Get ready, get set – get out there and have fun, because summer is finally here! If you are like a whopping 85% of Americans, you’re planning at least one family vacation this year – but you don’t want to break the bank to do it.
Luckily, the U.S. boasts a plethora of cities that offer captivating experiences and affordable options for budget-conscious travelers. Here are seven destinations that promise an unforgettable journey without straining your wallet:
1. San Antonio, Texas: History, Hispanic Culture and Tex-Mex Delights
San Antonio is a city brimming with history, a vibrant culture and absolutely mouthwatering cuisine. It’s also a fantastic destination for budget-conscious travelers.
No visit to San Antonio is complete without exploring the iconic Alamo (of course), where you can step backward in time for a moment to the state’s frontier days. Meanwhile, the River Walk is a picturesque promenade lined with restaurants, shops and entertainment options. Enjoying the lively atmosphere is completely free, and you can pack a picnic to savor by the river – or pick up some authentic Tex-Mex cuisine at affordable prices.
If you’re a nature enthusiast, visit the scenic San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which encompasses four historic Spanish missions. These beautifully preserved sites offer free guided tours and provide insight into the city’s colonial history.
2. Charleston, South Carolina: Historic Charm and Romance
Charleston is a city steeped in equal parts history and Southern hospitality, offering a captivating experience for budget travelers – and it’s perfect for a little romance!
Start your journey with a stroll along the cobblestone streets of the city’s historic district, admiring the well-preserved antebellum architecture, and check out the stunning views of the harbor. Just don’t forget to hire a carriage tour so that you can see all the city’s most famous sites, including Fort Sumter National Monument, which marks the location where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
For a taste of local culture, explore the historic Charleston City Market, where you can browse a variety of artisanal crafts and sample true Lowcountry cuisine, including Huguenot tortes and she-crab soup.
3. Lexington, Kentucky: Bluegrass Charm and Southern Hospitality
Nestled in the very heart of Kentucky, Lexington exudes Southern charm, a rich history and equestrian traditions.
Even if you are a tourist in your own town, you can easily immerse yourself in the city’s horse country heritage with a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park, which features museums, horse shows and guided trail rides. You can also delve into Lexington’s vibrant arts and culture scene by visiting the Lexington Opera House and the Lexington Art League. Both venues offer affordable events and exhibits showcasing local talent.
History enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the Mary Todd Lincoln House and the Ashland estate, the former home of Henry Clay, while nature lovers can visit the Arboretum, a 100-acre garden perfect for a leisurely stroll or a picnic.
The Bluegrass State is known for its hospitality – and its bourbon, so you may want to find a way for just the adults in your group to sneak off for a while on a trip to one of the local distilleries for a little “research.” (After all, Woodford Reserve is now a National Historic Landmark, so it counts!)
4. Kansas City, Missouri: A Haven for Barbecue and Jazz Enthusiasts
Kansas City is a hidden gem for budget travelers seeking culinary delights and a vibrant music scene. Known as the “Barbecue Capital of the World” and the place where “jazz grew up,” this city offers an abundance of attractions – so head on down to 18th and Vine, the city’s number one spot to explore.
Indulge in mouthwatering barbecue at local joints such as Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, where you can savor delicious meats and savory sauces at affordable prices. Explore the American Jazz Museum and learn about the city’s rich musical heritage and its influence on the Blues. On weekends, enjoy free outdoor concerts at the adjacent Blue Room jazz club.
In addition to its culinary and musical offerings, Kansas City boasts beautiful parks and free attractions. Spend a day exploring the expansive Loose Park or take a leisurely stroll through the historic Country Club Plaza, where more than 100 shops and restaurants have been carefully curated for maximum fun.
5. Portland, Oregon: Quirky Culture and Natural Splendors
Portland combines a unique culture, breathtaking natural landscapes all around and an emphasis on sustainability, making it an ideal budget-friendly destination for eco-conscious travelers.
Begin your adventure at Washington Park, which offers free admission and features attractions like the Japanese Garden and the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum. Then, spend some time checking out the vintage shops and nifty boutiques on Hawthorn, or head over to the Alberta Arts District for a range of bars, restaurants and artist encounters.
Whatever you do, though, don’t skip Powell’s City of Books – it’s the largest independent bookstore in the world, and you can’t pass up a chance to get lost in its aisles.
6. Indianapolis, Indiana: A Blend of History, Sports and Midwestern Culture
Known for its vibrant sports scene and rich history, Indianapolis surprises visitors with its affordable attractions and diverse cultural offerings. If you are a Hoosier native, there are plenty of opportunities for you to be a tourist in Indy.
Begin your exploration by visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, home to the iconic Indy 500 race. Here, racing enthusiasts can marvel at a vast collection of race cars and memorabilia. Then, embrace the city’s history and art scene with a visit to the Indiana State Museum and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Renowned for its expansive collection of periods and styles, the art museum offers free admission to its outdoor garden and select exhibits.
For a taste of nature in the heart of the city, head to White River State Park, which offers scenic walking paths, green spaces and outdoor concert venues. The Canal Walk, a three-mile loop along the downtown, provides an opportunity for a leisurely stroll or bike ride – as well as tons of opportunities for fine food and casual shopping.
7. Asheville, North Carolina: Nature, the Arts and Mountain Charm
Nestled in the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, art lovers and foodies, while still remaining a fun and budget-friendly spot.
Experience the breathtaking beauty of the mountains by exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway, which offers stunning hiking trails and beautiful picnic areas. If you prefer a little local color, visit the River Arts District, where you can browse studios and galleries and add to your collection of original (but reasonably priced) art.
Asheville is also renowned for its craft beer scene, with dozens of small breweries offering affordable tours and tastings, and the city is known as a veritable “foodtopia” among a lot of culinary types because of the wide variety of offerings.
This summer, be adventurous in your stateside travels. We hope that you get out there and explore – because this nation really does have some fascinating places to offer!