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7 Things to Do in Oakland, CA

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
January 12, 2022
Oakland skyline Lake Merritt
Andrei Gabriel Stanescu/Dreamstime
This design-forward, richly diverse city belongs at the top of your Bay Area to-do list.

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.


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Meet the Coolest Small Town in America 2017

Budget Travel’s mission is to inspire and inform you to see more for less. For avid travelers, that means road trips, national and state parks, great beaches, great cuisine that won’t break the bank, and lodgings for under $200/night. It means discovering lesser-known destinations that are just waiting around the next turn in the road. And it means being open to the cultural and ethnic diversity, the creative energy, and unparalleled natural beauty that have defined America for more than two centuries. Our Coolest Small Towns in America program is an editor-curated celebration - inspired by thousands of reader suggestions and photos shared across platforms over the past few weeks - of the communities across the U.S. that we feel best exhibit the qualities we prize. From the Jersey Shore’s “coolest comeback” to an arts colony near the Mexican border to a California gem in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, every one of the Coolest Small Towns in America 2017 is a one-of-a-kind vacation waiting to happen. If you’re among the 80 percent of Americans who plan to take a road trip this summer, add some of these towns to your must-see list. READ: "Best Budget Destinations in America, Part 1: The Northeast" Leading the pack is the Coolest Small Town in America 2017, Asbury Park, New Jersey, an easy road trip from New York or Philadelphia. The coolest comeback in America may be right here in Asbury Park - the revitalized Boardwalk offers great shopping, dining, and views of one of the East Coast’s most beautiful beaches. This beach town that helped launch Bruce Springsteen is, not surprisingly, a music mecca - check out shows at the legendary Stone Pony, the Paramount Theater and Convention Hall, and other venues. We love Asbury Park’s cultural diversity, welcoming vibe, and year-round calendar of events: Fourth of July fireworks, Oysterfest, Zombie Walk, and so much more. Here’s the complete list of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2017. We’ll be celebrating each town in depth in an upcoming story that takes a close look at the people and places that make each one of these communities so special: 1. Asbury Park, New Jersey 2. Bisbee, Arizona 3. Nevada City, California 4. Chatham, Massachusetts 5. Mountain View, Arkansas 6. Cannon Beach, Oregon 7. Philipsburg, Montana 8. Milford, Pennsylvania 9. Glens Falls, New York 10. Indianola, Mississippi READ: "Best Budget Destinations in America, Part II: The West"

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America's 10 best winter beach retreats

1. SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO With more than 100 hotels welcoming guests, 4,000+ restaurants cooking away, and 107 tourist attractions open to visitors, San Juan’s post-Maria comeback is something to behold. Add to that the stunning beaches and the 16th-century colonial history, and you have the makings for a trip that mixes relaxing tropical vacation with cultural getaway. Hit the beaches in the blissfully uncrowded mornings (Ocean Park Beach and Isla Verde Beach are local favorites) and spend your afternoons strolling the cobblestone streets and admiring the candy-colored buildings of Old Town. History buffs won’t want to miss Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro” to locals), a 16th-century fort perched at the edge of a triangle of land. READ MORE: The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets EAT: Alcapurrias, bacalaitos, empanadillas – do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the names of popular Puerto Rican street foods pre-trip so you’ll be ready to hit the food trucks the minute you land. Choose from the many vendors in Old San Juan, or if you’re up for exploring, drive about 30 minutes to Piñones, famous for its authentic street food. For an eclectic array of options, head to Lote 23, a collection of food trucks serving everything from poke bowls to croquettes to made-to-order donuts. STAY: Like San Juan itself, The Gallery Inn is a masterful mix of old-world charm and gorgeous tropical getaway. Originally built in the 17th century, the inn is a labyrinth of lush gardens (19 of them, inf fact), art studios, fountains, a music room (check the front desk for concert times), a pool with waterfalls, and 27 guest rooms. Don’t miss the wine deck, with its panoramic views of Old San Juan (rooms from $117). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (three-and-a-half-hour flight), Orlando (four-hour flight), New York City (five-hour flight). 2. SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA The sea is hands-down the main attraction in Sanibel, and while there are some top contenders when it comes to beaches – Lighthouse Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and Blind Pass Beach are all stellar options – whichever spot you choose you can rest assured you’ll be treated to fine white sand and calm turquoise waters. To get out on said waters, sign up for a kayak tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers, where a naturalist will explain every wading bird and mysterious underwater shadow you encounter as you paddle through the mangrove forest (tours from $35; includes use of the kayak for the rest of the day). Cool off with a trip to Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream, a local institution famous for its island-inspired flavors (Key-Lime Hurricane, Dirty Sand Dollar) and signature animal cracker perched atop each scoop (scoops from $4). EAT: “Restaurant” doesn’t seem like quite the right word for The Island Cow. It’s more of an event, complete with an outdoor corn-hole set-up, photo opps, live music, and yes, food. The bustling spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a four-page menu that has everything from pancakes to conch fritters (breakfast from $8; dinner entrées from $10). For something a little more serene, Gramma Dot’s sits dockside at the Sanibel Marina and serves all manner of local seafood, from grouper and tilapia to soft-shell crab and shrimp (entrées from $26). STAY: In a state where beachside hotels are plentiful, Seahorse Cottages is a welcome departure. Tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood, the collection of cottages – ranging in size from studio to two-bedroom – feels welcoming and quaint, almost as though a relative has given you the keys to a guesthouse for the weekend. Hospitality prevails, with free cruiser bicycles for guests to explore nearby Old Town Sanibel, as well as beach chairs, umbrellas, and wagons to cart your beach gear back and forth (adults only, from $135). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (2 hr 45 minute drive), Orlando (1-hour flight), New York City (three-hour flight). 3. KAILUA, OAHU, HAWAII Winter months mean towering waves at many of Oahu’s most popular beaches – which is great if you want to sit on the sand and admire the world-class surfers, but far too dangerous for mere mortals to go swimming. Kailua Beach, however, is nearly always calm and safe. The small, gentle waves make it an ideal beach for everything from swimming to kayaking to kiteboarding. On days when the water is extra calm, rent a kayak from Kailua Beach Adventures and paddle the mile or so out to the Mokulua Islands (rentals from $59). Conveniently, the town’s best shave ice is just a few storefronts down from the rental shop. Post-kayaking, drop off your boat and treat yourself to an icy, syrupy delight (shave ice from $3.50). EAT: Just across the road from the beach, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse has been serving up tropical drinks and steak and fish dinners for 55 years. The feel is part tiki-bar kitsch, part tropical elegance (no tank tops after 4:30 p.m.) (entrées from $23). STAY: Kailua and neighboring Lanikai are primarily residential, so hotels are few and far between. In-the-know visitors opt for house rentals instead – and fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. You’ll likely be spending most of your time here at the beach, so look for something that’s walking distance to the water. EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (20-minute drive), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight). 4. HANALEI, KAUA'I, HAWAII Kaua'i has managed to stay a little more under the radar than other Hawaiian islands, and that's what makes it so appealing. Hanalei, on the North Shore, is as close to magical as a town can get – lush green mountains, fields of taro, and rainbows on a daily basis. The horseshoe-shaped, secluded Hanalei Bay is the best beach for swimming and lounging on the golden sand, but if you want to get out on the water, sign up for one of the four-hour motor-powered raft trips with Na Pali Riders. You'll explore sea caves, go snorkeling, and almost definitely spot dolphins (tours from $149). Afterward, dry off with a hike along the Hanakapi'ai Trail, which follows the stunningly beautiful Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach and back, about four miles altogether. EAT: You can't go to Hawaii without trying a plate lunch: a local specialty that consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and your choice of protein (often teriyaki chicken or seared ahi). Locals rave about the version served up at the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., a restaurant owned by a family that's been farming taro in the valley for generations (plate lunch from $10). For straight-from-the-ocean fish, have dinner at The Hanalei Dolphin Sushi Lounge (hanaleidolphin.com). STAY: The four studio apartments at casual Hanalei Inn, just a block from Hanalei Bay, have full kitchens and an outdoor lanai with a grill, so you can save money by cooking meals during your stay. Plus, the picnic table looking out at the mountains is the perfect place to have your morning coffee (from $159). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (40-minute flight), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight). 5. LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA Done the right way, this SoCal beach town can be surprisingly down-to-earth. After all, some of its first citizens were not glamorous teenagers or housewives but early 20th-century struggling artists such as William Wendt and Lolita Perine. The arts still play a big role here, thanks to the Laguna Art Museum, galleries along the waterfront, and the Laguna Playhouse. Still, the seven miles of classic California coastline are the big draw. Beaches fill up during the summer, but in the winter months they're blissfully crowd-free – especially 1,000 Steps Beach, just off 9th Street (don't let the name scare you; there are actually only 230-something steps leading down to the beach). The waves are perfect for boogie boarding, and the views – golden cliffs and multimillion-dollar houses, some with elevators – are pure SoCal. Post-beach, drive a mile and a half along Laguna Canyon Road to Laguna Canyon Winery, where you can sample award-winning reds and whites in the cozy, low-lit barrel room (tastings from $2, waived with bottle purchase). EAT: As you watch the sun dip below the horizon from Sapphire Laguna’s patio, you’ll understand why they call their happy hour “Sunset Hour.” The menu – a pared-down version of their lunch and dinner offerings – includes a curated selection of wines, beers and specialty cocktails, plus a just-right sampling of snacks and entrées. Beware the house-made potato chips, made with rosemary, sage, and sea salt – they’re so deliciously addictive you could easily order them on a loop, staying long past the actual sunset. During the cooler months, stay warm at a table near the fire pit. (snacks from $4; entrées from $11). STAY: With its Spanish Colonial architecture, lush gardens, and towering palms, Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa is quintessential Southern California. Each of the 23 rooms is unique and lively, designed with Moroccan tiles and bright fabrics. Start the day with the complimentary breakfast, then choose between the heated pool, on-site spa, or the beach, just across the street (from $230). EASY ESCAPE FROM: L.A. (50 miles; about one hour by car), San Diego (73 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Chicago (four-and-a-half-hour flight). 6. GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA In the winter, the population of this barrier island off Louisiana's Gulf Coast shrinks back down to its 1600 permanent residents from its summer high of 14,000. But temperatures remain warm enough to sunbathe, and you can do so without the crowds. Anglers adore this island thanks to the more than 280 species of fish in the surrounding waters, and many flock to Grand Isle State Park to fish in its calm waters. Those not obsessed with reeling in The Big One head to the beaches. Although the 2010 oil spill closed all beaches on the seven-mile-long island this summer, most stretches of golden sand reopened in August 2018, after an intensive cleanup effort. EAT: Most of the restaurants on Grand Isle specialize in – what else? – fresh fish, particularly catfish and trout. So make like a local and indulge in the fish sandwiches and po'boys at Starfish Restaurant (sandwiches from $5.25). STAY: The old-fashioned, no-frills Cajun Tide Beach Resort sits beachside and caters to anglers with a fish-cleaning room, a screened-in cooking room, and enough barbecue pits for guests to cook up feasts from the day's catch (from $50). EASY ESCAPE FROM: New Orleans (109 miles; about two hours by car), Baton Rouge (160 miles; about three hours by car), Chicago (three-hour flight to New Orleans), Detroit (four-and-a-half-hour flight to New Orleans). 7. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA San Diego is a small town with big ambitions: the revitalized Gaslamp Quarter, with its shops and restaurants, feels urban, but the crashing waves of the Pacific nearby create a vibe that's classic American beach village. However, the best way to experience it all is to hit the boardwalk. At Pacific Beach, known for its wide stretches of sand and perfect surfing waves, rent a beach cruiser from Cheap Rentals and ride the three-and-a-half-mile stretch to South Mission Beach, passing all manner of local characters along the way: scantily clad in-line skaters, vacationing families, throwback '60s hippies, and even the random guy on a unicycle who always seems to make an appearance (rentals from $6 per hour). EAT: The massive breakfast burrito with eggs, sausage, and fresh avocado at beachside Kono's Surf Club is a San Diego rite of passage – as is the line that snakes out the door and around the corner (breakfast from $3.50). STAY: Beach shacks in the area sound charming...until you see the shag carpet, wood-paneled walls, and sagging mattresses. Tower23 is a welcome departure from the norm, with its modern, glass-box look, neutral-palette rooms filled with teak furniture, and a hip indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar with a view of the ocean (from $229). EASY ESCAPE FROM: LA (120 miles; about two hours by car), Phoenix (one-hour flight), Seattle (two-and-a-half-hour flight). 8. ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GEORGIA One of four islands that make up Georgia's Golden Isles (a collection of barrier islands just off the southeastern coast), St. Simons is known for its centuries-old moss-draped oak trees, historical landmarks, white-sand beaches, and 99 holes of golf. Cars are allowed on the island, but the leisurely pace of life here will make you want to stay away from anything with a motor. Instead, rent a beach-cruiser bike from Ocean Motion Surf Co. and pedal your way past King and Prince Beach, plantations, the lighthouse, and Christ Church, originally built in 1820. The ride covers about 14 miles, and there are plenty of stops to admire the scenery, so allow at least a half day (rentals from $15). EAT: Owned by the same family for 30 years, Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill prides itself on its passed-down-from-generations recipes and its welcoming we’re-all-friends-here ambiance. With the exception of a few obligatory chicken and steak dishes, virtually everything on the menu is seafood-based. Whatever you choose, be sure to start with an order of shrimp and grits, the house specialty (entrées from $18). STAY: The oak trees on St. Simons are so treasured that the Village Inn & Pub was built around them – not one tree had to be cut down during construction. This place is as charming as it gets: the reception area is a restored 1930s cottage, the English pub is outfitted with a huge stone fireplace, and each of the 28 guest rooms is named for a historical figure with some significance to the island, such as Sid Lanier, a poet, novelist, and composer (from $135). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Savannah (84 miles; about two hours by car), Atlanta (282 miles; about five hours by car), Charleston, S.C. (193 miles; about four hours by car). 9. ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA Most people don't automatically associate the phrase "beach retreat" with Alabama – but don't tell a local that. Alabamians are adamant that their Gulf Coast beaches are among the most beautiful in the country. The sand is 95 percent quartz, meaning it's snow-white and sparkles in the sun, and the waters are as blue as any you'll find in Florida. Nine-mile Orange Beach has everything you need – warm water, lots of room to spread out your beach blanket, and restaurants just off the sand. Dolphins love the waters around here so much that Dolphin Cruises Aboard the Cold Mil Fleet guarantees sightings (90-minute tours from $20). EAT: Gulf Shores Steamer is a rarity in these parts: a beachside seafood joint that doesn't fry everything in sight. In fact, the folks here don't fry anything. Instead, the fresh fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters are steamed or grilled—and always delicious (gulfshoressteamer.com, entrées from $15). STAY: The beachfront 346-room Perdido Beach Resort is like a community unto itself, with four restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tubs, and tennis courts (from $94). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Mobile, Ala. (54 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Pensacola, Fla. (29 miles; about one hour by car), St. Louis (four-hour flight to Mobile). 10. GALVESTON, TEXAS In this South Texas hotspot, savvy travelers skip crowded East Beach (which gets overrun in March with spring breakers) and head to the more secluded West Beach or Galveston Island State Park. Both have wide expanses of sand that are perfect for trolling for shells or soaking up some sun. Once you're out of the water, the historic Strand district, along Strand Street between 25th and 11th, is worth a stop. Buildings from the 1800s have been restored recently and now house restaurants, antiques stores, and many galleries full of fine art and photography. The town's other big attraction is the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Indoor Waterpark, which attracts families with its water chutes, speed slides, wave pool, and, for the adults, enormous 30,000-person hot tub with a swim-up bar (from $26). EAT: A few blocks inland from the waterfront is Postoffice Street, where you can get authentic gumbo and a cold brew at Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar (gumbo from $12), known as the best place to get gumbo on the island, or try the Ceviche Corinto at Latin-influenced Rudy & Paco's (ceviche $17). STAY: Overlooking the wharf, the 42-room Harbor House has an old-school nautical vibe and is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown (from $102). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Houston (53 miles; about one hour by car), Austin (212 miles; about four hours by car), Denver (two-hour flight to Houston), Chicago (three-hour flight to Houston).

