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10 bucket list adventures in Alaska

By Laura Brown
updated November 4, 2021
Bartlett Glacier Juno Kim
Juno Kim, Visit Anchorage
Need more inspiration for your bucket list? We’ve got you covered with this list of 10 AMAZING things to do.

This content has been produced in partnership with Visit Anchorage.

Alaska has no shortage of things to do! Adventurers will discover that Anchorage is a great “anchor” point for a wide variety of amazing adventures that are sure to provide lifelong memories.

1. See a glacier

Alaska has over 100,000 glaciers, that have shaped the landscape for thousands of years! Anchorage has over 60 glaciers within 50 miles for explorers. Take a glacier cruise for a few hours and listen to the loud rumbling as these massive landmarks continue to carve through the land.


mv Ptarmigan cruising in front of Portage Glacier. Credit: Donna Dewhurst, Visit Anchorage

2. Take a sightseeing trip

Anchorage has several incredible day-trip options for sightseeing. Take the Glacier Discovery Train to Spencer Whistle Stop for the day, take a flightseeing plane to see Alaska from the sky, or ride the Alyeska Tramway 2300 feet up a mountain. No matter which you choose, you’re guaranteed to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States!

3. See a whale

A trip to Alaska isn’t complete without some whale-watching! Pods of beluga whales spend their summers in the waters outside Anchorage. Or, head to Seward and hop on a sightseeing cruise to see some of the biggest species of whales in the world!

4. Bear Viewing near Anchorage


Bears at the zoo. Credit: JodyO.Photos, Visit Anchorage

Alaska is the only place in the US that has black, brown, and polar bears! Take a short flight to Katmai or Lake Clark National Parks and see these fascinating creatures as they feed near a salmon-filled steam. In October, make sure you vote in Katmai’s annual fat bear week. To see a polar bear, check out the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.

5. View the northern lights

The northern lights are a beautiful phenomenon of auroras that dance in the night sky. They are active in Alaska between mid-August and April. Popular spots for viewing them are Eklutna Tailrace, Girdwood, and the Knik River.


The northern lights. Credit: JodyO.Photos, Visit Anchorage

6. Enjoy the Midnight Sun

Alaska is so far north that it has more summer daylight than anywhere else in the lower contiguous US! In June, the sunset happens around midnight, providing plenty of time for outdoor activities. It’s incredible how much fits in a day when the sun barely ever sets!

7. Go Dog Sledding

Dog Sledding is Alaska’s state sport, and visitors can experience dog sledding year round (though best in winter!). In summer, several mushers will camp out on top of glaciers to provide an authentic sled-dog experience.


Dog sledding Girdwood. Credit: Nicole Geils, Visit Anchorage

8. Alaska Art and Shopping

Anchorage has lots of excellent shopping options for the discerning shopper. Peruse a downtown filled with authentic art galleries, and support Alaska native art. Pick up some fresh-caught salmon for dinner, or some homemade candy for dessert! Anchorage provides tax-free shopping


Denali National Park. Credit: Ashley Heimbigner, Visit Anchorage

9. Visit National Parks

Anchorage is a dream for National Park enthusiasts! Its close proximity to Alaska’s major parks provides tons of options for adventurers. Take a sightseeing plane over the soaring peaks of Denali, take a day cruise to the Kenai Fjords, or (safely) see a bear from Katmai or Lake Clark! Make sure to stop into the visitor’s center to get a stamp for your National Park passport book.

10. Take a road trip

Anchorage has several different options for a scenic day trip drive, allowing you to get out of the city and see some of Alaska’s beautiful scenery. Take a coastal trip down the Seward Highway, and see huge mountain peaks topped with ice. Head up to the Glen Alps for a breathtaking panorama of Anchorage and its surrounding area. Head up to Hatcher Pass for some dramatic landscapes and stop to explore some of the old remnants from the gold rush.

There's never been a better time to cross of your bucket list adventures in Alaska!


This content has been produced in partnership with Visit Anchorage.

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National ParksBudget Travel Lists

The Budget Guide to Zion National Park

With majestic canyons, sandstone walls, and breathtaking hikes, it’s no wonder this jewel of the National Park Service was named for the promised land. Zion National Park in Southwest Utah is one of the most extraordinary places in the United States (and on earth). It offers adventure surrounded by towering canyons, immense sandstone walls, and amazing hikes that every American must see at least once in their lifetime. Getting There McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is the largest airport near Zion National Park. The St. George Regional Airport is a bit closer at just 50 miles away, but prices are usually between $100 and $200 more for a round-trip ticket. Keep an eye on ticket prices leading up to your purchase, and snag some for St. George if you find a comparable deal. If you’re coming from Las Vegas, rent a car for the 160-mile drive to the park. Then take off toward the mountains on I-15 for desert panoramas that will just begin to prepare you for the jaw-dropping Utah landscape you’re headed for. We recommend completing this drive during daylight. Not only will you want to take in the desert scenery, but there are also some winding roads. For the best gas prices, be sure to fuel up in St. George or Hurricane, UT. It’s also advisable to buy several gallons of water before entering the park in case of emergency. Entering And Navigating The Park Park Entrance At the park entrance, you’ll pay $35 per car, which gives you access to the park for seven days. For $80, you can get the America The Beautiful pass, which grants you access to all national parks in the US. If you plan to go on from Zion to other nearby parks such as Bryce Canyon or Arches, we absolutely recommend this option. Shuttle Buses During most of the pandemic, Zion has been implementing a shuttle ticket system. At the end of May 2021, the park eliminated this system. The shuttle is now open for anyone to ride. The only requirement is that you wear a mask! As of June 2021, the only places the buses are stopping include the visitor center, the lodge, the Grotto, Big Bend, and the Temple of Sinawava. There is often a line to get on a shuttle, and on busy days, you may feel as though you’re standing in line at Walt Disney World. The line is typically worse in the morning as everyone is arriving to the park, but extra-early birds can beat the crowds. Shuttle buses begin running at 6 AM, so get in line around 5:00 AM if you’d like to be one of the first up canyon. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel The Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel runs between Zion Canyon and the east side of the park. Due to height limitations, this 1.1-mile tunnel cannot accommodate large vehicles in both lanes. Rangers must control the traffic flow so that oversized vehicles can drive down the center of the tunnel. Therefore, vehicles larger than either 11’4” tall or 7’10” wide must pay a $15 tunnel permit fee at the park entrance station. Vehicles larger than 13’1” are completely prohibited. Also note that pedestrians and bicyclists are not allowed in the tunnel at any time. See below for the 2021 tunnel hours of operation (MDT) for large vehicles. August 29 to September 25: 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM September 26 to November 6: 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM Winter hours of operation starting November 7: 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Camping: The Ultimate Bargain Dispersed Camping Tent camping is one way you can cut expenses while visiting Zion National Park. You can make camp on most BLM (public) land without a fee; however, this option should only be used by those who are experienced campers. If you want to camp for free, make sure you have a map and give yourself plenty of daylight to find a campsite. The tradeoff with this option is that you’ll have to devote a little more time traveling to and from the park. Campgrounds If you’d prefer a campsite inside the park with more amenities, plan to book your spot early. The Watchman Campground is right by the visitor center and is the busiest campground, often selling out months in advance. Additionally, the South Campground is just a bit further up the road and allows reservations up to 14 days before your trip. For a little more privacy, you can stay at the first come, first served Lava Point Campground, about an hour and twenty minutes from the south entrance of the park. Hotels Are A Short, Beautiful Drive Away Affordable hotels can be found in Hurricane, UT, about a 30-minute drive from the park. Prices can be as low as $60 in the off season, and $70 in the high season. The drive is beautiful; just be sure to budget time to get through the park’s gates. Springdale is the closest town to Zion’s south entrance, but it tends to be a bit pricier. Keep your eyes on hotel prices as you prepare for your trip, and again, snag something if you find a comparable deal. There’s a shuttle that