Fabulous and Still Free ~ Attractions to Visit in America

vintage disney Remember the good old days, when people could set aside a few dollars and head out for trips of wonder and excitement?  It didn’t take a small loan or the sale of your firstborn to create memories that lasted a lifetime.  Set the wayback machine for 1971 when a mere $4.50 (adult) or $3.50 (child) bought you entry into the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland where you could wander from dawn to dusk.  It also bought you a book of ride tickets rated from A-E.  The “E” ticket was highly coveted as it took you on the best and biggest rides in the park.  Your $4.50 bought 1A ticket, 1B, 1C, 2D tickets and 2 E tickets.  As kids, we quickly learned about prioritizing and rationing!   One C ticket (or 50 cents if you wanted to go again) got you a ride in one of Davey Crockett’s canoes in Frontierland.  The E ticket took you on a gondola ride through It’s a Small World (don’t start humming the song or it’ll be in your head all day) or bought you a front row seat at The Mickey Mouse Review.

Fast forward to 2014 and What the Heck Happened?

A trip to the Magic Kingdom today will set you back a cool $92.00 (adult) and $86.00 (child).  Yikes!  You can ride any attraction you like as many times as you like, but only if you are willing to stand in line for 45 minutes.   Whoopie!   Universal Studios, another “must see” on so many vacation lists, costs $84.00 in Hollywood and $92.00 in Orlando.

A family of four or two retirees taking the grandkids on a vacation, might have to take out a second mortgage to have this kind of fun.  And pack a lunch.

Which got me thinking:  “Are there any great places to visit or attractions to see that are still free?”  Or at least cheap?

Turns out there are quite a few.  And a lot of folks are making a pilgrimage to these wonderful sites part of their vacation travels.   I’ve been to a few, but not nearly enough.  I see a road trip or two in my future.  What about you?

In order of absolutely no importance, every one of these attractions is worth a visit while the price is still right.

1.  The Smithsoniam Museums, Washington, D.C.  –  The National Zoo, National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum are the crown jewels of the 18 Smithsonian institutions in Washington D.C.   Where else can you see The Hope Diamond, Dorothy’s Red Slippers and the Spirit of St. Louis all in the same day and all for free?

2.  The National Mall and Washington D.C. Memorials –  The nation’s capital takes it’s “by the people for the people” ethos seriously (at least when it comes to buildings and monuments) and a surfeit of attractions honoring the country’s heritage cost nothing to tour – landmarks along the Mall, the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and the moving memorials to the veterans of WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnman War should be on every American’s must see at least once bucket list.

3.  New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park – While most national parks were established to preserve and share nature, this one celebrates jazz in it’s birthplace, New Orleans.   You’ll enjoy live music in the French Quarter, a music workshop for kids at Preservation Hall every Saturday, free guided walks and video documentaries and a whole lot more.

4.  The Getty Center, Los Angeles – Admission is free.  Parking is $15.00 but it’s still a deal and you can take public transporation.   The Getty is a sprawling art complex that sits high on a hill with jaw dropping views and sunsets.  Browse their impressive collection of European and American art, stroll the fabulous gardens or take the young ones to enjoy the Family Room for interactive exhibits and an art treasure hunt.   I just checked and the cost of admission to our Portland Art Museum is $15.00 for an adult, so the Getty seems like a real deal.

5.  Staten Island Ferry, New York City –  There’s still something free in NYC.  Who would have guessed.  A thrill ride on the Staten Island commuter ferry will take you past the Statue of Liberty with a panoramic view of downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City.  Even better when the city lights up.  It’s free 24/7 so you can ride any time.

6.  Harley-Davidson Factory Tour, Kansas City, MO –  Here’s your chance to go behind the scenes to see how Harley’s are made.  Take the tour to learn how fenders and gas tanks are formed from raw materials, watch live welding, frame bending and sophisticated robot technology at work.  You can even sit on hogs currently in production.  Selfie time!  (Tours are also available in Menomonee Falls, WI and York, PA).  They offer more in-depth tours for a whopping $30.00 so stick with the freebie.