Budget Travel Lists

10 Best Budget Destinations for 2013

Year after year, friends and family of the Budget Travel staff inevitably ask us the same question: "Where's the coolest and most affordable place to go next?" Luckily, we work hard to get at the right answers for them. Each year before the holidays, the BT team combs through piles of data regarding new flight destinations, airline prices, places aggressively building new hotels, cities experiencing cultural booms, currency charts, and other statistics to compile our list of the 10 best Budget Destinations for the upcoming year. Some destinations were more interesting to us because they were so full of new and unique attractions (Northern Ireland!), and others were standby dream vacation spots that were suddenly more affordable than they've been in recent years (the Loire Valley, France).  But the one thing they have in common is that they're completely accessible and ripe for exploring now. So read up, pick a place, and get planning!  SEE THE DESTINATIONS! 1. TORONTO, CANADA Why in 2013: Toronto is seriously having a moment. The cultural, entertainment, and financial capital of Canada has not only undergone a huge building boom (with more than 30,000 new homes being built over the past year alone) but New York City exports are opening up here at rapid pace, like the new Thompson and Trump hotels, and David Chang's Momofuku empire. (In fact, foodie-ism is at its prime in Toronto—the St. Lawrence food market, with its 120 specialty vendors, is regularly considered one of the world's best.) But what makes it a great budget destination is that unlike the rest of the world, hotel prices didn't increase at all in the first half of 2012, with the cost of an average room remaining at $148, according to the 2012 Hotels.com Price Index. Like any good bustling North American city, there are myriad cultural options to be found here, from museums, great theater, art galleries, and shopping, but because this is a harbor town off Lake Ontario, there are also plenty of affordable outdoorsy activities like hiking, biking, and canoeing, especially around the Toronto Islands. And because about half of the population was born abroad, the ethnic food scene is as good as it gets anywhere in the world. Beyond Chinatown, Little Italy, and Little India, there is also a Koreatown, Little Portugal, Little Jamaica, and neighborhoods specializing in Polish, Japanese, and Greek cuisine. One last dollar-saving factor? You don't need a car while visiting. The TTC, or Toronto Transit Comission, is the third largest transit system in North America, and completely simple to navigate. When to Go: Peak visitor season is in the summertime, which means both airfare and hotel costs are much higher. If you're aiming to save some money, try September through November, or March through May. Where to Stay: The downtown Bond Place Hotel is a contemporary and charming hotel with ultra-modern rooms and an eye for urban-design—and is extremely affordable. The prime location at Yonge-Dundas Square is a quick walk from the Theater District and Eaton Centre (an enormous indoor mall), as well as within walking distance of many of the universities (65 Dundas St. East, bondplace.ca, doubles from $79). 2. ANTALYA, TURKEY Why in 2013: If you've never heard of the Turkish Riviera, you're not alone—Americans have thus far rarely ventured to the southwestern Mediterranean coast of Turkey for holiday, unlike Eastern Europeans, who have been flocking here in droves for years. All that seems likely to change this year for several reasons: Average hotel prices have significantly and notably dropped from last year (from $193 to $146, almost 25 percent), and in 2011 it beat New York City to become the world's third most visited city by international tourists. The word is out about this city that's part beachfront, part metropolis, and part ancient town. And even though many of the tourists here are of the incredibly wealthy European variety (the city even boasts a megaresort, Rixos Sungate Hotel, with the world's second largest spa!), the 5-star all-inclusive resorts on the beaches offer rates as low as $100 a night. More adventurous types will also get a huge kick out of the city's proximity to some of the oldest known architectural ruins in the world. The nearby Catalhoyuk Mound is one of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic site to date, existing from 7500 BC to 5700 BC. When to Go: It gets well into the 90s in the middle of summer, so it's best to visit in September through October, or May through June. While it never gets particularly cold in the winter months, you won't want to take a dip in the chilly Mediterranean then either. Where to Stay: If you love history and immersing yourself in local culture, skip the beachfront resorts for Kaleici, the charming old city that's teeming with mosques, churches, Turkish baths, open-air markets, and bazaars. The Puding Suite Hotel is a 300-year-old mansion built out of Roman stone walls located in the heart of the old town, which is a thick tangle of small, cobblestone streets. (Beware the cars zooming around the corners—this is not a pedestrian village.) The rooms have been properly modernized and include flat screens and Jacuzzi tubs, and there's also a heated swimming pool, spa, and one of the best restaurants in town onsite (Mermerli Sok. 15, pudingsuite.com, doubles from $146). 