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Beyond the beach: 5 free things to do in Florida

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

With approximately 800 miles of beaches, Florida offers plenty of free fun in the sun. But when you’ve gotten your fill of vitamins D and “sea,” consider these other amusements that don’t cost a dime.

SummerJazz on the Gulf via Pat Shapiro

SummerJazz on the Gulf via Pat Shapiro

Catch a free concert: Year-round warm weather means perennial outdoor concert season, so pack a picnic basket and a blanket. Options range from the Florida Orchestra’s Pops in the Park concerts in St. Petersburg and Tampa, to the SummerJazz on the Gulf series in Naples, to Springing the Blues in Jacksonville. In South Florida, free is chic, as with the New World Symphony Wallcast concerts projected onto a 7,000-square-foot wall in Miami Beach SoundScape. Sounds like music to our ears.

Southermost Point via nathanmac87 at Flickr Creative Commons

Southermost Point via nathanmac87 at Flickr Creative Commons

Get the picture: The best souvenirs also happen to be the cheapest: photographs. Florida is home to some prime photo ops, so grab that selfie stick and start making your Facebook friends jealous. Begin your shutterfest in St. Augustine, where you can catch the free ferry to Fort Matanzas National Monument in all its 16th-century glory. Then make your way down to Sarasota‘s Ringling Museum of Art on a Monday for free admission to its gorgeous estate. And finish up in Key West with a quintessential photo at the Southernmost Point buoy marking 90 miles to Cuba.

Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area stretch of the Florida Trail via Winnie Lo

Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area stretch of the Florida Trail via Winnie Lo

Take a hike: Keep that camera handy for a jaunt along the Florida National Scenic Trail. The 1,300-mile path stretches from the Everglades all the way up to historic Fort Pickens. Some parts of the trail are more developed than others, but plenty are suitable for hikers of all ages and fitness levels looking to get up close and personal with the Sunshine State’s flora and fauna.

Wynwood Walls via Phillip Pessar at Flickr Creative Commons

Wynwood Walls via Phillip Pessar at Flickr Creative Commons

State of the art: Warm weather is perfect for evening art walks, where you can gallery-hop and sometimes enjoy free wine and entertainment. If you’re in Miami, definitely head to Wynwood – a trendy neighborhood with a concentration of vibrant, larger-than-life murals. If you happen to be there on a Tuesday evening, stop by Wood Tavern for two free tacos — no catch.

Gulf of Mexico via Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Gulf of Mexico via Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Celebrate the sun: Floridians take our sunsets quite seriously. Whether we’re sitting on a beach, out for an evening stroll or even just stuck in traffic, we take a moment to appreciate the ever-changing cotton candy skies. There are even formal events to mark the end of the day. Two of the best-known take place at Mallory Square in Key West and Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach. Both events feature live entertainment, vendors and a family-friendly atmosphere against the backdrop of the setting sun.

 

Story by Dalia Colon

The 5 types of selfies you’ll see on spring break

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Pack your bikinis, trunks, sunscreen, flip flops, and don’t you dare forget that smartphone. It’s your selfie soulmate; the only way your can prove to your social following that you’re having the best spring break ever. Spring break trelfies (as in, travel selfies) are your time to shine. Enter our CheapTickets Spring Break Trelfie Contest with one of these five trelfie types for a chance to win a free trip.

roadtrip selfie small copy

 

Beach and poolside

The better part of any proper spring break is spent on the beach or lounging by the pool. These selfies are easy to spot because the dress code is strictly swimwear, shades, and the occasional florescent inner-tube.

beahc selfie small

 

Group

Candid is key. Group selfies are great because everyone’s too worried about fitting the whole crew in to think about their most flattering angle. It’s like a spring break team building exercise. The result is always awesomely unstaged, so get weird with it. That one’s a keeper!

group selfie small

 

Clubbing

A night out–what’s not to selfie? Everyone is looking spiffy and of course the mid-dance pose is an impressive feat that only the most seasoned selfie takers can accomplish.

clubbing selfie small

 

Roadtrip

The possibilities are endless on the road. Any thing road-side that has a sign starting with “world’s biggest…” deserves a selfie. Or keep it simple and snap one with your backseat buddy.

