04/04/2012 07:17 am ET Updated Jun 04, 2012

An Edu-Vacation

Unless every vacation you take involves lying on the beach, there's a lot to be learned while traveling. Many destinations offer the chance for both an escape from the everyday -- and a history lesson.

We rounded up some of the most compelling (and popular) destinations for an edu-vacation.

Washington, D.C.
The nation's capital offers up myriad monuments and museums for the interested and casual visitor. Don't miss the exhibits at the Smithsonian's 19 museums, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial or the chance to see the government at work on Capitol Hill.

Tip: While political candidates are spending millions to earn a stay in Washington, D.C., travelers don't need a slush fund to afford this trip. Find the best deals by traveling over weekends and the summer months. If D.C. hotels are expensive, look across the Potomac at Arlington or Alexandria for deals.

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic isn't just a reason to see Leo and Kate in 3-D. There are several events focused on this maritime tragedy -- including a memorial cruise that features lectures and a nighttime visit to the sinking location. In Northern Ireland, a festival and new museum commemorate the ship, which was built in the shipyards in Belfast.

Civil War Battlefields
Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and the National Park Service has a series of events through 2015 to remember this bloody chapter in American history. Walk through the battlefields in the Mid-Atlantic and South, from Gettysburg in Pennsylvania to Manassas in Virginia to Shiloh in Tennessee. Among the notable battles of 1862: Antietam in Maryland, the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. (Its 150th anniversary is Sept. 17.)

Tip: Many of these battlefields are within driving distance of each other. If your plans are pretty solid, look for advance purchase rates at nearby hotels and shop around. Most hotels will offer their lowest rates for bookings seven to 14 days in advance. But buyer beware, these rates are often prepaid and nonrefundable.

Not every educational trip means you need to forgo the beach entirely. The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is a short trip from the beaches at Waikiki or can be visited during an extended layover in Honolulu on your way to one of the Hawaiian Islands.

Tip: The best deals in Hawaii can be found in the spring and fall months; prices tend to creep up during summer vacation and over major holidays. The cheapest hotel nights will be found in Honolulu near Waikiki, but give Maui a look for deals as well. We've noticed several outstanding offers from highly rated resorts in this romantic destination.

Follow the Freedom Trail through Boston from Faneuil Hall to the Old North Church to the USS Constitution. Along the way, stop in at Omni Parker House -- the original home of the Boston cream pie -- and probably the only place in America that has employed Ho Chi Minh, Malcolm X and Emeril Lagasse. And, if you can get Red Sox tickets, iconic Fenway Park turns 100 this year.

Tip: Hotel rates spike in the spring when the city's numerous colleges and universities hold graduation ceremonies, but prices moderate somewhat in the summer. Unless you plan on visiting during the winter, June, July and August are your best bets for an affordable Boston hotel room.

San Francisco
Visit the city by the bay to celebrate the 75th birthday of a San Francisco icon: the Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic May 28, 1937. For other only-in-San Francisco experiences, take the ferry out to Alcatraz to tour "The Rock," or ride a cable car through the city to culturally diverse neighborhoods such as Haight-Ashbury, Castro and Chinatown.

Tip: Spring (April-May) and fall (November-December) often offer up the best deals for San Francisco hotels. If you are traveling on a weekend, look in the Financial District, where 4- and 5-star hotels will often go for less than $250 per night.

Riviera Maya & Central America
Mayan prophecy posits 2012 as the end of the world. If this turns out to be true, don't you want to have visited some of the Mayan ruins sprinkled throughout Mexico and Central America before the end of days?

Tip: Vacation packagers can often bundle air, hotel and tours together to save up to 30% over do-it-yourself costs. For independent-minded travelers, deals at all-inclusive resorts are plentiful in Cancun and Riviera Maya, and the hotel concierge can recommend a local driver for hire to take you on a tour of ruins in Tulum or nearby.

-- Andrew Young is Travelzoo's U.S. Web Editor and is based in New York. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.