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December 16,2017

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Which Are Most Expensive U.S. Cities For Tourists?

The cities on our list can get away with charging big bucks: They’re some of the most popular places to visit in North America. Using the Hotel Price Index (HPI) to rank them, here are six we’ve singled out as the most expensive, starting with the priciest: New York, Honolulu, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Miami and Boston (more details below).

High prices shouldn’t keep anyone from visiting these must-see places, though. There are a few money-saving tricks that work in any urban center: Search out less-expensive accommodations through sites like Airbnb. For a weekend visit, look for hotel deals in a city’s financial district. (Also, check out Websites That Save You Money On Hotel Rooms.) For a longer stay, rent a condo or apartment (say, through HomeAway).

As for food and drink, visit bars during happy hour (you’ll often get free snacks along with reduced-price cocktails). If you want to try a high-end restaurant, go at lunchtime. And search out food trucks selling inexpensive locavore dishes (we’re not talking hot dogs and pretzels).

Take public transportation rather than taxis to get around. See if there’s a city bike-rental program. And, obviously, look for free attractions: Visitor information websites all post lists of free or budget-priced activities and attractions.

For our top six, here are the average prices for a hotel room paid by foreign visitors in the first half of 2014, according to HPI; the price of a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant; and the cost of a one-way ticket on local transport. And for each city, we point to a few bargains.

1. New York

Hotel room: $263

Dinner for two: $75

Public transit fare: $2.50

Savings tips: The best bargain has to be the Staten Island Ferry, which makes regular trips between lower Manhattan and Staten Island, offering stunning skyline views and passing under the nose of the Statue of Liberty. Best part: It’s free! In summer, walk the High Line, a park built on top of an abandoned stretch of elevated railroad track. Check out what’s being offered in the city’s other parks, which often have free movies and concerts in summer. Walk across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. And in winter, there’s free ice skating in Bryant Park.

2. Honolulu

Hotel room: $234

Dinner for two: $60

Public transit fare: $2.50

Savings tips: To go snorkeling you don’t need to go with a guided group, just pack your own gear (or buy it there) and then hit the beach. Hanauma Bay State Park, one of the best snorkeling spots, is just a half-hour drive from Honolulu and also accessible by bus. Visitors pay $7.50 to enter the park. For spectacular views of Honolulu and the beaches, put on some sturdy footwear and hike to the summit of Diamond Head, a crater formed by a volcanic eruption some 300,000 years ago. You’ll pay $1 to enter the park; the climb should take about two hours. For an inexpensive meal, feast on fresh noodles at Marukame Udon, a Japanese cafeteria-style restaurant in Waikiki where dishes cost less than $5. Don’t mind the line outside: It’s worth it.

3. Santa Barbara, Calif.

Hotel room: $227

Dinner for two: $55

Public transit fare: $1.75

Savings tips: This pedestrian-friendly enclave 100 miles north of Los Angeles is home to both rich people and rich farmland. Stop by one its eight weekly farmers’ markets to admire the stacks of guavas and dragon fruit and finger limes. Download a podcast and take a self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour to see the city’s architectural landmarks. Stroll from one beautiful beach to another, and if you decide to bring a picnic lunch, feel free to throw in a bottle of California wine – several of this enlightened city’s parks allow alcohol consumption.

4. San Francisco

Hotel room: $211

Dinner for two: $80

Public transit fare: $2.25

Savings tips: Buy a $13 day pass to ride the classic cable cars. Enjoy the roller-coaster hills while you crisscross the city, from Ghirardelli Square to Chinatown. Fun fact: There are special poles installed outside the cars to permit "hangers-on." Look for sea lions off Pier 39 on San Francisco Bay, and lunch on clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl from Boudin Bakery at Fisherman’s Wharf. Stroll through Golden Gate Park to see the botanical gardens and maybe catch a free concert.

5. Miami

Hotel room: $209

Dinner for two: $60

Public transit fare: $2.25

Savings tips: Explore the pastel-hued Art Deco district on a self-guided walking tour. Check out Vizcaya Museum & Gardens (admission $18) to see a stunning Italianate villa surrounded by elaborate European-inspired gardens. Try to take in one of the free monthly art walks held on certain nights in various parts of the city, when galleries throw open their doors to strolling sightseers. And schedule a happy-hour visit to the Mondrian hotel’s Sunset Lounge, for caipirinhas and panoramic views of Biscayne Bay and the city skyline.

6. Boston

Hotel room: $201

Dinner for two: $60

Public transit fare: $2.50

Savings tips: You can soak up a lot of history just strolling the streets on a Self-Guided Freedom Tour. Be sure to take in the USS Constitution, a restored three-masted frigate that the U.S. Navy launched back in 1797. Free tours are offered year-round. If it’s a nice day when you take a break in the lovely Boston Common and the Public Garden, be sure to go for a ride on one of the famous Swan Boats (only $3 per person). If you’re in town on a Thursday, visit the Institute of Contemporary Art after 5 pm, when admission is free. And arrive early for a tour at the Sam Adams Brewery (suggested donation $2): There’s free beer.

 

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