From a renowned foodie city to a coastal road trip, we’ve gathered some of the best (and most affordable!) vacation ideas for seniors.
Older Americans are looking for getaways that don’t break the budget, but do offer a distinct change of pace. Luckily, the sheer size of the U.S. offers a great variety of spots that are geographically distinct. From the warm waters of the Caribbean to frigid Alaskan glaciers, there’s something for everyone.
Taking in another culture can enhance your vacation, especially if you have a strong spirit of adventure. Or perhaps you’d like to stay close to home, spending your money on a night or two in a nice hotel located in a familiar city. There will still be plenty to do by going on an excursion or two and planning a meal at a local eatery that’s gotten rave reviews.
Keep costs low by driving to your destination, or use a budget airline such as Allegiant, Southwest, Sun Country or Spirit. These discounters don’t show up on search sites like Kayak, so you’ll have to check fares at their website. Spend less on food by choosing a top restaurant with $15 dinner plates instead of the fancy steakhouse. Enjoy a drink in your hotel room before dinner, and skip alcohol at the restaurant. Or forego dinner and hit the town at happy hour, when deals abound.
Use a credit card to book your trip and for expenses. Barclaycard Arrival Plus offers double points for every purchase and a generous reward program for travel costs, as well as a 40,000 point sign-up bonus. A great cashback card is the one offered by Citi.You’ll get 1 percent cash back, doubled as you pay for purchases, and no annual fee.
Check out these popular destinations for a memorable trip.
1. Big Sur, California
The stretch of Highway 1 from San Simeon to Carmel is one of the most beautiful in the country. Nestled between the rocky Pacific coastline and grassy foothills, every curve offers another breathtaking vista. Hop off at any town along your route for a laid-back, upscale scene. Or venture out to one of dozens of nearby wineries for a glass of vino. Stay at a charming area inn or bed-and-breakfast for a night or two of luxury. Venture south to Hearst Castle, once the domain of newspaper magnate and art collector William Randolph Hearst, where tours include tidbits about long-ago movie stars and so much more. On your way, be sure to stop and see the colony of Elephant Seals at San Simeon, the only rookery in the world that is accessible, free and open to the public year-round.
2. Lake Tahoe, California
With fantastic scenery and plenty to keep you busy all year long, Lake Tahoe deserves a spot on your vacation wish list. Nestled in the Sierras next to a crystal-clear lake, this destination has adventure for each season. Summer months offer hiking on an extensive trail system, golfing, jet skiing, or kayaking. If that all sounds too ambitious, take a picnic to the lake shore, where every view is like a postcard. Winter visitors enjoy world-class skiing. If you’d like the companionship of other seniors, reserve a spot at Homewood Mountain Resort, where many older skiers take advantage of classes and excursions for all ability levels. Homewood has partnered with AirBnB for nearby lodging as low as $59. Visit the island in Emerald Bay any time of year for a tour of the wonderful Vikingsholm, an exquisite castle built and furnished in the best Scandinavian style. Private beaches accessible by short trails on the east side of the lake accommodate sunbathers and nature lovers. Book a place on a local paddlewheeler for a lake tour (with dinner and dancing if you’d like). For more tour opportunities, click here.
3. Las Vegas, Nevada
Like a jewel in the desert, Las Vegas glitters in the barren Mojave, beckoning visitors to gamble 24/7. But you can ignore every slot machine and craps table and still have a great time in this glitzy town. Orient yourself along the strip by hotel hopping. Start your tour in the lovely Bellagio, where a ceiling of handmade glass graces the lobby and fountains dance to classical music. Stroll into the Venetian for a taste of Italian luxury, or enjoy the ambience at the Luxor (the pool alone is worth gawking at). Book a show; Las Vegas has world-class entertainment on offer every night. Magicians, singers, comedians and Cirque du Soleil are just some of the possibilities. But instead of paying top dollar, head over to one of nine half-price ticket booths. That way, you’ll have money left over to treat yourself to dinner at one of the fancy restaurants in any of the toney hotels, or save again by ducking into a less expensive eatery along the strip. End your night with a cold, REALLY cold, cocktail at the Ice Lounge that is made entirely of frozen water. If you’re tired of trekking, hang out at your hotel pool for the day. Fed up with the glitz, the glamour, the endless casino noise and hucksters hawking products you don’t need? Hop in your car for a scenic drive at nearby Red Rock Canyon to watch rock climbers scale the ancient walls. Ah, peace and quiet.
