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January: Road Trip Through Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula
This feature was originally published on money.com
WHAT TO DO IN THE YUCATÁN: Start in Valladolid, 97 miles west of Cancún and on the way to the famous ruins at Chichén Itzá. This small town has become a beacon of chic. Shop along Calle 41A for made-in-Mexico finds, like Ariane Dutzi’s rustic handbags. For a taste of local culture, take a free 10 a.m. tour at Casa de Los Venados, a 16th-century residence housing more than 3,000 works of Mexican art. Then for lunch, head to Yerba Buena for rich Oaxacan moles atop cazuelas, or skillets of egg, cheese, and plantains ($6).
Mérida, another 90 minutes west, is studded with elegant 19th-century mansions and charming squares. The town derived its wealth from henequen fibers, called “green gold” in the 1800s. Study up on city history at El Museo Casa Montejo on the city’s elegant Plaza de la Independencia (tickets, $4). To get a sense of contemporary life in Merida, visit Fundacion de Artistas (52-999/923-5905), on the edge of the city’s historic district. Here you can have an espresso at the café before exploring the rotating art exhibits.
The last stop, 40 miles back toward Cancún, is Izamal, where buildings lining the 20-square-block historic center are painted a golden yellow. Take a horse-drawn carriage ($10) to get the lay of the small land and peek into gift shops and artisan studios. Don’t miss the Convento de San Antonio de Padua, a 1561 Franciscan monastery.
HOW TO SAVE: While Mérida has its own airport, flights to Cancún International, three hours away, are usually cheaper (roughly 40% less). Once on the road, take Highway 180 instead of toll road 180D to save the $15 fee. Even high-end accommodations are affordable: In Mérida, one-bedroom villas through Urbano Rentals start at $150 a night, down from $200 in December. A room and three-course breakfast at Hotel Julamis will run you $59 to $68 a night.
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February: Go Skiing at Mont-Tremblant in Quebec
WHAT TO DO IN QUEBEC: Hit the slopes! Opt for the Latitude Card (from $42 per day per adult), which shaves up to 37% off regular lift-ticket prices. Ski lessons, too, are a steal: Kids can take full-day group classes through Feb. 16 for $100 ($115 starting Feb. 17); in comparison, full-day group lessons at Killington cost $185. Afterward, head into the village for its après-ski scene. “Don’t miss Le Shack,” suggests Becca Hensley, travel writer with the Canadian Automobile Association magazine. Order the bavette de bœuf, a flank steak served with frites ($21). Families won’t want to miss a stop in Bagnoles et Bobinette, an old-fashioned toy store loaded with classic board games, stuffed animals and wooden cars.
HOW TO SAVE: Early February is a great time to go, as it’s between Christmas and spring break. Ski-in, ski-out accommodations for a family of four start at $116 to $148, up to 20% less than in December and March. You’ll save even more when you stay in town: Rates at the Tour des Voyageurs I, just blocks from a ski lift, start at $97 U.S..
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March: Sip and Stroll in Sonoma, California
WHAT TO DO IN SONOMA: Visit some of the area’s hundreds of wineries by bicycle. In Healdsburg, rent from Wine Country Bikes (starting at $39 a day; three-day rentals save $10). Cycle to Portalupi to sample Zinfandels and Pinots paired with local meats and cheeses ($25; reservations required), or taste wines at the counter (three for $10). In the afternoon, store the bikes and explore greater Sonoma. Make a reservation at Copain (tastings $25), seven miles south of Healdsburg, to sample Pinot Noirs and Syrahs paired with local cheeses while overlooking the Russian River Valley. At Iron Horse Vineyards the atmosphere is surprisingly casual for a producer whose sparkling wines are regularly served at White House dinners. Finish the day in nearby Calistoga, where happy hour at Johnny’s means $3 sliders, $1.75 oysters, and choice wines by the glass for $6. Or have dinner at Shed, in Healdsburg, a restaurant and artisan shop where you can dine on seasonal plates like sardines and shaved fennel or pizza topped with razor-thin zucchini.
HOW TO SAVE: Rates at the h2hotel on the main square in Healdsburg, typically $269 a night, drop to $229 in March when you stay two nights or more. Similarly, rooms at the Beltane Ranch, a six-room B&B with olive groves and vineyards, are $20 to $60 cheaper than during high season (rooms start at $185 to $205). While winery hopping, don’t forget to ask for coupons that waive the tasting fee (usually $10 to $25) at neighboring establishments.
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April: Enjoy Small-Town Life in Greenville, South Carolina
WHAT TO DO IN GREENVILLE: Start with a stroll down Main Street, suggests John Nolan, owner of Greenville History Tours. At the landmark 1925 Poinsett Hotel, you can admire original architectural details like coffered ceilings hung with chandeliers. Take advantage of the lunch specials at Soby’s on the Side: on Fridays, sandwiches are just $4, down from $7. For more food savings, download the Vittl app (vittl.co), which offers deals at 35 local restaurants. Foodie shoppers will love the Cook’s Station, an all-things kitchen store that also hosts cooking classes (from $40). Pick up polos and other preppy staples at locally owned Southern Tide and shop for denim by local designers at Beija-Flor Jeans. Dedicate time to exploring Greenville’s easily accessible parks. Check out the 40-foot waterfall in Falls Park in the historic West End of downtown. Pack a picnic (southern staple Caviar & Bananas has great gourmet provisions) for a trip to the playgrounds and wildflower gardens of 20-acre Legacy Park. In the past eight years, the city has developed nearly 20 miles of hiking and biking trails.
