Tag Archives: budget travel

Things to do, see, & eat in colorado springs

Colorado is gaining popularity as both an ideal place to live as well as an Instagram worthy travel destination. Not only is Colorado absolutely gorgeous (I mean come on- it inspired the song “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates) but it also has something for outdoor enthusiasts, shoppers, and foodies alike. This summer I was lucky enough to go on a road trip through Colorado and stopped in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Boulder. Since Colorado Springs was my personal favorite and first stop, this guide will focus on what this scenic, vibrant city has to offer. Keep reading for some major travel inspiration and tips.

Things to Do & See

Hike at Garden of the Gods

Photo by Courtney Smith

Garden of the Gods is home to stunning sandstone formations and boasts an array of activities from hiking to Jeep tours. While there is no wrong way to explore this famous national landmark, hiking it is a truly special experience. Upon entering the park are some of the tallest formations that create impressive views both up close and far away as you venture onto different trails. The Perkins Center Garden Trail begins at the main parking lot and is an easy 1 ½ mile round trip journey that is paved and accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. If you don’t have time for much exploring at least do that trail to get up close and personal with some beautiful formations. Other great trails to take include the Palmer Trail (3 miles and away from traffic) as well as the Buckskin Charlie Trail (dramatic distance views). The park is free admission and parking so on top of being a classic Colorado Springs activity it’s easy on the wallet.

Visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings 

Photo by Courtney Smith

Manitou Springs is located across the highway from Colorado Springs and is an adorable, culturally rich mountain town. It’s also home to Native American architecture known as the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. You are allowed to go inside the dwellings as well as touch them which makes it a really unique and interactive place to visit. Unless you’re a total history junkie the Cliff Dwellings are a pretty quick place to visit and go through which makes this an easy thing to fit into your trip. The cost is only $10 for adults and is free to those in wheelchairs.

Shop in Downtown/Historic Manitou Springs

Photo by Courtney Smith

Downtown Manitou Springs is home to many interesting shops that both locals and tourists can enjoy. Parking is not too hard to find and everything is quite close together which makes this an easy thing to do to fill up a morning or afternoon. The storefronts range from new to old and have a ton of character so it’s never difficult to find a picture-worthy spot or a fascinating store. Mixed in amongst the unique shops are souvenir shops that also allow you to pick up any souvenirs you want or promised to others. The Penny Arcade is a fun stop where you can play old fashioned arcade games for low prices and for all ages.

Drive to the Pikes Peak Summit

Photo by Courtney Smith

Pikes Peak has an elevation of a little over 14,000 feet and has been a Colorado travel staple for years. The drive to the summit includes breathtaking views, places to stop and shop/eat, photo opportunities, and hiking trails. It is extremely chilly at the top (it was 32 degrees when I went in June) so be sure to bring a jacket and dress in layers. Right now there is some construction so there is a park and shuttle system that is explained as you make your way to the top. This is an absolute must while in Colorado Springs and costs $15 per adult.

Challenge Yourself and Hike the Manitou Incline

Photo by Courtney Smith

The Manitou Incline is rated as “difficult” and isn’t for the faint of heart. With 2,744 steps and a 2,000 foot incline in slightly less than a mile, it takes some serious grit. Reaching the summit depends on fitness level and crowdedness on the incline but usually takes around an hour. It can get very steep so if you’re short (like me) or want some extra stability, I recommend hiking poles and good shoes. There are places along the incline to pull off to rest, refuel, and take pictures. The views are incredible and you definitely feel accomplished after reaching the top. After you climb the steps you follow the famous Barr Trail down to the parking lot for about 4 ½ miles. Plan on taking plenty of water, snacks, and a charged phone. There is a shuttle system to take you from Hiawatha Gardens building parking lot to the base of the incline for free. I did this and it was easier than finding a meter. Admission to the incline is also free. Good luck!

Places to Eat

Garden of the Gods Market & Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Not only is this the perfect stop on the way to the park itself but it has an incredibly nice aesthetic inside. If you’ve ever been to Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas, this cafe has a similar feel. It’s light, airy, and perfect for brunch. The menu has a lot of tasty options and includes things like a daily quiche (my selection), hash, pancakes, french toast- basically all of your brunch essentials. Pricing is definitely moderate (about $13 per plate) but the quality and quantity of the food is well worth it. 

Urban Steam

Photo by Courtney Smith

Okay…maybe I’m brunch obsessed, but maybe Colorado Springs has an awesome brunch scene. Urban steam describes itself as selling “espresso, waffles, whiskey, [and] good times.” While it isn’t in the heart of downtown and you will need to drive or Uber it still packs a major brunch punch. The waffles were some of the best I have ever had and the coffee was smooth and delicious. With menu item names like “monkey-wrench” and “greasy granny” you know it’s going to be good. My waffles came with Nutella, bananas, whipped cream, walnuts, caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. Needless to say it was an easy 10/10. Urban Steam also offers plenty of other items and cocktails to make it worth your while.

Sahara Cafe

Photo by Courtney Smith

Located in Manitou Springs, Sahara Cafe serves up tasty Middle Eastern cuisine. They feature all of the classic items you’d expect such as falafel, gyro, delicious salads, hummus plates, and chicken/beef shawarma. Pricing is really affordable here- make any sandwich a combo for $10.99 including a drink and a side. Portions are great for fueling your day or for sharing. It’s conveniently located near all of the shopping and sightseeing to do downtown as well.

