San Diego is picturesque and nearly perfect, with its blue skies, warm weather and inviting sea breeze. And there’s so much to do—the seals and sea lions at La Jolla Cove, the famous San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld. There’s unforgettable food to indulge in, blending the fruits of the sea and the flavors from the nearby border. But traveling to the storied spot is a little challenging on a budget. But don’t settle. There are a bevy of cheap hotels in San Diego that are so charming you’ll never want to leave.
*Note: All hotel rates are based on a random one-night, weekday stay in September.
This 48-room hotel is right next to Balboa Park, home of the famed San Diego Zoo. The rooms here may be lacking a little in the decor department, but they’re clean and have all the necessities. The courtyard, however, is where it’s at. Giant plants surround the warm patio and palms climb around the area. Take your morning coffee out here, and spend a relaxing morning listening to the trickle of the fountain and smelling the sea breeze.
Each of this hotel’s 25 rooms have flat screen TVs and looks more like an apartment than a hotel. The decor is very contemporary, with wood panels surrounding the check-in window and wood floors covering part of each room. The white paneled ceilings make it feel clean and beachy. It’s sleek, and you can tell that from the moment you pull into your free parking spot. It’s also mercifully close to Balboa Park — it’s on the side with a golf course.
This hostel sits on the edge of Little Italy just north of downtown, and it’s colorful in more ways than one. Travelers from all over the world mingle in the hostel’s garden and on its patio. Guitars hang from the walls, and bricks are painted with things to do and suggestions for adventure. There are 10 air conditioned guest rooms, Wifi is free and the owners host a complimentary reception gathering every day. But here’s the thing: That’s not all. Besides the free internet, the daily English breakfast and onsite dinner are also gloriously free.
This 162-room hotel is north of downtown San Diego near Clairemont, making it the perfect location for those visiting the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and the University of California – San Diego. It’s also pretty close to the picturesque La Jolla Cove. The hotel itself is beautiful—the grounds are bursting with flowers and shaded by palm trees. There’s a pool and a spa tub, and breakfast is complimentary. Some of the rooms have a little bit of a ‘90s vibe (cough, cough, the comforters), but who doesn’t like a little throwback every now and then?
San Diego is on point with its hostel game. The eco-friendly and eclectic HI San Diego Downtown is right in the heart of downtown, offering comfy and colorful couches, built-in bookshelves and loads of art just steps from some of the city’s best sights. Breakfast is complimentary, and the communal kitchen is gorgeous with its high ceilings and pots hanging overhead. Choose shared or private bathrooms.
The decor truly defines this 79-room hotel. The art is striking: In one room, a larger-than-life portrait of a girl stares down at the guest with fierce eyes, and in another, a running zebra explodes into a trail of purple. Most of the rooms are arranged so the beds face the window, flooding the space with natural, California light. The hotel also has a pool and hot tub, although breakfast is, sadly, not complimentary here. It’s a ways out from downtown, but close to Sea World.
Been fantasizing about a European getaway? Daydreaming about walking cobbled streets with gelato in-hand? You don’t need to smash your piggy bank—these closer-to-home North American destinations look like quaint European villages. Another bonus: no 14-hour flight across the ocean required.
Experience Bavaria in Leavenworth, WA
You could go to Germany…or you could take a quick day-trip to Leavenworth from Seattle. This adorable town, which is surrounded by mountains, looks exactly like a Bavarian village, down to the half-timbered houses and the hanging pretzel shop signs. From sausage stands and beer gardens to the wooden handicraft stores and Oktoberfest celebrations, Leavenworth is your ticket to Europe in America—complete with a scenic, rushing river and lederhosen-clad men playing the tuba in the streets. Stay at the picturesque Blackbird Lodge in Downtown Leavenworth and send perfect alpine ski lodge-style photographs to everyone you know.
Go Dutch in Holland, MI
Founded by Dutch Americans, Holland, MI is, well…exactly what it sounds like. This quaint town near the shores of Lake Michigan boasts its own annual Tulip Time Festival and has a big tulip farm you can visit called Veldheer Tulip Gardens. There’s also a traditional Dutch village and De Zwaan, a 250-year-old original Dutch windmill, as well as a cute, old-fashioned downtown with shopping and a brewery. Oh, and Holland State Park has a beach. A stay at CityFlatsHotel will put you close to Macatawa River, and you can rent bikes at from the front desk. Forget visiting—should we just move to Holland?
Enjoy a siesta, Spanish-style, in Guanajuato, Mexico
This World Heritage Site is more than pretty—Guanajuato is unabashedly romantic. Walk through this Mexican city’s beautifully preserved colonial center on narrow, cobblestone streets, and you’ll feel like you’re strolling through Spain. Shaded plazas, 16th-century architecture, and hidden stairways delight visitors, and strains of mariachi music echo in the air. Make sure to check out San Cayetano Church, a testament to this city’s rich silver mining beginning, and lay your head down at Hotel Posada Santa Fe, which has a rooftop terrace and is walking distance to Union Garden, an ornate park.
