Why America’s cities are great bargains for traveling families.
Known for their art museums, fancy restaurants, and sophisticated denizens, big cities seem to offer the ingredients for an expensive vacation. But actually, they provide the exact opposite. An urban escape can be an unbelievable bargain, especially for families. Here’s why:
Cheap, yummy food is plentiful. It’s easy to spend only $5 to $7 per person on dinner when you can choose from ethnic eateries, street vendors, and hole-in-the-walls. In Boston you can nosh on a sausage from Speed’s Famous Hot Dog Wagon in Newmarket Square; in San Francisco and Los Angeles you can track down a taco truck; in Portland look for one of the waffle wagons; and in Philadelphia you can fill up with a cheese steak at Campos Deli or Geno’s or Pat’s Steaks.
Museums are free–and fun. Without ever opening your wallets, you and your kids can browse the St. Louis At Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art, Los Angeles’s Getty Museum.
Washington, D.C. is the land of free museums, and you can walk right into the National Gallery, Smithsonian, and the recently reopened Museum of American History. In Philadelphia, many of the historical attractions are free: Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Declaration House, and many more.
In many cities you’ll find that museums have special free days and hours. On Fridays admission to the Boston Children’s Museum is only $1. On the first and third Sundays of the month, kids get in for free at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and they can participate in special art projects.
If you want to visit some of the museums that require admission, you can purchase a City Pass (citypass.com), offered in nearly every city across the country. You pay a set price to get into dozens of museums and attractions and save about 50 percent off the price of admission.
No need to rent a car. When you fly into a big city, you can hop on a bus or the metro and zip into town. It’s also easy to get around and see the sights on public transit. This means you don’t have to pay for a rental car or pay for parking, which isn’t a bargain in big cities.
Hotels are surprisingly affordable. Due to the economic climate, conventions are down and business travelers are on the road less so urban hotels are experiencing more vacancies and they’re rewarding leisure travelers with better rates.
It’s easy to score deals on flights. More airlines fly into big city airports–i.e., more competition and cheaper fares. Travelers especially benefit from the bargains carriers such as Jet Blue and Southwest that usually fly into urban centers.
There’s lots to do that doesn’t cost a dime. The best way to find out about free events, activities, and attractions is through a city’s convention and visitors’ bureau. In fact, many bureaus post a list of free things to do on their Web sites. Here are links to a few lists: