The pandemic has decimated urban tourism as Americans, if they choose to travel, have fled populated areas to spread out in rural and wilderness destinations where social distancing comes easier.
With business travel all but stopped, city hotels and tourist organizations have made a full-court press to attract especially locals and nearby leisure travelers with bottom-barrel rates and extra perks. Such campaigns to coax visitors within driving distances have shown signs of success. In downtown Los Angeles, the Hotel Figueroa reported nearly 80 percent occupancy on a recent weekend, largely in response to its deal extending 26 percent off to California residents. In Austin, Texas, the Fairmont Austin has been filling to 70 percent on some weekends with a “Texas Strong” offer from $150 a night including parking and a $25 credit. Since July, about three quarters of the weekend guests at the Pendry San Diego, where rates start at $295, have come from within a 300-mile radius.
A staycation — specifically one where you stay in a hotel rather than at home — may be convenient, but nowadays it’s hardly spontaneous. More so than ever before, you’ll need to schedule key staycation activities; with capacities limited, most museums, tours and restaurants require advance reservations.
If you live near one of the following six cities and have decided against traveling farther afield, here are some tips on how to be a local tourist. You’ll save some money — and maybe your town’s tourism industry — in the process.
PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS The city currently limits indoor dining to 40 percent occupancy; however, due to a surge in local infections, it will ban indoor dining and limit gatherings to 25 people beginning Oct. 30. Bars may operate outdoors only. Dining and bar tables are limited to six people. In hotels, daily housekeeping is available on request. Face coverings are required in indoor and outdoor public settings.
LODGING DEALS The new art-filled 21c Museum Hotel Chicago just off Michigan Avenue is offering 30 percent off rates, starting at $120, until Dec. 1. Guests have unlimited access to the hotel’s art galleries. Nearby, the Peninsula Chicago, where the glassed-in pool offers skyline views, starts at $525 a night after a 39 percent discount, with the second night half off and including daily breakfast, a $50 hotel credit and other perks through December. For more deals, see the tourism bureau’s offers page.
THINGS TO DO Through Jan. 18, the blockbuster Impressionist show “Monet and Chicago” is on at the Art Institute of Chicago, now limited to 25 percent capacity (reservations required, from $25). In tandem, the Garfield Park Conservatory has planted “The Flowers of Monet” under its soaring glass roofs, through Oct. 31 ($5). The 90-minute architectural river cruise with the knowledgeable docents from the Chicago Architecture Center is a worthy splurge (through Nov. 15, from $46). Or take a walking tour covering the city’s gangster past or architectural landmarks with Free Tours By Foot (free). Explore the downtown Riverwalk on foot, or cycle the 18-mile Lakefront Trail (Divvy bike-shares start at $3 for 30 minutes).
DINING As winter approaches, many Chicago restaurants are finding ways to continue serving outside, from tented patios (Mon Ami Gabi) to rooftop heaters and fire pits (Aba). Restaurants including the Publican and Duck Duck Goat are using igloos and greenhouses erected in the Fulton Market district.
HOLIDAY AFFAIRS Holiday celebrations are outdoors too. Beginning Nov. 12, Art on theMART, a digital projection on the 2.5-acre facade of a building formerly known as the Merchandise Mart, will project “The Nutcracker” by the Joffrey Ballet (free). ZooLights illuminating the Lincoln Park Zoo will run Nov. 21 to Jan. 3 (tickets $5).
PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS In Los Angeles County, face masks are required in public, including on beaches. Restaurants, breweries and wineries may serve outdoors only. Museums remain closed. Shopping malls are open at 25 percent capacity. Hotels may operate at full capacity but social distancing measures include limiting elevator occupancy to four or less.
LODGING DEALS The Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles has a progressive deal, starting at 20 percent off for one night, from $149, and going up to 30 percent off for three or more nights, including coffee and pastries. Rooms at the beachfront Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica start around $495, but with a four-night stay the nightly rate drops 20 percent to around $400. Discover Los Angeles has a list of hotel deals good through the end of the year.
THINGS TO DO Museums might be closed, but beaches, parks and hiking trails are all open as Los Angeles embraces the outdoors. Take a hike through Griffith Park to the iconic Hollywood sign (free) or join a guided walk through Koreatown or Hollywood with DTLA Walking Tours ($25). The exhibitions at the La Brea Tar Pits are closed, but visitors can visit the grounds and see the paleontologists at work excavating ice age fossils (timed tickets required, from $6). Next door, snap a selfie in front of the “Urban Light” installation of 202 antique cast-iron street lamps outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. While the traffic is relatively light, tour Los Angeles’s vibrant outdoor art scene, including the new murals devoted to the Lakers star Kobe Bryant. Splurge in every way, including athletic, on the six-hour “L.A. in a Day” 32-mile bike tour with Bikes and Hikes L.A. ($162, including bikes).
