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Washington D.C. is our nation’s capital and a living, breathing symbol of freedom as well. With its elegant monuments and extensive museum exhibits, this destination can also be considered the capital of free things to do. Add in a poppin’ night-life scene and a mixture of cultures, and you have a perfect cheap destination for the historically inclined college student (or really, anyone else). Here are the best things to do in Washington D.C., if you’re traveling cheap.

Enjoy some seriously iconic national monuments

Washington D.C. is much more than just the monuments it is famous for, but still, these historic landmarks are not to be missed—especially since seeing them is free. And they remain among the top things to do in D.C.

The city is covered in monuments, and the epicenter of it all is the National Mall. There, you can find such classics as the Washington, Lincoln and the Jefferson memorials, among many others.

A view of the Washington Monument, as seen from between the huge columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Both of these stately attractions are among the top things to do in Washington D.C.

Washington Monument seen from Lincoln Memorial. Courtesy Washington.org

The Washington Memorial is one of D.C.’s most iconic views. The monument is not hard to miss, thanks to its towering height (compared to the city’s famously low skyline) and the giant reflecting pool that mirrors this tribute to our nation’s first president.

What many people don’t know is that you can see the monument from the inside as well as from the outside. That means you can climb to the top of the Washington and get an aerial view of the National Mall. The best part? Tickets for this breath-taking view can be found for free!

In order to obtain free Washington Monument tickets, you must be resilient, patient and most of all early…tickets are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Which is why attempting to score a ticket can feel a bit like Black Friday, but it’s it totally worth it once you see that view. The tickets can be found at the Washington Monument Lodge on 15th Street, adjacent to the monument.

An evening view of the Lincoln Memorial, with people sitting on the steps in front. This attraction is one of the most popular in the city, and a must-see on your list of things to do in D.C.

Photo courtesy of washington.org.

Honest Abe can always be found greeting guests at the Lincoln Memorial. While gazing at the peaceful figure, you might start to wonder if his backside is hurting after sitting inthat stone chair for so many years. His face, however, will give you no indication…

At the top of the memorial’s steps is a tile that is marked for its significance. Not only can you visit Mr. Lincoln here, you can also be a part of a pivotal event in our nation’s history, by standing where Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he gave his “I have a dream” speech to thousands of spectators.

A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Photo courtesy of Washington.org

Across the Tidal Basin sits the Jefferson Memorial, the beautiful location is great for relaxation and enjoying the greenery of D.C. This is especially true during March and April, when the Tidal Basin’s borders are colored with romantic pink cherry blossoms.

If you take the time to walk in between these three iconic monuments, you will surely come across many many others, such as several veterans memorials, the National World War II Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

Try to catch a glimpse of the Commander in Chief

If you are making an impromptu stop at the President’s home, don’t expect to be invited in… However, if you are planning your trip in advance, you might have a chance to walk through the iconic home’s halls, which is by far one of th coolest things to do in D.C.

You can make a public tour request up to three months in advance through a member of Congress. Tours of the White House are free, if you are quick and lucky enough to snag a spot—the latest you can file a request is 21 days before your planned visit.

If you dropped the ball this time don’t worry, you can still take a selfie outside the mansion and visit the White House Visitor Center, at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Here, you can take an interactive touchscreen tour of the White House, view over 90 artifacts from the White House collection and see the short film, “White House: Reflections From Within.”

A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Photo courtesy of washington.org

Your trip-planning keyword: Smithsonian

Here’s a good tip for your trip to Washington D.C.: Look for the word “Smithsonian,” as it usually equates to “free.” There are countless free museums in D.C., and all of them have something worth seeing. Best of all, most are within walking distance of those iconic monuments we discussed earlier.

These free Smithsonian museums include:

  • The Air and Space Museum, which offers a glimpse (or rather, a long hard look) into our country’s past, present and future in the fields of flight and aerospace technology.
  • The American History Museum, which houses an extensive collection of American artifacts, such as the first American flag, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and even Kermit the Frog.
  • The Natural History Museum, which captures the natural wonders of the world, including several dinosaur fossil skeletons and hundreds of preserved animals that are sure to intrigue you and give you nightmares.
  • The National Zoo, where you can see many of the animals you saw in the Natural History Museum…but this time without the stuffing.
A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Tian Tian the giant panda eating bamboo at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Mehgan Murphy and the Smithsonian.

Party in the eclectic D.C. neighborhoods

Washington D.C.’s neighborhoods are a mixture of diverse cultures and historical significance. The nightlife scene has really taken off in D.C. in recent years and can be found all over the city. Here is a look at the best of the best of D.C. nightlife.

The Adams Morgan neighborhood is known for its historic architecture and local boutiques by day, and its unique bars and restaurants by night. This “hipster hotspot” also features many ethnic restaurants and live music. No matter what time of day you choose to visit, 18th Street is the place to be in this neighborhood.

Want to find some of these ethnic eats for a cheap price? First, check out the Amsterdam Falafelshop for a seriously filing and unique late-night meal. A regular-sized falafel sandwich, which comes with 5 falafel balls in a large pita and as many toppings as that pita can handle, is less than $7. If empanadas are more your style, check out Julia’s Empanadas for treats that are filled to the brim with fresh ingredients. You can get a hot and juicy empanada for a mere $5 at Julia’s. What we’re getting at here is: Eating is one of the absolute best things to do in Washington D.C., and Adams Morgan is among the best places to do exactly that.

Looking for a place to chill and discover some new music? Look no further than Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe. This place offers a variety of live shows that are relatively cheap to attend—tickets can cost anywhere from free (with rsvp on their website) to $20.

If you want to combine two of life’s greatest treasures—great music and food—be sure to check out Adams Morgan Day, held on the second Sunday in September each year. This local celebration features live music and food from around the world, as well as sidewalk cafes, unique vendors, and cultural demonstrations and dances.

Logan Circle is also known for its historic architecture, and is so named for the roundabout on its southern end, and the statue of Civil War general John Logan found in the area’s park. This neighborhood’s nightlife has taken off thanks to the transformation of 14th Street NW, where dozens of restaurants, indie and national-brand shops and a hoppin’ bar scene can be found.

Here, you’ll find the legendary Black Cat, which has been offering indie bands and themed dance nights since 1993. And entry will only set you back from the gloriously cheap $0, to roughly $20 at the high end. Shows include DJ dance parties, live bands and weekly “Doctor Who” screenings, among others.

The Studio Theatre is also a place where you can catch local talent and some traveling performances, including musicals, avant garde dramas and new comedies. Although this might be a bit of a splurge, depending on the show you choose, it can be a good look into Logan Circle’s artistic draw. And you can definitely find tickets for as little as $20—just be sure to buy them in advance.

HStreet NE is a 1.5-mile stretch in Northeast D.C. that is known for its nightlife, restaurants and festivals. Rock and Roll Hotel is a local mainstay for up-and-coming indie rock bands. Tickets to shows are typically $10 to $25, and the admission to the rooftop bar is free.

If you are visiting in the summer or fall, check out Gallery OonH during its Music in the Courtyard series. The gallery offers free music concerts in the Courtyard on weekends from May 1 to October 31. The series features local musicians with genres ranging from electronic violin to zydeco, to steel bands and rock n’ roll.

H Street NE has plenty of late-night snack options for post-concert indulgences, but if you find yourself looking to recharge the next morning, take a brunch break at Bullfrog Bagels. The eatery offers fresh bagels and a deliciously simple brunch menu, which features nothing over $15.

H Street’s largest event is the annual, aptly named H Street Festival, which spans 10 blocks and attracts thousands of people each year. The September festival features musical performances and multi-cultural entertainment, art exhibits and local food trucks, making it one of the top things to do in Washington D.C. — that is, if you want a taste of local life.

A broke student's guide to doing Washington D.C. on the cheap

Night life on H Street NE. Photo courtesy of washington.com

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Tagged: Cheap City, USA, City, Family

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America’s purple mountain majesties may be gorgeous all year round, but they seem to get the most buzz during winter, when the slopes are covered in fine powder. But a warm-weather mountain getaway has a whole boatload of benefits, up to and including not freezing your face off while you explore.

Oh, and did we mention the seriously low prices?

We didn’t? Well here goes: Peak season starts in roughly January, so head to the mountains now! Hotel savings at the following destinations range from 15 percent to over 50 percent lower than those of peak season, and you won’t have to elbow through so many tourists throughout your entire journey.

Want to save over 50%? Head to Park City, Utah.

Want to save 35–50%? Go west, young (wo)man, to Winter Park, Vail, Snowshoe or Breckenridge.

Want to save 15–30%? You’ve got five options: Truckee, Stowe, Aspen, McCall or Mammoth Lakes.

The CheapTickets offseason mountain getaway guide

Stowe, Vermont

Stowe, VT

Stowe has offered respite to those looking to escape the heat during the dog days of summer for about a century. From zip lining and rock climbing to golf and horseback riding, Stowe makes a great getaway for the active traveler. Also, take in gorgeous views of the area from the newly refurbished Stowe Gondola SkyRide.

Sample hotel rate for August 18–21: Stay 3 nights at the 3-star Butler House from $452.43.

Park City, Utah

Park City, UT

As part of a new summer experience at Utah Olympic Park, travelers can bring a little winter fun to the warmer months and tube down the landing hill of a Nordic Ski Jump that is coated to make the experience as smooth as sliding down snow. Looking for something a little slower paced? Take a trip on a hot air balloon and take in the majestic Wasatch Mountains.

Sample hotel rate for August 22–25: Stay 3 nights at the 4-star Silverado Lodge, Park City – Canyons Village from $480.30.

Vail, Colorado

Vail, CO

Vail is home to many outdoor festivals and events throughout the late summer and fall, including the two-weekend-long Vail Oktoberfest in September, which has fun activities for the whole family. Hiking and biking amidst the glorious scenery are other low-cost ways to take in the mountain air.

Sample hotel rate for September 12–15: Stay 3 nights at the 3-star Simba Run Vail Condominiums from $387.78.

Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge, CO

With 2,500 feet of coaster track, the Gold Runner Alpine Coaster takes travelers, who control their cars’ speed, on a wild ride through theforest. Visitors can also hike up to Mohawk Lakes to explore an old mining area or take in the picturesque views.

Sample hotel rate for September 22–25: Stay 3 nights at the 3-star Tyra by Wyndham Vacation Rentals from $393.06.

Mammoth Lakes, California

Mammoth Lakes, CA

Check out Minaret Vista for one of the best views of California’s Sierra Nevada range or hop in a kayak to explore Mono Lake, which happens to sit on one of the biggest bird migratory paths in North America. There is no shortage of summer activities for every type of traveler.

Sample hotel rate for September 13–16: Stay 3 nights at the 3.5-star Mammoth Estates Rentals from $478.80.

Winter Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountains, CO

This is what summers are for: Racing down all 3,000 feet and 26 turns of Colorado’s longest alpine slide. If that’s not your flavor, Winter Park has at least one warm-weather activity for all. The mountains are blanketed in the Arapaho National Forest, where you can hike and mountain bike all day. And for a quiet morning in the sun, enjoy fly-fishing trip or round at Pole Creek Golf Club.

Sample hotel rate for August 28–31: Stay 3 nights at the 3.5-star Frasier Crossing Founders Point from $417.98.

Aspen, CO

Aspen, CO

The original winter wonderland also makes for a great summer or fall escape. From horseback riding and rafting to four-wheeling and hot-air balloons, there’s no shortage of adventure to be had here. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s always your standard (and glorious) hiking and mountain biking.

Sample hotel rate for September 5–8: Stay 3 nights at the 4-star The Westin Snowmass Resort from $394.23.

McCall, Idaho

McCall, Idaho

Ponderosa State Park alone is enough reason to visit this off-the-beaten-path mountain destination during the warmer months. River-rafting, tubing and kayaking are the best ways to spend a lazy day on the lake. Or you can always take a boat tour or settle in for a nice day at the spa.

Sample hotel rate for September 11–14: Stay 3 nights at the 3-star Ashely Inn from $498.96.

Truckee, California

Truckee, CA

You’ll definitely find plenty of hiking, biking and fishing here. But they share Truckee’s summer playing field with beautiful lakes, rivers and rapids. But there are also plenty of museums here. These include the Emigrant Trail Museum, Olympic Museum and Tahoe Maritime Museum, among others.

Sample hotel rate for September 5–8: Stay 3 nights at the Hampton Inn & Suites Tahoe-Truckee from $602.51.

Snowshoe, West Virginia

Snowshoe, WV

Come for the mountain biking, stay for the Monongahela National Forest. This gorgeous, highly diverse gem offers flowing streams, dramatic vistas and blueberry thickets. Naturally, the forest also offers some of the best hiking around, but old Snowshoe is around if you want to get some serious altitude on your trek.