3. LOIRE VALLEY, FRANCE Why in 2013: According to the 2012 Hotel Price Index, the historic wine and chateaux region known as the Loire Valley (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) saw a 19 percent price decrease in average hotel rooms, bringing them to $128—pretty good, considering going to France isn't generally considered a budget affair. And in November of this year, the Euro hit a two-month low against the dollar due to bailing out debt-burdened member nations. Bad news for Europeans, but it adds to your advantage when traveling right now. (As of press time, 1 Euro equalled $1.27.) The best way to see the area is to rent a car in Paris and drive 150 miles south until you reach the middle stretch along the Loire River. You'll want to be able to drive to the various vineyards—the fertile land is home to the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, as well as Muscadet. Add to the fact that there are hundreds of small country inns, charming B&Bs, and chateaux-turned-hotels here, ranging from as low as $70 a night, and you're looking at an attainable dream trip in 2013. When to Go: July and August are the most crowded, so we suggest aiming for spring and fall. The weather is still warm here in September, and the rolling hills take on a gorgeous golden hue. Where to Stay: The supremely charming, family-run Hotel Diderot in Chinon was once an aristocratic house from the 17th century, and its 27 rooms have of course been modernized, though the interior décor still hints at its noble past—the spiral staircase is from the 18th century and the fireplace in the breakfast room is from the 15th century. The beds are antiques, and exposed beams and hardwood floors throughout the home complete the overall grand vibe. Breakfast is served on the terrace in the warmer months, and includes over two dozen homemade preserves to slather onto your fresh baked breads (4 Rue de Buffon, Chinon, hoteldiderot.com, doubles from $67). 4. PALM SPRINGS, CALIFORNIA Why in 2013: With its towering namesake palms and countless pools, Palm Springs has long been heralded as California's desert oasis, where the stars and golf aficionados fled when they needed a little R&R. Now, with a 6 percent drop in airfares amid near-universal increases nationwide, it's also a refuge for bargain-seeking travelers. Along with the decrease in ticket prices, Palm Springs International Airport is seeing a spike in traffic—over 16 percent more passengers flew through in 2012 than in 2011—and it's also expanding its reach with new, nonstop routes from New York launching in December through Virgin America. On the ground, the town has been rolling out the red carpet for visitors, making as much room as possible for the new surge of sun-seekers. The city gained over 1,600 new hotel rooms since 2008 through an aggressive tourism incentive program designed to boost the local economy, and it's also among the top 10 domestic markets for new vacation rental listings. When to Go: With not-yet-scorching temperatures, winter and early spring remain peak seasons. Crowds descend on the area for big-ticket events in January (the Palm Springs International Film Festival) and April (perennially popular Coachella), and occupancy rates remain high in between. Opt for fall instead to beat both the heat and the masses. Where to Stay: Alcazar Palm Springs, an intimate 34-room property opened in 2011, makes an ideal retreat with its soothing décor in crisp white, black, and chrome. Owner and Palm Springs native Tara Lazar parlayed the success of her restaurant, Cheeky's, into the boutique hotel and onsite Italian restaurant, Birba (622 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs, alcazarpalmsprings.com, doubles from $79). 5. KO PHI PHI, THAILAND Why in 2013: Even if Ko Phi Phi isn't familiar by name, you still might recognize its turquoise waters, leaf-blanketed limestone peaks, and signature longtail boats—the hallmarks of this island paradise off the coast of Thailand inspired wanderlust the world over when it was spotlighted in the film The Beach, the drama that launched a thousand backpackers. An archipelago comprised of two main islands, Ko Phi Phi was on the rise as a holiday destination when it was devastated by the tsunami of 2004. Eight years and a rigorous rebuilding effort later, it's now well on its way to becoming a luxury tourist spot. Because of its high tourist concentration and the construction of plush new resorts such as the Outrigger Phi Phi Island Resort and Spa, Ko Phi Phi can be somewhat expensive by Thai standards. This year, however, hotel rates have dropped by 27 percent to an average of $151 per night, compared with a 13 percent increase in nearby Phuket. When to Go: Spring (March, April) offers a sweet spot between the peak tourist season of the holidays and the onslaught of the rainy season in May. Where to Stay: Located in a quiet corner of the busier Phi Phi island is the Mama Beach Residence, which has 24 rooms that combine modern touches (WiFi, satellite television, and air conditioning—which is harder to come by than you might expect in these parts) with island necessities (beach access and sun decks outfitted with cushy chaises). You can also book day trips to uninhabited Ko Phi Phi Leh and its famed Maya Bay, beloved by snorkelers and divers.  (199 moo 7 Tambon Aonang, Ko Phi Phi, mama-beach.com, from $98). 6. NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE  Why in 2013: In the new hit ABC drama Nashville, a political powerbroker describes his hometown as "a thriving, prosperous city, an industrial and cultural juggernaut." In other words, the home of the Grand Ole Opry is going a little heavy on the "grand," while easing up considerably on the "ole." You might say life imitates art. This spring, a brand-new, $585 million, 118,000-square-foot convention center will open downtown, which will in turn help fuel the city's ongoing hotel construction boom. To meet the needs, over 1,000 rooms are currently under construction, with five new hotels potentially slated for the SoBro (South of Lower Broadway) neighborhood alone—a move that is expected to drive average daily rates down in the city. But growth in Nashville isn't solely related to real estate. In a city known primarily for its "hot chicken" and "meat and three sides," chefs are helping to transform Nashville into a new culinary powerhouse, along the lines of Charleston, with all the requisite James Beard nominations and placements on top American restaurant lists. On the other end of the spectrum, buzzy food trucks are hitting the streets of hip neighborhoods like East Nashville and The Gulch, the first LEED-certified green neighborhood in the South. When to Go: Gourmet restaurants and architecture aside, Nashville is still the capital of the country music world. From June 6 through 9, the city will play host to the CMA Music Festival, which attracts a who's who of country stars, including Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and Miranda Lambert (cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival, four-day passes from $125). Where to Stay: Don't be fooled by its location near the airport: Hotel Preston is much cooler and more refined than an airport hotel has any right to be. Think complimentary pet goldfish, lava lamps on request, and a "spiritual menu"—in lieu of Bibles in the nightstand, you can request any number of holy texts, including the Koran, the Torah, the Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita (733 Briley Parkway, Nashville, hotelpreston.com, doubles from $93). 