DINING Taking advantage of the weather, Los Angeles has embraced outdoor dining with entire areas moving operations outdoors including Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, home to The Butcher’s Daughter and Greenleaf Kitchen & Cocktails, and the restaurant-rich Arts District. (Check the California Restaurant Association for updates).
HOLIDAY AFFAIRS Few holiday events have been confirmed, except the new “Elf on the Shelf’s Magical Holiday Journey,” a one-hour drive-through show coming to the Fairplex event campus in Pomona Nov. 6 to Jan. 3 (from $24.95).
PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS Miami-Dade County requires face masks indoors. Indoor and outdoor dining is unlimited as long as establishments maintain six feet between tables. No more than 10 people may gather and a curfew runs from midnight to 6 a.m. The beaches are open without face-covering requirements as long as visitors maintain six feet of social distance from others outside their households. Movie theaters, concert halls and other indoor entertainment venues are limited to 50 percent capacity.
LODGING DEALS The bohemian Freehand Miami in South Beach has a 30 percent off family rate from $60 a night with a two-night minimum through Dec. 29. Luxury hotels are throwing in extra amenities; at the InterContinental Miami downtown, overnights start at $229 and include access to a beach club on South Beach with lounge chairs, use of bicycles and early check-in. More deals are posted at the Miami visitor’s bureau website.
THINGS TO DO Apart from beach time, explore the wild side of the city within view of the skyline at Biscayne National Park on Key Biscayne. Paddle trips with the Biscayne National Park Institute include kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding in 90-minute-to-six-hour outings (from $39). Newly relocated in the emerging Allapattah neighborhood, the expanded Rubell Museum, devoted to contemporary art, is open at less than 25 percent capacity with a show of more than 300 works by 100 influential artists including Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama and Kehinde Wiley (tickets $15). Nearby, wander the mural-filled Wynwood neighborhood, home to the Wynwood Walls (free). Indulge in lurid local history on a “scandals” walking tour of South Beach with the nonprofit t Miami Design Preservation League ($30).
DINING It’s not hard to find outdoor dining or drinking in Miami, from the cocktail garden of Casa Florida in Little Havana to the new food hall The Doral Yard with outdoor seating on Main Street, in the city of Doral west of the airport.
HOLIDAY AFFAIRS Visit the 1920’s-era Deering Estate, a coastal compound developed by the industrialist Charles Deering, to see its vintage holiday décor Nov. 27 to Jan. 8 (admission $15).
PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS In New York, face coverings are required in public, including on the subways. Hotels do not have guest-room capacity restrictions, though gatherings are limited to 50 people. Restaurants may serve indoors at up to 25 percent capacity. Indoors, museums and historical sites are also at 25 percent capacity. Broadway and theaters throughout town remain closed.
LODGING DEALS In Midtown, the Dylan Hotel NYC is offering 25 percent off its best rates through year’s end using the promo code NYCGO, often bringing rooms in the 1911-vintage former chemist’s club to $104. Among luxury hotels in the neighborhood, The Langham New York is offering a package including 10 percent off rates, a $50 credit and complimentary parking (from $495, pre-discount). See more hotel offers on the visitor office’s deals page; a partnership with Mastercard offers $25 back on every $100 spent on hotels, up to $100 through year’s end.
THINGS TO DO You can go back indoors to the capacity-controlled Metropolitan Museum of Art. But perhaps now is the time to explore its more remote Met Cloisters, built with elements of medieval European cloisters and devoted to European medieval art, on four acres in Fort Tryon Park in Upper Manhattan (timed, ticketed admission $25). With the usual tourist throngs gone, take unfettered walks across the Brooklyn Bridge or along the High Line, the elevated linear park on the west side of Manhattan (free, but High Line requires a timed entry pass through Nov. 1). See the city lights at night with Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises through Oct. 31 (from $27). NYC & Company maintains a useful page detailing what’s open in the city.
