America is a big place, where to go within it?
June 4, 2012 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Help us plan a 10-day holiday in the US, without a car, leaving from Rochester, NY.

I'm a Brit staying in Rochester over the summer as an intern with a J1 visa. My internship ends on the 18th August, and my journey home departs from Rochester on the 28th.

During this time, my boyfriend will be with me as a tourist. So, we have 10 days to go pretty much wherever we want, and now we are crippled by indecision! Points to keep in mind:

- Neither of us can drive so we need to be able to get to these destinations by bus, train or reasonably priced flight. The destinations need to be pedestrian-friendly.

- I was thinking a long weekend in a small city or relaxing retreat, followed by a few days in one of the cultural metropolises. My first inclination was to go down to Philadelphia before heading to Washington DC, but I don't know how realistic it is to get back to Rochester from there.

- Originally, we were going to go to Toronto, but no one seems to be able to guarantee that I'm allowed to go over the border during my post-visa 'grace period'.

- While we love NYC, we've both spent significant time there already. I've also been to Boston twice and travelled around New England. Everything apart from the North East is unexplored territory.

- We like cultural stuff, particularly 20th Century visual arts and architecture (he's a photographer, I'm a film archivist, hence working in the home of Eastman Kodak atm). We're also healthy foodies and coffee addicts. Ideally, I would like to fit in some thrifting/clothes shopping.

- We will be on a budget, so a range of cheapish hotels or hostels would be preferable.

Where would you go in our situation?
posted by dumdidumdum to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd stick with Philadelphia; dig in and root around. It's not like you'll run out of things to do both in-town and out-of-town, and it will be easier to work with one home base than uproot yourself half-way through.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:03 AM on June 4, 2012

Post a meet-up for Philly. Some nice Mefites might be willing to host you for a night or two, show you around, feed you, maybe take you on a day trip.
posted by HeyAllie at 8:20 AM on June 4, 2012

For transportation, buses are pretty cheap. Many cities on the east coast have cheap bus companies that run from Chinatown to Chinatown. There's also Greyhound and Megabus.

Domestic flights can also be fairly affordable if you book ahead of time and get a good deal. That might actually be your best bet if you're interested in going somewhere outside the northeast, so you don't end up spending your whole trip staring out a bus window.

If you're looking for cheap accommodations and you don't mind sleeping on a sofa or day bed, try AirBnb or Couch Surfing. There are some hostels in the U.S. but in my experience they are not nearly as popular as they are in the UK or Europe, so you might have to book ahead.

I guess I should also plug that Chicago is a great city to visit and probably much cheaper than your other potential destinations, albeit farther away.
posted by deathpanels at 8:52 AM on June 4, 2012

Looking at the usual suspects for budget travel in that part of the country (jetblue, megabus), you're almost certainly going to have to travel through New York to get to anywhere that isn't Buffalo or Syracuse.

My plan: fly or take the bus to New York. Immediately head for a "relaxing retreat" on the outskirts of New York, for example the Hudson Valley or the outer reaches of Long Island.

Long Island will likely be more expensive, but there's a museum devoted to Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner out there that would be right up your alley. It might require a car to get to, but there are taxi companies. The Long Island Railroad goes out there, and the various towns are self-contained enough to make cars unnecessary.

The Hudson Valley is similarly set up in terms of being small self-contained towns accessible via the Metro-North commuter railway, where everything you'd need in town would be in walking or biking distance, and it's all pretty well set up for people without cars doing what you're doing. If you pick the Hudson Valley, try to stay in or convenient to the town of Beacon, which has a really fantastic museum dedicated to minimalist and conceptual art.

Between the two, The Hudson Valley is faster to get to, which might be a consideration if you end up taking the bus down from Rochester. Rochester to Montauk is probably a 12+ hour trip by ground transit.

After a few days, if you want to do the city thing, Philadelphia is only about an hour and a half away from New York by bus. From there, it will be easy to get a bus back to New York and then Rochester. If you go to Philly, be sure to stay in the HI Hostel in Fairmount Park.

Radical out of left field idea: what about spending the whole 10 days at Lake George or the Adirondacks? Both of those would probably be a lot easier to get to by bus from Rochester, and a lot more affordable than a countryside vacation spot closer to NYC. That said, I think there's less cultural type stuff to do up there, aside from anything in Lake George pertaining to Georgia O'Keefe, who lived and worked up there at some point. It's also likely to be less convenient for people without cars.
posted by Sara C. at 9:00 AM on June 4, 2012

You can take an Amtrak train overnight from Rochester to Chicago and back, which might open up some possibilities.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:12 AM on June 4, 2012

Oh, and I just realized that Amtrak goes to Chicago from Rochester. You'd get on the train at 11pm and "wake up" in Chicago, by which I of course mean get to Chicago around lunchtime because the Lakeshore Limited is always late. But it's not that expensive, and Chicago is extremely navigable without a car and has tons of cultural stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 9:12 AM on June 4, 2012

I don't mean to pry into your travel arrangements but I am baffled by a return trip that requires you to return to Rochester, NY. I mean, where are you actually flying from? Surely that's where you need your summer to terminate.

