How to get the most bang for your vacation buck in San Francisco

Traveling in San Francisco can be expensive…exceptionally expensive. In fact, recently ranked the city No. 1 for most expensive places in the US to take a vacation. But you don’t have to let San Francisco’s high price reputation ruin your travel plans. There are plenty of smart ways to save when you’re aching for a little Northern California getaway.

Don’t Drive: Car rentals are pricy, gas is expensive and paying for parking will make a serious dent in your vacation budget. Simply opting out of driving can save you hundreds in a week’s vacation, plus you will avoid frustrating traffic jams and endless hunts for open parking spaces. Lucky for us, most of San Francisco is very walker friendly, and public transit is extremely reasonable. The BART will connect you to a few points in the city, but it’s best for transportation to and from the airports and in and out of the suburbs. Get acquainted with the Muni for hopping from point to point in the city. The SF CityPass gives visitors extremely valuable access to a 7-day Muni and Cable Car Passport.

Shop the markets: Like most cities, the highest priced restaurants are usually concentrated in the areas with the highest tourist traffic. While there are a number of cheap eats, like the cash-only Vietnamese hole in the wall Saigon Sandwich, the city also has a myriad of fresh farmers markets to choose from. Compile your own menu of fresh fruits, veggies, breads, cheeses and snacks for a fraction of what you could pay one of San Francisco’s finest chefs to put together for you. One blogger has compiled a very helpful list of all the markets in the city here.

Take a free walking tour: San Francisco City Guides offers free walking tours of nearly every neighborhood in San Francisco. Whether you’re looking to be educated on architecture, history, art or ghost stories, San Francisco City Guides has you covered. The tours are free, but donations are always appreciated. Group tours can be scheduled ahead of time for a small fee, and the Go San Francisco card can help with that too.

Visit museums on free days: Use your Go Card or San Francisco CityPass to walk through some of the city’s most prestigious museums. Stroll through the four-story rainforest or wander around the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences. Or stretch your art appreciation muscles at the de Young Museum. After you’ve used up your museum discounts, check out this calendar of free museum admission days. Hint: most of these freebies are offered up at the beginning of each month.

Stay away from hotels: Hotels in the Bay Area can easily run in the $250-$350 range with high-end hotels blowing those numbers out of the water. Prices can also spike around peak times of year or near special events. If you take advantage of San Francisco’s hospitality, you can stay for much less. Rent a great room or apartment on Airbnb for well under $100 a night- many of them have loads of great reviews. There is also a very active couch surfing community in San Francisco that will offer up a bed or room for free. If you’re not into staying on someone else’s couch, at least check out their groups that meet up for social events around the city. It’s a great way to get insider tips from locals. Finally, European style hostels are spread out around the city, offering up prime location for between $20 and $50 per night.

Enjoy the outdoors: San Francisco is chock full of parks, scenic vistas, and rocky beaches. Explore the Japanese Tea Garden or play disc golf at Golden Gate Park. Climb to the top of Twin Peaks for one of the best views in the city. Search for sea lions on the beach or poke around an old Victorian bathhouse. People living here have figured out that life is better when you go outside, you should too.

Find a free festival: People look for excuses to gather in San Francisco. There is almost always a reason to clear a street for a parade or start a dance party. Costumes are often involved, people sometimes get weird, but it’s always a good time. Find a festival that celebrates something you love, Earth Day perhaps, or street art. Or pick a festival based on what it offers, like live Bluegrass music or hundreds of food trucks. Once you’ve arrived there will be plenty to spend your dollars on, but people watching is always free!

Invest in a San Francisco City Pass or Go San Francisco Card:

Hands down, the best way to experience major savings on your trip to San Francisco is to invest upfront in a San Francisco City Pass or Go San Francisco Card. These cards give you discounted access to some of the city’s biggest attractions. The City Pass highlights seven of the city’s most popular sites, while the Go Pass adds attractions out in wine country, plus restaurant and shopping savings. Compare the two cards here to see which one is better tailored to your vacation itinerary.

Things are changing in Las Vegas, and it’s a great thing

The Las Vegas of five years ago looks a lot different than the Las Vegas of today, and that’s a great thing. The changes are putting Sin City back on the map for travelers looking for more in a destination than casinos and night clubs.

Las Vegas was hit hard by the 2008 recession, but instead of giving up and allowing the iconic American city to fall to ruin, Las Vegas is working to redefine itself. Now, it’s appealing to many different demographics in a new age of travel. Sure, there are still plenty of slot machines and buffets to choose from, but Las Vegas has seen plenty of positive changes over the last few years and there are still a lot to come.

Here’s a quick peek at how Las Vegas has been evolving and is becoming a great destination option even for those who are terrible at Black Jack.

The food scene is getting a makeover

Las Vegas’ food scene has a tendency to conjure up images of not so fresh seafood sitting under the warming lights of an all you can eat buffet, or celebrity chef-owned fine dining restaurants with prices out of reach for your typical traveler. The good news is, Las Vegas is generally on the cutting edge of new food trends, and in 2016 a lot of those trends are lending themselves to fantastic food coupled with unforgettable experiences. You can check out the Harry Potter themed coffee shop, or a “food incubator” shack helping rising chefs try out new food concepts. For more splurge-worthy experiences, order table-side cut veal parmesan at the new Carbone restaurant at Aria, tour the snack carts at Harvest in the Bellagio, or dine with champagne at the recently opened Mr. Chow in Caesars Palace. The extra-brave can fork over $150 for a three-hour dining experience that includes “live food” at Kame. No matter where you eat while you’re in Vegas, head chef Anthony Amoroso of Aria told Travel Pulse that fresh food is one of the biggest trends sweeping the city this year (that, and chicken sandwiches).

Adventure is heating up

Situated in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas has long been a hub for helicopter tours to the Grand Canyon and sight-seeing excursions to Hoover Dam. Speed demons have been racing high-end cars at Exotics Racing Las Vegas since 2009, SpeedVegas is opening up the city’s longest exotic car track this March, and the bravest daredevils can see what it’s like to be a fighter pilot with Sky Combat Ace. A few other attractions have been added to the Strip recently that won’t put such a dent in your vacation budget. The High Roller observation wheel, SlotZilla zip line over Fremont Street and Voodoo Zip Line between the Rio towers all opened in Vegas in 2014, calling adventure enthusiasts seeking a view of Las Vegas from high above. 

Vegas High Roller

Vegas High Roller

New construction is underway

After several construction projects came to a quick halt at the first signs of recession around 2008, Las Vegas is starting to see construction pick up again. The Killers are on the schedule to christen the brand new T-Mobile Arena on April 6, and two more resorts are underway on the Strip. Both resorts are Asian-themed, with PENTA Building Group’s Lucky Dragon on pace to open August this year, while Resorts World Las Vegas will hopefully be completed by 2018.

Not everything is about gambling

As you can see, Las Vegas is about a lot more than just gambling and fist pumping these days. It’s about experiencing innovative food and drinks. It’s about seeing the Strip from high in the sky, and venturing out to the surrounding scenic areas. It’s a place where people are testing out new business concepts and starting up companies. Las Vegas is still an entertainment Mecca, chock full of theaters and music venues. It’s still a destination for trying your hand at Texas Hold’em or hedging your bets on slots. But the Vegas that is out there in Nevada’s desert today has undergone a major facelift since the Vegas of five years ago, and tourists ought not miss the changes.

10 reasons Chicago should be on your summer vacation radar

Enduring long, bone chilling winters may be a fact of life for the people of Chicago. But also a fact of life is fully embracing the warm weather when it arrives. Spring and summer in Chicago means a city buzzing with outdoor festivals, boats dotting the lake and people swarming to the beaches. Restaurants throw their patio doors open and city parks transform into stunning green spaces.

When the cold goes away, Chicago knows how to come out and play.

Here are 10 reasons Chicago should be on your summer vacation radar this year.

Navy Pier comes to life

Chicago Navy Pier Swings at Dusk

Chicago Navy Pier Swings at Dusk

Navy Pier is a hotspot for activity all year long, but there’s something about summer that fills it with life. In 2016, the lakeside attraction will turn 100-years-old, giving Chicago something extra special to celebrate. The city is set to open a brand new 196-foot Ferris wheel, replacing the 147-foot ride that has been a Pier staple since 1995. Lake cruises that set sail from the Pier pick up this time of year and people flock to take part in all the outdoor seasonal activities that take over the area. If there were no other reasons to visit Chicago during the summer months, Navy Pier would be reason enough!

