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The 19 Best Things to Do in Houston

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Houston has such a diverse range of attractions that you’d need a week to make a dent in the supply. From NASA’s astronaut training center to funky visionary art installations and sprawling urban green spaces, you’ll have your choice of fun things to do in Houston.

Want a whirlwind tour of the major Houston attractions? It’s a snap with the Houston CityPASS, which covers five key sights at a savings of nearly 50 percent compared to the total cost of individual admission. Attractions include Space Center Houston, the Downtown Aquarium, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, as well as either the Houston Zoo or the Museum of Fine Arts, and either the Kemah Boardwalk or the Children’s Museum. Here’s what to expect from each one.

Space Center Houston

kids at space center houston.

At Space Center Houston, take a behind-the-scenes tram tour through NASA’s Johnson Space Center, checking out the historic Apollo Mission Control Center and the heaviest rocket ever flown. You can also see spacesuits from past missions, explore a replica of the shuttle Independence, and touch a rock taken from the planet Mars.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

purple tunnel museum of fine arts houston.

Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts is one of the country’s largest, with numerous visiting exhibitions complementing a strong permanent collection of works by Picasso, Gainsborough, O’Keeffe, Rembrandt, Chagall, Pollock, and many more. Don’t miss a quick stroll through the small sculpture garden across the street, which is free to explore.

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science

dinosaur skeletons at houston museum of natural science.

The Houston Museum of Natural Science has something for just about everyone, from dinosaur fossils and colorful gems to Egyptian artifacts and seashells from around the world. Between the exhibits, the planetarium, and the butterfly center, there’s enough to keep you busy for a whole day.

Houston Zoo

cheetah at houston zoo.

If you’ve got kids in tow, the Houston Zoo is a must-see stop. Bears, elephants, monkeys, giraffes, and sea lions are among the creatures that roam the habitats here. Animal encounters and behind-the-scenes tours are available for visitors who want a closer look.

Downtown Aquarium

downtown aquarium houston.

Houston’s Downtown Aquarium is smaller than you’d expect—you can see the fish and other animals in less than an hour—but the on-site rides include a carousel and a Ferris wheel as added bonus fun for kids. And the whole family will love the beautiful white tigers.

Children’s Museum Houston

kids at children's museum houston.

Yet another family-friendly Houston attraction is the Children’s Museum, designed for kids up to age 12. Little ones can learn about everything from math to modern-day Korean culture in the museum’s hands-on exhibits.

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Kemah Boardwalk

kemah boardwalk at night.

About 20 minutes outside Houston are the rides, games, and restaurants of Kemah Boardwalk, all perched right on the waterfront. You can also explore a zip-line, rainforest exhibit, and stingray reef.

Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens

bayou bend collection and gardens houston.

Part of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens displays furniture, ceramics, and other decorative arts in the former home of Houston art collector and “First lady of Texas” Irma Hogg. The stately house is surrounded by some 14 acres of manicured gardens.

The Health Museum

houston health museum exterior.

Walk through a huge model of the human body, including a 22-foot backbone, at the Health Museum. In addition to the permanent exhibits, the museum hosts a number of temporary installations and screens films in its McGovern Theater.

The Menil Collection

menil collection sculptures houston.

Looking for free things to do in Houston? Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Menil Collection, housed in the first American building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The museum is home to the eclectic collections of John and Dominique de Menil, who amassed a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and decorative objects from ancient times to the contemporary period, with an emphasis on more modern works. Artists on display include Matisse, Picasso, Ernst, and Johns.

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Discovery Green

discovery green houston.

Visitors can enjoy the great outdoors right in downtown Houston thanks to a 12-acre park, Discovery Green, located across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center. A perimeter of century-old oak trees provides a natural framework within which designers built the Great Lawn, grand-scale pieces of art, a boating pond, a giant fountain (fun for kids to splash in on hot days), dog fountains and runs, picnic grounds, a playground, an amphitheater, and jogging trails. Check out the events calendar to find out what’s going on during your visit, from yoga classes to concerts.

Sam Houston Park

historic home in sam houston park.

Another lovely green space surrounded by the high-rise towers of downtown is Sam Houston Park, where you can tour a number of historic homes maintained by the city’s Heritage Society.

National Museum of Funeral History

day of the dead display at national museum funeral history.

It may seem like a grim place to visit on vacation, but the National Museum of Funeral History is surprisingly interesting. The 15 permanent exhibits include the history of cremation and embalming, artifacts from presidential and papal funerals, and hearses dating back to the 19th century. The museum also examines how other cultures deal with funerals and death.

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Buffalo Bayou Park

biking in buffalo bayou park houston.

Need some exercise? Hit the walking, jogging, and biking trails that run along the bayou through central Houston in Buffalo Bayou Park. You can enjoy great views of the downtown skyline and even tour an eerie underground cistern that once housed the city’s water supply and now makes for a fascinating tour.

The Orange Show and Smither Park

smither park houston.

Lovers of visionary art should check out two Houston attractions located right next to each other: The Orange Show and Smither Park. The former is a funky, folksy ode to the orange, created over several decades by a retired postal worker using reclaimed materials such as iron, bricks, and tiles. Smither Park is a community project, showcasing the work of hundreds of local artists, including colorful mosaics, found objects, and even a large grotto plastered with pieces of road signs.

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Holocaust Museum Houston

dutch rescue boat at holocaust museum houston.

Fresh off a major renovation and expansion, the Holocaust Museum features a permanent exhibition on Anne Frank and other young diarists, a human rights gallery, a collection of paintings by Holocaust survivor Samuel Bak, and a Dutch rescue boat from World War II, among other moving exhibits.

Sports Venues

minute maid park houston.

Sports lovers can catch a game at numerous venues in Houston, from baseball’s Minute Maid Park (home of the Astros) to the nearby Toyota Center, where the NBA’s Rockets play. Texans football games and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo are held at NRG Stadium.

Buffalo Soldiers National Museum

buffalo soldiers museum houston.

One of the lesser-known things to do in Houston is a visit to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, which celebrates the military contributions of the African Americans who served in the U.S. Army after the Civil War.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

artist at houston center for contemporary craft.

Another unique Houston attraction is the Center for Contemporary Craft, where you can see rotating displays of ceramics, metalwork, jewelry, fiber art, and more. You can also meet the center’s artists in residence and get a look inside their studios.

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Sarah Schlichter was hosted by Marriott and Visit Houston. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. June Naylor contributed to this story.

Arts & Culture Budget Travel Cities Entertainment Family Travel Food & Drink

13 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

I know, I know—what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But if you’re not careful, it could be the contents of your wallet, savings account, and retirement fund that stay in Vegas, too.

The Top 13 Free Things to Do in Las Vegas

While hotels come cheap in Las Vegas, the attractions and shows do not. That’s why you should supplement your trips to the Las Vegas casinos, roller coasters, Cirque du Soleil shows, and other expensive endeavors with these free attractions. Here are 13 fun, free things to do in Las Vegas on your next trip.

Bellagio Fountains and Conservatory & Botanical Garden

bellagio fountains las vegas.

The Bellagio fountains pop up in just about every Las Vegas movie ever made, including the iconic ending to Ocean’s Eleven. Create your own crime caper or rom-com ending and catch the Fountains of Bellagio in action; the free show plays every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day, and watching it is one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas.

Thrillingly synced to pop and classical music, hundreds of separate fountains and water features shoot up into the air with the Italianate hotel facade as their stunning backdrop. When you’ve had your fountain fill, take a leisurely stroll through Bellagio’s Conservatory & Botanical Garden, where horticulturalists maintain an ever-changing array of florals, gazebos, bridges, and ponds.

The gardens are also free for visitors and provide a nice respite from the relentless desert sun.

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Fremont Street Experience

fremont street experience las vegas.

Equal parts mall, concert venue, and light show, the Fremont Street Experience takes everything that Las Vegas is known for (glitter, lights, and gambling) and rolls it into one five-block area. The main attraction here is a barrel vault canopy aglow with 12.5 million LED lights that lead pedestrians to vintage casinos such as the Golden Nugget and the Four Queens. Guests can also enjoy free concerts from hard-rocking headliners all summer long.

Art at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

cosmopolitan las vegas lobby.

And you thought Las Vegas had no culture. The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas has amassed one of the most exclusive art collections in the country, providing a highbrow break from the Strip’s bare skin and penny slots.

You’ll find fascinating installations throughout The Cosmopolitan’s public spaces, including the lobby, the stairwells, and even the parking garage.

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CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand

cbs television city research center.

You might not be a network exec, but you can still have your voice heard. At the CBS Television City Research Center at MGM Grand, you can sample brand-new TV shows and opine on potential pilots during the hour-long screenings. It’s one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas.

Head into one of the studios to sample program offerings by CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, and other Viacom-owned channels. Register your opinion on a test monitor and consider yourself part of television history before returning to your regularly scheduled vacation.

Circus Acts at Circus Circus Las Vegas

circus circus act las vegas.

Looking for free shows in Las Vegas? The whole family will approve of the circus acts at Circus Circus. This special spot on the Strip has long entertained guests with its Carnival Midway and countless circus acts. In fact, the resort contains the largest permanent circus in the world.

A rotating cast of jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, and roller-skating stuntmen delights kids of every age (and the cash-strapped parents toting their new carnival prizes). Cap off the entertainment with a rousing show from Circus Circus’ resident clowns on the Midway’s main stage. Let the fact that all this entertainment is free assuage any lingering clown phobia.

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Downtown Container Park

praying mantis downtown container park las vegas.

A giant mechanical praying mantis welcomes visitors into this open-air park made from repurposed shipping containers. Here you’ll find shops, restaurants, bars, and a stage for free live music performances. Kids can enjoy The Treehouse, a play area with a slide and building blocks, up until 9:00 p.m. each day (when the park becomes adults only).

Wildlife Habitat at Flamingo Las Vegas

flamingos in las vegas.

You’ll likely encounter a variety of colorful creatures on the Las Vegas Strip, from partying bachelorettes with anatomically correct lollipops to celebrities on their baddest behavior. Catch a glimpse of a different kind of flamboyance at Flamingo Las Vegas, with its habitat chock-full of the pink-hued birds.

A flock (actually called a flamboyance) of Chilean flamingos is on view at the free exhibit, which also features an array of swans, ducks, koi fish, and turtles who live among the foliage and waterfalls. The habitat is located next to the pool area and is one of the great free things to do in Las Vegas for hotel guests and non-guests alike.

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Volcano at The Mirage

mirage volcano las vegas.

Well, this spot has really blown up. With a soundtrack by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian table drummer Zakir Hussain, the heart-pounding audio/visual attraction at the Polynesian-themed Mirage spews fire into the air beginning at 8:00 p.m. every night, making it one of the most memorable free shows in Las Vegas.

The smoke that the volcano spouts more than 100 feet above the water is actually perfumed with a pleasant pina colada scent (to cover up the odor of natural gas). The spectacle rivals the well-known fountains at Bellagio, another free Las Vegas attraction, just a half-mile up the Strip.

Pinball Hall of Fame

pinball hall of fame.

This nonprofit please-touch museum is actually the world’s largest pinball-machine collection. In 10,000 square feet of space, you’ll find an assortment of more than 200 pinball machines and arcade games from a half-century of gaming history. And every game is playable, from a 1992 Super Mario Bros. machine to the wooden 1947 Heavy Hitter.

Admission is free, although the games are coin-operated (25 or 50 cents per play). Just arm yourself with the knowledge that all excess revenue goes to charity. Who knew doing good could feel like such good old-fashioned fun?

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Aquarium at Silverton Hotel and Casino

aquarium at silverton hotel and casino.

The only sting here is from jellyfish. Consistently ranked one of the top free things to do in Las Vegas, the massive saltwater aquarium at the Silverton Hotel and Casino will transport you from the parched desert to a vast tropical oasis. Around 117,000 gallons of saltwater house thousands of fish, sharks, stingrays, and reef plants. Interactive feeding demonstrations and a mermaid show round out the offerings.

Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Sign

welcome to fabulous las vegas sign.

A selfie with this famous sign is a must-have for your Instagram feed, and it won’t cost you a dime. Located at 5100 S. Las Vegas Boulevard, the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign has marked the beginning of the Strip since 1959.

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Ethel M. Chocolates

factory workers at ethel m chocolates

Located in nearby Henderson is one of the Vegas area’s most delicious attractions: Ethel M. Chocolates, where you can enjoy free samples, stroll through a botanical garden filled with cacti, and take a complimentary self-guided tour through the factory to see how the staff prepares pecan brittle, caramels, and other tasty treats.

First Friday in the Arts District

first friday las vegas.

On the first Friday evening of every month, from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., the Arts District of downtown Las Vegas opens its streets for wallet- and family-friendly fun. Find a variety of artists and vendors hawking their wares, plus live music, activities for kids, and a fleet of food trucks for peckish revelers. Each month’s event features a different theme.

What to Wear in Vegas

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

Cities Family Travel Theme Park

Tampa Bay CityPASS: The Ultimate Pass to Amazing Animals

Tampa Bay CityPASS is the ultimate sightseeing tool for animal-obsessed families looking for things to do in Tampa. Four of the five attractions bundled into the CityPASS are animal-centered attractions focused on education, conservation, and animal welfare.

The Tampa Bay CityPASS ticket book (or the mobile version) gets you discounted entry (and in many cases, skip-the-line entry) at four of Tampa Bay’s best animal-focused attractions: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa at Lowry Park, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Tampa Bay CityPASS also includes access to either the Museum of Science & Industry or the Chihuly Collection.

Here’s the scoop on the animal-centered attractions that are a part of the CityPASS bundle.

ZooTampa at Lowry Park

Kids watching a manatee at zootampa

Paths shaded by tropical foliage make navigating the 63-acre ZooTampa comfortable, even on hot days. This award-winning, non-profit zoo promotes and supports wildlife conservation in Florida and beyond. Spend time watching manatees at the zoo’s critical care center, which treats and rehabilitates injured wild animals. Or sign up for reasonably priced up-close signature encounters, including the chance to feed a rhinoceros and go behind-the-scenes at the African penguin exhibit.

Kid Take: “I liked the different sections of the zoo. My favorite part was the macaw flyover; it felt exciting to see them fly really fast. Going into the manatee area was peaceful and it was relaxing to see the manatees swim slowly around. It was cool that they rescue manatees and help put them back in the wild once they’re healthy.”

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The Florida Aquarium

child looking into tank at florida aquarium in tampa

With an easy-to-reach location in downtown Tampa, the Florida Aquarium offers close-up animal encounters with an eye toward local Florida ecosystems. Exhibits featuring more than 14,000 animals educate and inspire families to connect with the natural environment. Visit the Florida Wetlands Trail to discover alligators, otters, birds, and fish. Head to the Coral Reef to glimpse sea turtles, sand tiger sharks, barracudas, stingrays, and moray eels. And for a globetrotting treat, explore the Journey to Madagascar exhibit, where you can watch lemurs frolic, snack, and socialize. Outside, a splash pad offers a way for kids to burn off energy and cool off.

Kid Take: “It was fun to see the otters playing around and the lemurs swinging from branch to branch. The gift shop was pretty cool, too. I also liked the splash pad right outside but I didn’t really get to play on it because it was raining like crazy when I was there.”

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Dolphin at the clearwater marine aquarium in clearwater, florida

Arrive curious and leave inspired at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The aquarium’s mission to rescue, rehabilitate, and when possible, release marine life is on display at this modest (but soon to be expanded) facility in Clearwater. Known widely as home to Winter the dolphin, who inspired and starred in the Dolphin Tale movies; the center has dolphins, sea turtles, rays, and more.

Kid Take: “I really liked it because we saw an animal movie star. I watched Winter the dolphin move through the water like she was an underwater race car. I also liked that I learned a lot about how to protect marine animals and make the sea healthier for them.”

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Busch Gardens

hippo peeking above water at busch gardens in tampa

Busch Gardens appeals to thrill seekers and animal lovers alike with its combination of roller coasters and animal experiences. On the Serengeti Safari Tour, visitors five and up board an open-air truck and spend 30 minutes exploring the 65-acre habitat where zebras, antelope, giraffe, and other animals roam. The tour highlight for kids and adults alike is the chance to feed curious giraffes a lettuce snack.

Kid Take: “On the safari I got to stand up in the back of a truck for the first time. We saw zebras, giraffes, a rhino, and other animals. Some of the giraffes came up to our truck and we got to feed them. I really liked being so close to giraffes. It was also fun to watch the roller coasters zooming around. I went on Cobra’s Curse; it was scary but also fun. My favorite part was when it spun slowly around.”

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Christine Sarkis visited Tampa as a guest of CityPASS. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from 9 Major U.S. Cities

[st_content_ad]Need a vacation, but don’t have much time or money? Cheap weekend getaways are the answer. Spending two or three nights away from home can provide much-needed rejuvenation and help you scratch the itch to explore a new place at times when you can’t take a longer vacation.

Below are suggested weekend getaways from nine major metro areas around the U.S. Each getaway destination is within easy driving distance of the originating city, so you don’t need to shell out for airfare or baggage fees. Each also has well-rated, affordable hotel options.

Scroll down to see all the ideas, or click on your city below to jump straight to cheap weekend getaways from that metro area.

Featured Weekend Getaways

Cheap Weekend Getaways from Atlanta

Chattanooga, Tennessee

chattanooga tennessee aerial view

The former industrial town of Chattanooga is now an ideal spot for a weekend getaway that’s just a two-hour drive from Atlanta across the Tennessee border. Great spots for strolling include the Bluff View Art District and the scenic Riverwalk. The most popular attractions include the Tennessee Aquarium (beloved by kids and adults alike) and the Hunter Museum of American Art, housed in an early-20th-century mansion. The area is also rich in Civil War history; Chickamauga Battlefield is just a 20-minute drive outside the city.

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Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville north carolina at sunset.

About three and a half hours from Atlanta is the mountain community of Asheville, known for its artsy, outdoorsy vibe. Its most famous tourist attraction is the grand Biltmore mansion, though admission is pricey; fortunately, there are plenty of other fun things to do. Chat with artists in the River Arts District, stop to smell the flowers in the North Carolina Arboretum, or join the locals for an energetic Friday evening drum circle. The nearby Blue Ridge Mountains offer countless opportunities for hiking and scenic drives.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Boston

Provincetown, Massachusetts

Provincetown, massachusetts beachfront

Located at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is best known as a summer destination, but it makes for an appealing weekend getaway year-round. Look beyond the beaches and you’ll find the vibrant shops and eateries of Commercial Street as well as the Province Lands Bike Trail, which loops for more than five miles through bogs, pine forests, and sand dunes. And don’t overlook Provincetown’s art scene, which includes galleries and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. You can reach Provincetown via car or ferry from Boston.

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Providence, Rhode Island

Providence, rhode island riverfront.

Rhode Island’s capital city, just a quick drive or train ride from Boston, is the perfect size for exploring in a few days. One major draw is the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, which features everything from French Impressionists to a 12th-century Japanese Buddha. Not far away is the campus of Brown University, which hosts a variety of events and is a pleasant place for a stroll. Save time to wander neighborhoods like the historic downtown district and Federal Hill, also known as Little Italy.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Chicago

Galena, Illinois

Galena illinois street

This quaint historic town in the northwest corner of Illinois is about a three-hour drive from Chicago. Its well-preserved 19th-century buildings include the former home of President Ulysses S. Grant and a fascinating historical society and museum. It’s easy to spend a day wandering in and out of the boutiques and galleries on Main Street, where you can pick up everything from secondhand clothes to locally made jams. Enjoy breakfast or lunch at Otto’s Place, a local favorite.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Houston

San Antonio, Texas

san antonio, texas riverfront

Just a three-hour drive west of Houston is San Antonio, known for its vibrant history and culture. It all starts downtown, where you’ll find the city’s most famous landmark, the Alamo, and the 15-mile urban waterway known as the River Walk, lined with restaurants and shops. There are four other historical missions here, too, comprising San Antonio Missions National Historical Park—a UNESCO World Heritage site. Families will love the DoSeum, designed for kids 10 and under, and the small but fun San Antonio Zoo.

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Lake Charles, Louisiana

Lake charles, louisiana city hall
Two hours in the opposite direction is a weekend getaway destination with an entirely different flavor: Lake Charles, Louisiana. During the day you can play a round of golf, tour a Cold War-era battleship, visit the colorful Mardi Gras Museum, or drive the Creole Nature Trail in search of alligators and birds. Then top off each day with a Cajun seafood dinner and an evening at one of the area’s four casinos.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Los Angeles

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua tree national park, california sunset.

The starkly beautiful desert landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park offer a peaceful (and cheap) weekend getaway from the traffic and smog of Los Angeles. Looking to hike? The park has challenging trails, easy nature walks, and everything in between. You can also bike on backcountry roads, drive along the Geology Tour Road (a 4 x 4 vehicle is recommended), or stay late for a night of stargazing. Campgrounds and affordable motels offer cheap lodging inside and near the park.

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San Diego, California

San diego, california boats in the harbor.

If you’re looking for a less remote weekend getaway, drive a few hours down the coast to San Diego. This laid-back city is a favorite with families, who flock to the San Diego Zoo, kid-friendly museums like the Fleet Science Center, and nearby LEGOLAND California. (For more ideas, see San Diego with Kids.) But San Diego is also popular for adults-only getaways, with plenty of craft breweries, cultural institutions, and neighborhoods to explore; try the Gaslamp Quarter for dining and nightlife.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from New York City

Dutchess County, New York

Hudson valley, new york bridge

Part of the Hudson Valley region that stretches some 150 miles north of New York City, Dutchess County offers both scenic landscapes and appealing attractions year-round. History buffs can tour the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Home as well as his Presidential Library and Museum, while fans of the arts should make a beeline to spots like Dia:Beacon, a modern art center housed in a former Nabisco box-printing factory. Hikers can hop onto a section of the Appalachian Trail or enjoy the views from the top of the fire tower at Ferncliff Forest.

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Princeton, New Jersey

Princeton, new jersey dusk.

Stroll among the ivy-shrouded stone halls of Princeton University, located just 50 miles from New York City. Attractions on campus include an art museum and chapel, while the town of Princeton offers plenty of shops and restaurants along Nassau Street, the main drag. Top off your cheap weekend getaway with affordable eats at restaurants like Jammin’ Crepes and Olives Deli and Bakery.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from San Francisco

Sacramento, California

Sacramento, california bridge at night.

California’s capital, located 90 minutes from San Francisco, makes a particularly fun weekend getaway for families thanks to attractions like the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town, which features play areas for little ones based on the stories of Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella, and many more. The riverfront historic district, Old Sacramento, is a must-visit for travelers of any age, with its Gold Rush-era buildings and old-timey shops. There’s also plenty of fresh farm-to-table cuisine to savor around town at a variety of price points.

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Mendocino County, California

Mendocino county coast.

A little farther afield are the fertile vineyards, picturesque seaside villages, and jaw-dropping redwood forests of Mendocino County, about three hours north of San Francisco. Don’t miss the rugged coastal views at Mendocino Headlands State Park or the vibrantly colored blooms at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. Visit Montgomery Woods State Reserve for a hike through the redwoods, or craft your own wine-tasting tour along Highway 128.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Seattle

Bellingham, Washington

Bellingham, washington water

In Bellingham, a small city located about 90 minutes north of Seattle, weekend visitors can enjoy a mix of urban and natural attractions. Start with a stroll through the Fairhaven historic district, where restored Victorian-era brick buildings house art galleries, restaurants, and the beloved Village Books. Art lovers can marvel at the sculpture collections at Western Washington University and Big Rock Garden, while hikers have plenty of options, including Whatcom Falls Park and Stimpson Family Nature Preserve.

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Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey island coast

Accessible by car and ferry, Whidbey Island is just a short distance from Seattle, but it feels like a true escape. Outdoor attractions reign supreme, from the stunning hiking trails of Deception Pass State Park to the fragrant fields at Lavender Wind Farm (come in summertime to see them in full bloom). You can paddle through Puget Sound with Whidbey Island Kayaking, go on the hunt for sculptures along the Oak Harbor Art Trail, or taste your way through the island’s many distilleries and wineries.

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Cheap Weekend Getaways from Washington, D.C.

Frederick, Maryland

Frederick maryland street scene

This small city 45 miles northwest of D.C. makes for a laid-back weekend getaway. Stroll the historic downtown area, keeping an eye out for murals, sculptures, and other public art installations scattered around town. The National Museum of Civil War Medicine and the Monocacy National Battlefield are must-sees for travelers with interest in the Civil War, while Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park offer dozens of wooded hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts. Don’t miss the city’s many breweries and distilleries, including Flying Dog, the largest craft brewery in Maryland.

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Annapolis, Maryland

Annapolis maryland sunset.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Annapolis, with its walkable cobblestone streets and sailboats bobbing gently in the harbor. The main draw here is the historic district, with buildings dating back as far as the colonial era. The city is also home to the U.S. Naval Academy, which offers guided tours of its major landmarks as well as stories about what it’s like to be a midshipman. On a sunny day, visit the beach at Sandy Point State Park, complete with a view of the Bay Bridge.

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11 Fun Things to Do in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is justifiably famous for its colonial history. The city, founded in 1682, can be credited as the site of America’s birth—the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were created here. So was the first American flag. The most popular things to do in Philadelphia include exploring Independence Mall, gawking at the Liberty Bell, and wandering along streets lined with old colonial homes.

But to think Philadelphia’s only attraction is its historic sites is to miss out on a huge part of the city’s appeal. Don’t overlook its vibrant art scene, from major museums to contemporary galleries and colorful murals, or the thriving—but not over-commercialized—waterfront, Penn’s Landing, which hosts festivals and attractions. There are also a number of fun day trips within easy driving distance. Start planning your itinerary with this list of fun things to do in Philadelphia.

Discover the Constitution

national constitution center philadelphia.

The National Constitution Center chronicles all things related to the U.S. Constitution, and its interactive exhibits make that era of U.S. history come alive. These days, the center is the diamond in the center of Philadelphia’s most important “birth of America” sites.

Visit Independence National Historical Park

independence hall in the spring.

Nearby, Independence National Historical Park is home to Independence Hall, considered the birthplace of America. Tours are free, but for most of the year you’ll need a timed ticket to enter. You can reserve in advance online or by phone (for a small fee), or show up the morning you want to visit. Arrive early during the busy summer months.

The historical park is also home to the Liberty Bell Center, which houses another symbolic Philadelphia classic, full of legends relating to America’s early days (in fact, the bell was hidden away in nearby Allentown to keep it from falling into British hands during the Revolutionary War). Entry is free, though you may find yourself waiting in a lengthy line.

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Wander Through Old City

elfreths alley philadelphia.

Beyond the usual Independence Mall attractions, the Old City neighborhood features a number of other sights to see, including the Betsy Ross House, where the first American flag was sewn; Christ Church, where George Washington and Benjamin Franklin once worshipped; and Elfreth’s Alley, a narrow cobblestone lane lined with brick homes that date back to 1702.

The neighborhood is also home to one of the newest Philadelphia attractions, the Museum of the American Revolution, which opened in 2017 and offers fascinating interactive exhibits about America’s war for independence.

Take in an Art Museum

pennsylvania academy of fine arts.

Art lovers shouldn’t miss the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which houses the city’s most impressive collections, plus visiting exhibits. Be sure to stop in the lovely medieval cloister and the tranquil Japanese teahouse. It’s also got the famous set of steps featured in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky.

Just down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is the Rodin Museum, which showcases the largest collection of the French sculptor’s work outside of Paris. Also nearby is the Barnes Foundation, an incredible collection featuring Post-Impressionist and early modern paintings from artists such as Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, and Matisse. Finally, don’t miss the oft-overlooked Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where the artwork is rivaled only by the stunning architecture.

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Learn About Science

giant heart at the franklin institute in philadelphia.

Alongside the popular art museums on Benjamin Franklin Parkway are two family-friendly scientific institutions. One of the most fun things to do in Philadelphia with kids is to walk through the bigger-than-life human heart at The Franklin Institute, which also offers a wealth of other creative and informative science exhibits. The nearby Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is beloved by families for its collections of dinosaur bones and other wonders of natural science.

Meanwhile, the Mutter Museum may be Philadelphia’s most unique scientific attraction, exhibiting medical oddities such as a human skull collection, the livers of conjoined twins, and pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain.

Spend Some Time in Prison

eastern state penitentiary.

A trip to a prison may not top your must-do list on vacation, but Eastern State Penitentiary is a surprisingly fascinating stop. You can wander the haunting, crumbling corridors that once housed Al Capone and numerous other criminals, and learn how revolutionary the “penitentiary” concept was at the time of the prison’s founding in 1829.

Hit the Zoo

giraffes at philadelphia zoo.

A fun option for kids is the Philadelphia Zoo, America’s first, which recently added an innovative system of see-through mesh trails that run around and above the zoo, allowing animals to roam freely between exhibits. Creatures who live here include gorillas, tigers, lions, hippos, giraffes, lemurs, and many more.

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Hit the Waterfront

penn's landing philadelphia.

Adjacent to the picturesque streets and houses of historic Society Hill (home to Philadelphia’s wealthy in the 18th century) is Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia’s waterfront on the Delaware River. Aside from panoramic views and summer events, the highlight here is the Independence Seaport Museum, displaying numerous maritime artifacts.

Marvel Over Murals and Mosaics

mosaics at philadelphia's magic gardens.

Aside from its excellent museums, Philadelphia is home to plenty of outdoor art as well. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are a beloved indoor and outdoor art installation stretching along a once run-down section of South Street. Created by local resident Isaiah Zagar, the colorful installation is made of mosaic tiles, bicycle wheels, glass bottles, and other found objects.

Philadelphia also has thousands of murals—many of which you can discover on a Mural Arts tour. Travel on foot or by bike, trolley, or train to see these unexpected splashes of colorful art on walls across the city.

Cross the River to Camden

battleship new jersey.

Just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia is the city of Camden, New Jersey. Major attractions include the Adventure Aquarium—the most popular exhibit there is a 40-foot shark tunnel, where viewers are surrounded on all sides by a variety of circling sharks—and the Battleship New Jersey, which served in three wars. Families can also wander through the Camden Children’s Garden. The most fun way to get to Camden from Philadelphia is to board the RiverLink Ferry at Penn’s Landing.

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Take a Day Trip

longwood gardens in spring.

Though there are plenty of Philadelphia attractions to keep you busy within the city limits, it’s worth considering a day trip outside of town if you’ve got a little extra time. About an hour west of the city are the spectacular blooms of Longwood Gardens, where you can easily spend a full day—or combine a garden visit with a few hours exploring the American collection at the nearby Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Over the summer months, Philadelphia can get hot and muggy, so a day trip to the Jersey Shore can offer a welcome respite. The city is within easy driving distance of the elegant seaside resort of Cape May, the glitzy casinos of Atlantic City, and the family-friendly beaches and boardwalk of Ocean City. For more advice, see The 8 Best New Jersey Beaches to Visit This Summer.

Other Philadelphia day trip options include a shopping excursion to King of Prussia Mall, the largest mall on the East Coast, or a drive up to the arts community of New Hope, where a bevy of galleries, boutiques, and riverside views make for pleasant strolling.

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Sarah Schlichter visited the city as a guest of Visit Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Carolyn Spencer Brown contributed to this story.

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How to Spot Animal Cruelty While Traveling

When you love animals, it’s hard to imagine participating in an act of animal cruelty. Of course you would never attend a dog fight or purchase a rhino horn, but when you’re traveling and looking to interact with wildlife, animal cruelty is not always obvious. Many animal attractions market themselves as animal sanctuaries, but too often these so-called “sanctuaries” are just trying to capitalize on a rising public interest in conservation.

Animal Cruelty in Disguise

[st_content_ad]The people who run these animal attractions know that travelers are no longer interested in gawking at trained circus animals. Many travelers are now more aware of the animal cruelty that occurs when elephants are trained to be ridden or tigers are sedated in order to sell a photo op. However, as tourism has evolved, animal abusers have adapted, lying to tourists and disguising their facilities as animal sanctuaries.

For many years, Thailand’s Tiger Temple seemed like a harmonious alternative to the local tiger shows common in Thailand. Instead of watching tigers perform dangerous tasks like jumping through flaming hoops, visitors could observe the animals living “peacefully” among Buddhist monks. However, in 2016 the temple was shut down for wildlife crimes, and the facility’s cruel practices were exposed, including the drugging, breeding, and selling of baby tigers.

So how can you tell if an animal attraction is cruel or not? According to Leigh Barnes, the chief purpose officer of Intrepid Travel, the first tour operator to eliminate elephant rides from all its itineraries, “Genuine sanctuaries don’t buy or sell wild animals, don’t use the animals for interactions with travelers, and  don’t breed wild animals.” To put it simply, true animal sanctuaries are always operating within the best interest of the animal.

Though there are many fake sanctuaries out there, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any good ones. Here are a few questions to guide travelers when searching for an ethical wildlife experience or animal sanctuary visit either abroad or in the U.S.

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Is the Animal Sanctuary Accredited?

Before visiting any animal sanctuary, you can check to see if it’s been accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). This organization requires animal sanctuaries to keep a strict code of ethics and welfare standards before issuing accreditation. The process requires sanctuaries, rescue centers, and rehabilitation centers to apply and undergo an inspection of their facilities. Because these organizations have been vetted, the GFAS website is a great source for finding an ethical animal sanctuary in the area you’re visiting. Here you can also find out about organizations that accept volunteers like the Centre for Rescue and Conservation of Orangutans in Indonesia or the Three Ring Ranch in Hawaii.

This list is a great place to start, but just because a sanctuary isn’t accredited doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t legitimate.  If you can’t find an GFAS-accredited sanctuary in your destination, there are still many ways you can determine if an animal sanctuary is for real.

How Do the Animals Look?

It may seem like common sense, but there are actually a lot of different things to look for when visually checking for animal cruelty. If an animal appears excessively dirty, this is an obvious sign of neglect, but you should also look for signs of disease or starvation. If you are passing by in person, you might not be able to see the animals before being asked to pay the entrance fee, so your best bet is to check online and see if you can find photos or additional information. TripAdvisor, SmarterTravel’s parent company, is a good place to look for photos and see what other visitors have had to say. If you can’t find a lot of information online about the sanctuary, play it safe and stay away.

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How Much Space Do They Have?

Just because the animals look OK doesn’t mean they’re being taken care of humanely. Check to see what the conditions of the sanctuary are actually like. Animals need a lot of room to roam and explore, so enclosures that are cramped or overcrowded are definite signs of animal cruelty and often lead to disease.

For example, a hotel in Bali was exposed for animal cruelty in 2015 when it was discovered that it kept four full-size dolphins in a small chlorinated pool. Not only were the dolphins overcrowded and trained to perform for guests, but the chlorine in the water also caused them to go blind.

When inspecting a sanctuary, another thing to look for is enrichment activities for the animals. What is there for them to do? Artificial habitats should offer ways to keep the animals physically and mentally active, such as climbing structures for primates or water for an animal to splash around in.

Where Do They Come From?

If an organization is breeding animals for tourism purposes, it does not have their best interest in mind. Reputable sanctuaries never breed animals, because to do so would be to take away valuable resources from the animals they are already taking care of. Most sanctuaries rescue their animals from circuses, zoos, or neglectful owners and intend to take care of the animal for the rest of its life. While some sanctuaries have rescued baby animals, the animals in sanctuaries tend to be older. So if a so-called sanctuary is advertising baby animal experiences, this is a huge red flag that they are breeding the animals or separating them from their mothers at birth.

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What’s the Visitation Policy?

Many animal sanctuaries sell tours in order to raise funds that support the animals, but reputable sanctuaries usually have strict rules that limit visiting hours so the animals are not overwhelmed. In some places, such as Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, you may even need to book your tour in advance.

If you’re looking for the roots of animal cruelty, follow the money. Around the world, many people abuse animals to make a profit and take advantage of tourists looking to have an unforgettable wildlife encounter. The best way to decide if an animal attraction is ethical or not is to figure out who benefits the most. Trying to maximize profit by opening the facility up to as many visitors as possible suggests a lack of concern for the animals’ wellbeing—and could mean that the owners are scrimping on care in other ways as well. Wildlife interactions can be incredibly educational and impactful experiences for travelers, but these experiences should always occur in the best interest of the animal.

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Jamie Ditaranto is a writer and photographer who is always looking for her next adventure. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto. 

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Atlanta with Kids: 13 Fun Family-Friendly Activities

Traveling to Atlanta with kids? You’ll never lack for things to do.

Atlanta with Kids: Fun Family-Friendly Activities

Family fun in Atlanta ranges from classic favorites like aquariums and zoos to more unique offerings—like an entire museum devoted to Coca-Cola. Read on to see more things for kids to do in Atlanta.

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Georgia Aquarium

At the Georgia Aquarium, you’ll be mesmerized by giant whale sharks and manta rays as they glide by on all sides in the Ocean Voyager exhibit. Other crowd pleasers include beluga whales, penguins, and otters. Kids also love the vibrant tropical reef display with mock waves crashing overhead.

Children’s Museum of Atlanta

The Children’s Museum of Atlanta is a must-do if you’ve got little ones in tow. The exhibits are designed for kids 8 or younger, but all ages are welcome to try out hands-on activities like painting on a giant wall, learning to build a house, or playing in a stream full of fish.

Zoo Atlanta

Families won’t want to miss Zoo Atlanta, home to pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, gorillas, and many more! There’s a petting zoo where kids can get up close and personal with goats and sheep, as well as live shows and daily feedings.

Fernbank Museum of Natural History

Kids will love the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, where they can crane their necks to take in huge dinosaur skeletons, discover clothing and jewelry from cultures around the world, and explore a stunning array of colorful seashells. The IMAX theater offers a rotating slate of programs such as “Journey to the South Pacific” and “Incredible Predators.”

[st_content_ad]CNN Studio Tour

Older kids will enjoy going behind the scenes with a CNN Studio Tour at the network’s global headquarters in Atlanta. Listen in on real-time decisions being made in the Control Room about what goes on the air when; see how teleprompters, green screens, and other technology work in a mock studio; and take a peek into the CNN newsroom, where stories are researched before they go live on TV.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

You’ll find vibrant blooms and serene green spaces all year long at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, from winter orchid exhibits in the greenhouses to the profusion of summer blossoms in the Rose Garden. Don’t miss the Kendeda Canopy Walk, which takes visitors through the treetops to look down on colorful woodland gardens below.

Piedmont Park

Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s answer to Central Park in New York. This wide, grassy green space is the city’s gathering space, featuring two playgrounds as well as outdoor concerts, picnic facilities, bocce courts, a dog park, and much more.

Centennial Olympic Park

Centennial Olympic Park was developed to serve as a central gathering space for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Kids can cool off in the Fountain of Rings, where musical shows are held four times daily.

World of Coca-Cola

Yes, it’s more or less a big commercial in museum form, but World of Coca-Cola provides an intriguing look at a global phenomenon. The best part is the “Taste It!” room, where you can sample Coca-Cola beverages from different countries around the world. (I take no responsibility for the sugar high your children will get if they try all 100+ flavors!) There’s also a working bottling line on site. You can take a step back in time in the Milestones of Refreshments gallery, featuring retro Coke ads and memorabilia from bygone decades, and in the Perfect Pauses theater, where you can watch classic Coke commercials.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

If you’re visiting Atlanta with kids in search of a history lesson, consider a trip to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Here you can tour the house where King was born (in an upstairs bedroom) and visit Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served as co-pastor with his father for eight years. Also part of the site is the King Center, the final resting place of King and his wife, Coretta. Inside the Center are informative exhibits on the Kings and Mahatma Gandhi. Outside are a rose garden, a fountain, and the BEHOLD monument—a bronze statue celebrating King’s courage.

Smith Family Farm

Smith Family Farm, Atlanta’s oldest surviving farmhouse, dates back to the 1840s. Kids can experience what it was like to live on a farm with hands-on activities such as weaving, gardening, and taking care of animals.

Red Top Mountain State Park

Take a day trip to Red Top Mountain State Park. You can go swimming, boating, or fishing on Lake Allatoona, go mountain biking on the Iron Hill Trail, explore a reconstructed 1860s log cabin, or sample some 15 miles of hiking trails.

Six Flags Over Georgia

Another fun day trip from Atlanta with kids is Six Flags Over Georgia, which includes a wide range of roller coasters and other rides as well as a water park for those muggy summer days.

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San Diego with Kids: The 12 Best Family Attractions

Sun and sand aren’t the only compelling reasons to visit San Diego with kids. From one of the world’s greatest zoos to a theme park devoted to LEGOs, there are countless San Diego family attractions.

San Diego with Kids: The Best Family Attractions

Read on to get to know kid-friendly San Diego and plan your next family vacation.

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Balboa Park

For San Diego’s “museum central,” head to Balboa Park, which has enough attractions to keep kids entertained for days—including a carousel, a children’s garden, and a puppet theater. And that’s not even counting kid-friendly museums like the Air & Space Museum, the Fleet Science Center, and the Natural History Museum with its dinosaur fossils and giant-screen theater. A free tram runs daily throughout the park.

[st_content_ad]San Diego Zoo

Visiting San Diego with kids who love animals? You can’t miss the world-famous San Diego Zoo, featuring more than 3,500 critters of some 650 species. Fun areas include the Outback, Elephant Odyssey, and the children’s petting zoo.

Seaport Village

Seaport Village is filled with fun shops and boutiques in a Cape Cod-esque seaport setting. Travelers visiting San Diego with kids should head straight for the historic carousel, which dates back to 1895.

New Children’s Museum

The New Children’s Museum offers creative kids the chance to contribute to art installations within the museum, such as the colorful Sketch Aquarium. Other hands-on activities include playing dress-up in the Costume Cave and creating your own sculpture in the Clay Studio.


You can’t come to San Diego without hitting the beach! You’ll love hanging out on the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach boardwalks (inline skates, surfboards, and bicycles are available for rent). Other good beaches for families include La Jolla Shores, with its gentle waves, and Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, which has a playground right near the sand.

Belmont Park

At Belmont Park, a beachfront amusement park located a mile south of Pacific Beach, rides include the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in the 1920s and still in operation. Kids can also go zip-lining, climb a rock wall, play mini-golf, and more.

Petco Park

Baseball fans will love Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, located in the heart of downtown adjacent to the Gaslamp Quarter. Those arriving in season can take public transportation right to the ballpark from almost anywhere in the city, and enjoy the Boys of Summer at both day and night games when they are playing at home.

LEGOLAND California

At LEGOLAND California, about a 30-minute drive from downtown, the 128-acre theme park is centered on—what else?—LEGOs! Geared toward children ages 2 – 12, the park offers interactive attractions and kid-powered rides.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a 1,800-acre preserve where some 2,600 animals roam as if they were in their native habitats. There are a variety of safari experiences available, from a Balloon Safari (a 10- to 12-minute ride in a hot-air balloon) to a Caravan Safari, in which you travel by truck through a couple of field enclosures.

Whale Watching

Numerous whale-watching services offer cruises and aerial tours, particularly during the winter months (December through April). Try Hornblower Cruises & Events, Flagship Cruises & Events, or Adventure R.I.B. Rides.


The North County beach cities (about 25 – 30 miles north of San Diego) of Solana Beach, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Encinitas, and Leucadia are paradise for surfer dudes and dudettes. You can rent boards and take lessons or just go to any one of these beaches with a picnic and watch the semi-pros catch the waves. Leucadia Surf School offers lessons for kids, teens, and adults.


For a lovely, pastoral excursion after wandering around the city, why not take a ferry onto the little island of Coronado, located in San Diego Bay? Among the numerous San Diego family attractions here are sailboat rides, ice cream shops, trolley tours, parks, and beaches.

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Sarah Schlichter contributed to this story.

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Tampa with Kids: The 10 Best Family Activities

Filled to the brim with beaches, amusement parks, and long sunny days, Florida is one of America’s most fabulous playgrounds—and the Tampa Bay area is no exception. Headed to Tampa with kids? There’s no shortage of places for the little ones to learn and play, from the Florida Aquarium to the inviting beaches of the Gulf Coast.

Tampa with Kids: The Best Family Activities

Below are 10 fun activities to try in Tampa with kids.

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Florida Aquarium

Start in downtown Tampa at the Florida Aquarium, located next to the cruise terminal. Kids will be entranced by sea creatures of all kinds, from baby alligators and playful otters to scary sharks. There are several touch tanks for children who love to get up close and personal—but if anyone really wants to get their feet wet, check out the “Swim with the Fishes” program. Kids 6 and older can go snorkeling in the aquarium’s coral reef exhibit, getting a fish’s-eye view of hundreds of angelfish, parrotfish, moray eels, and other sea life.

Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens is the biggest Tampa attraction for families, brimming with adventure and activity for all ages. The African-themed park boasts a Serengeti Safari, a Congo River Rapids ride, and a Tiger Insider tour that lets you meet the animals and their keepers. There are plenty of roller coasters, too, such as SheiKra, which features two stomach-churning, 90-degree drops of over 100 feet. But the rides are only part of the story; the park’s large collection of African animals includes hippos, lions, zebras, elephants, and giraffes, among others. If anyone needs a break, take in a show at one of the park’s several theaters.

Museum of Science and Industry

A visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is one of the most educational family activities in Tampa, but don’t tell the kids—they’ll be too busy testing their bravery in a roller coaster simulator, gazing up at the sky in the planetarium, and discovering what it feels like to be buffeted by hurricane-force winds. You can also take in a show in the IMAX theater.

[st_content_ad]Dinosaur World

It’s worth the drive to check out Dinosaur World in Plant City, Florida. At this outdoor museum kids can go on a fossil dig, test their knowledge of dinosaur trivia at a game show, and check out life-size dinosaur skeletons.

Clearwater Beach

Don’t feel like you’ve “done” Florida without seeing some sun and sand? If so, head for Clearwater Beach, about a 40-minute drive from Tampa on the Gulf Coast. This wide, white beach boasts some of the softest sand in the country, but there’s way more to do than just build sandcastles (though that’s fun, too!). During the day, set sail from Clearwater Marina with a rowdy crew of buccaneers and wenches aboard Captain Memo’s pirate ship. Kids can practice their “aarrrrr!” and “ahoy matey!” to their hearts’ content as they keep an eye out for dolphins. In the evening, don’t miss Sunsets at Pier 60, a festival that celebrates the Gulf Coast’s gorgeous sunsets every night with live music, street performers, and other family fun.

Other Tampa Beaches

Beyond Clearwater, the Tampa area has numerous other white sand beaches where kids can play. Indian Rocks Beach, along Gulf Boulevard, is conveniently accessible from the city (and there are plenty of restaurants nearby). At St. Pete Beach you can rent a Jet Ski, or go SCUBA diving, parasailing, or fishing. If you’re seeking solitude, head to the quiet sands of Caladesi Island State Park, on one of Florida’s last undeveloped barrier islands (it’s accessible by ferry from Honeymoon Island).

Animal Attractions

If you’re visiting Tampa with kids who love animals, you have a number of fun options, including the Lowry Park Zoo, the Manatee Viewing Center at Tampa Electric (open part of the year only), and the Big Cat Rescue Center, which saves lions, tigers, bobcats, and more from situations such as performing acts or misguided pet owners. You’ll melt when you see some of the rescued marine animals, such as Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, and otters, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The most popular critter is Winter the dolphin, who starred in the movie “Dolphin Tale.”

Spring Training

See who’s up at bat during spring training—since several Major League teams call this part of the world home in February and March. The Phillies are based in Clearwater, the Blue Jays play in Dunedin, and the Yankees have set up shop in Tampa. It’s a fun outing for travelers visiting Tampa with kids who love sports.

Sunken Gardens

Stroll through St. Petersburg’s bloom-filled Sunken Gardens to see an exotic collection of more than 50,000 tropical flowers and plants. Don’t miss the butterfly garden.

Canoe Escape

For all things nature just 25 minutes from Tampa and close to Busch Gardens, take the two-hour or full-day Canoe Escape down the Hillsborough River through a 16,000-acre wildlife preserve. You’ll paddle down “alligator alley,” where dozens of gators, including some 11-footers, sunbathe on logs and dive into the river from the river’s banks. Tour guides also point out snakes, turtles, river otters, fish, and birds of prey as they relax in their natural habitat. Hourly rentals also are available.

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Arts & Culture Cities Historical Travel

23 Must-See Washington, D.C. Attractions

To many visitors, Washington, D.C. is another world—one where politicians are like rock stars and where even the most cynical citizens feel patriotic at the sight of the Capitol Building lit up at night. Washington is also a place where history happens before your eyes. You can visit the Senate and House chambers to see government in action. You can stand where Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. You can visit dozens of monuments dedicated to the people and events who shaped this country. But history and politics aren’t the only Washington, D.C. attractions worth seeing.

Washington, D.C. Attractions

You could spend your entire visit just exploring the 19 museums of the Smithsonian, all free of charge. And don’t forget the city’s green spaces; join the local joggers and dog-walkers along the National Mall, or visit in early spring to see the fluffy pink blooms of the cherry trees along the Tidal Basin, a gift from Japan in 1912. For the essential places to visit in Washington, D.C., keep reading—and start planning.

U.S. Capitol

washington, d.c. attractions

[st_content_ad]The U.S. Capitol is the seat of the legislative branch of the U.S. government. If you would like to visit the House or Senate chambers to see the politicians in action—highly recommended—write or call your Congressperson’s office before your trip for passes. You may be able to get passes at the last minute by visiting his or her office in person (a directory near the ticket booth will tell you where your representative’s office is located). International visitors can visit the galleries by stopping by the House and Senate Appointment Desks in the Capitol Visitor Center. To see the rest of the majestic building, take a free guided tour, not including the chambers, with guides outlining the history and architecture.

National Mall

washington, d.c. attractions

Monuments and memorials are some of the most vital things to see in Washington D.C. Most are clustered in and around the National Mall, which runs about two miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol, with plenty of grassy area in between (the setting for festivals, Frisbee matches, rallies, picnics, and protests). The space was planned by original Washington designer Pierre L’Enfant as a grand boulevard and place for remembrance, observance, and protest.

Lincoln Memorial

washington, d.c. attractions

The Lincoln Memorial was dedicated in 1922 and overlooks the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. Inside the Greek temple design, with its 36 columns, is a 19-foot marble statue of the 16th president. The memorial was also an important backdrop for the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Jefferson Memorial

washington, d.c. attractions

Located in a structure reminiscent of the Pantheon, the Jefferson Memorial displays a 19-foot bronze statue of the third President of the United States. The memorial was dedicated in 1943, and includes one of Jefferson’s favorite design elements, the rotunda, in its structure.

Washington Monument

washington, d.c. attractions

The Washington Monument stands 555 feet above the Mall, an Egyptian-style obelisk completed in 1884 as a tribute to George Washington. Around the base are 50 flagpoles representing each state. Access to the top is closed until spring 2019 for elevator modernization.

Other Memorials and Monuments

washington, d.c. attractions

Other memorials and monuments of note include the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, located along the Tidal Basin; the powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial, near Constitution Gardens; and the National World War II Memorial, on the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool.

White House

washington, d.c. attractions

The White House has been the home of every U.S. president since John Adams. The White House currently offers tours only for those who make advance reservations through a member of Congress. You can apply up to three months before your trip.

Smithsonian Museums

washington, d.c.

The 19 museums of the Smithsonian Institution are free of charge and can easily occupy several days of Washington, D.C. sightseeing. Which you chose to visit is up to your personal interests, but I highly recommend the National Air and Space Museum, where you’ll find such icons of flight as the original Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, and the Apollo 11 command module.

The newest Smithsonian institution—and one of the hottest Washington, D.C. attractions right now—is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which offers a moving, comprehensive overview from the arrival of the first African slaves to the present day. Check the website for ticket policies, as you may need to book in advance.

National Zoo

washington, d.c. attractions

The giant pandas are the main draw at the National Zoo, also part of the Smithsonian system. In addition, there are thousands of other exotic animals and a re-creation of the Amazon rainforest.

Art Museums

washington, d.c. attractions

The National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum share a building (at 8th and F Streets NW) constructed in 1836 as the U.S. Patent Office. The Portrait Gallery highlights famous Americans from George Washington (the famous “Landsdowne” portrait) to Marilyn Monroe and Shaquille O’Neal; one newer addition is a portrait of President Obama. The American Art Museum boasts one of the largest collections of American art in the world, including works by Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Washington, D.C. attractions for art lovers include the free National Gallery of Art, which has in its West Wing a collection of international masterpieces from the 13th to 19th centuries and in its East Wing a collection of modern and contemporary art. The Phillips Collection was the first modern art museum in the U.S., and is where you’ll find Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” as well as works by Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, O’Keeffe, Degas, and more.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

washington, d.c. attractions

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum may be the single most rewarding and emotionally harrowing of Washington, D.C. attractions. Plan a half day to see the museum and then recover from the devastating exhibits on display. The museum traces the history of the Jewish persecution under the Nazis from 1933 to 1945 through artifacts, photos, and oral histories. From March through August, timed passes are required to view the permanent exhibition, with free passes given out on a first-come, first-served basis. You can avoid the lines by purchasing passes on the museum’s site in advance for a small fee.

Kennedy Center

washington, d.c. attractions

For a night out, see what’s on at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the nation’s top performing arts facility. Even if you don’t want to spring for a ticket, there are free theatrical and musical performances offered daily at 6:00 p.m.

International Spy Museum

washington, d.c. attractions

If you’re looking for Washington, D.C. attractions that you won’t find anywhere else, visit the unique International Spy Museum. It explores the craft, practice, history, and role of espionage, and serves up an impressive collection of espionage-related artifacts—like lipstick guns and cufflink compasses. Interactive experiences include Operation Spy, which combines special effects and live action to help participants feel what it’s like to be a spy. Lines to get in can be long during busy tourist seasons, so book your tickets in advance (for an extra fee) to avoid the wait.

Ford’s Theatre

washington, d.c. attractions

You can still catch a play at Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was assassinated. Or just come by for a tour of this historic site—you’ll walk through the theater itself as well as the house across the street where Lincoln died.

Cathedral and Basilica

washington, d.c. attractions

There are several two religious Washington, D.C. attractions worth noting. The Washington National Cathedral has not only a stunning stained-glass windows and extensive needlepoint collection, but also a gargoyle in the shape of Darth Vader (you’ll need binoculars to see it). Another church worth a visit is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.

Library of Congress

washington, d.c. attractions

Bibliophiles won’t want to miss a visit to the Library of Congress, the world’s largest library. You can check out the historic building’s grand architecture and look out over the beautiful Main Reading Room. Free guided tours are available.

Mount Vernon

washington, d.c. attractions

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s mansion and estate, overlooks the Potomac River about 16 miles from the city. George and Martha lived in the mansion after their marriage in 1759. You can visit the 21-room mansion house and more than a dozen outbuildings including the slave quarters, stables, and kitchen, as well as a working farm. The gardens offer a lovely setting for a stroll. Just three miles away, George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill is open seasonally for a look at the first president’s entrepreneurial spirit.

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—Original reporting by Fran Golden

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10 Fun Things to Do in Phoenix

Wondering what to do in Phoenix? Look beyond the resorts, spas, and golf courses. The best things to do in Phoenix also include outdoor adventures, shopping, and so much more.

10 Fun Things to Do in Phoenix

Spend your time lounging at the pool, and you’ll miss everything Phoenix has to offer. Here are 10 fun things to do in Phoenix on your next trip.

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Step Back in Time at Rawhide

[st_content_ad]If you have a family, Rawhide should top your list of fun things to do in Phoenix. The recreated 1880s-era Western town is free as long as you’re content to soak in the ambiance, watch the blacksmith at work, and visit the general store.

Attractions and shows cost extra, but are worth it. Wristbands give you unlimited access to the mechanical bull, desert train ride, wagon rides, petting zoo, gold panning, rock-climbing wall, and gunfight shows in the theater. Individual tickets are available for purchase, too.

Go Off-Road on a Segway

Most major cities have a Segway tour, but few have off-road tours, and even fewer have off-road tours through the desert. Phoenix is one of them. These guided tours include not only a fun ride but also insights into indigenous plants and animals.

Off-road Segway tours wind through the Fort McDowell Indian Reservation. Other than using bigger tires with much thicker tread, the off-road maneuvering is no different than operating a Segway on pavement, and most newbies master it fairly quickly.

Go Horseback Riding Through the Desert

Several outfitters operate in the Phoenix area, offering guided horseback rides in state, regional, and city parks such as South Mountain Park. Most wranglers weave history and geography into the ride, so you’ll learn a little something along the way.

Rides are typically nose-to-tail (for safety) and last an hour or two, but some outfitters offer half-day, full-day, breakfast, and dinner rides, too. If you’re not comfortable in the saddle, wagon rides into the desert are another good option. Before you go, confirm activity times since they often change in the summer. One recommended outfitter is Arizona Horses.

Learn About Native Animals at the Phoenix Zoo

There are several animal-centric attractions in Phoenix, from the Wildlife World Zoo to Butterfly Wonderland and OdySea Aquarium. But if you want to learn about native animals, there’s only one place to go: the Phoenix Zoo.

The zoo’s Arizona Trail is dedicated to native species, including the Mexican gray wolf, the mountain lion, and the diamondback rattlesnake. During warmer months, try to come first thing in the morning or in the evening when animals are more active.

Ride Over the Valley in a Hot Air Balloon

Before take off

Want to see native Sonoran wildlife in its natural habitat? Lift off in a hot air balloon. Animals don’t realize you’re above them as you float over the outskirts of Phoenix, so they don’t spook as you approach. Most balloon rides stay low for the first portion of the flight, and pilots point out any wildlife they see.

As the balloon rises, you’ll discover Phoenix’s unique geography. Landings are often followed by a Champagne toast and either breakfast or dinner. Hot Air Expeditions is one reputable local operator.

Shop in Old Town Scottsdale

You can spend an entire day in Old Town Scottsdale, especially if you love to shop. Old Town has boutiques selling everything from Native American jewelry and trendy fashions to Phoenix souvenirs. Some of the Valley’s best restaurants and bars can also be found here.

Old Town boasts the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. Across Camelback Road is Scottsdale Fashion Square, the largest shopping mall in the Southwest with brands like Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.

Take a Jeep Tour

One of the most popular things to do in Phoenix is to take a Jeep tour through the Tonto National Forest. Most tours depart from area resorts and head into the Sonoran Desert just north of Phoenix. Guides enlighten passengers on the desert’s unique wildlife and plants and share stories about local history.

You also get to experience what an off-road vehicle can do, which is both good and bad. Jeeps and Hummers climb steep hills and pick their way over uneven ground on these tours. It’s a fun but jolting experience; skip it if you have back problems. 360 Adventures is one recommended operator.

Experience Art on First Fridays

First Friday in Phoenix is a must for art lovers, showcasing more than 20 galleries as well as performing arts venues and artist studios. You also get free admission to the Heard Museum (featuring Native American art) and Phoenix Art Museum, and local restaurants and bars feature special artwork. A free trolley shuttles you to areas of interest.

If you miss First Friday, the city also hosts Third Fridays, also known as “Gallery Night.”

Golf a Desert Course

Phoenix has more than 200 golf courses. Some have shade trees, lakes, and waterfalls, and look as though they were plucked from another part of the country. Others incorporate Phoenix’s natural terrain, including saguaro cacti and wide ravines, into their layout. If you haven’t played one of these desert courses, book yourself a tee time.

Desert play isn’t necessarily any more challenging, but but you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking and unique scenery. And it’s not uncommon to see rabbits, coyotes, and other wildlife on the course. Troon North Golf Club offers one of the area’s best desert courses.

Drive a Race Car

Have a need for speed? Look no further than Bondurant Racing School. Started by 60s race car driver Bob Bondurant, the famous school offers driver safety, high performance, and racing classes. Depending on the class, you might even have the chance to get behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

The experience isn’t cheap, and you’ll have to schedule well in advance. For a more budget-friendly day at the track, gather eight or more friends and try your skills at ProKart racing at Bondurant. You’ll still need to book ahead as a group, but it’s a seriously fun thing to do in Phoenix.

More from SmarterTravel:

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—Original reporting by Teresa Bitler

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10 Must-See San Diego Attractions

Deciding which places to visit in San Diego can be a daunting task. This sunny city offers world-class cultural experiences, theme parks aplenty, a vibrant food and beer scene, many of the country’s best beaches, and much, much more. Still, to those who know the city intimately, certain San Diego attractions do stand out above the rest; below are 10 you’ve got to see.

San Diego Attractions

The following San Diego points of interest have something to offer any type of traveler, from couples to kids.

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Balboa Park

things to do in san diego

[st_content_ad]When it comes to San Diego attractions, Balboa Park is the one you should not miss. As the city’s most important cultural destination and America’s biggest urban cultural park, it’s home to wonderful performing arts centers, as well as California’s best collection of museums. There are 16 of them here, including the Fleet Science Center, the San Diego Natural History Museum, the San Diego Museum of Art, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, the San Diego History Center, and the Botanical Building.

At the Museum of Man, climb 125 stairs into the iconic 200-foot-tall California Tower to get to its top deck, where you can see all the way to Mexico. Balboa Park also has wonderful outdoor spaces—the gorgeous Japanese Friendship Garden, five children’s playgrounds, three dog parks, tennis courts, a golf course, lawn bowling, and hiking and biking trails.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

The world-famous San Diego Zoo Safari Park is one of the most beloved San Diego attractions, and for good reason. This century-old institution in Balboa Park lets you meet its 3,500 animals on foot or via an engaging double-decker bus tour, a favorite especially among children. Don’t miss the hummingbird house, the elephant exhibit, the Skyfari aerial tram, or the safari tour during which you can see 300 roaming species, including cheetahs, giraffes, and lions.


If you’re traveling to San Diego with children between the ages of 2 and 12, Legoland is a definite must-do. The 128-acre family theme park opened in 1999 and is primed for making memories, whether or not your kid is obsessed with the popular Danish bricks. Legoland has 60 exciting rides, plus engaging themed zones, wonderful shows, and worthwhile shops—not to mention thousands of Lego models created from millions of colorful bricks.

