Austin Entertains on a Student's Budget

Posted October 13, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Austin With movies, music, or art around nearly every corner, Austin is a student's dream getaway. However, whether you're in school or just young at heart, you don't have to be rich to have a good time. Come watch a movie in a theater with a killer beer selection, shop in a store filled with offbeat antiques, and eat pancakes at 4 a.m. at an all-night diner.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema: Find a film to fit any mood at one of the three Alamo Drafthouses in Austin. Once you're seated, you can order drinks and food during the show. There's an impressive selection of beers on tap and in the bottle. And if you're in need of sustenance, you can order standard fried pub fare, pizzas, and sandwiches. Each seat comes equipped with a table and order forms.

Uncommon Objects: Whether or not you love to shop, pay a visit to Uncommon Objects to appreciate its range of oddball antiques and vintage collectables. You never know what you may find buried amongst the purses, jewelry, photos, dolls, and the like. And with an amazing array of quirky and unique items like mannequin hands or vintage family portraits, this store is all about uncovering your own kind of treasure. Prices vary, but you may just unearth a steal if you dig deep enough.

Magnolia Cafe: Magnolia Cafe is so serious about offering top-notch diner food "24 hours, eight days a week" that they've hung a neon sign outside apologizing for being open. The two locations in Austin serve a wide range of pasta, burgers, fish, steaks, and breakfast items. So, no matter what hour of the day you're craving pancakes, Magnolia is there with a stack of your favorite fix. Pancakes will set you back a mere $4.75, and almost everything else on the menu costs under $10.

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(Photo: J Alcorn)

Help Save the Environment (and Your Money) in Santa Fe

Posted August 16, 2010 by Kate Hamman

6a00e5500ce6be88340115700e06e4970b-800wi Located in a desert climate, Santa Fe takes water conservation and other environmental practices very seriously. However, you can bask in the city's eco-friendly ways without losing your wallet or peace of mind. Come stay at a calming resort with biodynamic gardens, eat organic ice cream with an innovative twist, and shop for sundries made solely from hemp.

Sunrise Springs: This 70-acre green resort brings art and nature together to create a tranquil getaway. Walk in the biodynamic heirloom gardens that grow the herbs and vegetables used in the restaurant (not open during winter); relax in the spa or the Japanese tea house; or take yoga, tai chi, or raku pottery classes. The hotel is committed to proper recycling and composting, as well as using biodegradable spa products and in-room toiletries.

Tara's Organic Ice Cream: Serving the certified organic ice cream, Tara's brings natural elements into every scoop. The owner and chef, Tara Esperanza, has incorporated local ingredients to invent more than 80 out-of-this world flavors, including green-chili pistachio, hibiscus granita, peach agave sorbet, and adzuki bean with black sesame. You can also purchase organic ice cream brownie sandwiches or cakes at the shop. 

Santa Fe Hemp: At Santa Fe Hemp, you can discover this natural fiber's wide variety of purposes. The shop sells everything under the sun, from hemp clothing, hats, bags, and socks to housewares. Prices vary by item, but you can feel good about every purchase, as hemp is a highly renewable resource, maturing in a short period of time and requiring no pesticides or herbicides to assist in its growth.

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(Photo: Sunrise Springs)

Take a Low-Cost Tour Through Tucson's Culture

Posted August 2, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Tucson Though Tucson is clearly in Arizona, its history is deeply rooted in Mexican culture. Come learn about the city's past on a trolley ride, shop for arts and crafts, and dine on fresh Mexican cuisine. Plus, you'll barely spend a dime while you're here.

Old Pueblo Trolley: Hop aboard the Old Pueblo Trolley for a ride back in time, where you'll get to learn about the history of trolley operation and the surrounding area. The ride begins at the Fourth Avenue Business District and ends near the University of Arizona, and along the way you'll pass a dizzying array of shops, cafes, and restored homes, with narration explaining their historical significance. Kids are welcome to ring the bell. Each ride costs $1.25, but you can hop on or off at any of the stops for the one-time fee of $3.

Old Town Artisans: Located in Tucson's El Presidio Historic District, you'll find 150-year-old adobe structures housing six unique artisan shops and galleries. Browse the many examples of contemporary and traditional art from regional and local artists. You'll find jewelry, sculptures, paintings, and much more. And if your feet get tired, you can relax outside in the Spanish-style courtyard. Prices differ from item to item, but window shopping is always free.

Guadalajara Grill: Fresh is the name of the game at Guadalajara Grill, where you can watch as your salsa is made tableside, eat homemade tortillas, and sip a freshly made margarita. You can also dance the night away to live music. The menu features many familiar Mexican items, such as burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, and quesadillas, alongside different dishes like huaraches (fried maza crust topped with meats divided by beans) or volcano molcajetes (volcanic rock is heated and filled with soup-and-salsa queso mix).

