20 Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Vacation Rental Destinations
Here at Budget Travel, we appreciate a deal as much as the next frugal traveler, but for our purposes, budget doesn’t necessarily translate as cheap. To do the mental math on what, exactly, qualifies as a good-value proposition, we take into account tangible factors like location, weather, and experiences to have along the way. But we also think about the intangibles—less quantifiable, more subjective elements like uniqueness and Instagrammability. It’s a complicated equation, but home-share rental site Vrbo (vrbo.com) is attempting to simplify things a bit, courtesy of its first-ever Bang for Your Buck Index. The company recently released a list of domestic and international destinations that provide travelers with the best value, based on last year’s booking data. Factoring in considerations like proximity to the beach, diversity of dining options, and the array of activities on offer, here's where you'll get the most for your money—all for $250 per night or less.
Top 10 Domestic Destinations for Rental Value
With an abundance of beaches—not to mention its collection of theme parks—it’s no wonder Florida claims five of the 10 spots on Vrbo’s domestic list. Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Cape Canaveral offer prime opportunities to work on that tan, while Orlando is the gateway to Disney World and Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter. For a break from the ocean, book a trip to Lakeland, east of Tampa, to explore the city’s eponymous lakes, or venture out of state and head west instead: Tucson and Prescott, Arizona, both cracked the top 10, as did Moab, Utah, in the heart of canyon country. Looking for something a little less expected? Branson, Missouri, receives surprisingly high marks, while family favorite Myrtle Beach rounds out the list.
If, in your mind, it doesn’t count as vacation unless you've stepped off a plane onto foreign soil, not to fear—there’s plenty of value to be had in Europe, Asia, Canada, and the Caribbean, as long as you know where to look. For a truly economical experience, forgo hotspots like London, Paris, and Rome in favor of the Iberian peninsula: Porto, Lisbon, Madrid, and Seville all provide warm weather, great food, and arts and culture galore, minus the sticker shock of their higher-profile European peers. (On the continent, Prague and Berlin are also good bets.) Chasing those sunny days? You can’t go wrong with Puerto Rico, and Carolina is Vrbo’s pick for the island’s best-value destination. Up north, Calgary and Halifax offer boundless natural splendor and cultural institutions in profusion, plus a favorable exchange rate to boot. And on the other side of the world, Tokyo is an unexpectedly budget-friendly gem.
7 Places to Experience Incredible Interactive Art
Quiet galleries lined with impressive collections displayed at arm’s length will always have their place, but lately, multi-sensory art installations that put the observer at the center of the action are capturing people’s attention. Destinations where visitors can interact with art through movement, touch and sound—often using the latest in digital technologies—are popping up everywhere. Here are seven solid locations that offer immersive experiences for a variety of audiences. 1. Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return: Sante Fe (Kate Russell/Courtesy Meow Wolf) Built in a former bowling alley in Santa Fe and funded by Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return launched in 2016 and quickly garnered a reputation as an iconic immersive-art destination. Meow Wolf visitors start by entering the home of the fictional Selig family and, before long, start to discover portals throughout the house (hint: check the refrigerator), leading to fantastical spaces created by local artists. These surreal environments, which combine light, sound, and all manner of images and structures, are part of a mysterious story line involving the Selig family. While some visitors work hard to unravel the mystery, most just choose wander, explore, and experience the sensory wonderland. Meow Wolf is wildly popular, so expect to wait in line. Plans are in place for Meow Wolf Las Vegas AREA15 to open at the end of 2019. There are also spinoff experiences in the works for Denver and Washington, D.C.Admission from $17; meowwolf.com. 2. The City Museum: St. Louis Located in a repurposed shoe warehouse, the City Museum has been pushing the limits of art and fun since 1997, long before anyone thought to use the term “immersive art” to describe the sculptures, climbing structures, subterranean passageways, and multi-story slides filling the 600,000-square-foot space. Sculptor Bob Cassily and a team of around 20 artists created the destination’s