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The state of Virginia is indeed for lovers—specifically, lovers of beach towns. Just about as far east as you can travel within the state, the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague showcase their own traditional yet unique take on beach-town culture. Here are five reasons why Chincoteague Island and neighboring Assateague should be on your bucket list, in no particular order.

The Wildlife

The wild horses
On Chincoteague Island, you’ll find a charming beach town, filled with mom n’ pop motels and ocean-themed restaurants. Assateague Island, on the other hand, is an impeccably kept nature preserve and its most famous wild residents can be seen galloping through its natural marshes. It’s one of the few places left in America where you can still see herds of wild horses roaming in their natural habitat.

Year round, the herds can be seen grazing from the road that leads to Assateague’s beach, or while on boat or kayaking tours that take off from Chincoteague—and these boat tours offer the chance to see even more native wildlife, like dolphins and bald eagles. The island also features hiking trails and a beach. If you plan on driving to the island, parking passes are $8 per day.

Protip: If you decide to take a boat tour, ask a local about their favorite and go for a smaller boat. Smaller boats can get closer to the ponies in the marsh.

By Bonnie U. Gruenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Bonnie U. Gruenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Pony Penning Carnival
Now, if you are looking for an even closer look at the ponies, and for a way to be a part of local tradition, try attending the yearly Pony Penning carnival. This annual “holiday” takes place in July, as this is when the wild ponies are wrangled and swum from Assateague to Chincoteague. Then, they are then paraded down Main Street and into corrals where vets check each pony’s health. The youngest of the ponies are auctioned off to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, a fundraiser that began in 1925 and has been going strong ever since.

Protip: The historic carnival is free and open to the public, which means a crowd is inevitable. To avoid getting stuck at the back, where you can’t even see the ponies make their swim, arrive early in the morning and come prepared to wait.

Picture side of 1941-postmarked postcard depicting the Chincoteague ponies. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Picture side of 1941-postmarked postcard depicting the Chincoteague ponies. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hiking and Camping

The camping
Chincoteague Island is covered in campgrounds, and Assateague Island is full of hiking trails that are perfect for those looking to explore the natural landscape more intimately. Campgrounds on Chincoteague each offer their own benefits and features. Be sure to check out Inlet View campground and Tom’s Cove campground for the best views of the water, as they both offer waterfront campsites.

Campsite rates at Inlet view range from $27 to $35 per day. Campsite rates at Tom’s Cove $35 to $51 per day.

A view of the marshes. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

A view of the marshes. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The hiking
There is plenty of hiking to be done at Assateague Island, and, as mentioned before, if you plan on driving there you’ll need to pay for parking. Once on the island, you can find hiking trails of all lengths and difficulty levels.

One of the shortest trails leads you to the historic and iconic Assateague lighthouse. The hike is totally worthwhile, since not only can you see the candy-cane-painted lighthouse from the outside, but also from the inside. Once you do finally reach the top, you’ll catch a breathtaking view of both Assateague and Chincoteague. Admission to the lighthouse is free. However, donations are accepted.

Protip: Although the hike itself is not difficult, climbing the many steps up to the top can be. Pace yourself to avoid getting lightheaded at the lighthouse.

At the base of the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

At the base of the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The Beach

Assateague’s beach can be considered a ‘typical’ beach, meaning it’s clean and fun for the whole family. And yet, it’s unique in its location. Once again, you’ll have to cross the bridge from Chincoteague to access the waterfront.

Protip: Since there is only one road leading to the beach, the traffic can get pretty gnarly during “beach rush hour.” Locals will tell you to start making your way back to Chincoteague before four o’clock.

Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Locals and tourists intermingle on the beach. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Local Food

Chincoteague has been thriving in the oyster harvesting market for many years, and the delicacies can be found at countless eateries on the island… Are oysters not your thing? Well, you can also find ice cream, BBQ and homemade doughnuts without looking very far.

The Island Creamery is a local favorite and has been perfecting its small-batch ice cream, made with milk from local dairies, since 1975. They have a lot of different ice cream flavors but the most popular are of course named after the islands’ most well-remembered aspects, “Marsh Mud” and “Pony Tracks.”

Protip: The line is never too long… Even if the lineto be served at the creamery is out the door, locals swear that it’ll never take longer than 20 minutes to be served.

The Island Creamery, taking inspiration from the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

The Island Creamery, taking inspiration from the Assateague lighthouse. Photo credit: Alexandra Olsen

Right before hitting the bridge to Assateague you’ll notice an oasis of quirky, quick-service restaurants. This oasis comes complete with hammocks and yard games. It is there that you will find Woody’s Beach BBQ serving a large variety of smoked meats. The sandwich creations at Woody’s are sure to keep your hunger at bay throughout a full day of pony watching, beach going and lighthouse climbing. Prices for sandwiches are between $8 and $9.