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(Photo: Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau)

San Antonio is Big on Affordability and Culture

Posted July 28, 2010 by Kate Hamman

San antonio Not far from the Mexican border, San Antonio has become a top spot for all things Tex-Mex. Here, two cultures interact seamlessly, adding to the unique vibe of the city. Explore its diversity in an art museum filled with works and artifacts from both countries. Then shop to your heart's content for folk art in a hip neighborhood, before dining in an all-night diner with live mariachi music and good eats. Plus, you can rest easy knowing you can afford your visit.

San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA): Since 1981, the SAMA has been the place to go in San Antonio to view all kinds of art. Though you can see American, Asian, Contemporary, European, Latin American, and Oceanic works on permanent display, the real attraction tends to be the changing exhibits that highlight local artists and Mexican artifacts. Admission costs $8, but you can get in free every Tuesday night from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Southtown: Just south of the downtown area, you'll find an artsy neighborhood overflowing with quirky boutiques, coffeehouses, and cutting-edge galleries. Come browse the shops filled with artisan crafts, folk art, unique clothes, and one-of-a-kind handmade items. The First Friday ArtWalk is enough reason to visit this funky side of the city, where galleries stay open late, cafes offer live music, and the streets fill with vendors selling food and souvenirs.

Mi Tierra: Just about any time of day or night at Mi Tierra, you can listen to the mariachi band play as you enjoy dinner and a specialty margarita. This restaurant-bakery-bar never closes, and serves traditional Mexican dishes and breakfast all day long.

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(Photo: SACVB/Dave G. Houser)

Ski into Savings in Lake Tahoe

Posted July 7, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Lake tahoe Lake Tahoe attracts visitors year-round, and the Lake becomes a wonderland of activities in the winter. You can take a gondola ride for the best views, or visit a Swiss chalet for fondue. And then after a day out, return to your cozy hotel, where the price is almost as nice as the location.

Heavenly Tahoe scenic gondola ride: Take a ride high into the sky on a Heavenly gondola. The 12-minute journey takes you nearly two-and-a-half miles up the mountain, where the eight-passenger car stops at an observation station known as The Deck. From here, you'll encounter sweeping views of Lake Tahoe, Carson Valley, and Desolation Wilderness, and you can grab a quick bite to eat or drink. Rides cost $32 per person.

Tahoe Swiss Chalet: This restaurant brought Switzerland to Lake Tahoe more than 50 years ago, and it's been a hit with locals and out-of-towners ever since. In addition to its famous fondue, you'll find a range of regional Swiss specialties, such as wienershnitzel and stroganoff. Come out of the cold into a friendly European atmosphere, and enjoy the warmth of gooey cheese. Entrees start at $19.95.

Alpenrose Inn: Less than 10 minutes from the gondola, you'll find a comfy place to kick off your ski boots and relax. Each room at the Alpenrose is decorated to capture a different style, such as the English Tearoom or the Tahoe Cabin, and some come equipped with a kitchenette for longer stays. Rooms start at just $49 per night.

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(Photo: Index Open)

Hit the Slopes, Olympic-Style, in Park City, Utah

Posted June 21, 2010 by Kate Hamman

Park City Park City seems worlds away from the everyday ordinary, even though this mountain ski town is only a half-hour drive from Salt Lake City. People come year-round for its outdoor activities, comfortable lodging, and great eats. However, Park City is in full glory when ski junkies hit the slopes.

Utah Olympic Park: If you've ever dreamed of competing in the Olympics or just want to taste what it might be like, then you must pay a visit to the 389-acre Olympic Park facilities, which was home to 14 events during the 2002 Winter Olympics. Self-guided tours are free, and you might catch the next gold-medal winner in training as you tour the six Nordic jumps or the 1,335-meter sliding track. Rides such as zip-lining and bobsledding cost extra.

Washington School Inn: Originally built in 1889 as a schoolhouse, the Washington School Inn can't be beat when you need to rest your aching muscles after a long day on the slopes. And since it's only a few blocks from the Town Ski Lift and downtown Main Street, you're certain to be the first in line to ski the mountain or grab an "early bird" cup of coffee. Your hosts go to great lengths to make you feel right at home, offering breakfast, evening cookies or hors d'oeuvres, and plush bedding. Rooms start at $140, and include the aforementioned perks.

Morning Ray Cafe: Nothing says "good morning" like a breakfast overflowing with fresh pancakes, bacon, and eggs, and the Morning Ray Cafe is an old pro at welcoming the new day. For more than 18 years, the restaurant has served winter-sports enthusiasts their morning fuel in the form of coffee or breakfast foods, and even late risers can get their pancake or omelet fix until 4:00 p.m. Breakfasts start at $6.25.

