Florida’s Winter Park: Orlando for adults

Winter Park is often described as Orlando‘s answer to the Hamptons on Long Island. There are large houses, upscale shops, wine bars and experiences that you generally wouldn’t associate with Orlando. Only about 15 minutes from downtown Orlando, it’s a great day trip for families that are worn out by the breakneck pace of the theme parks.

The main attraction is Park Avenue, the heart of the local action. Sip a cabernet at any of the many wine bars or restaurants that stretch onto the sidewalk, soak in the unhurried activity around you and feel the anxiety of waiting in Disney World lines melt away. Stop by the farmer’s market for locally grown produce, tasty soups and samples of culinary craftsmanship. I’d probably make this the last stop before leaving Winter Park, that way you won’t have to worry about leaving what you purchase in the car for a few hours.

While you’re in Winter Park, get out on the water. The Scenic Boat Tour will carry you through several, where you can ogle the homes of the wealthy. Don’t ask who lives there now: your guide believes in discretion, and you’ll be met only with a silent smile. The crisp breeze counteracts the hot Florida sun, and the leisurely pace sits in stark contrast to the normal Orlando excursion. Along with the stunning homes, you’ll be treated to Florida Cyprus trees growing in the lakes themselves. One even has a remnant of Christmas past, a small ornament that continues to adorn it.

When you return to land, head back to Park Avenue for the museums. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is a must (especially if you’re staying at one of Orlando’s art-themed hotels). And, the sculpture gardens at the Albin Polasek Museum are a sight to behold.

It’ll be hard to peel the kids away from the theme parks, but if you find yourself in Orlando for a convention this year, add a day to your trip and visit Winter Park. Unwind after several days of sales meetings and business dinners before you go home. Your perception of Orlando will never be the same.


Budget Travel: Seattle


Mention “Seattle” and what’s likely to come to mind are coffee, microbrews, and weather. But look a little closer at the local’s city, and you’ll find a place appreciated for the arts and green space. Defined and inspired by its waterways, evergreen forests, seven hills, and mountains on either side, the Emerald City is a place that begs to be explored by land and sea. It may have a reputation for having the most literate population in the US, but the city is just as unpretentious as it is metropolitan. It has a reputation for its weather, but Seattleites will tell you that it’s not really as rainy as you might expect. Just the same, it’s a city that’s not as expensive as you might expect–Seattle can be a budget destination after all.

Getting In:
You can fly into the Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) on a number of major airlines, including American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, and United, but you’re most likely to find a deal on Alaska Airlines/Horizon or Southwest.

Amtrak trains offer another option–they’ll drop you off at King Street Station in the International district.

Rather than take a taxi from the airport, get dropped off downtown by the Gray Line Downtown Airporter, which departs every 30 minutes (between 5:30 a.m.–11 p.m.). You’ll only pay $11 one-way, or $18 round-trip. Those with a more adventuresome spirit (and a slimmer wallet) can catch the Metro bus ($1.50 off-peak/$2.25 peak hours)–near door 6 of the baggage-claim area.

Once you reach downtown, you’ll definitely want to make friends with the bus. Sure, you could hoof it, but why bother when buses are free within the Free-Ride Area, anytime from 6:00 a.m.–7:00 p.m.

Where to Stay:
The only hostel downtown is Green Tortoise, but what a great location it has–right across from Pike Place Market. Their recent relocation has made a huge improvement in facilities and cleanliness, and they offer free breakfast daily (with waffles and eggs), and free dinner three times a week. Dorms come in at $25–36, and rooms are $77–90. Check out their current special: save $4 on the fourth night in a dorm room.

For another reasonable option, head to the College Inn Seattle in the University district. The historic building that dates back to the 1909 Alaska-Yukon Exposition is big on atmosphere. You may have to share a bathroom, but that’s what brings the rates down to $55–90.

What to See:
Here’s a newsflash: there’s more than one viewing tower in town. Everyone knows about the Space Needle ($16), but for half the price you can get a tip-top view of the city from Smith Tower ($7.50). The view from the 35th floor observation deck may showcase more of downtown than the Queen Anne district, but the price is right. Check the calendar in advance to make sure that it’s open.

Spend a weekend morning browsing one of the area’s farmer’s markets–especially the University (year-round on Saturdays) and Fremont districts (year-round on Sundays), where music and crafts are as much of the experience as the fruit-sampling. And of course, there’s the most famous market in town: Pike Place–theatrics and tourists aside, it’s a lively place to find everything from produce and seafood to flowers and crafts.

Pick a day of the week, and you’re likely to find an art walk. Tour the different neighborhoods while you tour the art:

First Thursday: Pioneer Square
First Friday: Fremont
Second Tuesday: Capitol Hill
Second Thursday: West Seattle
Second Friday: Belltown
Second Saturday: Ballard
Third Thursday: Upper Queen Anne

Local museums also help you save a few dollars, but you have to know when to find their free days. The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is free on the first Thursday of the month (and to seniors aged 62+ on the first Friday, and to teens aged 13–19 from 5:00–9:00 p.m. on the second Friday). The Seattle Asian Art Museum is free on the first Thursday of the month (and to seniors aged 62+ on the first Friday, and to families on the first Saturday). The first Thursday of the month (5:00-8:00 p.m.) is the best time to visit the Gehry-designed Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum. Frye Art Museum is always free–every day.

Grunge may be dead–even here in its birthplace–but Seattle still loves its music; and it shows in the music festivals–several of which are amazingly free. Northwest Folklife Festival, which will celebrate its 100 anniversary in 2009, runs every Memorial Day weekend and showcases ethnic, folk, and traditional arts. If you’re in town in June, you’ll want to join the Fremont Fair, which rings in the Summer Solstice with a parade, crafts, music, and food. The popular Bumbershoot–every Labor Day weekend–may not be free, but $80 is well worth the range of bands that you can take in with the 3-day pass.