Sample hotel rate for August 17–20: Stay 3 nights at the Expedition Station from $451.

How to save: Bring on the promo code!

Now through August 14, use promo code ‘MOUNTAIN18’ to save 18% on CheapTickets.com’s best hotel deals. For complete terms and conditions, visit https://www.cheaptickets.com/g/rf/mountain18-18percent-coupon-terms.

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Tagged: Family, Off-season, Seasonal, Tips & advice

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It’s that time again. The music, the scene, the nonstop partying: The music festival.

The great and glorious Lollapalooza kicks off tomorrow at 4 p.m., one day earlier than ever before. Which means only one thing for Chicago: One extra day of massive blow-out parties, must-see after shows, concerts, food, new friends, art and anything-goes after parties. And this year promises to one-up last year’s lineup, with names like Flosstradamus, The Last Shadow Puppets, Radiohead, Disclosure and LCD Soundsystem.

If you haven’t gotten tickets yet, there’s still time to catch the event of the season. But if you can’t drop everything and fly to sunny Chicago right now, here are 8 more seriously good summer music festivals you can still make before it starts to get cold again.

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City Folk Festival

When and where: September 15–18 in Ottawa, Ontario

The New Pornographers, Dropkick Murphys, Marlon Williams and Charlotte Cardin will all be at City Folk Festival, so naturally you should too. They’ll all be hitting the stage with the beautiful Lansdowne Park as their backdrop. And because indie rock goes best with a cold craft beer, local hangout Beau’s Brewery will be onsite providing plenty of the good stuff. Plus, there’ll be food, and plenty of it. Notably, the festival is vegan-friendly so everyone can chow down in harmony. Don’t forget to stop by the affiliated Marvest for some seriously local music, food and drink. Everything is sourced from within 100 miles.

Backwoods Camping and Music Festival

When and where: September 1–5 in Stroud, Oklahoma

This is what road trips are made for: Stroud, Oklahoma is a small town just off the fabled Route 66. In this small, unassuming destination you’ll find adorable diners, throwback hotels and the Backwoods Camping and Music Festival, along with the treehouse parties, ferris wheel, waterslide, public art and music that go with it. This crossover festival hosts rock, indie and EDM alike, so plan to stage-hop to catch A Silent Film, Hippie Sabotage, Audien and The Young Vines.

Ohana Music Festival

When and where: August 27–28 in Dana Point, California

The two-day Ohana Music Festival benefits local nonprofit the San Onofre Parks Foundation, which works with the state’s parks to preserve California’s stunning coastline. So it’s only fitting that the entire thing is basically one big beach party. And the lineup boasts some serious heavy hitters, among them Eddie Vedder, Lana del Ray, Elvis Costello, Cat Power and Band of Horses. Grab some craft cocktails and artisan eats between sets, or wander through the Doheny State Park (where the festival is held) to explore grassy plains, dig your toes in the sand or swim in the beautiful Pacific. Preferably not after you’ve been drinking. This one’s not a camping festival, so get those hotel reservations now.

Imagine Music Festival

When and where: August 26–28 in Hampton, Georgia

You can get your EDM, circus, costume-party, camping and dance-party fixes all in one place this year: Atlanta’s Imagine Music Festival, an uninhibited two-day romp through the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Or, more specifically, the ‘Imaginarium’, a fictional (obviously), ancient lost city. This fable makes room for a whole host of spiritual and oddball activities like drum circles, acro yoga, Qi Gong, art installations, live painting, a pool party, aerial cirque performers and a central fire. Local food vendors will keep everyone fed and watered. Oh, and there’s music, too: Come for The Disco Biscuits, Zeds Dead, Adventure Club and Dillon Francis. Stay for Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs.

Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival

When and where: August 20–21, 2016 in Wantagh, New York

Think back on it, and maybe you’ve heard of artists like Ariana Grande, Calvin Harris, Rachel Platton and Fetty Wap. The name of this festival—taking place at the iconic Nikon Jones Beach Theater—pretty much says it all: This is the festival to go to if you want to dance to tracks that dominate the airwaves. It is called the Billboard Hot 100, after all. And you’ll be treated to one seriously pretty backdrop—the Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh, New York. It offers more than 6 miles of Atlantic beach and miles of hiking trails.

Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival

When and where: August 5–7, 2016 in San Francisco, California

Folks, the fabled Outside Lands is a Golden Gate Park mainstay—which means you’ll get to drink, dance and party amid a Japanese tea garden, museums and botanical gardens. Joining you, and providing the tunes, will be some of the most famous musical acts in the world: Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Lana del Ray and LCD Soundsystem. In case that wasn’t enough, there’ll also be plenty of laughs—Natasha Leggero and John Mulaney headline the comedy stage, which is likely somewhere between all the public art installations, musical stages, the future-minded Eco Lands, and more food, beer, cocktail and wine vendors than you could reasonably visit during the three-day affair.

Wrecking Ball

When and where: August 13–14 in Atlanta, Georgia

This one’s an indie kid’s dream. Atlanta festival Wrecking Ball may only be in its second year, but that hasn’t stopped it from drawing the likes of Dinosaur Jr, Thursday, Motion City Soundtrack and Anti-Flag. If that’s any indicator, genres run the gamut from post-hardcore and punk to emo and indie rock. Plus, there will be tons of beer, and the city’s food trucks will swarm upon the festival to satisfy hungry festival-goers. Best of all, it takes place in the much beloved Masquerade, a tri-level music venue where infamous acts like Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Motorhead and Nirvana have all graced the stage. And if you’ve ever wanted to see this venue in all its glory, take note: Wrecking Ball is Masquerade’s very last blowout before the venue moves from its original location, so get those tickets now.

Wefest

When and where: August 4–6 in Detroit Lakes, MN

Country music lovers, take note: Eric Church, Kid Rock and Tim McGraw are headlining this year’s WeFest. And they’re joined by some lesser-known hard hitters, including Montgomery Gentry, Maiden Dixie and an obscure up-and-comer named Steven Tyler (maybe you’ve heard of him?) who will be performing with the Loving Mary Band. Camping is the name of the game at this Detroit Lakes, MN fest (though there are some hotels nearby, if camping’s not your thing). And they’ve got 10 different campgrounds for different strokes— among them, there’s an Accessible one, a few for families, and several for the rowdy young kids. But fear not: There’s still modern plumbing and restrooms for all. And the concerts themselves? They’re held at the outdoor amphitheater at the gorgeous Soo Pass Ranch.

