Today we’re going to continue down the coast to California and Nevada (though not technically on the coast, it is a huge tourist destination, and it’s still good to know how to save there). I’ve got a big list of free activities for you and some great deals. While this is a pretty long list of places to visit and things to do that will cost you almost nothing, it’s by no means a complete list. Plus, you gotta get there, so that brings me to my #2 budget travel rule.
Sign up for travel emails. I keep saying it, but I bet some of you scoff at this idea, because you don’t like the idea of “spam” clogging your email. If you want to waste your time scouring websites all day for a week to find deals, be my guest, but they offer their service as just that. A service, not as an annoyance. I like the convenience of having them sent straight to my inbox each week and being able to browse the sales quickly. Reputable travel companies will not sell your information or send you a bunch of junk mail that you’ll have to delete thirty times a day. Some will ask if you would like to receive email from their partner sites. It’s seriously easy to just uncheck the box before you opt-in for their newsletters. They want you to buy your travel from them, and they know if they annoy you with a bunch of stuff you don’t want, you aren’t going to.I receive between 20 and 30 newsletters a week (that I opted in for), no related spam, and I get to choose from amazing deals. If they don’t appeal to me, I delete them and wait for the next week. Easy! If you are looking for something specific, then personalize your accounts with travel companies that send newsletters. Most will ask you to choose at least one preferred destination, so they can send you deals on those and make their service more useful to you. You’ll be the first to know about new deals to your chosen destination(s) and can jump on the sales before the masses who were not smart enough to sign up for newsletters. Go you!
Okay, onto the big-city discounts! As you all know, no vacation is cheap, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be affordable. Mix in some free activities with your must-do list and you’ll find that your dollars stretch further than you thought they would:
San Francisco: Known for high prices, it’s hard to say that any San Francisco vacation can ever be affordable. One of the smartest things you can do when heading to a city that has expensive hotels and food is to stay outside the city. You can take public transportation or even rent a car. With the difference in hotel prices between San Francisco and, say, Oakland, Albany or Richmond, you’ll see how this could potentially save you hundreds off a vacation.
- Golden Gate Bridge – No trip to San Francisco is complete without at least driving across this beautiful bridge, but it is also open to pedestrians and cyclists during daylight hours. At almost 2 miles long, it’s a great way to get exercise while also seeing amazing views of the city. Take a break to browse the gift shop and visitor’s center on the southeast side.
- City Guides – Local volunteers take tourists on free walking tours of the city. Find locations and schedules of tours online, by just searching for “free San Francisco walking tours”.
- Exploratorium – This is another hands-on science museum that teaches young and old alike about electricity and other scientific principles. Admission is free the first Wed of every month and it can take up around 4 hours of your day, or more, depending on how fun you find it.
- California Academy of Sciences – Free admission is available on the third Wednesday of every moth. Explore exhibits at the academy, including the African Hall, Swamp exhibit, T-Rex skeleton and aquarium. You can also get to the CAS through Golden Gate Park. Parking is free on nearby streets if you drive yourself.
- Cable Car Museum – Just what it claims to be, you can plan to spend about an hour and a half in this free museum. Learn the history of cable cars while observing full-size cars and photos. Spend some bucks that you saved on admission on funky souvenirs made from cable car tracks.
- Boudin Demonstration Bakery – Almost everyone enjoys some good sourdough bread, and San Francisco is famous for it. Watch bread being made through observation windows and right upstairs from the bakery is a free museum that gives you the history of sourdough in the Bay Area.
- San Francisco Botanical Garden – Located in Golden Gate Park, spend an hour or two in the garden that’s open all year long. There is also a library and bookstore to browse after you’ve taken in all 55 acres of more than 7,500 plants. Every day, there are free guided tours at 1:30 as well. If you’re looking for something to take home, you can purchase plants at the nursery every Saturday.
- Lost Canyon Winery – In nearby Oakland, taste some of California’s best wines for free Friday and Saturdays from 1-6pm.
- San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club – Sure this is obscure, but it’s also fun. Get free lessons from club members in Golden Gate Park every Wednesday at noon.
