If you’re a budget sightseer like I am, you’re probably looking for the best deals when it comes to travel—whether it’s local or long distance. Often times, travelers only pay attention to finding the best deals on accommodations and transportation, forgetting about the costs accrued through actually doing things and enjoying the adventure.
This doesn’t have to be the case. It’s easy to get the best attraction discounts when you know where to look. No matter where you are in the country, city attractions passes will conveniently save you money on admission prices. Keep reading to discover my favorite attractions in the Northeast, Midwest, West Coast, and Florida.
As a New Englander, I know there’s no better time to enjoy the Northeast United States than in the summer. It’s for this reason that summer has always been my favorite season. The weather is made all the more beautiful by the long winter we’ve overcome, and the top attractions are all open for business. From Cape Cod to Coney Island, the opportunities for summer exploration and excitement are limitless.
It’s not a summer in New England if you haven’t “gone down Cape.” I like to spend my time exploring the wilderness—so I might opt to pitch a tent at a camp ground, take advantage of a Cape Cod bike rental, and board a Cape Cod Canal Cruise on the widest canal without locks in the world. I might spend another day taking the Nantucket Ferry or the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry out to their respective island paradises. For all this adventure, I’d use a Boston attractions pass for discounted admission.
New England Aquarium
The New England Aquarium was recently renovated, transforming an already beloved institution into a marine animal oasis unlike you’ll find anywhere else around here. The penguins, seals, and sea lions keep me amused by themselves, but the Giant Ocean Tank where the majority of the underwater creatures reside is the museum’s highlight. In the summer, you can visit the museum and board the New England Aquarium Whale Watch for added excitement and wildlife spotting with a discount attractions pass.
The Top of the Rock
New York City’s newest crowning jewel is best visited in the summer with your attractions pass, when the view from the top deck won’t be marred by cold temperatures. The Top of the Rock observation deck opened in 2005 and has since become a favorite of both tourists and locals. The best part of the view from the panoramic bird’s eye view is that you can see the Empire State Building.
While it’s an attraction everyone’s aware of, I simply can’t leave it off my list. Central Park in the summer is full of vivacity, and it’s bustling with things to do. Have your New York Explorer Pass in hand to visit the Central Park Zoo, go exploring with a Central Park bike rental, pay a tribute to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields, go for a science walk with the Central Park Movie Sites Walking Tour, or stroll through the Conservatory Garden.
Institute of Contemporary Art
The Institute of Contemporary Art is Boston’s first new art museum in over 100 years! It’s the place for contemporary culture and provoking art work to reach Boston’s creative populations. Why should you visit in the summer? The building, which is a work of art in itself, features a huge deck that extends over the Boston Harbor—and it’s free with your Go Boston Card attractions pass.
In the Midwestern United States, the cities aren’t as close together as they are in the other parts of the country. That’s why my favorite Midwestern destination is Chicago—it’s easy to get to via any method of transportation, and Chicagoland is so vast and plentiful that there’s no need to go anywhere else. Some of my top summer picks on the Chicago attractions pass are below:
The Navy Pier
Chicago’s world famous Navy Pier is more than just your average dock. The 3,300-foot “lakefront playground” (as it’s billed) jettisons boldly into Lake Michigan, playing host to a number of attractions, including the Pier Park amusement rides, The Chicago Children’s Museum, a number of renowned restaurants, an IMAX theater, and much more. Summer is by far the best time to visit because all the amusement rides are open, the lake views are stunning, Cirque Shanghai acrobats are flying high at the Pepsi Skyline Stage, and fireworks are guaranteed every Wednesday and Saturday night!
Architecture River Cruise
As it’s only open for half the year, the Architecture River Cruise is a sail you’ll want to take advantage of in the summer months. Chicago’s unique and historic architecture is on display during this whole one hour cruise. You’ll see buildings designed by architects like Mies van der Rohe, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, and Helmut Jahn as you learn about the city’s fascinating history from the ground up.