Josh & John’s Ice Cream

Photo by Courtney Smith

What’s better than ice cream that’s slow churned with high quality ingredients? Nothing. Literally nothing. Josh & John’s Ice Cream is full of satisfying, dense flavor- but be prepared to wait if you go at a peak time. Locals love this place and once you have their Colorado Cookies and Cream or other signature flavor, you’ll be hooked too. 

Colorado Springs is a perfect destination for those looking to beat the Texas heat, get out in nature, do a little shopping, or explore a tasty local food scene. While Colorado is the perfect road trip destination, flight costs aren’t bad either, making it a solid choice for spring or summer travel on a college budget.

Need a Break from Spring Breakers? CHeck out these vacation destinations

The best locations in or around Texas for those who don’t want to relive a Harmony Korine film

Source: IMDb

For some, spring break is a time for booze, dancing and making new mistakes to ignore the ones made during the school year. For others, including me, it’s an opportunity to get away from those people. 

Unfortunately, the most popular places to visit for spring break are usually litter-filled beaches and party cities. Have no fear; there are some peaceful places out there. Here are some options for a tasteful spring break:

Fredericksburg, TX

Distance from Austin: 81.5 miles (approx. 1.5 hr drive)

Source: Wikipedia

Located in the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is home to tons of activities to do with family and friends. This little German town features winery tours and tastings, an array of shops, history museums, and several art galleries to admire. It’s usually full of middle-aged people and families so it’s a quiet escape during one of the noisiest breaks of the school year.

Big Bend National Park, TX

Distance from Austin: 440 miles (approx. 7 hr drive)

Source: NationalPark.com

Big Bend is one of the most beloved national parks in Texas. Although it is a bit of a grueling drive, the sights and hikes are well worth the miles. There are all kinds of scenic drives, hiking trails and a Fossil Discovering Exhibit. It’s a perfect opportunity to see the natural wonders of Texas while avoiding the unnatural horrors of drunk college students.

Cascade Caverns, TX

Distance from Austin: 95 miles (approx. 2 hr drive)

The oldest living cave attraction in Texas is perfect for those who want to camp but don’t want to drive too far to get away. Located near San Antonio, this campsite features lots of spots for tents and RVs alike. During your stay, you can get a tour of the ancient caverns, participate in a flashlight evening tour, visit the “rock shop,” or dig up some fun at the Gem and Rock Quarry.

Dinosaur Valley State Park, TX

Distance from Austin: 162 miles (approx. 2 hr 45 min drive)

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife

For every child who loved “Land Before Time” or “Dinosaur,” this is a dream come true. At this cherished yet lesser-known state park, you can walk in dinosaur tracks left millions of years ago, hike on the numerous trails, swim or fish in the lake, and, of course, buy lots of souvenirs at the gift shop. Be forewarned; it might be full of children but at least they’re not obnoxiously partying.

Mustang Island State Park, TX

Distance from Austin: 240 miles (approx. 3 hr 40 min drive)

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Spanning over five miles of beachfront, Mustang Island is a state park akin to a quieter South Padre Island. Swim and surf on the Gulf of Mexico, build a sandcastle, camp along the shore, go fishing, watch the birds, or dare to tread the Mustang Island paddling trail. Regardless of what you do, it’ll be a wonderful day down by the sea.

Port O’Connor, TX

Distance from Austin: 175 miles (approx. 3 hr 15 min drive)

Source: texasescapes.com

Even though it’s not “technically” a city (it’s an “unincorporated community”),  Port O’Connor is one of the more peaceful coasts in Texas. Be sure to visit the Matagorda Island Wildlife Management Area for some tranquil beach camping, go fishing on any coastline you choose, kayak on the ocean, or visit one of the many quaint shops dotted around the area, including The Treasure Chest. If you’ve never been to a cozy beachfront, now’s your chance.

For those that can afford to spend a little more for the break, here are some places a little farther from home:

Amelia Island, FL

Distance from Austin: 1,066 miles (approx. 16 hr drive/2.5 hr flight)

Source: visittheusa.com

“One enchanted island”; or, at least, that’s what their website claims. Amelia Island has proudly won numerous accolades and awards, proving that they are a favored spot for travel critics and tourists alike. Located on the northeast coast of Florida, Amelia Island is home to pristine beaches, delicious cuisine, boatloads of history, incredible nature sights and even features a ghost tour! They’ll be the classiest damn ghosts you’ve ever seen.

Hilton Head Island, SC

Distance from Austin: 1,162 miles (approx. 18 hr drive/2.5 hr flight)

Source: Wikipedia

This island seems exceedingly fancy but it’s nice to dream, isn’t it? Like previous beaches, explore this island by swimming in the open ocean, biking along the shores, visiting the boutiques, or, if you’re brave enough, complete the Aerial Adventure ziplining course. While on the beach, keep an eye out for the endangered loggerhead sea turtles!

Healdsburg, CA

Distance from Austin: 1,822 miles (approx. 27 hr drive/3.5 hr flight)

Source: sonomacounty.com

Finding an idyllic small-town feel in California may feel like a daunting task but Healdsburg has got you covered. Only about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Healdsburg offers an abundance of wineries, an array of wonderful food and lots of natural wonders that lay far from the smog of Los Angeles.

Nashville, TN

Distance from Austin: 856 miles (approx. 12 hr 45 min drive/1 hr 40 min flight)

Source: departures.com

Nashville: a city that has been called home by stars such as Dolly Parton, Keith Urban and Evan Rachel Wood. There are countless things to do in the Music City, including a number of live shows and events, restaurants filled with mouth-watering food, museums, art galleries, and so much more. Hopefully, you’ll run into a celebrity or two while you’re there…