America's Most Expensive Vacation Towns


It's the height of the summer vacation season, but although most of us look forward to taking time off during the warmest months of the year, vacations are something we take year-round — at any free moment we can manage to squeeze into our American workaholic schedules.

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Science has told us on countless occasions that vacations are good for our health and ultimately make employees more productive, so we dream of the Aspen slopes in the winter, or the beaches in the Hamptons during the summer.

Of course, vacationing in either Aspen or the Hamptons isn't a bargain. Neither is wine country in Napa, Calif., or Vineyard Haven on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Depending on where you stay, shop, play and eat, your wallet will experience varying degrees of emptiness.

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So where will your wallet feel the most empty? To figure this out, we took our spending data and looked at millions of transactions for 40 popular vacation towns in the U.S. in the following categories: shopping, food, hotels, movie theaters, public golf courses, public transportation, taxis and limos, tourist attractions and exhibits, and travel agencies. We averaged the spending for out-of-towners visiting each of the vacation towns, and then looked at which towns had visitors spending significantly above the norm.

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Vail, Colo. is the most expensive vacation town on our list, followed by Aspen, Colo., and the beach-y Southhampton and East Hampton in New York, with Miami, Fla. coming in fifth. Other pricey vacation towns include the island of Nantucket (ranked 6th), Wisconsin's resort city Lake Geneva (ranked 8th), and Southern California's Newport Beach (ranked 10th), which was at one time the setting for an MTV show about wealthy teenagers living in a beachside community.

So why Vail, and not Key West, Fla. (ranked 15th) or Honolulu, Hawaii (ranked 23rd)? One answer: the slopes. Going to the beach is free (if it isn't, you're probably doing it wrong), but hitting the slopes means paying for a ski pass, equipment rental and lessons for novices. Because of this, vacationers in Vail spent 13.89 times more on tourist attractions and exhibits than the average vacation town. Vail was ranked second in list of best ski resorts among readers of Ski magazine, which noted that high prices was a common complaint even among Vail's biggest fans.

Two other things we like to do on vacation — shop and eat — also showed why some cities rank higher than others. Aspen, Colo., which Travel + Leisure described as "West Coast, wild, celebutastic," ranked the highest in the shopping category, with vacationers spending 2.67 times more than the average vacation town. Frommers, a travel guide, says that in Aspen, "you just might blow next month's mortgage payment on some Western fashion accessory. No one ever brags about the great bargain they snagged last season in Aspen."

It may come to no surprise that Napa, Calif. ranked first in the food category — not only are vacationers budgets going to stocking up on bottles of good wine, they're going to good food: The most expensive restaurant in the U.S. happens to be in wine country.

Of course, there's always a way to do any of the cities on a list on a budget — go to the grocery store and plan your own meals, cram a bunch of friends into a cozy rental, and did we mention the beach is free?