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10 Best Budget Vacations for Spring

By The Budget Travel Editors
February 21, 2018
Myrtle Beach
Jkellyimaging/Dreamstime
The snow will melt! We promise! And Budget Travelers know that there's no time like spring to visit brag-worthy beaches and celebrated cities—for a fraction of what the crowds will be paying in summer.

Planning a spring escape, whether it's a week or more or just a weekend getaway, is easy once you know the go-to destinations where the weather is inviting, the crowds are not overwhelming, and the price is right. Here, 10 of our very favorite North American spring vacations.

1. MYRTLE BEACH

South Carolina

Why wait till summer for a warm beach getaway?

If you want a dreamy beach vacation, it's already warming up down in Myrtle Beach! Its miles of sand, charter fishing expeditions, and Ripley's Aquarium (where you can get nose-to-nose with sharks) will keep you busy while the sun shines, and its world-class eateries roll out an irresistible southern-style welcome with local micro-brews, seafood buffets, and oceanfront tables. The Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, which opened just five years ago, feels as if it's been here forever. Welcoming crowds by the million with its charm and hospitality, the boardwalk features the Family Kingdom amusement park that includes the massive Skywheel and Slingshot, and the just-opened Twist 'n Shout steel roller coaster (visitmyrtlebeach.com). Westgate Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Resort provides beach access and ocean views, a heated outdoor pool, heated "lazy river," kids' water play area, and a "kids eat free" policy.

2. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Tennessee

Tour an American paradise before the summer crowds pour in.

America's most popular national park, a major theme park, and miles of trails and streams for under $150 per night? Yup. Head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for fishing, hiking, and scenic drives like the six-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and don't forget to spend at least one day at 150-acre Dollywood for authentic Tennessee music, food, and, of course, thrill rides such as the Wild Eagle and Mystery Mine. Local motels offer restaurants, indoor pools, and mountain views.

3. POINT PLEASANT

New Jersey

Psst! The boardwalk of your dreams opens in spring, but don't tell or everyone will want to go.

Point Pleasant is, well, pleasant enough in summer if you enjoy being part of a major scene, rubbing elbows with in-the-know New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey girls and boys who love Jenkinson's Boardwalk and the lovely stretch of beach here. (Point Pleasant is about 70 miles south of New York City and about 75 miles northeast of Philadelphia.) But the place starts hopping on weekends in April, the rides are open, the cotton candy is just as sweet, but rates for hotel rooms just a block from the beach can be literally a third of the summer price. Grab dinner on the boardwalk, or hit Woodchucks BBQ. The White Sands is a reliable, friendly hotel right on the beach.

4. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Affordable all-inclusive resorts put this island paradise within reach.

The DR offers everything you might want on a Caribbean break, without the sticker shock you might expect. One of the reasons is incredible all-inclusive resorts like the Majestic Colonial Beach Resort in Punta Cana. Las Terrenas, a lesser-known but no less appealing former fishing village in the Samaná province, has amazing beaches and wallet-friendly prices. Explore Los Haitises National Park, a protected forest, in a kayak with a guide who will take you through lagoons and mangrove canals amid pelicans and leatherback turtles. Another affordable lodging option is Eva Luna, in Las Terrenas, which has five Mexican-style villas, each with a kitchen. 

5. NEW ORLEANS

Louisiana

The Big Easy is easier than ever now that Mardi Gras crowds have headed home, and 2018 is the city's 300th birthday!

Cobblestone streets! Hot jazz! Unforgettable cuisine! New Orleans's French Quarter is just the beginning of a great getaway that combines warm spring weather with elbow room now that Mardi Gras has turned into Lent. Trendy nightclubs, ivy-covered townhouses, and Creole cottages make for a backdrop like no other. Don't miss the annual French Quarter Festival in April, load up on beignets at Café Du Monde, and explore the city's unique music scene with a free self-guided audio tour courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park. You'll find plenty of stylish and affordable lodging, such as the Westin New Orleans Canal Place.

6. WASHINGTON, DC

Celebrate your freedom in our nation's capital—where it seems just about every attraction is free.

From tours of the Capitol building to the endless galleries and exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution, from the National Archives (you may have heard of some of its contents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?) to the Library of Congress, this town offers more in the way of freebies than anywhere else. When you're ready to step outside and enjoy the spring air and cherry blossoms, pay a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It may be surprising to you, but it's not to locals and other insiders, that one of the best restaurants in town is the Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the National Museum of the American Indian—you can try buffalo and fry bread, among other delights. Book a room at the affordable and homey Adam's Inn, and tell them Budget Travel sent you.