Car selfie small

 

Adventure

Okay, so you didn’t make it to the coast for spring break, but that’s because there are mountains to hike, trails to bike, and extreme backdrops to take selfies in front of. Remember bears are camera shy, so ask them before you selfie.

Adventure selfie small

 

 

 

Cheap City, USA: Miami

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

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 Miami.

Key Biscane

Key Biscane

Miamis most prized possession: the beach

Sun-worshipers flock to Miami’s picture-perfect white sand beaches and tranquil aquamarine waters. Not only is the beach one of Miami’s most famous attractions, it’s free — you only have to pay for parking.

Key Biscayne: This secluded island paradise is just a few miles from downtown, yet worlds apart. Check out Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park with its historic lighthouse — it’s the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. The vistas from above are simply breathtaking.

Sunny Isles Beach: With it’s laid-back casual vibe, Sunny Isles Beach is a great spot for families. Visit the Newport Fishing Pier for great fishing and spectacular water views.

Sunny Isles

Sunny Isles Beach

South Beach: Take a stroll along Ocean Drive and you’ll find Art Deco buildings with alfresco cafés on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Stretching from 1 Washington Avenue to around 21st Street, this is the party beach with the funky multi-colored lifeguard stands that you’ve seen on TV.

South Beach

South Beach

 

Go for a walk on the wild side

There’s so much to do in the 1.5 million acre Everglades National Park. Made up of warm mangrove waters and sawgrass prairies, this giant river (yes, it’s a slow-moving river not a swamp) is home to a rare community of tropical plants and animals. You might even see manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and more than 350 species of birds.

Everglades-Kara-Franker

The combination of fresh, salt and brackish waters makes Florida Bay the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles (in this case, the rare American crocodile) live together.

Take a self-guided or ranger-led tours at the Visitor Center at the park’s southeastern entrance, or journey deeper into the Everglades for a more extensive experience in the Florida wilderness. To the north, the Shark Valley entrance to the park offers one of the best places to observe wildlife in a natural habitat. A 65-foot observation tower provides a spectacular bird’s eye view.

Everglades-Alligator-Kara-Franker

 

Local art scene

From eclectic street art to upscale contemporary art galleries, there are a number of free art walks hosted across the city.

Wynwood: Famous for it’s vibrant graffiti art painted by internationally renowned street artists, Wynwood is truly one of Miami’s most unique and artistic neighborhoods. Art walks happen every second Saturday of the month between 6 and 10 p.m.

Wynwood. Image by Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

Wynwood. Image by Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

Little Havana: Experience Miami’s rich Cuban heritage at Viernes Culturales (Cultural Fridays) in Little Havana. Enjoy live music, dancing under the stars, cigar rolling and domino games on bustling Calle Ocho. And make sure you stop by Café Versaille for Cuban coladas and pastelitos. The event is held on the last Friday of every month from 7 to 11 p.m.

Cafe Versailles. Photo by Jeremy Franker

Cafe Versailles. Photo by Jeremy Franker

Coral Gables: Head to picturesque Coral Gables with it’s tree-lined streets and elegant boutiques. Dubbed “The Great Gables Gallery Stroll,” wander through a myriad of local art galleries on the first Friday of every month from 6 to 10 p.m.

 

Free concerts and Miami’s museums

In Miami Beach is the New World Symphony Center, where the New World Symphony broadcasts free, live concerts on a soaring 7,000-square-foot “Wallcast.” Additionally, the City of Miami Beach Arts in the Parks program shows free movies on the wall on select Wednesdays at 8 p.m.

New World Symphony

New World Symphony

The Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami (MOCA) offers free live jazz concerts on the last Friday of every month at 8 p.m.

A number of museums in Miami offer a number of free days throughout each month:

  • Peréz Art Museum Miami — free on the first Thursday and second Saturday of the month
  • Bass Museum of Art — free on the last Sunday of the month
  • Gold Coast Railroad Museum — free on the first Saturday of the month (except in March)
  • HistoryMiami — free on the second Saturday of the month
  • Jewish Museum of Florida — free every Saturday
  • Lowe Art Museum — free the first Tuesday of the month
  • Miami Children’s Museum — free the first Friday of the month
  • Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCA) — free the first Sunday of the month
  • Miami Science Museum — free the first Friday of the month
  • Wolfsonian-FIU Art Museum — free every Friday night
  • The MDC Museum and Galleries of Art & Design — always free
  • The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum — always free
  • Bay of Pigs Museum — always free
Perez Art Museum. Photo by Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

Perez Art Museum. Photo by Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

 

People-watch on SoBes two best Catwalks

People-watching is hands down one of the best free activities in sun-drenched Miami. The most important thing you need is a camera. Watch people strut the catwalk known as Ocean Drive, where you’ll find bikini-clad beach bunnies, iron-pumping hunks and everyone in between.

