By: Courtenay Patterson
It’s that time of year again. The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer…summer is upon us. And what better way to jump-start the season than to rally together a group of girlfriends and start planning a vacation! Whether you’re looking for the excitement, culture and nightlife of a big city, an outdoor adventure, or simply want to lie on a beach, we’ve got your top 5 summer getaways right here. From the budget-conscious to the indulgent, we’ve covered accommodations, food, activities, and the highlights of each vacation destination. Hopefully it inspires you to book a trip to one (or several) of these fantastic spots!
San Francisco, California
If you’re looking to spend some time taking in culture, museums, outdoor activity, fantastic cuisine, and exciting nightlife, look no further than the City by the Bay. San Francisco has everything you could want from a big city, all wrapped up in less than 50-square miles of cable car hills, parks, sky scrapers, and water’s edge views. You can fly into any of the three major metropolitan airports in the San Francisco Bay Area – San Francisco, Oakland, or San Jose International Airports. The city center is no more than a 30-minute drive from any of the airports. BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transportation system, runs throughout the city and connects to major cities throughout the East Bay and Peninsula, where you can find a variety of things to do, places to stay, and things to eat.
San Francisco accommodations range from budget-friendly motels to luxurious 5-star hotels and pretty much everything in between. You can stay in touristy Fisherman’s Wharf near Pier 39 and Ghiradelli Square, or perhaps opt for something more opulent like the Ritz Carlton or Mark Hopkins, at the top of Nob Hill. A short cable car trip down from Nob Hill lands you right in the heart of Union Square, where high end shopping, restaurants, and hotels line the streets. Of course, a trip to San Francisco wouldn’t be complete without a drive (or run) along the water through Chrissy Field, the Marina, and into the Presidio, where you can go across or simply admire the 75-year-old iconic Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re looking to save on accommodations in order to splurge on meals, a concert, Broadway show, or maybe a boat trip out to Alcatraz, you could stay on the other side of the Bay Bridge in Berkeley, a cultural melting pot in and of itself, and visit some of the more suburban areas around the Bay Area.
Make sure to stop by Boudin Bakery for some of their delicious sourdough bread, or grab a bowl of clam chowder or a crab cocktail from the historic Pier Market Restaurant at Pier 39 and watch the sea lions basking in the afternoon sun. Later, get dressed up for a night out, starting with drinks at the famous Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel before heading into the Mission District for an evening of Sangria and tapas at Cha Cha Cha. Wander the fruit and vegetable stands of the Ferry Building’s Farmers Market or explore the culture of Chinatown, the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. With so many things to see and do, San Francisco really is a place that caters to all budgets and all kinds of travelers.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
When you think of cheap beach destinations, what comes to mind? Mexico? Jamaica? What about the Dominican Republic? The Dominican Republic has become the Caribbean’s largest tourist destination, with the country’s year-round golf courses serving as a main attraction. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominican_Republic)
Punta Cana, the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic, is best known for its beaches. What makes Punta Cana such a desirable vacation destination is the huge variety of all-inclusive family and adults-only resorts. Rather than have to worry about the cost of a hotel, meals, drinks, and activities, all-inclusive resorts are a one-stop shop. The price you pay for your hotel room includes all your meals, all your drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), most watersport activities, and often include discounts on spa services, golfing, and other off-site entertainment. Most resorts have 5-10 different restaurants, all of which are included in the price, giving an enormous variety for your dining pleasure. The resorts also typically have several pools, numerous bars, and a variety of other amenities. At many resorts, you can opt for a European Plan, which means you are simply paying for your hotel room, but nothing else is included.
Prices for a 5-night summer vacation in Punta Cana start from approximately $50/night for a European Plan or from $125/night for an all-inclusive on Expedia.com. Of course, prices can vary greatly depending on your selected dates. You can get some of the best deals by booking your flight and hotel together on Expedia, sometimes saving several hundred dollars by booking as a package.