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(Photo:Olympic Parks of Utah)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Offers Awesome Opportunities

Posted May 14, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Carlsbad Caverns Carlsbad Caverns National Park, located in southern New Mexico, is comprised of 117 caves (part of a system of more than 300). Unlike most caves, these weren't created by running water; they were formed by sulfuric acid, which dissolved the surrounding limestone. There are several different tours available beneath the earth, including self-guided tours of the Natural Entrance and the Big Room and guided tours of Kings Palace, Left Hand Tunnel, and Hall of the White Giant. The grounds are also open for camping and hiking.

Bat Flight Program: From Memorial Day weekend through mid-October, visitors can watch bats exit the caves around sunset or return to them pre-dawn. The free program includes a talk by a park ranger beforehand, and in the evening, the chance to sit back and watch as thousands of bats head out for their nightly feast. The early morning program offers the chance to see bats dive hundreds of feet to re-enter the caves. While the best flights can be seen in August or September, when baby bats join the mix, this awesome sight is worth catching anytime.

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(Photo: On the White Line via Flickr. CC Attribution.

Solve Nature's Mysteries in Death Valley

Posted April 16, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Death Valley Despite the unwelcoming name, millions of visitors head to Death Valley National Park each year. The extreme heat during the summer (an average of 115 degrees in July) may be intimidating, but more comfortable temperatures during the spring, fall, and winter attract adventurous travelers. Spread across three million acres of land, the park holds wide open deserts, stunning canyons, the lowest point in North America on the salt flats of Badwater Basin, and even a castle. Visitors to Death Valley should take precautions such as bringing plenty of water, ensuring their cars are filled with gas (since gas stations are few and far between and cell phones have no signal), and bringing a map (as GPS units do not always work).


The Racetrack: A visit to Death Valley wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Racetrack playa, the source of a much-debated mystery. The dry lake bed received its name from the rocks that move around the playa, leaving behind strange trails (up to 1,500 feet long), but no explanation. Although several theories have been formed explaining how the rocks—some up to a foot tall—travel, nobody has actually seen them in action. The best views of the stones are found on the southeast corner of the playa, about two miles south of the Grandstand.

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(Photo: iStockphoto/Jon Larson)

Explore Southwestern Traditions in Monument Valley, Utah

Posted April 9, 2010 by Jaclyn Liechti

Monument Valley Located near the Navajo Indian Nation in Utah, Monument Valley offers breathtaking vistas of sandstone formations and canyons. Its unique desert backdrop made it a popular location for filming Western movies, including Stagecoach. The scenery isn't the only reason to visit: The colorful traditions of the Navajo people make Monument Valley a destination that shouldn’t be missed.

The Trading Post at the View Hotel: If you’re searching for a memento of your trip to Monument Valley, look no further than The Trading Post, which offers everything from John Wayne memorabilia to guaranteed authentic Native American jewelry, pottery, and art. Be sure to take a look at the hand-woven Navajo rugs, which are purchased directly from the creators. The Navajo learned the art of weaving from the Spider Woman, and each of the rugs bears a spirit line in the corner to pay tribute to her. Whether you prefer traditional patterns or more modern color palettes, they’ll be a perfect addition to your Southwestern décor.

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(Photo: PhotoDisc)

Scottsdale's Spa and Wellness Bargains

Posted March 12, 2010 by Jamie Moore

Scottsdale Finding affordable wellness experiences in this town of over-the-top spa luxury can be tricky, but we've done it. Here's the inside scoop on which spa the locals frequent, where to get a "detox margarita," and which cafe offers healthy comfort food.

The Lamar Everyday Spa
: Phoenix Magazine calls this place "one of the valley's best day spa deals." For $90 you can get a 55-minute relaxation massage. Good prices have earned the day spa a long list of loyal local clients, including the Phoenix Suns dancers. Even without a treatment you can buy a $30 day pass and use the pool, whirlpool, sauna, and steam room.

Sprouts at Camelback Inn
: After your treatment, keep the good vibes flowing with a supercharged antioxidant-rich cocktail sipped poolside. Inside the spa at the legendary and expensive Camelback Inn, Sprouts restaurant is your ticket to a five-diamond resort experience for only $12. Who can resist a place that includes Detox Margarita ($12) on the drink menu? Try a Desert Rose, a blend of organic vodka, rose nectar, prickly pear, grapefruit, and fresh lime juice. Or go non-alcoholic with a $4 cucumber-mint-lime cooler.

Cafe ZuZu
: After a day of complete relaxation, indulge yourself at Cafe ZuZu in the Hotel Valley Ho. This contemporary restaurant offers classic comfort foods with a modern twist, and Executive Chef Chuck Wiley has declared 2010 to be "the year of the vegetable." Come enjoy entrees with changing ingredients, ensuring everything is used at its peak of deliciousness. Try the lunch menu's offerings, which start at $9 for truffled grilled cheese with fontina cheese, arugula, and oven-roasted tomatoes on sourdough bread; or just drop in during happy hour for $3 appetizers like mini pork shanks.

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(Photo: Spa Lamar)

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