large-scale, fanciful features using salvaged construction materials and other reclaimed objects found throughout St. Louis. The school bus hanging over the edge of the museum’s roof provides a hint of the over-the-top experience that awaits inside; an airplane fuselage suspended by a construction crane and accessible by a winding maze of caged ladders also beckons from the front of the building. Admission, $15; citymuseum.org. 3. Factory Obscura: Oklahoma City (Todd E Clark/Courtesy Factory Obscura) Those born after the ‘80s may not have cherished memories of creating or receiving a custom-compiled mix tape, but Factory Obscura aims to explore and evoke the nostalgia of this bygone art form with its first permanent installation, Mix Tape. An immersive art collective that got its start creating temporary installations throughout Oklahoma City, Factory Obscura introduced the first phase of Mix Tape, including a giant interactive boom box built into the building’s façade, in March of 2019. The full 6,000-square-foot playlist-themed multi-sensory adventure opens in September 2019. Fans of the OKC-based band the Flaming Lips may recognize the location: a brightly decorated downtown art complex called the Womb, located in Oklahoma City's historic Automobile Alley building and created by front man Wayne Coyne. It's been an event venue, music-video set, and art space for the Lips. An installation by Coyne, titled King's Mouth, is the centerpiece of the Mix Tape lobby. Free; factoryobscura.com. 4. Wisdome: Los Angeles (Courtesy Wisdome LA) People who have attended festivals like Burning Man or Lightning in a Bottle will likely feel at home at Wisdome, an immersive entertainment art park in downtown L.A. that opened at the end of 2018. Wisdome’s five 360-degree geodesic domes offer digital art, surround sound, and virtual reality experiences, often with a psychedelic bent. Samskara, the featured installation for 2019, is the work of artist Android Jones and includes a 3-D digital-art exhibit, a fractal-heavy 360-degree film that viewers take in while lying on the ground, and an interactive VR gaming experience. Wisdome also regularly hosts concerts and special events that are enhanced by the venue’s immersive elements.Admission $29 adults, $19 for students, $9 for children; wisdome.la. 5. ARTECHOUSE: Miami & Washington, D.C. (Courtesy ARTECHOUSE) Featuring a new installation every three months, this intimate experiential digital-art gallery gives visitors a chance to see how different artists are currently combining art, technology, and science. The ARTECHOUSE flagship location in Washington, D.C., which opened in 2017, features three distinct digital-art spaces as well as a popular bar that overlooks the exhibits and serves augmented-reality cocktails that imbibers activate with their phones using an ARTECHOUSE app. ARTECHOUSE opened a Miami Beach location in 2018, and a New York City location is set to open in 2019. D.C. admission from $16 for adults, $13 for students, seniors, and military; Miami admission, $24 for adults, $20 for students, seniors, and military, $17 for children 14 and under; artechouse.com. 6. Asleep in the Cyclone at 21C Museum Hotel Louisville: Louisville Asleep in the Cyclone offers the unique opportunity to have a site-specific art installation all to yourself for an entire night. Located in a guest room at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Asleep in the Cyclone is the work of artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, who say the installation is meant to create a parallel universe where guest inhabit an environment created wholly by the artists. Inspired by the 1960s hippie commune Drop City, some of the room’s features include a colorful geodesic ceiling, a record player with a vinyl collection selected by the artists, and a curio cabinet filled with collages, books, and sculptures they created. Nightly rates from $341; 21cmuseumhotels.com/louisville. 7. Mattress Factory: Pittsburgh While some interactive art destinations cater to all ages with an almost amusement park-like atmosphere, this contemporary museum housed in a former mattress factory is not the kind of place you take the kids for a free-ranging play date. (No kids under 14 are allowed without parental supervision). The Mattress Factory has been specializing in site-specific installation art since it opened in 1977 and currently contains permanent installations from a number of well-established artists, including two Infinity Mirror rooms by Yayoi Kusama, light sculptures by James Turrell, and the final work by the late transgender artist Greer Lankton, “It’s all about ME, not you,” a haunting and emotionally raw recreation of her Chicago apartment filled with paintings, dolls, and other personal ephemera.Admission, $20; mattress.org.
