10 Most Expensive Places to Rent a Car: Is it Worth the Cost?

High Gas Prices Have Rental Car Companies Going Green
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Travelers who rented cars in U.S. cities shelled out quite a bit of money this summer. Skift reports on a study by CheapCarRental.net that lists the most expensive cities to rent a car in the past two months. While New York and Boston came in at number 2 and 3, the winner, Portland, Oregon, was a bit more surprising.

The results beg the question: why bother getting a car when you’re visiting a city?

We’ve rounded up the top 10 most expensive car rental cities in the U.S., and found a reason in each that might make it worthwhile. Some of these places can be reached by taxi or public transportation, but most visitors drive themselves. Check out the slideshow below and be the judge: is this place worth renting a car?

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It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! No, It’s Hello Kitty!

Hello Kitty Plane
Jackal Lin, Flickr

You’ll either be purring in content or scratching your head at this one, but get ready because Hello Kitty themed aircraft are set to debut in the United States.

EVA Air has announced it will begin flying a Boeing 777 featuring the popular cartoon character on its Taoyuan-Los Angeles route, immersing travelers in all things Hello Kitty during the 13-hour journey.

The Taiwan-based airline has been flying jets outfitted with Hello Kitty themed décor in Asian countries for a number of years, but it’s the first time such aircraft will be flown in the U.S.

The airline is still putting the finishing touches on the interior of the plane, but they have released a few details about what passengers can expect. Aircraft bathrooms will feature Hello Kitty branded soaps and lotions and cabin crew will wear pink Hello Kitty aprons featuring a large 3D bow and an image of the famous feline.

If the planes are anything like the ones operating in Japan, Hong Kong, and elsewhere, we can also expect to see Hello Kitty adorning the headrests, pillows, boarding passes, and luggage tags. But the most incredible part has to be the Hello Kitty themed meals, which feature intricately carved desserts and morsels of food shaped like the cartoon character herself.

The first Hello Kitty flight will debut in the US on September 18.

Hello Kitty Food
leesean, Flickr

Intoxicating Bend, Oregon

bend, oregonWho wants to move to Bend, Oregon, with me? Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I already have a perfectly good place to live. Why would I need to move to a small city in Central Oregon? If you’re asking yourself this question, you’ve probably never been to Bend, because it’s one of those places that gets under your skin. Drop by for four or five days, as I did earlier this month, and you can’t help but envy those who call this place home.

Bend makes it onto a lot of Best Places to Live lists, particularly the ones you see in Outside, Men’s Health and other publications that value recreational opportunities and craft beer, rather than career climbing. I was fully prepared to be disappointed by the place, but instead I was seduced. The weather was perfect with sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and clear blue skies and vistas of snowcapped mountains in every direction. And everyone we met, even those we encouraged to tell us something bad about Bend, told us the same thing: we love it here.

My first I-Want-to-Move-to-Bend moment came on a hike to Dillon Falls, just minutes outside of town. We were hiking on a path alongside the cool, rushing waters of the Deschutes River. The sun was out and it was perfectly quiet, save for the melodic rush of the powerful rapids. I watched the river flow and couldn’t help but view it as a metaphor for how quickly life goes by. It’s too short not to be in a place you love, right?

Before you quit your job and move to Bend based upon my half-baked advice, I should admit that it isn’t perfect. The unemployment rate is 11.3 percent and that number doesn’t even accurately reflect how bad the economic situation really is, because there are also lots of people who have only part-time work or full-time McJobs with wages so low that they are forced to drink mass produced beer. (Contrary to popular belief, you cannot use Food Stamps to buy craft beer in Bend, at least not yet.)

Bend experienced one of the country’s steepest boom and bust real estate swings, before and after the Great Recession, and though the price of homes has gone down, it’s still far from cheap. And although the climate is sunny and dry, it can get quite cold in winter. So there you go. Bend isn’t perfect. No place is. But even if you don’t want to move there, you at least have to visit. Here’s why.

The Great Outdoors

In Bend, you don’t even have to leave the city limits to enjoy nature. Whatever you like to do: ski, hike, cycle, kayak, rock-climb, white-water raft, you name it, and you can find it close to Bend. I’m into hiking and I highly recommend the Dillon Falls section of the Deschutes River Trail, the Lava Lands Visitor’s Center, Smith Rock State Park, the Peter Skene Ogden National Scenic Trail, the West Metolius (River) Trail, right next to the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery (a free and interesting site itself) and Pilot Butte State Park, which is right on the east side of town. Also, the trails at the High Desert Museum are perfect for a stroll and the fact that you can learn about the region’s history and wildlife on the premises makes this place a must-visit while in Bend.