Highlights include the Legoland Water Park (bring bathing suits!), the Star Wars mini land, Sea Life Aquarium, Ninjago World and its interactive ride, and Deep Sea Adventure, a new submarine ride complete with live sharks and stingrays. Stay at the original Legoland Hotel or the brand-new Legoland Castle Hotel, with its three themed floors and ocean views.

SeaWorld San Diego

Sea world

SeaWorld is one of the most famous San Diego attractions, best known for its orca and dolphin shows. It’s also worth a visit for its many rides, excellent aquarium, and animal exhibits that get you eye-to-eye with penguins, sharks, and polar bears. For the littlest visitors, there’s a Sesame Street-themed area with rides and a parade.

Gaslamp Quarter

The Gaslamp Quarter is a lively 16-block district centered around dining and nightlife. This energetic neighborhood is simultaneously historic and modern, with preserved Victorian-era buildings alongside contemporary architecture.

The Gaslamp is one of the best San Diego attractions for socializing—it’s got trendy rooftop bars, hot new restaurants, and stylish lounges that stay thumping late into the night. Also here: unique shops, an array of excellent hotel options and upscale art galleries, plus the Padres’ Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center, home of Comic Con.

La Jolla

best beaches in san diego

La Jolla means “the jewel” in Spanish, and there could not be a more appropriate name for this treasure of a town, perched on a scenic stretch of coastline. In addition to waterfront hotels, charming boutiques, and remarkable restaurants (such as George’s at the Cove), there are amazing beaches, like La Jolla Shores, and one-of-a-kind attractions, including the fascinating Birch Aquarium at Scripps.

Art lovers should check out the town’s public murals and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Down in La Jolla Cove, a protected marine enclave with sea caves and a kelp forest, adventurers dive, snorkel, and kayak among pelicans, seals, garibaldi, sharks, and rays.

Old Town San Diego

History buffs—and lovers of Mexican food—shouldn’t miss Old Town San Diego, a state historic park where old-timey exhibits and businesses pay tribute to California’s first people and the state’s Spanish settlers. Catch costumed docents giving demonstrations of quilting, blacksmithing, and carpentry, and play games that date back to the 1800s. You can also visit California’s first mission and try the authentic tacos at Casa Guadalajara or a tasty margarita at Cafe Coyote.

Little Italy

San Diego’s Little Italy district got its start when fishing immigrants from the Mediterranean landed here in the early 1900s. Food is important to Italians, so there are many wonderful restaurants here, including celebrity chef Richard Blais’s hotspot du jour, Juniper & Ivy.

Highlights in this hilly neighborhood include the San Diego Firehouse Museum, Amici Park and its recipe tables, and excellent nightlife spots like M Winehouse and Waterfront Bar. Don’t miss the lively Mercato Farmers’ Market every Saturday, where vendors hawk fresh fish, colorful fruits and vegetables, and bright flowers.

Seaport Village

Overlooking the harbor, Seaport Village is a waterfront shopping, dining, and entertainment complex featuring cobblestone sidewalks and ocean scenery. It’s a lively collection of more than 50 shops, more than a dozen casual eateries, four fine-dining restaurants, lots of live music, a historic carousel, and wow-worthy street performers.

Adjacent to Seaport Village is its sister property, The Headquarters, featuring unique boutiques, artisan food makers, and upscale restaurants like Puesto for fantastic tacos. As the restored site of the former San Diego Police headquarters, the center was once a jail, courtroom, and shooting range, so it’s got a tiny museum with preserved jail cells and a wall showcasing historical mugshots.

Cabrillo National Monument

A gem among San Diego points of interest, Cabrillo National Monument, now run by the National Park Service, commemorates the place where explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first European to land on the U.S. West Coast in 1542.

Explore the teeming tidepools, check out the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, photograph the monument itself, stop in at the visitors’ center and gift shop, watch whales from shore, and inspect the onsite WWII bunker. Casual hikers will love the easy 2.5-mile Bayside Trail and its spectacular views over the Pacific.

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—Original reporting by Avital Andrews. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb.

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The 9 Best Day Trips from San Francisco

In Northern California, San Francisco gets all the attention. But the places that make for great day trips from San Francisco are often just as magnificent.

The Best Day Trips from San Francisco

Here are nine destinations you should definitely make the time to see—none are more than a three-hour drive from the city.

Napa Valley

day trips from san francisco

[st_content_ad]Napa Valley barely needs an introduction: It’s America’s preeminent wine country, frequently beating out the wines of France and other major oenophilic regions in blind taste tests. What international travelers might not know is that this gorgeous region is an easy day trip from San Francisco—just 50 miles up from downtown.

Come to tour the wineries, visit the tasting rooms, unwind at a spa, and eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant (French Laundry in Yountville is the most renowned). Surrounding you will be the pastoral beauty of endless vineyards.

Sonoma Valley

day trips from san francisco

If you’re looking for a Napa-style experience at a bit of a slower, more casual pace, consider Sonoma Valley as one of your day trips from San Francisco. Start at the town of Sonoma’s historic town square, where you can tour California’s birthplace, Mission San Francisco Solano, and enjoy refined boutiques and eateries. Then head north to explore a beautiful valley filled with tranquil towns, resplendent nature, and hundreds of excellent wineries.

Healdsburg, in particular, is worth a visit; it’s a tiny, well-heeled town with fantastic restaurants, friendly tasting rooms, hospitable hotels, and just a touch of quirk.

Lake Tahoe

day trips from san francisco

Lake Tahoe, about three hours northeast of the city, is a wonderful option for San Francisco day trips. Gorgeous in the summer and snowy in the winter, its mountains-meet-lake scenery is completely unforgettable. The Lake Tahoe region, which straddles the California-Nevada border, is a mecca for recreation, wilderness, and fantastic hospitality.

In South Lake, the Hard Rock Hotel is a veritable museum of rock history—a visit here immerses you in music, memorabilia, and magnificent views over the lake.

The Tri-Valley Area

day trips from san francisco

One of the more accessible day trips from San Francisco is to the Tri-Valley area, about 30 miles east of the city. Anchoring the region is a small town called Danville, with its darling main street and historic all-American charm. This region also encompasses the towns of Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, and San Ramon, offering something for everyone.

Taste at one of Livermore Valley’s dozens of wineries—Wente Vineyards is the most notable, and presents outdoor summer concerts with big-name headliners—and hike the region’s beautiful national and state parklands. To be rewarded with one of the widest panoramas in the West, climb or drive up iconic Mount Diablo.

Silicon Valley

day trips from san francisco

Those fascinated by the history of computer science should not miss the chance to visit Silicon Valley, home of Google, Apple, and dozens of other important technology companies. One of the easier San Francisco day trips to make, a jaunt to Silicon Valley can include a tour of renowned Stanford University (it’s more beautiful than you’d expect) with lunch or dinner on Palo Alto’s bustling University Ave.

In tranquil Los Altos, you can see the garage where Steve Jobs started Apple. And in San Jose—the most populated western city between Los Angeles and Canada—visit the Tech Museum of Innovation, see something supernatural at the Winchester Mystery House, or take the kids for a memorable day at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo.

Santa Cruz

day trips from san francisco

Looking for beachy day trips from San Francisco? Santa Cruz is a lively seaside town with great beaches, fierce waves, and surfer-cool denizens. Explore the waterfront Victorian downtown, spend a day on the sand, tour woodsy UC Santa Cruz, or take a thrill ride on the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Also here: a gravitational anomaly called the Mystery Spot, the spectacular trees of Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and the charming vacation village of Capitola.


day trips from san francisco

Sacramento the capital of a state whose economy ranks among the top 10 in the world. This city blends the old, the new, and the political, making it a wonderful historical option when you’re deciding on San Francisco day trips. Tour the Capitol, visit the character-filled Old West-style district of Old Sacramento along the massive American River, and trace the area’s settlement at Sutter’s Fort. You can also check out the California State Railroad Museum.

A short drive away is the college town of Davis, with its delightful restaurants, boutiques, and tree-lined scenery, plus world-class intelligentsia. Tour the UC Davis campus or catch a performance at its high-caliber Mondavi Center.

Monterey and Carmel

day trips from san francisco

The two adjacent seaside towns of Monterey and Carmel are worthy destinations unto themselves. Until 1849, Monterey was California’s capital under several flags; today, it offers enduring charm and new discoveries with every visit. Though there are many fantastic attractions here, the main one is the acclaimed Monterey Bay Aquarium, featuring what many say is the world’s best display of marine life: It’s home to more than 35,000 living things.

Other must-sees: Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck; the incredibly scenic 17-Mile Drive; and Carmel’s upscale Ocean Ave, leading down to gorgeous Carmel Beach.


day trips from san francisco

To get away from any and all bustle, make the three-hour drive north from San Francisco to Mendocino, where the rugged coastline meets majestic redwoods, and fantastic wineries and breweries are thrown in for good measure. Stroll unspoiled beaches, taste wine in Anderson Valley, or take in the Mendocino Botanical Gardens. The Skunk Train provides a magical ride through the forest, and the Stanford Inn provides delicious vegan food and serene accommodations in a nature-filled setting.

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–Original reporting by Avital Andrews. Follow her on Twitter @avitalb.

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Orlando Beyond the Theme Parks

If you’re travelling with kids, chances are you won’t have the option of skipping some of the major theme parks on your visit. But if this is a second trip or your kids aren’t keen on the inevitability of long lines, there are still plenty of things to do in Orlando besides theme parks.

9 Things to Do in Orlando Besides Theme Parks

From shopping and theatre to arts and eats, these ideas of things to do in Orlando besides theme parks will help you create an itinerary that gives you a deeper understanding of what the city of Orlando is really about.

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Theater: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Dr. phillips center for the performing arts

[st_content_ad]Step away from the adrenaline rushes and head into the theatre for a thrill of a different kind. From touring Broadway shows to comedy specials and musician names you’ll recognize, the Dr. Phillip’s Center for the Performing Arts offers a variety of entertainment options that will enrich as well as entertain.

Sports: Church Street District

Church street district

Set in the “heart of Downtown Orlando” this area is your go-to spot for sports venues and the entertainment and dining options that surround them. Basketball fans should take in an NBA Orlando Magic game at the Amway Center. Soccer fans will want to cheer for the home team Orlando City Soccer Club at the Orlando City Stadium. Can’t get tickets? No problem. Area dining establishments offer plenty of ways to cheer on local teams by raising a toast at a fan-favorite bar.