7.  Freedom Trail, Boston, MA –  Walking the red brick path as it winds through metropolitan Boston is a walk through colonial history:  Boston Commons, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere’s house and Bunker Hill Monument.  You can take this walk at your leisure (for free) or pony up for an official tour with a guide in period costume.

8.  Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota –  It’s free to take in this amazing feat of art and architecture.  Where else but in the good ole USofA would you find 60 foot tall heads of four American presidents (Jefferson, Roosevelt (Theodore), Washington and Lincoln) painstakingly chiseled into granite cliffs?  It does cost to park, but it’s still South Dakota’s most visited attraction.

9.  Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, CO – The Colorado Springs Center is one of three facilities in the U.S. where Olympic hopefuls put in long hours to prepare for their shot at the gold.  You can tour this facility, which mainly focuses on summer indoor sports like swimming and fencing.  Always wanted to sit in a bobsled?  Here’s your chance.

10.  Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu, HI –  Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture and history with a visit to this recently remodeled attraction.  Experiences include everything from traditional Hawaiian massage (lomilomi), lei making, Hawaiian quilting, hula dancing or a crash course in ukulele making.

Been there?  Done that?  Here are ten more.  Get there and enjoy the experience while they are still free.

11.  Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia

12.  Conservatory at Bellagio, Las Vegas

13.  National September 11 Memorial, NYC

14.  Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

15.  San Francisco Cable Car Museum

16.  Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco – Yes you can walk across, enjoy the spectacular views, eat in the restaurant

17.  Birmingham Botanical Gardens, AL

18.  Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, GA for some eerie Gothic charm or the Westminister Hall Cemetery in Baltimore, MD, the eternal resting place of Edgar Allen Poe.

19.  Houston Museum District, Houston – 19 museums within a 1.5 mile radius.  12 are free daily.

20.  Allagash Brewery Tour, Portland, ME – Make an advance reservation, wear closed toe shoes and start your tour with free samples.

Got a favorite free attraction that you want to share?  Please leave a comment!

See you on the road!

Road Trip! Burgers Across America

Joe and Doris Lindner just squeezed the mustard on the last stop of an epic road trip.  They’ve been traveling across the country…one burger joint at a time.

How fun is that?

Best Burger in Michigan according to USA Today's 2010 poll

Best Burger in Michigan according to USA Today’s 2010 poll

It all started a couple of years ago when USA Today published American Bites: 51 Great Burger Joints.  They asked local experts to name one great burger joint in each state and the District of Columbia and published the top picks for places to savor everyone’s favorite all-American sandwich.

When Joe and Doris read that article, they were in Denver visiting family and not too far away from Park Burger, the Colorado pick, so they stopped in for a bite.  On their drive home they stopped to sample three more featured burger joints in Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee.  Apparently they loved burgers and were having a great time, so (and here’s where the perfect traveling-partner-in-crime comes into play) Joe says to Doris “Let’s have some fun.  Let’s get ’em all.”  And, instead of asking “Why?” Doris said “Why not?”

And that’s how this road trip started.

Joe and Doris are retired physicians so they had the time and, I don’t know them, but I’m guessing they have a sense of humor in addition to their sense of adventure.  I’ve heard of planning trips around visiting baseball parks, or museums, even roller coasters, and thought, not my thing.   But food…now hubs and I could get behind food themed adventures for sure.

The Lindners’ tasty trek has taken them across many miles in the past couple of years.  They hit every burger joint, stand, and restaurant on the list except one – Rhode Island.  By the time they got there, it was no longer in business.  A couple of weeks ago they savored the burgers at Village Burger Waimea in Hawaii.  It was burger joint #51 and the last stop on the list.

Good to the last bite.

Good to the last bite.

Well done, Lindners!  Well done.

See you on the road,


Photo Credits:   Both photos are from USA Today as was the idea for this post.  Thanks for the inspiration!

