American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
America's Top Bargain Destinations for Summer Travel, Part 2
Santa Fe, New Mexico: Santa Fe, New Mexico's capital city and the heart of the Land of Enchantment, is truly one of America's most unique cities – and definitely one of my favorites. As I've blogged before, I also consider it one of America's most romantic cities, and given the plethora of adobe shops, historic buildings, and contemporary galleries and boutiques, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Santa Fe is also one of the country's most famous walking cities. In fact, the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau offers several free thematic walking tours, featuring everything from chocolate and coffee shops, to literary landmarks, to murals and other public artwork that, together, are part of the New Deal art legacy. In addition to free attractions, Santa Fe also features plenty of cheap eats, including Southwestern cuisine, from breakfast burritos to New Mexican shepherd's pie, at the Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery (133 W. Water St., 505/984-1800, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., $8-18).
Of course, if you're hoping to explore the region around Santa Fe, consider taking a four-hour trip toward the Four Corners, the curious convergence of four states: New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Here, you'll be close to a variety of interesting sights, including scenic highways, national parks, and Native American reservations. For more information about Santa Fe, consult the Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau (201 W. Marcy St., 800/777-2489), online trip ideas like “A Santa Fe Weekend,” or Zora O'Neill's Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque.
Las Vegas, Nevada: Sin City is certainly one of the most lively cities in America, and as I wrote back in November, it's also extremely budget-friendly. Whether you head to Vegas for a family vacation or a romantic getaway, you'll find plenty of free sights, including the nightly Fremont Street Experience (702/678-5777), the lion habitat (11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily) at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (3799 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702/891-7800), and the periodic musical fountain at the Bellagio (3600 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702/693-7111). As for food, you'll encounter an assortment of buffets, both cheap and expensive, in Las Vegas, but if you're looking for an alternative, stop by Canter's Deli ($10-15) at Treasure Island (3300 S. Las Vegas Blvd., 702/894-7111). You can also save money with midweek hotel deals. In addition, hotels off the Strip tend to be way less expensive, and even if you didn't bring your own car, you can get around cheaply using the city's bus service (702/228-7433, $5 for 24-hour pass) and monorail (702/699-8299, 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m.-3 a.m. Fri.-Sun., $12 for one-day pass). Plus, walking along the Strip is not only feasible but good exercise.
No matter how much fun you're having in Sin City, the 24-hour lights, sounds, and crowds of Las Vegas may wear on you after a while. If so, venture into the surrounding desert, where the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (1000 Scenic Loop Dr., 702/515-5350, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, $7 vehicles, $3 motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians) offers incredible scenic views, wildlife-watching opportunities, and an interesting loop drive (6 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Nov.-Feb., 6 a.m.-7 p.m. daily Mar. and Oct., 6 a.m.-8 p.m. daily Apr.-Sept.). Other nearby, relatively inexpensive outdoor sights include the Hoover Dam (702/494-2517, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, admission to visitor center and powerplant $11 adults, $9 military, seniors 62 and over, and children 4-16) on U.S. 93 at the Nevada-Arizona border, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (702/293-8990, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily, $5 vehicles, $3 motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians) south of Boulder City, and, of course, the Grand Canyon (928/638-7888, 24 hrs. daily, seven-day permit $25 vehicles, $12 motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians) in Arizona. For more information about Las Vegas, consult the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (3150 Paradise Rd., 702/892-7575), Rick Garman's Moon Las Vegas, or the author's informative Q&A.
Los Angeles, California: The City of Angels is such a sprawling metropolis, filled with so many museums, amusement parks, ethnic enclaves, and other diversions, that it's hard to select just a few budget-friendly spots. One ideal place, though, is the Original Farmers Market (6333 W. 3rd St., 323/933-9211, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.), which contains an array of inexpensive eateries, shops, and produce and lies just across the street from the unique Farmer's Daughter Hotel (115 S. Fairfax Ave., 323/937-3930, $170-190). If you're looking for free attractions, consider venturing to the endlessly entertaining, year-round Santa Monica Pier and its adjacent beaches, where you'll encounter jugglers, artists, vendors, and other curious folks, not to mention free summer concerts. Art lovers, meanwhile, will appreciate the free Getty Center (1200 Getty Center Dr., 310/440-7300, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri. and Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat., $15 parking) and the free Getty Villa (17985 Pacific Coast Hwy., 310/440-7300, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Mon., $15 parking), each of which boasts impressive collections of paintings, sculptures, and other artwork. While not free, a visit to the 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden (301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, 626/821-3222, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily) – about which I've blogged before – is well worth the price of admission ($8 adults, $6 students and seniors, $3 children 5-12), especially if you're looking for some tranquility amid this vast urban sprawl.
