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Pack your bag! Tour these cities for under $100

Planning your summer vacation? Travel journalist Valarie D'Elia shares her budget travel tips for Miami, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
/ Source: TODAY

You don't need to fly overseas to take a vacation, there are big bargains this spring right here in the U.S.A. Travel journalist Valarie D'Elia, creator of, shares her secrets for visiting some of our most popular and most expensive cities for under $100 a day.

When it comes to sticking to a budget, the question in pricey South Florida should be how low can you go? Geographically, Miami is one of the southernmost points in the continental U.S., lying just 222 miles north of Cuba, and many of the bargains can be found in the city's Little Havana district. Visitors more into making a fashion statement than a political one, can visit Miami's restored art deco district in South Beach. The pastel buildings with specific design elements are “deco”-rated in a unique and beachy architectural style. Another slice of tropical history is alive in the gorgeous suburb of Coral Gables, where the legendary and stately Biltmore hotel is closing in on its 80th birthday.

Little Havana
Miami's Little Havana Cuban food is more my idea of the South Beach diet and a Cuban pastry for breakfast costs a mere 80 cents.

Maximo Gomez Park in Little Havana (“Domino Park”)
To really get to know Cuban culture head to Maximo Gomez Park. For 30 years, Cuban-born men and women have been gathering here to socialize, and play dominoes. And it's free!

Versailles RestaurantFor a hearty lunch travel to Versailles! Sounds French, but regulars say if it's not on the menu, then it's not Cuban. My choice: Vacca Fritta, a traditional steak dish. Lunch with a bargain mojito, tax and tip: $19.16.

El Credito Cigars
Cubans are famous for their hand-rolled cigars. At El Credito Cigar Factory, try your hand at rolling and smoking your own creation.

Biltmore HotelMiami has long been a destination for the rich, particularly at the legendary Biltmore Hotel. Free tours on Sundays will give you an insider's view. Built in 1926, this national historic landmark boasts the largest hotel swimming pool in the U.S.

Clay Hotel
If the Biltmore is out of reach, budget travelers can head to the Clay Hotel on trendy South Beach. At $96 dollars a night (with tax), this deluxe double with private bath is a steal, especially when you split it.

DogmaGourmet dogs are as hot as “SoBe.” And you can't beat Dogma's four-dollar dinner. 1500 Washington Ave., South Beach, Fla.,, 305-695-8259

Miami sizzles and, at roughly $72 a day, the rhythm — and the bargains — are gonna get ya!

  • Hotel Room: $85 ($96.05 with tax), $48.02 per person
  • Breakfast: $0.80
  • Dinner (Dogma): $4.31
  • Lunch (Versailles): $16.16 bill + $3 tip = 19.16 total  

San Francisco
Prices in the City by the Bay are as steep as the hills the famous cable cars climb, but there are some affordable ways to get around the streets, and the inflated rates, if you know where to look. The salty air breeds a special yeast that is only found in its signature sourdough bread and visitors can fill up on carbs with a tour of the historic Boudin bakery for just $3. After visiting the sea lions at Pier 39, duck into Chowders for a cheap surf dinner, and for the turf, hop on a vintage streetcar on the F line for a savings of $3.50 over the traditional cable cars. Now that's a streetcar named desire! San Francisco is at an international crossroads with one of the largest Chinatowns in the country and the Four Seas restaurant is one of the best stops for dim sum. From China to Japan, bucolic Golden Gate Park is home to the beautifully landscaped Japanese Tea Garden, which is open for free the first and last hour of the day. One of the most expensive hotel cities in the U.S., it's a San Francisco treat to find a hotel with the style and ambiance of the Cartwright, just steps from Union Square, that's in sync with your budget.

F Market Line streetcar
On the streets, vintage trolleys on the F line, get an ‘A’ for affordable at $1.50. These classics provide one of the best tours of the city and are cheaper than the famous cablecars.

Four Seas Restaurant
San Francisco's Chinatown is one of largest in the country. Duck into the Four Seas restaurant for lunch. Fill up on dim sum, an assortment of tantalizing tidbits. All for $11, including unlimited tea. The dim sum is served from trays and carts that circulate from 9am-5pm on weekends and 11am-5pm Monday through Friday.