HOW TO SAVE: Get around the city center via a free trolley and solar-powered shuttle; parking on Main Street is also free. Though it costs a little more than the $100 area average for lodging, you’ll want to stay downtown to get the most bang for your buck. Starting prices at the Pettigru Place Bed & Breakfast range from $140 to $170. Or opt for a room at the cheerful and contemporary Swamp Rabbit Inn (from $105 to $155).
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May: Hike and Beachcomb on Hawaii's Big Island
WHAT TO DO IN HAWAII: The Big Island’s terrain ranges from rainforests to stark volcanic landscapes. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, on the southeastern coast, gets its ebony shine from ancient lava flows. At Papakolea Beach, about 40 miles farther south, the green sand is made of semiprecious peridots, one of only four such beaches in the world. (Note: Papakolea is accessible only via a rugged footpath.) “Hikers shouldn’t miss the historic Puu Oo trail off the island’s central Daniel K. Inouye Highway, called Saddle Road among locals,” says Rob Pacheco, founder of tour operator Hawaii Forest & Trail. Keep an eye out for rare birds, such as yellow amakihi and endangered akiapolaau. Get a taste of authentic Hawaiian food at Super J’s (lunch $15), located on the southwest Kona Coast, says Danny Akaka, Director of Cultural Affairs for Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows. “At the family-run restaurant, try the savory lomi salmon and homemade poi (mashed taro root).”
HOW TO SAVE: Nightly hotel rates are 15% less in May ($214) than in January through April, and 11% less expensive than during the summer months, STR reports. You’ll beat those averages when you book a garden- or ocean-view two-bedroom for $165 at the Royal Sea Cliff Kona by Outrigger. Across the island in Hilo, you’ll save even more at the classic Hilo Hawaiian Hotel. Rooms overlooking the Pacific start at $150; knock off another $25 if you opt for a view of the banyan groves instead.
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June: Enjoy Summer on Lake Champlain in Vermont
WHAT TO DO AT LAKE CHAMPLAIN: Get your bearings in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. Families should start at ECHO, a 2.7-acre learning center on the lake, to see sea stars, box turtles, and other freshwater creatures (adults, $14.50; kids, $11.50). From there it’s a short walk to the Community Sailing Center, where you can take a group sailing lesson ($40 an hour) or rent a kayak ($15 per hour). Alternately, sign up for a sailing trip with Whistling Man Schooner Company (tickets, $50). You’ll hear all about Lake Champlain’s battle history while taking in views of lighthouses. Head north of the city on Highway 2 to explore Alburgh Dunes State Park, a barrier island with long stretches of sandy beach ($4 for adults, $2 for children). Over the bridge on neighboring Isle La Motte, you’ll find Saint Anne’s Shrine. The religious order welcomes visitors, picnickers, and respectful swimmers—in other words, skip the thong bikini.
HOW TO SAVE: Rates at the antiques-filled Inn at Shelburne Farms, seven miles south of Burlington, start at $160 to $175, down $10 to $40 from high season (July through October). In town, rooms at the Willard Street Inn start at $159 to $169, down $20 from peak season.
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July: Sightsee on the Baltic in Gdansk, Poland
WHAT TO DO IN GDANSK: Get an overview by taking one of the free walking tours that meet daily (tips encouraged). Along the cobblestone streets you’ll stop by St. Mary’s Church, one of the world’s largest brick cathedrals, and get a look at the city’s iconic symbol, a medieval port crane once used to place masts on ships. Fans of more recent history can visit the European Solidarity Centre ($4), says Joanna Sliwerska with Warsaw-based tour operator Mazurkas Travel. Get 20% off admission there and at dozens of other sites with the Tourist Card, available at the Gdansk Railway Station or tourist center ($20 for three days). Be sure to catch one of the daily organ recitals in Oliwa Cathedral, home to a world-renowned instrument that dates back to the 1700s.
HOW TO SAVE: The four-star Radisson Blu Hotel has rates from $165 a night; book more than a month in advance and save another $30. You’ll pay 25% less without giving up luxury when you stay outside the city center. At the plush 70-room Dwór Oliwski Hotel & Spa, in a leafy neighborhood northwest of the old town, prices start at $128. A taxi from there to the city center runs $10 or so.