Bicycles become a viable (and enjoyable) form of transportation

Forget crowding onto public transit or fighting downtown traffic, spring and summer provide the perfect opportunity to explore Chicago by bicycle (or Segway!) Make a reservation on and build your own adventure, or sign up for one of their group tours. This company is great at accommodating groups of all sizes and they’re kid friendly.

Zoo animals come out of hibernation

Chicago’s beautiful Brookfield and Lincoln Park Zoos keep their doors open year round, but many animals are just more apt to come out and play when the sun is shining! Each zoo has a ton to offer this spring and summer, including Lincoln Park’s Spring Break Camps and the launch of Brookfield’s Hamill Family Wild Encounters. Where else do you get the opportunity to interact up-close with red pandas and wallabies?

You can get schooled on architecture from a double decker boat

Dubbed the “Birthplace of the skyscraper,” Chicago has plenty of impressive architecture to ogle over. Instead of craning your neck from the sidewalks between buildings and wondering about the history behind each tower, Shoreline offers guided architecture tours via double decker riverboat. Catch the cruise at the right time and your tour just may end with watching fireworks over Navy Pier.

Parks are in bloom on the Gray Line tour

Gray Line gives visitors the opportunity to dig deeper into particular Chicago landmarks and neighborhoods, with about a half dozen tours to choose from. There’s even one tour that includes a personal pizza. Gray Line is happy to show tourists around the city all year long, but several of the points of interest just happen to be outdoor parks. To avoid missing out on all of the blooms and blossoms, take advantage of this opportunity during the warm weather months!

Theater goes outside

Professional stage productions head outdoors starting in the spring. Oak Park Festival Theatre and First Folio’s outdoor stage entertain audiences with acts from Shakespeare to modern productions. Breathe in fresh air while you take in a top-notch play from some of Chicago’s most renowned theatre companies. However, if you’re dying to catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the city’s “movie palace” built in 1921, then sign up for the Chicago Theatre Marquee Tour. This attraction may be indoors, but it’s worth seeing even if the weather is to die for.

Views from the 1,353-foot glass box get clearer

Step out into a glass box suspended 1,353 feet above Chicago. Located in the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Skydeck at Willis Tower touts views that can extend into four different states on a clear day. For competing views, head up to the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center and stand in the “TILT” windows that fold out in a 30-degree angle for another unique view from above Chicago’s skyline. Either way, chances of a crystal clear view are much better this time of year than under the frequent cloud cover that seems to constantly hover over the city throughout the winter.

Kids can go to Dino-Camp

The Field Museum of Natural History has been a place of scientific discovery for people of all ages for more than a century. Among a slew of other events and exhibitions that the museum hosts during the summer, one of the highlights is Dino Camp, a day camp that lets young kids put on their paleontologist caps and dig for dinosaur fossils. Older kids can try out the Summer Explore Studio, which this year fuses dinosaur survival tactics with video game development in a mash-up kids are sure to love.

Baseball is in full swing

Wrigley Field GameEnjoying a day out at the diamond in Chicago is one of the best ways to get a taste of real Chicago culture. Chicagoans have been rooting for their beloved Cubs since 1870, and Wrigley Field stands as the second oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball. The White Sox have been swinging bats since 1901, and have also established a loyal fan base. Whether you choose to enjoy your hotdog from the stands at Wrigley or U.S. Cellular Field, indulging in America’s pastime in one of the country’s most die-hard baseball cities is truly an all-star experience.

You can try your hand at pirate life

“Chicago’s Official Tall Ship” sets sail out of Navy Pier starting in May every year. Marked by giant, billowing sails, the four-mast schooner offers educational tours, relaxing cruises, and even haunted trips out to sea. Learn a little bit about pirate life, maritime history and more from one of the “Windy’s” official guides, and actively participate in adjusting the sails or setting off one of the ship’s cannons.