Fresh air is free and boating options are abundant in outdoorsy Seattle. The easiest way out on the water is by taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island ($6.70 round-trip), where a front-row view of the city skyline is guaranteed. Bring your bike with you for an extra dollar, or rent one on the island. Or else, propel yourself on the water. Combine a trip to the Washington Park Arboretum or Gas Works Park with a kayak rental through Agua Verde Paddle Club (single $15/1 hr; $25/2 hrs; double $18/$30) or a canoe/rowboat rental through UW Waterfront Activities Center ($7.50/hr; closed November–January). For a free alternative, set sail on a classic wooden boat through the Center for Wooden Boats–half-hour rides are free from 2:00 p.m.–3:00 p.m. every Sunday.

Budget Travel: San Francisco

Frequently at the top of the best US cities lists, San Francisco is many visitors’ favorite, but might not be the first on the mind for cheap travel. But this easy-natured, west coast city, known for its counterculture, sourdough bread, and colorful Victorian homes, boasts just as many quaint neighborhoods and other understated gems as it does tourist landmarks. Easy on the eyes, easy on the heart-strings–now consider it easy on the budget.

Getting in: All of the major airlines fly into SFO, including JetBlue and Southwest. You should find ample options from United, since the airport is one of the airline’s hubs. If you’re staying outside of the city proper, consider the two other airports in the area: Oakland (OAK) and San Jose (SJC).

From SFO, the local commuter train (BART: Bay Area Rapid Transit) is your best bet to your hotel or hostel. It can drop you off at eight stations within the city itself. A one-way trip to one of the downtown stops is $5.35. Otherwise, a door-to-door shuttle (such as QuakeCity or SuperShuttle) costs $15–17.

If a slower pace is more your style, catch a Greyhound bus and disembark right in downtown San Francisco. Amtrak also stops nearby, but you’ll need to make your way ten miles from the closest stations in Oakland and Emeryville, in the East Bay.


Where to stay: Hostelling International offers reliably inexpensive options with their downtown and Fisherman’s Wharf hostels. Downtown is all about the location–just a block from Union Square, it’s in the heart of the city that’s renowned for capturing ours. The Fisherman’s Wharf location is more peaceful and removed–housed in the historic buildings of park-like Fort Mason. (It’s a bit of a misnomer: walking to Fisherman’s Wharf will take about 15 minutes.) Both come with free wi-fi and breakfast, and free or low-cost tours. But it depends on what you’re looking for–stores and nightlife outside your doorstep, or sprawling lawns and views of the Golden Gate Bridge? Either way, at about $25-27 for a dorm, and $69-75 for a private room, the price is right.

At hotel price, but still relatively reasonable is Good Hotel. It’s a new addition to the City by the Bay, and a new premise to the hotel world–it’s been billed as “the first hotel with a conscience.” What does that mean? Their decor is made of recycled goods, amenities are made of sustainable materials, and the hotel can link guests with philanthropic “voluntouring” events while they’re in town. Prices seem to range from $76–230, but they’re offering a winter sale right now–20% off a 3-night stay through March 5, 2009.

What to see: There’s only one reason to head toward Fisherman’s Wharf–to take the ferry to Alcatraz. The infamous jail-island is one landmark that lives up to its reputation. Self-guided audio tours lead you through the prison cells (and back in time) with stories of inmates like Al “Scarface” Capone and the “Birdman” Robert Stroud. As an extra bonus to the $26 cost, the ferry ride also makes for excellent bridge- and skyline-viewing.

Don’t let the hills fool you–San Francisco is a walkable city. If you’re up for an urban hike, you can join a free walking tour by San Francisco City Guides, or embark on your own. Choose the natural setting of Golden Gate Park, or ramble through any of the neighborhoods for distinctly different walks. A walk through North Beach (the Italian district) could include everything from perusing poetry at City Lights Bookstore and taking a cappuccino at Caffe Trieste to watching the wild parrots circle overhead at Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. See what sights, sounds, or people pull your interest to linger or change your plans. At the very worst, hop on a cable car or one of the vintage street cars to bring you back where you started.

Who says all of the good things have a big price tag? The Saturday farmer’s market at the Ferry Building is as bustling as any other event in the city, and it’s ripe with the season’s best produce–grown on local, organic farms. Sampling is encouraged!

Just as exhibitions rotate in and out of the city’s museums, so do free days. Once a month, the admission fee is waived for many of the city’s art and cultural museums. That means the first Tuesday of every month at the de Young, which greets you in the entry courtyard with an Andy Goldsworthy sculptural installation. Then again, you can always enter the observation tower for free–you’ll get a great 360° birdseye view of the city. Or else, be one of the first to visit the new California Academy of Sciences, which reopened in September 2008 and features a four-story rainforest, planetarium, and a living roof that grows native plants. Stop by on the museum’s free day–the third Wednesday of every month.

If you find yourself needing to indulge a bit after all of the walking and skimping, consider Kabuki Springs and Spa for a relatively cheap afternoon ($22-25) at the communal bath and sauna, Japanese style. Just be sure to check the calendar before you go: the baths are designated solely to men or women on alternating days, and Tuesday is the only co-ed day. Or for a big (in all ways: hats, costumes, voices, fun) San Francisco experience, splurge on a ticket to Beach Blanket Babylon, a music review that spoofs the latest in pop culture–now in its 34th year.