35 Best Destinations for Senior Couples on a Budget
Retirement isn't meant for locking yourself into a senior citizen kennel, never venturing farther than the mailbox, and just counting the days. It's a chance to see and do all the things you couldn't while working full shifts and raising kids. Even if you aren't independently wealthy, there are destinations that have become more budget friendly as the years have passed. With the help of AARP and several travel experts, we've come up with an itinerary for frugally intrepid senior travelers.
Get a bowl of grits (Hominy Grill and Grace & Grit are solid picks) and enjoy the French-tinged flavor of the lowcountry gem that is Charleston. Fort Sumter National Monument and the Gibbes Museum of Art offer senior discounts, but walks through neighborhoods of Victorian-era homes and along the waterfront are free. It's cooler in spring and fall, and rooms start at about $70 a night. But in high season, the Spoleto Festival USA annual arts event (May 24 to June 9) offers senior discounts for select performances. Save more by booking early or attending Piccolo Spoleto, a companion festival featuring regional artists.
In the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this 411-year-old city contains some 250 restaurants, just as many art galleries, dozens of boutiques, and a dozen festivals and fairs. The mile of art galleries along Canyon Road is free, but other attractions include the oldest house in Santa Fe and the oldest church in the U.S. — the San Miguel Chapel. On Saturdays, the farmer's market teems with local produce, art, and music, but winter promo rates at AARP hotels make staying the weekend a bit more affordable.
What's in between Orlando and Tampa? Plant City, a 55-and-over destination that vows to "embrace the future while preserving the past." It's a walkable little city with antique shops, a flea market, and good food at mom-and-pop restaurants, with homemade ice cream, candy, locally produced blueberry wine, and Walt Disney World and beaches within driving distance. It's the winter strawberry capital of the world and home of the Florida Strawberry Festival in February and March. In the off-season, hotel prices can start around $52 a night.
Just getting an extra 28 cents or so out of every dollar you spend helps your cause, but so do natural wonders such as the surrounding mountains, harbor, Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park and its aviary, and orca-watching trips, as well as the float plane flights and all-senior tour groups that make Vancouver just a border crossing away from an ideal trip.
It's the Vegas of the Ozarks, which means it has big music acts, golf courses, quirky tourist attractions such as the History of Fishing Museum, and an Elvis festival in July. Coupons and discounts for shows, restaurants, and activities are available with the Branson Premium Coupon Package, but motels such as the Spinning Wheel Inn start at $49 a night. Senior discounts on lodging are available regularly.
Though the National Parks Service's lifetime America the Beautiful senior pass jumped last year to $80 from $10, an annual pass still costs $20. Both make it easy to access Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park from Moab. There are many places to camp for free in Moab, but the Hotel Moab Downtown knocks 15 percent off the price of a room for seniors.
Hendricks County, just west of Indianapolis, has become a popular place for senior travel and empty nesters. Visit Hendricks County, the local destination marketing organization, puts together package tours, demonstrations, and workshops for senior groups — anything from going to a mudworks and making pottery or taking an overnight mystery tour of nearby attractions. Prices range from an optional donation to $30 a person, depending on the activity. From wineries and old jails to the Indianapolis Hall of Fame and Oasis Diner, a restored 1954-era eating spot, Hendricks County offers some laid-back fun for folks who find Indianapolis a bit too big.
You can either make the run from San Francisco to Los Angeles or take it from Santa Barbara to Monterey. Either way, you'll see the towns between San Simeon and Pismo Beach, watch surf town meld into fishing village, ogle otters and elephant seals, take in the artwork at Hearst Castle, see Big Sur or veer off the coast for a wine tasting in Paso Robles — a delicious bargain compared with tastings in Napa and Sonoma. Stop for seafood in Pismo Beach and Cambria, but make sure you use an AARP discount on either a car rental (10 to 30 percent off Budget or Avis) or car share (43 percent off Zipcar).
Roughly 845 miles west of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, The Azores draw more than their share of seniors. According to tour operator Azores Getaways, 45 percent of its clients are older than 65 and more than 8,000 of them have visited the islands since the company launched in 2013. Visitors come for the whale, rare-bird, and dolphin watching, and the remote location far from Europe's big cities. Seven-day packages in December are as low as $799 round-trip from Boston, or $549 for Azores Getaways members.
If you've heard of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, or New Brunswick — Canada's Eastern Provinces — you've heard of The Maritimes. Catch a ferry from Portland, Maine, to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia ($135 round-trip for seniors during the off-season) or drive north to New Brunswick to a 20 percent boost from a favorable exchange rate, whale watching at eye level on a Zodiac boat, historic hotels such as the Algonquin Resort or Digby Pines Golf Resort and Spa, and Halifax's Pier 21, the Canadian Ellis Island. AARP bundles vacations to Nova Scotia, or will book a hotel room separately.
