Image: Fremont Street Experience, Las vegas
Brian Jones  /  Las Vegas News Bureau
Las Vegas is a great spot for couples who can enjoy the suite life without staying in a casino resort. The Fremont Street Experience — an exciting pedestrian promenade — is home to approximately 16 million lights, making it one of the largest LED screens in the world.
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updated 4/15/2009 9:39:33 AM ET 2009-04-15T13:39:33

FOR FAMILIES

Philadelphia
Because its reputation as a family-friendly city is well deserved.

The Audit: 3 nights + a "penny" tour + kid-friendly attractions + meals + transportation = $895 per family*

Shelter: Base your brood at the centrally located, 48-room, art deco–style Alexander Inn. Ask for one of the half-dozen Double Your Pleasure rooms, each of which has a pair of double beds, a seating area, and bay windows. These rooms start at $169 per night in July and include breakfasts.

Fun Right Off: The inn is a short walk from the free attractions of Independence National Historical Park, where actors in period costume often enlist kids in the army, hand them wooden muskets, and march them around (daily; visit the Independence Visitor Centerfor times). Next, hoof it over to The Franklin Institute, a science museum with a walk-through model of a human heart and other exhibits. One of Galileo's telescopes is on display through September 7 (adults $14.25, kids 4–11 $11.50).

Freebie: Back at Independence Mall, buzz through the United States Mint at Philadelphia, one of only two facilities that produce circulating coins. (The other is in Denver.) On your free, self-guided tour, strut along a glassed-in catwalk overlooking the production floor, where 4.8 billion coins were minted last year. (Your tax money at work!) Kids receive Lincoln blanks, shiny pieces of metal that would have otherwise become pennies (open weekdays).

Slideshow: Gotta Love Philly

Get There:Megabuslinks Philadelphia to New York City, with an average fare of $10 each way. The subway ride from the bus stop to the inn costs about $2 per person. Alternatively, round-trip flights to Philadelphia in July recently started at $244 from Dallas and $299 from Seattle.

Puerto Vallarta
Because of its renowned sand sculptors and gorgeous scenery.

The Audit: 3 nights + a zip-line jungle tour + refreshingly cool Pacific waves + meals + transportation = $2,206 per family*

Shelter: Get some R&R at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, where the 404 guest rooms are newly outfitted with vibrant Mexican motifs and the expansive swimming pool looks out on Banderas Bay and the Sierra Madre. Opt for the Stay for Breakfast special, which includes full breakfast daily for two adults and two children 12 and under, starting from $169 per night through December 11.

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Fun Right Off: Zip from treetop to treetop on 14 cables—including one that's about 1,300 feet long—on a canopy tourof the Los Veranos ecological preserve. The tour costs $79 for adults and $58 for children ages 6 through 12; receive a 15 percent discount if you book online.

Freebie: Troop your family over to Viejo Vallarta's Malecón seawall walkway. Known for its whimsical bronze sculptures, it's also a prime spot for scoping out local artists at work. Sand sculptors on the adjoining beach craft elaborate creatures such as lions and lizards.

Get There: Round-trip flights to Puerto Vallarta in July recently started at $298 from Chicago, $315 from Houston, and $343 from San Francisco. A taxi to and from the airport costs about $16 per family each way.

*For this sample budget, we assumed a family of four, a San Francisco departure, and a $20 per diem for meals.

FOR COUPLES

Las Vegas
Because you can enjoy the suite life without staying in a casino resort.

The Audit: 3 nights + gaming lessons + romantic dinner + other meals + airfare = $715 per couple*

The Shelter: A big misconception about Sin City is that its downtown hotels only draw rowdy bachelors, convention-goers, and over-excited gamblers. But the year-old, glitzy-glammy Trump Hotel Las Vegas attracts a different crowd for two reasons: It has no casino, and its studio suites appeal to romantic types, with details that include marble bathrooms, high-def TVs, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Book the "Suite Escape Package" for rates from $89 a night for stays through Sept. 30, plus a daily resort fee of $15. The package includes a $50 credit for a spa treatment.

Fun Right Off: Feast royally on one of the city's many prix fixe dinner specials. At typical offer: At Mandalay Bay on the south end of the Strip, Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys' three-course menu includes entrées like Alaskan salmon and stout-braised beef short ribs plus a bottle of house wine for $59 per person.

Freebie: Brush up on your gaming skills by taking one of the free daily lessons offered by the casinos. The Venetian, for instance, schools would-be high rollers in craps at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., roulette at noon, and blackjack at 12:15 p.m. (in different pits, of course).

Get There: Round-trip tickets to Las Vegas in mid-July recently started at $119 from L.A., $272 from Chicago, and $275 from Boston. Parking at the Trump is free by paying the resort fee of $15.

*For this sample budget, we assumed the couple is flying from L.A., has $20 per diem for meals, and relies on a free airport shuttle instead of a rental car.

Nashville
Because you don't have to be 19 to be into the local music scene.

The Audit: 3 nights + live bands + the American Parthenon + lots of BBQ + car rental + meals + airfare= $824 per couple*

Shelter: Base yourself at the two-year old Homewood Suites Hilton in Nashville (doubles from $169 a night in June). Your extended-stay studio suite will come with a kitchen, but it's not likely you'll do much cooking in it, given the free full breakfasts daily in the hotel restaurant. For other meals, walk just a few blocks to the joints on Lower Broadway. At Jack's Bar-B-Que, for instance, the Tennessee Pork Shoulder sandwich starts at $3.48.

Fun Right Off: Centennial Park is home to the Parthenon, one of Nashville's strangest and most surreal must-sees. The full-scale replica of the Athens temple was built for Tennessee's 1897 Centennial Exposition. Now it houses the city's art collection (adults $6).

Freebie: Your hotel is close to honky-tonk bars that showcase free, live music — typically performing classics that appeal to every generation — until the wee hours. On Friday and Saturday nights, Robert's Western World on Broadway regularly hosts Brazilbilly, a band that plays Latin-infused country music.

Slideshow: Fun in the Volunteer State

Get There: For early July, round-trip tickets to Nashville recently started from Chicago for $118 and from Providence from $195. Rental cars start at $46 a day for economy sized cars from Thrifty. From Atlanta, it's a four hour ride; according to the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator, gas for the round-trip in a late model sedan will set you back about $27. Self-parking at the hotel's lot is $9 per day.

*For this sample budget, we assumed the couple is flying from Chicago, has $20 per diem for meals, and $10 per day for gas.

Denver
Because of its hopping microbrewery circuit.

The Audit: 3 nights + beer tastings + cutting-edge art + car rental + meals +airfare = $785 per couple*

Shelter: Inside a mansion from 1889, the family-owned Castle Marne B&B has nine elegant rooms, many with special touches, such as claw-foot bathtubs, four-poster beds, and two-person outdoor hot tubs. Daily afternoon tea is served with chocolate truffles and baked goods. Chill out in the B&B's garden, inspired by the Victorian era. Once you're energized, hop a 10-minute cab ride downtown. Doubles from $115 per night.

Fun Right Off: Every Friday evening in the summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver hosts performances by experimental musicians that are held beside the museum's rooftop café. Admission to the museum costs $10. Through August 30, it is exhibiting a handful of Damien Hirst's works, including an arrow-pierced, formaldehyde-preserved bullock.

Slideshow: High times in Denver

Freebie: Denver has about 60 microbreweries—there's a reason some have taken to calling the region the Napa Valley of beer. To really tap the Rockies, opt for one of the free local brewery tours. Over on Arapahoe Street, Great Divide Brewing Co., home of the much-decorated Titan IPA, has tours Monday through Friday at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., and every hour on the hour from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Brewers customize the talks to match the visitors' knowledge of craft beers, and tours last about half-an-hour. Samples are free, of course. A free bus down 16th Street can shuttle you from a stop near the brewery to other downtown sites.

Get There: Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines recently offered round-trip flights in mid-July from Boise ($92), Philadelphia ($139), and Atlanta ($140). Kayak recently flagged car rentals from $39 a day for an economy-sized car from E-Z Rent-a-Car. The Castle Marne has free parking.

*For this sample budget, we assumed that the couple is from Atlanta, with a $20 per diem for meals and $10 per day for gas.

Olema, Calif.
Because of the irrepressible beauty of the nearby Redwood forest and rocky shoreline.

The Audit: 3 nights + bicycling to white cliffs + car rental + meals + airfare = $834 per couple*

Shelter: Drive an hour north of San Francisco, on Scenic Highway Route 1, and reach tiny Olema, a jumping off point for bird watching or kite-flying in Point Reyes National Seashore. Rest up at Bear Valley Inn, each of whose three rooms and one cottage has a name to match its themed decor. The Tides room, for instance, has soothing aquamarine walls with crisp white trim. Breakfasts feature homemade yogurt and eggs from the inn's own chickens. Doubles from $130 per night.

Fun Right Off: Spend a day bicycling to the beach at Arch Rock for about 4 miles along challenging dirt trails. Then lock up your bikes, hike another mile, and savor gorgeous views of the coastline. Full-day bike rentals, available through Point Reyes Outdoors, start at $38. Not into biking? Then drive 20 miles south on Highway 1 to Muir Woods National Monument ($5 entrance free) and gawk at the towering redwoods, which are more than 3,000 years old.

Freebie: The Point Reyes National Seashore is free, so the hard part is choosing which of its spectacular beaches to visit. With its white sandstone cliffs, Drakes Beach is one of the most popular; sandy Limantour Beach invites long walks past visiting seals and shorebirds and along its sand spit between the Pacific and a mix of grasslands, dunes, and mudflats.

Get There: We recently spotted round-trip flights in mid-July from Seattle to San Francisco for $139, from Orlando for $280, and from Minneapolis for $316. A Hyundai Accent or similar-type rental car was starting at $50 a day from the West Coast chain. Fox Rent A Car.

*For this sample budget, we assumed the couple is flying from Seattle and has $20 per diem for meals, but not fuel expenses.

Montreal
Because of its Old World bistros, summer fireworks displays, and a forest that has seemingly been airlifted from the tropics.