Options abound for summer-time fun in and around Chicago. The city has a way of welcoming people of all ages, interests and backgrounds and delivering a one of a kind experience worth traveling for.






Why buy a Go Oahu Card instead of a iVenture Honolulu Card?

The Go Oahu Card and the iVenture Honolulu Card are two of the biggest multi-attraction passes in the Oahu tourism market. They both offer admission to the area’s best attractions at a discount, but they have important differences that you should consider when making your decision about which one to buy. Thinking about factors like included attractions, geographic breadth, and maximum savings, it’s clear that the Go Oahu Card comes out on top.

Included Attractions

GO_CARD_HIO-largeGo Oahu Card

Because the product offers admission to more than 30 attractions throughout all of Oahu, we can’t list them all here. Here are a few of their top attractions:

iVenture Honolulu Card

The iVenture Honolulu Card offers 16 attractions, all of which are located on the South Shore or in the immediate Honolulu vicinity.

  • Battleship Missouri
  • Iolani Palace
  • USS Bowfin Submarine
  • Hawaiian Style Rentals
  • Wet n’ Wild Hawaii
  • Bishop Museum
  • Honolulu Museum of Art
  • Hanauma Bay Snorkeling
  • Kualoa Ranch
  • Island Tours
  • Movie Sites Tour
  • Volcano Crater Tour
  • Honolulu City Tour
  • Catamaran Sail
  • Waikiki Trolley
  • Sea Life Park Hawaii

As is evident by these lists, there’s a lot of similarities in the attractions they offer, whether it’s the same museum or the essentially the same tour offered by a different company.

One thing that’s important to note about this comparison, however, is that the Go Oahu Card has a lot more to offer both in terms of available attractions in Honolulu (they have all the stuff the iVenture Honolulu Card does), but they also offer popular attractions elsewhere in Oahu. How many people realistically go to Oahu and stay only on the South Shore?

The Go Oahu Card also includes admission to one of the most popular attractions on the whole island that the iVenture Honolu Card simply leaves out – the Polynesian Cultural Center.

How You Save

The Go Oahu Card advertises that it can save you up to 55% on combined admission prices. Their website offers examples of real customer itineraries and how much they saved, with one family saving over $1,500 on admission with 5 day cards!

One of the best things about this product is the flexibility in planning your visit. You can explore Honolulu one day, head to the North Shore for some snorkeling and sunbathing the next, and then mix it up with a little trip to the center of the island.

There are also multiple combinations of attraction visits that can maximize your savings. With over 30 choices, you’re not restricted to a few of the most expensive attractions in order to get your money’s worth out of the pass.

The iVenture Honolulu Card advertises a savings of 50% (so not too different there), but they provide only sample itineraries that demonstrate potential savings. Their suggested itineraries with 5-day cards save only around $120 per adult based on their own calculations.

The real downside to this product is the limited selection of attractions. While they do offer a nice variety of options, you are a bit limited geographically with the one exception of Kualoa Ranch.

You also don’t have the option to visit attractions more than once (unlike the Go Oahu Card). If the kids really fell in love with Sea Life Park, for example, you simply can’t revisit favorite attractions.

How Do I Use Them?

Both products are smart cards (the size and shape of a credit card with an embedded computer chip) that serve as your admission ticket to the chosen attractions.

The iVenture Honolulu Card is purchased online and can be shipped or picked up in Honolulu with a voucher system (note: they don’t seem to ship everywhere in the US, so that may be a limiting factor for some of you). They offer one sales location in Honolulu.

The Go Oahu Card has a wider variety of options in how to get the pass. They do ship everywhere in the US and to many countries worldwide. You can buy the pass online, over the phone, or in Hawaii itself (also in places like Costco!).

Or you can choose instant delivery of the card – it’s the same exact product with the added convenience of being able to use it on your smartphone. Prefer a hard copy but like the instant part? Just print it out. It’s perfect for last-minute planners and many customers pick this option.

What’s the Real Difference?

The most important differences between these two products have to do with what style of travel you’re most interested in. If you want the flexibility and freedom to see what you want to see, the number of times you want to see it, then the Go Oahu Card is a great option.