runs between Springdale and the park, so parking doesn’t have to be such a pain if you stay in town.Stock up on food in advance To stay on budget, you’ll want to stock up on food and water at a grocery store (pick up a cooler and ice if you’re packing perishables of course). Stop in either Las Vegas or St. George for these items. There are also several restaurants and small markets just outside the park in Springdale, but these will be more expensive. Hiking: Zion’s Main AttractionThe Narrows is one of the most fun hikes in America. Photo by Laura BrownZion is world-renowned for its hiking. Whether you spend the day wading through a river canyon or scaling the side of a mountain, there is no more rewarding way to soak up Zion’s unreal landscape. Plus, hiking is free! Here are our top recommendations in the park. Pa’rus Trail Section: South side (of the canyon) Level of difficulty: Easy The 3.5-mile Pa’rus Trail is great for bicyclists and for those who want a fairly flat trail that will still give them plenty of stunning views. Additionally, there is only one trail in Zion that pet owners can take their animals, and this is it! Watchman Trail Section: South side (of the canyon) Level of difficulty: Moderate If you’re wanting to do something a little more difficult than the Pa’rus Trail without having to enter the canyon via shuttle, try this trail. In 3.3 miles, it rewards you with great views of the Watchman, the lower canyon, and Springdale. Canyon Overlook Trail Section: East side Level of difficulty: Moderate The Canyon Overlook Trail is a beautiful one to watch either sunrise or sunset from. It’s a short jaunt that clocks in at just one mile round-trip, and it leads you up to spectacular views of lower Zion Canyon. Just be sure to head there a little earlier than your intended hike start time as you may have to park down the road. Parking at the trailhead is very limited. Taylor Creek Trail Section: Kolob Canyons Level of difficulty: Moderate If you’re interested in getting away from the crowds Zion is known for, take an hour drive to the Kolab Canyons section of the park and try the 5-mile Taylor Creek Trail. Emerald Pools + The Kayenta Trail Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Moderate Connect the Emerald Pools Trails with the Kayenta Trail for one of the easier hikes up canyon. This route is perfect for families or for those who are a little tired from hiking in the morning. There are a few different ways to do this combination depending on which Emerald Pools Trails you take, but the longest way clocks in at just about three miles. The Narrows Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Strenuous You can hike the Virgin River up to Big Spring (3.6 miles one-way), wading through the water as you stare up at the high walls enclosing you. The trail is listed as strenuous because it involves climbing over some rocks, but there’s little elevation gain. Some choose to rent gear such as walking sticks and water shoes from outfitters in town. If you want to save some money, however, just bring along the trekking poles you’re using to hike with anyways. Note that there’s always a risk of flash floods on this trail. Keep your eye on the flood forecast posted around the park and turn around if you see the following: Deteriorating weather conditions Thunder or a buildup of clouds Sudden changes in water clarity (from clear to muddy) Angel’s Landing Section: Zion Canyon Level of difficulty: Strenuous This is Zion’s most famous hike, which ends with a crawl across the spine of a mountain to a view meant for angels. If you’re afraid of heights, stop on the trail at Scout Lookout, which provides views almost as good as those farther on. This trail is often very crowded – by the end of the effort, you’ll be best friends with the people climbing the trail around you. Bring extra water as the set of steep switchbacks on the trail will have you needing more than you might think. Angel's Landing is more strenuous than you think. Be prepared! Photo by Laura Brown Other Things You Need To Know Closed Hikes Due to rockfall in 2019, a few hikes are closed: Weeping Rock, Hidden Canyon, and Observation Point via the canyon floor. These trails are bound to be closed for another decade or so (if they ever reopen). Cyanobacteria The Virgin River (and any water sources coming from the river) is currently experiencing a toxic cyanobacteria bloom. Even though the park is monitoring it regularly, much is unknown regarding its effects. If you choose to go into the water, avoid getting it in your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or in any open wounds. Additionally, do not let dogs drink from or get into the river as the algae has been found to be fatal to our furry friends. The United States’ national parks are some of our favorite road trip destinations, and we were thrilled to create this budget guide for Zion. For more details about the park, head to the NPS website. If you go to the park and post any photos on social media, be sure to use the hashtag #MyBudgetTravel for a chance to be featured on our page!