Looking for breakfast? Or maybe a lil’ bit of a sweet treat? Then look for the Sandy Pony Donuts truck on Maddox Boulevard. These cleverly-named delights are small yet mighty, with monikers such as “Strawberry Stallion,” “Surfer Dude” and “Jingle Shells.” Made hot and fresh to order, they’re only $1.65 each, $8.80 for a half dozen and $14.80 for a full.

The Culture and History

Both Assateague and Chincoteague are steeped in history, tradition and a unique culture. People who live on Chincoteague, and who’s ancestors lived on Assateague, have a deep connection to both islands, taking pride in knowing the history of their beloved home. Vacationers, too, often feel themselves drawn back—it is not hard to find someone who has been coming since they were young, and who now bring their own family to the same spot, keeping that tradition alive.

Even if you’re visiting the islands for the first time, the community has a way of making you feel at home. It’s as if a connection is formed as soon as you set foot on the island. Just by interacting with locals, you are sure to learn much about Chincoteague and Assateague’s history. But if you’d like to learn even more about why this is such a closely-knit community, you can visit the Museum of Chincoteague Island, which is located mere steps from the bridge to Assateague. It’s a small museum, but it includes exhibits highlighting the oyster market, the hurricanes and the fires of Chincoteague, as well as the well-known equine celebrity, Misty of Chincoteague.

Her story goes something like this: In 1947, author Marguerite Henry met a pony on the island by the named Misty, and her owners the Beebes. Misty went on to inspire her popular children’s novel, and later a movie, which was filmed on the island. The story, although fictional, introduced Chincoteague and its pony culture to the world. This story is a great source of pride for the community of Chincoteague. In fact, Misty herself can be found at the museum… stuffing and all.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The famous Misty of Chincoteague (left) with one of her foals. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

According to those who know the island, the final thing that you must do before leaving is visit the grave of Captain Chandler, as this will ensure your return to the island. There is no address for the site, but ask any local and they will know how to get there. And if you want to know any more about this local legend, you’ll just have to visit Chincoteague Island.

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Tagged: Beach, Family, Seasonal

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All is calm, all is bright. In some cases, really bright.

Here are seven of some of America’s most over-the-top holiday light displays.

CheapTickets-St-Augustine-Florida-Christmas-lights

St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights. Photo courtesy of St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau.

St. Augustine, Florida: During Nights of Lights, the 450-year-old city illuminates its landmarks with white lights in a display that’s been called one of the world’s 10 best. The festivities include a bunch of special events, such as carriage and boat tours, outdoor concerts and more.

Blossoms of Light in Denver, Colorado

Blossoms of Light in Denver, Colorado | Flickr Creative Commons: Amy Aletheia Cahill

Denver, Colorado: Denver Botanic Gardens sets the scene for a classy holiday with Blossoms of Light. The flora becomes even more inviting when it’s illuminated with thousands of lights, including a spot named the Romantic Gardensfull of aromatic plants and plum trees. (Can you say marriage proposal spot?) There’s also live entertainment on select nights, and visitors can purchase 3-D HoloSpex glasses to enhance their view of the lights.

Tacky Lights Tour in Richmond, Virginia

Tacky Lights Tour in Richmond, Virginia | Flickr Creative Commons: Taber Andrew Bain

Richmond, Virginia: On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s annual list lovingly named the Tacky Lights Tour. Houses must have at least 40,000 lights to make the list; some are tasteful, some downright tacky. The newspaper alerts homeowners that they’ll be included, so when you embark on a self-guided tour of the eyesores, you’ll be laughing with them—not at them.

Glittering Lights | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Glittering Lights | Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Las Vegas, Nevada: There are drive-through light shows… and then there’s Glittering Lights at Sin City’s Motor Speedway. Roll down your windows, turn up your windows and cruise around the 2.5-mile track that proves the Vegas Strip isn’t the only part of town that glistens.

Christmas in Los Angeles

Christmas in Los Angeles, California | Flickr Creative Commons: Loren Javier

Los Angeles, California: Come to see the stars, but stay to see the lights. Downtown L.A. Walking Tours offers a nightly Holiday Lights Tour showcasing how the City of Angeles celebrates the season. Stops include the Broad Museum, Grant Park with its illuminated fountain, Nutcracker Village at California Plaza and more.

CheapTickets-Clifton Mill-Ohio-Christmas-lights

The lights of Ohio’s Clifton Mill combine old-school technology with new-school glitz. Photo by Tina Lawson/Flickr Creative Commons.

