Best cities for a staycation

Instead of heading off to far-flung locales, are you considering a staycation this summer? That could be a great idea … or not so great, depending on where you live.

It seems quite logical, really: if you live someplace that other people pay to get to and visit, you can probably have a pretty entertaining time without leaving home. After all, many such cities offer plenty of options for entertainment and relaxation at the right price, making them excellent choices for staying local. Others, not so much.

To quantify which cities are which, personal finance site completed a study that identifies the best and the worst cities for a staycation.

Researchers compared 182 U.S. cities — including the 150 most populated U.S. cities, plus at least two of the most populated cities in each state — across three key dimensions: Recreation, food and entertainment, and rest and relaxation. They looked at factors ranging from movie and bowling costs to spas and wellness centers per capita to the cost of house-cleaning services. After all, who wants to clean their own house when you’re on vacation?

In the “Recreation” dimension, researchers looked the number of public golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, amusement parks, running trails and bike rental facilities, among other things, all on a per-capita basis.

“Food and entertainment” looked at the costs of movies and bowling, the number of nightlife options, casinos and museums per capita, and whether each city had an amusement park that made TripAdvisor’s “Top 25 Amusement Parks” list.

“Rest and Relaxation” included the costs of house-cleaning services, massage and beauty salon visits, spa and wellness centers per capita, and the “idealness” of its summer weather, in addition to other factors.

Bottom line?

Overall, the best city for a staycation is one that is also a popular vacation getaway: Orlando. It ranked No. 1 overall, No. 1 for “Food and Entertainment,” but No. 20 for “Recreation” and No. 26 for “Rest and Relaxation.” There are plenty of things to do but after all, R&R comes at a cost…

Honolulu ranked No. 2 overall and No. 8 for food and entertainment, followed by No. 3 Chicago, which ranked No. 1 in the recreation category and No. 7 for its food and entertainment scene. Seattle was No. 4 overall followed by Portland, Ore.; Tampa, Fla.; Las Vegas; San Francisco; San Diego; and Charleston, N.C.

Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach, Honolulu

Cape Coral, Fla., ranked tops for rest and relaxation but didn’t fare well in the other two categories. It was No. 60 for recreation and No. 105 for food and entertainment. Looks like a great place if you want to chill out, but not much else.

The worst city for a staycation? Oxnard, California. It scraped the bottom of the barrel in “Food and entertainment,” near the bottom (No. 165) for rest and relaxation, and No. 119 for recreation.

The study also unearthed some interesting factoids, including that North Las Vegas has the most zoos & aquariums per capita, and actually 62.3 times more than in New York, the city with the fewest. I’m betting residents of The Big Apple, home to the Central Park Zoo, would counter, “Quality over quantity.”

Portland, Maine has the most parks per capita, 22 times more than in Hialeah, Fla., the city with the fewest.

Chicago has the most tennis courts per capita, nearly 26 times as many as Gilbert, Ariz., the city with the fewest. On the other hand, with summer highs in Gilbert averaging well over 100 degrees and record highs flirting with 120, who wants to be in the sun playing tennis?

Buckingham Fountain and a portion of the Chicago Skyline

South Burlington, Vt. has the lowest cost of house-cleaning services at $103, while St. Paul, Minn., (No. 122) has the highest at $539. Neither city would get my vote as a place for a staycation or a vacation. South Burlington, at No. 46 overall, had middling scores for all three categories while St. Paul ranked No. 180 for R&R. It is, however, home to the Mall of America if you count retail therapy as R&R.

My take

If you’re among the 52 percent of Americans who have unused vacation days and can’t seem to find the time to get away, play tourist in your own town, wherever you live.

Live in Seattle? Visit the Space Needle, even if you don’t have anyone coming in from out of town. Grill some fish and fresh veggies you bought at the Pike Place Market.

San Francisco? Walk out onto the Golden Gate Bridge, ride a cable car, have lunch at Tadich Grill.

The San Francisco skyline from the Top of the Mark Hopkins hotel

Chicago? Stroll the Mag Mile, visit Navy Pier, sample pierogi at Kasia's Deli, have dinner on Rush Street. My favorites are Carmine's and Hugo's Frog Bar.

NYC? Visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum; you know you’ve been meaning to go. Take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island. If you normally ride the subway, take a cab. If you normally cab it, ride the rails.

Or hop on the PATH train and visit Jersey. Your call.

But perhaps the nicest thing about a staycation is that there is virtually no travel time or expense involved. You can relax and enjoy your surroundings up until the very last minute of the last day before plunging headlong back into real life.


Visit my main page at for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photos by Carl Dombek
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