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National ParksBudget Travel Lists

10 State Parks That Give National Parks a Run for Their Money

There’s no denying the allure of this country’s majestic national parks. But there's plenty of natural beauty to go around, and many state parks offer outdoor experiences that shouldn't be overlooked. State parks tend to have lower entrance fees and more manageable crowds than the marquee-name national parks, plus there’s the added bonus of not being affected by pesky government shutdowns. Here are 10 fabulous state parks to get you started. 1. Custer State Park: Custer, South Dakota (Courtesy South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks) A free-roaming herd of 1,500 bison is the main attraction at this park in the scenic Black Hills, but there’s plenty more wildlife to be spotted along its 18-mile loop road, including pronghorns, bighorn sheep, and even feral burros. Needles Highway, a popular 14-mile scenic drive through the park, is dotted with needle-shaped rock formations, two tunnels, and sweeping views of evergreen forests and lush meadows. Weekly park license, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; gfp.sd.gov/parks/detail/custer-state-park 2. Kartchner Caverns State Park: Benson, Arizona Home to a 21-foot stalactite that ranks as the third-longest in the world, this multi-room cave located 45 miles southwest of Tucson has only been open to the public since 1999. Kartchner Caverns is a living cave, meaning that its formations are still growing, and the park offers two guided tours that explore several different areas. The park is also a designated International Dark Sky Park, so it’s great for stargazing. Tours, from $23 for adults and $13 for youth ages 7-13 (reservations recommended); azstateparks.com/kartchner 3. Petit Jean State Park: Morrilton, Arkansas (Courtesy Petit Jean State Park) Central Arkansas probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind for a mountaintop adventure, but that’s just what Petit Jean State Park offers. Perched atop the 1200ft Petit John Mountain, this park has 20 miles of hiking trails that feature captivating geological formations such as giant sandstone boulders, stone arches, rock shelters, and box canyons. The park’s historic Mather Lodge, a rustic, cozy accommodation built of logs and stone, is a great option if you’re staying a few days. Free entry; arkansasstateparks.com/parks/petit-jean-state-park 4. Anza-Borrego State Park: San Diego County, California A remote and rugged landscape located in southeast California’s Colorado desert, Anza-Borrego State Park has 600,000 acres of varied terrain including badlands and slot canyons. The popular Borrego Palm Canyon trail takes hikers on a rocky stroll to an almost surreal oasis filled with California palms. When you’re visiting, save time to check out the collection of more than 130 giant metal creatures built by sculptor Ricardo Breceda in the nearby town of Borrego Springs. Day fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov/ansaborrego 5. Dead Horse Point State Park: Moab, Utah It’s not the Grand Canyon, but it was a suitable stand-in for filming the final scene of the classic film Thelma & Louise. In other words, the views from Dead Horse State Park are fantastic. Just 25 miles from Moab, this park sits 2,000 feet above a gooseneck in the Colorado River and looks out over Canyonlands National Park. Visitors can pick their favorite view from one of eight different lookout points along the seven-mile rim trail. Entry fee, $20 per vehicle, $10 per motorcycle; stateparks.utah.gov/parks/dead-horse 6. Watkins Glen State Park: Watkins Glen, New York With steep, plant-covered cliffs, small caves, and misty waterfalls, this state park in New York’s Finger Lakes region feels a little like stepping into a fairy tale. Visit in spring, summer, or fall, when you can hike the Gorge Trail, a two-mile journey that descends 400 feet, past 19 waterfalls into an idyllic narrow valley. Visitors can also enjoy the beauty from above on one of the dog-friendly rim trails. Season runs mid-may to early November. Day fee, $8 per vehicle; parks.ny.gov/parks/142 7. Tettegouche State Park: Silver Bay, Minnesota Eight great state parks dot the 150-mile stretch of Highway 61 along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, but Tettegouche stands out for its scenic hiking opportunities through forests, past waterfalls, and along the shoreline. The easy Shovel Point trail takes hikers along jagged, lakeside cliffs to a dramatic lookout over Lake Superior. There are also three loop trails featuring waterfalls. One-day park permit fee, $7; dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/park.html 8. Valley of Fire State Park: Overton, Nevada Drive just 50 miles northeast of the bustling Las Vegas strip, and you’ll find a peaceful valley filled with dramatic red-sandstone formations that take on the appearance of flames on sunny days. The popular Atlatl Rock trail features a giant boulder balanced on a sandstone outcrop 50 feet above the ground. Climb its metal staircase to see the prominent ancient petroglyphs.Entrance fee, $10 per vehicle; parks.nv.gov/parks/valley-of-fire 9. Montana de Oro State Park: San Luis Obispo County, California (Courtesy California State Parks) Spanish for “mountain of gold,” Montana de Oro gets its name from the golden wildflowers that cover the area each spring, but you can find colorful views year-round on the seven miles of rocky, undeveloped coastline that comprise the western edge of this state park in California’s central coast region. The 4.6-mile Bluff Trail is a great way to see a large swath of the beaches, tide pools, and natural bridges in the park, or you can hike the Hazard and Valencia Peak trails for summit views. Pebbly Spooner’s Cove Beach serves as the park’s central hub.Entry fee, $20 per vehicle; parks.ca.gov 10. Baxter State Park: Piscataquis County, Maine With no electricity, running water, or paved roads within its boundaries, this 200,000-acre park in North Central Maine offers mountain, lake, and forest adventures for those who like their wilderness truly wild. The park’s 5,200-foot Mt. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, but there are more than 40 other peaks and ridges to explore, and five pond-side campgrounds that offer canoe rentals. Entry fee, $15 per vehicle; baxterstatepark.org

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Budget Travel Lists

10 social distancing day trips from Washington, DC

1. Great Falls Billy Goat Trail Great Falls Park is just outside the beltway on the Potomac River, where the river has carved a rock paradise that seems perfectly designed for an excellent afternoon of hiking. The Billy Goat trail is 3 miles of climbing over rocks and exploring hidden crevices. It’s a great workout. 2. Kayak in Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary Mallows Bay Marine Sanctuary is the newest marine sanctuary in the United States. Visitors can kayak or canoe through the largest ship graveyard in the western hemisphere, featuring over 225 sunken ships. It is located 30 miles south of DC in Charles County, Maryland. Interested visitors can book a guided tour through Charles County Parks & Recreation https://www.charlescountyparks.com/parks/kayak-tours or bring their own canoe/kayak. Teddy Roosevelt Island. Photo: Eric Lewis, Grand Atlas Tours 3. Explore Teddy Roosevelt Island Theodore Roosevelt Island is mostly wilderness—deliberately so, and appropriate for the president who founded the National Park Service. Accessible only via a footbridge from the Virginia side of the Potomac River, the island is actually legally a part of the District of Columbia. There are miles of trails to walk in relative solitude around the perimeter of the island and bird watchers will often find wading birds, raptors, and warblers. In spring and early summer, flower enthusiasts enjoy gorgeous wildflowers. Another way to enjoy the island is to canoe/kayak; those so inclined can bring their own craft: simply you can put it in the water near the footbridge from the Virginia shore or near the culvert between the two parking lots. You can also rent a vessel in Georgetown; note that the Potomac is wide—and often busy! Getting to the footbridge without a vehicle is possible. Pedestrians and bicyclists can reach the parking lot and footbridge by following the Mount Vernon Trail south from the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Lynn St. in Rosslyn, near Key Bridge. The closest Metro station is Rosslyn, on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. The centerpiece of the island is a plaza with the centerpiece memorial, dedicated in 1967. It includes a 17-foot-tall statue by famed American sculptor Paul Manship and four large stone towers with a selection of Roosevelt's quotations. Contemplate them in relative solitude. 4. Canoeing/Tubing in Front Royal The town of Front Royal, about an hour west of DC on I-66, features both the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. It is also a great launchpad for day trips on the plethora of local rivers nearby. Front Royal Outdoors offers canoeing, kayaking and tubing trips. Bring friends and some beers, and enjoy a day on the relaxing Shenandoah River. ©Rob IJsselstein/Shutterstock 5. Skyline Drive Skyline Drive is a 105 mile parkway that winds through the top of the mountain ridge through Shenandoah National Park. Skyline Drive is a perfect way to spend a weekend driving through the mountains and chasing the sunset. It is especially magical in late summer and early fall, where meteor showers and brilliant sunsets abound, and the leaves of the mountains begin turning into their infinite shades of gold and red. The park’s North entrance is in Front Royal, Virginia. There are 3 additional stops to highways that can take you home along the way. Campers will find a well-managed campground at Big Meadows Campground (51.2) and Loft Mountain Campground (Mile 79.5). There are also several major hikes to fill the day. We recommend Old Rag for the experienced hiker and Stony Man for those wanting an easier day. 6. Manassas Battlefield Just outside DC in Manassas, Virginia, is the site of the first and second battles of Bull Run, the first major conflict of the American Civil War. The battlefield and related era structures have been preserved, There are more than 40 miles of hiking trails available for people who want to spend a