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August: Visit Coastlines and Cloud Forests in Costa Rica
WHAT TO DO IN COSTA RICA: Fly into Liberia Airport for easy access to Guanacaste, Costa Rica’s largest (and driest) state and most accessible coastline. At El Mangroove Hotel, splurge on a private boat ($150 per person, including lunch and beer and wine). Ask the guide to take you past Monkey Head Island, where the rock resembles a gorilla’s face. Inland are the jungle parks and biological reserves of Monteverde. At nearby 100% Aventura, you can zip-line through jungle canopies ($50). Take surf lessons ($50) from a former pro surfer at Cala Luna Hotel in Playa Langosta, where spacious rooms with Pacific views cost $233 a night, down from $371 in the high season. Or conserve cash—and adrenaline—with the $30 Hanging Bridges tour, during which naturalists lead treks on suspended walkways.
HOW TO SAVE: Rain isn’t the only thing that falls in the transition season. Rates drop 30% on average, according to STR Global. A room at the waterfront Mangroove starts at $249 in August vs. $319 December through April. At the Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge, double rooms are just $106. For the best flight prices, buy plane tickets 21 to 35 days in advance, suggests Hopper.com chief data scientist Patrick Surry.
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September: Get Onto Island Time (Without the Crowds) on Virginia's Chincoteague Island
WHAT TO DO IN CHINCOTEAGUE: Grab wheels at the Bike Depot (from $14 per day) and head to the beach, about three miles away, or take the bridge to Assateague. The bike path bypasses the car tollbooth, so you’ll save the $8 entry fee to the refuge. Keep an eye out for the ponies, believed to be the descendants of horses that swam off a sinking Spanish ship in the 1700s. Climb the Assateague Lighthouse for 360-degree views of the park and water, says supervisory park ranger Michael Dixon.
HOW TO SAVE: Rent a redbrick cottage overlooking the water at Snug Harbor, on the island’s tranquil east side, where you can fish or go crabbing from the pier, or kayak to the property’s private beach. High-season rates ($149 to $289) go down 10% to 20% in September. If you would rather bed down in more modern digs, opt for the Anchor Inn, where rooms have private balconies and include a continental breakfast; rates start at $107, down from $165 in summer.
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October: Go Leaf Peeping on Michigan's Upper Peninsula
WHAT TO DO IN MICHIGAN: Enjoy the scenery on foot. Wolverine State hikers love the three-mile Bare Bluff trail on Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts into Lake Superior. You’ll have to hoof it up several steep inclines as the path makes its way to the top, but you’re rewarded with unimpeded views down miles of shoreline, says Andrew Bacon of the Michigan Nature Association. If you would prefer to explore from behind the wheel, drive along roads shaded by maples, red oaks, and evergreens on Highway 41, then take the M26 loop that skirts the Lake Superior shoreline. Visit Marquette, a college town 2½ hours from Keweenaw, where redbrick buildings line downtown streets and the Maritime Museum offers a display on the Edmund Fitzgerald and other Great Lakes shipwrecks (admission, $6).
HOW TO SAVE: At the Birchmont Hotel, you get a two-bedroom suite and kitchenette overlooking Lake Superior for $129; the price drops to $94 for a queen bedroom only. At the Scandinavian-inspired Nestledown Inn, rates include breakfast dishes like Dutch pancakes and sausage-and-egg strata ($170 a night).
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November: Explore the City Streets of Buenos Aires
WHAT TO DO IN BUENOS AIRES: First-timers should see La Boca, known for its colorful row houses. While there, stroll along El Caminito (“the little walkway”), inspiration for the famous tango of the same name. The Evita Museum, in the leafy Palermo Chico neighborhood, is worth visiting to see former first lady Eva Perón’s pristinely preserved wardrobe ($2.50). Eva Peron fans should also make a trip to the fascinating Recoleta Cemetery, where the former First Lady is buried.
On Saturdays, bring a spare suitcase to San Telmo Market, where hundreds of stands sell antiques and artisan goods and street performers dance tango for tips.
HOW TO SAVE: Book a room at Esplendor Plaza Francia in Recoleta; rates start at $88, $40 less than they would have been a year ago. Also in Recoleta is Casa Bevant, where serviced apartment-style accommodations start at $90. To get around, stick to the subway; tickets are 50¢ per ride vs. $2 a mile for taxis, per Numbeo.com.
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December: Get in the Holiday Spirit in Newport, Rhode Island
WHAT TO DO IN NEWPORT: Make for the Breakers, one of Newport’s most famous mansions. The former summer “cottage” of the Vanderbilts “is a stunning example of Gilded Age grandeur during the holidays,” says Meaghan O’Neill, founder of regional blog PuddingstonePost.com. There’s also a model train that will keep kids occupied for hours. Bundle up and take a walk in the Point neighborhood, where Colonial-era houses sport twinkling holiday decorations. Then get cozy by the fireplace at the 18th-century Clarke Cooke House for a special-occasion dinner ($120 for two).
HOW TO SAVE: Prices are slashed throughout the city. At the Hotel Viking, for example, rates are $129, down from $379 in the summer. Opt for the Newport Mansions Package ($169 a night), which includes overnight accommodations, breakfast for two, parking, and two tickets to visit the Newport Mansions. At Jo’s Bistro, a meal and a glass of wine costs $21 from Sunday through Wednesday; entrées alone are typically $25.
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