7. LAS VEGAS

Nevada

It's always open, it's always jumping, and it's surprisingly affordable even for "low-rollers."

If you haven't found yourself on the Strip yet—it's one of the most popular destinations for girl getaways, bachelor parties, and of course impromptu weddings—you should put it on your list. In addition to the grand décor (including faux European landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Venetian canals) and the obvious strike-it-rich lure of slots, cards, and dice, Las Vegas offers a $2 billion airport, the Mob Museum, and kitschy retro finds like Champagnes Café, which does its best to bring '50s chic back to life. While hotel rates are not quite the rock-bottom the city was once known for, reasonable lodging can be found, especially off the Strip, in stylish downtown.

8. MONTREAL

Quebec, Canada

An old-world city in the heart of North America.

Just strolling the streets of this friendly, moderately priced Canadian city feels like you've crossed the Atlantic and entered a whole new world. Once the thrill of hearing French—and tasting continental treats like fresh croissants—has worn off a bit, hit the Montreal Biodôme, which re-creates four ecosystems, including more than 200 species of animals. Don't miss the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica, the Vieux-Port de Montreal park, and the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal. Stay at Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites, and consider a day trip to the countryside in mid-to-late March to witness maple syrup in the making.

9. CAPE ANN

Massachusetts

A New England beach getaway for a song.

For authentic New England without the throngs, Gloucester, MA, a tight-knit fishing community on Cape Ann, just 45 minutes north of Boston, is a good place to start. Expansive beaches, frothy seas, wonderfully old-fashioned Main Streets, historic lighthouses, and some of the freshest locally sourced meals around make this "other cape" a reason to bypass the better known-and infinitely pricier-beach destinations along the Massachusetts coast. Hit Gloucester's Good Harbor Beach, a wide stretch of fine, white sand edged by dunes and a gurgling creek leading into a refreshingly chilly pocket of the Atlantic, and Rocky Neck artists' colony, where you can soak up some of the sumptuous light that has drawn artists including Milton Avery, Edward Hopper, and Winslow Homer. Blue Shutters Beachside Inn has comfortable rooms with beach views and a welcoming living room with a fireplace that's surprisingly welcome even on summer evenings.

10. SANIBEL ISLAND

Florida

Your own private island? Well, it's about as close as you'll find...

Sure, there's a long list of things you can do on Sanibel Island. But maybe the most appealing of all is... nothing! If your idea of a spring vacation involves warm sand, subtropical breezes, and the luxury of staring, snoring, or reading, this island has your name on it! Check into the Tropical Winds Beachfront Motel and Cottages and you'll enjoy a private beach and outdoor pool. Feeling a bit adventurous? Sanibel is a mecca for outdoors enthusiasts and you can take your pick of cycling the island's miles of trails; kayaking or canoeing its waterways; water-skiing; and fishing. Or hit the golf course or tennis courts. Grab a bowl of fish stew at Sweet Melissa's Cafe.

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Budget Travel Lists

7 Things to Do in Oakland, CA

Ask my kids what they liked best about their visit to California last July and they’ll both answer without hesitation: “Oakland!” My daughters spent a week attending an exceptional summer camp at Studio One Art Center, in Oakland, and some of their finest creations from that week now grace the walls of our suburban New York apartment, a reminder of all that our family discovered about Oakland on our trip. It’s also a great reflection of Oakland’s justly deserved rep as an epicenter of artistic creativity on the West Coast. From cool arts and cultural programs to great food and beautiful natural spaces, here are seven of the many ways you can - and should - get to know the city that’s just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. 1. GET ARTSY Studio One Art Center (studiooneartcenter.net), offering art classes for adults and kids and the great summer day camp my kids attended last year, is just one example of how Oakland embraces art and community. If you want a firsthand one-stop experience of Oakland’s art scene, attend First Fridays, the immersive art and community event that takes place each month on Telegraph Avenue from West Grand to 27th Street, with the city’s galleries, artist collectives, street artists, artisans, performers, and more participating. We also visited the Oakland Museum of California (museumca.org), an unusual hybrid that brings together superb collections devoted to art, history, and natural science with the goal of telling the multitude of stories that make up California from prehistoric times to the present. I loved the ways in which the museum brings various disciplines together, and my wife and I spent an entire day exploring the history timeline exhibits and photographing replicas of the state’s native communities, Gold Rush opulence, Steinbeck-era memorabilia associated with the Great Depression, and much more. The art collection ranged from Edward Curtis’s extraordinary photographs of Native Americans to brand-new conceptual installations that challenge viewers to redefine the very concept of art. 2. HEAR GREAT MUSIC One word: Yoshi’s (yoshis.com). While the legendary jazz club is by no means the only music venue in town, it exemplifies, perhaps better than any other, the Oakland community’s deep understanding and commitment to jazz music not only as satisfying entertainment but also as a gorgeous, swinging, ever-evolving manifestation of America’s diverse cultures, especially the creative African-American communities that helped give birth to the “West Coast Jazz” movement in the 1950s. Upcoming shows by Resonance Classical Jazz Ensemble on January 10 and Grammy-winning Latin percussionist Pancho Sanchez on January 26 and 27. Other great places to catch fresh music in Oakland include The New Parish, the Fox theater and the Paramount. 3. OGLE THE ARCHITECTURE Oakland is a wonderful city for walking, and visitors get a mosaic of architectural styles just strolling downtown and beyond. Take your pick from Art Deco to Victorian, Arts & Crafts (many of Julia Morgan’s iconic designs are here), and Millennial Modern, and don’t miss the lakeside Cathedral of Christ the Light. 4. GET OUTDOORS Sure, many of us associate Oakland with big-city style and urban music, but the city boasts some surprising delights for outdoor adventurers as well. With 19 miles of coastline and downtown’s beautiful Lake Merritt, Oakland offers opportunities to kayak, stand-up-paddleboard, and even sail on the bay. More than 100,000 acres of parkland and trails up in the hills are a weekend and vacation paradise for hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, and off-road Segways (yes, that’s a thing that exists here). 5. EAT (THEN EAT SOME MORE) We loved the way Oakland’s eats range from Michelin-starred restaurants to food trucks, making the city one of the West Coast’s hottest new culinary destinations. Of course you expect great Mexican fare in Northern California, and Oakland delivers with Nido, Tamarindo Antoneria, and Dona Tomas. With the fourth largest Chinatown in the U.S., Oakland also delivers perfect dumplings at Restaurant Peony and Shan Dong. You’ll also find classic Southern dishes at Pican, comfort food (think mac & cheese made with a local artisanal twist) at Homeroom, and great BBQ at B-Side BBQ. Cuisines of Ethiopia and Eritrea are gaining popularity at Addis, Cafe Colucci, and YaYu. We opted to explore the city’s Vietnamese cuisines, and Le Cheval is a standout with its classic Vietnamese blend of French, Chinese, and Southeast Asian traditions. 6. FIND FAMILY FUN While my kids happened to love their art camp experience, Oakland offers many other family-friendly experiences, the storybook-themed park, Children’s Fairyland, said to have inspired Walt Disney to explore the theme park concept. The Oakland Zoo is a favorite with little ones, and the Chabot Space & Science observatory keeps kids and grownups looking up. One of the top family experiences that deserves its closeup in 2018 is the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, allowing visitors to step back in time to immerse themselves in California’s early history. 7. TAKE THE ALE TRAIL If you’ve worked up a thirst diving into the six previous Oakland musts, it’s time to grab a beer. The Oakland Ale Trail, is a celebration of Oakland’s craft beer scene, one of the tastiest in America. Get a “passport” at one of Oakland’s brewery taprooms, and if you visit all of them, you’ll earn a free growler. (If beer isn’t your thing, you can hit the Oakland Urban Wine Trail to explore local wineries.) AND, YES, YOU CAN AFFORD AN OAKLAND HOTEL Oakland lodging starts at well under $200 (with some airport hotels under $100), and I thoroughly appreciated our stay at the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel.