Get a taste of Danish culture in Solvang, CA
If you’re looking for cute, head to Solvang. This Danish-styled community with a twee downtown walking area is an excellent place to bring kids—not only does it have themed restaurants and thatched-roof buildings, but there’s also Hans Christian Andersen Park, a big public playground and park with a castle arch stretching over its entrance. Danish windmills and a horse-drawn sightseeing carriage complete the visual spell. Stay at the half-timbered Solvang Innand Cottages and you’ll be strolling distance from Hans Christian Andersen Museum.
New Glarus Tasting Courtyard | Flickr CC 2.0: mcfst3
See a quaint slice of Sweden in New Glarus, WI
A town with just 2,000 residents, New Glarus certainly sees plenty of visitors, who come each year for its many celebrations, festivals, and all-around European aesthetic. New Glarus was founded in 1845 by Swedish immigrants, and the town is dedicated to promoting its Swiss heritage. Along with unique, Swiss chalet-style architecture, New Glarus offers Old World meat markets, bakeries, folk museums, and even a yodeling group. Visit for the Swiss Volksfest or Oktoberfest and raise a pint at the town’s local brewery.
Get your French fix in Quebec City, Canada
Narrow cobblestone streets? Check. A towering chateau hotel (Chateau Frontenac) on a hillside? Check. How about a breezy riverside promenade and a French-speaking population that’s vaguely disdainful of anyone who doesn’t speak French? Oui! There’s no need to leave North America to feel confused when reading a menu—Quebec City is beautiful, overtly European, and closer than you think. Visit the Old Quebec neighborhood to see the only remaining fortified city walls in North America and browse among the boutiques and cafes set out for visitors to discover.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s the long weekend getaways that make life worth living. And lucky for us, there’s a small town around nearly every corner, welcoming us with its quaint bed and breakfasts and friendly local joints. Here’s a list of some of the best small towns to pass a long weekend in, ranked from cool to coolest. Enjoy the ride.
— Population: 20,456
Nogales straddles the Mexican border in a very literal way—there’s a Nogales on both sides, and both edge up so close to the wall that you could likely shout a conversation from either side. So bring that passport with you in case you’d care to stroll across the border for some authentic, barely-south-of-the-border cuisine. Not that there isn’t enough to do on the Arizona side. Here, you can explore an 18th-century Franciscan mission and museum, sample the wares of nearby wineries, visit ghost towns and stargaze in the surrounding national parks. Nogales is located in one of the country’s few Dark Skies areas. It’s also been an unexpected hotbed of Hollywood activity for decades—dozens of films have been shot here, including 3:10 to Yuma, The Hangover III and Oklahoma! the musical. Stay at Frida’s Inn, a bed and breakfast, for a little extra local flavor.
The leaves start to change on trees over Overton Street in Newport, Kentucky. Photo: Ally Marotti
— Population: 15,382
Although this Northern Kentucky town sits in the shadow of Cincinnati, it has a certain charm its bigger neighbor lacks. Row houses with quaint yards line some historic streets, while oversized Victorian homes populate others. There are family-owned bars and restaurants are nearly every corner — try Katerina’s for authentic German food, Strong’s for the best wood-fired pizza this side of the Mississippi, and Pompilio’s for an old-timey bar/Italian restaurant. And certainly don’t miss the more commercial attractions at Newport on the Levie, like Newport Aquarium, or cross the very short bridge into Cincinnati for more sightseeing.
Gatlinburg might not seem like such a small town with all the visitors it draws, but it’s not hard to find hikes that make you feel far from civilization. Known as the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg gives way to miles of hiking trails and seemingly endless breaths of fresh air. Get outside and climb a mountain, or head into town for some activities like touring the Sugarlands Distilling Company, shopping at the Village Shops and go under the sea at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. And if you don’t want to work for the panoramic views available all around Gatlinburg, take the Sky Lift, a 2.1-mile aerial car for a ride, or ride 407 feet up into the Space Needle observation tower. Spend the night riverside at the beautiful Eight Gables Inn.
Once a haven for Native Americans, later a hideout for pirates and recently a quiet getaway for Savannah residents, Tybee Island has become a popular getaway destination for folks throughout Georgia and the surrounding area. Make beachfront DeSoto Beach Hotel your home base for visiting the lighthouse (built in 1736), watching the sunrise over the Atlantic or grabbing some local fare at the popular Crab Shack. There are more than 25 restaurants on the island, as well as deep-sea charters and a pier for fishing. If none of those options suit your tastes—or if they suit you just fine and you have a few extra days—drive the 18 miles into Savannah.
