American Museum of Natural History; Photo credit: Ryan Somma ©

American Museum of Natural History; Photo credit: Ryan Somma ©

Brooklyn Museum: Ancient Egyptian displays are among the highlights at New York’s second-largest art museum. It’s free the first Saturday of each month.

Chelsea Galleries:  The cluster of galleries between 10th and 11th Avenues in the Chelsea neighborhood provides a free opportunity to scope out amazing art at no cost – and with no sales pressure.

Theater

It doesn’t begin and end with Broadway, people.  Although the Great White Way attracts tourists with its bright lights and big names, shows at these 40 theaters clustered around Times Square often come with the steepest price – unless you heed these suggestions below.

TKTS Booths: Save 20 to 50 percent on same-day show tickets by heading to one of the TKTK Booths and checking availability.  Arrive early, especially if you’re dead-set on snagging discounted tickets to one of Broadway’s most popular shows.

TKTS booth in Times Square

TKTS booth in Times Square

Rush, Lottery & Standing Room Only: Many individual theaters in Broadway release same-day discounted tickets, $30 to $35, a few hours before scheduled performances.  Instructions vary theater to theater (click the link for details).  Expect long lines for the most popular shows.

The Julliard School Student Performances: This school is world-renowned for producing some of the best musicians, opera singers and dancers.  Catch student performances at venues across the city.  Prices range from free to $20.

Off-Broadway Venues: Hundreds of small theaters feature and every-changing offering of performances for as little as $12.  Click here for an updated Off-Broadway roundup by the New York Times.

Comedy

New York City has a major funny bone.  It’s where some of the most famous comedians got their start, and it’s where Saturday Night Live is taped.  Laughter across the city, and on the cheap, is easy to find.

Upright Citizen’s Brigade: SNL has plucked many a comedian from this stage. Free shows take place most Sundays and Mondays; otherwise, shows are regularly $5 to $10.

Photo credit: Sean Davis ©

Photo credit: Sean Davis ©

Lucky Jack’s: This gem on the Lower East side hosts a free weekly comedy show called “Ghandi, is that you?” every Wednesday at 9 p.m.  The show features seven to eight comedians, and surprise guests such as Louis CK and Jim Gaffigan are known to drop by the test out new material.

Cobra Club: Find free Friday night comedy at this quirky bar/yoga studio/coffee shop/event venue located in Brooklyn. Its “Live from Outer Space” comedy show starts at 9 p.m., followed by karaoke until 4 a.m.

The Stand: New York Magazine named it “Best Comedy Club” thanks to top comedic talent such as Judah Friedlander, Dane Cook and Janeane Garofalo regularly gracing its stage.  Shows are regularly $5 to $15.  Monday’s “Frantic!” show at 10 p.m. is free with an online RSVP.

Television show tapings

With a catchy sign, score some camera time with Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker during the live tapings of NBC’s Today show.  It tapes at the corner of West 48th Street and Rockefeller Plaza from 7-11 a.m.  Just show up – and weather-contingent, bundle up.  It’s free.

Al Roker of The Today Show; Photo credit: Troy Tolley ©

Al Roker of The Today Show; Photo credit: Troy Tolley ©

Other famous television shows that tape in New York, such as The Late Show With David Letterman, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Live! With Kelly & Michael, extend free tickets to fans.  But snagging those seats vary from show to show, with some requiring several weeks of advance notice and planning.  Click here to learn more.

Music

New York’s music scene is as diverse as its people, and can be found everywhere – from restaurants and bars to the streets and subway.  If music venues are more your thing, here are a few that fly more under the radar than, say, big-ticket shows at Madison Square Garden.

American Legion Post 398: Groove to free jazz while savoring cheap soul food at this Harlem mainstay.  Each Sunday, the basement of the American Legion Post gets packed with locals and visitors alike who come to experience this weekly event.  It’s been drawing crowds more than 50 years.

Knitting Factory: This Brooklyn venue features indie rock and underground hip-hop shows that range from free (with online RSVP) to $10 or $20.

Performers at the Knitting Factory; Photo credit: Mindy Bond ©

Performers at the Knitting Factory; Photo credit: Mindy Bond ©

Cameo: Pay $5 to $15 per show at this live-music venue tucked into the back of a Brooklyn restaurant.

Tours

New York has a tour for everything, from the ubiquitous double-decker bus tours that circle Manhattan’s top attractions to the niche walking tours that focus on food, film or fetish.  All usually come with a price; below are a few that cost nothing.

Big Apple Greeter: Native New Yorkers play volunteer ambassadors to visitors in this free program (with a no-tipping policy).  Request a greeter in advance and specify what you’d like to see or focus on.  With more than 300 greeters and 22 languages spoken, there is someone for everyone.

Free Tours by Foot: Licensed tour guides offer tours with no upfront costs – pay what you wish at the end of the tour.  Options go beyond walking tours of New York neighborhoods – also included are bus, bike, night and food-themed tours.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York: Reservations are required for this free, guided tour that includes a visit to the Gold Vault located five stories below street level.  (A week’s advance notice is typically sufficient.)  If money is an obsession, or you’re a big fan of “Die Hard 3: With a Vengeance,” then take this Financial District tour.

New York Public Library: Just sitting in the majestic main reading is like something out of “Harry Potter.”  Free docent-guided tours are available for those interested in the history and legends attached to this architectural showstopper that’s been featured in films such as “Sex and the City,” “Spider-Man” and “Ghostbusters.”