7. NORTHERN IRELAND Why in 2013: Northern Ireland has been a bit, well, troubled for the better part of the 20th century, thanks to the bloody religious conflict known as The Troubles. Peace has since been restored, but that didn't immediately skyrocket Northern Ireland to the top of travelers' bucket lists. So how's the outlook in 2013? Just ask the aptly named Oaky Dokes, the red squirrel mascot of Derry/Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second city and the first ever U.K. City of Culture (cityofculture2013.com). The 6th-century walled city beat out finalists Birmingham, Norwich, and Sheffield, and will spend $25 million in new cultural programs designed to bring in tourism, including performances from the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra, a new punk musical, and the premiere of a Sam Shepard play. The city itself has also gotten a makeover. Ebrington Square, former military parade grounds, reopened in 2012 as a new public space for outdoor concerts and festivals, and it also saw the opening of the Peace Bridge, which links the predominantly Catholic and Protestant sides of the city. Best of all, Northern Ireland is now easier (and cheaper) to get to: Beginning in fall 2012, EasyJet and Aer Lingus added more flights between Belfast and London, which is expected to increase competition with British Airways and thus further lower airline prices. When to Go: The UK City of Culture program will run throughout 2013, but late March is a particularly rich period. On March 18, the London Symphony Orchestra will present the works of John Williams, with excerpts from Jurassic Park, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And on March 30-31, the Royal Ballet will perform for the first time in Northern Ireland in two decades. Where to Stay: The Beech Hill Country House Hotel, a Georgian estate set among lush woodlands two miles from Londonderry, is filled with period antiques. The property once housed U.S. Marines during World War II (32 Ardmore Rd., Londonderry, beech-hill.com, doubles from $87). 8. SLOVAKIA Why in 2013: After their amicable split in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia took very different approaches to singledom. The Czech Republic, led by majestic Prague, became a major stop on the backpacker circuit and eventually caught on with jetsetters. Slovakia, on the other hand, has always remained more of a quiet hidden gem. But on the 20th anniversary of its independence, with one of the fastest growing economies in the EU, Slovakia finally seems ready for its close-up. In recent years, the capital Bratislava has seen the construction of a luxury riverside five-star resort and a brand-new community-run Jewish cultural center. Despite its growth, the capital has remained surprisingly affordable: According to the 2012 Priceoftravel.com Backpacker Index, Bratislava is more than half as cheap as nearby Vienna for travelers, ranking as the 10th biggest bargain among major European cities. But 2013 is really all about Slovakia's second city, Košice, which shares the European Capital of Culture designation with Marseille, marking the first time a Slovak city has held the title (www.kosice2013.sk/en). The well-preserved city, which dates back to the 12th century, boasts the largest cathedral in Slovakia, the Gothic St. Elizabeth. In 2013, however, the focus will be on the future. The city's 19th-century military barracks have been converted into Kulturpark, a creative district that will promote contemporary art, experimental theater, and modern dance, with performances and exhibits throughout the year. When to Go: Capital of Culture events are scheduled throughout 2013, but one that shouldn't be missed is the Biela Noc, or White Night, on October 5, 2013. The program, which started in Paris in 2002 and has since spread across Europe, brings musical performances and art installations out into the streets of Košice well past sunset. Their slogan? "We guarantee you won't fall asleep." Where to Stay: Part of the Historic Hotels of Slovakia association, the Hotel Bankov dates back to 1869, making it the country's oldest surviving hotel. The onsite restaurant serves Slovak specialties, such as roasted quail with leek fondue (Dolný Bankov 2, Košice, hotelbankov.sk/en, doubles from $108). 9. BORACAY ISLAND, THE PHILIPPINES Why in 2013: As tourism from east Asia and the United States grows each year, the white-sand beaches of this southeast Asian archipelago should move from your bucket list to your see-it-before-it's-overrun list—especially since Royal Caribbean made its first call to Boracay in October, a move that's sure to incite other cruise lines to do the same. This will no doubt have a universal impact on Philippines tourism and its still-affordable hotel prices. But it's also rather remarkable considering that tourists never even set foot on Boracay until the 1970s. Now there are more than 300 resorts and hotels for visitors to choose from on this thin speck of prime oceanfront real estate (less than a mile wide and less than four miles long)  and last year the area saw more than 900,000 visitors. Regional airlines like Airphil Express make the hour-long flight from Manila to Boracay's new airport for less than $25 round-trip. When to Go: January to May is typically the best weather, but unless you're keen to celebrate Easter with thousands of other tourists, skip Holy Week (March 24 to 31 in 2013), when major cities are packed with visitors. While heavy rain is always possible here, the second half of the year is typhoon season and best to avoid. Where to Stay: Crown Regency Resort and Convention Center in Boracay offers upscale rooms with kitchenettes, a pool, onsite restaurants, and easy beach access (Boat Station 2, Boracay, crownregencyhotels.com, doubles from $110). 