If you’re looking for a get-away that is a bit more outdoorsy, head to Burlington, Vermont. Situated on Lake Champlain, Burlington is just 45 miles south of the U.S. border with Quebec, Canada. The summers can be hot and humid, with brief bursts of afternoon rain showers not uncommon. Home to the University of Vermont, Burlington is a college town, similar in many ways to Boulder, Colorado, with an energetic weekend nightlife at the local bars and restaurants, and a relaxed, open-air mall located on Church Street. There are plenty of accommodations throughout Burlington, from small inns and bed & breakfasts, to regular hotels and motels. Some are located along or with views of the lake, while others are in or around the downtown. Prices are reasonable no matter what type of accommodation; however, at certain times during the summer when special events are being held, the prices rise accordingly.
When it comes to cuisine, Burlington can satisfy even the pickiest eaters, with everything from delis and bakeries to Italian, Mexican (definitely check out Boloco), or your standard brewery fare. My recommendation – American Flatbread. It has some of the most creative and delicious all-natural pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven that I have ever tasted.
Take in the morning sites and sounds up on Church Street and spend the afternoon reading a book by the beautiful, pristine lake. If you are searching for a leisurely-paced, outdoorsy trip, Burlington should be at the top of your list.
What list of vacation hot spots would be complete without Hawaii?! While Punta Cana gives you a tropical beach escape at a relatively reasonable price, Hawaii is definitely a more expensive beach option. A quick search of Kayak.com shows that airfare from the west coast to Honolulu throughout the summer ranges from $620-$775 round trip. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for travel alerts through companies like Travelzoo, Expedia, Groupon, and Living Social where you receive daily or weekly emails advertising the latest deals on flights, hotels, and more at popular vacation destinations. Deals on airfare to Hawaii frequently show up on these alerts.
Once you get the airfare figured out, there’s the question of where to stay. A popular choice, if you can afford it, is Waikiki Beach. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach lined with higher end resorts overlooking the ocean and is an easy walk to town. If you want to save a little money and don’t need a hotel that’s right on the sand, there are plenty of hotels and motels throughout downtown Waikiki and greater Honolulu. Beaches are within walking distance, making this an affordable and convenient alternative.
While you’re in Honolulu, plan to devote at least one afternoon to visiting Pearl Harbor, the site of the Japanese attack on the United States on December 7, 1941. You can see both the USS Arizona, which was sunk during the attack, and the USS Missouri, where the Japanese officially surrendered at the end of World War II. Known as Battleship Row, it is truly moving to see where World War II began and ended for the United States.
Whether you stay on Waikiki Beach, in the town, or elsewhere in Honolulu, food in Hawaii can get rather expensive. That said, there are some fantastic, affordable food options in Honolulu. The Ala Moana Shopping Center is about a ten-minute walk west from the Hilton Hawaiian Village at Waikiki Beach. There is also a shopping trolley that runs from the mall to 12 locations throughout Waikiki and costs only $2. In addition to the many regular and high-end retail establishments, they have one of the most expansive food courts I have ever seen in the U.S. Every kind of food from every part of the world, several times over, can be found at the food court, making this a great place to grab a casual, inexpensive lunch or dinner.
Another affordable dining option if you’re staying in or around Waikiki Beach is the Hale Koa Hotel. This is a military hotel, only active or retired military personnel and their families are allowed to stay there. However, the Hale Koa has a cafeteria-style restaurant right on the beach and, under Hawaiian law, any restaurant that is accessible from the beach has to be open to the public. Great news for you, because you can walk right in from the beach and eat for a fraction of the price that you could at the surrounding hotels. A hamburger and fries at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s beachside restaurant will run you $16, while the same thing at the Hale Koa is about 1/3 the price.
In downtown Honolulu is a fun and unique hot dog and shave ice establishment called Puka Dog, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Ordering a Puka Dog is a 4-step process: 1) Select your bun – white or wheat; 2) Select your dog – Polish sausage or veggie; 3) Choose the level of spiciness of the garlic lemon secret sauce – mild to hot-hot; and 4) Choose a relish – mango, coconut, pineapple, papaya, banana, or star fruit, and/or pick an additional mustard – lilikoi or guava.
Of course, if you’re looking to splurge and indulge in some fantastic cuisine while in Honolulu, there are a couple of places not to be missed. Alan Wong’s is quite expensive, but the preparation, presentation, quality and taste is unmatched. It is not just a meal, but a truly memorable experience from the minute you walk in, are greeted and seated by the hostess, and handed an iPad with the wine and cocktail menu. It honestly might be the single best meal I have ever had in my life in any of my travels.