City Brewery Tours: Both Chelsea Brewing Company and Brooklyn Brewery Tours offer free tours of their sites – complete with free samples, of course.

Brooklyn Brewery; Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery

Brooklyn Brewery; Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery

NYC Bike Share: Pedal across Manhattan and Brooklyn (carefully, of course) with bikes from Citi Bike.  Stations are located throughout the two boroughs, and $10 will buy you 24-hour access to bikes.  The only caveat is being sure to dock your bike every 30 minutes at a station to avoid surcharges.

Apps for the Big Apple: It’s you’re a DIY sort of person, download a free interactive walking or audio tour app to your smartphone and explore neighborhoods and major attractions at your own pace.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Urban escape for the holidays: Cheap rates in big cities

Gifting yourself an urban getaway during the winter holidays could have you singing “Cha-cha-ching” to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

Hotels in big cities such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco silently unleash some of their lowest prices of the year over the holiday season.

This is especially true during the week of Christmas and the week after New Year’s, when folks are occupying their parent’s house and business travel essentially comes to a halt. While you’re trying to squeeze onto your old twin bed wrapped in My Little Pony sheets, hotels are desperate for guests.  In some cases, expect to save more than 50% what you’d regularly pay.  (Just don’t expect that on New Year’s Eve.)

Below are cities extending the steepest hotel savings during Christmastime, plus a few favorite no-cost holiday traditions to soak up seasonal ambience during this specific winter travel period.

Chicago

Average hotel savings: 60%

Yes, Chicago can get cold.  But the chill, paired with a hot chocolate held between warm mittens, is part of the holiday ambience in Chicago – where architectural marvels, world-class museums, amazing cuisine and these holiday favorites await.

ChrisKindleMarket; Photo credit: Choose Chicago ©

ChrisKindleMarket; Photo credit: Choose Chicago ©

Christkindlmarket Chicago (Nov. 21 – Dec. 24)

Downtown Daley Plaza is transformed into a Bavarian-style Christmas market filled with artisan shops, food stands, a beer hall, musical performers and, of course, Santa.

Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier (Dec. 5 – Jan. 11)

One of Chicago’s top family-friendly attractions hosts a dazzling indoor winter wonderland that includes ice-skating and rides.  Note: Activity wristbands are an additional cost.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo (Nov. 28-30; Dec. 5-7, 12-23; Dec. 26 – Jan. 4)

Even the animals get into the holiday spirit.  Stroll through a zoo decked out in brilliant, colorful lights from 5 to 9 p.m.  The holiday-inspired ambience also includes musical light shows, ice carving demonstrations and Santa’s Safari.

Spectators at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival; Photo credit: Choose Chicago ©

Spectators at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival; Photo credit: Choose Chicago ©

Magnificent Mile Lights Festival + Macy’s Holiday Windows (Through early January)

Two of Chicago’s most famous shopping streets provide a festive backdrop to holiday and post-holiday shopping: Michigan Avenue and State Street.  Linger outside the Macy’s Windows, a Chicago holiday tradition, before heading inside for a meal beside the Great Tree at the Walnut Room.  (Arrive early to beat the crowds, as reservations are not accepted Nov. 8 – Jan. 1.)

 

Las Vegas

Average hotel savings: 50%

The bright lights of The Strip glow a little brighter during the holidays, when resorts and casinos try to outdo each other with festive decorations.  With temperature highs hovering in the upper 50’s, it’s unlikely that you’ll be singing, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens Holiday Display (Dec. 6 – Jan. 5)

Prepare to be dazzled as the setting is transformed into a shimmering, sparkling holiday wonderland.  Even the dancing fountains outside of this famed Las Vegas resort are choreographed to a selection of Christmas music – always a crowd pleaser.

Freemont Street Experience (December-January)

Be prepared for seasonally inspired sensory overload at this five-block entertainment district in downtown Las Vegas.  Christmas-themed stage shows, plus a holiday-inspired Viva Vision light show on its massive video screen are among the attractions.

The Ice Rink at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas; Photo credit: Denise Truscello ©

The Ice Rink at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas; Photo credit: Denise Truscello ©

The Ice Rink at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas (Nov. 21 – Jan. 4)

The resort transforms its Boulevard Pool into a winter wonderland reminiscent of a Central Park ice skating rink. Only, this one overlooks the Las Vegas Strip and will include holiday films playing on its digital marquee on Mondays. Admission is free to visitors, although taking a twirl on the ice – yes, its real ice – is $15 per person, with a $5 skate rental fee.

Magical Forest at Opportunity Village (Nov. 21 – Jan. 4)

When a setting boasts “A Forest Filled with Hundreds of Dazzling Trees,” how can you say no?  This family-friendly attraction includes numerous rides and nightly entertainment, including storytellers, friendly characters, parades and choirs.  Note: There is an admission fee (check website), but all proceeds benefit Opportunity Village’s services and programs for people with intellectual disabilities.

 

Washington, D.C.

Average hotel savings: 45%

When Congress goes on winter recess and the city’s less abuzz with political wheeling and dealing, visit famed national attractions such as the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, the U.S. Capitol Building and Smithsonian museums (all free!), along with these seasonal attractions.

dcchristmas copy

The National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace (Dec. 5 – Jan. 1)

With the White House as a backdrop, President’s Park hosts this seasonal attraction open to the public. The pathway around the National Christmas Tree features 56 more trees representing each U.S. state, U.S. territory and the District of Columbia. Musical performances by choirs, bands and dancers will be held nightly through most of December.

