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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

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

Hotel rock stars: Singing for an upgrade

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

By Derek Brown

Warm-up the vocal cords, practice in the shower and break out in song when you check in at some Southern California hotels.  Guests are “Singing for an Upgrade” (more…)

New York vacations: Totally cheap, Mostly Mozart Festival

Monday, June 28th, 2010

By Vince Font

There’s an unmistakable truth about New York vacations: no matter how much time you spend there, it’s never enough. Even as a seasoned visitor, for every event I attend, ten others pop up to add to the list.

Mostly Mozart Festival. Credit: flickr NRK KORK.

Mostly Mozart Festival. Credit: flickr NRK KORK.

But one of the things I never skip when visiting New york City in the summer is the Mostly Mozart Festival. Trust me,  if you get sleepy at the thought of classical music and think this sounds like a drag, there’s nothing to fear.  I’m a rock-and-roll kinda guy and I don’t own a single classical music CD (unless the soundtrack to “A Clockwork Orange” counts), but the Mostly Mozart Festival keeps reeling me in. This summer, the fest runs from July 27 through August 21. (more…)

Score 10% off tickets to concerts, sporting events, shows

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Editor’s note: Last day to book at a discount

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Terms and conditions

The promotion code can be entered at time of check out on Tickets.Cheaptickets.com only. The 10% discount applies only to the subtotal. The 10% discount does not apply to any shipping charges or fees. The promotion code is valid through 06/10/2010. Promotion codes can only be used once with each purchase. Discounts are not redeemable for cash for any reason.

Cheap tickets: Save an extra 10% on shows, theme parks

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Cheap-tickets
You've booked a cheap flight and cheap hotel. Now, what could make your vacation even better? How about cheap tickets for shows, sporting events and other activities at your destination. Now you can get an extra 10% off the event of your choice when you purchase from CheapTickets. Just use the promo code 10OFF when you check out.

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The 10% off promotion may be used just once for each purchase and is valid through March 31. So go ahead — add something special to your vacation with cheap tickets to an NBA game, Broadway show or other local attraction.

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