Clifton Mill, Ohio: Millions of lights brighten up this 19th-century the mill, gorge, riverbanks, trees and bridges. The decor includes a Santa Claus Museum, light show synchronized to music on the old covered bridge, 100-foot “waterfall” of twinkling lights and more. Legendary Lights is located about 40 miles southwest of Columbus.

CheapTickets-Austin-Christmas-lights

Everything’s bigger in Texas, even the holiday lights. Photo of Austin’s Trail of Lights by Mark Scott/Flickr Creative Commons.

Austin, Texas: The city’s Trail of Lights gets more elaborate every year. Zilker Park’s display now includes a 155-foot-tall artificial Christmas tree, ferris wheel and carousel. It’s one of the largest holiday events in Austin, with live performances, a lighted tunnel and more.

CTIXblog CTA _ cheap of the week

Tagged: City, Family, Festivals, Florida, Holidays, L.A., Las Vegas, Seasonal

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then some landmarks should be downright charmed. If you don’t have the time or money to see the real thing, then opt for one of these faux versions of tourists attractions that are often imitated and nearly duplicated.

 Related: 5 stunning U.S. scenic drives 

Leaning Tower of Pisa replica in Niles, IL

Italy isn’t the only place where you can eat great pizza and take a selfie in front of an off-kilter landmark. At 94 feet tall, this suburban Chicago knockoff stands at about half the size of the actual Italian treasure. Built as a utility tower in 1934, in the late ’90s the tower added a fountain, reflection pool and other upgrades just in time for a visit from its sister city, which is—you guessed it—Pisa, Italy.

Leaning Tower is Pisa replica in Niles, Illinois. Credit Jimmy Thomas/Flickr.

Leaning Tower is Pisa replica in Niles, Illinois. Credit Jimmy Thomas/Flickr.

Trevi Fountain replica in Las Vegas, NV

What happens in Vegas… originally happened in Rome, Italy. Sin City is home to several clones of the Baroque masterpiece. The best-known sits outside Caesars Palace, where you can dine at—wait for it—Trevi Italian Restaurant. There’s also a lesser-known version of the ornate fountain inside the Fendi boutique at Crystals at CityCenter, where the handbags are legit but the fountain is most definitely a knockoff.

Trevi Fountain replica at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Credit Bert Kaufmann/Flickr.

Trevi Fountain replica at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Credit Bert Kaufmann/Flickr.

Statue of Liberty replica in Birmingham, AL

About 2 million tourists flock to Ellis Island each year. Skip the lines and ferry ride by heading south to this bronze duplicate that’s one-fifth the size of the real statue. Like the New York statue, Birmingham’s version of Lady Liberty was made in France and has a continuously burning flame. In 1958, businessman Frank Park Samford commissioned the clone to sit atop the building of his company, Liberty National Life Insurance. Today, the statue stands in Liberty Park.

Statue of Liberty replica in Birmingham, Alabama. Credit Wikipedia.

Statue of Liberty replica in Birmingham, Alabama. Credit Wikipedia.

White House replica in McClean, VA

You can’t buy an election, but you can buy the White House—or at least a private home just outside Washington, DC, that’s modeled after the real thing. The 15,000-square-foot replica has six bedrooms and seven bathrooms, compared to the actual White House’s 55,000 square feet, 16 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. In 2012, the foreclosured property sold for just $865,000.

Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, TX

Not everything’s bigger in Texas. This iron structure stands at 65 feet tall, compared to the French icon, which boasts a staggering 986 feet. But the Texas version is topped with a giant red cowboy hat, which makes for a kitschy photo op as you stretch your legs along U.S. Highway 82. The Boiler Makers Local #902 in built it there in 1995, more than a century after the French landmark was erected.

Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, Texas. Credit Kevin/Flickr.

Eiffel Tower replica in Paris, Texas. Credit Kevin/Flickr.

Parthenon replica in Nashville, TN

This Southern gem was built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition—which sounds old, until you realize that construction on the actual Parthenon in Greece began in 447 BC. But Nashville’s full-scale replica is more than just a pretty facade; it also houses the city’s art museum.

Parthenon replica in Nashville. Credit Will Powell/Flickr.

Parthenon replica in Nashville. Credit Will Powell/Flickr.

Stonehedge replica in Maryhill, WA

While the purpose behind England’s Stonehenge remain a mystery—altar? astronomical observatory? burial site?—the origins of this knockoff are more certain. In 1918, land developer Sam Hill erected his version of Stonehenge as a memorial to the fallen soldiers of World War 1. The Druids used actual stones, but 5,000 years later, Hill opted for the convenience of reinforced concrete slabs.

Stonehenge replica. Credit Wikipedia.

Stonehenge replica. Credit Wikipedia.

Tagged: International, Las Vegas