ZooLights at the National Zoo (Nov. 28 – Jan 1, except Dec. 24-25, 31)

More than 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights transform the zoo into a festive wonderland from 5 to 9 p.m.  Live music performances and a new light show this year add to the ambience.  Most animal houses remain open for special animal keeper talks, too.

Downtown Holiday Market (Nov. 28 – Dec. 23)

This outdoor market filled with food, music and good cheer takes place in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery.  Browse for gifts amidst a rotating group of 150 regional artisans, crafters and boutique businesses.

Union Station (December)

The historic building (home to an upscale shopping mall and train station) decks the halls in December with holiday ambience inspired by Norway.  It addition to a giant Christmas tree, it will boast a Norwegian-inspired holiday market and a holiday model train display that winds through Norwegian towns and fjords.

Waterskiing Santa on the National Harbor; Photo credit: Waterski Santa Show ©

Waterskiing Santa on the National Harbor; Photo credit: Waterski Santa Show ©

Waterskiing Santa (Dec. 24)

Head down to National Harbor for this annual event.  Before taking to the skies in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, Santa skis the Potomac River alongside some special guests.

Candlelight Tour of Historic Houses of Worship (Dec. 26, 4-9 p.m.)

Nearby Frederick, Maryland, hosts this annual event celebrating religious diversity, as a dozen houses of worship welcome guests with choirs, nativity scenes and more.

 

New York City

Average hotel savings: 40%

Just walking around New York City is a festive feast for the eyes during the holiday season.  Consider these free attractions the start of an otherwise very, very, very long list.

Midtown Christmas © NYC & Company/Joe Buglewicz

Midtown Christmas © NYC & Company/Joe Buglewicz

Holiday windows (through winter)

Chanel your inner Holly Golightly for a stroll down iconic streets where store windows are a main holiday attraction.  On Madison Avenue, ogle the windows of Barneys New York before strolling over to 5th Avenue, where Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue windows dazzle passersby.  Finally, head down to 34th Street, where Santa awaits at the flagship Macy’s.

Holiday markets (various times, see website)

You may not find big bargains on Madison or 5th Avenues, but the pop-up holiday markets throughout New York City offer reasonably priced artisan gifts and food amidst decadent holiday ambience.  Favorites include Winter Village at Bryant Park and the Union Square Holiday Market, both of which also feature ice-skating.  To stay indoors, head to the Grand Central Holiday Fair.

Rockefeller Center (Dec. 3- Jan. 7 )

No visit to New York around the holidays is complete without a stop at Rockefeller Center, where the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and ice-skating just below it provide a great backdrop to hot-chocolate strolls and selfies.

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights (December – early January)

To see some of the most over-the-top holiday light displays, head to Brooklyn.  Those in the Dyker Heights neighborhood attempt to “outdo” each other each year and the spectacle was most recently seen on TLC’s Crazy Christmas Lights.

Queens County Farm Museum Holiday Open House (Dec. 26, 27 & 28, 12-4p.m.)

Tour a decorated farm … in New York City!  With history dating back to 1697, Queens County Farm occupies New York City’s largest remaining tract of undisturbed farmland.  This free event also features kid-friendly craft activities and plenty of mulled cider.

Wollman Rink in Central Park © NYC & Company/Julienne Schaer

Wollman Rink in Central Park © NYC & Company/Julienne Schaer

Free Central Park tours (through winter)

Central Park transforms into a real-life winter wonderland, especially with a fresh blanket of snow.  Take advantage of free escorted tours to learn the stories and legends attached to America’s largest urban park.

TKTS

OK, this isn’t exactly free.  But – waiting in this line at either the Times Square, South Street Seaport or Downtown Brooklyn locations can save you 20 to 50 percent on same-day tickets for popular holiday-themed shows.

 

Boston

Average hotel savings: 40%

Holidays in Bean Town beckon with a colonial-inspired atmosphere authentic to this city steeped in American history.  While free attractions such as the Freedom Trail – a must-do walking tour that strings together 16 historic sites – and the Sam Adams Brewery tour are perennial favorites, these seasonal highlights below delight visitors and locals alike.

Ice skating on Frog Pond; Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

Ice skating on Frog Pond; Photo credit: Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism

Candlelight Carols at Trinity Church (Dec. 13 at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.)

A Boston tradition since 1909, the popular musical performance is offered twice to the public free of charge.  (Donations are welcome.)  Doors open an hour prior to the performance for those anxious to snag a seat in this historic church located in Copely Square.

BLINK! A Light and Sound Extravaganza (Nov. 22 – Jan. 4)

The free show, which illuminates the Boston skyline to the songs of the Holiday Pops, takes at Faneuil Hall Marketplace a dozen times daily between 4:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.  The iconic open-air marketplace is also home to the largest Christmas tree in New England and live performances from Broadway shows, dance troupes and holiday carolers.

Downtown Crossing Holiday Market (Nov. 27 – Dec. 24)

The sixth-annual Downtown Boston Holiday Market returns to Summer Street Plaza after Thanksgiving for holiday shopping hoopla.  Situated across from Macy’s, the giant white tent will feature a new weekly collection of artisan vendors, gourmet food makers, artists and more.

