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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 ©

 

Infuse a little Om into your city getaway – for free

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

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.

10 ways to make Austin awesomely free

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014
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.

5 ways to score free vacation entertainment

Friday, January 17th, 2014

rsz_underwater_hockey

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.

Disneyland on a dime: 7 money-saving tips

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

 

Catch Disneyland's new Mickey's Soundsational Parade, one of many freebies within the park.

By Amanda Ficili

There’s never been a better time to visit the Disneyland Resort and with the upcoming openings of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, you’ll want to get those bags packed and ready for an unforgettable summer vacation. (more…)

Low-season Orlando: Cool weather, cool deals

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Light Up UCF’s free Holiday Light Show illuminates the arena several times a night. Credit: Kathryn Page.

By Amy Drew Thompson

Now that Thanksgiving is over and the holidays are in full swing, Orlando experiences low season — the cool slice of fall through mid-December, then again in January and February. Park lines are shorter, humidity’s a distant memory, and cheap Orlando hotels abound. From campfire sing-a-longs at Disney to SeaWorld Orlando, stretch your vacation dollar further with some of these budget-friendly options:

(more…)

Child’s play: 5 kid-friendly attractions in Portland

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Discover a youthful Portland. Credit: Travel Portland.

By Derek Brown

Through the eyes of a child, Portland is a city teeming with opportunities for exploration. So round up your little Lewis and Clark and experience all the City of Roses has to offer: museums, fountains and an aerial tram.  Here are 5-kid friendly attractions in Portland. (more…)