Looking for an affordable yet still incredibly memorable weekend getaway? Here are twenty of the best places to enjoy and to explore in the U.S. for just a few quick days. So the next time you find yourself short on time and money-- but still desperately needing a break from work, kids, and life in general-- take a look at this handy dandy collection of fine end-of-the-week destinations. We present the top cities for weekend warriors on a budget to explore.
Weekend Travel on a Budget: 20 Top Cities for the Ultimate Getaway
1. Boston, Massachusetts
Home to the nation’s oldest running eatery, oldest running bar, and the best places to savor New England seafood like oysters, lobster, clams, and of course, piping hot Clam Chowder, the city is packed with a tremendous amount of U.S. history and culture—all within a fairly concise area. There’s The Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half mile long redbrick walking path taking visitors past sixteen historic Revolutionary War era sites, America’s first public park, and the Boston Commons. For coastal lovers, there is always the Back Bay neighborhood, where both waterfront and downtown can easily be explored on foot. Plus, there are the city’s amphibious Duck Tours as well as the North End, which remains, to this day, one of the best-preserved Italian enclaves in the country. Taking a nice stroll along Hanover Street is also a must. Simply said, Boston’s got it all.
2. San Francisco, California
Unforgettable Victorian architecture, gorgeous waterfronts, classic cable cars, and high-rolling hills make up this charming Northern California town— one that’s chock full of vibrantly unique neighborhoods to explore (i.e. Chinatown), deliciously mouth-watering treats to sample (i.e. clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl), knock out botanical gardens (i.e. Golden Gate Park), as well as a whole bunch of free concerts and hands-on activities to relish in for a weekend. S.F. is the place to go for just a couple days of down time.
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3. Denver, Colorado
The best thing about this earthy city is its ample amounts of crisp, fresh mountain air that is always offered. The Colorado capital tops the list for nature lovers looking to embark on some outdoorsy pursuits and great day trips. Plus, there are tons of things to do around town that won’t cost a single dime. There’s no charge, for instance, to check out the dino-track-filled Dinosaur Ridge (which is a National Natural Landmark) or the Denver Zoo, the Denver Art Museum, and various breathtaking hiking/bike trails. There are also numerous National Parks, ski resorts, major sports stadiums, and other attractions spread all throughout—not to mention a booming array of tourist-friendly breweries and eateries to choose from. What’s more is that it’s super pet-friendly and has mild temperatures year-round, making this Mile High City an ideal value vacation spot for those seeking a cosmopolitan city and a Rocky Mountain getaway all in one.
4. San Diego, California
A massive city with small town flair, it’s really easy to relax and enjoy some of the nation’s best beaches and weather at this Californian favorite. Plus, unlike its northern neighbors, Los Angeles and San Francisco, bargains and deals come a plenty in this Pacific oceanfront town, especially within the endless shops, eateries, and entertainment options dotting the stunning shoreline. Surfing, biking, and in-line skating are also hugely popular in the area for people and dogs alike—both are always welcome in the city’s biggest attractions: its world-renowned zoo, sibling safari park, and theme parks LEGOLAND and Sea World. S to the D also offers an incredible range of hostels that are sure to appeal to young, budget-savvy travelers who are looking to vacation in comfort without breaking the bank. So pack up those bags and go!
5. Scottsdale, Arizona
All year round, this desert town has something fantastic to offer: Visit in the windy months to enjoy warm sunny days, or in the autumn to avoid less crowds but still enough Arizona desert sun, spas, and golf courses to keep you satisfied. Summers boast especially cheap prices and high temperatures, while winters, though a tad bit pricier, allow visitors to flee from the snow to take on a much more inviting end-of-the-year scene. What’s more is that it’s only a six-hour drive from Los Angeles, making it the perfect way to spend that needed three-day-long weekend sans all the planning and stress.
6. Columbus, Ohio
From quiet country spots with relaxing spas to golf courses and hiking trails, Ohio has a bunch of awesome weekend escapes to choose from all within a short drive-- especially in its capital and largest city, Columbus, a hotbed for cheap festivals and a treasure trove of famous attractions, food vendors, and nice vacation rentals that all fall way below national norms. The advantages of vacationing in an offbeat locale such as this one is clearly evident— so head on over to Columbus for fewer crowds, lower prices, and weekends filled with culture, art, music, and a whole lot of fun.
7. Newport Beach, California
A seaside haven with great shopping, a choice of beautiful rentals, and many leisure activities, this resort-filled town is perfect for those wanting to get away from all the L.A. madness for just a few days. Scenic beach views, affordable mountain hideaways, relaxing spas or golf resorts, kid-friendly art galleries, and noteworthy outdoor cafes dot this Californian coastal town-- which is super easy to explore on foot and the perfect weekend getaway for hopeless romantics looking to cuddle up on secluded sands all while watching a colorful sunset and savoring a delicious meal at an ocean view restaurant. During the summers, it’s even possible to sneak a peek at some migrating whales right from the heart of the beach.