day stepping back in time. ©Lissandra Melo/Shutterstock 7. National Arboretum The U.S. National Arboretum was created in 1927 and is operated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service. It is open to the public Monday through Friday from 1 to 5 p.m., and Saturday & Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Azalea, boxwood, daffodil, daylily, dogwood, holly, magnolia, and maple specimens are among those visitors to the Arboretum enjoy on foot. Other major garden features fill the 446 acres, including aquatic plants, the Friendship Garden, and a collection of conifers. In the National Grove of State Trees, each state is represented across 30 acres. Walk among bald cypresses one might see in Louisiana. Just beyond are pines and birches one would recognize from New England. Redwoods represent California and cottonwoods will remind guests from Great Planes states of home. A particular highlight is the National bonsai collection, and perhaps most famous are the National Capitol Columns, originally from the United States Capitol, replaced when the building was enlarged in the 19th century. It’s an especially popular place for wedding photos—you’re quite liable to see an engaged couple posing for very unique shots! Picnicking is allowed in the National Grove of State Trees. There are two entrances to the Arboretum: the R Street gate is open to cars and pedestrians 1pm to 2pm weekdays and from 8am to 5pm on weekends. From 2pm to 5pm on weekdays, the R Street gate is pedestrian only. The gate at 3501 New York Avenue is open to cars whenever the Arboretum is open. Loudoun County has 40+ vineyards. Source: Visit Loudoun/Todd Wright Photography 8. Spend the weekend in Loudoun County Loudoun County is a winning choice for a road trip in the greater DC area – without having to deal with the big city. Just 25 miles west of the nation’s capital, it offers a mix of rolling vineyards, mountains, and colonial towns that will delight travelers looking for off-the-radar choices. It’s a getaway that won’t make you feel like your social distancing – and the perfect place to plan an outdoor and safe vacation amidst this new era we live in. There’s plenty to do for everyone without feeling like travelers are conceding to rigorous restrictions. Social distancers can take the LoCo Ale Trail and sample the best local craft beers Loudoun has to offer, responsibly of course. There’s also Harpers Ferry Adventure Center, where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet, full of outdoor adventure activities including whitewater rafting, tubing, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and hiking. The center also offers the possibility to camp, and features both cabins and camp space to bring your own tent. Or rent one of 12 vacation cottages along the Potomac River at Algonkian Regional Park. Keeping six feet away has never felt so good. Stroll or bike the Washington and Old Dominion Trail or get lost in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park with its Blue Ridge Mountain vistas, river views, and a generous dose of Civil War. Unwind later in the day with some rosé from one of the 40+ vineyards in the region. 9. Go apple and pumpkin picking near Frederick Less than an hour Northwest of DC is a town called Frederick, Maryland. Frederick is surrounded by farmland, making it an ideal place to go in the Fall for apple picking and pumpkin patch outings. Summers Farm offers a pumpkin patch, corn maze, sunflower field, and all sorts of fall-themed activities that kids and their parents can enjoy. The Lincoln Memorial at sunset. Photo by Laura Brown 10. Take a guided tour of the National Mall DC has some of the world’s best monuments, and everyone should take a professionally guided tour of the National Mall sometime in their life. Our favorite tour company is Grand Atlas Tours, which offers affordable and personalized private tours of DC catered to your interests. We especially recommend touring the monuments at night, when lights bring out the shining marble of the monuments against the night sky.

