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June 2, 2007 11:33 AM   Subscribe

What are good (read: cheap) destinations for carless travel?

I'm a college student living in Chicago. I have no car and not a lot of money in general, but in the next few summers/spring breaks would be looking to take an inexpensive solo trip either domestically within the states or possibly abroad (I would need VERY cheap plane tickets to do this, so domestic is preferred). Getting there is not so much a problem--I have Amtrak, Megabus, Greyhound and O'Hare/Midway all at my disposal.
Basically, I'm looking for the best cities or destinations where I could stay for a few days, see a lot of sights, and only walk and use public transit. I know OF the cities that have transit systems, but it's hard to tell without experience how good these systems are and whether they'll actually take me to interesting places.

Here's the part where I clarify a little:
1. I'm not so much into the hiking/"roughing it", so probably not going to go for a camping in such-and-such a park recommendation.
2. Like I said, I'm probably not going to have the means to fly abroad, so, though most places in Europe would be awesome for this, I'd prefer answers within the contiguous 48.
3. If this place is served easily by a Southwest Airlines airport, extra bonus points.
4. No rental cars. I absolutely despise driving.
5. Extra extra bonus points for recommending a hostel or very cheap hotel.

Once I know the destination, I can probably find my own points of interest, but if you have recommendations, I'll definitely take them.
posted by rhoticity to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
new york, boston, and san francisco are both totally doable without a car. i'm not sure how cheaply you'll be able to sleep, though. i hear portland and seattle are both good, but i've never been to either, so don't quote me on that. austin is a super town, but i'm not sure how good the transit is. it seems like the kind of place where you could rent a bike, though.
posted by thinkingwoman at 11:41 AM on June 2, 2007


DC is good for that, and I believe there's a hostel there.
posted by dilettante at 11:44 AM on June 2, 2007


Response by poster: Oh yes, bikes are totally okay.
posted by rhoticity at 11:46 AM on June 2, 2007


Excellent recommendations by thinkingwoman. I have done about four days in Portland without a car. It was fine. I've lived in Austin and there's plenty to do there in the center where bus transit is good (I just wouldn't want to live there without a car).

Washington DC is another good place. Plus there's lots and lots of free stuff to do there, starting with the Smithsonian.
posted by grouse at 11:48 AM on June 2, 2007


Best answer: I visited San Francisco a few months back carless and it was awesome. I stayed at the Adelaide Hostel [url]http://www.adelaidehostel.com/[/url]. It was only $24 a night and really clean, with fun people and right downtown. Make sure you get reservations a week or 2 in advance.
posted by meta87 at 11:49 AM on June 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


Sorry, link didnt work :(.
posted by meta87 at 11:49 AM on June 2, 2007


Seattle has good bus transportation, and good bike potential to get around the various neighborhoods.

I'll second Washington DC on foot, bike and subway, if you're a museum-and-history kinda guy. I had no idea all those Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo and such were all totally free. Whaddya know, the tax money gets spent on a good thing every now and again...
posted by frogan at 11:57 AM on June 2, 2007


Consider Philadelphia: cheap, falling apart in interesting ways, served by Southwest, plus easy train or plane access south to DC or north to NYC and so forth.
posted by gac at 12:02 PM on June 2, 2007


Toronto, definitely. Air is cheap from Chicago--bus is even cheaper, and it's not too terribly long a ride.

Depending on how cheap you want to go, you can stay at the global backpackers hostel at King & Spadina. Something like $30/night, and you're right on a 24h transit route.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:18 PM on June 2, 2007


The Green Guide just had an article on Car-Free Getaways but the trips are mostly of the "roughing it" variety. I include the link here in case anyone else cares. Trying to find that article, I ran across the Car Free USA Blog. Even if it doesn't have what you need, there are lots of links on the right that look very interesting.
posted by loosemouth at 12:22 PM on June 2, 2007


Take the train from Chicago to St. Louis (about $50, I recommend the $7 business class upgrade). Visit St. Louis' awesome free zoo, free science museum, free art museum and take the free Anheiser-Busch brewery tour (with free beer).

Use the money you saved taking the train to visit these not-so-free but noteworthy attractions: the Gateway Arch, The City Museum, and The Missouri Botanical Gardens (a must).

See also.

I take the train to Chicago for weekend get-aways, so you owe me.
posted by _aa_ at 12:28 PM on June 2, 2007


I'll second Philly. We've LOADS to do, pretty decent public transit (awesome if you're sticking to more touristy spots--plus we have this thing called the PHLASH, which is a bus that goes in a continuous loop to all the touristy spots, and it's cheap). We're very walker friendly. I've heard tell of hostels in the city, but can't personally speak about them. Plus, if you happened to come during a week with the first Friday of the month, lots of museums/galleries are free that night. It's a short hop to NYC, DC, or Boston on a Chinatown bus if you're looking to maximize your time geographically. As much as I'd like to not live in Philly sometimes, I think it's an amazing place to visit as a tourist. More than you could possibly do in a week, good food, decent transit, and easily accessible.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2007


Not in the lower 48, but maybe Montreal or Quebec City? Even if you can't leave North America, you can see another culture. I've been to Montreal, lovely place and good transit, and pretty bi-lingual. I've heard QC is very nice also (and more deeply francophone).
posted by Emanuel at 12:59 PM on June 2, 2007


Also, Philly is a college town, so there are tons of student discounts all over at theaters and museums and such. So your ID would come in handy.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 12:59 PM on June 2, 2007


fly into cancun on a charter; get out ASAP, taking a $3 colectivo about 50 km south on the coastal highway to Tulum, then thumb a ride out to the beach and stay in a simple cabana on the beach for about $15 a night.
posted by luriete at 1:03 PM on June 2, 2007


