The 40 Cheapest Places To Travel This Summer

The 40 cheapest places to travel this summer

There are iconic sights and bucket-list destinations across America that attract millions of visitors a year. But these high-traffic places also mean high prices.

If you or your travel companions are on a tight budget for your vacation, you can still experience world-class art, culture and natural wonders if you visit select U.S. cities this summer.

Whether they are inherently affordable, have plenty of free activities, or offer deals and discounts to summer travelers, these cities will be easy on your wallet without lacking stunning sights.

1. St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis has big-city amenities and attractions without the inflated big-city price. The Saint Louis Museum of Art is actually one of the largest fine arts museums in the country, and the Saint Louis Zoo, the Old Courthouse and the Museum of Westward Expansion (opening July 2018) have free admission. Entrance to the famous Gateway Arch is free for children and just $3 for adults. The Municipal Opera also offers more than 1,450 free seats to every performance of its summer season on a first-come, first-served basis.

2. Boise, Idaho

You might think Boise is all about potatoes, but as one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., it has an interesting, emerging food scene as well as multiple breweries and distilleries. Hike or bike the many nearby nature trails and parks, then unwind with a day pass at The Springs hot springs retreat for just $17 for adults. You can also experience another culture from across the world as Boise is home to the largest Basque community in the U.S.. Learn about their heritage at the Basque Museum & Cultural Center before heading to a tapas restaurant.

3. Pompano Beach, Florida

Just north of Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach offers the same amazing ocean access with hotels for a fraction of the cost of those in other Florida hotspots like Fort Lauderdale, Miami or West Palm Beach, according to Money. On top of beach activities, Pompano Beach offers access to coral reefs and shipwrecks fit for beginner snorkelers and scuba divers. The city's 1,000-foot-long fishing pier is a great spot to spend the day fishing, while experienced anglers have amazing access to sport fishing for kingfish, sailfish, wahoo and more.

4. Glacier National Park, Montana

Summertime is the best time to visit Glacier National Park. Often underrated compared to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, Glacier offers exquisite natural sights along 700 miles of trails with milder mountain temperatures and fewer crowds. According to Insider, June is the best time to visit because of the weather and because lodging rates are at their lowest of the season. For those choosing to camp, a seven-day park permit is just $30.

5. Chicago, Illinois

Despite being the third-biggest city in the country, Chicago can be quite affordable compared to NYC or LA. The Windy City has tons of free activities in the summer, and both airfare and hotel rates have gotten cheaper in recent years, partly due to increased expansion and competition among airlines in hub cities, according to CNN. Visit "the Bean" sculpture and Millennium Park, Lincoln Park Zoo, Grant Park's Buckingham Fountain, the Chicago Cultural Center and the beaches along Lake Michigan, all for free. Millennium Park hosts free concerts throughout the summer, including a Gospel Music Festival and Jazz Festival, and different Chicago parks host free movie screenings all summer long.

6. Monterey, California

Monterey, inside the Big Sur stretch of California's coast, gives you affordable access to the West Coast's natural beauty and marine wildlife. Watch sea lions lounge at Fisherman's Wharf before setting out on the Path of History, a two-mile stretch dotted with 55 historic buildings dating back to Spanish times, some of which you can tour for free. Monterey also sits along the Pacific Coast Highway as well as the famous 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, two drives with priceless views. Hostels and B&Bs offer affordable lodging, while boutique hotels also offer deals.

7. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indiana's state capital makes for an inexpensive family vacation thanks to its affordable attractions. Its children's museum is the largest in the world, and on select days during the summer youth tickets are just $5 if you buy in advance. Take a tour of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the highest-capacity sports venue in the world, which is free for children 5 and under, as is the IMS Museum, home to a large collection of racing and automobile memorabilia.

8. Savannah, Georgia

The historical city of Savannah has gotten cheaper to travel to in recent years, thanks to increased air service and expanded hotels, according to Thrillist. Dripping with Spanish moss and Southern charm, Savannah has a vibrant food scene, interesting architecture and is the birthplace of the Girl Scouts. If you have an active scout in your family, they'll get a badge for visiting.