10 Best Bargain Trips for Spring
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get out there and savor everything a spring vacation has to offer. We've rounded up some of the best beaches, parkland, and cities where your dollar will go further this time of year—that means lodging well under $200/night, and an accessible array of food and activities that won't break the bank. From the South Pacific to the Caribbean, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Rocky Mountains, the only problem you may have with this top 10 list is choosing just one trip. 1. Dominican Republic Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (Binu777/Dreamstime) If your idea of spring break involves affordable all-inclusive resorts and perfect beaches, the Dominican Republic offers just about everything you might want. We love Punta Cana—just a two-hour flight from Miami—for reliable resorts like the Majestic Colonial Beach Resort and Bavaro Beach with gorgeous white sand, clear Caribbean waters, and an offshore coral reef. Or head to the charming off-the-beaten path fishing village of Las Terrenas, in the Samaná province, for “secret” gorgeous beaches and good deals. Exploring the DR’s natural wonders is a must as well: Los Haitises National Park is the place for kayaking the lagoons and mangrove canals and viewing wildlife such as pelicans and iconic leatherback turtles; the Cordillera Septentrional Mountains are a magnet for hikers. 2. Oahu, Hawaii Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii (Izabela 23/Dreamstime) With Southwest (winner of the 2018 Budget Travel Award for Value Airline) now flying to Honolulu, there’s no better time to hop over the Pacific to get to know the Hawaiian Islands, starting with Oahu, the most populous and accessible of the islands. The weather is almost always perfect on Waikiki Beach, and you are an easy drive from nearby mountains (including iconic Diamond Head) and an array of other, wilder beaches where, depending on the time of year and the weather, you may witness “monster” waves and the professional surfers who challenge them. As much as we love Honolulu’s accessible beachfront and affordable lodgings such as Hotel Renew, we also urge you to make the 15-minute drive to the mountain side of Diamond Head to get to know Kaimuki, a residential area we named one of the best budget destinations in America, where you’ll find amazing seafood, Japanese fare, and tasty regional dried fruits, among a wide array of other delights. 3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (Jaahnlieb/Dreamstime) At 147 years old, Yellowstone (nps.gov/yell) is the world’s oldest national park, but it still has a trick or two up its sleeve. A 3,472-square-foot swathe of land straddling Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, it’s busiest during the peak summer months, especially between July and August, when 55% of the park’s annual visitors descend to take in the geysers, wildlife, history and more. But the park’s roads begin to open in mid-April, and nature lovers would do well to consider a springtime visit. From May to June, in particular, young elk, bison, and pronghorn calves are finding their legs, wolves are on the prowl, and momma bears and their cubs are on the hunt. To catch the animals on parade, your best bet is to wake up before the sun—wolves and bears get moving early—though, with mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and birds out and about later in the day, there’s action to be had even if you’re not a morning person. June is prime wildflower season, and the park’s waterfalls are seriously impressive then too, thanks to snowmelt runoff that sends 63,500 gallons of water per second over the Yellowstone River’s Lower Falls. Plus, with substantially fewer visitors during the spring months, deals on accommodations abound, and you won’t have to jostle for position around Old Faithful. 4. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama Orange Beach, Alabama (Courtesy Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism) The mention of Alabama probably sparks thoughts of the civil rights movement, football, fried green tomatoes, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, who made it sound like everybody’s sweet home. But for spring travelers, Alabama should also mean the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, 32 miles of silken sand along the Gulf of Mexico. With April temps reaching mid-70s, it’s not quiet beach-lounging time yet, but the area provides a bounty of things for spring breakers to check out, an assortment of 200 local restaurants not least among them. Families can prepare for summer with classes at Sand Castle University (sandcastleu.com) for a crash course in building the impressive palaces out of sand. To explore the area’s natural treasures, the 28-mile Backcountry Trail (backcountrytrail.com) in Gulf State Park covers a tapestry of nine ecosystems that are best explored on bike or a guided Segway tour. And to fully immerse yourself in the rich landscape, made a reservation at the Lodge at Gulf State Park, which opened at the end of last year and features 350 Gulf-front rooms. 