Or visit pedestrian-friendly Lincoln Road, lined with alfresco cafés and trendy boutiques. This lively magnet for entertainment and shopping is another great place to people watch, especially if you want to mingle with the locals.

Ocean Drive. Photo by Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

Ocean Drive. Photo by Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

 

Story by Kara FrankerA purveyor of the coastal life and a self-admitted beach addict, Kara is a travel writer based in Miami. Follow her on Twitter @KaraFranker.

Awesome Mardi Gras parties that aren’t in New Orleans

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

The Big Easy might be “it” when it comes to Mardi Gras. But it definitely isn’t the only. Colorful celebrations happen across the U.S. — and they come with a lot of the same bells and whistles you get in the French Quarter. We’re talking Zydeco bands, great Cajun food and parades that seem to go on for days. Oh, yes, and beads. Lots of ‘em. If you can’t hop a flight to New Orleans, save some cash and hit a party near you. Here are six of our top picks.

mobile alabama mardi gras

MOBILE, ALABAMA
NOLA’s southern neighbor hosts a dizzying 39 parades over 19 days. Standing idly by isn’t an option; onlookers clamor for beads or go for the ultimate catch: moon pies (chocolate-coated graham cracker cookies with marshmallow in the center). Apart from parade mania, touring the local Carnival Museum is a must and puts the partying in perspective by showcasing the history of Mardi Gras and how it originated in Mobile. For a real insider feel, grab a ticket to a Mardi Gras ball. It’s not uncommon for Mobillians to have a closet full of ball gowns and for men to own a set of tails. Most balls are invite-only, but some bigger groups, like Mystics of Time and Stripers, may open ticket sales to the general public. Mardi Gras celebrations are held through Feb. 17.

 

universal orlando mardi gras

UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT – ORLANDO, FLORIDA
If you’re traveling with kids, this tamer celebration is the one to hit. After all, it takes place on Universal Studios property — home to the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The spirit of N’awlins sweeps in from February 7-April 18, when days in the theme parks are capped off with Cajun food, a parade and live concerts. Every week there’s a major headliner, and this year’s lineup includes Jessie J, Kelly Clarkson and Trey Songz. On a smaller stage, New Orleans bands bring Bayou sound to the scene.

 

st louis mardi gras

SOULARD – ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
On any given day, jazz and blues music steams from the many nightclubs in St. Louis’ Soulard neighborhood. It gets especially happening during Mardi Gras, which the historic French district actually turns into a month-long affair (January 6-February 17). Parades wend past the Anhauser Busch Brewery, Cajun cook-offs add sizzle, and even dogs get involved; on the second Sunday before Mardi Gras there is a pet parade (yep, the pups get dressed up, sparkly boas and all). Anyone is free to have a float in the parade, as long as you register your “krewe” (organizations, clubs or groups of friends). That said, it’s just as fun standing on the sidelines, cheering on the drag racers, musicians and costumed merry-makers.

 

MAGIC HAT – BURLINGTON, VERMONT
For 20 years, local brewery Magic Hat has thrown a Mardi Gras shindig, which is known for its parade down Main Street. Trumpets blare, jugglers wow, floats roll by and drums keep the beat as hundreds of people look (and drink) on. The parade is followed by after-parties on Church Street and throughout downtown Burlington. For true local flavor, venture a few minutes from downtown to Magic Hat’s Brewery and Artifactory, where tours are led and revelry is at a peak. Not only is this Mardi Gras a fantastic party, but it’s one with a purpose: This year’s proceeds benefit the Vermont Foodbank. Held Feb. 27-Mar. 1.

 

gaslamp district mardi gras

THE GASLAMP QUARTER – SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
The second largest Fat Tuesday celebration in the U.S. is more street party than cultural immersion — but it’s alluring all the same. The GasLamp Quarter, with blocks of bars, clubs and restaurants, is San Diego’s major entertainment district. On February 17, it kicks into overdrive with five outdoor stages, DJs and a night parade with bands, floats, classic cars, belly dancers and Brazilian entertainment that could rival that of Carnival. Snoopadelic headlines the event, so crowds are expected to be thicker than a bowl of gumbo.