Harvard Square Holiday Craft Fair (Dec. 5-7, 12-14, 18-23)

Ivy League ambience adds collegiate charm to this holiday fair in Cambridge.  Browse unique gifts for you and loved ones before strolling Harvard’s campus.

Boston Common Frog Pond

Although taking a twirl on its iconic ice skating rink is not free, the holiday ambience at this winter favorite is spectacular.  Simply walking through the heart of Boston Common, the oldest U.S. park, especially after a light sprinkling of snow, can be magical.

 

San Francisco

Average Hotel savings: 30%

It might not be a white Christmas in the City by the Bay, but one of the most beloved holiday stories of all time takes place in San Francisco, The Nutcracker.  Although performances by the SF Ballet come with a price, here are some seasonal activities that don’t cost a dime.

San Francisco City Hall; Photo credit: Hugh Grew ©

San Francisco City Hall; Photo credit: Hugh Grew ©

Lighted Boat Parade (Dec. 12)

Experience the largest boat parade on San Francisco Bay by staking out a vantage point from Aquatic Park, PIER 39 or the Marina Green. More than 60 boats will be decked out with lights and holiday décor.

San Francisco Hotel Lobbies (December – early January)

Tour the grand hotels of Nob Hill and Union Square for opulent lobbies decked out for the holidays.  Favorites include the Westin St. Francis, The Palace and the Fairmont.

SantaCon 2014 (Dec. 13)

Dress up as Santa or one of his helpers to join this popular and often tongue-in-cheek pub-crawl through the city, where interesting interpretations of popular Christmas carols abound.

santacon2 copy

Santacon; Photo credit: Roy Asneeded

24th Annual Union Street Holiday Program (Dec. 6-31)

Holiday entertainment and merriment comes to Cow Hollow, one of San Francisco’s most beautiful historic neighborhoods.  The month-long celebration along Union Street comes with validated parking and store open houses complete with holiday refreshments. Join the group holiday caroling on Dec. 21.

SF Ballet’s Nutcracker under the Dome  (Nov. 20-Dec.31)

The iconic dome of the Westfield San Francisco Centre springs to life each night with an innovative 3D light show that includes digital performances by the San Francisco Ballet.  In addition to this show, enjoy live entertainment and performances throughout the holiday season.

Ice Skating (various, through mid-January)

Although none of the ice-skating venues in San Francisco are free, the holiday ambience swirling around them make them a must-visit during the winter season. Favorites include the Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center; the San Francisco Zoo’s “green” holiday skating rink made of recycled materials; and the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square.

24 HoliDAYS on 24th Street (Dec. 1-24)

Free holiday hayrides on Saturdays are just one of the many free attractions at this month-long celebration in the charming Noe Valley neighborhood.  Carolers, activities for kids – even live reindeer – are among the other anticipated attractions along the festively decorated shopping street.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cheap City, USA: Chicago

Cheap City, USA is a CheapTickets blog series where we show you that any city can be enjoyed on a budget if you know where to look. In this breakdown of Cheap City, USA, we take a look at Chicago.

Millennium Park and Grant Park

Let’s start with the obvious but no less essential must-see Chicago attractions. You could easily spend a whole day walking around Millennium Park and Grant Park, both free to enter and explore, but let’s go over the highlights. The famously photographed Cloud Gate or “The Bean,” might be the only thing on earth with more selfies than Kim Kardashian. Get to this one early in the day when the crowds are thin. Also check out the Pritzker Pavilion before heading south to Buckingham Fountain and the many gardens in Grant Park.

The Bean; Photo credit: Andrew E. Larsen

The Bean; Photo credit: Andrew E. Larsen

 

Chicago Museums: Free and cheap days

The windy city has some world-famous museums and one of the largest indoor aquariums in the world. Here are the best times to go and save a few dinosaur bones.

Lincoln Park Zoo: Always free and open year-round! Stroll through a scenery of lions, alpacas, chimps and seals.

The Field Museum: Regularly $18; offers discounted and free days about twice a week, though the free days only apply to those with an Illinois ID. Out of staters may be out of luck.

The Shedd Aquarium: Regularly $40; offers free admission Mondays and Tuesdays for Illinois residents.

Shedd Aquarium; Photo credit: David Ohmer

Shedd Aquarium; Photo credit: David Ohmer

Museum of Science and Industry: Regularly $18; offers free admission on select days to Illinois residents.

Adler Planetarium: Regularly $12; offers free admission Mondays-Wednesdays to Illinois residents.

Art Institute of Chicago: Regularly $23; offers free admission to Illinois residents every Thursday from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Adler Planetarium; Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan

Adler Planetarium; Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan

 

Comedy Shows

Chicago is a funny city. It’s got some of the best improv theaters and comedy clubs in the country, producing greats like Steve Carell, Tina Fey and Mike Meyers. It’s hard to see a bad show in the 312, but here are some free, cheap and all good shows to check out:

TJ & Dave: Two critically acclaimed improv veterans play in a way that’s so impressive you’ll be trying to figure out how they did it. They are creepily in sync with one another on stage, but it’s all laughs in the audience. Wednesdays at 10:40 p.m. at iO Theater; $10.

Messing With A Friend: Seasoned improviser Susan Messing hosts and improvises each week inviting other comedians from around town to play with her. Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. at Annoyance Theater; $5.

