Carless Vacations: Four Places to Leave the Wheels Behind

Travel without a car and reduce your carbon footprint by walking, bicycling, kayaking or taking a train on your next vacation.

Even though gas prices have come down quite a bit from last summer, some people still prefer to travel without a car and leave those direction and parking headaches behind. Going carless on your next vacation will not only save gas money but also could reduce your carbon footprint. Check out these four U.S. destinations where you can travel eco-friendly style—paddle around in a kayak, ride a bike along nature trails, view the striking California coast from the comfort of a train and explore historic sites by foot.

Kayaking the San Juan Islands, Wash.

After catching a ferry from Seattle or elsewhere in the Puget Sound, continue the boating trend once you’ve arrived in the San Juan Islands. These are some of the most picturesque islands along the West Coast, with orcas swimming nearby and mountain views off in the distance.

In Friday Harbor, kayak tours abound. San Juan Kayak Expeditions offers kayak rentals, for a self-guided sea kayak experience, which is really not difficult, as long as you stick near the shore. For more of a guided experience, it also offers tours. Shearwater Kayaks on Orcas Island has similar guided tour options. On the other hand, Discovery Sea Kayaks  offers tourists a variety of different experiences, including sunset sea kayak cruises, wine dinner trips and multi-day expeditions on the water.

From just a jaunt in a kayak around the island to a totally kayak-focused trip, it's easy to see these islands from the water, where all the action is. Count on seeing whales, amazing sunsets and beautiful views from your boat, as well as enjoying an active, healthy vacation.

Biking Minneapolis  and St. Paul, Minn.

Minneapolis has the second-highest number of daily bike commuters of any city in the United States—that means there’s plenty of biking infrastructure to take advantage of on your next visit. [Portland is the first—read our Biking Portland article]. Throughout the city, there are plenty of bike lanes to keep cyclists safe and an abundance of bike parking and bike facilities. That makes it easy to take the family on a ride and then park the bikes while you check out museums, attractions and more.

Ride over the Mississippi River, which runs through the town, and travel along bike paths like the Midtown Greenway, that weave through town for commuters and in-town bike traffic. There are also several off-road trails throughout the city that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the surrounding nature. In winter, cycling can be very cold, although dressing warmly can help to combat the weather. In the warmer months, cycling in the city is a very pleasant experience as the sun comes out and cool breezes keep you cool as you ride.

Bicycling can also be combined with Minneapolis-St. Paul’s mass transit system to allow travel throughout the major metro area; there are bike lockers available at many transit stations.

Bikes can be rented at Freewheel Bikes, where you can get your own two wheels for between $25 and $99 per day. They can also tell you about local cycling events, where to cycle and what to see.

Train Travel in California

One way to cruise along the West Coast without a car is to do it from the old-fashioned comfort of a train. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner train runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, as it dodges in and out along the coast, giving its passengers a view of beaches that can’t be seen any other way. Many people call the Santa Barbara area “America’s Riviera,” which looks especially beautiful from the comfort of the quietly humming train.

The train ride is about eight hours long from one end to the other, passing through Los Angeles’ Union Station and along beaches. But any portion of the journey is beautiful, no matter where travelers choose to get on and get off. Trains offer discounts for kids, bistro cars for snack breaks and meals for those staying onboard longer. The entire length of the journey (back and forth) costs about $90 per adult for coach passengers.

Philadelphia on Foot

Philadelphia is a city that has a ton to offer visitors—from history lessons to great eateries and more. But one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the city is on foot. Town founder William Penn designed the city to be walkable—it has stayed that way through hundreds of years of changes and upgrades.

Instead of aimless walking, it can be helpful to partake in one of Philadelphia’s walking tours, which bring you to historic attractions and art throughout the downtown core. The Constitutional Walking Tour of Philadelphia offers guided tours of historically important spots in the fall and spring. The Avenue of the Arts is also a place ripe for walking, since there are many museums, galleries, theaters and city hall, which are housed in one compact corridor. Within the city center, there are also many restaurants and other hot spots that can easily be reached by foot.

Destinations: San Luis Obispo, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Washington, San Diego

Themes: Ecotourism, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Cycling, Kayaking