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Tagged: California, Events, Festivals, Music

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Sometimes the best and cheapest (re: free) way to enjoy a nice day in a new city is via its public spaces. Here are some of the best city parks around these great United States.

Central Park, New York City

An aerial view of Central Park, arguably the best of the best city parks in America

Central Park | Phyllis Buchanan, Flickr CC

Of course Central Park makes our list! Not only is Manhattan’s Central Park arguably the most famous city park in America, it was also the first (1856!) designated park for public use in the country. Central Park puts all of its 843 acres to good use—inside the grounds, you’ll find a wildlife sanctuary, a picturesque reservoir, running tracks, an ice-skating rink, and the Central Park Zoo. Add pools, gardens, the enormous, neoclassical Bethesda Fountain, and the fact that you are, at all times, smack dab in the center of Manhattan, and you’ve got yourself one of the best parks in the country. Nay, the world.

Grant Park, Chicago

Buckingham fountain at Grant Park, which is one of Chicago's best city parks

Buckingham Fountain — Grant Park Chicago (IL) September 2014 | Ron Cogswell, Flickr CC

When a city sets aside 319 acres of prime waterfront real estate just to provide an amazing public place for its residents to play, you know you’re dealing with a great city. Grant Park is a stunner of a park—it overlooks Lake Michigan, houses Millennium Park in its boundaries, and is home to the massive, Instagram-worthy Buckingham Fountain. There’s also the Museum Campus, meaning you don’t have to criss-cross Chicago to take in many of its main attractions. At Grant Park, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum are within walking distance of each other. Go Chicago!  

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

A garden and conservatory in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of Flowers Golden Gate Park | arianravan, Flickr CC

So you like nice views? Try renting a bike and spending the day at Golden Gate Park, where gorgeous vistas are so commonplace youbegin to expect them. Situated next to the famous Haight-Ashbury district and ending at the Pacific Ocean, this 1,000+ acre park is designed to impress. Cruise past the ornate glass Conservatory of Flowers, and check out the pagoda in the Japanese Tea Garden. There’s a herd of grazing buffalo, a dreamy children’s carousel, an aquarium, and a photo-worthy waterfall at Strawberry Hill. Nearly all of it is free—that’s a decent deal in one of the most expensive cities on Earth!

Patterson Park, Baltimore

Patterson Park in Baltimore

Patterson Park | JoAnna Kopp, FlickrCC

You can’t miss Patterson Park, aka “Baltimore’s Backyard”—just look for the Observatory, a giant pagoda-style building on Hampstead Hill. This famous, 1890s-era observatory has a winding staircase open to visitors looking for a workout and a view of downtown Baltimore. But there’s more than a pagoda here. Patterson Park is 137 acres of jogging paths, public tennis courts, and playgrounds. There’s also a Boat Lake, a swimming pool and a dog park, so bring Fido with you on your Baltimore trip!

Forsyth Park, Savannah

The overhanging trees of Forsyth Park, one of the most beautiful city parks in the country

Forsyth Park | Alex Cheek, Flickr CC

While you’re strolling around one of America’s most graceful cities, don’t forget to walk through Forsyth Park. This elegant little 30-acre park boasts wide brick avenues shaded by Spanish moss-draped trees, and the north entrance leads to famous Forsyth Fountain, splashing merrily away in the heat. What else can you find? How about a cafe and an innovative fragrant garden for the blind? Of course there are playing fields and sports courts, but the real joy in Forsyth Park is packing a blanket and a picnic lunch and settling down on the grass to watch the world go by.

Gas Works Park, Seattle

The skyline view at Gas Works Park in Seattle

Seattle Gas Works Park | W & J, Flickr CC

Get your camera ready—Gas Works Park has one of the best views of Seattle, period. Built around one of the last remaining (and very rusty) gasification plants in the United States, this 20-acre park has amazingly steep hills overlooking Lake Union. Perch atop one with the rest of Seattle and you’ll get a panoramic view of boats going by, the city skyline, and people strolling and biking along its trails. Can you see the Space Needle? Of course you can!

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, Minneapolis

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park often sees many sailboats during summer months

Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, MN | Joe Bielawa, Flickr CC

According to the New York Times, “If you live in Minneapolis, there’s a 95 percent chance you live within a 10-minute walk to a park.” Let’s hope it’s the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, which is a mouthful, but a good name for what is essentially many smaller parks, linked together by a chain of lakes that connect with each other. When the weather’s nice (go in summer!) you could walk forever on shady paths overlooking the water, stopping only for an ice cream cone or free concert at Lake Harriet. Lay out atowel on the beach at Lake Calhoun and watch the windsurfers; kayak through endless shady nooks and startle napping swans. There are gardens and trails, bird sanctuaries and dog parks…wait, should we move to Minneapolis?

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Tagged: City, Family, FREE!, New York City, Sports

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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.

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Nogales, Arizona

— 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 YumaThe Hangover III and Oklahoma! the musical. Stay at Frida’s Inn, a bed and breakfast, for a little extra local flavor.

Newport, KY

The leaves start to change on trees over Overton Street in Newport, Kentucky. Photo: Ally Marotti

Newport, Kentucky

— 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

The Sky Lift in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Photo: Faungg’s photos – Flickr.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

— Population: 4,097

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.

Tybee Island, Georgia

A Tybee Island sunset. Photo: Ryan McKee – Flickr.

Tybee Island, Georgia

— Population: 3,044

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.

 

Manitou Springs

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.

Lake Placid

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.

 

Mendocino, California

The Pacific Coast near Mendocino, California. Photo: Lee Coursey – Flickr.

Mendocino, California

— Population: 894

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.

 

Traverse City, Michigan

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.

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Tagged: Beach, California, Cheap Tips, Last minute travel, Tips & advice

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There’s a reason we suffered through all those April showers. Flowers are blooming all over the place, wild and curated, on trees and from the ground. And what better place to learn about and see some of those gorgeous little bursts of color than a botanical garden? If you live in the city, it’s a wonderful escape, and most flowers are seemingly coming to life again with the arrival of warmth. Another perk: some botanical gardens are free, and most others charge a minimal fee that’s totally worth it to wander through the daffodils. Here’s a look at some of the best botanical gardens in North America.

 

Longwood Gardens

Flowers in bloom at Longwood Gardens. Photo: Fred Schroeder – Flickr

Longwood Gardens — Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

The trees and flowers are bursting into bloom right now throughout Longwood Gardens’ nearly 1,100 acres. Magnolias, azaleas, dogwood and more join the more than 240,000 tulips sprinkled throughout the grounds. Summer welcomes events, classes and even night flower-viewing sessions. Visitors must buy tickets ($20 for adults) based on time of entry.

El Charco del Ingenio

A sanctuary in El Charco del Ingenio in Oaxaca, México. Photo: Grauliflower – Flickr.

El Charco del Ingenio — Oaxaca, México

This 220-acre botanical garden is unlike most curated gardens, and instead has been grown around a hilly and rugged landscape above the cliffs of a canyon overlooking San Miguel. It’s founders saw the effects humans were having on the landscape with littering, overgrazing and the like. So they stepped in, restoring the landscape to its natural beauty, and then some. Oaxaca is one of the most florally diverse states in Mexico, and you’ll see much of that native flora — including a ton of cacti and succulents — throughout the reserve.

 

Chicago Botanic Garden

A pond at the Chicago Botanic Garden near the suburb of Glencoe, Illinois. Photo: H. Michael Miley – Flickr.

Chicago Botanic Garden — Chicago, Illinois

One of the biggest pleasures about visiting Chicago’s botanical garden is the break from the concrete of the city. Sure, the city does a great job of swapping out the flowers in the planters downtown, but those don’t have quite the alluring effect the magnolias, hyacinths and phlox will have this month. Visitors can bike, hike or stroll through Chicago Botanic Garden’s 385 acres, which are situated around nine islands. Admission is free.

 

Desert Botanical Garden

Cacti in the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo: Josh Schoenwald – Flickr.

Desert Botanical Garden — Phoenix, Arizona

May is a pretty interesting time to visit this botanical garden, dedicated to the flowers and plants of the desert. Many of the spring wildflowers and flowering cacti have begun to lose their petals and color with the slow arrival of summer’s heat. However, the iconic Saguaro cacti are entering their period of bloom. Flowers open in the evening and remain open the next day, and it’s quite a sight. More than 50,000 plants, many of them cacti, dominate the Desert Botanical Garden’s 145 acres. Admission is $22 for adults, $12 for students.

 

 Portland Japanese Gardens.

A Japanese maple tree inside the Portland Japanese Gardens. Photo: psanders3001 – Flickr.

Japanese Garden — Portland, Oregon

This is a hidden gem of a garden, and one that many don’t actually seek out in Portland. Its 5.5 acres are nestled inside Washington Park, but it’s well worth the foray. The park has been around since the 1960s and has five major sub-gardens, including one with rocks built into the path in the shape of the Big Dipper. Another devoted to a tea ceremony, and yet another offers ponds, waterfalls, streams and natural mosses. The garden is meant to bring visitors a sense of peace and harmony through nature. The low entrance fee of $9.50 for adults helps with that peace and harmony, too.

 

Franklin Park Conservatory

A view of the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio. Photo: VasenkaPhotography – Flickr.

Franklin Park Conservatory — Columbus, Ohio 

Originally built in 1895, the Franklin Park Conservatory is on the National Register for Historic Places. It’s beautiful year round, with indoor roomsimitating varying climates and a vast garden outside. Scores of couples of have been married at the conservatory, and the landscape, inside and out, is peppered with Chihuly glass sculptures. There are seasonal exhibits, and right now it’s Blooms and Butterflies. Conservatory admission is $13 for adults.

 

Butchart Gardens

The Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens near Victoria, British Columbia.

Butchart Gardens — Victoria, British Columbia

On particularly vibrant days, Butchart Gardens may give one the feeling that they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. There are flowers of all shapes and sizes, and bushes trimmed into intriguing shapes, as well as bronze statues of wild boar, donkeys and sturgeons. There are performances in the summer and an ice skating rink is erected in the winter. Established in the early 1900s, it used to be a limestone quarry. Now, it draws more than a million visitors a year. This is one of the pricier admissions on our list, with adult tickets costing nearly $30, but it’s absolutely worth it.

 

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Flowers in bloom at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Texas. Photo: Daniel M. Hendricks – Flickr.

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden — Dallas, Texas

Dallas Arboretum does it up right with the flowers, offering 66 acres of displays, ponds, streams and more. The cherry on top, though, is the shining array of events, discounts and deals it offers visitors. There’s a concert series on Thursday nights, and on Wednesdays the garden extends its hours until 8 p.m., welcoming visitors to experience nature as the sun sets. And it has a rainy day guarantee, offering a refund if rain interrupts your visit. Tickets are $15, but consider going on Wednesday for buy-one-get-one-free ticket deals.

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Tagged: FREE!, Mexico, Seasonal

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Bora Bora: Just the name conjures images images of perfect beaches, unbelievably clear waters, and a vacation budget that rivals some small countries’ national budgets. Fortunately, there’s more than one place in the world that looks like a postcard.

To celebrate National Lookalikes Day, we’re offering up some dupe dream vacations—that is, affordable lookalikes of some of the world’s most popular vacation destinations, but for a fraction of the cost. So here’s how to experience the French countryside, Tuscany, and yes, Bora Bora without going broke.

The fine print:All prices were pulled using random mid-week dates in May, and onsite prices are subject to change.

St Barths

Love St. Barths? Save some dough in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Ah, St. Barths—tropical playground of the rich and famous, known for its isolated beaches, turquoise bays and laid-back attitude. You know where else has literally all of thesethings, without the sky-high prices? Puerto Rico. The island of Vieques, specifically. Not only does it also offer some incredible beaches and warm, swimmer-friendly waters, but most of the island is a fish and wildlife refuge, meaning its natural beauty is here to stay. Oh, and it’s also home to Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico’s brightest bioluminescent bay. So book a kayaking tour before you hit the road to paradise.

Vieques

Where to stay: Villa Coral; $89 a night

Located in picturesque Esperanza, this tiny hotel is very near Black Sand Beach, Sun Bay and that famous bioluminescent bay we mentioned. The air-conditioned rooms offer a touch of island flair, and at roughly $90 a night are quite the steal. Did we mention the rooftop terrace?   

Tuscany

Want to see Tuscany’s rolling hills? Head to Sonoma Valley,California

This is the place most people think about when they imagine rustic, farm-to-table living. Tuscany’s picture-perfect rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards are the stuff of storybooks. But you don’t have to leave the continental U.S. to get all that—simply head to California’s Sonoma County. This place is practically best described as bucolic (or ‘Tuscan’, if you’re feeling literal), thanks to its countless wineries, mountainous borders and altogether pleasant weather. And best of all, it’s less pretentious (and cheaper) than Napa, its wino neighbor to the north.