4. Long Beach Island, New Jersey
Really, New Jersey! With 18 miles of quiet beach, this tranquil resort has old-school charm, complete with saltwater taffy and mini golf. Climb 217 steps at the Barnegat Lighthouse for expansive views of the island and bay. Or check the website for scheduled summertime night climbs for a unique experience. April and May are great months to visit if you want to see migrating waterfowl. Adventurous folks can take a surfing lesson or stand-up paddling class from patient instructors at LBI Surfing. Don’t forget to purchase your beach pass, only $5 if you’re 65 or older. Munch down just like the locals at The Clam Bar in Beach Haven. Stay at a funky beach hotel, or do the legwork at an AirBnB, where you can have a four-bedroom cottage for $190 a night. Just for fun, check out the original Ron Jon Surf Shop that opened its doors in 1961 (Beach Boys era!). You might come out with a new pair of flip flops or some funky sunglasses to ward off the rays.
5. Miami, Florida
If your idea of a great vacation includes sand and sun, take a look at bustling Miami. Sandwiched between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic, Miami offers more Art Deco architecture than anywhere else in the world. Take a guided tour of local buildings, or check out Biscayne Marketplace and Marina. The Wolfsonian–FIU Museum is a must, featuring art, design, talks and tours. Free entertainment comes with a walk down South Beach, where you can hunt for tattoo parlors, the ultra-rich, other lookie-loo touristas or a great fish sandwich. Adventurous souls can drive down to the Florida Keys, where you can ride in a swamp boat or enjoy snorkeling near the old stomping grounds of Ernest Hemingway and, more recently, Jimmy Buffett.
Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Advice
The host of Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain knows travel. The 61-year-old is on the road 250 days a year, giving him ample authority to dispense counsel. What is he telling us?
Bourdain smiles as he recalls his first visit to Tokyo. He doesn’t speak Japanese, and at 6’4”, there was no blending into the crowd. When he went into restaurants, he’d order by pointing to what the person next to him was having.
It’s all part of the “get real” philosophy he espouses. Avoid the tourist traps. Forget about that selfie at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Avoid the lines. And never book a prepackaged tour.
Instead, he recommends getting out to explore the rhythms, flavors and smells of a place. Be willing to stumble onto a hole-in-the-wall eatery where you don’t recognize a single dish.
“We tend to be over concerned with safety and with cleanliness in ways that stand between us,” Bourdain says. While travelers can easily revert to mainstay destinations like Rome or London, he urges them to book more exotic destinations. Think Uruguay. “Affordable, great food, great people,” he says. While not everyone will run out to cancel that travel tour, Bourdain’s advice might nudge you out of your comfort zone. Skip the trip to the museum and go for a walk. Spend time in one place instead of hitting five cities in ten days. “I want to wander in one city, in one town,” he states.
Bourdain says a common mistake everyone makes is to create a hectic schedule of tourist stops. “It’s punishing,” he says. “The sort of frenzied compression of time needed to take the tour, to see the sights, keeps you in a bubble that prevents you from having magic happen to you. Nothing unexpected or wonderful is likely to happen if you have an itinerary in Paris filled with the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.”
6. Nashville, Tennessee
Live music is on tap any night of the week in this cradle of American country music, but there’s so much more to Nashville! Check out handwritten lyrics at the Johnny Cash Museum or enjoy the newly expanded Country Music Hall of Fame. Take in a live radio show at the Grand Ole Opry, where seasoned vets and newcomers alike make appearances. For a change of pace, view works by Goya and Wyeth at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, or tour the 135-year-old Hatch Show Print letterpress shop, where you can make your own print to take home. Be sure to try the buttery, crispy goodness of Prince’s Hot Chicken on your way back from Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage Estate. Linger over a nightcap at the iconic Patterson House, a speakeasy and celebrity watering hole. Check here for discounts, coupons and promotions for all things Nashville.