DINING Outdoor dining, a formerly temporary solution to indoor restaurant closures, has been made permanent. More than 10,000 restaurants have moved outdoors and many are adapting to winter with heat lamps, tents and plastic igloos. In addition, the city’s Open Streets: Restaurants program will continue, shutting down blocks — such as the NoMad Piazza on Broadway between 25th and 31st Streets — to allow restaurants to expand into the streets.
HOLIDAY AFFAIRS Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will televise a spectacle from Herald Square, warning away in-person spectators. But the Bronx Zoo plans to hold its Holiday Lights display Nov. 20 to Jan. 10 (tickets $34.95). The light installation LuminoCity Festival on Randalls Island plans to return with timed entry, temperature checks and hand-sanitizing stations Nov. 27 to Jan. 10 (tickets $38).
LODGING DEALS The run-up to the holidays offers deals across the city’s many resorts. Through Feb. 25, the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa has midweek rates from $279, including a $100 resort credit, free golf for up to four golfers and 50 percent off pool cabana reservations. The luxury resort The Phoenician, in neighboring Scottsdale, has rates from $279 through Jan. 31, about a 35 percent savings over last year. A “family excursions” package offers a second connecting room at 25 percent off.
THINGS TO DO Take advantage of fall’s cooler temperatures to do some hiking in and around Phoenix, from an easy amble around the red sandstone formations of Papago Park to the challenging hike atop city landmark Camelback Mountain (free). Stay outdoors to view the cactuses and succulents at the Desert Botanical Garden (timed tickets $24.95) or mask up and check out the comprehensive collections of Native American art at the Heard Museum, where capacity is capped at about 33 percent ($15). Among nightlife options, there are several drive-in movie theaters around town and the theater at the Musical Instrument Museum recently opened with concerts at half capacity for 60- to 75-minute shows (tickets from $23.50). October through December, the Royal Palms Resort and Spa will offer outdoor live music and movie screenings with socially distanced seating on the lawn (free).
DINING Weather in Phoenix encourages outdoor dining — especially in winter — with offerings ranging from the urban farm-to-table sophisticate Ocotillo to the suburban Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn, surrounding diners in desert blooms and adobe walls.
HOLIDAY AFFAIRS This year, visitors to ZooLights at the Phoenix Zoo can see the illuminated grounds by walking ($20) or on cruise nights ($60 a car) Nov. 7 to Jan. 31. The event production company World of Illumination will stage the mile-long drive-through light and music show “Rockin’ Christmas” in suburban Glendale Nov. 6 to Jan. 3 and “Arctic Adventure” in nearby Tempe Nov. 10 to Jan. 3 (each from $29).
PANDEMIC RESTRICTIONS King County, home of Seattle, is in Phase 2 of Washington State’s four-step reopening plan, limiting restaurants to under 50 percent capacity and tables to six diners maximum. Libraries, museums and movie theaters are capped at 25 percent capacity. Individuals in public and shared spaces, indoors or out, must wear masks. Because of the highly publicized protests for social justice this summer, Visit Seattle has created a web page devoted to safety.
LODGING DEALS The Thompson Seattle downtown, overlooking Pike Place Market, has a “weekender” deal including parking and a $25 breakfast credit (from $209). The Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle, where the pool is closed but the gym is open with private Peloton and yoga rooms available by reservation, has a staycation deal for the whole family that waives the pet fee (normally $50) and includes breakfast and parking (from $249).
THINGS TO DO The temperate weather, with or without drizzle, makes getting outside to explore the area’s abundant coasts, waterways and mountains a seasonless attraction. The nonprofit Washington Trails Association lists hundreds of hiking trails within striking distance of the city, from the 1.5-mile urban route in Washington Park Arboretum to the eight-mile round-trip trek on Mount Si, 30 miles east of town, gaining 3,150 feet. Stay on foot to see the outdoor art at the nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park with works by Richard Serra and Louise Bourgeois (free). Rent a hybrid bike from Pedal Anywhere (from $30 a day) to explore northern Seattle neighborhoods via the 20-mile Burke-Gilman Trail. Enjoy the extra elbow room at the glass sculpture installation Chihuly Garden and Glass ($32).
DINING Temporary permits for sidewalk and curbside outdoor dining were recently extended to Oct. 31, 2021. The landmark Pike Place Market has created pop-up patios and alley seating for its restaurants.
HOLIDAY AFFAIRS WildLanterns at Woodland Park Zoo, featuring lanterns shaped like grizzly bears, snow leopards and more, takes place Nov. 13 to Jan. 17 (timed tickets $28.95).