Budget Travel Lists

10 amazing outdoor adventures near Los Angeles

While the city of Los Angeles is a tourist destination in and of itself, it is sometimes necessary to leave the city and venture somewhere new. Especially when every part of you is itching to travel right now. Fortunately, L.A. is centrally-located to many cities that offer socially-distanced activities to suit any preference. <ost restaurants offer only outdoor dining or takeout service. Many of these cities are accessible by train within a couple of hours, as Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner route runs up and down the coast from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Take a ferry to Catalina Island Board the Catalina Express and in about an hour you will be transported to the town of Avalon, what was once a playground for Hollywood’s glitterati. Fancy parasailing? Here you can enjoy the ultimate social distancing activity as you glide through the air, admiring the views below. Catalina is the home to about 150 wild buffalo, which are the descendants of a small herd that was left there by a film crew in the 1920s. During the two-hour Bison Expedition with Catalina Tours, you’ll hop into an off-road vehicle and venture into the precipitous Cape Canyon, where bison and other wildlife are often spotted. For a special treat, dine on the waterfront patio at Bluewater Grill, which offers a variety of sustainable seafood options. ©Mate Steindl/EyeEm/Getty Images Hike the trails at Joshua Tree Located at the intersection of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, Joshua Tree National Park is a mystical place. Many say that these twisted trees with pointed spines belong in a Dr. Seuss book and they wouldn’t be wrong, although that is part of the appeal. Options to explore the park are endless, and depending on your skill level you can embark on nature treks or more challenging backcountry hikes. For more adventurous types, you can traverse over different rock formations by climbing or bouldering. If you plan to stay after dark, don’t miss the myriad of stargazing opportunities-- because of its remote location, you’ll be treated to an astronomical display of stars, planets, and the Milky Way. Ride the zip line in Santa Margarita Imagine tasting wine on an outdoor patio and then, aided by liquid courage, traveling by zip line over acres of Pinot Noir vines with not a care in the world. Riding tandem is your partner-in-crime, laughing giddily at the incomparable feeling of soaring through the pines. At Ancient Peaks Winery, which is located in the tiny town of Santa Margarita, you can do just that. Sample wine at their tasting room and then venture out to their 14,000 acre ranch, where guests can choose among six different zip line tours of the vineyard. On a recent tour by Margarita Adventures, participants spotted a variety of wildlife; including deer, turkeys, hawks, and even a bear. Laguna Beach. ©Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images Indulge your inner beachcomber in Laguna Beach The small enclave of Laguna Beach is well-known for its summer art festivals, which were an annual occurrence until COVID hit. For those dedicated to ocean exploits, there are plenty of opportunities to snorkel, paddleboard, or surf at one of the many beaches and coves that dot the coastline. Be sure to visit Victoria Beach at low tide, which is a beloved spot for skimboarders and also home of the Instagrammable “Pirate Tower,” a 60-foot stone turret. Another popular area along the coast is Crystal Cove, where tidepools abound. While you’re there, have lunch at The Beachcomber, which is located right on the sand. (Or, sidle up to the adjacent Bootlegger Bar at sunset.) Walk through a unique art installation in Paso Robles If you haven’t yet been to international artist Bruce Munro’s acclaimed art installation Field of Light at Sensorio, you are in for a treat as it has recently been extended through January 2021. Follow the pathway through an open field filled with thousands of tiny “flowers”-- solar-powered lights mounted on stems that are lit by fiber optics, their colors everchanging. Be sure to reserve tickets early, as they do sell out, and they are taking extra efforts to follow protocols