5. Williamsburg, Virginia Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia (Aviahuismanphotography/Dreamstime) Colonial Williamsburg is right up there with Disney World and the Washington Monument when it comes to iconic American sites that every family should have on its bucket list. But when it comes to grownup escapes, the greater Williamsburg region has no shortage of offerings, whether you’re reuniting with friends from high school or taking a second honeymoon. First, there are the restaurants. Farm-to-table is the norm here, and so is sea-to-table, what with Williamsburg’s location between the James and York rivers. Fresh oysters are the draw at Waypoint Seafood and Grill and Fat Canary is known for its creative dishes using ham and lamb from local farms. Where good food goes, drinks follow. Wine lovers can visit Williamsburg Winery (williamsburgwinery.com), Virginia’s largest, beer drinkers have their choice of breweries with taprooms, Copper Fox Distillery (copperfoxdistillery.com) is a small whiskey-making operation that pioneered the craft scene back in 2005, and in keeping with the area’s historic viewpoint, there’s even a meadery that produces the ancient style honey wine. Toss in posh spas, shopping, and a long-running comedy club and there you have it: a spring break for the history books. 6. Skagway, Alaska Skagway, Alaska (Izabela 23/Dreamstime) Skagway is a small town in southeast Alaska, along the Inside Passage, with a population of about 800, but in June, July, and August, that number swells to about 3,000. But before the many cruise ships dock here throughout the summer months, April and May are ideal times to explore the quaint, historic township. It’s one of the few towns in Alaska with a road directly into the continental U.S., albeit a long one. It’s about day-and-a-half drive from Seattle through British Columbia, but if you’re looking for a road trip, this is certainly a pretty one. Should you arrive by boat, you’ll sail through dramatic fjords that are merely a hint of the scenery you’re in for. Skagway is famous for its Klondike Gold Rush legacy, and that history plays out in the well-preserved buildings from that era, which are part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (nps.gov/klgo/index.htm). There are also water adventures, like Ocean-Raft Alaska (oceanraftalaska.com), a high-speed group ride in a motorized boat, the Chilkoot Trail for hikers who aren’t afraid of serious incline, and brewpubs. 7. Savannah, Georgia Savannah, Georgia (David M. Sacerdote/Dreamstime) With stunning Gothic Revival architecture, ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, and a picturesque location on the banks of the Savannah River, this Southern charmer offers a sophisticated yet accessible urban escape for all ages. A free walking tour will give a good overview of Savannah’s history, from its antebellum past to modern days. (Don’t forget to tip!) Stop for a photo op in front of Forsyth Park’s highly Instagrammable fountain, and sneak a peek at Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low’s birthplace and the Scouts’ first headquarters. Hungry? You’ll probably have to queue for brunch at the Collins Quarter, but between the short-rib hash and the brioche French toast, it’s worth the wait. Bernie’s Oyster House on River Street serves cold beer and fresh oysters by the bucket, while Bayou Cafe slings stiff drinks and Cajun fare with a side of live blues. For an upscale affair, check out the Grey, where James Beard Award finalist Mashama Bailey is turning out refined Southern plates in a beautifully restored art deco Greyhound station. (Stop by at happy hour for discounted wine, beer, and oysters before your reservation.) Savannah College of Art and Design is where aspiring Picassos from around the world come to hone their craft; it’s affiliated with a world-class art museum. In the Historic District, the Telfair Museum is the South’s oldest public-art museum, and the Jepson Center has a stellar modern collection; the model ships at the Ships of the Sea Museum are a must-see for nautical enthusiasts. There’s retail therapy on Broughton Street (we like the Paris Market for fanciful home decor and 24e Design Co. for upcycled vintage finds), and when you need a break from the city, the sandy shores of Tybee Island are just a few miles away. 8. Sunny Isles Beach, Florida Sunny Isles Beach, Florida (Pressfoto/Dreamstime) Maybe you haven’t visited Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, yet? Maybe this is the first time you’ve even heard of this inviting family-friendly community between Fort Lauderdale and Miami? If so, that's what Budget Travel is here for—introducing you to beautiful places you didn't know you were missing. And you are in for an affordable world-class vacation in Sunny Isles. This decidedly lovely community on a barrier island in Miami-Dade County offers a 2.5-mile stretch of uncrowded white sand, fishing off Newport Fishing pier, exploring nearby mangrove preserves, and enjoying your proximity to Miami’s exceptional neighborhoods, parks, aquariums, and vibrant culinary scene. An array of local lodgings are offering spring deals, including Marenas Beach Resort, JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, and Solé Miami, A Noble House Resort. 9. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (Cheri Alguire/Dreamstime) Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 for an impressive concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings dating from the 6th to the 12th centuries, southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park (nps.gov/meve) makes for a unexpected—and stealthily educational—spring destination. With more than 4,700 archaeological sites to explore, from cliff dwellings to mesa-top villages with pit houses and pueblos, the kids will barely notice they’re learning things on their time off. The self-guided Mesa Top Loop Road auto tour, open year-round, is a six-mile drive with 12 sites and scenic overlooks easily accessible via short, paved walking trails; ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings begin in mid-April (though they’re visible from various overlooks any time) and backcountry hikes and special tours begin in mid-May. The park’s only lodge opens in mid-April and campsites are available in early May, but the nearby town of Cortez makes for a good base of operations if you’d prefer to sleep off the premises. Granted, a springtime visit may require leaning into winter a little longer, as the Mesa Verde plateau’s altitude of more than 8,500 feet above sea level means that warm weather arrives a bit later here (snow storms in April have been known to interfere with the park’s operations), so be sure to check the weather forecast before you go, and stop at the visitor’s center when you arrive for the latest road and trail conditions. 10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Sean Pavone/Dreamstime) South Carolina’s most popular beach town ranks third among most-searched travel destinations in the world and draws about 19 million visitors annually. That’s liable to change soon because over the past year, in addition to sleek new condo buildings and hotels, exciting new projects are underway or already open for business, likely bringing even bigger crowds. But before the beach bums set up camp for the summer, use spring break as a sneak peek at Myrtle Beach 2.0. October saw the opening of THEBlvd (theblvdmyrtle.com), a sprawling complex on the boardwalk with a concert venue, stores, and dining. The local arts scene is more active than ever, as evidence by the debut of the Grand Street Arts Trail (theartsgrandstrand.org), comprised of 18 galleries and three restaurants. The famously family-friendly destination got even friendlier in February with the opening of EdVenture (edventure.org/myrtle-beach), a new incarnation of the South Carolina Children’s Museum. Aviation and astronomy take the spotlight in the exhibits here, so kids can get an education on vacation. If you’ve got a getaway with your significant other or a group of friends on the calendar, Myrtle Beach has plenty of fun dining and drinking options. The sustainability-obsessed chef Heidi Vukov, long known for her cheery café Croissants, is expanding her footprint Hook & Barrel, which focuses on sustainable seafood. You can get local wine in Myrtle Beach, too. La Belle Amie Winery (labelleamie.com) is a farm-set destination known for owner and operator Vicki Weigle’s Twisted Sisters brand of wines.
We have plenty of love for the National Park System’s heavy hitters, but with 418 sites spanning more than 84 million acres across the country and its territories, there are a ton of lesser-known gems just begging to be explored. Here are 10 extraordinary protected lands that deserve a place on your bucket list. 1. Chaco Culture National Historical Park: New Mexico (Golasza/Dreamstime) From the mid-800s until the mid-1200s, the Chaco Canyon’s high-desert environs was a social and economic hub for the ancestral Pueblo culture that called it home. Chacoan architecture was particularly impressive, featuring huge, multi-floor, multi-room dwellings called great houses, built over the course of decades and incorporating canny design elements in the process. More than 3,000 of the massive stone structures have been preserved, and most of the cultural landmarks are open for self-guided exploration year-round. Take in the five major sites along the 9-mile Canyon Loop Drive, sign up for a ranger-led tour of the great houses, or hike the backcountry trails for ancient petroglyphs and stunning vistas. For a special treat, visit at night, when the Milky Way puts on an unbeatable show. Designated an International Dark Sky Park in 2013, Chaco’s Night Sky program roster includes weekend lectures and telescope viewings at the observatory. Stargazers, mark your calendars: Biannual star parties are usually held in May and October, and an astronomy festival happens each September.7-day pass, $25 per car; nps.gov/chcu. 2. Glen Echo Park: Maryland With a children’s discovery museum, a dance hall, and a fully functional carousel dating to 1921, it’s safe to say Glen Echo Park, located about eight miles from Washington, D.C., is not your average federally protected land. Originally established in 1891 as a Chautauqua, a non-denominational Christian summer camp–like phenomenon, it became a proper Coney Island-style amusement park in 1911. During the next three decades, Echo Park added bumper cars, a pool with a capacity of 3,000 swimmers, the Spanish Ballroom, which hosted pop stars like Bill Haley and His Comets, and more. It closed in 1968, the National Park Service took over in 1971, and the historic district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Today, Glen Echo counts half a million annual guests for classes and performances, though few of its original attractions remain: Its entrance is still visible, but the pool itself is in ruins; the bumper-car pavilion remains intact, albeit without its steel floor; the carousel, fully