Indoor Fun:  WonderWorks


When you’re looking for what to do in Orlando besides theme parks, look no further than WonderWorks. From the moment you set eyes on the upside-down house on International Drive, you know you’re in for a wacky time. But, to truly appreciate what Wonderworks has in store you need to be prepared to spend some time. There are more than 100 hands-on interactive exhibits here—everything from the chance to lie on a bed of nails to a gravitational simulator ride. You’ll also find a three-story ropes challenge, a laser tag course, and opportunities to test your brain skills. In the evening, take in the Outta Control Magic Show, a magic/comedy pizza party dinner show that is good for kids, teens, and adults.

Art: Orlando Museum of Art

Orlando museum of art

Spend an afternoon wandering the exhibits at the Orlando Museum of Art, where the mission is to “inspire creativity, passion and intellectual curiosity” in its visitors. Exhibits rotate, but often feature local talents. The museum is small enough to explore in a few hours—making it the perfect air-conditioned art break from your day of outdoor adventures, and an ideal answer to the question: “What is there to do in Orlando besides theme parks?”

Science:  Orlando Science Center

Orlando science center

Let little ones burn off some energy inside four floors of exhibits at the Orlando Science Center. Permanent exhibits include Nature Works, DinoDigs, Our Planet, The Kinetic Zone, and KidsTown (an interactive world dedicated to pint-sized explorers). The Center also offers a Science Live! Program, in which exhibits are brought to life with interactive shows and projects. (Check ahead for times and dates.)

Community: Mills 50

mills 50

You’ll be quickly enthralled with the variety of cultures on display in The Mills 50 district. The Main Street America initiative has become a draw for visitors (and locals) who are drawn to the independent businesses in the area. Adding to the intrigue is an expanding enclave of authentic Asian restaurants, shops, and markets. In fact, Mills 50 is now home to the largest Vietnamese-American community in Florida. To come here and not eat would be a huge mistake. Don’t miss Hawkers Asian Street Fare, Pho 88 and Shin Jung. And if your craving is for Mexican food, Black Rooster Taqueria, with its farm to taco cuisine, will satisfy.

Nostalgia: Old Town  


Take the family for a stroll and explore a bygone era at Old Town USA. The walking district offers an array of shopping and dining options in neighboring Kissimmee. Built as a re-creation of a classic Florida town, Old Town USA features historical architecture and nostalgic storefronts. There are also plenty of opportunities for classic entertainment (Skee-Ball or Ferris Wheels anyone?). The kicker: Every Saturday night there’s a Classic Car Cruise that brings out owners and fans alike. Come out to watch them make their way down the main street.

Adventure: Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park

Orlando tree trek adventure park

Get a new view of Orlando on an aerial adventure course that will challenge your tree trekking skills. The six courses at this adventure park combine a host of obstacles including Tarzan swings, wobbly bridges, and plunging zip lines. There are different entry levels for kids (ages 7 and up) and adults so that everyone gets a challenge. And safety demonstrations and trained instructors make sure you go home with the party you came with.

Animals:  Central Florida Zoo and Brevard Zoo

Central florida zoo

Two zoo offerings in Orlando offer fresh perspectives on the age-old tourist choice. At the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, you can attempt the ZOOm aerial adventure course that gives you a sense of how many of these animals see the world. Rope bridges, suspended disks, and zip lines offer a fun, new way to see the landscape below. And at the Brevard Zoo, you can hop in a kayak for the only guided kayak tour around an animal exhibit in the country. You’ll paddle through Expedition Africa as your guide points out giraffes, rhinos, and zebras on shore.

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  • Original reporting by Heather Greenwood-Davis
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12 Must-See Honolulu Attractions

Steeped in rich Polynesian history, with natural landscapes of unparalleled beauty, Honolulu offers a wealth of culturally significant, must-see attractions for visitors of all age levels.

The Must-See Honolulu Attractions

Here are the top 10 must-see attractions in Honolulu.

USS Arizona Memorial

erial view of uss arizona memorial, world war ii valor in the pacific national monument pearl harbor honolulu hawaii

[st_content_ad]If you only have time to visit one must-see Honolulu attraction, pay tribute to the heroes and victims of Pearl Harbor with a visit the USS Arizona Memorial. Built in 1962 to honor the 2,335 sailors, soldiers, and Marines, as well as the 68 civilians, who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor, the memorial was designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis, and sits above the site where the USS Arizona sank. It is only accessible by boat.

Timed tickets to the memorial can be reserved up to 60 days ahead of time online, and same-day tickets are issued at Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The visit, which includes a round-trip boat ride, a 23-minute documentary, and personal time, lasts one hour and 15 minutes. Admission is free. To make sure you get the date and time you want, book online ahead of time. This must-see attraction is one of four ticketed attractions at Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor

Battleship in pearl harbor bay

Like visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a visit to the National Historic Landmark of Pearl Harbor is a must when coming to Honolulu. There are four destinations, each requiring a ticket. They include: the USS Arizona Memorial (free, but timed ticketed entry required), the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and Pacific Aviation Museum. Individual tickets to each destination, a combo package of two or three destinations, or a passport for all four destinations can purchased online or at the Pearl Harbor Visitors Center. Online pre-purchase is recommended to avoid lines and the possibility of sellouts.

Diamond Head

Diamond head crater in hawaii

For spectacular 360-degree views of Honolulu and beyond, a hike up Honolulu’s most recognizable landmark is a must. A volcanic crater that’s been dormant for more than 150,000 years, locals call Diamond Head “Lēʻahi,” which means “brow of the ʻahi” and “cape of fire.” Diamond Head was the name given to the crater by British sailors who found shiny calcite embedded in the side of the mountains and mistakenly thought they’d stumbled upon diamonds.

The hike to the top of the crater is a moderate 0.8-mile climb that will take you up 560 feet of elevation. Hikers should be physically fit and able to climb three sets of stairs (74 steps, 99 steps, and 43 steps). The hike is estimated to take between one to two hours, with many photo ops and lookout points along the way, culminating in a crater’s edge picture at the top.

The park has a small cash entrance fee, and is open from 6:00 a.m. daily, with the last entry at 4:30 p.m. The best time to go is early in the morning for easy parking and to avoid the crowds. Wear solid hiking boots, bring a walking stick if necessary, pack on the sunblock, take a pre-hike pit stop, and arm yourself with water before you go.

Ala Moana Center

ala moana center honolulu

The largest open-air shopping mall in Hawaii, Ala Moana Center is its own small district within Honolulu. Every designer brand name you could want—Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, just to name a few—is here. With 290 shops, 80 dining options, four department stores (Nordstrom, Macy’s, Nieman Marcus, and Sears), Ala Moana is a shop-til-you-drop kind of place.

The mall features live music, extensive food court options, a cultural center where you can learn hula and discover other cultural activities, and is home to Shirokiya Japan Village Walk, a food hall built like a small Japanese temple town, offering more than 30 authentic Japanese food vendors. The Ala Moana Shopping Trolley, which runs every 10 minutes, offers free rides to and from 10 locations around the city.

Waikiki Beach

cheap hotels in honolulu

The area most synonymous with Honolulu itself, Waikiki Beach is not only the location of Honolulu’s grandest resorts, it is also the number one tourist destination on the island. Made up of several sections of beach including Kuhio Beach, Queen’s Beach, and Sans Souci Beach, this soft white sand beach features open public access, oceanfront lodging, countless options for water sports with a view of Diamond Head, and plenty of shopping and restaurants nearby.

Iolani Palace

exterior view of ali'iolani hale

One of only two royal palaces in the United States, the Iolani Palace was the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchy from 1845 to 1893, when the monarchy was overthrown. Restored in the 1970s, this National Historic Landmark is one of those must-see Honolulu attractions that’s particularly poignant. It’s also a stunning example of the style of Hawaiian renaissance architecture known as American Florentine. Visitors gain insight into the story behind the Hawaiian royal family, and with it the spirit of the island itself. Guided and self-guided tours are available.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Hanauma bay, hawaii

A protected marine life conservation area since 1967, this Honolulu attraction is the place to go when you want to experience fantastic snorkeling with a view of local fish, sea turtles, and wildlife. A top Honolulu attraction, the site entertains an estimated 3,000 visitors per day. Though you can get there on your own and just pay the $7.50 entrance to get in, the bay also offers a convenient shuttle service package which includes round-trip transport from Waikiki and the use of snorkel gear.

Honolulu Zoo

Giraffe at the honolulu zoo

Giraffes, elephants, and hippos are just a few of the wonderful animals on display at Honolulu Zoo. A favorite Honolulu attraction for families with young children, this is a good place to ooh and ahh over chimpanzees, cheetahs, zebras, pink flamingos, and more. Smaller than zoos in major metropolitan cities, the 42-acre grounds are easy to navigate and provide a pleasurable diversion within walking distance of Waikiki.

Bishop Museum

The bernice pauahi bishop museum houses an extensive collection of hawaiian and pacific island objects

The largest museum in Hawaii, the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by businessman Charles Bishop, who built it in honor of his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last legal heir of the Kamehameha Dynasty. Designated as the official Hawaiʻi State Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the collection here is vast, the time spent here invaluable in terms of learning about Hawaiian and Polynesian culture and history.

The museum boasts the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world, is home to a 13.5-million insect collection, and houses more than 24 million natural history specimens. Don’t miss the spectacular Hawaiian Hall, the Science Adventure center, and make sure to catch a show in the Planetarium.

Honolulu Fish Auction

Fresh fish at the daily market auction honolulu harbor, hawaii

Anyone who wants to see live big-eye tuna come straight off the boat before it gets auctioned off should wake up early to experience this amazing operation, the only freshwater fish auction in the United States. Similar but smaller in scale to Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Market, the Honolulu Fish Auction offers daily tours that takes you from the dockside fishing vessels to the auction floor itself, where thousands of pounds of fish are bought and sold daily. You’ll have to wake up early, be prepared to stand in the cold, and wear closed toe shoes, but it’s thrilling to get so close to the live auction action.

National Cemetery of the Pacific

Punchbowl cemetary or the national memorial cemetery of pacific

Stunning in scope and historical significance, the National Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl thanks to its location within the Punchbowl crater, is among the most important must-see attractions in Honolulu. Established in 1949, the Punchbowl is the memorial and resting place for more than 53,000 men and women who have died in service to the United States Armed forces since World War I. A place for peace and reflection, the beautiful memorial is lined with neatly trimmed Chinese banyan trees, spans more than 100 acres with 34,000 graves, and is anchored by a marble memorial building and small chapel.

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– Original reporting by Mai Pham