How to do Chicago on a Budget

On your way to Chicago but only have a little money and a few days? Want to explore this historic city and soak up the culture, nightlife, and tourism all on a limited time and budget? Have no fear! Chicago is a unique and cool city, definitely one to see. Here’s what to see if you only have a few days and the cheapest ways to enjoy yourself.

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Millenium Park

If you’ve only got a few days, make sure you get to Millennium Park! I rode into Union Station and while it is a bit of a walk, it’s possible to get to Millennium Park by walking. Chicago is pretty walking-friendly, and if you get tired there are tons of Ubers driving around and the attractions are so close that rides are very cheap.

Millenium Park is home to Crown Fountain (pictured above), The Bean, Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus classical music performances and more. You can listen to music and see these attractions for free. Millennium Park is home to Chicago’s iconic trademarks, it’s beautiful, nice to walk through, and free.

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Buckingham Fountain

Located in the center of Grant Park and open since 1927, the Buckingham Fountain is a beautiful piece of architecture that’s completely free to view and easy to walk to.

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Go to the Top of a Tall Building

Part of the Chicago experience, right? The go-to here is the famous Willis Tower. But, the Willis Tower does cost money to experience. Although, if you feel like paying, you can go out on the skydeck which is a small glass room protruding from the Willis Tower that you can step out onto and look at the city hundreds of feet below. If you’d like the tall tower experience but would prefer a free option, try the John Hancock Building! On my first Chicago trip I went up to the top of the Willis Tower and it was a great experience. However, on this trip we opted for the free John Hancock Center, which was also memorable. It’s a 100-story 1,128 ft. skyscraper completely free to enter. At the top is a restaurant and bar, surrounded by glass walls that allow you to overlook the city while you dine. However, if you’re super cheap (like me!) you can ride to the top for the view and sneak back down without buying a thing!

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The Riverwalk

The riverwalk is quickly becoming a hot tourism spot in Chicago. Lined with restaurants and shops, the Chicago River goes straight through the city and hosts walking tours, boat rides, and beautiful scenery. I went on a “Chicago’s Finest Tours” walking tour which was exquisite. 90 minutes walking, lots of great history and facts, and a fun boat ride, plus the tour guide was enthusiastic and funny. While this tour wasn’t free, you can still walk through the riverwalk free of charge.

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Deep Dish Pizza

This is an essential part of the Chicago experience. There is authentic deep dish pizza everywhere, and each time I’ve visited Chicago I’ve eaten at a different spot. That being said, you really can’t go wrong anywhere. Go ahead and splurge on your pizza–trust me.

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This concludes the cheap selection! Although they are pricey, Chicago offers some of the best art museums, natural history museum, aquarium, and space and industry museum. Certain venues hold cheaper days/nights and if you’d like to go to the big three (Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and the Art Institute of Chicago) you can buy passes that bundle the three and are cheaper than buying individual passes. While these passes aren’t exactly thrifty, if you have the means to go to at least one attraction you will not regret it.

Have fun in Chicago!

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Pisa, and the last of Italia

Let me first say, the bus ride to Pisa, Italy from Rome was the most picturesque bus ride I have ever been on in my life. Traveling through Europe made me privy to many beautiful places, but there is no countryside more naturally gorgeous than the Western Coast of Italy. I highly recommend bussing or taking a train through this during the day so you can witness the vibrant blues and greens and rolling hills and remote cottages that are too stunning to be properly captured in a picture. But anyways…

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On the bus to Pisa

Pisa! We made it. The final stop before going our separate ways in Spain. After the long bus ride, we made it to the slightly isolated and quaint province of Pisa. Pisa is not a huge, booming, tourist-filled city. Besides the Leaning Tower, there isn’t much else going on. But that’s all we came to see; and frankly, a sleepy town was perfect after all of the running around in Rome. We did a lot of walking through Pisa. Transportation was fairly reliable, and we were able to use both walking and the public bus system to get around. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is cool! It’s located in a pleasantly underrated area with surprisingly just a handful of tourists. It is a huge, sparkling white tower that does look like it’s about to fall over. It costs some euros to get in and walk to the top, so we opted out of that. After taking our stereotypical Leaning Tower pics, we headed “home” for the night. Our last night in Italy, and we ate Chinese takeout! You start to get over carbs, and since the only other options in Italian food are a side salad or some meat, we needed a break from authentic cuisine. The Chines food was surprisingly delicious! This laid-back night concluded our backpacking journey and my time in Italy. It was a truly unique country that I am eager to explore again. Our hostel was walking distance form the airport, and run by an impressive German trilingual fill-in traveler just getting into the hostel-running world, who did everything he could to make us feel at home. The next morning, bright and early at 5 am, we were off to catch our planes. Mine, to Madrid, to start my Spanish adventure.