Millennium Park & Art Institute
You’ll recognize Millennium Park by its notorious public art display, “Cloud Gate” (the giant metallic bean shaped structure that marks the park’s entrance). The newest park in the city is also the most popular, and it’s easy to see why with its endless high-tech amenities. Plus, you only have to cross the street to venture on to the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the most notable art museums in the world.
While the southernmost continental state is certainly very hot in the summer months, the tropical vibe, swaying palm trees, and sandy beaches make up for the swelter. Opting for a Miami attractions pass or an Orlando attractions pass is the way to go to make the most of Florida’s many attractions.
Glass Bottom Boat Tour + Snorkel Adventure
Cruise to one of Fort Lauderdale’s colorful, natural coral reefs on a luxurious glass-bottom boat with up close views of the marine wildlife below. Once you’ve reached the reef, you’ll be able to get out and snorkel in the warm Atlantic waters. The Sea Experience Snorkel Adventure is a fun outing for adventurers of all ages.
Boggy Creek Airboat Tour
The Central Florida Everglades is one of the most unique eco-systems in the world. On a Boggy Creek Airboat Tour, you’ll fly through the tall marshes while on the lookout for gators, turtles, and birds in their natural environment. A knowledgeable guide with show you the ins and outs of the Everglades, giving you an educational background of Florida’s historic tropical wetlands.
Kennedy Space Center
The Kennedy Space Center encompasses a world of exploration and innovation. NASA’s launch headquarters offers visitors the opportunity to see what life is like for an astronaut, re-discover the importance and significance of our accomplishments in space, and perhaps even see a rocket launch.
The West Coast
The West Coast is a large and diverse region, with everything from its weather to its constituents varying drastically from city to city. To me, this is what makes the West Coast exciting—there’s a a vibe that holds it all together, yet each community has its own identity. Exploring California and its neighboring states is an adventure best situated for the summer, when the whole Pacific coast is awash with sunshine. You don’t need to look far for things to do:
San Diego’s Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre urban park featuring as many attractions as gardens. While you could spend a day just wandering around the park and discovering its beauty, you’ll also need to make time to visit the pandas at the San Diego Zoo, stop in at the San Diego Natural History Museum, relax in the Japanese Friendship Garden, act artsy at the San Diego Art Institute, and put your scientific mind to work at the Fleet Science Center. Yes, all this and much more is located right IN Balboa Park and free with your Go San Diego Card attractions pass. Plus, summertime at Balboa means live music!
Wine Country Tour
Northern California’s beautiful wine country is worth a full-day adventure, and that’s exactly what you’ll get when you book California Wine Country Tours, included with a Go San Francisco Card attractions pass. Explore all of Napa and Sonoma and see a variety of wineries, from the contemporary big production facility to the small boutique. The valley views are worth the trip in themselves, but the complimentary wine tastings certainly don’t hurt.
Knott’s Berry Farm
While it may not be LA’s biggest theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm holds the distinguished title of first theme park in the United States! Summer is the best time to visit because the famous boysenberry pie is fresh and you can also hope next door to Knott’s Soak City, a much newer water park that’s a delight in the summer. Both are on the Go Los Angeles Card attractions pass.
Golden Gate Bay Cruise
The Golden Gate Bridge is a sight to behold when the summer fog comes rolling in to obscure parts of the magnificent structure, making the whole thing appear even more majestic. There’s no better way to see the Golden Gate than with a Golden Gate Bay Cruise, a one-hour sail that ventures directly under the Bridge and also offers spectacular views of the National Maritime Park, Aquatic Park, Alcatraz Island, and many more sites. Use your Go San Francisco Card attractions pass to board the boat.
The Way West
Feeling extra adventurous this summer? Hop a plane to Hawaii with an Go Oahu Card attractions pass in your carry-on bag for some unforgettable exploits on the Island of Oahu. You’ll delight in the vibrant tropical underwater world when you go Hanauma Bay Snorkeling, venture out into the Pacific with an Oahu Kayak Rental, hike through Waimea Valley, relax at Byodo-In Temple, or kick back on the beach with a Waikiki Beach Gear Rental.