Hicksville Here We Come ~

I’ve been taking a couple of mini vacation trips with my backpack, my rollie and my lovely family.  I love summer!

Until I’m back to regular posts, here’s another fun and unique travel option that was sent to me recently from my very LA hipster niece.  She knows all the cute and quirky places to stay in California and this is certainly one to add to the travel list.  If you’re traveling in Southern California, you might want to spend a night (or two) in Hicksville. Hicksville is a  “motel” resort with lodging comprised of themed trailers with names like The Fifi, The Pioneer, The Integratrailor, and The Sweet.  It’s located in Joshua Tree, but you won’t see an address on their website.  That’s because you can’t drive by…you only get the address after your reservation has been confirmed.  It’s the ultimate secret getaway.  But wait, it gets better – the whole place, including the swimming pool, runs on solar power.  Their amenities include the pool, a Tipi with a firepit, horseshoes, darts, table tennis, archery and of course a bar.  All the comforts of home.  Well, that probably depends on where you call home, but it would definitely be a great stay for a night or two of fun in the outdoors and under the stars in the California desert. These folks really “circled the wagons” in style.

Thanks Melissa!

Road Trip ~ three fun reads

I love to read and always have several books going at the same time.  Usually my method of choosing a book is cruising through Powell’s Books and picking up whatever calls out to me in the moment.  I pick by title, cover and sometimes author.  It is usually totally random and not every one is a winner, but so far my system has worked quite well.

Since summer is almost here and some of us are dreaming of the luxury of a lazy afternoon or two stretched out in the lawn chair or on the beach with a book, I thought I would share a few I’ve enjoyed recently on my new favorite topic – Road Trips.  These are easy reads and by no means high literary art.  Beach books all – but with heart and humor.

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian ~ Ok, I LOVED this book.  I bought it based totally on the title and the short blurb on the cover.  I could not believe it was written by a man.  Someone said “Michael Zadoorian must be a wise old lady.”  Agreed!  This is the story of John and Ella as they take one last road trip.  Ella has cancer and John’s in the grip of Alzheimer’s.  Ella is determined that what they need most is a vacation.  In Ella’s words…”You might ask if this is the best idea?  Two down-on-their-luck geezers, one with more health problems than a third world country, the other so senile that he doesn’t know what day it is – taking a cross country road trip?  Don’t be stupid.  Of course it’s not a good idea.”  But, turns out – it was a perfectly perfect idea!  This is the ultimate road trip, love story and final act of bravery all rolled into one.  I cheered them on until the very last page.  This review in the Route 66 News says it better than I can.

Breakfast With Buddha ~ by Roland Merullo is another delightful read. I think it might appeal to seasoned Buddhists as well as anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about Buddha.  Actually, for me, it was more about contemplating your own life’s journey.

The story centers around Otto Ringling, a middle-aged man who’s dealing with a case of “what’s it all about Alfie?” and a serious gourmet food habit as well.  After the death of his parents, he’s conned into taking a road trip from the suburbs of New York to to the family farm in North Dakota with his sister’s Rinpoche (guru). Along the way Otto and his companion share lots of American misadventures as well as insightful Buddhist teachings.  It’s a fun, quick read, but it also managed to give me pause more than a few times.  And I loved the food descriptions as well.  In short, Breakfast with Buddha is a tasty treat.

Annie Freeman’s Fabulous Traveling Funeral ~ by Kris Radish.   Ok, first, let me just say that I am not a huge fan of this author.  I chose this book solely based on the premise.  I love the whole idea of the traveling funeral – so watch out friends of mine – you might get a UPS from me after I move on to the Next Adventure.

For Katherine Givens and the four women about to become her best friends, the adventure begins with a UPS package. Inside is a pair of red sneakers filled with ashes and a note that will forever change their lives. Katherine’s oldest and dearest friend, the irrepressible Annie Freeman, left one final request–a traveling funeral–and she wants the most important women in her life as “pallbearers.”  From Sonoma to Manhattan, Katherine, Laura, Rebecca, Jill, and Marie will carry Annie’s ashes to the special places in her life.  The ultimate final road trip with more than a few interesting and memorable moments.

What’s on your Summer reading list?  I’m always looking for a good read.

Lusting for a Land Yacht

I’m starting to think that more than half the fun of retirement planning is discovering all of the amazing options that I had absolutely no idea about.  Every time I talk to someone and mention our backpack and rollie plan, they tell me about some interesting place to visit, new ways to travel and the best yet, how to get paid while you are on the road aka workamping, in short, how to vivir la buena vida con poco dinera.   Just the other day, I had lunch with a friend who, last summer for her 60th birthday, visited 12 national parks in two weeks.  Camping with a girlfriend.  They loved it!   Another friend is hitting the road pulling a 10′ (that’s tiny) trailer so she and her dog and kitty can wander wherever the spirit of adventure takes them for the next year.  Or so.  These gals are blazing trails for me that I didn’t even know were there.

I’ve discovered that there are literally thousands of people, couples and singles, who chuck the house and the stuff and the stress and take to the joys of the open road.  All over the world.   The options are endless.  Who knew?  Really, it turns out that if you’ve got your health and an adventurous spirit, money isn’t as important as I feared.  Obviously money makes life easier, but travel and having grand adventures are still on the table.  Big time.  It just requires a slight mind-set adjustment.

So, with a new respect for those people I once thought to be just this side of the Beverly Hillbillies, I’ve become strangely drawn to what were originally known as land yachts.  If we’re going down this road (still an IF but I’m warming to the idea), then let’s go in style.  Which I would not necessarily confuse with luxury.  Fun, cute, unusual – something with flair that would make me swoon, like the little red number at the top of this post.  Definitely fun to think about.

Here’s a short pictorial history of some of my favorite land yachts.  I had a great time finding them ~

Family fun in a vintage 1909 motor home.

It was called The Jungle Yacht.  This was BEFORE Ike created the highway system so driving one of these babies over the mountains must have taken nerves of steel.

Now, this could do it.   It’s a 1956 model but I think it’s pretty cool.

Cutest.  Trailer.  Ever. And Ricky the cat could have his own trailer to match.  I love that it’s an Airstream which might just be the totally coolest trailers ever built.

Oh the places we’ll go.

So, if (and it is a BIG IF right now) we were to take to the open road in an RV or maybe one of those cute Airstream trailers, where might that road lead?  Visit friends and family – check, find rivers and stop for fly fishing – hubby big check, me “Ok, I’ll give you a few”, all those must see monuments, parks, historic sites that every tourist wannabe has on their list – sure, we’ll do those too.  But, I recently stumbled on a few places that really sparked my interest.  Now these towns might be worth barreling down the highway in an oversize toaster on wheels!  Kinda makes me want to say “Road Trip!”

Knowing us, we’d have to start with the names of dubious character ~ Intercourse, PA, Assawoman, VA, Blue Ball, OH, French Lick, IN (ooh la la!) or Buttzville, NJ and then ease on down the road to the tiny town of Slaughterville, Oklahoma which, so the story goes, was once the subject of a PETA protest.  PETA asked the town (I’m not making this up, I got it right from the Travel Channel) to change its name to Veggieville with the promise of donating $20,000 in veggie burgers to the school district if they did.  From there we could cruise into such hot spots as Hell, MI, or Fertile, NM.   And, when hunger strikes, we’ll head on over to Pie, WV.  If we’re feeling adventurous, we’ll surely make a stop at Surprise, NY and round out our road trip at Deadman Crossing, OH, or maybe Jerkwater, PA, or Idiotville, OR.  Idiotville? How can we live in Oregon and not have heard of Idiotville?  That sounds like a weekend getaway on it’s own.

Happy trails and roll up the damn window, the breeze is messing up my hair!