restored, operates from May through September, and the ballroom can be rented out for special events. Pack a picnic lunch, go a few rounds on the carousel, and bask in the nostalgia.Park entry, free; carousel rides, $1.25; nps.gov/glec. 3. Effigy Mounds National Monument: Iowa Throughout the Upper Mississippi River Valley, in parts of what’s now Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois, Native American earthen mounds of varying shapes and sizes dating to pre-Columbian times proliferate. You’ll find 206 of them in northeastern Iowa, from linear ceremonial mounds to more animal-shaped effigy mounds than anywhere else in the world. Just don’t expect to leave with a full understanding of these ancient structures: Archeologists speculate that they could be territorial markings, while tribal descendants say they’re sacred sites. Stop at the visitor’s center for a map of the park’s 31 bird and bear shapes, then wander its 14 miles of trails, including short accessible stretches and steeper hikes, to see how many you can spot.Free; nps.gov/efmo. 4. Manhattan Project National Historical Park: New Mexico, Washington, and Tennessee The world’s first atomic weapons were developed through a top-secret government project involving hundreds of thousands of scientists, mathematicians, and members of the military, spread across three massive sites: uranium-enrichment and plutonium plants in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; nuclear reactors and chemical separation plants in Hanford, Washington; and the remote complex at Los Alamos, in northern New Mexico, where Robert Oppenheimer notoriously led the team that designed and built the bombs. All three sites are open to visitors, though some areas of each remain under the Department of Energy’s purview and may not be accessible to the public. Still, there’s plenty to see: Walk through historic downtown Los Alamos on a self-guided tour, sign up for a free guided tour of the B Reactor in Hanford, or, for a small fee, book a bus tour through the Oak Ridge site with the Department of Energy.Park entry, free; nps.gov/mapr. 5. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park: Louisiana (Wangkun Jia/Dreamstime) From L.A. to New York, America boasts a dizzying array of jazz venues, but where better to get a feel for the form than the place it was born? At the New Orleans Jazz Museum in the city’s National Historic Park, near-daily concerts range from solo acts to traditional quartets to a band made up of park rangers and civilians alike. There are also ranger-led demonstrations and lectures on the history of jazz that often have a live-music component as well. But there’s more to the park than these performances. Drop in for a free yoga class and practice your downward dog as a park ranger provides the improvisational-piano soundtrack, take a self-guided audio tour of 11 historically significant sites around the city, or visit the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University to watch hundreds of oral histories from local musicians.For a schedule of park events, including concerts, talks, and ranger-led demonstrations, visit nps.gov/jazz. 6. Wind Cave National Park: South Dakota In the Black Hills of South Dakota, below a square acre of prairie and pine forest, there’s an extremely complex cave—one of the oldest and longest in the world. Wind Cave is so spacious it has its own internal air-pressure system, taking its name from the gusts emanating from its natural entrance: The Lakota referred to the cave as the “hole that breathes cool air,” and the brothers credited with its discovery in the 1880s were drawn to it by the sound of the wind across its mouth. Subterranean expeditions during the next 130-plus years revealed a staggering geological display, from cave formations like the commonly seen popcorn and frostwork to the much rarer boxwork—and there’s more of that here than in any other caves in the world combined. It’s free to explore the 33,851 acres of parkland above ground, but you’ll need to sign up for a guided tour to see the cave itself. Options range from easy (the Garden of Eden tour, which enters and exits via elevator) to extremely strenuous (the Wild Cave tour, which comes with a warning that crawling is involved). Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis; they go quickly during the peak summer season, and reservations are only available for specialty tours, so visit early to avoid a wait. Cave tours from $10 for adults, $5 for seniors and kids ages 6-16, and free for kids 5 and under; nps.gov/wica. 7. Manzanar National Historic Site: California (James Mattil/Dreamstime) Eastern California’s Owens Valley has seen its share of tragedy. In the early 1860s, 1,000 members of Paiute tribal groups were forcibly removed by the military after miners and homesteaders arrived on the scene. And almost 80 years later, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government rounded up 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry—including natural-born citizens—and herded them into internment camps for the duration of the war. Manzanar was one of 10 relocation centers built in seven states, and it’s said to be the best preserved of the bunch. A National Historic Site established in part “to serve as a reminder to this and future generations of the fragility of American civil liberties,” it offers visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the 