Budget travel: A southwesterner's guide to 4 states in a week
Tuesday, 21 January 2020
If you live in the Southwest corner of the United States and struggle with a limited amount of vacation time, you may wonder how to make the most of your days off.
Especially if you reserve some of those precious vacation days for holidays and family events. Here, we discuss a perfect way to explore four states in the Southwest—all in one week, on the cheap.
Let's start in Phoenix. Load up your car with snacks and water, and take I-17 North for 116 miles until you reach Sedona, a gorgeous desert oasis surrounded by red rocks. Check into Sedona Village Lodge, a clean and well-appointed hotel with rooms starting at $59 per night.
Change into your hiking clothes, slather on sunscreen, and bring a hat. Then head to the 2.9-mile loop hike at Cathedral Rock Trail (parking is $5). Be sure to bring your camera, as the views here are tremendous.
After your hike, spend the day exploring downtown Sedona at several wallet-friendly places. You can't go wrong with a seared cauliflower steak salad ($7.99) at Wildflower Bread Company, or the ceviche del mar ($12) from 89 Agave Cantina. Staying up late? Head over to Full Moon Saloon for live music every Friday and Saturday night. Brave souls can also go to karaoke on Thursdays and Sundays.
Wake up bright and early this morning (think 5 a.m.), and head northeast. Nearly six hours later, you can find yourself in Utah at the entrance of Canyonlands National Park ($25 per vehicle). Since you've been in a car for so long, go for a hike and stretch your legs. Ask the park rangers for the best hike for your skill level and time frame. Make sure to bring enough water, and wear comfortable hiking boots.
Embrace nature tonight and camp under the stars at Squaw Flat Campground. This place is only $20 per vehicle to stay, and has picnic tables, water, flush toilets, and fire grates. You'll fool yourself into thinking you're at the Ritz! Advance reservations are recommended.
Today will be another early wake-up, but don't worry; tomorrow you can sleep in. Get up before the sun rises, and hit the road for the 322-mile drive west to Zion National Park, where your entrance fee here will be $30. Talk to the park ranger again, and ask about the best hikes for your skill level and the time you have.
If you go between June and October, consider staying at the Lava Point Campground, but be sure to call ahead to ask about weather conditions. Any other time of year, opt for Cable Mountain Lodge in nearby Springdale, where views of the mountains are breathtaking, and rates can start around $136 per night.
Sleep in today and ice your sore legs. After three days of hiking, it's time to blow off steam with a trip to Las Vegas. Drive 160 miles west (just two-and-a-half hours), and park near the hotel with the best rates. Prices for hotel rooms in Las Vegas vary wildly depending on the time of year and what's currently going on in town. Call around before you get there and negotiate for the best rate. Sometimes, especially in the warmer months, you may be able to snag a high-end room for less than $100 per night.
Spend your early afternoon walking Las Vegas Boulevard South—also known as the Strip—and marveling at everything from the pirate show outside Treasure Island TI Hotel & Casino to the fountains in front of the Bellagio, which is also beautiful at night. Inexpensive activities in town abound, from a gondola ride at the Venetian for $21 per person, and going up the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas, to visiting the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, made popular by the "Pawn Stars" reality show. You can also go on one of the many rides at Stratosphere Hotel (prices vary depending on the ride).
For the most up-to-date information on nightlife activities, visit www.lasvegas.com.
Wake up before noon today and start driving to the final stop on your vacation. Set your GPS to San Diego and five hours later, check into Ocean Beach Hotel, an affordable property (rooms start at around $120) right on the Pacific.
Spend the evening checking out the neighborhood, as well as Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. Crushed is a great place to eat (the $10 stinky goat flatbread is to die for), and so is the Iron Pig Alehouse, where you can't go wrong with a smoked portobello "sammy" for $9.99.
Wake up by 8 a.m. and head out for a full day of sightseeing. Walk around the hip Gaslamp Quarter, and check out hot spots like Tin Roof. You can also learn about military history with a visit and tour of the USS Midway, where tickets are $20 per person, or spend the whole day exploring several museums within Balboa Park. A pass is $45 per person.
Rise and check out of the Ocean Beach Hotel. Then head over to the Mission Café—where the line is sometimes out the door but worth the wait—and order their delicious strawberry and banana pancakes. Fuel up on breakfast and chat with your travel buddies about the great memories you've made, hitting four states in one week, before hitting the road back home.
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