 

breckenridge mardi gras

BRECKENRIDGE MOUNTAIN  – BRECKENRIDGE, COLORADO
More than 15 years ago, a group of New Orleanians moved to this mountain paradise and brought a little bit of NOLA with them. Their modest celebration has expanded to the whole town of Breckenridge and includes live music, fire dancers and snow play. On Fat Tuesday, several blocks of Main Street shut down for a street party featuring Chris Daniels & the Kings, a jazz and swing act that’s performed with B.B. King. Larger-than-life puppets and harlequin-masked bon vivants light up the night as the sun sets behind the peaks of Breckenridge Ski Resort. New Orleans-themed food and drink specials are available at restaurants throughout town. Held Feb. 17.

 

Story by Kelly Aiglon

How to see Hawaii for less

Thursday, January 29th, 2015
Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii. Courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii. Courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

Visitors from around the world flock to Hawaii for its sandy beaches, tropical climate, volcanoes and waterfalls. The state is part of the Hawaiian Archipelago, which actually spans 1,500 miles in the Pacific. The mountainous and volcanic islands, which nearly straddle the equator, are tropical and warm, with temperatures rarely deviating from the 80 degree mark down at sea level. Up on the mountains, however, snow and lower temperatures are not unheard of. Because of these variations, the Hawaiian islands are home to more than 150 ecosystems — many of which are becoming more and more fragile — and at least 10 of the dozen sub-climate zones found in the world.

Hawaii has gained a bit of a reputation for being expensive for tourists. The price of food imported nearly 2,000 from the mainland, combined with expensive flights and hotels can add up fast. But once you have arrived, activities on the islands don’t have to put a hole in your pocketbook. Let’s take a look at eight affordable activities in Hawaii — each one in a different sub-climate zone.

Tundra — Hike Mauna Kea ($0)

Sunset from Mauna Kea. Courtesy of Paul Bica.

Sunset from Mauna Kea. Courtesy of Paul Bica.

Mauna Kea is Hawaii’s tallest mountain. The peak of the dormant volcano reaches higher than 13,000 feet, although much of the hiking is actually done below sea level. Visitors to Hawaii can experience the tundra climate zone at the top of the mountain, where daytime temperatures typically hang below freezing. Hiking up Mauna Kea is free, although certain hiking equipment is recommended and precautions are necessary. At altitudes that high, the temperature drops fast and high-altitude storms can sweep in unexpectedly, bringing blizzard-like conditions, driving rain or whiteouts. The round-trip hike to the summit of the mountain, which is located in the northeastern portion of the big island, takes experienced hikers about 10 hours to complete. The National Park Service warns hikers to be finished before nightfall, when temperatures experience an even sharper drop. In ancient Hawaiian lore, Mauna Kea was home to the snow goddess Poli’ahu. She was one of the most beautiful gods, the lores say, but she was also known to freeze people to death. Something to keep in mind during your hike. The views, however, are utterly spectacular.

Desert — Visit Ka’u Desert ($0)

Crack in the Ka’u Desert. Courtesy of Matt Midboe.

Crack in the Ka’u Desert. Courtesy of Matt Midboe.

Ka’u Desert is a little untraditional as far as deserts go. It’s not technically a desert, because rainfall exceeds 39 inches a year, but it does lack vegetation, mostly due to acid rain. The desert covers an area near the Kilauea Volcano along the Southwest Rift zone, where rain mixes with the sulfur released by the volcanic vents. The landscape is comprised mostly of volcanic ash, volcanic rock, sand and gravel. It’s a popular spot for tours and hikes when the volcanoes are inactive. To get there, follow Highway 11 south east from Kona and enter the trailhead at Crater Rim Drive. Although the desert is inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the trailhead is actually a 15 minute drive west of the park’s entrance, meaning you can avoid the national park fee. But beware, when there is high volcanic activity, the area will be off limits to visitors, as potentially poisonous gases may fill the air.

Monsoon — See the cliffs on the Hamakua coast ($0)

Cliffs on the Hamakua coast. Courtesy of rjones0856.

