D.C.: Top 3 free things to do in the capital
It's a penny-pincher's nirvana: The Cheap Bastard's Guide to Washington, D.C., which lists about 1,000 freebies. Here's a sampling of some favorite (but lesser known) finds that visitors and locals can enjoy any time of the year, courtesy of the book's author, Rob Grader.
Catch a free performance
Most evenings (often around 6:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. Daily performances run the gamut from classical music, jazz, and popular music to theater, dance, and circus performances, each lasting between half-an-hour and an hour.
Take a free tour of the capital city
DC by Foot Free Monuments Walking Tours offer 90 minute free tours of the national mall that will fill you in on all of the history, symbolism and architectural details of the monuments around the mall. Guides set out most weekdays at 6 p.m. and most weekends at 2 p.m. No reservations are required. dcbyfoot.com
Wholeness for Humanity leads eco-tours around D.C. to highlight the greening of the city. The tours can lead you to many surprising destinations, including the Nationals' ballpark, the roof of the Department of Transportation, the National Geographic Building, and a stroll along the Anacostia River. Tours run a few times a month and reservations are required. wholenessforhumanity.com
Attend a blues Jam
Every Saturday at 2:30 in honor of the musician Archie Edwards. The jam brings together musicians of all levels to revel in the Piedmont Blues that Mr. Edwards championed for more than 50 years at his D.C. barber shop. acousticblues.com
Enjoy a day on the farm.
A drive of a few miles outside of D.C. in Oxon Hill, Md., visitors can get their hands dirty milking cows and working with the chickens or just have a good time petting the farm animals, overlooking the Beltway. nps.gov/archive/nace/oxhi
San Francisco: 5 favorite stairway walks
One of the best ways to explore San Francisco's killer hills is by venturing through the many, often hidden, stairways in the city. Most are lined with picturesque gardens, many offer benches along the way (phew!), and all offer stunning views of the city or the Bay. The better-known steps are adjacent to the winding Lombard Street, but some secret stairways traverse parks and wind through residential areas, affording you a glimpse that only locals usually get. Here are our five favorites. Telegraph Hill: The popular Filbert and Greenwich Street staircases leading up to Coit Tower. Highlights: Gardens of roses and irises, a picnic table overlooking the Bay, and trees filled with the famous wild parrots. Start at Telegraph Hill Blvd and either Filbert or Greenwich streets. Inner Sunset: The 16th Avenue steps, covered in mosaic tiles, were a neighborhood project inspired by the Santa Teresa Steps in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After you've done the 16th avenue steps, continue down 15th Avenue to the Aerial stairway (one of the longest in the city) or head up the hill to the Grand View Park staircase, whose benches are one of the best spots to watch a San Francisco sunset. Highlights: Native plants like Bush lupine and the endangered yellow Franciscan wallflowers, as well as views of various angles of the Golden Gate bridge and the ocean. Start at 16th Avenue and Moraga Avenue. Presidio: The Lyon Street steps lead from Pacific Heights through the Presidio park down to the Palace of Fine Arts (where you can check out the Exploratorium science museum) and the Marina neighborhood. Highlights: Tiered gardens and breathtaking views of the ocean. This is a favorite running spot for hard-core athletes. Start at Lyon and Broadway. Upper Market: The Saturn and Vulcan stairways lead through the residential neighborhood above the Castro district. Highlights: Lush gardens of rhododendrons, hydrangeas, azaleas, and fuchsias; quirky cottages whose residents have only stairway, not road, access; and views of the city streets below. Start at Levant Street near Lower Terrace. Pacific Heights: The Baker Street and Fillmore Street stairways pass through the Queen Ann Victorian houses and decadent Italian Renaissance mansions, near the Alta Plaza Park. Highlights: Some of the city's most breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Palace of Fine arts. Start at Broadway and Baker. For more information, check out Adah Bakalinsky's guidebook, Stairway Walks in San Francisco.
Photos: Mardi Gras floats on
New Orleans is on a roll! Fresh off the Saints' first-time win at the Super Bowl—which got its own raucous parade last week—came Mardi Gras, still America's craziest street party. We sent photographer Michael Mohr out to capture the wild costumes, impromptu parades, and energetic, bead-hungry crowds. See the results in our slide show, and look out for photo #9 of couples in clothes and hats made with iconic plastic beads and doubloons. Michael grew up in New Orleans, and one of his fondest memories, as a boy at Mardi Gras, was getting a prized Zulu coconut. His family and friends lined up along parade routes each year as early as 4 a.m. to claim their territory. They came prepared with tons of food: red beans and rice, Zapps potato chips, jambalaya, beer, and two boxes of Popeye's fried chicken and biscuits. "There is an energy about Mardi Gras that is beyond explanation," Michael wrote me. "You have to be there to feel it and understand it." True, but his photos get you close!
Readers' Choice: Ultimate dream destination?
We're giving you the floor! We recognize that our readers are true experts, so we want to hear your thoughts on all sorts of travel topics. Our October 2010 magazine issue will be devoted to what you tell us. Let us know your ultimate dream destination—and why—by posting a comment below. The more details to make your case, the better! PLUS Best value destination? Favorite island getaway? BudgetTravel.com/readerschoice
Live from Rome: Snow!
Snow has been falling steadily over the Forum, Trevi Fountain, and the rest of Rome today for the first time since 2005—and at its heaviest in 24 years. The snow (la neve) has naturally thrilled Romans and tourists alike; Reuters reports that the Pope himself was spotted peering out of a Vatican window. Like D.C., Rome isn't used to dealing with more than a few flurries, so roads are backed up with traffic. Buses and the metro are running with limited delays, according to BusinessWeek, and the Colosseum is temporarily shut. Ciampino airport was closed this morning, but has since reopened. You can see photos submitted by locals to the Rome-based newspaper, La Repubblica, here. Rome's coolest vantage point for these kinds of storms? Inside the Pantheon, where you can watch snowflakes falling through the oculus, a round opening in its dome.