Ditch the Car When You Vacation in These 10 Fabulous Cities
If you’re planning a metropolitan getaway this summer, you’ll want to be sure to pick a destination that doesn’t require a car.
The reason? In addition to all the other ways COVID has changed travel, it also put an even bigger price tag on car rentals. Since renting a car was never cheap to begin with, the estimated 30 to 50% price increase in some U.S. cities is nothing to scoff at.
And even in pre-pandemic times, renting a car has always added significantly to the cost of the vacation.
Fortunately, some of the best summer destinations are also incredibly walkable, and only a short Uber or taxi ride from the airport— which also makes them much more affordable.
Grab a bus, taxi or rideshare from the airport to your accommodations and then start exploring by foot, two wheels or public transportation. Do some research beforehand, too, as COVID may have changed hours and days of operation.
10 Great American Cities
We’ve compiled a list of 10 destination cities, plus details on how much you should plan on spending per day in each. The per diem travel amounts cited for each city are from travel site Budget Your Trip.
Keep in mind that on and off-season prices in these destinations may vary, and you should also plan on shopping around for the best rates on accommodations— which means checking the prices not only of local hotels and motels, but also hostels, VRBOs and Airbnb rentals.
Ready for some inspiration to fuel your next vacation? Here are 10 destinations worth considering — no car rental required.
A West Coast favorite, Seattle is both highly walkable and filled to the brim with things to keep you busy. Start your trip off with a kayaking excursion on Elliot Bay, then head over to Pike Place to sample a variety of local delicacies from the food stalls and stroll through artisanal shops. Make sure you hang out for the fish tossing at Pike Place Fish Market.
If sightseeing is on your to-do list, be sure to make a stop at the Seattle Space Needle and the Seattle Aquarium. The public transportation system is extensive and includes buses, light rail, a monorail, street cars and bike sharing.
For a nature-themed getaway just beyond downtown, check out Discovery Park, a 534-acre park filled with hiking and biking trails galore. Plan on spending $156 per day, with $94 towards lodging.
This is an obvious choice for any traveler looking for the ultimate metropolitan getaway. The Big Apple is best seen on-foot and with public transportation of which there is plenty including the famed subway system and an extensive bus system.
Window shop along Fifth Avenue (Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci) for the full New York experience or spend a few days exploring the ultra-hip art scene in Brooklyn and uber-diverse food scene in Queens.
In the mood for a coastal jaunt? Pop over to Coney Island for a carnival-style beach fix.
You can expect to spend roughly $239 per person per day, with $137 of that budget for accommodations. Expedia has a long list of hotels that will easily keep you under-budget.
Another pricey but worth-it destination to hit up this summer is the city by the bay. Some would argue that the only way to see San Francisco is by walking it — just be sure to pack the right shoes (see: big hills) and a sweater for overcast days. Summer can be gloomy.
Filled with street art from world-renowned muralists, alleyway cafés, and sprawling green parks, it’s a hard city to beat as far as walkability.
There is also an extensive bus system, including traditional and electric vehicles. The famed cable cars are more than a novelty. The three lines can transport you to various popular spots in the city, including Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.
Spend some time down by the wharf, Pier 39 or the Ferry Building, all with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay. The Ferry Building has a weekly farmers market but it’s also the place where ferries take people across the bay. A lovely excursion.
Consider a bike tour across the Golden Gate Bridge. Your cost per day in San Francisco will be roughly $172 per person, of which you’ll need roughly $103 for a hotel or Airbnb.
If the East Coast is calling your name this summer, answer with a getaway to Boston. Spend a day walking the historic Freedom Trail, catch a game at Fenway, and get your fill of shopping with a stroll down Newbury Street.
Be sure to save your appetite for an impromptu food tour at Faneuil Hall, and budget some time to explore the beautiful grounds of the Boston Garden.
Boston has a solid public transportation system including a subway and buses. Take the T, as the subway is called, through the city and into the suburbs. You can also rent bikes for the day.
Booking a longer trip? Take the train to Cambridge for even more city to explore the town and Harvard by foot. Plan on spending about $202 per day on your trip, with $132 of that reserved for accommodations. Save even more by booking an Airbnb in Cambridge or Revere.
A trip to the nation’s Capital can be a great way to spend your next vacay, especially if you’re a museum buff.
You could spend entire days touring the Smithsonian, National Gallery of Art, or even the International Spy Museum. Design your own city walking tour and check off sites like the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, and even the United States Botanic Gardens.
