Airport side-trips: 10 cheap, educational, and car-free excursions

Airline route cuts and drastic schedule cutbacks mean you're probably going to be spending a lot more time waiting around the airport for a flight. You could use that down time to grab a meal or get some work done, but you could also do a little sightseeing or shopping in town.

No need to rent a car. Here are ten airports where buses and trains will get you to nearby museums and attractions for less than the cost of a grab 'n' go sandwich.

Washington, D.C.

While Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) is 26 miles from downtown Washington, D.C., the airport is a short bus ride from the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center. This Smithsonian Institution "annex" displays about 150 aircraft and as many space-related artifacts too large to fit inside the main museum on the National Mall. Best of all, admission is free.

How to get there:Virginia Regional Transit provides bus service between Dulles Airport and the museum. Here's a link to a schedule and more information.

Fare:50 cents each way.

New York

New York's LaGuardia Airport is eight miles and at least a $30 cab ride from midtown Manhattan, but the Louis Armstrong Museum, in Queens, is right nearby. Visitors can tour the modest home Armstrong lived in with his wife, Lucille, and see the gold record the entertainer received for Hello, Dolly as well as other Armstrong artifacts. Admission: $8

How to get there:Take the Q48 bus to 34th Ave. The museum is at 34-56 107th Street. (Note: the Q48 also stops at Shea Stadium.) Here's a link to MTA buses that serve the airport.

Fare:$2.00 each way.

San Francisco

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) travels the 13 miles from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to downtown in about 25 minutes. Once there, you can visit many top notch arts and cultural attractions, including the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts and Mission Delores, the city's oldest building. Admission varies depending on your chosen attraction.

How to get there:Take the free SFO AirTrain to the airport BART station.

Fare:Varies by destination, but generally less than $5.50.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is about 15 miles and at least a 30-minute cab or express bus ride from downtown Los Angeles. However, travelers can take a municipal bus to a nearby beach or to the restaurants and shops in close-by Westchester and El Segundo. The Flight Path Learning Center, an aviation history museum, is also nearby. Museum admission is free.

How to get there:Take the free LAX Shuttle "C" to Parking Lot C. Exit the gate to reach the LAX City Transit Center on 96th Street. ExperienceLA.com has put together a helpful and extensive public transit/cultural attraction guide.

Fare:Varies by destination, but generally less than $5.

Seattle

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is 14 miles and a $25 -$30 cab ride to downtown Seattle but the Museum of Flight, at nearby Boeing Field, is a short bus ride away. Museum holdings include a Concorde, the first presidential jet, and a "Great Gallery" with 39 full-size historic aircraft. Admission: $14

How to get there:Take Metro bus #174 from the airport. The bus stops in front of the museum.

Fare:$1.50 — $1.75.

Atlanta

A 15-minute ride on the MARTA subway will get you from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) to downtown Atlanta and then to the Georgia Aquarium, the CNN Center, the World of Coca-Cola and other attractions. Admission varies.

How to get there:The airport MARTA station is at the west entrance of the terminal complex, near other ground transportation services.

Fare:$1.75 one way.

Miami

Miami International Airport (MIA) is nine miles from downtown Miami, but a shuttle bus runs back and forth to the Dolphin Mall, five miles away. The mall is home to outlet stores, a multi-screen movie theater, restaurants, a bowling alley and an arcade.

How to get there:The shuttle bus stops on the Departure Level of Concourse E. Schedules are available from the Information Desk, inside the terminal across from the hotel on Concourse E.

Fare:$5 each way.

Minneapolis

It's 25 minutes by light rail from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) to downtown Minneapolis, but only 11 minutes on the light rail from the airport to the Mall of America. The mall has more than 500 shops, 14 movie screens, an aquarium, a theme park and much (some say too much) more. (Bonus: there's no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota.)

How to get there:Signs lead the way to airport light rail stations for the Metro Transit Hiawatha Line (Route 55).

Fare:$1.50 — $2.00 each way.

Cincinnati

Wi-Fi equipped TANK buses take 25 minutes to go from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG) to the downtown core, which has museums, galleries, sports stadiums and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (admission: $12).

How to get there:TANK Route 2X (the Airport Express) stops outside the Terminal 3 baggage claim.

Fare:$1.50 each way (Fares go up $.25 on November 1, 2008.)

Boston

From Boston's Logan Airport, it's just a 10 or 15-minute ride on a free airport bus to the Logan dock. From there, you can watch the boats passing by, gaze across the water to the downtown Boston skyline or stroll along the ¾-mile HarborWalk. Or you can hop on a water taxi for a ten-minute ride across the water to the New England Aquarium, and the restaurants, shops and other attractions on the downtown Boston waterfront.

How to get there:Take Massport Bus #66 from any terminal to the Logan dock. If you want a water taxi over to the Boston waterfront and no boat is in sight, use the call box at the dock to summon a ride.

Fare:Massport Bus #66 is free. Water taxis charge $10 each way.

Share your tips on airport side-trips accessible via public transportation in the comment section below. And don't forget to send postcards from your adventures.

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Harriet Baskas writes about travel etiquette for MSNBC.com and is the author of Stuck at the Airport.