Sonoma

Where to stay: Best Western Dry Creek Inn; $129 a night

This is not your average Best Western. With European-style fixtures and a harvest-inspired color palette, it’s more like a boutique hotel. Combine that with a beautiful pool, outdoor fireplaces and ornamental terraces, and you’ve got a Tuscan getaway in your own backyard.

Alps

French Alps on your mind? Head north to Cote de Beaupre, Quebec

The most authentically French places this side of the Atlantic are clustered in and around Quebec. Cote de Beaupre is perhaps the best of the best, boasting a history that dates back to New France’s earliest settlers (hence the authenticity). When you’re not busy skiing Mont Sainte Anne, check out the gorgeous Montmorency Falls and nearby nature reserves, or simply bumble around this area’s small cluster of towns, where you’ll find a stunning basilica, locally made goods and eateries. Along with heaps and heaps of Provençal French charm.

Quebec

Where to stay: Chateau Mont Sainte Anne

Okay, so this ski-in/ski-out resort doesn’t have a traditional French feel, but it’s about as close to the action as you can get. And with spacious rooms, hot tubs, an onsite restaurant and [some kind of playground], it really doesn’t get better. If you were desperately hankering for that super French feel, grab a room at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec ($187 a night).

Kauai

A fan of Kauai? Check out St. Lucia’s wild landscapes

It doesn’t get much more tropical, expensive or blatantly, painfully beautiful than Kauai. It looks like the land time forgot, thanks to its primeval cliffs, canyons, waterfalls and beaches. In fact, the island itself has practically redefined ‘emerald’ due to its verdant mountains. So why swap all that for St. Lucia? Well, because it has a lot in common with its Hawaiian counterpart: massive green mountains, deep valleys, beautiful beaches and its very own dormant volcano. And the snorkeling and scuba diving are nothing to sneeze at either. And not only are there some dirt-cheap hotels here, but you can save hundreds on airfare alone.

st lucia

Where to stay: blu St. Lucia; $105 a night

Live large, island-style, in this pretty little boutique hotel. After your free breakfast, pamper yourself with a massage and facial before hitting the outdoor pool or grabbing dinner at one of two onsite restaurants. And you can walk to Reduit Beach, theBaywalk Shopping Mall and Splash Island Water Park. 

Burgundy

Is French wine country calling you? Okanagan Valley, BC is your answer

Want to know where you can get a taste of Burgundy’s rolling vineyards, outdoor activities and awesome small-town feel? Look no further than British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. This lush region offers up terraced hills, pretty lakes and, or course, miles of wineries and vineyards. And the hoards of fruit orchards give thisbeautiful valley an extra European kick, whether you’re staying in Kelowna or the surrounding countryside.

French

Where to stay: E’Laysa Guesthouse and Vineyard Retreat; $149 a night

Every detail of this gorgeous, intimate hotel screams wine country. When you’re not lounging in one of six sophisticated rooms or noshing on free breakfast, head out to the terrace to enjoy the view of La Frenz Estate Winery. You can alsocatch some great views of the lake that leads up to Kelowna.

Bora Bora

Dreaming of Bora Bora? Re: Palawan and Malaysia

This one’s a bit of a twofer—yes, Bora Bora is an excruciatingly beautiful destination all on its own, but it wouldn’t be quite as spectacular without its iconic overwater bungalows, right? So we’re comparing destinations and bungalows for the purpose of this entry, and we’ve got two—yes, two—cheaper options for this one.

Bora Bora requires no introduction, but Palawan, Philippines probably does. Often touted as the most beautiful island in the world, its plush hills, spotless beaches and so-clear-you-can-see-the-bottom water absolutely rival those of Bora Bora. Malaysia’s Sungai Pelek is not quite as idyllic—it’s a pretty high bar to hit, after all—and yet the hotel (and the price) make it totally worth it. More on that below.

Palawan

Where to stay: Apulit Island Resort; $460 a night

If you’re thinking this is quite the splurge, you’re right. But compared to the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, which averages at $1500 a night, it’s really a steal. And considering the air-conditioned bungalows, private beach, full-service spa, private balconies, beach bar and that view, $460 a night almost starts to feel worth it.

Malaysia

Where to stay for even less: Avani Sepang Goldcoast Resort; $115 a night

But don’t worry, savvy shoppers, we’ve got something much, much cheaper for you. Ringing in at a whopping $115 a night, you get a stunning overwater ‘bungalow’ with some luxe features at Malaysia’s Avani Sepang Goldcoast Resort—as well as access to six restaurants, a spa, yoga, windsurfing, an infinity pool and a beach.

Keep in mind that with just under 400 rooms, this resort is prettymassive. So if something slower and smaller is more your pace, check out Belize’s oh-so-tropical Thatch Caye (starting at $250 a month.)

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Tagged: Beach, Caribbean, Cheap Tips, Family, Hawaii, International, Romance & honeymoon, Seasonal, Tips & advice, Uncategorized

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You don’t need white tablecloths or an overpriced meal to impress a date. This year, leave the predictable date itinerary behind—here’s what to do (while saving some dough) on Valentine’s Day in some of America’s coolest cities.

Sample wine, cheese and theater in Austin

Your romantic day begins with a challenging, thought-provoking play at Austin‘s Zach Theater: Tribes ($29+). The story of a deaf man understanding the nature of community and belonging will give you plenty to talk about as you walkover to nearby House Wine and settle in for some of its namesake libation. This place is about as unpretentious as it is intimate—meaning you can relax and nibble on cheese plates, artisan pizza and s’mores in the dining room or patio. The staff will happily explain the wine list and offer suggestions as you two crazy kids giggle and blush, wiping melted marshmallows from your face. Best of all, you can get 10% off or BOGO dessert if you show them your ticket stub.

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Get artsy—then down-home—in New York

It’s not that often that you can do something in New York for literally $0. But welcome to Greater New York, MoMA PS1’s annual exhibit, which explores our contradictory desires for nostalgia and the new. See the works of emerging and established artists in this Long Island City mainstay before heading down to Williamsburg’s The Commodore. Once tucked into the low-key, no-frills bar, indulge in a little post-art-show conversation over a Tom Collins ($6) and a fried chicken plate with biscuits and hot sauce ($12). If the date’s going well, wander a few blocks to St. Mazie for some cheap-for-New-York cocktails ($10 apiece) and maybe even some live music.

Experience the refined and at-ease sides of Chicago

Joffrey’s Bold Moves marries visual art, groundbreaking musical compositions and history into a trio of visually stunning ballet performances. It’s also quite cheap for a production of this quality—tickets start at $58. Afterwards, you and your hungry date can head to Furious Spoon in Wicker Park for one of the city’s best bowls of ramen ($7–$12). After downing the last of your thick, savory tonkatsu broth, wander across the street to Revel Room. This dark, trendy bar will create an intimate setting for the last leg of yourdate. Toast to a successful evening—and the fact that (s)he is okay with watching you shamelessly slurp down noodles—with a craft beer ($5–$10) or a house cocktail ($10).

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Start your romancing early in Boston

This Valentine’s Day, start the festivities early, and with a kick! Sample some Spanish brunch options like breakfast lamb bocadillo ($13) and churros con chocolate ($8) at Jamaica Plain hotspot Tres Gatos. Then, head into Chinatown and the brisk outdoors for the Chinese New Year Parade to see lion dances, firecrackers and catchy drum beats as performers flood the streets. But your date isn’t over yet—make sure you dress warm, because it’ll be cold on the nearby Frog Pond ice rink. If you don’t have skates of your own, fear not (and channel any worries into not falling down). You can rent skates onsite for $12.

See Atlanta’s wild side

Craving a creative way to celebrate with your sweetheart in Atlanta? Start with a good, hearty lunch at bartaco. Then, after having your fill of shrimp bahn mi rice bowls ($8), al pastor tacos ($2.50) and mushroom mole tamales ($5), head on over to the High Museum of Art for the cheekily named heARTS in the City scavenger hunt ($50 per couple). From 1:00-4:00 p.m., you can scour the museum—filled with pieces by Georgia O’Keefe, Gerhard Richter and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec—to solve puzzles and complete challenges. Along the way, you’ll run into some tasty snacks, too.

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Pull out all the stops in Denver

Planning an old-fashioned, romantic date for your Valentine? Denver’s the perfect town. After enjoying an intimate feast at Osteria Marco—think butternut squash pizza with gorgonzola ($13) and meatball sliders ($7)—enjoy an intimate murder at Murder for Two, a ‘musical murder mystery’ whose intrigue and twists are playing out on the Garner Galleria Theatre’s stage. After this two-man ensemble solves the crime, harnessing only their wit and a piano, cab it over to The Bar Car for a sexy yet laid-back nightcap amid this beautiful, antique-inspired bar and its jukebox of ‘80s hits. We recommend the the Irish mule, made with a hardy splash of Jameson ($8).

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Tagged: Holidays, New York City, Romance & honeymoon, Tips & advice, Uncategorized

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It’s not always such a bad thing when the groundhog sees his shadow. Sure, it means another six weeks holed up with cabin fever. But why fight it? Join that furry little rodent in the rest of his hibernation, or if you are feeling adventurous, climb underground with him. There are plenty of places this world has for us to explore beneath our feet. Check out a cave, hike a cavern, or join some of the many communities around the world that live underground year round. And don’t worry, if Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow, you’ve still got plenty of time before the warm weather returns. Here’s our list of subterranean adventures and cool things to do underground.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is Feb. 2. Photo: Shenandoah National Park – Flickr

Skaftafell Ice Caverns, Iceland — Located about four hours east of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, Skaftafell is located at the foot of Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier outside of the polar regions. Ice caverns from in Skaftafell only in the winter, when glacial rivers react and the water freezes. The caves are filled with an azure, glacial light filtering through the ice. New caves are formed every year, and tours are very dependent on the weather.

[captionid=”attachment_7771″ align=”aligncenter” width=”1000″]Mammoth Cave A view of Mammoth Cave in Central Kentucky. Photo: Beatrice Murch – Flickr[/caption]

Mammoth Cave National Park — Located in Central Kentucky near Brownsville, Mammoth Cave is the largest known cave system in the world. It has 400 miles of surveyed passageways, making it twice as large as its next closest competitor, the Sac Atun underwater cave in Mexico. Legend has it the first European to discover the cave found it while on a hunting trip, when he pursued a wounded bear into the mouth of thecave. The National Park Service offers routine tours of the cave.

Whittier, Alaska

Most of the residents of Whittier, Alaska live in this 14-story building. Photo: Jessica Spengler – Flickr

Whittier, Alaska Most of Whittier’s 220 year-round residents live in one 14-story building that was built as somewhat of a bunker during the Cold War. Actually, every part of the town is in that building — the hospital, the school, the grocery store. And for good reason. The southwestern Alaskan town withstands 22 feet of snow a year and six months of rain. Most of the town’s residents are commercial fishermen, and cruise ships come into town sometimes, delivering patrons to the local watering holes. But it’s probably safe to assume that Whittier residents don’t rely too much on the predictions of a groundhog.

 

Marble Caves

Marble Cathedral at Marble Caves in Patagonia.Photo: Javier Vieras – Flickr

Marble Caves, Patagonia — Carved smooth by more than 6,000 years of waves washing against the calcium carbonate, the Marble Caves reflect the blue waters of Lake General Carerra beautifully. The remote, glacial lake spans the border of Chile and Argentina in the Patagonian Andes. The caves are only accessible by boat or kayak, and the weather has to be just right. But the trip is worth it. Catch a tour from the nearby town Rio Ibañez, on the Chilean side of the lake.

 

Ape Cave

A view of Mt. St. Helens from Ape Cave. Photo: Greg Willis – Flickr

Ape Cave, Mt. St. Helens — Ape Cave is the longest lava tube in the continental U.S., stretching over 2 miles. There are a couple different routes hikers can take through Ape Cave, which is open year-round and located about an hour’s drive from the Mt. St. Helens’ visitors center. Upper Ape Cave, the more strenuous of the hikes, takes about 2.5 hours to complete and involves scrambling over boulder piles and scaling an 8-foot lava wall.

 

Coober Pedy, Australia

Many residents choose to live underground where it’s cooler in Coober Pedy, Australia. Photo: Martin – Flickr

Coober Pedy, Australia — Temperatures in this southern Australian town often exceed 100 degrees F in the summer, and most of the residents prefer to live in below-ground residences called “dugouts.” A dugout can be carved into the hillside for about the same price as an above-ground home, but it remains cool in the scorching heat and saves money on air conditioning. The name Coober Pedy comes from the Aboriginal term “kupa-piti,” meaning “white man’s hole.” Most of the shops and restaurants are underground too, including an abundance of jewelry stores. Coober Pedy is the world’s leading supplier of opal, and is surroundedby more than 70 opal fields.

Ordinskaya Cave, Russia — One of the largest underground glaciers in the world lies in the western Ural Mountains outside Orda, Perm Kai in Russia. The area was completely inaccessible to outsiders during the Soviet Union days, as many of the mountainsides around it housed tank and missile factories. The cave stretches 3.2 miles, most of which is under water struck crystal clear by its mineral-rich surroundings. Divers usually have visibility for more than 50 yards. The cave is cold, though, with temperatures hanging well below freezing, facilitating its icy nature.

Tagged: Holidays, Off-season, Uncategorized

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Yes, everyone knows Cannes and Sundance. The behemoths of the film-fest world aren’t exactly accessible for most of us, though, and they don’t always showcase the freshest material. Here’s where to go to see film’s bright up-and-comers, for a lot cheaper than the French Riviera…

Marfa, Texas

Marfa, Texas

Citizen Jane Film Festival — Columbia, MO

When it is: November 3–6, 2016

Why to go: In 2010, Lena Dunham opened the Citizen Jane Film Festival with her feature-length dramedy, Tiny Furniture, which she wrote, directed and starred in. And the female filmmaker-driven Citizen Jane Film Festival has only grown since then, offering four days of the often-overlooked female perspective in films. Expect narrative and documentary shorts and features, as well as animated, experimental and dance shorts.

Cucalorus Film Festival – Wilmington, NC

When it is: November 2016 (Dates TBD)

Why to go: Cucalorus is so dedicated to celebrating the art form of film that it eschews any hint of competition. Instead, you can expect to engage in the creative exchange of ideas, predominantly through daring films, music videos, documentaries, shorts and panels—many of which have gone on to earn Oscar nominations. And the festival’s screenings are held not just in theaters, but in music venues, bars and breweries as well. Between films, check out art installations and performances, and hopefully another Bobcat Goldthwait production—the cult actor once presented his found-footage horror film here.

Fantastic Fest – Austin, TX

When it is: September 22–29, 2016

Why to go: Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse is practically a nerd’s paradise—before or after your movie, you can play vintage Donkey Kong arcade games and buy vinyl reissues, t-shirts and TMNT toys. So it’s a natural choice for a film festival focused on horror, fantasy, sci-fi and action films. The fest also draws some seriously big names. It’s held the world premiere for films like Apocolypto, There Will Be Blood and Zombieland. And, as such, Darren Aronofsky, Tim Burton, Bill Murray and Jemaine Clement have all been spotted here, presumably downing a burger and some seriously good cocktails while watching themselves act on the theater’s silver screens.

True/False Film Festival – Columbia, MO

When it is: March 3–6, 2016

Why to go:

There are documentary film festivals, and then there’s Columbia’s True/False Film Festival. Each documentary and nonfiction film challenges audiences to think critically, and supports the festival’s mission to push the boundaries of creative nonfiction. Between screenings, enjoy presentations, debates and the March March, a Carnival-like parade. So grab your favorite old Halloween costume and hit the streets—afterwards, you can enjoy the city’s many parks and the Museum of Art and Archaeology.

Chicago Underground Film Festival — Chicago, IL

When it is: June 1–5, 2016

Why to go: If you want a clean break from the mainstream, the Chicago Underground Film Festival is for you. Proud to be ‘defiantly independent’, it collects and screens films from every corner of the world, pushing the boundaries of the artistic, aesthetic and all-around fun aspects of indie filmmaking. Meaning there’s a huge variety in the kinds of films you’ll catch here: Alternative music films, political agitprop, formal experimentation and, of course, the always-popular avant-garde. Oh, and every evening the fest spills out into Chicago’s beautiful streets. So even if you skip the festival’s nightly parties, events and concerts, you’ll still never run out of things to do.

Outfest Los Angeles — Los Angeles, CA

When it is: July 7–17, 2016

Why to go: Gender, sexuality, LGBT culture—these are the often-overlooked stories heard at Outfest. And get ready to experience the full spectrum of voices here, not just those deemed tame enough for prime time. The filmmakers celebrated here promote acceptance and equality for all people around the world through honest and compelling shorts, features and documentaries. You can also get a taste of the city’s vibrant LGBT scene with official after parties and drag shows.

 Napa Valley Film Festival — Napa, CA

When it is: November 9-13, 2016

Why to go: Love wine? Head west, young (wo)man, to the Napa Valley Film Festival. In true wine-country style, more wineries participate than films. Sure, the art itself is a big draw, but so is the fact that you can enjoy wine tastings, cooking demos and posh parties between the 125 screenings. All of this is scattered through four beautiful, walkable villages: Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Keep your eyes peeled for a celeb or two—last year’s celebrity guests included John Travolta, and they regularly screen films with big Hollywood names.

Pan African Film Festival – Los Angeles, CA

When it is: February 4–15, 2016

Why to go: Get your glamor on while tearing down harmful cultural stereotypes at the Pan African Film Festival—it includes a fashion show for African fashions created by sister festival, the PAFF Artfest. Besides that, you can attend red-carpet screenings, a spoken word segment, and a New Media Fest, which highlights new web series and TV pilots. Celebrate the unique stories of filmmakers of African decent all the while by watching more than 150 films that’ll make you laugh, cry, and question everything about society.

Cinequest Film Festival — San Jose, CA

When it is: March 1-13, 2016

Why to go: Silicone Valley’s San Jose is rapidly becoming famous for another kind of industry entirely—film. But the Cinequest Film Festival’s location is entirely strategic, blending the area’s innovation with cutting-edge film arts. The digital film festival has helped propel innovations like film distribution via the internet, movies shot entirely on iPhones, and digital exhibition into the limelight. Last year, this festival even beat out the likes of SXSW and Tribeca as USA Today’s Best Film Festival.

Marfa Film Festival – Marfa, TX

When it is: July 13-17, 2016

Why to go: Once a year, the remote corner of Texas known as Marfa explodes into the limelight as scores of film buffs flock to the dessert to see shorts, feature films, music videos and experimental works. All films are screened one at a time, instead of concurrently, so you can catch every single one. You can also watch classics outside, on a massive screen beneath a blanket of stars. The whole festival kicks off with an early-bird pool party, and just gets better from there. Past events have included experimental indie arcade games and performances by Chrysta Bell.

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Tagged: California, City, Festivals, L.A., Uncategorized