19 Cheap US Destinations for an Affordable Summer Vacation

One common misconception about the U.S. is that it’s an expensive travel destination. However, there are plenty of U.S. destinations to visit without breaking the…

One common misconception about the U.S. is that it’s an expensive travel destination. However, there are plenty of U.S. destinations to visit without breaking the bank. 

Whether you want a place with a lively art scene, historical museums, or a delicious food adventure, this guide is for you. Let’s explore budget-friendly U.S. destinations where you can enjoy all these experiences at a low cost.

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1. Asheville, North Carolina

Pack Square in Asheville North Carolina MSN
Image Credits: sepavone/DepositPhotos.

If you’re looking for a cheap U.S. destination, consider Asheville, North Carolina. It’s notable for its lush nature, stunning galleries and studios, and rich cultural heritage.

In Asheville, you can go hiking (with hundreds of trails to choose from) or visit the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, Folk Art Center, and Asheville Visitor Center for free. 

2. Portland, Oregon

Williamette River at Portland Oregon MSN
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Portland, Oregon, is an economical destination with unique experiences, including bustling neighborhoods, vibrant street art, and tasty food. Stroll the busy Pearl District, visit the eccentric Alberta Arts District, or determine which brewery has the best local beer.

Additionally, you can visit the Portland Art Museum or International Rose Test Garden for free. Even on a tight budget, you can have a lot of fun in Portland.

3. New Orleans, Louisiana

Bourbon Street in New Orleans Louisiana MSN
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Thanks to its colorful history, unique local music, and delicious food, New Orleans provides a memorable experience that does not cost a fortune. You can walk around the city’s historical center, visit Frenchmen Street for free music evenings, and dine at affordable restaurants serving Creole and Cajun cuisine.

New Orleans’ activities are either free or very affordable. You can go on a historical excursion to the French Quarter, see the St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, and visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. There are also many affordable accommodation options, such as small guesthouses and low-cost hotels.

4. Austin, Texas

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Austin, Texas, is known as the Live Music Capital of the World. It offers accessible concert venues, outdoor activities, and cultural itineraries that fit any budget. You can stroll the colorful streets of South Congress, hike around Barton Creek Greenbelt’s picturesque landscape, or paddleboard on Lady Bird Lake.

In addition, you can attend free events year-round, from live music to art walks and cultural events like the South by Southwest festival in March. Witness a natural wonder for free: the unforgettable spectacle of millions of bats emerging at dusk, best viewed from late March to early fall. A range of accommodations, from boutique hotels to budget-friendly hostels, guarantees you can enjoy Austin while being kind to your wallet.

5. Denver, Colorado

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Located at the foothills of the towering Rocky Mountains, Denver features many inexpensive options for outdoor adventures and urban exploration. From the breathtaking Rocky Mountain National Park to extensive, accessible cycling trails, Denver lets you explore nature’s wonders without spending all your savings.

In addition, the city is famous for the concerts at its legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which can be visited during the day free of charge. Finally, Denver’s excellent art scene, diverse food offerings, and affordable eating and lodging options make it a cultural but affordable destination.

6. Nashville, Tennessee

Belle Mead Plantation in Nashville MSN
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You don’t have to spend a ton to visit Nashville. You can spend a whole day roaming the legendary Lower Broadway honky-tonks, tour the Ryman Auditorium during the day, or enjoy free music on Saturdays at Centennial Park in May and June.

Other free entertainment options, such as visiting the Nashville Farmers Market daily or dropping by the Tennessee State Capitol headquarters, will help minimize your costs. Nashville has plenty of places to stay, from high-end hotels to low-end budget motels to accommodate every budget.

7. San Antonio, Texas

Cityscape of downtown San Antonio in Texas MSN
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San Antonio, Texas, is great for traveling on a budget with the whole family. The charming city offers historic attractions like the Alamo and the vibrant El Mercado marketplace, all worth a visit. Learn about the city’s heritage at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park or visit the Japanese Tea Garden—both are free to enter.

Choose from renowned inns or various budget-friendly hotels to suit your family’s budget. Don’t forget the famous Riverwalk, a scenic path lined with shops, restaurants, and street performers.

8. Albuquerque, New Mexico

View of distant mountains and buildings in Albuquerque MSN
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Albuquerque, New Mexico, is renowned for its Southwestern flair, rich heritage, and reasonably priced attractions.

For an authentic city experience, wander around Old Town, ride the Sandia Peak Tramway for the best panorama of the city, or participate in the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The Petroglyph National Monument offers free entrance to learn about the region’s heritage.

9. Salt Lake City, Utah

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Salt Lake City offers outdoor playgrounds and cultural rewards at a lower cost than other cities. Ski in winter (or hike in summer) to discover the glory of the Wasatch Mountains, or absorb the city’s diverse culture by stopping by the Utah Museum and Temple Square. 

Other budget-friendly areas in Salt Lake City include Liberty Park and the Downtown Farmers’ Market. You can also stay in budget hotels or hostels that cater to your needs.

10. Phoenix, Arizona

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Phoenix, Arizona isn’t just a luxurious escape; it offers incredible desert adventures and urban excitement at affordable prices. Hike scenic trails on Camelback Mountain, see botanical wonders at the Desert Botanical Garden, or visit the vibrant downtown art scene.

You can experience Phoenix’s natural beauty and cultural heritage for free at Papago Park and the Arizona Capitol Museum. Plus, cheap hotels and vacation rentals make Phoenix the ideal budget-friendly adventure.

11. Savannah, Georgia

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Savannah, Georgia, is another affordable U.S. destination. Though this green southern city has lavish architecture, it doesn’t cost much money to visit.

You can visit several places for free, like Forsyth Park and Chippewa Square, where the bus scene from Forrest Gump took place (although the bench has been removed). You can also spend a day on Tybee Island, an accessible beach with free entrance. You only need to pay for food at various cafes and seafood restaurants. 

12. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe New Mexico Skyline MSN
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Don’t let Santa Fe’s fancy plaza and upscale shops fool you. This vacation spot offers hidden spots for budget-conscious travelers. There are many ways to explore Santa Fe, New Mexico, for free or a little fee.

For instance, you can hike through the Dale Ball Trails for free and enjoy the stunning mountain views. You can also appreciate the beauty of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden for $10 for adults outside Mexico and $9 for in-state adults. You can also tour city landmarks for free, like the New Mexico State Capitol (where you can admire the Capitol Art Collection) and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the oldest church in Santa Fe.

13. Memphis, Tennessee

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Memphis, Tennessee, is famous for its unique musical history and excellent barbecue, making it one of the best destinations for budget travel. You can visit the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll in Sun Studio or Stax Museum of American Soul Music and pay homage to the music legends. 

Moreover, Memphis’ Beale Street features a fantastic ambiance with bars and clubs playing live music. For affordable and delicious food, don’t forget to check out their local barbecues, such as Central BBQ or Cozy Corner Restaurant.

14. Charleston, South Carolina

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Charleston, South Carolina, is drenched in history and offers budget-friendly ways to experience its magic. One option is to take a free walking tour led by passionate guides who narrate the city’s past and uncover details about its architectural wonders.

Furthermore, you can visit the open-air Charleston City Market, which has an unrestricted view of local crafts and traditional Gullah food. Meals in Charleston’s cafes or restaurants are inexpensive, with portions generous enough to share.

15. Burlington, Vermont

Burlington Vermont skyline MSN
Burlington Vermont skyline MSN

Burlington, Vermont, offers an exciting blend of outdoor adventures, cultural exploration, and delicious foods—all at reasonable prices. You can also indulge in farm-to-table cuisine at affordable restaurants.

On top of that, you can enjoy the fresh breeze while strolling along the waterfront or window-shop at the local urban stores and art galleries in the Church Street Marketplace for free.

16. Boise, Idaho

Idaho State Capitol Building in Boise Idaho MSN
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Boise, Idaho, located in the scenic Treasure Valley, is perfect for people who like to combine city recreation and outdoor activities. You can walk through the city center full of shopping malls, museums, galleries, and local shops.

Once a month, they even host free walking tours that you can join (registration required). You can also visit the Morrison Knudsen Nature Center for free, where there is always some local wildlife to spot.

17. Providence, Rhode Island

Skyline of Provdence Rhode Island MSN
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Providence, Rhode Island, is the perfect destination for history buffs and foodies who want to discover the city for free. Visit the East Side, home to Brown University, to see lanes of houses turned boutiques.

Hungry after your walk? Providence is known for its food scene, so you can take a sample of local specialties or grab a bite without burning a hole in your wallet. If you want something livelier and free, join WaterFire, a fun and popular event in downtown Providence. It has no controlled seating or a VIP section, so arrive early for the best seat.

18. Lexington, Kentucky

Aerial view of Lexington Kentucky MSN
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Lexington, Kentucky is a budget-friendly getaway where you can experience Southern hospitality, see distinct breeds of horses, and celebrate American bourbon culture. Don’t miss the local distilleries, horse farms, and historic mansions.

You can also have fun for an $18 entrance fee at the Kentucky Horse Park or the outdoor Lexington Art League. Instead of splurging at restaurants, you can enjoy fried chicken, hot browns (Lexington’s signature sandwiches), and bourbon-infused desserts just around the corner.

19. Boulder, Colorado

Boulder Colorado at night MSN
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Boulder, Colorado, is perfect for those with a low travel budget. Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, the city offers many accommodation options, various outdoor activities, and cultural events. 

You can also explore the busy downtown streets, lined with boutiques, eateries, and countless bars. Chautauqua Park has free admission and features adventurous trails and scenery, come with the shuttle to avoid parking fees. Parks and reserves in the vicinity are also often free and allow outdoor activities like biking and rock climbing.

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