related to COVID-19. While in Paso Robles visit Tin City, a small warehouse district that houses a variety of wine tasting rooms, breweries, a cidery, and even a distillery. Satisfy your appetite with one of the many food trucks lined up nearby. Explore Balboa Park in San Diego Balboa Park is a cultural treasure-- located in the center of the city, it has seventeen museums, several types of gardens, and is also the home of the San Diego Zoo. At over 1,200 acres, there is plenty of room to roam. Visit the Japanese Friendship Garden, the lily pond at the Botanical Building, or the artist studios at the Spanish Village, then find a spot in the sun and dive into a good book. Currently the San Diego Museum of Art has reopened with limited capacity and new safety measures, while other museums there remain closed. Dine next door at Panama 66, or venture a short distance outside of the park and ignite your palate with Mexican soul food at Barrio Star. Santa Barbara Coastline. ©Jon Bilous/Shutterstock Spend a day on Santa Barbara’s coastline Often referred to as the “American Riviera,” Santa Barbara’s stunning coastline and dedication to fine wine certainly lives up to its moniker. Stroll through the Funk Zone, the city’s arts district, and admire the colorful murals before stopping at one of the many tasting rooms in the area that make up the Urban Wine Trail. Enjoy al fresco dining at Hotel Californian’s Goat Tree, a gourmet cafe that serves creative Mediterranean-inspired dishes. The ocean also offers its pick of activities, such as fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. You can find your zen with “Soundwave Sessions”-- yoga on the beach with provided headphones, which allows you to listen to music and instruction simultaneously. (They also offer bilingual sessions en español.) Go fishing at Big Bear Lake Rent a pontoon boat and fish to your heart’s content on Big Bear Lake, or lounge and listen to your favorite tunes as the boat’s massive deck allows for plenty of room to relax. Or, you can opt to kayak or swim in the lake. Inhale the crisp alpine air and become one with nature as you hike Castle Rock Trail, a steep tree-lined path that winds around huge granite boulders and rewards you with sweeping panoramic views of the lake. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a bald eagle. Venture out to Big Bear Village and take your pick of restaurants, depending on your appetite. Highly recommended is The Himalayan, which serves a variety of dishes from India and Nepal. Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway #1 at the US West Coast traveling south to Los Angeles, Big Sur Area. ©Michael Urmann/Shutterstock. Take the Highway 1 Discovery Route The Highway 1 Discovery Route extends for a hundred miles along California’s Central Coast, which stretches from Monterey Bay all the way down to Ventura. Between the months of October and February, monarch butterflies migrate to groves along the coast from Pismo Beach to Morro Bay. There are a variety of ways to visit these groves, and many can be viewed from golf courses that line the coast, such as Sea Pines, a resort and nine-hole executive golf course in Los Osos. The Highway 1 Discovery Route also encompasses the Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo region, a sweet spot for wine tasting. Spend some time sampling wine in the charming town of Los Olivos, which is surrounded by vineyards, lavender farms, ranches, and orchards. Visit California’s oldest neighborhood in San Juan Capistrano Well-known as the former home of migrating swallows every March, San Juan Capistrano is also where the state’s oldest neighborhood, the Los Rios Historic District, is located. Wander across the dusty tracks of the Capistrano train depot, where you’ll encounter a variety of shops and restaurants, as well as a petting zoo. Stop for coffee under the trees at Hidden House, or if you’re hungry, dine on the outdoor patio at Trevor’s at the Tracks or Rancho Capistrano Winery-- both offer delectable dishes that are often accompanied by live music. Then, walk a short distance to Mission San Juan Capistrano, which has a museum and chapel on the property. The close proximity to the Amtrak station makes this a convenient day trip from L.A.