We are typically pretty desperate for sunshine and warm weather by February/March since we live in Michigan where it is cold and usually snowing until mid to late April. We searched for a direct flight out of our local airport in hopes of a quick beach getaway and decided on Miami. Since we wanted a beach vacation we decided to stay in Miami beach not in Miami it’s self. We also wanted to see the historic Art Deco area so we landed on an Air B and B in South Beach. South Beach has a reputation for being a huge party area which is really not our scene. If that is what you are looking for you can definitely find it quite easily in South Beach. If you are like us and that isn’t what you are looking for don’t worry, there is way more to South Beach than just being a party town! Here is our list of what to see and do in South Beach besides just embracing the party scene.
Of course if you are staying in Miami Beach you are likely there for a beach vacation. The beach here is awesome! White sand, turquoise waters, and lots of space. The beach is wide and goes on for miles!
We stayed near Lummus Park which is right along the beach. The park has a large outdoor workout space with lots of equipment and lots of volley ball nets. There is also a nice bike path you can walk along to get views of Ocean Drive and the Art Deco without having to be hassled by the street vendors or restaurants trying to get you to come in or sit down for a meal with them (we talk more about this in our where to eat in Miami Beach post, you can find the link at the end of this post). There are public bathrooms with shower stations you can rinse off at after enjoying the beach. There are multiple points of entry to the beach on the island so wherever you are staying there will be public beach access nearby. The beach can get crowded but as we said it goes on for miles so if you happen to enter the beach in a more crowded area you can keep walking either north or south until you find a quitter spot. The beach is lined with life guard stations all decorated different colors going along with the Art Deco theme in the area. There are areas where you can rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards and jet skis on the beach if that is something you are interested in.
South Pointe Pier and Park:
If you walk all the way south on the beach you will come to South Pointe Pier. From the beach you can get to the pier and to South Point Park. You will likely see many people fishing from the pier. You can also get great views of the beach from the pier.
After walking along the pier you can take the path through South Point park. The path goes along the channel so you can see the boats coming in and out as you walk. There are lots of benches if you want to stop and sit while enjoying the views. As you continue walking there are a few restaurants and some green spaces where you will see people sitting in the shade enjoying a picnic or just relaxing. There is also a small park with some water fountains we saw kids running through and playing on. If you do have kids this could be something fun to do to if you are looking for a break from the beach. You will also walk past a marina full of very large, impressive boats/yachts which you can admire as you go. This channel is also where the cruise ships leave from. We saw multiple cruise ships leaving just about every day we were there. Since Miami is on the east coast of Florida you don’t get a sunset over the beach but if you sit on the benches at South Pointe park you can get a sunset over the city. We brought our own bottle of wine and had a relaxing time here watching the sun set.
The area of South Beach near Lummus Park is the historic Art Deco district. There is an art deco welcome center where you can get information about the area. We did not go in so cannot comment on everything they have to offer. We walked around on our own and were able to see all the major Art Deco buildings in the area. The majority of these buildings are on Ocean Drive and Collins Street. Most of the buildings are hotels, shops or restaurants. Ocean drive is quite touristy and is definitely where you will find the party scene. We suggest walking on the sidewalk along Lummus Park which is across the street from Ocean Drive. That way you can get better views of the Art Deco and take photos without being hasseled by street vendors or the restaurants asking you to come sit down for a drink or a meal. The buildings are lite up at night so even if you aren’t much of a night owl it is worth walking around this area once it gets dark so you can see everything lite up.
There is also a lot of really amazing food in South Beach. For more on where to eat check our our post A Foodies Guide to Miami Beach.
And for the best cocktails in Miami Beach check out or post The Broken Shaker – Best Cocktails in Miami Beach
We really enjoyed Miami Beach and would love to go back! We highly recommend this as a great beach vacation spot for anyone!
We both have full time jobs in the United States, and due to that we have some constraints around how much time we can take off for travel. We have been experimenting with the idea of how to pull off a long weekend trip with two major constraints that everyone has: time and money. This only works if you are within driving distance of a major hub airport in the US (we are closest to Chicago and Detroit so we look at both fares when planning trips). This post is broken out into the top expenses and how we minimize them.
How to Find a Cheap Flight: $800 for 2 Round Trip Tickets
Usually when I talk to someone about traveling they think the flights are going to be extremely expensive to go to Europe. A lot of this is due to their inflexibility: you can easily pay over $1k per ticket to go over to Europe, or you can often pay less than $400. When I say flexibility, that means both time and location: in the summer you will have a harder time finding cheap fares. Also if you are not too picky on where you are going it broadens your options even more. Here is what we do:
- Go to Google Flights
- Type in your nearest major international airport (Chicago O-Hare for us!)