If you’re only planning on staying in Honolulu and like the included attractions, then the iVenture Honolulu Card might be a good choice. However, in addition to the “no repeat attraction visits” limit, you’re also restricted to visiting attractions on consecutive days, meaning that there’s no flexibility to accommodate bad weather or the desire for a beach day.

Extra Details

The Go Oahu Card includes multiple North Shore attractions, providing you with a more comprehensive look at Oahu culture – in fact, some of the best beaches (with fewer tourists!) are found on the North Shore.

Both products come with guidebooks that contain area maps and essential details like directions and contact information.

The Go Oahu Card also includes admission to your choice of a premium bonus attraction, which includes exciting and authentic Hawaiian experiences like a real luau and a dolphin encounter at Sea Life Park.

Both products offer additional benefits like “skip-the-line” privileges at certain attractions.

The Go Oahu Card is purchased for a number of card days, but those days can be used over a 2-week period, so you’ve got plenty of wiggle room when it comes to weather or the need to take a break.

Last Thoughts

Trying to decide between a Go Oahu Card and the iVenture Honolulu Card? When taking into consideration product attributes like flexibility in attraction choice, the freedom to see what you want, when you want, and the ease of maximizing your savings, the Go Oahu Card is your best bet.


Why Buy a Go Boston Card Instead of a Boston CityPass?

Smart Destinations’ Go Boston Card and the Boston CityPass are the two biggest all-inclusive products in the Boston market. They both have their pros and cons, and both are popular with visitors. Yet despite often being part of the same conversation, these products offer very different benefits. In fact, when you consider attributes like included attractions, ease of use, maximum potential savings, and flexibility, the Go Boston Card is a clear winner.

Let’s start with a few comparative points, then get into specifics about savings.

Included Attractions

Go Boston Card

There are simply too many to list them all here, but here’s a brief selection of the top tourist attractions available through the Go Boston Card program:

Boston CityPass

  • New England Aquarium
  • Museum of Science
  • Museum of Fine Arts
  • Skywalk Observatory OR Harvard Museum of Natural History

As you can see, the Go Boston Card includes all of the same attractions as the Boston CityPass, without the need for any exclusionary choices. You can see as much as you can fit into your schedule!

How You Save

The Go Boston Card advertises that it can save you up to 55% on combined admission prices, and their website offers several examples of real customer itineraries and how they saved on their vacations. If you want to maximize your savings, there are tons of attraction combinations that will really add up the savings.

In fact, one of the best things about this pass is the flexibility – you create so many personalized itineraries and still get your money’s worth out of this pass. You can save over $300 per couple!

Boston CityPass advertises that it can save you up to 47% on combined admission prices. Because there are only five options, they don’t offer any real customer experience on their site. In order to maximize your savings, you have to visit all of the included attractions and be sure to choose the more expensive one for your either/or choice.

The real downside here is how limited you are in personal attraction choices. You only have two possible itinerary combinations, and that’s with only one variable. The most you can possibly save is $85.90 per couple.

How Do I Use Them?

Both products work in similar ways, in that they serve as your admission ticket to the included attractions. The Boston CityPassis a booklet of paper tickets that can be shipped or picked up in person in Boston. Attractions tear off the paper ticket when you visit, and you hold onto the booklet for future admission to the other attractions.

The Go Boston Card comes with a variety of options. You can choose a physical card (the size and shape of a credit card) that can either be shipped or picked up in person in Boston, or you can choose to receive instant delivery of their digital pass. It’s the same pass with all the same benefits, but you can use it on your smartphone for admission to all of the included attractions. If you like the instant part but not the digital part, just print out the pass and present the paper copy to attractions. Many customers prefer the digital option because of its speed and convenience.

What’s the Real Difference?

The big difference here is going to be in your style of travel. If you prefer a kind of “do it all, see it all” attitude, then the Go Boston Card is best for you. You’ll get more value the more you do, and the longer increments you buy the card for, the more you can save on combined admission prices. You also get one free bonus attraction for 3-, 5-, and 7-Day cards, featuring premium activities like a Whale Watch, Red Sox tickets, and the Boston Duck Tours. The most popular card is the 3-Day Go Boston Card.