9. Asbury Park, New Jersey

For an affordable Jersey Shore getaway, check out Asbury Park. According to Insider, the town is thriving post-Hurricane Sandy, with brand-new arcades, music venues and bars along the historic boardwalk. Even cross-country flights here won't break the bank, and according to, Asbury Park has the most affordable vacation rental rates in New Jersey.

10. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Scorching summer temperatures in New Mexico might deter some travelers, but that means you can score a deal on a great destination. Explore Albuquerque's rich Spanish and Native American history in the Old Town district and at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and San Felipe de Neri Church, all accessible by Albuquerque's bus system. Cheer on the cleverly named minor league baseball team the Isotopes, or take in a cheap or free summer concert at the Albuquerque Museum of Art & History or the ABQ BioPark and Zoo.

11. Mt. Hood, Oregon

The Mt. Hood area outside Portland is a heaven for outdoor adventure. Home to North America's only ski resort open year-round, it also has thousands of miles of trails and waterways for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and whitewater rafting. For just $20, families can appreciate the area's history and rural charm as they grind corn, wash laundry on a washboard and build a log cabin like pioneers at Philip Foster Farm. You can also visit a variety of family farms in the Mt. Hood area, nicknamed the Fruit Loop, that allow you to pick your own fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs or simply stroll through fields of dahlias, tulips and lavender.

12. Hot Springs, Arkansas

The town of Hot Springs developed because of its proximity to its namesake, which first gained federal protection way back in 1832. One of the smallest national parks and the oldest protected by the National Park Service, Hot Spring National Park along with the town of Hot Springs is known as "The American Spa." The scenic area offers hikes and historic tours as well as places to soak in a pool or take a traditional bath with 143-degree water from the springs.

13. Des Moines, Iowa

The Iowa State Fair in Des Moines is "the" state fair in the U.S. It was the setting of the book "State Fair," plus the musical and four movie adaptations. Check out the fair during its August run to see hundreds of its famous food competitions. Des Moines has a lot to offer outside of fried Twinkies. The Des Moines Art Center features works from iconic artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, while the 15-mile Great Western Trail toward Cumming as well as the 1,500-acre Waterworks park offer beautiful places to ride a rented bike.

14. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Part of the Great Lakes region, Minneapolis has 22 lakes located within the city limits, as well as miles of pedestrian and bike paths to enjoy the view. The Twin Cities are famous for their recent brewery boom, and many of them offer free tours with free samples of their products. You don't have to go on a shopping spree to enjoy the enormous Mall of America. The world-class Minneapolis Institute of Art is free, as is the striking Walker Sculpture Garden, where you can take a free self-guided tour before heading into the Walker Art Center, which is free for kids 18 and under.

15. San Antonio, Texas

Many of San Antonio's iconic sights, including the Alamo and the Riverwalk, are free to explore. So are the Mercado, the San Antonio Museum of Art and the McNay Art Museum. U.S. News and World Report considers it one of the most affordable summer destinations in the country because you can find reasonable hotel room rates despite it being a popular Texas destination.

16. Ludington, Michigan

A cheap way to take a beach vacation without ridiculous oceanfront hotel rates is to holiday on the white-sand beaches of the Great Lakes. According to Forbes, the small town of Ludington is one such relaxing, affordable destination that has seaside charm with the Big Sable Lighthouse and a mom-and-pop ice cream shop. Free movies play in the park in the month of August. It also offers proximity to outdoor activities in Manistee National Forest and Ludington State Park.

17. Las Vegas, Nevada

If you play your cards right, you can score a cheap trip to Las Vegas this summer. Hotels and casinos offer great deals if you're able to travel during the week. Plus, there are tons of free things to do and see simply walking the strip and exploring casino hotels. The fountains at the Bellagio put on a choreographed water show, the MGM Grand has a lion habitat, and the Venetian's shopping area is modeled after Venice, complete with canals and opera singers and stilt walkers roaming the walkways.

18. Lexington, Kentucky

This affordable Southern city is rich in charm and culture. It's a great place to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, as seven distilleries are in the Lexington area. The walkable downtown area also features stops along the Brewgrass Trail for those who want to mix things up with some brewery tours. The Lexington Cemetery is a beautiful arboretum where you can take a free stroll, while taking the free "Big Lex" mural scavenger hunt is a fun challenge as well as a great way to see the city's eye-catching street art.