Japanese Tea Garden
For another taste of Asia, head to the serene Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. It's free — the first and last hour of each day. Their current schedule is 8:30am-6pm daily, so it's free 8:30-9:30am and 5:00-6:00pm. Otherwise, admission is: adults: $3.50; children 6-12: $1.25; seniors (65 and over): $1.25. General information: 415.752.4227; teahouse: 415-752-1171

Boudin Bakery
To save even more “dough,” visit the Boudin Bakery, where the legendary sourdough bread is made, and sample all their breads and spreads at the end of the $3 tour.

Cartwright Hotel
The Cartwright, located in Union Square, is a comfy home away from home. A double room is roughly $124 with tax. A deal if you share it with a companion, especially since you get free internet and an ample breakfast. $62.13 a person/night

Sea lions
Before the sun goes down, visit the sea lions camped out on Pier 39. Weather permitting, free educational talks, provided by Marine Mammal Center volunteers, are available year round on weekends from 11am to 5pm.

Chowders - Pier 39
Chowders by the bay — where dinner is the catch of the day. Fresh fish coated in sourdough bread crumbs and chips, plus a soda, rings in just over $10. 415-391-4737

The real San Francisco treat is the cost at roughly $87 a day!

  • Hotel room: $124.26 with tax, $62.13 per person
  • Boudin Bakery tour: $3
  • F line trolley ride: $1.50
  • Breakfast: Free (at hotel)
  • Lunch (Four Seas): $9.50 bill + $1.50 tip = $11 total
  • Dinner (Chowders): $10.03
    Grand total: $87.66 per person in San Francisco

Washington, D.C.
Our nation's capital gives new meaning to the phrase “it's a free country!” Practically every monument, museum and memorial is free of charge for visitors. The city itself is a huge money factory, where the Bureau of Engraving and Printing makes $700 million a day. Consider this a monument to your Benjamins!

Since sightseeing doesn't cost much, you can spend more on meals, but you don't have to. The Adams Inn in the eclectic Adams-Morgan district includes a continental breakfast and a dash of down-home comfort. For lunch, bend your knees under the same counter where MLK Jr. came for the best chili “half-smokes” in the city. This bastion of civil rights is now a fortress for civilian bites of fast food. Today's visitors include modern day activists such as the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

The buttoned up D.C. crowd loosens their collars at Chef Geoff's for $5 burgers at nightly happy hour. Geoff is one half of a Washington power couple — he's married to NBC correspondent Norah O'Donnell. A visit to Washington D.C. provides, liberty, justice and bargains for all!

Ben's Chili Bowl
Ben's Chili Bowl is located in a one-time silent movie house. But the prices on the menu are worth shouting about. Bite into their famous chili “half-smoke” and slurp down a shake. A bargain lunch at just $9 with tax and tip.

But chili is only one of the reasons people keep coming back. Ben's has been the gathering place for African American luminaries including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Duke Ellington — making Ben's a cultural monument. 1213 U Street NW, Washington D.C., 20009; 202-667-0909

Adams Inn From politics to pillowtalk at the Adams Inn. Vote for a double room — only $113 with shared bath. Even better when split between political parties. Your stay also includes a very democratic breakfast! $56.82 a person/night; 202-745-3600;

National monumentsSightseeing won't cost you a mint. Doors at the national monuments and museums are wide open.

  • Washington Monument: Located at the western end of the National Mall
  • The Reflecting Pool: Located between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial
  • Lincoln Memorial:
  • Printing and Engraving: 202-874-3188; 202-874-2330;
  • Air and Space Museum: Independence Ave. and 6th St. SW, Washington, D.C.; 202-357-1729; 202-357-1686; movie information: 202-357-1729;
  • Jefferson Memorial: Tidal Basin, South Bank, Washington, D.C.; 202-426-6821;
  • National Gallery: Constitution Ave. between 4th and 7th Sts. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-737-4215; 202-842-6176
  • The National Museum of the American Indian is the newest Smithsonian showpiece and features nearly a million Native American artifacts. Fourth Street and Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 20560; 202-633-1000

Chef Geoff
The friendly service and bargain burger and beer are a winning ticket at only $11. 13th St. between E and F NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-464-4461

  • Hotel room: $113.65 with tax, $56.82 per person
  • Monuments: free
  • Smithsonian Museums: free
  • Breakfast: free (at hotel)
  • Lunch (Ben's Chili): $9 (with tax and tip)
  • Dinner (Chef Geoff's): $11 (with tax and tip)
    Grand total: $76.82 per person in Washington, D.C.

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