7. New Orleans, Louisiana
Soulful New Orleans is much more than a party city. Get to know her history with one of several two-hour-long free walking tours (tip the guide whatever you’d like). Start with the French Quarter tour, where you’ll discover sensual, sometimes macabre, stories about the city’s founding. Drop by the Tennessee Williams house in what the playwright called “the last frontier of Bohemia.” In the evening, serious jazz aficionados can pay $30 for a ticket at Preservation Hall, while the rest of us can enjoy a live performance with no cover at Fritzels. The city is chock-full of fantastic eateries such as Emeril Lagasse’s Nola, where some may wait months for a reservation. Pop in early and ask for a chair at the kitchen bar with a view of sous chefs crafting cuisine at spotless work stations. Finally, your visit isn’t complete without a trip to sample the doughnut-like beignets at Café du Monde.
8. Portland, Oregon
This northwest city has a hipster reputation, verified by the famous Powell’s Books for intellectual nourishment and original Voodoo Doughnuts to rock your sugary sensibilities. Sign up for the free walking tour Secrets of Portlandia May 10 through the end of September to absorb city history with a healthy dose of comedy. This foodie town offers a plethora of options for affordable noshing. To try the latest and greatest, consult Under the Table with Jen, a local food blog. You’ll need a place to sleep, but high season will run you $250 a night unless you know about the Everett Street Guesthouse. In easy walking distance to restaurants and a six-minute drive from downtown, one of their fresh, charming rooms will set you back as little as $85. Want to stay longer? Take a drive through the Columbia River Valley, where you can stop at a waterfall, fish hatchery, wineries and historic sites.
9. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Soak up some Southwestern ambience in this very walkable town that features a higher concentration of museums and art galleries than practically any other place in the world. The dry desert climate at 7,000 feet is great for seniors, but remember to drink plenty of water. Start exploring in the charming town square, and work your way through a string of galleries on Canyon Road. There are plenty of benches to stop at and soak up the sun along the way, with a charming tea shop that offers expansive indoor and outdoor seating at the end of your walk. Enjoy a hike on Atalaya Trail near St. John’s College, perhaps after indulging at the famous Kakawa Chocolate House. Splurge on a hotel room near the square, or go no-frills at the Best Western on nearby Cerrillos Road, where you’ll get clean sheets starting at $89.99. You’ll have money left over for a visit to 10,000 Waves, an upscale Japanese spa that offers inexpensive communal soaks or fancy personal pampering. Take a drive on the ultra-scenic Highway 4 to Albuquerque. Stop off at Bandolier National Monument for a hike, then take a van tour of Valles Caldera National Preserve, where your guide may be a retired nuclear scientist from nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory.
10. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Our national parks are a true treasure, and iconic Yellowstone is perhaps the biggest jewel in the crown. Americans 62 and older can buy a lifetime National Parks Pass for only $80 (buy it when you enter the park to save a $10 handling fee). It lets a carload of people into any national park for free throughout the life of the pass holder, and offers discounts on camping, too. If the thought of tent camping gives you shivers, try a mattress in the back of your car (with plenty of blankets or a warm down sleeping bag) for a cheap, comfy experience, or spring for a rented RV. Campsites are $21, or go really wild and stay at the historic Old Faithful Lodge, starting at $124 a night. Hike through mudpots and the world’s largest array of geysers and hot springs, which sparkle in every color of the rainbow. View bear and buffalo, which you may find marching down the road, passing inches from your window. Bobcats, moose, beavers, coyotes, mountain lions and elk also call the park home. No trip would be complete without a view of Old Faithful erupting on cue. After a long day of hiking, soak in the Boiling River natural hot springs, accessible by a short path. Then treat yourself to an order of smoked bison with pheasant and chicken sausage (under $20) at the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, or go for the trout dinner in the Roosevelt Lodge. Be sure to pack a good pair of long johns for the cool evenings that dip down to 40 degrees, even in August.
“11 Best US Travel Destinations for Seniors,” Smart Travel Tips.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors