Whether you're seeking relaxation or adventure, these cities promise both for a price that won't break the bank.
You can go on a memorable vacation without busting your budget, simply by visiting one of the 17 spots that made the Best Affordable Destinations in the USA ranking. U.S News & World Report took into consideration the number of free activities and the prices of lodging and food, among other factors, when compiling this list to make sure you'd have plenty of things to do and see wherever you choose to go. Start planning your next getaway to one of these destinations that deliver on affordable fun.
17. Biloxi, Mississippi
Biloxi is home to numerous casinos and miles of sandy beaches, giving travelers plenty to do day or night. If you're traveling with kids, head to Ship Island's white sand beaches; if you're traveling with adults, the casinos are a natural draw, but make sure to budget before you go and know your limits -- testing Lady Luck is a good way to lose a lot of money quickly. To save on lodging, consider visiting between November and April when hotel prices (and temperatures) plummet. If you're set on visiting during the warm weather, plan in advance and keep an eye out for good deals on lodging.
16. Oklahoma City
Oklahoma City is an affordable getaway with plenty of fun things to do and see. Take in one of the world's largest livestock markets, feast on renowned barbecue and learn all about cowboys at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Take some time to wander through the Bricktown area (free to explore), which was home to bustling warehouses in the 20th century. Today the revitalized area is home to popular restaurants, bars, shops and hotels. If you have time, visit the stoic Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which is dedicated to remembering the victims and the events of the bombing that occurred in 1995.
15. Branson, Missouri
Branson is a great destination for vacationing families, as it is chock full of kid-friendly attractions, including the Silver Dollar City amusement park. While the park is known for its staggering rides, shops and shows, it also comes with a hefty admission fee. If this is a can't-miss attraction for you and the gang, save money elsewhere on your trip by wandering the grounds of the College of the Ozarks, exploring the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery or splashing around in Table Rock Lake, all free activities. Keep in mind that you'll need to either bring or rent a car to explore this city. Luckily, parking is free just about everywhere in Branson.
14. Daytona, Florida
Daytona is most often associated with NASCAR and spring breakers, but this coastal city is still a worthy vacation spot for those interested in other pursuits. Beach bums will love the more than 20 miles of public shoreline, while history buffs will enjoy the Museum of Arts and Sciences. Though it does charge an admission fee, the museum is home to a bevy of memorabilia, a kids museum, a planetarium and international art exhibits. To score a hotel at a reasonable rate, select one that's not too close to the track or the sand, as those hotels also tend to cost more.
13. Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh is home to several colleges, craft breweries and numerous trails and parks that are free to explore, making it a great destination for all types of travelers. Plus, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the North Carolina Museum of History and the state Capitol all offer free admission, making it easy to spend the day (or several) exploring. William B. Umstead State Park, Pullen Park and the Neuse River Trail are also free to explore, ideal for hikers, bikers and fellow wanderers. And the R-LINE, Raleigh's downtown circulator bus, offers 20 stops throughout downtown and doesn't cost a thing.
12. Dallas--Fort Worth
Known for its cowboys (both on and off the football field), big hair and bigger hats, Dallas--Fort Worth is a quintessential Texas destination. Glamorous shops, gourmet restaurants and high-end hotels also call these cities home, making it easy to dismantle your budget. To save money, scour the web for lodging deals -- with more than 30,000 hotel rooms in the area, you're bound to find something that fits within your price range. Keep in mind that many top attractions, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Fort Worth Stockyards and the Kimbell Art Museum, don't charge admission fees. Klyde Warren Park and White Rock Lake and Park are also free.
11. Jacksonville, Florida
While Jacksonville is known as a jumping-off point for cruises, this Florida city has numerous attractions of its own. The downtown Riverside Arts Market welcomes visitors every Saturday, and showcases hundreds of stalls selling local crafts and wares. Kingsley Plantation is another free attraction, and it's located within the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a vast stretch of unspoiled wetlands. Beachgoers can also head to nearby Amelia Island, Ponte Vedra Beach and Atlantic Beach, all free to access. If you're willing to fork over a bit of coin, check out the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville.
10. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Home to three separate entrances into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a great vacation destination for hikers. However, the downtown area is not to be overlooked. Gatlinburg is a walkable city (though there's also a cheap trolley), so getting around is a breeze. If you do have a car with you, consider driving the 8-mile Great Smoky Mountains Arts & Crafts Community Loop (free to access), where you'll see artists making brooms, pottery and baskets. To save money on accommodations, avoid visiting in the summer, when the town's population jumps from 4,000 to about 40,000. Instead, plan to arrive in March, April or September, when lodging costs are more reasonable.
Phoenix attracts foodies, golfers, high-end spa seekers and luxury shoppers, but budget-minded travelers can have a memorable vacation here as well. Save money by opting for the trails instead of the spa: Phoenix is home to Camelback Mountain, which is free to hike. If you need a break from the desert heat, check out downtown's array of museums, including the Heard Museum, the Musical Instrument Museum and the Arizona Science Center, all of which charge varying admission fees. If you have extra days to spend, the Grand Canyon is also possible to do as a daytrip from Phoenix.
8. Salt Lake City
Home of the Mormon church, Temple Square's towering religious monuments and mountain vistas, Salt Lake City appeals to both culture hounds and adventure junkies. Temple Square houses about 20 attractions related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and tours of the three-block plaza are free between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily. If you're itching to explore the outdoors, head to Great Salt Lake, Liberty Park or Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest; the latter two are free to enjoy. Keep in mind that skiers flock to Salt Lake City in the winter, thanks to its proximity to popular ski resorts, so you might want to visit in the spring or summer to avoid the crowds.
7. Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg is aptly associated with history, as it is home to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and other famed landmarks. While this is a great trip for families, admission prices to various attractions can quickly add up. To offset costs, purchase the three-day combo ticket, which bundles admission to numerous attractions -- including the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg, a Capitol tour and museums -- discounts on tours and complimentary shuttle service. Also, try to avoid planning a trip for the summer, as it's the most popular time to visit. Instead, visit in the spring or fall when the weather is still warm and hotel prices aren't as steep. Another fun (and free) thing to do is ride the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry, which transports travelers across the James River.
6. Memphis, Tennessee
The home of Graceland, Beale Street, finger-licking barbecue and the National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis has a bit of everything for everyone. To take in all of the sights without spending a small fortune, invest in the Backstage Pass, which costs $84 per person. It grants you access to four of the most popular attractions in town: Graceland, the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum, Sun Studio and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. And if you're traveling with kids, do not miss the famous duck march at The Peabody Memphis hotel, which happens twice daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. and is free to enjoy.
5. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Known for its hot air balloon-filled skies, ancient (by American standards) cobblestone streets, spicy foods and Native American crafts, Albuquerque is an exciting destination to visit any time of the year, especially as it boasts nearly 300 days of sunshine on average. Make sure to spend some time exploring the city's Old Town, the historic Church of San Felipe de Neri and the 16-mile walking and biking path Paseo del Bosque, all free activities. To save money on lodging, avoid an October visit, when the famed Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta takes center stage and hotel prices skyrocket.
4. Tucson, Arizona
Tucson sees an average of 350 sunny days a year, meaning there's no bad time to book a trip to Arizona's second-largest city. Though the summer temperatures can be scorching, this is also the season where you can net the biggest hotel deals of the year. No matter when you visit, you should consider flying into the Phoenix airport (about 115 miles northwest of Tucson). It's larger than Tucson's hub and is often cheaper than flying directly to Tucson. You'll also want to pick up a Tucson Attractions Passport, which is available for $22 and grants you two-for-one admission to popular attractions like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Saguaro National Park.
3. Las Vegas
Mention Las Vegas and casinos, megaresorts, gourmet dining and live entertainment will come to mind. However, Sin City can also be enjoyed for a fraction of what you think (if you avoid the slot machines, that is). If you want to stay in the center of the action, plan ahead and do your research -- Las Vegas hotels often offer deals. Also, if you're going to be spending your time along the Strip, don't rent a car. Your feet and an occasional cab can get you everywhere you want to go. Plus, tourist hot spots like the Bellagio Fountains, the Mirage Volcano and the Venetian's Canal are all free to view.
2. San Antonio, Texas
If you want to enjoy San Antonio's best attractions without spending a dime, you're in luck -- many of the city's top things to do welcome visitors free of charge. Wandering the famous River Walk doesn't cost a thing, though dining at any of the restaurants that line it will rack up a tab. Brackenridge Park and San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are both free to explore, the latter of which also offers complimentary tours from National Park Service rangers. And remember, San Antonio is also home to the Alamo, a former Franciscan mission that was the site of the historic battle back in 1836.
1. Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon has been a popular vacation destination for generations thanks to its awe-inspiring vistas, miles of hiking trails and Colorado River rafting trips. In fact, about 4.5 million people visit this UNESCO World Heritage site every year. To save on lodging fees, forgo a hotel and opt to camp instead. You can get a camping permit for the fraction of what you'd pay for a hotel room. Another tip: leave the car at home. The Grand Canyon operates a free shuttle bus from March through September that will take you all over the South Rim.
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