In a past life, I think I was an engineer for Chicago when the transit system was originally built. Or in my next life, I’ll come back and clean up whatever Miami thinks they are doing down there.
When it comes to picking somewhere to visit, I almost always prefer some place I won’t need a rental car. My trips are usually quick weekend getaways only staying a few nights. With the exception of trips with the intention of being in the mountains or out in nature, a car isn’t always necessary. Sometimes planes and trains are all you need. I would like to mention, some of the best places are the hardest to get to, but that’s for another post. This post is about urban adventures, convenience, and public transportation. Here are 5 of my favorite cities to visit without a rental car.
CHICAGO. In my opinion, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is hands down the best public transportation system in the country. The US is far behind every other country in terms of train systems but the CTA delivers, albeit a little stinky. Every line is distinguished by a color, they’re easy to ride, you can download the app and it estimates the time in which the bus or trains will arrive, the blue line runs directly into O’Hare International airport and for my Southwest fans, the orange line will take you right to Midway. Not only is it convenient, it’s affordable, and the people watching come in 2nd to NYC. Airport tickets are $5 and you get two additional connections including the buses. A day pass is $10. A 3 day pass is $20. A 7 day pass is $28. A monthly unlimited pass is $105. How much are rental cars and parking passes again? Watching bumper to bumper traffic from the train will validate any decision you thought you had between renting a car and becoming one with the people for a few days. I lived in Chicago for a year and not once thought I needed a vehicle.
NEW YORK CITY. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), although tricky to learn, dirty, and extra stinky, can get you anywhere you need to be. Also affordable at $2.75 a ride. A 7 day pass is $33. A monthly unlimited pass is $127. A cab from any of the airports in the city will cost you over $50 in non-peak hours. If I have any advice, it would be to map out the route you need to take before you start wandering because once you’re down on the platforms you will lose cell reception. From LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports there is a bus that runs to a nearby train station and from Newark International Airport you can take the AirTrain that will take you to a nearby train station or downtown Jersey City to connect onto the PATH into lower Manhattan. Honestly, hang out in Jersey awhile. Check out Grove Square or Hoboken and have some fun.
MIAMI. You might be wondering how on earth this place is making the list considering I said I wanted to fix the city in my next life. The thing about Miami is that the city is actually small but very dense. It seems to be growing taller, not wider. Many people fly into Fort Lauderdale, but I’m focusing on Miami and Miami Beach specifically for the purpose of this blog. Getting to and from the airport. Take the Metro Mover from the Miami International Airport terminal right into downtown Miami if you’d like to stay in an awesome high rise, if you’re there for work, want to check out Brickell, nightlife, catch a Miami Heat game (sin COVID) or eat at the many awesome restaurants in midtown. This is for you. The metro rail also connects the inner city to some of Miami’s coolest places like Coconut Grove or Wynwood. If Miami Beach or South Beach is where you want to stay and play, I would suggest an Uber or Lyft (around $20) each way. Miami traffic is horrific and parking is worse so renting a car is just not a good idea. Getting up and down Miami Beach and around downtown is actually very… free! FREE. Read that again. Arriving every 10-15 minutes you can hop on the Miami Trolley on different loops to circle around every part of Miami Beach. Did I mention this is free? And not so stinky? It’s tourist heavy and very safe considering there isn’t a fare. There is also a train that runs from the Metro Mover station up through Fort Lauderdale and to West Palm Beach if you really wanted to cover some ground and save a couple hours of drive time.
SAN FRANCISCO. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system runs directly into the San Francisco International airport from downtown San Francisco. The BART also has services to Oakland. I’ve never been but please utilize the website to see how far it can actually take you. The buses run a grid through the entire city of SF and fares are decent compared to possible tickets or tows for the parking restrictions throughout the city. If your visit is about all the delicious food, museums, music, culture and art that rolls through SF, you won’t even think you needed a car. Fares for the BART are based on distance therefore day, week, and monthly passes aren’t available. These buses are eco friendly running on a hybrid electric system! One thing I noticed about SF were the bus stops outside of schools and the amount of young kids cruising the bus solo. I’ve seen it in Chicago as well but not as much as SF. These little independent people are out there handling life! If you’re interested in riding on the iconic cable cars, tickets must be purchased in advance or from the Muni app and are $8 for single-ride. An all day visitor passport pass is $13 and also must be purchased in advance at ticket locations, the muni pass, or via Clipper Card. Clipper card information is also available on the BART website.
DALLAS. I wanted to list a city that wasn’t so obvious. A place that seems taboo not to have a vehicle considering it’s the 10th biggest city in the US. Dallas is BIG. Miami and San Francisco’s population combined, big. Renting a vehicle seems like the obvious choice as the city is quite spread out but much of the city’s entertainment can be found in concentrated areas of downtown, Uptown, and Deep Ellum, reachable by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system. Quite possibly the least stinky of them all. The DART operates out of the Dallas/Fort Worth International airport and for my Southwest fans again, Love Field. Love Field utilizes a bus that takes you to the Love Field train station and then right into the city. A single pass is $2.50. A day pass is $6. A monthly local pass is $96 and only available through the GoPass app. Directly from the Victory Park train station downtown is American Airlines Center which is home to the Dallas Stars, the Dallas Mavericks, and many popular artists’ concerts. Uptown has rooftops and patio bars with live music. Deep Ellum is the hot spot for dive bars, street art, and breweries. Don’t skip Dallas because you think you need a vehicle. Thank me later.
I chose these 5 cities because I have the most experience getting around them. There are so many more that at least provide service from the airport into the city! Denver, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. to name a few. Skip the rental car. Get to know your friends a little better and see how they can navigate once they’re thrown onto a train. I really hope you benefit from this post because it took forever to write it! It also took years for me to experience public transportation in unknown cities and most of the time by myself. So, enjoy!! I love nothing more than to share what I’ve learned to make your trips a little less stressful. (Even if they’re more stinky without a rental.) If you’d like to figure out how to score flights at a good deal check out my post 5 Tips for Booking Cheap Flights. Final thought. Why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?