Cliffs on the Hamakua coast. Courtesy of rjones0856.

One of the reasons Hawaii has such a vast array of sub-climates is the trade winds that often blow in from the east. Due to these winds, only one part of the Big Island experiences the monsoon climate zone — a small section along the Hamakua coast on the north side of the island. Monsoon climates are created from seasonal winds that blow for months and usher in the rainy season. The harsh winds and relentless monsoon rains have created rugged cliffs along the cost that vary from the tropical, sandy beaches that typically come to mind when one pictures Hawaii. Infused with rock turned dark from the island’s volcanoes, the cliffs are certainly something to behold. Just deviate off your drive along Highway 19 somewhere between Honokaa and Paauilo and head for the coast.

Continuously Wet Tropical — Check out Akaka Falls ($5)

Akaka Falls. Courtesy of Jean Synodinos.

Akaka Falls. Courtesy of Jean Synodinos.

Along the southern side of the Hamakua coast and not too far from Highway 19 (a highway that goes around nearly all of the Big Island) is Akaka Falls State Park. It’s located on the windward side of the island and receives rainfall year round, giving it a tropical climate. Akaka Falls State Park displays those tropics in all their glory. There’s an entrance fee since it is a state park, but it’s only $1 per person (if you’re on foot) or $5 per car. Caveat: Vehicles with more passengers can get a little pricier. The 0.4-mile path back to the falls is paved and self-guided, and the 442-foot falls spilling into a stream-eroded gorge is surely worth more than any amount of exertion you could spend getting to it. Take your time and notice the flowers — tropical climates like that are few and far between.

Steppe — Watch a hula performance ($0)

Hawaiian hula dancers. Courtesy of Travis Jacobs.

Hawaiian hula dancers. Courtesy of Travis Jacobs.

Also known as a dry/semi-arid climate, the steppe sub-climate zone is a dry grassland where temperatures can reach 104 F in the summer and dip to -40 F in the winter. It doesn’t get that cold in any of Hawaii’s stretches of steppe, which reach around the northwestern coast of the big island and encompass the port of Kailua Kona and the Kona International Airport. Clearly, Kona is a big tourist area, and they have plenty of activities for visitors to partake in, including free hula shows. The local dancers dawn their leis and take to the stage at the shops at Mauna Lani for a free 30-minute show at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. every Monday. Schedules may vary depending on the season.

Dry Summer Tropical — Drive the Kohala Mountain Road ($0)

Kohala Mountain Road. Courtesy of Andrew K. Smith.

Kohala Mountain Road. Courtesy of Andrew K. Smith.

This is a sub-climate of humid tropical, marked by (as the name indicates) a dry summer. The northernmost and southernmost tips of the Big Island experience a dry summer tropical climate. The only other places on earth with this type of climate are parts of southern India and Sri Lanka. Driving the Kohala Mountain Road from Hawi in the northern tip of the island to Waimea, a town further inland, will give a good taste of the climate. Route 250 travels along nearly undeveloped land and its elevation varies thousands of feet. Passersby often spot wild turkeys and pigs, among other fauna. The best part? Driving the road and seeing all those sights is free, assuming you’ve already forked out the dough to rent a car.

Continuously Wet Temperate — Tour a coffee plantation ($0)

Greenwell farms. Courtesy of wfabry.

Greenwell farms. Courtesy of wfabry.

This climate zone covers most of the island inland from the beaches and below the mountain tops. The nearly year-round rainfall is conducive to coffee growth in these areas, and some of Hawaii’s coffee plantations can be found in the mountains just above Kona. Greenwell Farms, about 10 miles south of Kailua-Kona on Highway 11, offers free tours of its operation from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day. Guests can take a walking tour of the coffee fields and processing facilities, taste free samples of the coffee, and learn about almost every process in the production of Kona Coffee.

Winter Dry Humid — See the black sands at Milolii Beach Park ($0)

A black sand beach in Hawaii

A black sand beach in Hawaii

This limited sub-climate zone stretches down the southwestern beaches of the island. The climates change with the altitude, so those that experienced a dry winter at Captain Cook or Kealakekua could be disappointed at the constant rain in the towns that lie higher up the mountain. The climate zone only lies along the beaches, down near sea level, making it easy to experience. Milolii Beach State Park, just off Highway 11, is free to visitors and quite the beauty. It’s black rocks and sand that line the beach are evidence of the volcanic nature of the island, and stand out starkly against the blue Pacific waters.

Story by Ally Marotti

5 cheap ways to spend New Year’s Eve in Vegas

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Sin City is one of the hottest destinations in the world to ring in the new year. There are more than a dozen official parties planned throughout Las Vegas’ casinos and venues, and 300,000 people are expected to roll into town. You can see shows and concerts from performers like Britney Spears or comedians like Joel McHale. The Strip shuts down and the entire town turns into a giant block party, with a coordinated fireworks show as the clock strikes midnight.

Celebrities and normals come together to rage for one night in a Bacchanalia of glitter that no one will fully recall the next day.

Courtesy of Justin Brown ©

Courtesy of Justin Brown ©

The debauchery and celebrations will seem endless, the hotels are already booking up fast, and most of the shows, parties and clubs require a ticket to be purchased in advance. It sounds daunting, but with a little advanced planning, you’ll be able to handle the night of festivities. But will your wallet?

For those who want the Vegas New Year’s Eve experience but can’t afford to fork out hundreds of dollars for a few hours of entertainment, here’s a list of five free (or reasonably-priced) activities available on NYE in Las Vegas:

1. The fireworks

Courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust ©

Courtesy of InSapphoWeTrust ©

Casinos up and down the strip coordinate to set off a fireworks show so dazzling that some people shell out thousands for a good seat to watch them from. (For example, you can pay a minimum of $2,500 for a seat in the High Roller. The more you pay, the higher your cabin will be, and the more booze, champagne and cupcakes it’ll be stocked with.) But it’s free to watch down on the Strip, among the people. For a more awe-inspiring view, try to get to a higher elevation, like the top of a parking garage or other building that will allow you to go to the top for free.

If you’re willing to pay a little extra for a better view, $30 will guarantee you admission and skate rental at the New Year’s Eve Celebration at the Ice Rink at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Some early bird tickets are available for $20, and cabana and fire pit reservations, which offer the best view of the display at the rink.

2. New York-New York Hotel and Casino

Courtesy of Prayitno ©

Courtesy of Prayitno ©

They might not have a world-renowned DJ dropping the beat, but entry is free to the public (over age 21) from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and you can partake in all the revelry famous to Vegas. There will be a live DJ, dancing, drinking and fireworks. If you do feel like treating yourself, there is an all-you-can-drink champagne bar for $40 starting at 6 p.m. and available through 4 a.m. The service will be available at the Center Bar, The Lobby Bar, The Chocolate Bar and Pour24.

3. New Year’s Eve Party at Center Bar

Courtesy of Frank Gruber ©

Courtesy of Frank Gruber ©

This party at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino isn’t just free to get into, they also offer free stuff. Party favors will be offered at the main entrance. There will be a countdown until midnight and a balloon drop when the clock strikes 12. A live DJ will perform at Center Bar, and patrons can receive free liquor samples and glasses of champagne at other designated areas throughout the bar.

4. Paint the Town Gold Party

Courtesy of petecheslock ©

Courtesy of petecheslock ©

The alchemists will transform Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino into a golden palace for the second year of this masquerade-style party. The free event is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m., when gold-themed models will take their place among the golden decor, food, specialty cocktails and party favors. Golden balloons will drop from the ceiling at midnight, and select bars and lounges throughout the resort will have golden giveaways and special gold-themed menus. But remember, all that glitters isn’t gold.

5. New Year’s Eve at XS with ZEDD

ZEDD performs at UIC Pavilion in Chicago in 2012. Courtesy of swimfinfan ©

ZEDD performs at UIC Pavilion in Chicago in 2012. Courtesy of swimfinfan ©

With tickets starting at $20, this is one of the cheapest shows with a big name you’ll find in Vegas this New Year’s Eve. ZEDD will be the headliner of this show at XS Nightclub at Encore. If you plan on staying at Encore or Wynn Las Vegas, you have the chance to book tickets with preferred entry.

 

Story by Ally Marotti

Cheap City, USA: New York City

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

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.

Urban escape for the holidays: Cheap rates in big cities

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

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.

Cheap City, USA: Chicago

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

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

Top 5 travel destinations with cheap and enjoyable off seasons

Friday, August 15th, 2014

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 ©