Only a few of us can take a vacation that includes a private jet and a 15-course chef’s tasting menu at a top restaurant. For the rest of us, we have to make the most of our budget when we travel. But that’s no reason to skimp. Here are 8 ideas for cheap vacations in the US – and how to make your dollar go a long way in each one.
Museum madness: Washington, DC
Price-wise you can’t do any better than free, and in Washington, DC, some of the best museums don’t cost a dime. Along the National Mall you’ll find ten Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol Building. Free admission to these museums means you can save your money for the Newseum or International Spy Museum. Stretch your dollar by staying at The Embassy Row Hotel, where off-season rates can be a steal.
An art escape: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Creative types make note: Santa Fe is it. Artists draw inspiration from the nearby mountains and 1.6-million acre National Forest, filling the town’s 250 galleries with works. Don’t neglect the culinary creativity of Santa Fe either; hit the Santa Fe Margarita Trail (with 31 stops) and sample some of the earthy, chile-laden cuisine of Northern New Mexico at Tia Sophia’s and El Parasol, where you can feast for under $10. And if you want to save on your room, try a Route 66 classic like the El Rey Inn.
Island isolation: Put-in-Bay, Ohio
An island getaway in Ohio? Indeed. Put-in-Bay sits in Lake Erie just a few miles from the Canadian border and it may just be Ohio’s best-kept secret. Midwesterners are notorious for frugality, and they love Put-in-Bay for its views, the killer fishing, and all the hiking, biking, kayaking and swimming. Accessible only by boat – bring your own or take the Miller Ferry – it’s the kind of place where you can book a B&B for as little as $100 a night in summer.
Back to nature: the Appalachian Mountains, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains are a wild and beautiful part of the state. As well as holding 230 miles of the Appalachian Trail, they're also home to several state parks and forests – including Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the trail’s mid-way point. Outdoor activities abound here, and one of the best places to make the most of them is Buck Valley Ranch. Surrounded by 2,000 acres of state game land laced with hiking and biking trails, the property is also close to the C&O Canal Trail and Potomac River if you want a long ride or a day on the water.
Big-city cool: San Francisco
To see San Francisco on a budget, visit in the fall or late spring and you'll find that both the weather is good and the hotels are cheaper. This city was made to be explored on foot, and there are numerous fascinating neighborhoods to discover, from hectic Chinatown to quirky Haight Ashbury– check out our two-day itinerary for starters. And don't forget the best free activity in San Francisco: people watching.
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Foodie delights: Denver, Colorado
After a day in Denver, you’ll be ready to move here. Now that you’ve been warned, know that dining in the Mile High City can cost you a pretty penny, but it doesn’t have to. Visiting a spot like Avanti Food & Beverage, a European-style food hall, will give you some big bargains. The fried chicken sandwich at The Regional, Brava! Pizzeria’s margherita pizza and the overstuffed arepa from Quiero Arepas will all fill you up without setting you back. At dinner, splurge and head to Rioja, an outstanding restaurant where your money will be well spent.
Unbridled hedonism: Las Vegas
Typically you don’t see “Las Vegas” and “cheap” together, but keep in mind that “cheap” is a relative term. To do Las Vegas right, you’ll need to spend a little money, but if you plan carefully it might not be as much as you'd think. Check out our list of the best places to stay, keep an eye out for package deals (including freebies like meals and fully stocked mini-bars) and get the Pocket Rough Guide to Las Vegas for the low-down on which shows, buffets and bars are really worth the splurge.
Hiking and biking: Bar Harbor, Maine
It might not be in Acadia National Park, but just a mile from the boundary, Bar Harbor overlooks a rugged bit of seashore that’s beyond picturesque. In town you’ll find all the clam chowder and lobster rolls you need to complete your Maine getaway, while $25 gets you a one-week pass into the park, where hiking is plentiful and free. Spend just a little more, and you can rent bikes or book sea kayaking tours.