Dream catchers at a shop in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Photo: Ally Marotti.
Manitou Springs, Colorado
— Population: 5,242
Nestled between larger Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains, Manitou Springs offers a ton of things to do within itsrather small, historic town center. First off, there are plenty of places to drink that craft beer Colorado is so famous for. Then there’s the food: dig into some burgers at the Manitou Brewing Co, sample Mediterranean at Sahara Cafe or fill up on a slice or seven at Savelli’s Pizza. Don’t worry, you can work it all off just a little ways outside of town by exploring nearby cliff dwellings, river rafting, hiking in the mountains and horseback riding. Or bring your camera along as you ride the cog rail up Pikes Peak.
The hike to Mt. Marcy, the highest peak near Lake Placid, New York. Photo: Ally Marotti.
Lake Placid, New York
— Population: 2,471
Lake Placid is a great place to getaway at literally any time of the year. It played host to the 1980 Winter Olympics, and during their eponymous season, you can visit the park or ski the slopes throughout the High Peaks Region of the Adirondacks. If you visit in the summer or fall, the hiking is pretty darn great, both in orange and green hues. Mt. Marcy is the area’s tallest peak, and you’ll need more than a day to summit if you so choose. Otherwise, you can rent mountain bikes or kayaks in Lake Placid and go on a slightly less strenuous adventure. Refuel at any of the excellent dining establishments in the little ski town. For instance, after a good night’s sleep at Hotel North Woods, start the day at The Breakfast Club with a basil prosciutto sandwich with provolone and over-easy eggs, or dig into some noteworthy BBQ at Wyatt’s.
The unincorporated community of Mendocino is small but mighty, giving way to a gorgeous stretch of rocky, cliff-laden coastline that more closely resembles New England than what you’d normally think of as coastal California. And there’s plenty to do between its famous glass beach, the towering Redwoods and the eastern edge of town—little shops and restaurants line streets that were once the setting for Murder She Wrote‘s fabled Cabot Cove. Best of all, there isn’t a chain in sight in this artist’s community, meaning that you’ll have to forego your Starbucks habit for a few days, but the tradeoff is a hefty dose of local flavor. Set up shop for the long weekend at the quaint Blackberry Inn or the stately Mendocino Hotel and Garden Suites.
Hiking the Sleeping Bear Dunes near Traverse City, Michigan. Photo: Ally Marotti.
Traverse City, Michigan
— Population: 15,018
There’s nothing more refreshing than a long weekend getaway in Traverse City. Climb the nearby SleepingBear Dunes or bike through the forests of Northern Michigan. Kayak on the Grand Traverse Bay or go on a hike. Or, if you’d like to keep the weekend a little more civilized, go wine tasting at one of the area’s many top-notch vineyards, hang out in the quaint downtown area or sit by the harbor and watch the boats bobbing. There are plenty of campgrounds around if you really want to keep it cheap. For hotels, try the Country Inn & Suites, or one of the motels along StateRoute 31.
Cancun is much like heaven on earth. Luckily for your wallet, this isn’t like the ancient Egyptians’ version of heaven: It won’t cost your weight in gold to visit. Choose your budget and the type of hotel you want — beachfront or on the lagoon, large or small, whatever your flavor — and go. Let the sweet smell of the salty ocean (and this list of cheap, quality Cancun hotels) be your guide.
All prices reflect a one-night stay on a random mid-week date in August, quoted at the time of writing.
What: A 73-room hotel on the beautiful Playa del Norte.
Why: An onsite restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and room service, plus you’re just a couple miles from Dolphin Discovery and Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres National Park.
Most Cancun thing about it: The rooms may be minimal, but the perks are not—besides a sauna and outdoor pool, this property offers onsite massages and facials. And the hotel’s beach is populated with palm trees, giving perfect shade for the hammocks and lounges placed around.
What: An 18-room hotel with private balconies, an onsite bar and free WiFi and breakfast.
Why: Besides the beach you’ll be able to see from your room, this hotel is walking distance from one of the best beaches on Isla Mujeres: Playa del Norte. Meaning windsurfing, snorkeling andecotours are not far either.
Most Cancun thing about it: Garrafon Natural Reef Park is known worldwide for its breathtaking reefs and all the snorkeling, kayaking and hiking that you could want. This hotel shares a side of the island with the park.
Why: The hotel has a waterfront spa and a beachfront restaurant and bar, where you can TK.
Most Cancun thing about it: Free beach cabanas and onsite yoga classes. Plus, Its location on the northern tip of Isla Mujeres puts it close to activities like parasailing and skydiving, as well as Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres National Park.
What: A stylish, 177-room hotel in Cancun’s Zona Hotelera with a gorgeous outdoor pool and free WiFi.