- In the “where to” box type in “Europe“
- Type in your date range – we have been doing Thursday to Tuesday trips because most flights to Europe leave late at night (after 7 or 8 pm) and return during the day on the way back – remember you lose time on the way there but make it back up on your return.
- For example: we found a flight from Chicago to Copenhagen that departed at 10:05 pm CST and landed at 1:20 pm CET. If you can power through that first day you can get a good (if not a bit delirious) afternoon at your destination before having the best sleep of your life Friday night.
- When you hit “search” you won’t just get a list of flights. A map will pop up which has the cost of the flights from your airport to the different destinations. As you move/zoom the map, it will reload for those locations. If there is nothing looking good at the moment, change your date range a bit or look back in a couple of days. Flights prices change all the time. This is where you might need to be a bit flexible.
- You can also add in a “non-stop” filter to make sure you are only looking at direct flights. This will narrow it down even more, but it’s just that much more time you don’t have to be in an airport.
- Google Flights also lets you track prices if you find a route that you are interested in
- Don’t believe us? Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights for inspiration. Also, here is a direct flight we found to Stockholm just doing a quick search:
Lodging $50-100/night = $300
It is a good idea to keep proximity to mass transit in your consideration when booking your lodging. Some countries are obviously more expensive than others which you should keep in consideration when booking your place. A couple of tips to keep your costs down:
- Stay away from major hotels
- Use AirBnB & Booking.com, find where you want to stay and sort/filter by price
- Stay in a hostel if you are on the super cheap
- Keep transportation in mind from a location standpoint: you can find a farmhouse out in the country for very inexpensive but you’re going to spend more than that on Uber/car rental.
Food: $50/day = $250
We are foodies. This is where we will gladly blow our budget and probably be willing to spend a bit more. You can definitely spend less than $50/day. There are a couple of key things you can do to keep your costs down:
- If you are on the super cheap – go to a grocery store. You don’t eat out every day at home so you can save a ton by cooking at your AirBnB. Even if it is just some basics like fruit/granola bars/bread/wine (yes we know that last one isn’t food!) will save you a bunch of money in the long run. It’s also just fun to go into international grocery stores!
- Look for lodging that includes breakfast (a true B&B) we always look at Booking.com
- Avoid buying alcohol and ‘fancy’ mineral water at restaurants
- Get to where the locals go. For example, if you’re in Athens, don’t eat in the Plaka neighborhood. A few blocks away you’ll pay 1/3 the price for a more authentic gyro. It isn’t too hard to find these spots, there are are a few things to look for
- Away from the tourist areas (not filled with tourists… they are easy to spot)
- Be cautious of TripAdvisor – we use it a lot and it can be a good for info, but it is heavily used by tourists so its typically skewed. Lonely Planet is a good second source that can be a bit more reliable.
- This is not to say there aren’t really good restaurants in the touristy areas, but you will definitely pay a premium for them.
Transportation: Stick to a Plan $100
With transportation you typically have a trade-off: time vs. money. Public/mass transportation has economies of scale going for it, but it usually has the downside of not dropping you off where you need to be and taking longer than the alternatives. Bus/train/subway/etc. are all inexpensive options – especially when you are leaving the airport. The more individualized and faster but much more expensive option is Taxi/Uber. Maybe not nearly as available but what of a middle ground is an UberPool, which can be surprisingly economical but will take a bit more time. As for airport parking, you should look at parking at a hotel – we use Way.com with success. You basically rent a parking spot from a hotel near an airport and they let you use their shuttle service. We have paid as little as $5/day to park but the rates can vary.
Summary – $1,450 Total
$50 left over! You can travel on the cheap – and you will probably feel like a baller if you take a weekend trip to Europe. Most of the travel tips in this post are principles that apply to more than just Europe. Everyone has their own priorities to keep in mind when planning a trip.
Would you ever do a long weekend to Europe? Please drop a comment below!
We did a short trip to the San Diego area visiting Erika’s aunt who lived there at the time. This worked out well since we had a place to stay and basically a free tour guide during our trip! She actually lived in Carlsbad so we did not stay in the city of San Diego, we were just outside in the surrounding areas for most of our trip. We did some site seeing, got to do some kayaking, surfing and beach time and finally ended our trip with some wine tasting in Temecula Valley which is about an hour outside the city (we will talk more about that in a separate post). We don’t have as many food recommendations in this post since we did a lot of eating in or packing picnic lunches since we were staying with a local. We will share with you a couple places we did enjoy.
One of the first places we went was to Mt Soledad National Veterans Memorial. The memorial sits on top of a hill which offers great views of the city, the surrounding mountains and the coastline. The memorial is meant to honor all veterans ranging from the Revolutionary war to more current events. The memorial is open for visitors daily and admission is free. It is a nice place to go to get some great views of the city.