11,070 Japanese Americans interned here from September 1942 until November 1945. The grounds feature exhibits, reconstructed barracks, and excavated gardens, ponds, and building foundations, which you can explore on foot or via a 3.2-mile self-guided drive.Free; nps.gov/manz. 8. Saguaro National Park: Arizona (Irina Kozhemyakina/Dreamstime) Flanking Tucson to the east and west, the two districts of Saguaro National Park are best known for their namesake plant: The saguaro is the largest cactus in the country, and it's been heavily protected here since 1933, when Herbert Hoover designated the area a national monument. Congress bumped it up to national-park status in 1994, and it’s been welcoming the cactus-curious ever since. There are more than 25 types of succulents on display, but the giant tree-sized saguaro is the star. Native to the Sonoran desert, it's an anchor for the area's diverse southwestern ecosystem, providing nesting space for birds and serving as food for bats, mammals, and reptiles too. Both park branches combined have more than 165 miles of hiking trails, from accessible walks to seriously strenuous treks; there’s also backcountry camping, cactus gardens in each district, and a petroglyph site boasting more than 200 of the prehistoric rock carvings. Visit from late April to early June to see the saguaro in bloom, and be sure to stay in the park to catch a sunset—between the vibrant sky and the stark desert landscape, it’s a spectacular show. 1-day pass, $20 per car; nps.gov/sagu. 9. Blue Ridge Parkway: North Carolina and Virginia Running 469 miles through the Appalachian countryside, the Blue Ridge Parkway links Shenandoah National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The outcome of a Depression-era public works project that began in 1933, it’s the longest American road conceived as a single stretch. As a "museum of the managed American countryside," the meandering road juxtaposes mountain-top views with lush stretches of forests and streams, passing by rustic log cabins and millionaires’ vacation homes. Construction took decades—the majority wasn’t completed until 1966, and the last 7.7 miles finally opened in 1987. By design, it’s the ideal setting for a leisurely road trip: Speed limits top out at 45 miles per hour, and the route combines stunning natural beauty (alongside opportunities for hiking, kayaking, biking, and more) with history (a center devoted to the region’s traditional old-time music, a working early-1900s mill, a textile magnate’s grand estate) and whimsy (Dinosaur Land!). Check for road closures before you go, and bon voyage.Free; nps.gov/blri. 10. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve: Colorado Colorado is home to the tallest dunes on the continent, and people have been answering their siren song since nomadic Stone Age hunters and gatherers first made their way into the San Luis Valley 11,000 years ago. Modern Native American tribes like the Ute and the Navajo, Spanish and American explorers, Gold Rush hopefuls, homesteaders, and Buffalo soldiers followed in succession, before fears of destruction via mining and industry prompted President Hoover to declare it a national monument in 1932. In 2004, it was expanded into a national park and preserve, and the diverse activities on offer today are a big draw. There are two accessible areas at the edge of the dunes, and the visitors’ center has two sand wheelchairs available to loan. Most of the park and preserve is open for exploration on horseback, and you can sign up for a guided ride or bring your own animals. Rent sandsleds or sandboards from an area outfitter and take to the dunes or hit the road for a fat-bike ride; other options include, but are not limited to, swimming, fishing, hunting (in season), and four-wheel driving. Regardless of how you spend your day, stargazing is a required nighttime activity.7-day pass, $25 per car; nps.gov/grsa.
8 Quirky Hotel Libraries You’ll Want to Book a Flight Just to Visit
Today (book)marks the kickoff celebration of National Library Week, the perfect time to have books on the brain. In the spirit of lifelong reading, we’re spotlighting eight of the world’s coolest, quirkiest hotel libraries — because nothing goes better with travel than a good book, especially when it’s free of charge. Many of the hotels below have partnerships with local public libraries and literacy programs. However, if you’d like to support the cause without hopping a plane, consider donating to the American Library Association, a nonprofit that promotes literacy and library services in the U.S. and the world at large. 