TJ and Dave; Photo credit: Jeffrey Zeldman

TJ and Dave; Photo credit: Jeffrey Zeldman

Shame That Tune: Improvised music is like magic. You know there’s a reasonable explanation to how it’s done, yet you still suspect sorcery. This show has a game show format where guests tell embarrassing stories and the hosts turn them into “warped covers of popular songs.” Monthly performances at The Hideout; $5

The Lincoln Lodge: This show is always good for a laugh. It’s been a haven stage for emerging stand-up acts for the last 14 years. Fridays at 8 p.m. at the SubT Lounge; free (donation suggested).

Armando Diaz Experience: This show has been running strong at iO for 10 years. Founded by now-famous comedians Adam McKay, Dave Koechner and Armando Diaz, the improvised show starts with a monologist to inspire the scenes. Said guest story-teller is often a well-known comedian or celebrity. Mondays at 8 p.m. at iO Theater; $12

Members of Armando Diaz Experience perform; Photo credit: Angela Manginelli

Members of Armando Diaz Experience perform; Courtesy of iO Theater, photo credit: Angela Manginelli

 

Live Music

Kingston Mines: This Lincoln Park blues clubs lays down the live tunes every night of the week. It’s hosted blues acts like B.B. King and Carl Weathersby. The vibe is southern casual. Go on a weeknight when the cover is only $12.

The Empty Bottle: If you’re looking for the hipster Brooklyn experience of Chicago, come here. What looks like a real hole-in-the-wall operation from the outside is home to some great live music acts. Almost all shows are $15 or less.

Elbow Room: Another Lincoln Park jam factory, the Elbow Room has live music all week long. A few notable past acts include The Shins, Cage The Elephant and Joss Stone. The average nightly cover is $5.

Performers at Kingston Mines; Photo credit: Jason Saul

Performers at Kingston Mines; Photo credit: Jason Saul

 

Lake Michigan

If you don’t stand/walk/bike along the edge of Lake Michigan while you’re in Chicago, you’re doing it wrong. All of the parks and beaches along the lakefront are free. For a peaceful, beachy view, go to Montrose Beach. North Avenue Beach draws the most crowds and is a good place to join in a beach volleyball game. The lakefronts surrounding Belmont Harbor are concrete-paved steps with breathtaking views of the The Loop’s skyscrapers, and make for a great sand-free picnic place.

North Ave. Beach; Photo credit: David Wilson

North Avenue Beach; Photo credit: David Wilson

 

Chicago Botanic Garden

This living museum has over 25 different gardens including an aquatic garden and a bonsai collection. Admission to the gardens is free. You’ll have to pay for parking if you drive; it’s about a half hour drive from the city. It’s 100% free if you make a day of it and do the two-hour bike ride there, but you’ll have a great view of the lake for most of your ride.

Lily pads at Chicago Botanic Gardens; Photo credit: Eden Pictures

Lily pads at Chicago Botanic Garden; Photo credit: Eden Pictures

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Top 5 travel destinations with cheap and enjoyable off seasons

The same way Canadian geese fly south in late fall, we travel-lusting people of the world all seem to flock to the same locations at the same time—Mexico and the Caribbean in March, Europe in June, Hawaii pretty much anytime of the year.

Fighting the instinctual urge to travel during peak season means cheaper rates and smaller crowds. Avoid paying an arm and a leg; here’s a list of travel-friendly shoulder seasons to take advantage of year-round.

Utah in summer

The Rocky Mountains in general are breath-taking during the summer. Salt Lake City and Park City draw in large numbers of skiers and snowboarders in the winter, so that’s when they make their bread and butter. The summer months see smaller crowds. Ski-centric towns usually drop their hotels rates by $100-$200 during summer and fall. To the southeast and less elevated part of the state, Moab is home to nature-carved red rocks not to be missed. Strike out on a more frugal outdoorsy vacation from June-September to experience some of the best mountain biking, hiking, white water rafting and outdoor concerts in the nation.

moahb

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah; Credit: Gautam Dogra ©

New Orleans in late summer and fall

Mardi Gras may only come once a year, but New Orleans is full of life year-round. The absolute cheapest time to go is in the peak of summer, but it’s hit or miss on if you’ll enjoy yourself. It depends on how you feel about extremely damp heat. So let it cool down a tad; plan your jazzy trip for the tail end of summer or early fall. The 4-star JW Marriott New Orleans has rates as low as $149 in August, while they reach a high not at $289 during February festivities. The party on Bourbon Street never actually stops, so be sure to pack your party pants.

New Orleans; Credit: Jeff Turner©

New Orleans; Credit: Jeff Turner ©

Ireland in March

You’d think with St. Patrick’s Day in March, Ireland would be a giant island of festivities and high hotel prices. Actually, the holiday in its homeland isn’t the drinking day it’s become in the U.S. It can cost $200-$300 less to travel during early spring, namely March, than in the summer. Don’t worry about the weather; it’s rare to have anything more than an occasional flurry in Ireland’s winter due to The Gulf Stream, and by March, some of that famous green is starting to regain it’s hue. Book now so you can start planning your itinerary.