In any case, Philly is a great destination - we were just there, with no car, and had a wonderful and all too brief trip. If you are looking to save money, I highly suggest you take NJ Transit - you get on at Penn Station in New York, and walk across the platform to transfer at Trenton station. The fare is $15.50 instead of the $98 Amtrak wants for the exact same route. (It does take longer but a savings of $75, per person, each way - for $300, I've got an extra hour or two to spare.)
posted by DarlingBri at 9:41 AM on June 4, 2012

I'd avoid the cheap buses due to safety concerns. But some of the more reputable ones like MegaBus have on-board WiFi, which helps.

The train is certainly less hectic than flying. Slower, of course, but less invasive (if you know what I mean). If you head to NYC the trip between here and Albany (where you usually have to change trains) can be slow due to freight being given priority. It's better from Albany on but there's usually a delay waiting for the southbound train. The station is ugly and in a dodgy part of town but don't let that deter you. Trains now go to both Penn Station and Grand Central so your options are vast once you get there.

Flying isn't bad, since Rochester's airport is so small, but you have to call for a cab (or get a ride) to get there, there's no hailing a cab on the street. The airport isn't open 24 hours, so you're somewhat limited on flight times but as long as your flying for vacation that shouldn't be an issue for you. With the exception of airline hubs and NYC/Boston/Chicago flights from ROC require at least one stop. Flying out of Buffalo solves that problem but of course you'd have to get there to take advantage of that (it's usually cheaper, too).

Don't forget George Eastman House and the Strong Museum while you're here.
posted by tommasz at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2012

Bolt, Megabus, and probably even Greyhound charge about the same as the NJ transit to Trenton to SEPTA plan, and will probably get you there faster.

I recently spent a weekend in Philly and was excited about the sorta-romantic notion of getting on the subway in my Brooklyn neighborhood and getting out of another subway in downtown Philly, until I did the research and realized that it would cost the same and be much easier/faster to take the bus.
posted by Sara C. at 9:57 AM on June 4, 2012

Trains now go to both Penn Station and Grand Central so your options are vast once you get there.

I'm almost positive that this isn't true. There are plans in the works to bring LIRR service to Grand Central in the "near" future, but I've never heard any scheme to restore Amtrak access to Grand Central.

That said, Penn Station and Grand Central are both central transit points in midtown Manhattan, so ultimately it doesn't matter which you arrive or depart from. Almost anywhere you want to go, you can get there from either one of them. Seriously, midtown is basically the nexus of the universe, or at least the eastern seaboard.
posted by Sara C. at 10:01 AM on June 4, 2012

Sara C., I think you might be right. When I was in college in the 70s, Amtrak went to Grand Central and I had to get to Penn to get the LIRR. Now it appears to be the opposite. Confusingly, Amtrak's site has a page for Grand Central although it's not listed as a destination in their route planner.

Even so, easy to get from one to the other.
posted by tommasz at 10:32 AM on June 4, 2012

Might I suggest checking out parts of the US that aren't like Rochester or the UK? For instance the Southwest desert? Maybe fly to Vegas and take a bus tour of the Grand Canyon (I know nothing about reputable bus companies out there, but here's one example).
posted by postel's law at 10:42 AM on June 4, 2012

Response by poster: I don't mean to pry into your travel arrangements but I am baffled by a return trip that requires you to return to Rochester, NY. I mean, where are you actually flying from? Surely that's where you need your summer to terminate.

No problem, my return flight to London originates in Rochester, hence having to go back. My host company paid for my flights, and back when I booked it I didn't know what I'd be doing and when so I went for the cheapest option, which was a round trip.

Looks like Philly or Chicago are the most likely options, thank you all so much for the suggestions and travel info so far. I'll look into the Adirondacks too.
posted by dumdidumdum at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2012

On non-preview, I realize you said you're looking for cheap options. It might help to know that Airtran also flies from Rochester to Vegas, but you have to use their website instead of
posted by postel's law at 10:46 AM on June 4, 2012

Just to clarify, the ONLY rail line that currently serves Grand Central is Metro-North.

Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and Amtrak ONLY stop at Penn Station.

There is a plan to eventually bring LIRR service to Grand Central, but it's all wrapped up in the Second Avenue subway line. So when they say "near future" they mean in like 2020 or something, not in time for OP to take a vacation.
posted by Sara C. at 10:47 AM on June 4, 2012

Just make sure you get to the Finger Lakes if you haven't done it already. It would be a shame to leave Rochester without having done it. You could do something like this.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2012

I'd do D.C. before I'd do Philly. That's just me. My parents are in Philly right now and I'm getting text updates hourly of all the stuff they're going.

I'd Megabus to D.C. and then find a nice hotel on the Metro. Personally, I could lose myself at the Smithsonian for days and days.

But Philly has some nice places. There's the Philly Phlash which is a SEPTA thing. Cheap and it takes you from monument to monument.

My parents are staying at the Residence Inn, they have a full kitchen there. There's also breakfast and a happy hour provided by the hotel.

You could do a day trip to Atlantic City, just to say you did. But boy is it grungy!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:00 PM on June 4, 2012

While you are in Rochester, be sure to go to their minor league baseball park on some beautiful summer night. It is possibly the nicest minor league park in the country.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:33 PM on June 4, 2012

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