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The Best, and Worst, Cities for Staycations in the US

Travel Insider Guides
by Matthew Meltzer Jun 4, 2019

“Staycation” kinda sounds like a word your parents made up to make sitting at home all summer sound fun.

“Yes, we know the Wentworths are summering in Mallorca, but instead of a vacation, we can have a STAY-cation!”

Underwhelming to a seven-year-old, but as you get older, the idea of sticking around your hometown and taking a break sounds a little more appealing. No airports. No long drives. And maybe not even a hotel. Of course, some cities have more for staycationing locals than others, so the good people at WalletHub examined the 150 most populated cities in America to find which one was best. They factored in 43 different metrics from recreational trails per capita to beer gardens, coffee shops, swimming pools, and boat tours. Then, they ranked them in three categories: recreation, food and entertainment, and rest and relaxation. What follows are the 10 overall best, as well as the bottom five, with some suggestions for what to do in all of them.

1. Honolulu, Hawaii

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The fact that the largest city in Hawaii is also the best place for locals to take a staycation should come as about as much of a surprise as the Golden State Warriors winning another championship. The city where endless tropical hikes and tourist-free beaches are less than an hour across the island also ranked first in tennis courts per capita. And nearby Pearl City ranked fifth in public golf courses. Add in a glut of beachfront hotels and one of the best Chinatowns in America, and you’ve got a pretty good spot to spend a weekend at home.

2. Orlando, Florida

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Most Central Floridians fall into one of two categories: “Disney People” who have annual passes and go to the parks whenever they’ve run out of things to watch on Netflix. Or, more commonly, people who’ve been to Disney World fewer times than you have. Which is a shame, because with the world’s biggest tourist attraction is just a short drive down I-4, Orlando is a perfect city for a staycation.

Theme parks aside, Orlando has developed into a solid city with a passionately followed MLS team in Orlando City SC and a showcase PAC at the Dr. Phillips Center. Those wanting to escape the city might also look to Winter Park, one of the best small food cities in America and home to Rollins College. Or meander through the Mills 50 neighborhood and its bevvy of Southeast Asian Restaurants. Orlando also has the most aquariums and ice cream shops per capita, so if things get slow you can always go look at some fish.

3. Chicago, Illinois

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Summer is the perfect time to staycation for Chicagoans, as simply moving oneself to a different neighborhood will find you smack in the middle of a new weekly festival. In June alone, you can head to Lincoln Park for the Chicago Taco and Tequila Festival on June 15, hit the World’s Largest Block Party in West Loop Gate June 21-22, or take in the Chicago is Drag Festival in Andersonville. Looking for a Pride Party? Chicago has over 10 of them.

Interestingly, for a cold weather city, Chicago ranked fourth in swimming pools per capita and tied for first with Honolulu for most tennis courts. They’ll likely all be packed, as Chicagoans devour sunny weather like they’ll never see it again. Chicago’s also got the most spas per capita, so if the weather isn’t cooperating you can always spend your staycation getting a massage.

4. San Diego, California

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No big shock here as the nation’s most temperate city scores highly for rest and relaxation and recreation. Though most visitors to San Diego are familiar with the outdoors at Balboa Park and the sands at Pacific and Mission Beaches, locals don’t get the chance to head there as much when caught in their day-to-day routines.

Later in the summer, San Diego also offers the opportunity to spend a weekend at the races, when Del Mar Thoroughbred Club begins racing July 17. Spend a weekend where the surf meets the turf, where Southern Californians deck themselves out like it’s the Kentucky Derby every weekend. It’s the one place outside Kentucky where people still get up for horse racing, even if they don’t have a clue how to bet. And with perfect weather and stunning views, the track is a perfect local getaway.

5. Portland, Oregon

Sunset over the iconic Portland, Oregon Old Town sign in downtown Portland, Oregon

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Watch enough Portlandia and you might assume a staycation in Portland consists of pitching a tent downtown and subsisting on the nearest water fountain. But there’s more to the Rose City, which boasts the most beer gardens and coffee shops per capita in America. So you can enjoy your favorite quintuple-hopped nitro IPA at night, then wake yourself up with some fair-trade cold brew.

6. Charleston, South Carolina

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Given the explosive growth Charleston has seen in the last decade, you might say half the city is full of people on a permanent staycation. The city ranked seventh in recreation and ninth in R&R, meaning you’ll have plenty of ways to burn off all the delicious stuff you eat at FIG and Husk. It’s also home to two of TripAdvisor’s Reader’s Choice top 10 hotels in the world, with at the French Quarter Inn (number six) and The Spectator (number three).

Historic Charleston also tied for the most museums per capita in America, meaning new locals will have plenty to discover. And it’s just a short drive to the coastal hippie enclave at Folly Beach, which seems a world away from the streets clogged with horse-drawn carriage tours and bachelorette parties.

7. Seattle, Washington

Seattle, Washington, USA downtown skyline

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To absolutely no one’s surprise, Seattle claimed the top spot for coffee shops per capita, as the birthplace of Starbucks tied with Portland, Orlando, and Las Vegas, among others. Nor is it surprising that a city with multiple lakefront parks and Mt. Rainier nearby ranked ninth in recreation and fourth in food and entertainment. Though some might debate if the Mariners have qualified as “entertaining” since about 2002.