And even if you’re not a skier, take the ride out to Mt. Bachelor and continue on the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway (parts of this byway are open only in the summer) for some glorious alpine scenery.

Beer

When it comes to good beer, there’s an embarrassment of riches in Bend. I have no clue how 10 brewpubs and three breweries (with more set to open soon) stay in business in a city of 80,000, but as a visitor, you can only benefit from the stiff competition. I visited seven brewpubs in four days and felt like I had just scratched the surface of what must be the best craft beer scene in America.

My favorites were McMenamins Old St. Francis Brewery, for its killer English Brown Ale and its atmospheric pubs, Crux Fermentation Project, for its tasty Marzen beer and its patio, and 10 Barrel Brewing Company, because I love their fire pit and indoor/outdoor bar. But all of Bend’s breweries are worth a visit, and if you manage to hit them all and collect stamps to prove it, you’ll get a nice little souvenir mug from the visitor’s information office.

Eats

For a city of its size, Bend has a remarkable array of good restaurants. I didn’t have a single bad meal anywhere. I had a carnivore’s pizza at Deschutes Brewery that was out of this world; some very memorable oatmeal cookies at Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, a stylish little café in an alley location in downtown Bend (thank you, Anna Brones); and some surprisingly outstanding New England Clam Chowder at Parrilla Grill. My colleague Pam Mandel sent me to the Sparrow Bakery for breakfast and I quickly became addicted to their vanilla and cardamom spiced ocean rolls (see photo below).

But the Bend restaurant that I’m still dreaming about, a week after returning from Bend, is Big Island Kona Mix Plate, a casual Hawaiian-style place in the Old Mill District. I had the mixed plate with bulgogi and spicy chicken and couldn’t remember the last time I tasted anything so divine (and affordable at $10 a plate with two sides.)

Dreamers

When Cate Cushman, a real estate broker we met, moved to Bend in 1976, the town had a population of less than 15,000. Cushman, a Georgia native, had been traveling across the country in a Winnebago with her first husband when they fell in love with Bend and decided to stay. Nearly 40 years later, she’s certain that she made the right move.

Bend’s population more than doubled in the ’90s, and continued to rise in the last decade, from 52,029 in 2000 to 76,639. Much of the population gain can be attributed to Baby Boomers from California moving to Bend to retire, but you don’t have to look very hard in Bend to find young people who have moved there as a lifestyle choice. Some call Bend a place to experience “poverty with a view,” but I think that, for many who move there, the point is to step out of the rat race, slow down and enjoy the finer things in life.

Take Sibel Edmonds, for example. I met Sibel at the Bend Brewing Company one afternoon this month and she told me that she looked all over the whole world for the perfect place to live and raise her daughter, Elle, and settled on Bend, thanks to its natural beauty, cultural offerings, good schools and sunny, dry weather, among other things. I don’t know if Sibel is right or not, but I like the idea of being in a place with so many idealistic people who are looking for their own little utopia. Bend may or may not be a good fit for us, but I got enough of a taste of Bend’s good life to know that I want more.

It’s Still Snowing Somewhere In Oregon

crater lake oregonWhen you think of wintery weather, Oregon might not be the first state that comes to mind. It certainly wasn’t for me until I visited snowed-under Crater Lake National Park and other snowy, high altitude spots in the Beaver State last week. It was 76 degrees and sunny on the day we left Klamath Falls, Oregon, for the park, which is only 70 miles to the north, and even though I’d been told that Rim Drive, the scenic route around the park, was closed due to snow, I didn’t quite believe it.

To me, it was like being in South Beach on a toasty, warm day and hearing that there was snow in West Palm Beach. But Crater Lake is about 2,000 feet higher than Klamath Falls and sure enough, the place was still buried in snow.