Muckross Head, County Donegal, Ireland; Oisin Mulvihill ©

Muckross Head, County Donegal, Ireland; Oisin Mulvihill ©

Mexico in summer

Northern Americans and anyone who shares their latitude, know that the only thing getting them through winter is the dream of a beach vacation in the spring. To Mexico they go! Spring breakers, families, couples, girls weekends, everyone. Except you, you savvy little cheapo, you. All-in-one packages for July travel will only set you back about $800-$900, while the same package in February and March clocks in at $1,000-$1,100. Hold off on the all-inclusive Cozumel package until June or July. It’ll be hot, but you’ll have constant access to a pool and/or beach, and your tan will be legend. Be careful of hurricane season, which is known to pick up in August toward the end of the summer.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico; ramonbaile ©

Playa del Carmen, Mexico; ramonbaile ©

Costa Rica in July and August

Central America is a beautiful destination where most nations are affected by a wet and dry season. Costa Rica’s wet season runs June to November, which leaves it pretty empty of tourists. No one wants to go and get rained on, true, but this wet season acts a lot like an isolated daily shower. July and August typically see the least amount of rain within this time period. The short-lived rains sometimes happen over night and if they strike during the day, it’s usually not enough to ruin your plans.

La Fortuna Falls, Costa Rica; Credit: Kyle May ©

La Fortuna Falls, Costa Rica; Credit: Kyle May ©

 

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Infuse a little Om into your city getaway – for free

Money doesn’t grow on your tree pose. Fortunately, major cities across the country host free yoga classes through summer—perfect for traveling warriors who want to avoid the $10 to $25 per-class fee that’s standard at most yoga studios.

Plus, most of these yoga sessions are held outdoors in iconic cosmopolitan settings, which is ideal for travelers who want to combine a little mind-body-spirit TLC with sightseeing.

New York City

What: Bryant Park Yoga

Where: Bryant Park

When: Tuesdays 10-11 a.m. and Thursday 6-7 p.m., through Sept. 18, 2014

Work your downward dog under shady trees, surrounded by towering Manhattan skyscrapers in this summer series presented by Athleta. Mats are provided. Walk-ins are welcome, but visitors are encouraged to pre-register online.

Bryant Park Yoga - Photo by Bryant Park Corporation (1)

Bryant Park

What: Summer in the Square

Where: Union Square

When: Thursdays 7-8a.m. (South Plaza) and 7-8 p.m. (North Plaza)

Find solace in one of New York’s great public spaces in the morning or evening. A limited number of mats are provided, so participants are encouraged to bring their own. Families can enjoy Yoga StoryTime with Karma Kids from 10-11 a.m.

Credit: Union Square Partnership

Union Square. Credit: Union Square Partnership

What: Wanderlust 108

Where: Prospect Park, Brooklyn

When: Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014

The meditation and yoga portion of this bigger “mindful triathlon” event is free for those who register online by Aug. 15, 2014. With celebrated yoga teachers Seane Corn and Elena Brower leading the group, complemented with music by MC Yogi, it’s sure to be an energetic gathering in Brooklyn.

Credit: Jake Laub

Wanderlust 108 in Brooklyn. Credit: Jake Laub

Boston

What: Summer Yoga at Frog Pond

Where: The Boston Common Frog Pond

When: Thursdays, 6-7:15 p.m., through Aug. 28, 2014

Enjoy an all-levels vinyasa yoga flow in Boston’s most historic park. The class meets behind the Frog Pond Carousel. Bring your own mat, and check for weather-related cancelations on the Facebook page.

Chicago

What: Everybody Free Yoga

Where: Venues all over Chicago

When: Varying times through Sept. 6, 2014

This summer initiative spearheaded by Moksha Yoga Center, Chicago’s largest yoga studio, offers free yoga at parks, beaches and festivals throughout the city. Among the offerings: Saturday morning yoga at Millennium Park and Candlelight Yoga at Foster Beach during full moons. Check the website for a complete schedule.

Millennium Park Credit: Jen Pagonis

Millennium Park. Credit: Jen Pagonis

What: Yoga Rocks the Park

Where: Northside Preparatory High School

When: Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.

Part of a bigger grassroots initiative to bring yoga into parks across the country, the Chicago event is free to those who register online. Sponsored by YOGA SIX, the class will include live music.

Washington, D.C.

What: Yoga in the Park

Where: Dupont Circle

When: Wednesdays, 6-7 p.m., Through Oct. 1, 2014

Hosted by lululemon Logan Circle, this is an all-level class in the heart of one of DC’s trendiest ‘hoods. Check the Facebook page for weather updates.

Meridian Hill Park

Meridian Hill Park

What: Yoga in the Park 2014

Where: Meridian Hill Park

When: Sundays, 5-6:30 p.m., Through August

Get your OM on in this gorgeous 12-acre park in the Columbia Heights-Adams Morgan neighborhoods of northwest DC. Hosted by Bikram Yoga Dupont, this all-level class celebrates its 10th summer season.

Miami

What: Yoga in the Park

Where: Bayfront Park (Tina Hills Pavilion)

When: Mondays and Wednesdays, 6-7:15 p.m.; Saturdays, 9-10:15 a.m.

Free yoga is offered year-round at this park overlooking Biscayne Bay and hugged by Miami’s luxurious high-rises and palm trees. Participants should bring their own mats.

Bayfront Park in Miami

Bayfront Park in Miami

Las Vegas

What: Blissfully Free Sundays

Where: Barefoot Sanctuary
(located inside Whole Foods Market at Town Square)

When: Sundays at 4:30 p.m., through 2014

After a weekend of partying hard on The Strip, detox with a mellow yoga class suitable for beginners at Barefoot Sanctuary — the only yoga studio on the Las Vegas Strip, inside the Whole Foods Town Square.