If you only want to see a very specific, limited set of attractions, then the Boston CityPass might be a good choice. However, you have a lot fewer options, which don’t even include some of the most significant historical sites in the city. You’re also out of luck if you want to see both the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Skywalk Observatory. There are no bonus attractions with CityPass. At the end of the day, this product just doesn’t offer the same flexibility, variety, and convenience that the Go Boston Card does.

Extra Details

The Go Boston Card also includes attractions in Cape Cod, Lexington, Concord, Salem, and more, so you’ll really get a feel for the whole Boston metro area and its rich historical heritage.

Both products come with additional coupons for savings on dining, shopping, and/or other attractions.  However CityPass only has discounts at a few of the museum shops as well as Macy’s. Go Boston Card gives you discounts at about 20 restaurants, shows and shops (including Macy’s).

Both products also come with basic details like directions and contact information. The Go Boston Card includes a free, full-color guidebook with your purchase. This includes information on the local mass transit system (the MBTA), details about local neighborhoods, and some facts about free points of interest and historical sites.

As mentioned above, the Go Boston Card offers your choice of 4 premium bonus attractions, including a Whale Watch, Red Sox Tickets, Gray Line Boston Tours, and the Boston Duck Tours.

Last Thoughts

Trying to decide between a Go Boston Card and Boston CityPass? Think about what you want out of a vacation, what your style of travel is, and what your budget is. Both products also have crucial differences in available attractions, the way the passes work, how much you save, and what’s included in your total experience. Ultimately, the Go Boston Card just seems like better value for your money.

Explore the Blue Ridge Region of North Carolina with the Go Blue Ridge Card

Visitors can now experience everything the Blue Ridge region of western North Carolina has to offer with fully pre-paid access to nearly 30 top attractions. Smart Destinations’ newly launched Go Blue Ridge Card lets customers explore the Blue Ridge Parkway with convenience and value. The card was developed in partnership with the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.

Blue Ridge Highway

The card is available in 2-day, 3-day, and 5-day limits, which begin the first time you use the card. Smart Destinations president, touts the Go Blue Ridge Card’s ability to let customers craft a personalized experience. “Visitors can choose the combination of attractions that suits their own interests and schedule,” she says, “whether they want to take a white water rafting trip, explore the Linville Caverns or hop on the Tweetsie Railroad.” A full-color guidebook is included, complete with detailed descriptions of each attraction and maps to help you navigate the area.

Enjoy convenient, pre-paid admission to these popular Blue Ridge attractions: Biltmore, Emerald Village, Lake Lure Tours, Chimney Rock Park, Colburn Earth Science Museum, Rockhouse Vineyards, The Health Adventure, Loafers Glory Rafting & Tubing, Asheville Historic Trolley Tour, Smith-McDowell House Museum, Thomas Wolfe Memorial, Tweetsie Railroad, Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) raft trip, Grandfather Mountain, Linville Caverns, Banner Elk Winery, The Historic Orchard at Altapass storytelling hayride, The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, Mystery Hill, Mountainside Theatre: Unto these Hills… A Retelling, Wildwater Rafting trip, Smoky Mountain Jet Boats, Dillsboro Rafting trip, Great Smokey Mountain Fish Camp with Tubing, Oconaluftee Indian Village, Ghost Town in the Sky™ Rose Creek Mine, Wheels Through Time Museum, and Smoky Mountain Trains Museum.

Lake Lure from Chimney Rock

The Go Blue Ridge Card is also good for discounts on dining at Spear’s BBQ and Grill at Linville Falls Lodge, NOC Relia’s Garden Restaurant, the Balsam Mountain Inn restaurant, Brushy Mountain Smokehouse and Creamery, Chimney Rock Park Sky Lounge and the Old Rock Café Restaurant. Enjoy savings at stores and attractions including Grove Arcade ARTS & Heritage Gallery, the Historic Orchard at Altapass, Mast General Store, Banner Elk Winery, Horn in the West and Hickory Ridge Living Museum, and Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Or save on adventures like Smoky Mountain Jet Boats and Blue Ridge Day Hiker.

Purchase the card online from Smart Destinations or any number of distribution partners worldwide, or pick one up in person at the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce at 36 Montford Street. Find directions at