Los Angeles is also an excellent home base for national parks in southern California, including Sequoia National Park (47050 Generals Hwy., Three Rivers, 559/565-3341, 24 hrs. daily, seven-day permit $20 vehicles, $10 motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians) and Joshua Tree National Park (74485 National Park Dr., Twentynine Palms, 760/367-5500, 24 hrs. daily, seven-day permit $15 vehicles, $5 motorcycles, bicycles, horses, and pedestrians), both of which offer inexpensive campgrounds and free admission for America The Beautiful passholders ($80 yearly for 1-4 adults, $10 per lifetime for seniors 62 and over). For more information about Los Angeles, consult the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau (685 S. Figueroa St., 213/689-8822), Liz Hamill Scott's Moon Southern California, or Moon Metro Los Angeles.
Portland, Oregon: As with Austin, bicycling is a popular, ecofriendly activity in Portland, and it helps that many hotels will include free bike rentals with your stay. Of course, if your hotel doesn't offer such a deal, you can easily rent a bicycle from a variety of outfitters. Waterfront Bicycles (10 SW Ash St., Ste. 100, 503/227-1719, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily), for instance, provides a wide array of bike rentals, from hybrids for $9 hourly to tandems for $125 weekly. Portland is also a terrific walking town, which is excellent news for those who enjoy self-guided walking tours. Travel Portland even highlights six such tours, which explore the varied groups that have helped to shape the city, including African Americans, Chinese Americans, the LGBT community, Hispanic Americans, Japanese Americans, and Native Americans. Some of the attractions along such tours include the Lan Su Chinese Garden (NW 3rd and Everett, 503/228-8131, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Nov.-Mar., $8.50 adults, $6.50 children 6-18), the Portland Japanese Garden (611 SW Kingston, 503/223-1321, noon-7 p.m. Mon., 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tues.-Sun. Apr.-Sept., noon-4 p.m. Mon., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sun. Oct.-Mar., $9.50 adults, $6.75 children 6-17), and the bronze Sacajawea statue in 400-acre Washington Park west of downtown. If you plan to stay in the Portland area for a few days, you should also consider getting the Portland Perks Package, which includes exclusive rates at more than 35 hotels, free overnight parking, complimentary breakfast for two, the discount-packed Portland Perks coupon book, and, if you book by May 31, $50 upon check-in. For more information about Portland, consult Travel Portland (1000 SW Broadway, Ste. 2300, 503/275-9750 or 800/962-3700) or Hollyanna McCollom's Moon Portland.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks: Mainly situated in Wyoming, these adjacent national parks constitute an amazing medley of verdant forests, snow-capped mountains, and pristine lakes. Everyone should see them at least once in their lifetime, and luckily, a visit won't break the bank. One seven-day entrance permit ($25 vehicles, $20 motorcycles, $12 bicyclists and pedestrians) will grant you access to both Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Of course, both parks also accept the annual interagency pass ($80 yearly for 1-4 adults, $10 per lifetime for seniors 62 and over), and inexpensive camping ($12-35 daily) is available in Yellowstone. Both parks also offer a wide array of free or inexpensive outdoor activities, from guided ranger hikes to scenic drives to bird-watching opportunities. In addition, concessionaires like the Flagg Ranch Resort (800/443-2311) feature unique activities such as a three-hour scenic float trip down the Snake River ($55 adults, $35 children 6-12). Although outdoor diversions are paramount in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, several intriguing museums exist in this region, too – some of which have very affordable admission prices. For example, Wyoming's Buffalo Bill Historical Center (720 Sheridan Ave., Cody, 307/587-4771, hours vary seasonally, $15 adults, $13 seniors and students, $10 children 6-17), considered one of the country's finest western museums, contains five museums in one: the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, the Plains Indian Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, and the Draper Museum of Natural History. For more information about this region, consult Yellowstone National Park (307/344-7381, daily), Grand Teton National Park (307/739-3300, daily), or Don Pitcher's Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton.
Of course, I hope you've found these suggestions just as helpful as the first five, and naturally, I welcome your comments. In the meantime, keep a lookout for the last part of this three-part bargain-hunting U.S. travel series. And just remember, when visiting America's national parks – or any precious landscape, for that matter – you should always adhere to Leave No Trace principles, so that future generations can appreciate these wondrous places, too.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Photo of Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden / Text © 2010 Laura Martone