From there we headed to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. This is a park that overlooks the ocean near the La Jolla area. We spend some time walking around and taking in the ocean views from up on the top of the cliffs along the coast line. There are multiple hiking trails in the park to explore. If we had more time we would have loved to spend more time here and do some hiking. We were told that often times you can see people hang gliding from the cliffs. We didn’t see any the day we visited but it would definitely be a beautiful spot for this if that is something you are interested in doing.
We spent the rest of our first day in La Jolla which is along the shoreline. This area offers lots of shops and restaurants as well as beautiful views of the ocean. While wandering through this area we stopped at the Sunny Jim sea cave which was an old bootlegger cave during prohibition. There is a cave store where you enter and you can buy souvenirs it is about $5 per person to go down into the cave. From the store there is a tunnel that was dug out by hand to allow access to the sea cave. It is a pretty short path, less than 5 minute walk from the store to the cave. The stairs in the tunnel are pretty steep and small and can be slippery with the water. From the cave you get views out to the ocean and you can see the water coming in and out with the waves. We would highly recommend visiting if you’re in the area!
One of our favorite things we did in La Jolla was sea kayaking. We did this through a company called La Jolla Kayak. They had tandem kayaks and single kayaks available. We went in a tandem. The hardest part was getting out past the wave break. We were instructed on how to do this and most people in our group got past it without a problem. After you are past the wave break the water is calm and it is pretty easy to kayak around the area. We had two guides and a group of about 8-10 people. The guides educated us on the history of the area and the wildlife in the area. They brought us over to where the sea caves are so we could get a good look at the caves. It was a bit wavy by the caves the day we went so we couldn’t get up super close. If the water is calmer you can kayak right up to and into the caves. We did get to kayak by several sea lions as they were sun bathing on the rocks nearby. The water is fairly cold, on average 55* to 61* F. If you do want a wet suit to help you stay warm during your tour they are available to rent. Coming back in with the waves was a lot of fun because you are basically surfing them. That being said about a quarter of the people went sideways and got a bit wet. Check out their website for specific tours and pricing options. https://www.lajollakayak.com/tours/.
La Jolla has great park spaces near the waterfront to take advantage of. After we did our kayaking tour we had a picnic lunch in the park and spend some more time walking along the coastline.
The next day we headed to the beach in Carlsbad for some surfing. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it but surfing is big in California! There are multiple companies to do lessons, and people that offer surfing lessons. We booked a lesson ahead of time online with Carlsbad SoCal Surf Lessons. This was a private lesson that was one hour followed by an hour of surfing on your own. Rusty the instructor was a great teacher and awesome guy in general. If you’ve never surfed before, this is a great place to learn (not too crowded).
After surfing we headed into San Diego. We spend the afternoon in Balboa Park. This is where the zoo is located if you choose to visit. The park has a lot of other attractions worth seeing as well. This is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park that is absolutely beautiful to walk through! The park has many gardens, walking paths and open green spaces to sit and relax as well as museums and theaters. There are also several restaurants and shops in the park to enjoy. We would definitely recommend visiting if you are in San Diego. For a full list of events happening in the park you can check out their website. https://www.balboapark.org/. Sunset is a really pretty time to see the buildings and the theaters in the park.
Food: We do have a couple recommendations
In-N-Out Burger: This is going to sound funny to anyone on the West Coast. But In and Out is a must try while in California. It’s a fast food burger place offering burgers, fries and shakes. It is a chain that you can find throughout California and maybe in other states as well. We do not have them in Michigan or anywhere we have been in the midwest of the U.S. If you are craving a good, greasy burger this is your place! Yes it is fast food which we normally do not enjoy but this place is worth a try.
Harbor Fish Cafe: This place is right on the beach in Carlsbad. It is a causal place with great fish tacos! Fish tacos are definitely a must eat while in California. The tacos here are huge! There are fried and grilled fish options available.
Cardiff Crack: This is a term used locally to describe Burgundy Pepper Tri Tip. You can buy this at the Seaside Market– here is the address 2087 San Elijo Ave, Cardiff, CA 92007. This is a tri tip steak with a Burgundy Pepper marinate. Our last night we picked one of these up and grilled it up for dinner with a nice bottle of wine. It was really good! We will be attempted to recreate it at home at some point. It isn’t easy to find tri tip steaks in markets/grocery stores where we live in Michigan so that will be a challenge. We would highly recommend getting this while you are in the area!
Our final full day we spent heading out to Temecula Valley for some wine tasting. We will do a separate post on that with more information. After that we unfortunately had to head home the next day. This was a pretty quick trip for us, we would love to spend more time in this area at some point. California has a lot to see and do. We will eventually make it back to the west coast!