The Audit: 5 nights + Biodome + fireworks + cabs + meals + airfare = $1,829 per couple*

Shelter: A 15-minute walk from the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal, Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites has 160 studios that come with kitchenettes, and there's a swimming pool on the top floor. Rooms start at $115 ($141CAN) per night.

Fun Right Off: Hop on the subway for a 13-minute ride to the Biodôme de Montréal, presenting four re-created ecosystems with more than 230 animal species, including two-toed sloths, golden lion tamarinds, and yellow-crested macaroni penguins ($13 adults, $6.50 for kids).

Freebie: Every Saturday between June 13 and August 15, colorful explosions light up Montreal's nighttime sky during the L'International Des Feux Loto-Quebec, an annual fireworks competition. The festival charges admission, starting at $21, to watch the show at La Ronde amusement park, but you can make like a local and score a spot on the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which closes to traffic during the events to welcome pedestrian observers.

Get There: Round-trip flights to Montreal in mid-July were recently going from L.A. for $525, from Chicago for $592, and from Denver for $622. An airport taxi for two will cost about $40 each way.

*For this sample budget, we assumed expenses for a couple, an L.A. departure, and a $20 per diem for meals plus brunch.

Copyright © 2012 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.

Photos: Welcome to Vegas

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  1. Welcome to Las Vegas

    The Bellagio's fountain show entertains visitors nightly. In the background is Bally's Las Vegas, left, and Paris Las Vegas, which has a 50-story Eiffel Tower replica in front. Over 37.5 million people visit Las Vegas each year. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fremont Street Experience

    Located in downtown Las Vegas, this exciting pedestrian promenade is home to approximately 16 million lights, making it one of the largest LED screens in the world. (Brian Jones / Las Vegas News Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Looking for Lady Luck

    Casion visitors play slot machines at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Dunking Elvis

    An Elvis impersonator performs a slam dunk during the 2007 NBA All-Star Game on February 18, 2007, at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. (Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAEGetty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Grand casinos

    Lights from passing vehicles are seen in front of the MGM Grand Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Poker face

    Jamie Gold, right, of California and Paul Wasicka of Colorado go head-to-head on the final table of the World Series of Poker no-limit Texas Hold 'em main event at the Rio Hotel & Casino on Aug. 11, 2006, in Las Vegas. Gold outlasted more than 8,700 other poker players to win the top prize of $12 million. Wasicka won just over $6.1 million for finishing second. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Glitz and glamour

    A Canon display is seen inside the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Consumer Electronics Show. Las Vegas is the nation's top business travel destination, with easy airline access, numerous hotel rooms, low rates, plentiful convention facilities and a wide range of dining and entertainment options. (Karl Polverino / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Over-the-top entertainment

    Performers ride a Volkswagen Beetle across the stage during a preview of "The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil" at the Mirage Hotel & Casino on June 27, 2006, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A New York minute

    The New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas recreates the Manhattan skyline, complete with replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Entertainment mecca

    Kenny Chesney performs "Out Last Night" at the 44th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas on April 5, 2009. (Mark J. Terrill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Tying the knot

    From left, Elvis Presley impersonator Norm Jones plays guitar as Bruce Barnett of Virginia Beach, Va., escorts his daughter Gayle to her wedding ceremony at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Graceland is the oldest wedding chapel in Las Vegas and offers ceremonies with or without Elvis impersonators. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    The $25 million, newly redesigned volcano display in front of the Mirage Hotel & Casino features 150 choreographed FireShooters sending fireballs more than 12 feet in the air and a custom soundtrack created by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for MGM Mirage) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A night on the Strip

    Hotels and casinos line the Las Vegas Strip. From thrilling roller coasters to erupting volcanos to art museums, Las Vegas' many attractions appeal to people of all ages and interests. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Fight night

    David Diaz and Manny Pacquiao fight during the fourth round of the WBC Lightweight Championship at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 28, 2008, in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won in a ninth-round knockout. (Harry How / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Day at the races

    Rookie driver Shawn Langdon earned his first No. 1 qualifying position of his career at the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on April 4, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Richard Wong / NHRA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Fabulous shopping

    The Juicy Couture retail store at The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace is seen before the grand opening February 5, 2009, in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images for Juicy Couture) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Stunning shows

    Buyi Zama as “Rafiki” in the opening number “The Circle of Life” from THE LION KING Las Vegas. (Joan Marcus / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A slice of Italy

    Visitors take a gondola ride at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Get into the groove

    Dina Buell, left, and Carla Giordano, both from California, dance at the pool at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino during Rehab, the resort's weekly pool party, in 2005 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Let’s get this party started

    Party goers gather for the grand opening of LAX Nightclub Las Vegas in 2007. (Chris Weeks / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Big laughs

    Comedian Ellen DeGeneres performs at a taping of ''Ellen's Even Bigger Really Big Show'' during The Comedy Festival at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace in 2008 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A kingly stay

    The Excalibur Hotel and Casino features a castle motif with newly refurbished hotel rooms. (Courtesy of MGM MIRAGE) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A dancing fountain

    Visitors are silhouetted against the backdrop of The Bellagio's fountain show on the Las Vegas Strip. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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