Also worth a visit during your stay in Honolulu is Roy’s, with incredibly fresh, uniquely prepared seafood and culinary creations unique to the island of Oahu. In addition, Roy’s features a great happy hour – $5 wines, beers, well drinks, a featured Hawaiian specialty cocktail, and appetizers, including Wagyu beef sliders, tempura crusted spicy ahi roll, and golden lobster pot stickers, among other things.
A trip to Honolulu may be a bit of a budget buster, but it really is worth it. So go ahead and spoil yourself…occasional indulgence is good for the mind, body and soul!
When people think of traveling to Southeast Asia, they often think of Thailand, and while Thailand is an exciting, interesting, and beautiful place to visit, the influx of tourism has made it more crowded, less affordable, and, depending on where in Thailand you visit, seedier than many of its neighboring countries. Cambodia remains relatively untouched by tourists in comparison to Thailand and even Vietnam. While its popularity will undoubtedly grow, the fact that tourists have yet to realize everything Cambodia has to offer makes it an ideal place to spend a week, a month, or even a lifetime, with its unspoiled, natural beauty, laid-back atmosphere, and unconditional kindness of its people.
Unlike the other summer getaways discussed above, it was hard to narrow Cambodia down to just one must-see destination. Where you choose to spend your time in this idyllic country will depend on your interests and how much time you have. Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is a beautiful, yet often ignored city when it comes to tourists. Many simply skip the city in order to venture out to the temples of Angkor or the beaches of Sihanoukville. But Phnom Penh is a city full of culture and history, and is definitely worth spending several days exploring.
Sihanoukville is home to some of the worlds’ most spectacular, pristine beaches. Ramshackle hut restaurants line the beaches where you can lounge in a Papasan chair and eat freshly caught bbq’d seafood for $3/plate, washed down with a local draught beer for $0.50. For fantastic and affordable accommodations within walking distance of the beach, check out Beach Club Resort. The owner is more than happy to share her insights on Sihanoukville and the rest of Cambodia. Or, if you want an even more remote beach vacation, catch a boat to one of the neighboring islands like Koh Rong and spend a few days in a beachside bungalow or tree house to really get in touch with nature.
If you want to explore the temples of Angkor, head northwest from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, home to more than 300 temples. People spend anywhere from one day to one month or longer exploring the temples. When you are there, hire an English-speaking guide and at least visit the three most famous temples – Angkor Wat, Angkor Tom, and Ta Prohm (the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed). Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world. It is truly magnificent and if you are planning a trip to Cambodia, a definite must-see.
Another unique destination in Cambodia is Battambang, a rural province that is easily reached by bus from either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. It is a fun off-the-beaten-path excursion worth a night or two. The highlight of Battambang is the nori train – a bamboo mat sitting atop two railway axles powered by a lawnmower engine. You sit on the mat and whip down the tracks, passing the beautiful untouched countryside and villages along the way. About 14 kilometers down the tracks, you can get off the nori and spend time with local Khmer families, before taking the train back into town. Unfortunately, the Khmer government is planning to renovate all the train tracks throughout Cambodia, which will make the nori a thing of the past. If you have the chance to ride it, you won’t regret it.
Getting to Southeast Asia, and Cambodia, in particular, is expensive. A flight from the west coast during the summer will likely cost about $1100-$1400 round trip. Once you get there, though, it is one of the cheapest places you can stay, eat, and explore. Many travelers are able to comfortably get by on $20 per day including accommodations. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are plenty of luxury accommodations starting at $150 per night within the capital city of Phnom Penh.
A significant highlight of Cambodia is the food. One of the local Khmer delights is Amok, a coconut-based curry with cabbage, vegetables and fish (although sometimes made with chicken) that is steamed inside banana leaves and served with rice. If you are in Phnom Penh, check out Kandel House, which has the best chicken amok I tasted in all of Cambodia!
* For a comprehensive website covering all of Southeast Asia, check out www.travelfish.org.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your girlfriends, pack your bags and make this an unforgettable summer!
So what are you waiting for? Grab your girlfriends, pack your bags and make this an unforgettable summer!
In Order of Appearance – Photo Credits: Shutterstock.com, SanFrancisco.Travel, puntacanatv.com, onehundredmain.com, GirlsWhoSurf/Tripadvisor.com, oimei.wordpress.com