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8. Las Vegas, Nevada
Whether you are looking for a luxury weekend filled with shopping, fine wine and dining--- or you are traveling on more of a tight budget, there is plenty to choose from in this entertainment capital of the Western hemisphere. Filled with clubs, bars, casinos, shopping venues, days spas, mouth-watering buffets, as well as other jaw-dropping attractions and thrilling rides, this party center city is the place to head towards for some wild, over-the-top, but still affordable fun. You’ll be absolutely fine just as long as you stay far away from those money-hungry gaming tables!
9. Santa Barbara, California
Just an hour and a half from Los Angeles, this one’s famous for its beautiful beaches and scenic views of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Weekend activities include wine tasting, biking, kayaking, art museum visits, and of course, chilling out on that oh so wonderful beach. Transportation is also a breeze in this little seaside town where it’s always easy to get around on foot or by bike. It’s often referred to as the American Riviers, and along with some sweet dining options, the city also is home to several fantastic area rentals, including the ultra-romantic El Encanto and the celebrity-filled San Ysidro Ranch.
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10. New Orleans, Louisiana
It really is the most European city in the United States and is famous for its live music and fabulous food-- both of which can be found in abundance at the array of often-free festivals, such as the French Quarter Festival in the spring or seafood-focused Oak Street Po-Boy Festival in the fall. Other main attractions include the high-octane French Quarter and the low-octane Garden District, as well as a myriad of museums and galleries within the Warehouse District.
Visitors to New Orleans save big when it comes to entertainment and transportation. Street performers dot the streets year-round in the Big Easy, while world famous street cars, riverboat cruises, and swamp tours offer various pleasant but wallet-friendly ways to get across the area. NOLA is the perfect getaway for some quick partying, some nice people-watching, and some of that good old Southern charm.
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11. New York City, NY
Sure, the Big Apple may be well-known for some ridiculously astronomical prices, but this art, fashion, music, theatre, and finance capital of the world also happens to offer more free-things-to-do than any other major American city. Seriously.
There’s the year-round family-favorite American Museum of Natural History (with its awe-inspiring life-size blue whale models, dinosaur fossils on the top floor, and interactive Discovery Room) or the High Line, a uniquely elevated park that hosts storytelling and sculpture-making programs for little ones (it created out of an abandoned stretch of railroad track, how cool is that?!). There are also, of course, those infamous NYC parks offering free movies, concerts, and tasty snacks, as well as some nicely appointed hotel bargain rates and plenty of iconic architecture to help you further experience the vibrant culture permeating each of the city's distinctive neighborhoods and boroughs. Also be sure to check out the multitude of wallet-friendly indie boutiques, iconic bakeries, and trendy coffee shops. This urban jungle is flourishing with things to do and sights to see—it is, after all the city that never sleeps.
12. Kansas City, Missouri
Sightseeing is easy and breezy with free admission into most of the city’s main art museums (after 3pm), some fun factory-style tours (the Hallmark Visitors Center, the Harley-Davidson Plant, and the Boulevard Brewing Company), as well as the Kaleidoscope, a kid-friendly art studio geared towards fostering creative expression. Art aficionados should also visit the seventy-plus galleries within the Crossroads Arts District and take part in KC’s annual Plaza Art Fair and BBQ Blaze Off.
And speaking of hot treats-- easily continue those savings during mealtimes, especially with the budget-friendly but absolutely scrumptious, classic slow-smoked barbecue that’s widely available. Simply said, this Midwest hotspot is booming with culture, art, and cuisine. Plus, since it’s smack dab in the middle of the country, traveling never takes too long from any destination.
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13. Outer Banks/Raleigh, North Carolina
The Outer Banks is one of the best wallet-friendly weekend beach getaways imaginable—just as long as you choose to stay in a vacation rental home and skip the expensive restaurants. Exploring the beaches, of course, is always completely free, and because the islands in the area are so narrow, most houses are within a quick minute or two from the waterfront, which makes transportation all the more easy and affordable. There are also a range of free cultural attractions around town, such as The North Carolina Museum of Art, a two-building campus with a major modern collection and a 164-acre art park, as well as a number of local bars and microbreweries offering no-cost tours. The state museums of history, natural science, and sport also don’t cost a penny to get into. Plus, North Carolina city’s airfare and dining prices are all below national average.
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14. Riverside, California
Those wanting to dodge the often-hefty prices offered in the City of Angels should definitely consider going just sixty or so miles east towards Riverside, where accommodation costs less and the average restaurant bill is a whopping fifteen dollars lower. Compared to L.A., this just-off-the-map little town is an affordable but still centrally located base camp for travelers looking to explore SoCal-- plus L.A., Long Beach, and Huntington Beach are only a rough hour or so away. The vineyards of Temecula Valley also lie just 45 minutes south and Disneyland is a mere forty minutes away – practically around the corner by Los Angeles traffic standards.