Yes, Puerto Rico is still reeling from Hurricane Maria, but it also needs help to rebuild. Forbes declares it "open for business" and encourages people to check out Old San Juan, the Bacardi Factory ($15 for a tour) and El Yunque National Forest. Flights are less than $250 from the East Coast, while hotels including The Gallery Inn or Decanter Hotel are made a bit more affordable with an AARP discount.
There are more than 100 wineries in the Yakima Valley, but it's also where the overwhelming majority of hops for U.S. beers are grown. The first post-Prohibition U.S. brewpub was built here and there are still numerous breweries that call Yakima home. There are trails along White Pass and Chinook Pass about 30 minutes away, white-water rafting on the Tieton River, fly fishing and tubing on the Yakima River, and biking along various trails. During the off-season, hotels start at just $49 a night, but various chain hotels offer AARP discounts.
Plymouth and the surrounding county are a choice destination for senior history buffs, especially in the spring before the crowds arrive. Pilgrim Hall Museum, the oldest museum in the country, displays artifacts that arrived with the Mayflower as well as a piece of Plymouth Rock that visitors can touch. Plimoth Plantation still gives a glimpse of pilgrim life, while historic walking and ghostly tin-lantern tours are available April to November. Many of the 17th century houses that belonged to some of the original 101 Mayflower passengers are museums charging no admission or modest entry fees. Though warmer months involve whale watching, harbor and lobster cruises, and journeys through Cape Cod Canal, hotel rates in the off-season hover just under $100 a night.
The Spanish island of Tenerife has year-round warm weather, diverse landscapes, and good hotels, roads, and medical facilities. Prices are generally lower here than on the continent, and travelers can reach the island from more than 180 cities. Round-trip packages from Salt Lake City in March start at just over $1,000 a person. Going in spring and fall avoids the crowds.
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke offers a temperate climate, easy forest hikes, and lots of farm-to-table cuisine. Antique shops, galleries, wineries and breweries abound, but off-season room rates starting at $45 through AARP make it easier to stroll or bike the greenways, take in artwork at the Alexander/Heath Contemporary, or join the railbirds at the O. Winston Link Museum or Virginia Museum of Transportation.
There is exactly one reason to go here, but it's a good one: YMCA of the Rockies. Encompassing more than 800 acres and surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park, the YMCA offers archery lessons, swimming, a rock climbing wall, ropes challenge courses and zip lining, a craft and design center for making ceramics, jewelry, basket weaving, fishing and fly fishing, ice skating in winter, miniature golf, horseback riding, and campfires and s'mores. A current promotion for three-night stay in fall (including two free breakfasts for each night booked) costs $84 a night, though YMCA members get a discount. If you can't or don't want to pay, volunteer to work at the property for room and board and access to most activities.
If you think Westchester or even Albany is "Upstate New York," you need to get to the Adirondacks. Go for Adirondack Park, but stay to see the 1980 Winter Olympics site in Lake Placid, look at the leaves, or stick around for the fall or winter festivals. A Trailways bus to the Adirondacks will give a 10 percent discount to those 65 and older, while many Adirondacks lodges will offer a discount to AARP members.
Las Vegas was basically built for access: The city is flat, the sidewalks are broad, the rain is minimal, and every form of public transportation from buses to the monorail has a senior discount. Shows, hotel rooms, restaurants, buffets are no strangers to senior discounts, and most bank on them to get through slow seasons, offering specials and admission prices to museums and other attractions. Just make sure you ask for the senior discount, which you'll find are more prevalent than Sin City would have you believe.
When even the AARP endorses you for beer tourism, you know you've done something right. Breweries including Bell's, Founders, and Perrin all started in and around Grand Rapids, and the brewery count has since ballooned to more than 25. The city's art scene is no slouch either, thanks largely to the Frederik Meijer Gardens, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and ArtPrize, one of the world's largest art competitions. Within a 30-mile radius lie beaches, wineries, orchards and berry farms, and even some of young Ernest Hemingway's stomping grounds.
The largest city in Missouri has more than 100 barbecue places, a deep-rooted jazz and blues scene, and an interesting place at the crossroads of history. Mark the end of the Great War at the rejuvenated National World War I Museum and the Liberty Memorial. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum also calls Kansas City home, as do nearly 200 fountains. In the fall, many room rates are around $90 a night.
Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello and Ash Lawn-Highland, James Monroe's home, are here, as well as the University of Virginia and its surrounding coffee shops and eateries. When you've finished there, take Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. Even with rooms around $100 a night, an AARP discount helps.
Yes, Graceland is here, Sun and Stax records are here, the blues are here and a whole lot of free street music still lives here. But the National Civil Rights Museum, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, and the Cotton Museum are all here as well, telling a deeper part of Memphis' story. Have some barbecue, listen to some music, but skip the paddle-wheeler and take in the history of the place. There are occasional hotel options below $50 a night, but an AARP discount still helps.