1. The Book Room at The Jefferson: Washington, DC Antique, leather-bound books on Thomas Jefferson’s favorite subjects (think: ornithology, astronomy, horticulture, and arithmetic) are just begging to be opened fireside while you’re curled up on the cozy velvet sofa or wingback chair in The Jefferson’s Book Room. Kids can choose their own tomes from the First Library shelf, curated by the DC Public Library and stocked with picks like the illustrated Pom Pom Panda series and Danica McKellar’s math-themed reads. If your heart hasn’t gone mushy already, for each room reserved, The Jefferson sponsors the purchase of a book for the public library’s Books from Birth program, which gives enrolled children a free book every month until they turn five years old. 2. Biblioteka at Conrad Cartagena: Cartagena, Colombia The Biblioteka at Conrad Cartagena is technically a restaurant, but the hotel takes its literature seriously. Colorful books that showcase local subject matter — like the work of Colombian artist Ana Mercedes Hoyos — line Biblioteka’s walls, and the hotel recently launched a series of literary programs centered on Cartagena’s history. Sit for a spell in Colombian Corner and read about the area while sipping complimentary Colombian coffee; listen to scheduled poetry readings beside the outdoor fire pit; imbibe at the weekly Libros y Licor book club; or embark on a historian-led literary immersion walking tour through Nobel Prize–winning author Gabriel García Márquez’s world. Sights on the journey include the university where Márquez began to write, and the colonial-era homes that provided the setting for his beloved novel Love in the Time of Cholera. 3. Library Hotel: New York City We promise we are not making this up: New York’s Library Hotel organizes its rooms and floors by the Dewey Decimal system. Each floor represents one of Melvil Dewey’s 10 classifications, and each room is a topic — décor and all. With 50 to 150 hardcover, theme-specific books to a room, your stay could turn you into an expert on a surprising subject. Find your inner Don Draper in room 600.001 (category: Technology, topic: Advertising). Request room 800.005 (category: Literature, topic: Fairy Tales) for a romantic rendezvous with your Prince or Princess Charming. There are plenty of places to read, including the lush, plant-filled rooftop terrace, with views of the New York Public Library. Book lovers won’t leave empty-handed, either: At check-in, every guest can select a free advance reader’s edition from Simon & Schuster. Prefer your e-reader? Download best-selling e-books gratis using Simon & Schuster’s Foli app. 4. The Library at Hotel Emma: San Antonio, Texas (Courtesy Hotel Emma)You’ll feel as though you’re starring in The Favourite — minus the book-throwing — when you luxuriate in the burgundy club chairs underneath the stately iron-and-wood-plank staircase inside Hotel Emma’s two-story library. Each of the towering space’s 3,700 volumes were handpicked by local novelist and anthropologist Sherry Kafka Wagner, co-creator of the San Antonio River Walk, from her personal library. The result of her mission is an eclectic, cerebral collection with a Southern twang, from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying to recipe books to an oral history of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The diversity, she once said, “allows people to find themselves.” Once you’ve located your perfect-bound soul mate, visit the concierge to borrow it on the honor system. 5. The Library at Baker’s Cay Resort: Key Largo, Florida (Courtesy Hotel Emma) The sleek midcentury-modern library inside brand-new Baker’s Cay Resort is nice, sure. But the real draw for book lovers is the sandy outdoor path that connects to shaded spots, beach areas, and hammocks, a feature that pairs perfectly with the resort’s collection of classic paperbacks, many with nautical themes, including Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The combination is ideal for fulfilling that idyllic Florida Keys fantasy of dozing on and off while swaying in the breeze, a good book in hand. Hemingway would approve. 6. Heathman Library at The Heathman Hotel: Portland, Oregon Fans of erotic novels might know The Heathman Hotel for its prominent role in E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, but its library spans multiple genres. Fresh off a recent renovation and topped with a crystal chandelier, the two-story wood-paneled Heathman Library holds 3,000-plus books signed by their authors, including Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize winners, U.S. Poet Laureates, and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Intended to serve as a modern-day European salon, the space hosts a reservation-only Russian Tea Experience on Saturdays, as well as author readings. And, yes, several E.L. James–signed copies of Fifty Shades are on the shelves. 7. The Library at E.B. Morgan House: Aurora, New York This opulent Finger Lakes retreat — an 1833 stone mansion once home to a co-founder of the New York Times — combines history and nostalgia within the walls of its coral-hued library, replete with original marble fireplace. True to E.B. Morgan House’s history as a dormitory for students studying French at nearby Wells College, the collection features French language and art books as a tribute. Many of the mansion’s other reads are from the personal library of Pleasant Rowland, founder of the American Girl books and dolls, who owns the property. Look for hidden inscriptions: A number of the books were gifted to Rowland by their authors. 8. Marina Village at Oil Nut Bay: Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands Opening this spring in the BVIs’ North Sound, the Marina Village at Oil Nut Bay eco-resort has a market, boutique shopping, and a coffee shop, but, more importantly, a Caribbean-themed library curated by Ultimate Library, a company staffed by book experts who create bespoke libraries for design-forward hotels around the world. Reaching beyond the resort’s boundaries, Oil Nut Bay and Ultimate Library donated an entire library to local Robinson O’Neal Memorial Primary School, which was devastated after Hurricane Irma.