As for the underrated city itself, Riverside boasts a ballet, a performing arts center, as well as a state historic park complete with groves, exhibits, and an interpretive trail preserving the area's citrus-growing heritage. Make sure to relish in all the cheap lodging and dining options after enjoying the park and to take a ride down the I-10 to revel in some other fabulous nearby sights.
15. Philadelphia, PA
It’s the birthplace of this country’s democracy-- and has mastered both high and low culture with equal accessibility throughout the centuries. The City of Brotherly Love hosts the Liberty Bell (free admission!) as well as the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris at Philly’s recently renovated Rodin Museum. Those wanting to get a little tipsy should visit the array of perfect microbreweries by taking the free weekend tours at either Yards Brewing Company or Philadelphia Brewing Company, which both offer lots and lots of samples.
All in all, the home of the famous cheesesteak and soft salted pretzel is a cheap alternative for those wanting to head off to the Northeast—without spending as much as they would in say, NYC. It’s packed full with historical sites, fun street eats, buck-friendly public transportation options, cozy hostels, and of course, a BYOB policy at many restaurants (due to expensive liquor licenses) which make taking a trip to P-city all the more crazy and fun.
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16. San Antonio, Texas
The Texan hotspot has always had an abundance of free attractions—such as all five of the city’s historic missions as well as the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. It’s also become more eco-friendly throughout the years, especially along the Mission Reach section of the famous River Walk, a fifteen-mile stretch of urban ecosystem restoration where adventure seekers can rent bicycles (through B-Cycles) for just $10 a day. Plus, with more than 3 million tourists annually, the home of the Alamo is also infused with tons of South of the Border culture-- bursting with fine Tex-Mex cuisine, Mardi Gras, and marketplaces that are sure to bring out the inner fiesta in you. The city is especially nice during the latter, cooler parts of the year, particularly around Christmastime, when cheap holiday eats such as tamales are always on the grab n’go.
Browse rentals in San Antonio!
17. Charleston, South Carolina
Topping the list for fine but still affordable dining, this southern city is brimming with award-winning chefs, heirloom bakers, and artisan food purveyors that can fulfill all your culinary dreams-- and for a reasonable forty or so bucks. Be sure to join the Culinary Tours of Charleston as well as to take an early evening ride on the Schooner Pride, a three-mast wooden ship that takes you past Civil War landmarks, barrier islands, and a beautiful harbor sunset. What’s more is that the city has consistently ranked number one on the list for best romantic getaways, as well as in the top five for superb girlfriend getaways.
18. Tampa, Florida
Just think of this one as a much cheaper Gulf Coast alternative to Miami. With cruise ships, beaches, and an enviable arts scene, the city is also teeming with ethnic diversity—offering everything from good cigars and Cuban sandwiches to free main street tours of its famous Latin District. The Ybor City nightlife district near 7th Avenue is also a must see, as well as the massive Straz performing arts center and The Dali Museum in neighboring St. Petersburg. It’s historic, it’s colorful, and an all-around budget friendly Florida weekend getaway destination.
19. Cape Ann, Massachusetts
For a true (and more affordable) taste of New England, skip Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod and head on over to this quintessential little town. Not only will you have much more left in your wallet, but you’ll also experience a truly authentic by-the-cape charm that no other tourist trap can readily offer. Get up with the sun to check out the action on the Gloucester Docks, the oldest port dedicated to fishing in America. Feeling a little hungry? Why not sample some local cuisine by strolling over to the famous Woodman's Restaurant, which was the very spot that invented fried clams just over a hundred years ago in 1916.
There’s are also ample chances to bask in the glorious sun at Singing Beach, a hidden treasure sitting right below towering cliffs dotted all throughout with teetering seaside mansions. Plus, if you're really on a tight budget, there’s no need to spend money on gas-- this affordable Massachusetts getaway favorite is located forty miles north of Boston and is a quick stop on any commuter rail.
20. Phoenix, Arizona
This one has long been a destination for sun-tan seekers and golden bronze golf fanatics, as well as a surprisingly huge younger (and much paler) crowd thanks to its four major sports teams, half a dozen big-name museums, one of the world's most colorful, ecologically diverse deserts, and a highly lauded downtown restaurant scene brewing with delectable favorites that are sure to satisfy any craving—especially in desserts!
What’s more is that the city has ranked as one of the cheapest places to live, and as far as travel is concerned, is the cheapest major city in the U.S. to visit. Dining and flight costs fall way below the national average, and the city's ultra-affordable hotels charge seventeen percent less than comparable cities. Plus, with over three hundred sunny days per year, there's very little chance that your bucks will ever be wasted due to bad gloomy weather. Definitely sizzle-worthy indeed.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.