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New routes and cheap flights invite visitors to five great cities

Small low-cost, no-frills airlines seemingly styled after Ryanair and its counterparts in Europe are popping up all over the U.S. these days. The most recent additions to the U.S. market, Skybus and ExpressJet, serve airports outside of big U.S. cities, while more established low-fare carriers are increasingly adding service to major airports. (Southwest’s recent addition of San Francisco International Airport comes to mind.)

Increased air service to these “secondary” cities may lead to cheaper fares, particularly if other airlines try to compete in the same markets as the low-cost carriers. As flying to these smaller cities becomes more affordable, consider making a trip to visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire, or Oakland itself, rather than merely using them as jumping-off points to Boston or San Francisco. After all, many of these cities are worth visiting on their own.

Columbus, Ohio

Skybus‘ route map centers around Columbus, and the airline offers a handful of $10 each-way fares on flights to and from the city. Fares that cheap make it hard not to consider Columbus if you’re looking for a weekend getaway from one of Skybus’ other cities.

Though it is Ohio’s capital, Columbus is often overshadowed by Cincinnati and Cleveland. Home to The Ohio State University, Columbus has a vibrant energy and several walkable neighborhoods. Naturally, the German Village has German restaurants, but also features artsy shops and restored 19th-century buildings. The downtown Arena District is a burgeoning mixed-use urban development featuring old warehouses converted into shops, restaurants, hotels, and offices. The stylish Short North area is a quick walk from the Arena District, and features eclectic galleries, boutiques, and eateries.

Several notable museums are scattered around Columbus. The Ohio Historical Center provides a broad history of the state, from exhibits on the first Ohioans to the natural history of the state. The Columbus Museum of Art features works by Picasso, Monet, Matisse, and Degas, as well as Columbus natives George Bellows and Elijah Pierce. COSI Columbus is a hands-on science museum popular with families.

For more information on visiting Columbus, check out the Experience Columbus website.

Oakland

Oakland is a classic “alternate airport” city. Southwest and JetBlue have both served Oakland rather than San Francisco in the past, and Skybus has followed their lead. However, Oakland is more than a springboard to its more popular neighbor, and it warrants a visit of its own, even for just a day trip.

Downtown Oakland’s most tourist-friendly attraction is Jack London Square on the waterfront, dedicated to the Call of the Wild author who made Oakland his stomping grounds nearly a century ago. The square is dotted with shops and restaurants, including Heinold’s First and Last Chance Bar, where London spent time writing, and Yoshi’s, a popular spot for live music and sushi. Also downtown is the Oakland Museum of California, with permanent exhibits devoted to the state’s history, ecology, and art.

One of the most ethnically diverse areas of California, Oakland is a true melting pot, reflected in restaurants and shops around the city. Chinatown is worth a stop for authentic dim sum, but you’ll notice that the area doesn’t cater to tourists like San Francisco’s Chinatown. College Avenue, in the upscale Rockridge neighborhood, is a shopping and dining hotspot, the highlight of which is the European-style Rockridge Market Hall. The Old Oakland historic district’s restored Victorian storefronts now house galleries, boutiques, and cafes, plus a Friday farmers’ market.

Lake Merritt is another scenic attraction in Oakland, and Lakeside Park is popular for walking, biking, and picnics. Visitors can rent pedal boats or sailboats, or take a gondola ride around Lake Merritt. Tilden Regional Park is another green space offering swimming and fishing in Lake Anza, plus hiking and biking trails, a botanical garden, and a carousel.

To read more about Oakland’s attractions and accommodations options, visit the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Skybus serves Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a quintessential seaside New England town about 50 miles from Boston. Portsmouth boasts a compact downtown complete with cobblestone streets, historic homes, small shops and restaurants, and, of course, great seafood.

Highlights include Prescott Park, a picture-perfect waterfront spot for walks and picnics, and home to a popular summertime arts festival. Across from the park, the Strawbery Banke Museum depicts four centuries of New England history. Other museums in the area are the Children’s Museum of Portsmouth, the USS Albacore Submarine Park, and the Seacoast Science Center in Odiorne Point State Park, located in nearby Rye. Odiorne State Park itself offers fishing, boating, and hiking and biking trails, and in winter, cross-country skiing.

Close to Portsmouth are the Kittery Outlets across the border in Maine, and boat cruises around the Isles of Shoals, rocky islands six miles off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire.

Read our Portsmouth travel guide for more information on sights, restaurants, and accommodations, or visit the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce website.

St. Augustine

Though Skybus‘ route map says it flies to Jacksonville/Daytona Beach, the airline really serves St. Augustine, a worthwhile destination of its own. Though not as popular as Jacksonville and Daytona nearby, St. Augustine has much to offer tourists: history, shopping, and, of course, beaches.

St. Augustine is home to the country’s oldest wooden schoolhouse, and nine historic buildings that make up the Old St. Augustine Village. Other historical spots of interest include the Colonial Spanish Quarter, an outdoor living-history museum complete with costumed blacksmiths and carpenters; the Lightner Museum, featuring myriad artifacts from the Gilded Era; and the Castillo de San Marcos, a 16th-century Spanish fort.

Tourists can also enjoy strolling St. George Street in the heart of St. Augustine’s historical district, taking in restaurants, boutiques, and antiques shops. The St. Augustine Premium Outlets are a good option for discounted name-brand items.

The St. Augustine area has several beaches, including St. Augustine Beach, Vilano Beach, Ponte Vedra, and Anastasia Island. St. Augustine Beach is a small community with its own recreation, nightlife, and dining options.

The St. Augustine Visitor’s Guide is a comprehensive online resource with lots of information about beaches, accommodations, dining, and activities.

Boise

Idaho’s capital city has lots of outdoor activities, great restaurants, and several noteworthy museums. ExpressJet serves Boise from several airports in Southern California.

The Boise River Greenbelt is a 25-mile path connecting city parks perfect for running, biking, or rollerblading, and it is handicap accessible. Many people take advantage of fishing, rafting, and swimming in the Boise River itself.

The Ridge to Rivers network of roads and trails rises above the city in the Boise Foothills. Ninety-seven miles of trails offer something for everyone, including walking, hiking, and mountain biking, as well as dog-friendly trails and trails specifically for motorcycles and ATVs. During the winter months, skiing is popular at Bogus Basin, about 16 miles from Boise.

Julia Davis Park is the artistic, historical, and cultural hub of Boise. Inside the park, visitors will find museums such as the Boise Art Museum and the Idaho State Historical Museum, as well as the Zoo Boise, the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, and the Julia Davis Rose Garden. Fall brings Art in the Park, an event featuring artists from all over the Western U.S, plus live music and performances.

Boise hosts the Idaho Shakespeare Festival each year from June to September.

To plan a trip to Boise, visit the Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

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