Barefoot Sanctuary located along the Las Vegas Strip

Barefoot Sanctuary located along the Las Vegas Strip

What: Sunday Morning Yoga

Where: lululemon, Las Vegas Fashion Show Mall

When: Sundays at 9:30 a.m.

lululemon is always a great go-to for free yoga since most stores offer no-cost classes on weekends. The Las Vegas location extends classes to the public on Sunday mornings. Mats are provided, but arrive early to snag a spot.

Dallas-Fort Worth

What: DFW Free Day of Yoga

Where: Throughout Dallas-Fort Worth

When: Aug. 31 & Sept. 1, 2014

If you’re in Dallas-Fort Worth for the Labor Day Weekend, take advantage of free yoga across the city at more than 170 participating studios on Sept, 1. A free group class will also take place at the Fort Worth Water Gardens on Sunday, Aug. 31, at 5 p.m.

Los Angeles

What: Runyon Canyon Free Daily Yoga

Where: Runyon Canyon Park (Fuller Avenue entrance)

When: Everyday, see schedule

It’s tough to find free yoga in Los Angeles. But no-cost classes are offered at Runyon Canyon not just once a week – but several times daily! The classes, which get stellar Yelp reviews, are appropriate for all levels. Donations are accepted and appreciated.

Runyon Canyon Park. Credit: Ryan Vaarsi

Runyon Canyon Park. Credit: Ryan Vaarsi

San Francisco

What: Yoga in Golden Gate Park

Where: Golden Gate Park (Big Rec Baseball Field)

When: Sundays at 11 a.m.

Hold your tree pose amidst the trees in one of San Francisco’s most beautiful parks. While the class is technically free, teachers accept donations to benefit the Purusha Seva Project. Sparing a few bucks is good for karma, after all.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

What: Rooftop Yoga by Kari Gregg

Where: Lombardi Sports’ Rooftop

When: Sundays at 11 a.m.

Enjoy yoga under the skies atop a rooftop in San Francisco’s hip Nob Hill neighborhood. Bring your own mat for this 60-minute all-levels class and leave with a smile – plus, a 20-percent-off coupon for in-store merchandise.

Lombardi Sports Rooftop in Nob Hill

Lombardi Sports Rooftop in Nob Hill

Seattle

What: Gentle Yoga

Where: Seattle Center Exhibition Hall Lawn

When: Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m. -12:30 p.m., Through Aug. 20, 2014

Breathe and gently stretch your body in this Hatha yoga class suitable for beginners. Drop-ins are welcome, but bring your own yoga mat.

Olympic Sculpture Park. Credit: Robert Wade

Olympic Sculpture Park. Credit: Robert Wade

What: Summer at SAM Olympic Sculpture Park

Where: Olympic Sculpture Park

When: Saturdays, 10:30-11:30 a.m., Through Aug. 25, 2014

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) combines the outdoors with art and yoga for a weekly summer yoga practice in its Olympic Sculpture Park. Bring your own mat and check the Facebook page for more information and weather-related cancelations.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Fun and almost free: top 5 bike-friendly towns

Ah, what a feeling to have the world at your fingertips when beginning to make your travel plans, mapping out the places you want to see, the food you want to eat, and the things you absolutely must do. But, wait, how are you going to get around without breaking the bank on transportation costs, once you get to your desired vacation spot? Consider two wheels to cheapen the deal. When travel prices hike, the answer is to bike!

Major cities—the ones you totally want to take an extended weekend trip to—are earning top makes on Walkscore’s list of bike friendly cities. Tight wallets, rejoice! When it comes to your travel expense list, you can cross off cab rides and car rentals.

Join the fleet of penny-wise pedal pushers. Plan your next trek to these bike-lovin’ cities utilizing bike share programs and traveler-friendly bike rental shops:

1.  Portland, OR
Bikescore: 70.3

portland sto size

It makes sense that Portland is number one. Every good hipster has a bike and Portland is to hipsters as a hive is to bees. Surprisingly, Portland has yet to launch a bike share program. Not to worry; you can rent a bike for the whole week for $100 at Pedal Bike Tours. They have five stars on Yelp and are located only two blocks from the Waterfront Park Trail—no brainer.

2.  San Francisco, CA
Bikescore: 70.0

San Francisco

An image of San Franciscans with totally ripped thigh muscles comes to mind when one thinks of all those hills, but alas, it must not be that hard to get around on two wheels if SF is ranking in at number two. These West Coasters have the bike share thing down. A cheap $22 rental for three days of access to Bay Area Bike Share is perfect for you weekend travelers.

3.  Denver, CO
Bikescore: 69.5

denver to size

The mile high city is home to a monstrous 96 miles of bike lanes, which provides a safe place to ride for those new to city cycling. Denver B-cycle is the bike share program in town. At $20 for a week of unlimited rides, this might be the best deal on the list!

4.  Philadelphia, PA
Bikescore: 68.4

philly to size

Liberate your inner child on a ride to the Liberty Bell and right hook those wheels over to the Rocky Steps in the same day. While Philly has yet to adopt a bike share program, there are tentative plans in the works to bring one by spring 2015. Fairmont Bicycles is in your corner for rentals and only a six-minute ride to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The best deal there is a two-day rental for $60.