Las Vegas: We’ve talked about Vegas before, so I won’t bore you with long explanations of free things to do, but I’ll do a quick rundown here, because there are a lot.
Sirens of TI – Free pirate show in front of the TI (formerly Treasure Island) hotel and casino. It plays at various times each evening.
- Fountains of Bellagio – If you’ve never seen water dancing to music, this is a must.
- Conservatory/Botanical Gardens – Another great freebie from Bellagio. It features over 1,000 plants.
- Lions of MGM – This is truly one of my favorites. I love to stay at MGM Grand, but even if I don’t, I still make time to stop by and hang with the lions. They are the hotel mascots, well taken care of and like to play with trainers and toys, in between eating and sleeping.
- The Fall of Atlantis – This is a fun animatronic show, worthy of Disney imaginers, featuring the Gods of Atlantis in the middle of the Forum Shops.
- Carnivale – Several times a day you can see this spectacular Mardi Gras-esque show on and above the casino floor of the Rio. If you hang out on the 2nd floor where the shops are, you get a close-up view of the “floats” that travel the ceiling in this very unique parade.
- Live Music – Most casino lounges have live music. You can just hang out and enjoy it.
- Fremont Street Experience – This is one of the most famous free experiences in Vegas. Off The Strip, on Fremont Street, the sidewalks are covered with a screen that shows an amazing light show set to music.
- Circus Acts – Circus Circus has something for everyone, including free circus acts throughout the day.
- Hawaiian Marketplace – Resembling a marketplace of Honolulu, shop outside amid beautiful tropical plants. Visit theEnchanted Forest for an hourly animatronic bird show. Also, Polynesian performers sing, dance and tell stories in the marketplace each day, with longer, more elaborate shows on the weekends.
Save up to 30% off rates on top Las Vegas Hotels, such as PH Towers, Caesar’s Palace and the Paris with Travelocity’s Dazzling Deals! Travel by March 4, 2011 and book as soon as possible to take advantage of these low prices!
Los Angeles: While most people head to LA to visit Disney and any of the other many theme parks or to shop Rodeo Drive or to get famous, you can go out into the city and do free things on some days and give your wallet a little break before hitting The Matterhorn again with Mickey and the Gang.
- Grauman’s Chinese Theater – Take a page from Lucy’s book and visit Grauman’s to match up your hand and footprints with celebrities all over the world.
- Be Part of The Studio Audience – So many shows tape in LA, that it would be a shame if you didn’t try to get into a free taping. Yup, tickets are free. The range of shows available can change every day, but if you want to get in on the action of shows like “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune”, now’s your chance.
- Downtown LA Art Walk – The second Thursday of the month is free gallery admission. Enjoy the latest art installations in many of the top galleries of the city.
- La Brea Tar Pits – See where more than 100 tons of fossils have been unearthed. Located in Hancock Park, no trip to LA would be complete without a visit.
- Hollywood Walk of Fame – Though Hollywood can be a dirty city, it’s still fun to walk along the sidewalk to see how many names you’re familiar with and snap a few pictures of your favorite celebrities, knowing they stood on the same spot you did when receiving their star.
- Tour of Walt Disney Concert Hall – Take a short self-guided tour with historical facts and interesting trivia.
- Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Visit some of the most famous Hollywood residents’ final resting places.
- Yoga classes – Free 90-minute classes are offered in Sherman Oaks at the Sahaja Meditation Center 3 nights a week and on Saturdays.
Want to stay in Los Angeles from just $58/night? Of course you do, because that’s a bargain anywhere you go! Expedia wants you to stay in recommended 3-star hotels for awesome prices with their California Sale. If you book a package with airfare, you can save even more! Book by November 18 for travel between now and the end of the year. (These deals also good for San Francisco, too!)
Save even more off your travels by using CityPASS Hollywood, CityPASS San Francisco, CityPASS Southern California (which includes many attractions, including theme parks for the biggest savings you’ll find.
Fly JetBlue for rates as low as $32 each way on their fall sale going on now through November 2.