10. THE BAHAMAS Why in 2013: If it seems as if the Bahamas are an annual fixture on you-can-afford-to-go-here lists, well, they are—for good reason. According to Travelocity, fares to the islands, north of Cuba in the Atlantic ocean, fell 4 percent this year even as the number of visitors to the islands increased by 8 percent—the average airfare to the Bahamas in 2012 was $463. From northernmost Grand Bahama, with its three national parks, underwater caves, and urbane nightlife, to the bustling port of Nassau,  home to iconic Cable Beach and historic Bay Street lined with shops and cafes, the Bahamas remain a favorite "stylish steal" for savvy travelers—just take a look at hotel prices, which fell 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012 according to the Bahamas Hotels Association. For a taste of authentic Bahamas cuisine, stop into Twin Brothers for mixed platters of local favorites like conch, snapper, and grouper (Arawak Cay, Nassau, twinbrothersbahamas.com, grilled combos from $20.50). When to Go: Mild trade winds keep the average temperatures in the 70s and 80s pretty much year-round, but rainy season is May through October, making the islands most hospitable in late fall, winter, and early spring. Where to Stay: Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino, with gorgeous Cable Beach just outside, is a good home base for exploring Nassau and New Providence Island. Three bars and four restaurants (including the Black Angus Grille, serving steaks and seafood) are onsite, and the casino offers table games and slots. Suites with balconies are available but you're probably going to be happier hitting the sand and surf (West Bay Street, Cable Beach, New Providence Island, wyndhamnassauresort.com, doubles from $112).

Budget Travel Lists

9 Most Colorful Beaches in the World

Most beaches need umbrellas and blankets to brighten up the landscape. Not these nine stretches of sand. From iconic pink sand beaches in the Bahamas to a green beach in Hawaii, we've rounded up nine beaches around the world that you have to see to believe—and we show you exactly how to get there. SEE THE WORLD'S MOST COLORFUL BEACHES! BLACK SANDMuriwai Black Sand Beach, New ZealandBlack sand beaches are typically a result of an island's explosive volcanic past—the rich color is a result of a mixture of iron, titanium, and several other volcanic materials. New Zealand's stunning Muriwai Black Sand Beach is a 37-mile stretch of sparkling black sand and home to New Zealand's largest colony of Gannet birds. Hike up the scenic trail at the southern end of the beach to two viewing platforms for great ocean views and a peek at the birds in their natural habitat, where nearly 1,200 pairs nest between August and March each year. See it for yourself: Just a 40-minute ride west of downtown Auckland, Muriwai Black Sand Beach can be a day trip, or book a room at the Lodge Escape at Muriwai for from $120 a night. Feeling gutsy? Try a two-hour lesson from the Muriwai Surf School (from $60 per person including equipment). GREEN SANDPapakōlea Beach, Big Island of HawaiiLocated on the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, Papakōlea Beach is more commonly referred to as Green Sand Beach. And for good reason. The sand here is made of tiny olivine crystals from the surrounding lava rocks that are trapped in the 49,000-year-old Pu'u Mahana cinder cone by the waters of Mahana Bay. The density of the olivine crystals keeps them from being washed away by the tide, resulting in a striking olive-green accumulation along the coastline. Swimming is allowed but waves on the windy southern coast can be particularly strong. And while it's tempting, it's bad form to take the sand home with you. See it for yourself: Papakōlea Beach is equidistant from both Kona and Hilo, and well worth the scenic two-hour-and-15-minute drive on Highway 11 (look for signs for Ka Lae, or South Point between mile markers 69 and 70). You can also take the two-mile hike along the southernmost point in the U.S.A. for a glimpse of the uniquely olive-green sand. RED SANDRed Beach, Santorini, GreeceSantorini's Red Beach (also called Kokkini Beach) is set at the base of giant red cliffs that rise high over crystal-blue Mediterranean waters. The colorful red sand is a result of the surrounding iron-rich black and red lava rocks left over from the ancient volcanic activity of Thira, the impressive volcano that erupted and essentially shaped Santorini in 1450 B.C. Nowadays, the beach is popular with sunbathers, though you'll want to rent beach chairs to avoid sitting directly on the coarse sand. And it's best to visit in the early morning hours—the sand heats up under the warm Mediterranean sun. See it for yourself: The easiest way to reach Red Beach is by boat from Akrotíri or Períssa on Santorini. Pair your trip to the beach with a visit to the ancient Minoan Ruins of Akrotiri, a 10-minute walk away. PINK SANDPink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, BahamasA lot goes into making this Pink Sand Beach so… pink. The three-and-a half-mile-long stretch gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs that surround the beach. The pink sands can also be found on Harbour Island's Atlantic side and along the Exuma Sound—Lighthouse Beach, Surfer's Beach, Winding Bay Beach, and French Leave Beach are also famous for their rosy sand. See it for yourself: Several flights to Eleuthera are