(Getting to Toronto on Southwest could mean flying to Buffalo and then taking a bus, perhaps.)
posted by mdonley at 1:04 PM on June 2, 2007


You can do Key West without a car. I think it's actually better.
posted by smackfu at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2007


Flights to Montreal are less expensive than to Portland Montreal is extremely pedestrian friendly. If you stay in Le Plateau you have all you need: food, University, Mont Royal, food, sidewalk cafes, Museums (free), and perhaps the best people watching you will find--oh, did I say food (inexpensive if you wish). It helps if you speak French (your own comfort) but it is not at all necessary)
posted by rmhsinc at 1:17 PM on June 2, 2007


Best answer: Portland, Ore., has $2 non-sketchy light rail rides to downtown, good light rail to anywhere you'd want to go, two youth hostels, and a couple of funky/fun relatively cheap hotels in nice neighborhoods. It's more of a city to absorb and be in than a tourist town, however.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:42 PM on June 2, 2007


Best answer: Come to San Francisco and stay at the Green Tortoise.

You'll have a great time.
posted by mrunderhill at 1:43 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


If coastal California appeals to you, I could recommend the Pacific Surfliner. I think you can get on it directly from the Burbank Airport (which Southwest serves). I once took a trip up from Ventura to San Luis Obispo on this train, stayed in the local hostel (it's about a block from the train station), and spent about a week there seeing sights using buses and a bicycle. Downtown SLO is very walkable, there are half a dozen good beaches within a 30-45 minute bus ride.

The Coast Starlight line runs along pretty much the entire Pacific Coast from Vancouver down to LA. Haven't hopped on it, though.

I'd also like to point out that some cities that you might think aren't manageable via public tranport really are. It's absolutely true that public transport in LA is lousy in comparison to the well-known walkable cities, and I'd generally recommend going by car. But when I was in the Ventura county area I found that if I planned well and was willing to accept the limitations (the biggest being the limited operating hours, meaning I couldn't stay out late), it was doable.
posted by weston at 2:03 PM on June 2, 2007


I've tried to travel around LA by public transport. Out of all the cities mentioned here that I am familiar with, it has to be the worst.
posted by grouse at 2:09 PM on June 2, 2007


I second that Portland meets all your criteria, except it's more of a "nice place to live but wouldn't want to visit (as a tourist)," kinda place. Then again, there's a strong MeFi and MeCha contingent here who might show you around.

If you come during Pedalpalooza, though, there will be buttloads of fun bikey stuff to do every fricking day and tons of people to meet. Ask on the right mailing list and someone might even give you a loaner bike. The Hawthorne HI Hostel is right in the middle of a trendy-but-not-yet-totally-over-developed neighborhood. The NW Portland HI Hostel is about a 13 minute walk to the neo-trendoid Pearl district on one side and the old school trendoid 21st Ave. on the other. But it's pretty close to downtown, too.

I've done Vancouver, BC without a car before and it's also really doable. There are a lot of international neighborhoods, so you can get a good flavor of going abroad. Seattle is good, too. It'd be pretty easy to go to both. The Cascades line of Amtrak is super comfy. It's a vacation in and of itself.
posted by Skwirl at 2:16 PM on June 2, 2007


Avoid Los Angeles. There is bus service throughout our fair city, but it takes FOREVER to get ANYWHERE on buses.
posted by HotPatatta at 2:45 PM on June 2, 2007


DC is great because there's tons of good stuff that's free. You can fly into Baltimore (BWI) on Southwest, and take the MARC commuter train to DC's Union Station, about an hour south. Baltimore is also fun for a day trip.

Similarly with Providence and Boston, IIRC.

There are lots of good travel tips for specific cities here, just search the archives by name of city.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:21 PM on June 2, 2007


I second Emanuel's suggestion of Quebec City. I went there in college for spring break. It is a very old city with 400 year old walls that feels like a European capitol. It is a great walking city and has plenty of attractions. The city is heavily francophone, but you can get by with English and a good attitude. I met two Quebecois who took my girlfriend and I to an amazing local bar with local folk singers.
posted by rabbitsnake at 4:42 PM on June 2, 2007


If you're travelling in Canada in the summer you'll be able to stay in university dorm rooms in most Canadian cities for a steal ($20-$40 Cdn a night). I have stayed in dorms in Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Saskatoon, and Victoria and have never had a bad experience.

For cities with good public transit (and relatively centrally-located universities) I'd recommend Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa.
posted by sanitycheck at 10:54 PM on June 2, 2007


Oh, and Montreal! (I also stayed in the dorms there, at McGill and can recommend them).
posted by sanitycheck at 10:54 PM on June 2, 2007


Response by poster: Thanks all. I think I'm either doing San Francisco or Portland. I want to do grad school out west if I can, so this will be a good chance for me to make sure I could even possibly like it out there!
posted by rhoticity at 9:23 PM on June 3, 2007


Thirding SF without a car and seconding the Adelaide (i was there only 2 weeks ago) - it's only 2 blocks from Union Square and a fun place. I can't imagine exploring SF with a car, parking and (to a lesser extent) traffic would make that painful.

If you rent one of their (Adelaide's) bikes to explore (15 bucks for the day) make sure you head a few blocks east before heading north toward harbor/golden gate - that way, you don't take Taylor straight up the side of a cliff that is Russian Hill and Nob Hill (though the views are great).

Have fun.
posted by yggdrasil at 1:21 PM on June 4, 2007


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