“All the hiking trails are covered in deep snow,” said the park ranger who took our $10 entry fee. “But we rent snow shoes if you’re interested.”
We drove on towards the visitor’s center and were astonished to see huge snowdrifts on both sides of the neatly paved road. Over at the lake’s Discovery Point lookout, it was 41 degrees according to our rental car’s temperature gauge, but when I stepped out of the car, I was almost knocked down by a ferocious wind that made it feel as though it was in the teens. I had brought a hat and gloves but there were a few other hapless tourists there in shorts and T-shirts grimacing in pain.

crater lake oregon

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at more than 1,900 feet (seventh deepest in the world) and the water is remarkably clean. I have never seen a deeper shade of blue in my life and the contrast of the snow against the steep cliffs along the lake makes for an unforgettable view. According to the Moon Guide to Oregon, Kodak used to send apologies along with photos they processed of the lake because their technicians couldn’t believe that the water at Crater Lake was that blue. It is.

crater lake oregon

Rim Drive was indeed closed after Discovery Point to traffic but that made it pleasant to walk on and although we couldn’t really take advantage of the park’s 90 miles of hiking trails with two kids and no snow shoes, it was delightful to have a national park practically all to ourselves, even if it was bitterly cold and windy.

After leaving Crater Lake, we spent four days in Bend, one of America’s most beautifully situated cities with snowcapped mountains in almost every direction, and had more wintery surprises in store for us. McKenzie Pass, reputed to be one of the most scenic drives in the Cascade Range, was closed due to snow, as was most of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, despite the fact that it was nearly 80 degrees in nearby Bend.

mt bachelor oregon

But only 20 minutes outside Bend, the Mt. Bachelor ski resort was not only open but also busy with skiers. The place remains open through Memorial Day and at this time of year visitors to Bend can ski in the morning and play tennis or golf in the afternoon. For a guy who lives in the flat, boring Midwest, the quick and dramatic changes in altitude and weather are reason enough to get on a plane and head to Oregon.

Please Don’t Smoke Or Steal The Signs In Weed, California

weed californiaI’m not a smoker but I can’t resist unusual town names so when I saw an exit off of Interstate 5 in Northern California for a town called Weed, I pulled over, eager to find out how the town got its name. This being California, I imagined that some hippies moved into the town in the ’60s and voted to change the name to Weed. I expected to see aging Boomers with tie-dye shirts, ponytails and unkempt dogs passing around huge spliffs on the town’s main drag, Cheech and Chong movies playing in perpetuity at the Weed cinema, and the melodies of Bob Marley & The Wailers filling the streets.

But a visit to the Weed Store, a souvenir shop at the entrance to the town, quickly disabused me of that notion. Stacey Green, the shop manager, explained that the town was named after a guy named Abner Weed, a native of Maine who came to the place to open a lumber mill in 1897. It isn’t clear whether Weed smoked ganja himself but Green said that marijuana definitely isn’t legal or even decriminalized in the town.”There are definitely some hippies here,” he said. “But there are conservatives as well.”

The town’s other primary claim to fame is that Weed is the place that George Milton and Lennie Small fled from in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

Like many people who live in small towns, Green is something of a jack-of-all-trades. He manages the Weed Store, which sells weed-related T-shirts, hats, signs and other souvenirs, but is also an ordained minister and was elected to the Weed city council in December. Green grew up in Weed and moved back to town a few years ago to care for his mom. He said that the town’s road signs get stolen all the time because everyone wants a sign that says Weed.

There used to be a sign just outside town directing motorists to turn one way for the College of the Siskiyous and another for downtown Weed. But the allure of stealing a sign with the words “College” and “Weed” with arrows pointing in opposite directions was too strong and so they eventually ditched the sign and replaced it with the one you see above. You can, however, buy a postcard of the old sign at Green’s shop.

There isn’t a lot to see in downtown Weed, and in truth, I’ve seen more prosperous looking places, but the town is dramatically situated right near Mt. Shasta, a 14,000-foot peak in the Cascade Range. Even if Weed isn’t the hippie haven I thought it might be, the town’s merchants seem to have no qualms with capitalizing on the town’s name. I saw “Enjoy Weed” T-shirts with the Coca-Cola logo, “I’m High on Weed” hats and other Weed-related souvenirs for sale all over town, including at one of the town’s motels and at a gas station.

At the town’s little tourist information office, a young man made no bones about the town’s claim to fame.

“Most people come in here to ask me about the name,” he said. “And to ask if pot is legal here.”

He said that not only is marijuana illegal, the town also has a law preventing any medicinal marijuana dispensaries from opening inside the city limits. After I left Weed, I looked up the town’s election results and it turns out that Mitt Romney carried Siskiyou County, where Weed sits, to the tune of 56 percent. I didn’t stick around in Weed long enough to understand the town’s political dynamics but even in a brief little foray off the highway, I learned that Weed is full of surprises.

[Photo credits: Dave Seminara]