Hiking in San Diego: Potato Chip Rock

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Potato Chip Rock

Potato Chip Rock, an 8-mile hike located north of San Diego in Ramona, is a mostly uphill but not too difficult climb with a great place for pictures at the top. You can hike up to the peak to see the famous “potato chip” cliff that everyone poses on, and then continue down the trail or go back the way you came returning to the parking area. Although it’s mostly uphill it’s not extremely steep, and I was encouraged seeing little kids and dogs trekking up and doing just fine. However, like most hikes in Southern California, it can be very hot and dry. There are a few spots of shade, but it’s best to bring lots of water and go on a cooler day.

 The hike generally takes about 3 to 4 hours, but can vary based on your own personal ambition. Don’t forget a camera! At the top there will most likely be a line of people waiting to get their pictures taken on the dramatic Potato Chip ledge, for which the hike gets its name.

 There is parking at the bottom of the mountain. You can park along the road too, as there are rarely available spots. Additional parking can be found for $10 at the Lake Poway parking lot adjacent to the park. If you park here you will start the hike at the Mt Woodson trailhead. Dogs on leashes are allowed and this hike is family (but not stroller) friendly.

 I personally didn’t find the hike exceedingly challenging. The incline makes for an effective workout, but there’s no need to shy away from this trail if you’re not an avid hiker!

Ocean Beach, San Diego

If you’re stopping into San Diego anytime soon, you’ve got to visit Ocean Beach. OB is directly under both Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. It also has an atmosphere that makes it entirely unique from the two. While PB has a great bar scene and Mission is a family beach, OB takes the cake in the eclectic hippie vibe, making it possibly my favorite beach in San Diego.  Equipped with graffiti, hippie vans, and acai bowls, the Ocean Beach scene is different to any other beach and yet is also representative of San Diego’s laid back culture making this a spot a must see while on vacation. It is also home to Sunset Cliffs, a drop off hill where you can park your car and watch the sun set behind crashing waves. When I visited Ocean Beach I ate at the OB Noodle House Bar. This Asian fusion restaurant was delicious and wait time was only 20 minutes, giving me a chance to walk around and see the sights. There are many interesting spots, such as thrift stores, a record shop, a hostel painted tie-dye, and even a communal organic garden. I’m planning on spending a weekend in the hostel when the weather gets warmer so check back for a review on that too!

I’d recommend Mission Beach for families with young kids because of the arcade and rides. I’d recommend Pacific Beach or La Jolla for those seeking a more upscale experience. But for those who enjoy the au natural hippie scene or want to take a step outside of the norm, Ocean Beach is an adventure that will welcome you with open arms.

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Snorkeling in La Jolla

 

La Jolla Cove is a beachside gem equip with restaurants, tourist attractions, gorgeous scenery, and marine life. There are many spots to lay your towel out and stretch in the sun or visit the local boutiques and fine eateries.  One popular tourist attraction is the La Jolla Cave in which you pay $5 and enter the cave by going down flights of stairs. The seals sunbathing on various rocks and beaches are another spectacle. You can see them up close and even lounge on the sand with them. One thing everyone should do when they visit the Cove is snorkel. You can rent snorkel equipment for as cheap as $5 for three hours, which is more than enough time. When I went this past weekend the water was unbelievably warm—no wetsuit needed. You can swim off of a beach or jump off cave rocks. The clear water allows you to shift through the kelp forests and observe the dark and neon orange fish below you.  It really is quite an experience! Fun for kids and adults. You can also swim, if you’re brave, into the caves. This is when you’ll get really close to the seals and aquatic birds hanging out on the rocks. When you’re done exploring you can dry off on the beach, visit the parks, or get something to eat. One thing to know—expect to use a parking garage. Parking is impossible in La Jolla Cove, so instead of wasting time looking for a spot go straight to the first garage you see. The cheapest one in La Jolla Cove is $10 for the whole day. If you’re looking for a little adventure this weekend check out La Jolla Cove with your friends and family!

Art Museums in Balboa Park

San Diego isn’t all about the beach and nightlife, it also offers a rich variety of culture and history. If you prefer museums to sunbathing, or want to channel your inner artsy side, Balboa Park is home to fifteen museums, IMAX films, tours, and interactive exhibits.  Recently I toured the Timken Museum of Art which was FREE and exhibited art from different periods, some dating back to the 1300s. Besides the multiple museums there are also several gardens to enjoy. My favorite was the Lilly Garden.

Many of the exhibits are inexpensive to visit and the gardens are free. Balboa Park also offers seasonal and weekend events. For example, they host a haunted maze for Halloween and a Christmas-inspired Winter fest. To check out upcoming events like these and get the know on San Diego’s best museums, visit http://www.balboapark.org