Beyond baseball and national parks, the Emerald City has a lot of unexplored gems for locals to enjoy, whether it’s wine tasting in Woodinville or exploring the craft cocktails and unexpected wilderness of Bellevue and the Eastside.

8. Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The city once synonymous with spring break and hanging chads is now one of the best places for outdoor activity in the country, ranking second for both R&R and recreation. With miles of canals and plenty of water toys to use on them, this city 25 miles north of Miami is making its mark as a legitimate adult destination. Beachfront hotels like the W, the Conrad, and the Atlantic are beckoning locals to spend a weekend on the shore.

Those hotels have opened up some impressive bars and restaurants in the past few years as well, from the rum-heavy Burlock Coast at the Ritz Carlton to Steven Starr’s El Vez at the W. You can enjoy craft cocktails at the W’s Living Room Bar or at the Conrad’s Terra Mare, which serves them with a heaping side of fresh seafood. Away from the beach, cruising the restaurants of Las Olas is always a welcome break from reality, as is visiting the monthly Art Walk in FATVillage.

9. Tampa, Florida

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Tampanians are already in on the secret that their city is a fantastic place to spend a few days away from home. And not just to tour strip clubs either. Booking a room downtown and strolling the city’s new Riverwalk, stopping at pop-up margarita bars and taking a water taxi home is time-honored Saturday tradition. As is taking a boat up to Rick’s on the River and wasting the day on the shores of the Hillsborough.

Just across the bridge you’ll find the white sands of St. Pete Beach and Clearwater where you can drink beers with your toes in the sand at spots like The Undertow Beach Bar. Or if crossing the bay is too daunting, hit Cypress Point Park for one of the best hidden beaches in Florida. To eat, locals can splurge at one of America’s classic steakhouses at Bern’s or stroll around Hyde Park before grabbing drinks at On Swann.

10. San Francisco, California

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If you live in San Francisco, going on vacation means a “holiday” from places with $20 drinks. Of course when you’re also paying SF rents, going anywhere other than Oakland might be cost-prohibitive. So staycationing it is! The City by the Bay ranked fifth for overall recreation, and spending your hard-earned time off hiking and biking around Golden Gate Park is as good a way to experience it as any. As is crossing the bridge to Tilden Regional Park in Oakland or Angel Island in the middle of the bay.

SF also ranked sixth for food and entertainment, so take your staycation as an opportunity to try one of the hundreds of local restaurants you’ve read about but never visited. They’ll likely be expensive, but if you opt to save money by staying in your own bed for this “getaway,” it leaves space in your budget to splurge.

And…. the bottom five

178. Irving, Texas

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If you live in this city northwest of Dallas, perhaps taking a short trip within the Metroplex to Ft. Worth or Big D is the move. If not, well, there’s always the Ruth Paine House Museum, one of America’s best spaces dedicated to the Kennedy assassination. Or the Irving Arts Center, where during the summer your can catch live outdoor theater and concerts. Other than that, you’re stuck in a city that ranked 164th for entertainment and 127th for recreation, so you’ll need to get creative.

179. Bridgeport, Connecticut

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Sadly, the city that started Subway Sandwiches does not have an abundance of tourist attractions dedicated to everyone’s favorite gas station food chain. Nor does it have much else in the way of food, since it ranked 163rd in food and entertainment. What it does have is the Beardsley Zoo, which is worth a visit if you have kids, as well as the Discovery Museum and Planetarium and a P.T. Barnum Museum. Bridgeport also brought us the Frisbie, and you can visit the place where the Frisbie pie company started the craze. It’s now a parking lot, but the new home is still open and slinging pies to everyone.

180. Yonkers, New York

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If you’re a fan of harness racing, you’d be surprised to see Yonkers this low on the list. If, like most people, you have no clue what harness racing even is, seeing Yonkers at 180 doesn’t raise an eyebrow. This Westchester County bedroom community is a popular weekend staycation for those who work in Manhattan, mostly because it means they don’t have to commute anywhere. If you feel like getting out and exploring, however, Yonkers does have a LEGOLAND discovery center. And Untermyer Park, which was a favorite hangout of serial killer David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz. You can also visit the Science Barge — a floating greenhouse on the Hudson River. Or go find out what harness racing is, and maybe win a few bucks in the process.

181. Oxnard, California

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Aside from the funny name, it’s a bit surprising to find this Southern California beach town so low on the staycation list. Granted, it ranked next-to-last for food and entertainment, but if you can be entertained by the sound of the Pacific Ocean crashing against the shore, it’s a pretty nice place to spend a few days. The beaches are softer and emptier than they are 60 miles down the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica. And it’s also home to some pretty solid museums at Mullin Automotive Museum, and the Carnegie Museum of Art.

182. Chula Vista, California

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Really, the best thing to do in Chula Vista on the weekend is leave Chula Vista. This California border town offers easy access to Mexico and is only about 15 minutes from San Diego. Otherwise, well, there’s always the beach. Which is still a drive.

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