Budget Travel Lists

10 Best Cars for Budget Travelers

Love a good road trip? So do we! But we also love to trim our travel costs, which is why we’ve worked with Autotrader.com to find the best cars for Budget Travelers. These 10 vehicles not only earned top marks for fuel efficiency but also boast cool tech features that will enhance your driving experience. Also, each car costs less than $25,000, so you won’t have to break the bank on your new set of wheels.  2017 Ford Fiesta Titanium At just under $20,000, the Fiesta’s Titanium model features keyless entry/start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rearview camera with rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, Sony 8-speaker audio system with HD radio,and specially designed 16-inch alloy wheels. Also, Ford’s Sync 3 smart entertainment system, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is standard on the Titanium Fiesta. “As subcompact cars go, the Fiesta is a good one,”says Brian Moody, executive editor at Autotrader. “It’s fun to drive, has a reasonably nice interior, and sips fuel.” 2017 Honda HR-V EX The base LX model ($20,000) of this new subcompact SUV from Honda features a rearview camera, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, 160-watt 4-speaker stereo system with USB input, auto-off headlights, and front and rear 12-volt power outlets. The EX bumps the price up to $23,000 but includes a 7-inch touchscreen audio display, Honda’s LaneWatch technology, 180-watt 6-speaker stereo, Pandora radio compatibility, heated front seats, power moonroof, Smart Entry with push-button start, auto on/off headlights, rearview camera, second USB jack, SMS text messaging, and automatic climate control. Plus, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on every Honda model. 2018 Chevrolet Cruze LS At only $17,850, the base-level, stick-shift-only Cruze L has a backup camera, 15-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, Bluetooth, power accessories, Teen Driver technology, 4-speaker stereo with Bluetooth, OnStar with a Wi-Fi hotspot, and 7-inch center touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Cruze LS ($19,400), however, allows drivers to order automatic transmission for $1,000 extra. “Add it all up and the result is a car that’s roughly $21,000 and features desirable tech,” Moody says. 2017 Jeep Compass Sport The Sport ($21,000) is the Compass’ base model but it has some compelling features, Moody says. Push-button start, cruise control, USB port, auxiliary audio input, 6-speaker audio system, 5-inch touchscreen, hill-start assist, rearview camera and trailer sway control are all part of the package. “We also like the Compass because it looks like a junior version of the larger, pricier Grand Cherokee,” says Moody. Moreover, the car’s Uconnect system integrates a 5-inch touchscreen display, hands-free calling, voice text reply, voice commands for radio functions, and Bluetooth audio streaming. 2017 VW Jetta SE “The Jetta is a great-looking car with a sporty attitude,”Moody says. It’s also a techie’s dream: in addition to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Jetta SE ($22,000) has blind-spot monitoring, push-button start, satellite radio, Bluetooth, USB port, LED daytime running lights, and 6.3-inch touch screen. 2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Standard goodies on >span class="s5"> Elantra GT ($22,000) include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, full power accessories, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with redundant audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, and remote keyless entry. For an extra $1,000, you can upgrade to theGT Sport, which has lane keep assistance, LED headlights and taillights, and heated leather front seats. 2018 Kia Niro FE You’ll have to stick with the FE base model of Kia’s newest crossover, car-based SUV to keep the price of the Niro under $25,000, Moody says, but this hybrid boasts a whopping 50 miles per gallon on average—making it one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. And, if you’re willing to shell out an extra few hundred dollars, you can add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, and 7-inch touchscreen.  2017 Nissan Altima S The spacious Altima S model ($24,000) is loaded with cool tech features, including forward collision warning with emergency braking, Bluetooth, Siri eyes free, push-button start, and Nissan’s easy-fill tire system, which honks the horn when the car reaches the right level for tire pressure.  2017 Subaru Impreza Sport Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the Impreza Sport ($23,000), which has an 8-inch touch screen that includes app integration for services like iHeartRadio and Pandora. The entertainment system is also more user-friendly than many other in-car interface systems, Moody says. However, “the real reason to pick this car is that, for the price, it’s one of the most fun-to-drive small sedans around,” Moody says.  2018 Toyota Camry L While the all-new Camry doesn’t have Apple CarPlay, you still get a lot for your money with the base L trim model, Moody says. Indeed, the car's tech features include automatic LED headlights, highway-speed adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning and automatic braking, lane-departure warning, Bluetooth, one USB port, 7-inch touchscreen interface, Scout GPS navigation smartphone app, and 6-speaker sound system with a media player interface. “That's a lot of stuff for a car that comes in at just under $25,000,” Moody says. “We also like the Camry’s new look and driving dynamics, which are far better than any Camry before it.”

FamilyBudget Travel Lists

6 Awesome Astronomy Destinations in the U.S.

If the total eclipse got you hooked on the cosmos (or even if you’re already a devoted stargazer), there’s lots more where that came from. Across the U.S., major science institutions offer hands-on educational activities and plenty of fun. 1. Griffith ObservatoryLos Angeles Located more than 1,000 feet above sea level on Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, one of America’s most beautiful urban parks, Griffith Observatory is always free and hosts a wide range of activities for all ages, including nighttime telescope viewing (the Griffith Observatory’s 12-inch Zeiss telescope has been used by more than 7 million stargazers, making it the most popular telescope on earth), educational exhibits, live shows at the observatory’s planetarium, and pinch-me views of the city. 2. Hayden PlanetariumNew York City Part of the American Museum of Natural History’s Rose Center for Earth and Space and led by world-famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Hayden Planetarium is a must-see for anyone visiting the Big Apple. Generations of NYC kids got their introduction to the stars here (including yours truly), and the Hayden has even been commemorated in a pop song, Fountains of Wayne’s “Laser Show.” Frontiers Lectures update audiences on the latest discoveries about our universe, Astronomy Live programs take visitors on a tour of the universe with a special focus on the night sky. 3. National Air and Space MuseumWashington, D.C. One of the jewels in the Smithsonian Institution system of free national museums, the National Air and Space Museum immerses visitors in the history of flight, space exploration, and the science behind those endeavors. Best known for displaying iconic early airplanes and replicas that allow visitors to return to the days of the Wright Brothers and other pioneers and the spacecraft from the 1960s and ‘70s that first orbited earth and took people to the moon, the Air and Space Museum is also home to an IMAX theater and planetarium. 4. Kitt Peak National ObservatorySonoran Desert near Tucson, AZ At the top of a nearly 7,000-foot peak in the Sonoran Desert, the Kitt Peak National Observatory boasts the world’s largest collection of telescopes and one of the clearest skies and most beautiful locations anywhere in the U.S. for viewing the stars. Docent-led tours take daytime visitors to three large research telescopes, live views of the sun, and a variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits. Nighttime visitors are treated to incredible glimpses of our solar system and beyond. 5. Very Large ArraySocorro, NM Sure, stunning visuals like galaxies and nebulas grab a lot of the attention. But if humans ever detect signs of intelligent life attempting to contact us from the depths of space, the Very Large Array may the place where it happens. After all, that’s where Carl Sagan set the dramatic opening of his novel Contact, in which an alien species sends radio signals to our planet that are first picked up by the immense radio telescope facility at “Project Argus,” which, in the 1997 film adaptation was set here outside Socorro, NM. Visitors can take self-guided tours and once-per-month guided tours to learn more about what scientists have learned about the nature of the universe through the study of radio waves. 6. Mauna KeaBig Island, HI Sorry, other awesome astronomy destinations, but at more than 13,000 feet on a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island, Mauna Kea Observatory’s stargazing tours, telescopes, and visitor center are unparalleled and absolutely free each night of the year starting at 6pm.

Budget Travel Lists

Myrtle Beach has last-minute deals that make fall feel like an endless summer

We can’t tell you how many times we looked at the calendar as the end of August approaches and start thinking about packing up our swimsuits and summer wardrobe to make room in our closet for sweaters and boots. But the folks at Myrtle Beach have done what seems impossible: they’re stretching summer out through October and making it really easy to plan a last-minute trip that will leave you with plenty of pocket change to put away for a winter vacation. But here’s the best part: not only are Marriott at Grande Dunes, Marina Inn at Grande Dunes, and a few others offering rates up to 30% off, they’re also tossing in extras like credits of up to $200 for their spas.   There’s a town-wide effort, in fact, to help you to relax. As part of Myrtle Beach's 60 Mores Days of Summer program, which stretches the season out through the end of October, every Saturday morning at 9AM there will be complimentary Vinyasa yoga on the beach. All levels of experience are welcome. And don’t worry—rain doesn't stop these dedicated instructors. In inclement weather, classes will take place at the Shanti Yoga Studio. There are complimentary massages on offer between 2PM and 4PM on Saturdays at Barefoot Landing. If you’re not one for classes, there are meditation zones, developed with an area yoga instructor, will be set up throughout the area at sites like Myrtle Beach State Park, Brookgreen Gardens, and smaller locations like Heidi’s Spot, a porch between Hook & Barrel Restaurant and Croissants Bistro & Bakery. A complimentary guide is available to download. For those who find they relax better when adrenaline is rushing, there’s surfing, inland kayaking and plenty more. A free 10-mile bicycle excursion happens each Thursday at 6.30PM. There are bikes to rent if you don’t have your own. Suddenly turning the calendar page over to September doesn't seem as stressful this year. 

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