Why: There’s a snack kitchen that guests can help themselves to 24/7. And a poolside bar.
Most Cancun thing about it: The hotel is a three-minute walk from the beach, but the hotel has bike rentals if you want to venture farther. If not, you can always head to the onsite bars and restaurant, where the dress code is mercifully casual.
It’s that time of year again — the CheapTickets BBQ Smackdown is in full swing, and eaties and foodies all over the U.S. are voting on their favorite BBQ cities. If you, too, are hankering for the nation’s best barbecue, here’s where to eat, stay and play in all ten cities. Oh, and because this is CheapTickets, all hotels are on the affordable side, and all the activities listed are gloriously free.
Franklin Barbecue | Photo courtesy of Franklin Barbecue
Eat: at Franklin Barbecue. They’re only open for lunch, but that doesn’t stop locals and tourists alike from lining up as early as 7:00 a.m., bringing with them camping chairs, footballs and breakfast. But the tender, dry-smoked brisket is oh so worth the wait.
Stay: at The Highlander. This hip little slice of Austin will give you a taste of the city’s famous eccentric personality, without sacrificing quality—plus, there’s, free wifi, a free continental breakfast daily and the rooms offer private balconies or patios.
Play: Take a dip in the beautiful, outdoor Barton Springs Pool, take in a concert at Central Market, or bring your little ones to the interactive Austin Nature & Science Center.
Eat: at Central BBQ. Their ribs, pork, brisket, chicken and sausages are all rubbed with a closely guarded combo of dry spices and marinated for 24 hours. All this before they’re smoked ‘low and slow’ over hickory and pecan wood.
Stay: at The Peabody. This beyond gorgeous hotel is within walking distance of basically everything, but with two bars, a café, a spa and two restaurants, you may not ever want to leave. Plus, they have a long history of putting ducks in a fountain, which is just adorable.
Play: Stroll down the (miniature) Mississippi at the Mud Island Riverwalk, explore the namesake attractions of Dixon Gallery and Gardens, or visit wildcard Crystal Shrine Grotto, a handmade cave decorated with Bible scenes.
Outdoor pool at Hotel Contessa | Photo courtesy of Hotel Contessa
San Antonio, TX
Eat: at Two Bros BBQ Market. Pile your plate high with their smoked brisket and cherry-glazed baby back ribs and head out to the patio, complete with playground and sandbox. Afterwards, hit the bocce ball court and work off that fall-off-the-bone goodness.
Stay: at Hotel Contessa. These beautiful Riverwalk digs feature some massive rooms—most are roughly 500 square feet—and beside the waterfront views, you’ll enjoy alfresco dining, massages at the spa, an outdoor pool and a health club.
Play: There are countless free things to do in San Antonio, but you definitely shouldn’t miss the Japanese tea garden, the San Antonio missions, the Alamo (duh) and free Thursday night movies at Santikos Bijou.
Eat: at Arthur Bryant’s. After chowing down on burnt ends, pulled pork and rib sandwiches, you can pick up some of Arthur’s famous original sauce or meat and rib rub to take home. This historical ‘grease house’ put Kansas City BBQ on the map, and its one of those rare places where presidents and movie stars mingle with regular people, with the same messy fingers.
Stay: at Harrah’s. Like its Vegas sister, this one’s home to a massive casinowhere you can test your luck at the slots and tables. Or enjoy a slow, leisurely meal at one of five restaurants before heading to the onsite nightclub.
Play: Broaden your little ones’ minds at the Children’s Peace Pavilion, or your own at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. There’s also the free Boulevard Brewing Co. tour if you’re traveling sans kids.
Eat: at Martin’s BBQ Joint. And no matter how much you think you can eat, order everything. Or maybe opt for one of their massive samplers to share. It’d also be a crime to skip dessert—coconut cake, pecan pie or fudge pie will be the perfect end to a, uh, light meal.
Stay: right downtown at The Capitol Hotel. This stylish little enclave is nearthe Country Music Hall of Fame, the State Capitol building and hip nightlife and dining district The Gulch.
Play: The Parthenon is always free and always odd. For a more authentic Nashville experience, we suggest heading to the Music City Walk of Fame, Grande Ole Opry Museum and the Honky Tonk Highway for a little window-shopping—the music pours into the streets and it’s great people-watching.
Your choice of six sauces at Home Team BBQ | Photo courtesy of HomeTeam BBQ
Eat: at Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ, or Home Team BBQ for short. There’s live music, yes, but the real draw is most definitely the six delicious BBQ sauces and everything that you can slather them on. Spoiler: it’s all the delicious, usual suspects, including brisket, smoked turkey, pulled pork and ribs. But that’s not all. Dig into some BBQ nachos and cracklin’s paired with a surprisingly upscale cocktail.
Stay: at the Charleston Marriot. Watch the sun set over the city and Ashely River at the rooftop bar, drink in hand, before retiring to your bright, spacious room. The hotel also offers a shuttle to the historic district.
Play: Hit the beaches on Sullivan Island, explore Battery Park, hike the Francis Marion National Forest and window-shop the bustling King Street.
Eat: at Pappy’s Smokehouse. For what? The dry-rubbed, slow-smoked pork ribs, of course. This no-frills eatery has been lauded by the Huffington Post, Thrillist and The Travel Channel, among others, proving it’s the best BBQ joint in town.
Stay: at the Omni Majestic Hotel. Soak up the Southern elegance in the opulent lobby before snoozing soundly on your pillowtop bed or having a drink in the bar. This hotel is also within walking distance of the Gateway Arch.
Play: Believe it or not, but the famous St. Louis Zoo offers completely, totally free admission. Also free are the Laumeier Sculpture Park and Museum, St. Louis Union Station and the stunning Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
Sip on lemonade while hanging out in Jackson Square | Flickr CC: Prayitno
New Orleans, LA
Eat: at The Joint. Say what you will about Guy Fieri, but his show Diner’s Drive-Ins, and Dives can really pick ‘em where food is concerned. The Joint’s peanut-butter pie almost overshadows the ribs, local chaurice sausage and pastrami, but only almost. Luckily, you can down all three without breaking the bank.
Stay: at the Prince Conti Hotel. This romantic little hideaway may be in the heart of the French Quarter, but clocking in at only 76 rooms, it still offers a fair bit of peace. It also serves up a bit of that old-fashioned, French-inspired romance, thanks to curtained restaurant booths and vintage details galore.
Play: You could never run out of things to do in this vibrant city. Make sure to stroll the beautiful cemeteries, watch the street performers at Jackson Square, and breathe in some fresh air at Audubon Park.
Liberty Bridge at the Swamp Rabbit Trail | Flickr CC: Barry Peters
Eat: at Henry’s Smokehouse. ‘The leanest (pork) butt in town’ is cooked in an open pit over hickory logs to produce a smoky, melt-in-your-mouth dish. Don’t forget to drag it through a pool of mild, tomato-based barbecue sauce or the spicy, mustard-based sauce while you chow down on the patio.
Stay: at the Pettigru Place Bed and Breakfast. This inn is located in the heart of a downtown historical district, and is steeped in some serious southern charm. It also gets bonus points for the free continental breakfast, wifi and parking.
Play: Bike all (or part) of the 19-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, explore the city’s 7 historic districts, and let little ones cool off in the aptly named Children’s Fountain along the Riverwalk.
Fox Bros BBQ | Photo courtesy of James Camp Photography
Eat: Fox Bros Bar-B-Q. What pairs perfectly with jalapeno poppers, fried pickles and chicken-fried ribs? Chopped brisket, bone-in beef short ribs and a good, long nap. The southern hits at this popular eatery just keep a’coming, though: collard greens, frito pie and homemade banana pudding are all also on the ‘don’t miss’ list.
Stay: at the Atlanta Marriot Marquis. Not only is it within walking distance of several museums, but thanks to its downtown location, this architectural gem also boasts great city views. The full-service spa, poolside bar, three restaurants and indoor and outdoor pools are nothing to sneeze at either.
Play: Stroll alongside locals on the Beltline, this BBQ Smackdown contender’s answer to the New York Highline. You can also venture out for free yoga on Wednesdays at Atlantic Station Central Park, poke around the Krog Street Market, explore the Centennial Olympic Park and dive into history at the MLK Jr. Historic Site.
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but even the most caffeinated tourists have to take a breather sometime. We’ve found some cheap New York hotels (by this city’s standards, at least)—not hostels, but actual hotels with private bathrooms—that feature Instagram-worthy amenities and rates low enough to leave you with enough money to take a sizable bite out of the Big Apple.
* The fine print: These hotel prices are based on a one-night stay at the end of June.
Oh, say, can you see… that Memorial Day weekend is quickly approaching? The holiday that’s become known for cookouts and mattress sales is still an opportune time to see some of America’s most patriotic sites. Here are some of our favorite places to explore, from sea to shining sea.
Channel your inner Lewis and Clark with a trip to this Gateway to the West. Instead of roller coasters, give kids a thrill with a 630-foot-ride to the top of the city’s iconic Gateway Arch. Then sneak in some learning with a visit to the Old Courthouse below, followed by a relaxing sightseeing cruise down the Mississippi River in an old-school riverboat. Also pencil in a visit to the Magic House, the city’s popular children’s museum that’s packed with hands-on fun.
St. Louis’s iconic Gateway Arch overlooks the Mississippi River. Credit Wikipedia.