5.  Boston, MA
Bikescore: 67.8

bigboston to size

Cobblestone streets are no match for the savvy cyclers of Boston. Ride like Paul Revere in and around the circular hub of Bean Town’s central neighborhoods. Although it’s closed during winter, for obvious reasons, bike share is the way to go with The Hubway system. Best deal on the menu is $12 for a 72-hour access pass, leaving plenty of budget left for some chowdah.

Click here for a list of other major US cities with high bikescores.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

10 ways to make Austin awesomely free

Photo of the SXSW 2013 Gaming Expo courtesy of South By Southwest,

Photo of the SXSW 2013 Gaming Expo courtesy of South By Southwest.

The South By Southwest music, interactive and film festival kicks off March 7, which means a boatload of free parties, concerts and swag is about to invade Austin, Texas. Lucky for penny-pinching travelers, Austin is already rife with free entertainment. Here are the ten coolest free finds in town.

 

Party up

Even if you don’t buy a SXSW badge, the fest still provides a smorgasbord of free fun ranging from a video game expo to eco art installations. Sxsw.com/free contains the official events open to the public, but net-savvy travelers can also get the deets on free private events by keeping up with local publications like Austin360.com, AustinChronicle.com, RSVPster.com and Do512.com.

 

Take a dip

Barton Springs, the mother of all pools, charges an entry fee, but there are still plenty of spots along the city’s greenbelt that you can visit without paying a dime. Throw on your bathing suit and hit up local faves like Lost Creek, Sculpture Falls or Secret Beach.

 

Go gaming

Get a gander at brand new games at the SXSW Game Exposition or head to Kung Fu Saloon in downtown Austin to kick it old school. This ninja-themed bar boasts an impressive selection of 80s and 90s arcade classics, all of which are free on Sundays.

 

Grab a paddle (board)

If you’ve never tried stand up paddle boarding, now is your chance. SUP ATX offers free lessons every Sunday morning for beginners of all ages.

 

Get historical

A few museums in town are perma-free and bless them for it. You can always peek at the fossilized remains of dinos at the Texas Memorial Museum located at the University of Texas, Austin, or hop over to Camp Mabry just north of the city to see the Texas Military Forces Museum. A trip to Austin would be remiss without boning up on the state’s history. Thankfully the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum offers free admission the first Sunday of each month.

 

See some art

Historical museums aren’t the only place where you can score a deal. You can also slip in to see exhibits at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas every Thursday, the Mexic-Arte Museum every Sunday or at The Contemporary Austin modern art gallery every Tuesday on the house.

 

Go batty

Austin is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony and it’s basically a crime to leave town without seeing them. Living under the Congress Avenue Bridge, an estimated 1.5 million bats take flight at twilight. Bring a blanket and nab a seat near Lady Bird Lake for prime viewing.

 

Catch a flick

The illustrious Alamo Drafthouse runs free screenings of kids movies the last Saturday of each month during the school year and provides gratis children’s films every Monday through Thursday during the summer. You can catch the occasional non G-rated freebie at the Alamo locations, but you’re more likely to score complimentary films at Spider House Cafe and Ballroom or through the Austin Film Society.

 

Take a tour

Austin is the capital of the great state of Texas and you can learn all about it through the Texas State Capitol’s free guided tours. If you’d rather hoof it on your own, the Austin Visitor’s Center can hook you up with self-guided tours of downtown Austin and the Texas State Cemetery.

 

Take in some tunes

With more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the country, you simply can’t leave town without getting your groove on. There are far too many free shows to list here, but head to Do512.com/free to bask in the overwhelmingly awesome selection of no-charge concerts at your disposal.

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Friday, January 17, 2014

5 ways to score free vacation entertainment

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You ponied up for the flight. And you ponied up for the hotel. Now save big on your vacation fun with these five tips and tricks to score free activities and entertainment.

Work it

Taking tickets and passing out programs can score you gratis entry to film fests, concerts and live theater. Many year-round playhouses including New World Stages located off-Broadway in New York City and Briar Street Theater, home to the Blue Man Group in Chicago, allow volunteer ushers to see shows without paying a dime. Larger festivals like the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, and the Bonnaroo music fest in Manchester, Tennessee, offer loyal volunteers free entry to events they’re not working. Not all volunteer opportunities are advertised. To find out what’s available, call local theaters and cultural institutions several weeks or months in advance.

Go public

From concerts in the park to Saturday morning workout programs, cities offer a variety of publicly funded fun, especially during warm months. Many towns post events on their community calendars, but public libraries and budget-friendly blogs are also great sources for finding freebies.

Take a tour

New York, Paris, Moscow and a wealth of other destinations offer complimentary guided tours in English led by locals. If you can’t track down a greeter tour program, create your own by heading to iTunes and check out the hundreds of free walking tour podcasts available for download.

Try something new

What do the Samarya Center yoga studio in Seattle, the Rick Steves’ Travel Center in Edmonds, Washington, and the Chicago Underwater Hockey Club have in common? They all let newbies come test the waters for free. A little research and a willingness to step outside of your comfort zone can translate to fee-free introductory dance and cooking workshops, language classes, guest lectures, crafting courses, history lessons, photography seminars, fitness classes and more.

Use your connections

You may also be able to get perks through your bank or credit card provider. Bank of America, for instance, offers all of its credit and debit card holders free entry to more than 150 museums throughout the country two days per month, while Citi card members can use their Thank You points to score concert tickets through Live Nation. Contact your financial institutions and ask about their perks.

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