available through Bahamasair from South Florida, or opt for one of several ferries or water taxis from the other Bahamian islands. The five-hour Eleuthera Express from Nassau costs $35 per person one-way. To get to Harbor Island from North Eleuthera Airport, take a 10-minute taxi ride (about $5 per person) to the boat dock and a 10-minute water taxi (also about $5 per person) across to Harbor Island—bicycles, scooters, and golf carts are available for rental once on the island, while walking tends to be the preferred form of transportation. PURPLE SANDPfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CaliforniaHave you ever heard of purple sand? Head to the northern coastline of Pfeiffer Beach, where patches of violet and deep-purple sand can be found. The source is large deposits of quartz and manganese garnet originating in the nearby hills being washed down from the creek to its final resting place along the Pacific. The purple sand is more likely to be seen after storms during the winter. Swimming is not recommended because of strong currents and a number of sharp purple rocks offshore, which also contribute to the beach's rare coloration. See it for yourself: Pfeiffer Beach is located just outside Big Sur State Park about an hour south of Monterey, or roughly two hours and 45 minutes south of San Francisco along Pacific Coast Highway 1. Keep an eye out for Sycamore Canyon Road just past mile marker 45.64 and continue through Los Padres National Forest—if you are driving from Northern California, turn right approximately 0.66 miles after you see the park ranger station. Parking is available for $5 per vehicle. ORANGE SANDPorto Ferro, Sardinia, ItalyThe northern corner of Italy's island of Sardinia is home to Porto Ferro, a one-and-a-quarter-mile stretch of oddly orange-colored sand thanks to a unique mixture of the area's native orange limestone, crushed shells, and other volcanic deposits. You can also find 65-foot-tall ochre-colored sand dunes behind the beach on the way to Lake Baratz, Sardinia's only natural salt lake. The area is known for its scenic bike and hiking paths, and three Spanish lookout towers—Torre Negra, Torre Bianca, and Torre de Bantine Sale—that date back to the 1600s. Boating is the best way to explore this pristine area of Sardinia, which is also a popular spot for diving, surfing, and windsurfing. See it for yourself: Ryanair offers affordable round-trip flights from many Italian cities to the town of Alghero on Sardinia, with prices from Rome's Ciampino Airport starting at around $69 per person. Once on the island of Sardinia, Porto Ferro is just 19 miles outside Alghero—drive northwest toward the town of Capo Caccia, turn right, and continue up the coast to reach Porto Ferro. WHITE SANDCrescent Beach, Siesta Key, FloridaA lot of places boast that they have white-sand beaches, but it doesn't get much whiter than Crescent Beach, located on Siesta Key, a barrier island just off the coast of Sarasota, FL. The sand here is 99 percent pure quartz, which has traveled down Florida's rivers from the Appalachian Mountains. The best part about this sand's fine texture: Not only does it feel like you're walking through powdered sugar, but because of its unique quartz makeup, it will never heat up no matter how hot the Florida sun beats down. You'll also find coral and other diverse rock formations at the southern end of the beach at Point of Rocks that make this a great area for diving and snorkeling. Alas, it turns out there may be one beach with whiter sand: Hyams Beach in Australia is now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the whitest sand in the world. See it for yourself: Siesta Key is about a 20-minute drive from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport—travel south on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) to Siesta Drive, turn right and go over the bridge to Siesta Key, bear left at the first traffic light, follow State Highway 758, and make a right at the second traffic light at Beach Road. Park in the lot on the left and walk five minutes south to reach Crescent Beach. GRAY SANDShelter Cove, Humboldt County, CaliforniaOne word best describes Shelter Cove: remote. It's worth the trip to see the gray-colored sand, the result of years of erosion of the nearby gray-shale cliffs along the shore. The area is also known for its scenic coastal drives, hikes, and an abundant source of wildlife at the nearby 68,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area, home to sea lions, bald eagles, and Roosevelt elk—even Bigfoot himself has been spotted roaming the woods here. See it for yourself: Make the four-and-a-half-hour drive north from San Francisco on Highway 101 to Northern California's Humboldt County. Shelter Cove is along "The Lost Coast" just above Mendocino County and about an hour south of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Look for the Redway-Shelter Cove exit on U.S. Highway 101 and drive onto Briceland Road to get to the northern part of the beach. MULTICOLORED SANDRainbow Beach, AustraliaRainbow Beach makes up for its small size (just 0.62 miles) with its many colors. There are 74 different hues, a clandestine combination of erosion and iron oxide buildup that has been occurring since the last ice age, and the makeup changes. There is a sad romantic story behind the colors as well. According to an ancient Aboriginal legend, the sands became colorful as a result of the rainbow spirit falling onto the large 656-foot tall beachside cliffs after losing a battle over a beautiful woman, leaving his beautiful colors to rest on the beach for all of eternity. See it for yourself: Rainbow Beach is a three-hour drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast of northeast Queensland. Greyhound Australia offers shuttle bus service to Rainbow Beach from Brisbane International Airport—prices for a round-trip adult ticket start from $114 per person including taxes. Another bus company, Premier Motor Services, offers similar routes for from $60 per person for a round-trip ticket.