Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Getting the Travel Itch in a Down Economy

So, the economy's down and maybe your pocket book is too...but you have the urge to travel. What to do? Staycation, you say? Or, full on vacation? If you're a California resident, then a staycation offers you lots of opportunities to explore the many aspects of your home state. If you don't live in California, but can swing a trip there by plane, train, bus, or automobile...then your options for exploration are endless. California offers it all with something to excite and intrigue every taste or interest. If money's too tight to mention, don't despair...there are bargains to be had throughout the state.

If you are in California and want to do some sightseeing, get in your car or hoof it to some of the local attractions for some memorable photo ops; this is one of the cheapest ways of getting to do things. It doesn't cost anything to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge, but it does cost to drive over it (it's free if you walk). It's not going to cost you to visit Pier 39 in San Francisco (especially if you're already there); however, if you have to drive, it will cost you to park (not cheap, but not the most expensive city parking). Pier 39 offers some great views of the city and the bay...Coit Tower, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate can see them all from Pier 39.

Admission fees to places of interest can add up, so be selective with where you spend your money. I've done the "drive by" photo op many times, especially if I don't feel it's worth it to spend the admission fee. A lot of museums and other places of interest will offer a free day or special discounts. Check out materials available from the local tourist bureaus, if you're a AAA member then see what discounts may be offered to members. There are many ways to have a fun time and see some great places without spending a lot of money. If you belong to a museum in your home town, check to see if any museums at your destination offer reciprocal discounts.

Golden Gate Park, including the Strybing Arboretum & Botanical Gardens. Golden Gate Park is huge at more than 1,000 acres. It is free to visit and there are frequently many free community events going on in the park. While there are attractions in the park that do cost to visit, the San Francisco Botanical Gardens is one of the free ones. The gardens consist of 55 acres of land within the park. You will find more than 7,500 varieties of flora from around the world. There are many paths to walk and many benches to sit on and contemplate the world or simply the beauty around you. There are free, daily docent-led tours of the botanical gardens and even a free children's story time twice a month (every 1st and 3rd Sunday).

Also located within the confines of Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences which offers free admission the third Wednesday of every month and some neighborhood-specific promotions sorted by ZIP code on certain weekends. The Academy consists of an aquarium, a planetarium, natural history museum, and a tropical rain forest bio-dome.

The deYoung Museum is located in Golden Gate Park adjacent to the California Academy of Sciences. The first Tuesday of each month is free admission (excluding special exhibits and events.) However, if you purchase admission to the deYoung, you get free same-day admission to the Legion of Honor (or vice versa.) The deYoung features collections of American art from the 17th through the 20th centuries, and art of the native Americas, Africa, and the Pacific. The Legion of Honor, located in Lincoln Park near 34th Avenue and Clement Street, overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge. The Legion of Honor also offers free admission the first Tuesday of each month. The Legion houses a collection of 4,000 years of ancient and European art, all displayed in a beautiful Beaux-Arts building.

The Exploratorium is a kid-friendly interactive museum located within San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts. The musem--less of a museum and more of an interactive science exhibit-- is dedicated to art, science and human perception through the use of hands-on displays. The Exploratorium offers free admission the first Wednesday of each month.

If the free museum days don't fit into your vacation schedule, you can purchase a San Francisco City Pass, which for $59 ($39 for kids) offers you discounted admission to five area attractions: California Academy of Sciences, a Blue & Gold Fleet bay cruise, Aquarium of the Bay, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Exploratorium or the de Young/Legion of Honor. You also receiv a 7-day Muni/Cable Car passport providing unlimited transportation on Muni cable cars, street cars, and buses for seven consecutive days.

For deals and specials in the Monterey area, check out the See Monterey deals page. There is more information about hotel specials, restaurant deals, and attraction offers in the Monterey Bay area including Monterey, Salinas, Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Big Sur.

One of the best free things to do in Monterey is just hang out and check out the marine life on the bay. Watching the otters, seals, and sea lions cavort in the surf is highly entertaining and doesn't cost a thing. There are also plenty of bike/walking paths to take advantage of (and it is free to do so.) Along the bike path in Monterey, just off of Cannery Row, are some historic buildings that you can view inside to see how those in the fishing industry lived.

Nearby, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History offers free admission all of the time. This is a small museum that features permanent exhibits which focus on the native flora, fauna, and aboriginal populations of Monterey County. The museum also frequently features special temporary exhibits throughout the year. Also part of the museum is Point Pinos Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. Tours are free (although a donation is suggested) and offered Thursdays through Mondays, reservations required.

Sunny Santa Cruz located on Monterey Bay is home to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum which covers over 100 years of surfing history as related to Santa Cruz. The museum offers free admission. Also located in Santa Cruz is the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History which is not free, but the admission is only
$2.50 for adults, $1.50 for seniors, and free for kids under 18. You can find lodging specials on the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council website. It doesn't cost a thing to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, rides and activities aren't free, but the amusement park offers ride passes. The Boardwalk is home to two National Historic Landmarks (the 1911 Looff Carousel and the 1924 Giant Dipper) and is also a State Historic Landmark.

California State Parks offer a budget-friendly option for vacationing, with many of them offering camping options. For those that don't have camping options, they may offer many sightseeing and outdoors activity options (such as hiking, biking, boating, fishing, swimming, diving, and more.)

So, if money woes have you down, don't despair. You can still have a great vacation in California. Take advantage of free admissions and discount offers. Be creative in the places that you go and do your research to make sure you're getting the best deals around. Just remember, it's not how much money you spend, but how much fun you have,

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