About 90 percent of Salt Lake City falls within the city's transit corridor, and all the mass transit options offer senior discounts. A Connect Pass offers 50 to 80 percent savings on museums, attractions, and even some meals. Meanwhile, ski resorts with senior discounts and national parks including Arches, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton are all within striking distance.
With 20 lakes and more than 200 miles of biking and walking trails that are plowed in winter, there's lots of free outdoor activity. Seniors aren't sentenced to the Mall of America (though you can go if you want to) and force-fed fish fry: If you want to bowl and go to the theater in the same night, Cheap Date Night at Bryant-Lake Bowl offers dinner for two, a bottle of wine and bowling for $28 (with show tickets costing about $15 extra apiece). While you can find cheap rooms here, taking the senior discount is far more helpful in a city this large.
This is one of the least-expensive destinations for people of any age. All four of the city's historic missions (and the Alamo) can be seen free of charge. The River Walk, a public park lining both banks of the San Antonio River, is also free — though the shops and restaurants might be tempting. Not only is the weather great for much of the year, but even three-star hotels can be found for about $100 a night.
Yes, you can go to the Inner Harbor and eat really costly crab. Or, you can check out Babe Ruth and Edgar Allan Poe's old haunts, John Waters' filming locations and the Baltimore Museum of Art, home to the world's largest holding of works by Henri Matisse. The last one is free for everyone, every day. Not only are there a ton of flights in, but BWI tends to be cheaper than D.C. or Philadelphia airports, while the city itself offers quick rail access to each. It may be a Four Seasons town, but even four-star hotels go for $100 or less here per night in the off-season.
Seniors from the Northern U.S. and Canada have been flocking here for generations, of course. Miami Beach is home to the largest collection of art deco architecture in the world, as well as water tours around Biscayne Bay, museums and attractions giving senior discounts. And there are still multiple (but fast-disappearing early bird specials.
Caribbean islands tend to look a lot alike once cruise companies hack off corners of them, but there is no equivalent to Alaska. Here cruises offer chances to ski, mountain bike, ice-fish and kayak, as well as see tiny Alaskan towns far off the beaten path. You'll see Alaskan forests, spot wildlife, and, if you're lucky, get in for as little as $850 all-inclusive during brisker spring months.
Near the Mexican border in the far south of Arizona, Green Valley is a playland of golf courses and golf-cart travel. The Santa Rita Mountain range and its cycling and hiking trails and bird-watching are right nearby, as are gorgeous desert scenery and abundant Native American art and historic sites. While the Wyndham Canoa Ranch Resort ($124) is the most luxurious offering, hotel rooms can be had for $90 or less a night.
The island city of Key West in Florida is a favorite among wilder seniors. Home to Ernest Hemingway's house (and descendants of his five-toed cats), ancient fortresses, tons of cruise ships, pretty pastel houses, and a laid-back approach to alcohol consumption and clothing (or lack thereof), Key West is rarely dull. There are reefs for snorkeling, Cuban restaurants for dining, and just about any libation you can imagine. Accommodations aren't cheap for average folks, but surrounding keys offer seniors RV parks, condo rentals, and options just for people 55 and older.
We'll stop suggesting artistic desert towns when seniors stop flocking to them. Sedona's red-rock formations change with the sun and weather. Its pine forests are deep and lush. Nearby are trails, bird-watching, and picnicking easily accessible from the town. The Grand Canyon is just a two-hour drive away. Uptown Sedona's art scene, spas, and new age aesthetic sell themselves, even if the hotels don't offer much of a discount until the warm season.
Since United Airlines bulked up its mainland-to-islands service in late 2017 and Southwest increased Hawaiian service this year, sub-$400 fares from the West Coast have become the norm. Be sure to see the Big Island of Hawaii itself — watch an active volcano spew lava into the sea and form new land at night, enjoy a cultural demonstration at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, a historic park that was once used by locals as a place of refuge. There's plenty of the island, including Hapuna and Kahaluu Beach Parks and Waimea, that's at least cheap or free to explore. You may find a few hotel options under $100 here, but remember to ask for a senior discount.
Neither airfare nor hotels here are as costly as they once were, with five airports in the vicinity and the city adding thousands of hotel rooms. While a night here may still be a bit costly, downtown's Arts District has turned lofts and warehouses into an open-air modern art museum of murals and galleries with exciting new restaurants and shops, tickets for movies at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery can still be had for $20, Smorgasburg LA fills its Alameda Produce Market with cheap food from up-and-coming local chefs, and Venice Beach still asks only that you tip the street performers. All of the classic Hollywood sights are still there, too, but there's a more accessible L.A. springing up around them.
This is a great time to take in the gardens and Victorian architecture of Savannah. Economy carrier Allegiant has added more service, and the city has eased restrictions on hotel expansion. You're right near Gullah communities and island resort towns, but also among some of the best bars and restaurants in the South. Rooms in historic Savannah will still cost you, but sub-$100 offerings in midtown reduce the bite a bit.
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