Tour the USS Midway Museum, a retired Navy aircraft carrier with flight simulators, interactive exhibits and the enticingly named “Ejection Seat Theater.” The floating museum’s lineup of Memorial Day week events including a veterans’ wreath ceremony, live music, kids’ activities and more. While you’re in town, take in some history at Cabrillo National Monument. Then end your trip on a lighter note with a visit to the San Diego Zoo—arguably America’s best.
Start things off with a stop inside the National Park Service Museum and Visitor Center, where you’ll watch “A New Birth of Freedom” narrated by Morgan Freeman (we’re feeling more patriotic already.) Then, tour the historic Civil War battleground via car, hike, bicycle or even horseback. Take plenty of time at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery—also the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. If time permits, head about 140 miles east for a day trip to Philadelphia, where families can snap a selfie with theLiberty Bell, climb the “Rocky steps” at the Museum of Art and visit the Philadelphia Zoo.
Gettysburg National Cemetery. Credit Sallicio/Wikipedia.
Get the best of both worlds with a trip to this so-called “Revolutionary City,” known for its colonial-style buildings and historic reenactments. On Memorial Day, attend a special service honoring veterans of the American Revolution and Civil War who are buried nearby. Then fast-forward two centuries with a visit to Busch Gardens, a massive amusement park with all the modern-day trimmings—towering roller coasters, a simulator tour of Europe and water rides—making it perhaps the most well-rounded of Memorial Day weekend trips.
Governor’s palace at Colonial Williamsburg. CreditLarry Pieniazek/Flickr.
It’s one thing to see a picture of Mount Rushmore. It’s another thing entirely to view it with your own eyes. But you didn’t come all this way just to gape at the landmark, so head to the onsite amphitheater, museum complex, book store, gift shop (natch) and more. Stick around for the evening lighting ceremony, which takes place all summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Round out your vacation with some all-American activities like canoeing, biking the family-friendly George S. Mickelson Trail Mountain Trailhead or posing with the life-sized presidential statues around downtown Rapid City.
Can you name all four presidents on Mount Rushmore? Credit Dean Franklin/Wikipedia.
Nothing against the Alamo, but this town about 80 miles west of Austin packs quite a family-friendly punch.History comes to life at Fredericksburg sites like the Pioneer Museum Complex, National Museum of the Pacific War, the Texas Rangers Heritage Center and other historic buildings. Don’t miss the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, which contains the native-son-turned-president’s boyhood home, family cemetery and other points of interest. And what’s more American than gorging on seafood? Memorial Day weekend blissfully coincides with the Fredericksburg Crawfish Festival.
This log cabin belonged to the grandparents of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Credit National Park Service via Wikipedia.
If this spring’s lukewarm weather has you dreaming of an exotic getaway with cold drinks and a hot sun, you’re definitely not alone. Popular spots like Cancun and Cozumel are obvious picks, but there’s a lot more to our southern neighbor—and, specifically, these Mexico destinations—than powdery beaches. If you’re looking for something a little more authentic or less crowded, read on.
Go drinking and dancing in Guadalajara
This is basically Mexico personified. Think mariachi music, always-flowing tequila and mind-blowingly beautiful plazas, but leave the stereotypes at the airport. Besides the admittedly dangerous margaritas and all-out fun that Cinco de Mayo is known for, you can easily discover some deeply enriching cultural experiences. Explore the historic center’s churches and cathedrals before settling in for a night of live music and fun. If you’re a fan of Mexico’s most famous elixir, hop on the Tequila Express (no joke) out to the Jalisco countryside to see how the inhibition-bending drink is made, have some samples, and dine on regional specialties before a mariachi dance performance. Snag a bargain at Hotel Morales in the colonial downtown district to stay plugged into Guadalajara‘s rapid, nonstop pulse.
Discover beautiful beaches and ancient ruins in Tulum
Ancient ruins? Check. Resorts galore? Check. Postcard-worthy beaches? They’re some of the best in the world. Welcome to Tulum, a fabled destination for beach bums and history-lovers alike. When you’re not exploring the ancient, walled Mayan city—which edges up against the turquoise Caribbean Sea—you can walk right onto the beach for a little sunbathing, or cool off in a gorgeous cenote or two. Plus, UNESCO World Heritage site Sian Ka’an is located just south of this surprisingly affordable beach town. It’s worth the trip to snorkel with the dolphins, turtles and fish that call the Mesoamerican Reef home, and take a boat tour along the diverse park’s mangrove canals and ruins. Rest your weary suitcases at Maison Tulum for a steal before heading to nearby Tulum National Park for a hike.
Get back to nature in Mazatlan
‘The Pearl of the Pacific’ isn’t just a fancy nickname—this beach town is perfect for an outdoorsy adventure, thanks to its numerous islands, seaside promenade, beaches and lagoons. It’s also located along the migration routes of several whale species, who pass through the region between December and March. Get up close to the endangered Humpback Whale by signing up for a whale watching tour through Onca Explorations (which also offers mangrove kayaking, swimming with dolphins and plenty of other eco-adventures). In Plaza Machado you’ll find the the best restaurants and shops in town, and it’s not far from Casa Lucila Hotel Boutique, a great (and inexpensive) spot to lay your head at the end of a busy day. Plus, it’s within walking distance of Mazatlan Archaeological Museum and the Olas Atlas Beach.
This Pacific Coast town is a far cry from the quiet fisherman’s village it used to be, but has still retained much of the charm that has attracted so many visitors for the last 40 years. Best known for its beautiful beaches and cobblestone streets, there is plenty to see and do here while soaking up that famously warm sun. Sign up for a eco-tour, kayaking, snorkeling or horseback riding on the beach to get the most out of your days. Then, at night, take a romantic (or friendly) sunset stroll along the waterfront. While the beach is by far the main draw, food comes in at a delicious second place. Learn to make local delicacies at the highly rated Zihuatanejo Cooking School, or scarf them down at eateries like the seafood-focused El Gabo and hipster cantina La Katrina. Need to sleep? Easy. Let the crashing waves lull you to sleep at Catalina Beach Resort.
Get your culture fix in Mexico City
Cleaner, hipper, and better than ever (or at least recent history), the capital of Mexico is in the middle of a renaissance, thanks to its exploding cultural and culinary scenes. To that point: take a boat tour through the canals and nosh on Hidalgo-style barbacoa at El Hidaguense before exploring the vast collections of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The city is also home to so many world-class museums and historic, beautiful buildings you’ll never see it all, but it’s definitely worth a shot. Spend some time checking out wonders of the ancient world like Templo Mayor—an old Aztec temple that dates back to when Mexico City was named Tenochtitlan—and the mysterious Teotihuacán Pyramids just north of the city. Visit Plaza de la Constitución for some people watching, and try Paseo de la Reforma for a lovely evening walk before retiring to the Hotel El Ejecutivo.
Get lost (metaphorically) in Copper Canyon
If you’re up for some serious adventure, check out northern Mexico’s Copper Canyon, which is four times bigger than the impossibly huge Grand Canyon and tucked in the middle of the Sierra Madres. Considering its size, you won’t get far on foot (that’s not to say that the hiking is not 100% worth it). But to a big part of it, book a 14-hour ride on the Chihuahua al Pacifico Railway, which will take you between cities of Mochis and Chihuahua, and past lakes, forests and over bridges along the way. The lengthy itinerary includes plenty of stops where you can stretch your legs and check out the mind-boggling scenery.
Wander the heart-achingly beautiful streets of San Miguel de Allende
This beautiful, old city nestled in central Mexico is chock-full of history. San Miguel de Allende gets its name from a prominent figure of the War of Independence, and offers well-preserved Colonial and Spanish architecture on nearly every corner. Best of all, the city is home to a thriving art scene that draws people from all over the world. You can spend your days drifting from galleries to shop-lined streets to find the perfect pieces to take home as a reminder of your more-memorable-than-Cancun travels. For an authentic, local experience, stay at Antigua Capilla Bed and Breakfast, just a few blocks from the city center.
It can be hard to feel pampered on vacation when you’re trying so hard to stick to your travel budget. Scoring a great hotel deal is a big key to your budgeting success, and luckily, you don’t have to pay a premium for an out-of-this world view. Our proof: These five budget hotels, complete with downright luxurious views.
The fine print: These average prices were pulled from a random weekend in April, and reflect the prices at the time of writing.
America’s Best Value Inn Villa Motel — Manitou Springs, Colorado | $84 per night
This motel is far from glamorous, but no one’s spending that much time in the room anyway. The Villa Motel is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains just outside of Colorado Springs in the hippy town of Manitou Springs. The town is friendly and walkable, and moments away from some of the best hiking trails in the country.
Club Quarters Hotel, Wacker at Michigan — Chicago, Illinois | $166 per night
Look right down onto the Chicago River and out across the high-rise expanse of Chicago’s River North neighborhood from rooms at theClub Quarters. This is one of two Club Quarters in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood. Both are great values for the location (most hotels run upwards of $300 a night in this area), but this one has better views.
This resort has a spa, free airport transportation, restaurant and a bar, which can be a little hard to find in the wilderness of Glacier National Park, and necessary after a long day of hiking. The views are sweeping and beautiful, the price is affordable, and there’s a golf course, pool and hot tub here if too much nature isn’t your thing.Careful though, the prices may increase come summertime.
The name of this little lodge says it all. It sits in the shadow of Mount Rainier, and is close to High Rock Trailhead, among many other hikes. The lodgings are quaint but clean, and guests are likely to see some elk or deer wander into the lodge’s front yard. And if the weather turns sour, you won’t need to leave the room for beautiful views (unless the clouds cover the mountain, that is).
The beautiful bay will never escape your line of sight at this hotel. If you do manage to tear yourself away from that glorious view, the hotel offers plenty of amenities that will make it worth your while. There’s a gorgeous outdoor pool, a 24-hour fitness center and bikes to rent (though, arguably, two of these three will also lead to some spectacular ocean vistas). There’s also a Ruth’s Chris Steak House onsite, so you won’t have to walk too far in your heels or brogues for a nice meal. Just do yourself a favor and try to score a room with a patio.
It’s easy to drop a lot of money in the Big Easy, largely due to *ahem* adult beverages. The good news is, it’s also pretty easy not to. The city’s overflowing with cheap eats and things to do, meaning you can pack your itinerary as much as you want. Here’s what to do with 24 hours in New Orleans without breaking the bank.
Start your day with an iconic New Orleans breakfast (7:15—8:15 a.m.)
Yes, 7:15 is early, but the early start—and coffee—will help you get everywhere you want to go today (and account for lines at this famous hotspot). Tuck into some beignets at Café du Monde while sipping a steaming cup of chicory coffee. The pastries’ sweet powdered-sugar blanket will give you plenty of energy for sightseeing, and this cheap breakfast will only set you back around $5–$6.
Meet some talented locals and catch up on NOLA history (8:15–10:30 a.m.)
Thanks to the St. Louis Cathedral and the beautiful Presbytere, strolling around Jackson Square is sort of like stepping into a fairy-tale world. But in true New Orleans fashion, you’re likely to run into jazz musicians, artists, human statues and other performers along the way—all of which are free to watch, but tipping is the norm. After enjoying a little artistry with your vitamin D, head to the Presbytere museum to learn about Mardi Gras and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city ($6 admission).
Explore the ‘cities of the dead (10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.)
Next up is one of the city’s creepier attractions: its cemeteries. Stroll over to St. Louis Cemetery 1, home of the famous Madame Laveau, or hop on the bright red Canal Street trolley ($1.25 for a one-way ticket) for a quick, cheap trip uptown to St. Louis Cemetery 3. Whichever you choose, you won’t spend a dime tiptoeing around the ornate ‘cities of the dead’ and their crypts and monuments.
Eat a po’boy (12:30-1:30 p.m.)
It’s good, it’s cheap, and it’s right around the corner from St. Louis Cemetery 3. Welcome to casual local hangout Liuzza’s by the Track, which literally invented the BBQ shrimp po’boy ($15.95), making it a must-have menu item. Pair it with a cup of gumbo ($6.95) for a satisfying lunch.
Go window–shopping on Magazine Street (4:30–6:30 p.m.)
Magazine Street’s boutiques and galleries are ripe for window-shopping. Let your credit card rest (or not) and check out the bohemian jewelry at Stella Gray, the designer duds at Azby’s, and the vintage, European wares at Aux Belles Choses. If you need a snack, head to Blue Frog Chocolates and indulge in traditional New Orleans pralines and hand-dipped truffles.
Stuff yourself with jambalaya (6:30–8:00 p.m.)
Head back to the French Quarter for dinner at the 21+, no-frills Coop’s Place (if you have kids, stick around Magazine Street for the famous oyster joint Casamento’s). Coop’s serves up some of the city’s best jambalaya—here, it’s made with rabbit and sausage ($5.75–$11.95). An appetizer of crabmeat-stuffed jalapeno peppers ($8.95) makes it a feast worthy of budgeting kings.
Have a drink or three (8:00–10:30 p.m.)
It’s time for that famous New Orleans right of passage—drinking your way down the French Quarter‘s infamous Bourbon Street. We suggest diving into a sweet, rum-filled Hurricane at the bar that created it: Pat O’Brien’s. While you’re at it, request a song from the dueling pianos. And even though it’s technically not on Bourbon Street, we’d suggest splurging at the infamous Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone anyway. Jockey for a seat at the rotating carousel bar, if you can, and sip a Vieux Carre ($12), which was invented here.
End the evening on a high note (10:30 p.m.–12:30 a.m.)
…with some live jazz on Frenchman Street. You can stumble straight onto it from Bourbon Street, provided that you’re walking northeast. The city’s best jazz clubs line this famous musical avenue, which is a lot less raucous than its rowdy neighbor to the south. So grab a drink and settle in at legendary spots like The Spotted Cat and Blue Nile to hear the best New Orleans has to offer. Just know that some places charge cover, and you’ll likely have to buy a drink or two.
Go to sleep (12:30a.m.)
It’s back to the hotel with you! Whether you’re heading for the airport in the morning, or gearing up to do it all over again, you’ll need your beauty sleep.