There are so many ways to get to the sites that you will never miss a car or have the extra worry of D.C. parking. It’s a walking town for sure, but there are scooter- and bike-share programs along with extensive bus and metro systems.
Hit the water with a kayak or paddleboard rental on the Georgetown Waterfront, or check out the many wineries, distilleries, and yes— axe throwing venues in the Ivy City neighborhood. Expect to spend around $155 per person (per day), with $91 budgeted for an Airbnb.
Burlington might not be the first vacation destination you dream up this summer, but it’s certainly one worth considering. Located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington is a great summer locale for all sorts of water activities including fishing, sailing, or even taking a historic boat tour.
There’s a bus system and a free shuttle from the University of Vermont to the lake.
With comprehensive bike trails all over town, you can easily spend the day cycling or walking it’s streets filled with food trucks, upscale shopping outlets, and plenty of live music. Plan on budgeting at least $134 per day to stay in a Burlington VRBO.
This West Coast capital city makes for a great summer travel destination — and not just because of the endless beach reads to be found at the world-famous Powell’s Books. Packed with incredible dining experiences (don’t miss out on the food carts at Fifth Avenue), breweries, and even an entire forest in the city (see: Forest Park), you’re very unlikely to get bored in Portland.
Get around the city via buses, light rail, street cars and bicycles. There are also plenty of hiking trails and paths around town.
If you’re the “stop and smell the roses” type, be sure to do so in the International Rose Test Garden. And whatever you do— don’t leave without trying at least one of the city’s many eclectic donut bakeries. You should expect to spend roughly $136 per day in Portland, with at least $76 of that for an Airbnb.
Another great city to visit that doesn’t require a car? Minneapolis.
Not only is this city highly walkable, but it’s comprehensive bike trails also make it a cyclist’s dream. Bike across the picturesque Stone Arch Bridge, or go chase some waterfalls and spend a day cycling or hiking Minnehaha Falls.
For a city-minded fix, be sure to spend some time exploring the renowned Minneapolis Institute of Art, and stock up on all your souvenirs at the world-famous Mall of America.
To really get the best sense of the city, and satisfy all your food cravings, be sure to book one of these highly-rated culinary tours. Budget at least $164 per day for a stay in Minneapolis, with roughly $100 for a room in one of these downtown hotels.
Every city has its own unique history, but few boast quite as much as Philadelphia. From Independence Hall, to the Liberty Bell, and architecturally-impressive (and dare we say spooky?) Eastern State Penitentiary — Philly is a history buff’s dream.
If you like museums, don’t leave the city without a trip to the Museum of the American Revolution and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
For a different kind of artsy experience, be sure to make a stop at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens featuring an outdoor labyrinth of folk art and mosaics. Last but certainly not least, be sure to budget some time in Northeast Philly and Fishtown for some epic eats. Buses, trains and trolleys can get you everywhere you want to go.
You should plan on spending about $151 per day, with $95 of that going towards a hotel or Airbnb.
Florida brings the heat during summertime, but probably one of the best places to stay cool is in Key West, the famous island city that’s part of the Florida Keys archipelago.
Key West can be reached through a flight to the local airport, which has direct flights to Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Charlotte, North Carolina, and a few others. If you’re interested in a water adventure, fly into Fort Myers (a bigger airport with more service) and take the Key West Express high-speed ferry. It will take about 3.5 hours but you can relax with a cocktail in hand.
Once in Key West, trams plus bike and scooter rentals will get you where you want to go. And Duval Street and environs are highly walkable.
Besides hanging out on Higgs or Smathers beach (which you should definitely do) and hitting up the shops and bars of Duval Street and Mallory Square, there’s still a fair number of activities to keep busy in this tropical paradise.
Visit the famous Hemingway Home and Museum or take a tour of the Truman Little White House. This oasis also boasts a ton of beautiful parks, lush gardens, and of course— plenty of watersports. For this trip, you’ll want to plan on spending roughly $170 per day, with at least $106 of that for a hotel or Airbnb.
You Can Go Carless
Traveling without a rental car is bound to save you some money (and parking-related headaches) when it comes to visiting an urban destination— but it’s only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to traveling smarter.
Be sure to book your trip as early as you can to lock in the best rates, and also check out our other guides on earning credit card points and saving money while traveling.
Contributor Larissa Runkle specializes in finance, real estate and lifestyle topics. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.