19. Snowmass, Colorado

Colorado is a great place to find summer deals because many ski resort towns offer off-season discounts. Plus, Colorado has as much natural beauty in the summer as in the winter. Snowmass has 80 miles of trails suitable for all levels of hikers and bikers and offers easy access to rental gear and group and private lessons to those wanting to learn. Snowmass hosts a weekly free Summer Concert Series. Admission to the Ice Age Discovery Center is free, while the town's weekly rodeo is free for kids 10 and under.

20. Gulf Shores, Alabama

You can find affordable vacation rentals in Gulf Shores, alongside 32 miles of sugar-sand beaches ideal for swimming in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This lesser-known vacation destination has calm waters and tides that don't change very much, as well as three main public beaches with lifeguards on duty, according to TripAdvisor, making it an extremely family-friendly spot.

21. Washington, D.C.

Travel + Leisure readers recently voted the nation's capital as their favorite city for affordable attractions, which makes perfect sense considering many D.C. sights, such as the Smithsonian museums and National Zoo, are free. On top of history and museums, D.C. offers free music as well, notably the Jazz in the Garden free Friday shows in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and Jazz on a Summer's Eve on Sundays at Hill Center.

22. Phoenix, Arizona

Summer temperatures in Phoenix can crack triple-digits. While this might scare away many vacationers, it ensures a great deal for savvy travelers. According to Huffington Post, ritzy resorts like the Four Seasons rent rooms for extra-low rates in the summer — and the heat isn't so bad when swimming in a five-star pool or unwinding at the spa. The Desert Botanical Garden offers nighttime tours by flashlight during the summer so you can see night-blooming plants as well as other desert flora without being out in the heat of the day.

23. Lake George, New York

Lake George is a small upstate New York town near the Adirondack Mountains that combines nature with adventure activities and charming culture — all at a reasonable price. After lounging on one of its many free beaches, you can grab a drink at the Adirondack Brewery or the Adirondack Winery or take a ghost tour at the historic Fort William Henry Museum. Lake George also puts on a free fireworks show most Thursdays throughout July and August.

24. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

With an average hotel rate of $99 a night, according to Money, Oklahoma City can help you get your kicks for less green. A mix of cowboy and culture, the city has a little something for everyone. Many attractions are clustered downtown, so you could skip renting a car. Explore the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art to experience the city's past and present. Another fun and affordable family activity is attending a horse show. According to U.S. News and World Report, OKC is known as the Horse Show Capital of the World because it hosts more equine events than any other city.

25. Moab, Utah

Moab is like a two-for-one trip for lovers of the great outdoors because it borders two of Utah's Mighty Five national parks: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The area is perfect for taking in geological formations or going on an outdoor adventure by bike, horse, kayak, Jeep, raft or ATV. For a change of pace, visit the Moab Giants — more than 100 life-size model dinosaurs that are part of an interactive museum.

26. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Grand Rapids, Michigan, the state's second-largest city, has its history in furniture-making, but public art has been a core part of the city's evolution and its identity today. City Hall boasts the first work of public art in the United States funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Spend a day strolling through the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. The city's Heritage Hill district is comprised of 1,300 homes spanning a variety of American architectural styles, including the Meyer May house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which is free to tour. After a day of walking, kick back at one of the city's 40-plus craft breweries.

27. Raleigh, North Carolina

North Carolina's capital is dotted with public green spaces, affordable barbecue joints and museums with free admission. The latter feature has earned it the nickname "The Smithsonian of the South." The downtown bus system is free to ride around an area full of trendy shops and restaurants.

28. Greenville, South Carolina

Greenville has both a burgeoning food scene as well as affordable attractions to entertain you between meals, according to Travel + Leisure. There's Falls Park right at the center of town, and the 345-foot Liberty Bridge, which provides the perfect vantage point of the falls. Bike the 21-mile GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail or shop and take in more than 70 pieces of public art along Main Street. The city hosts plenty of free events throughout the summer, including weekly movies in the park, farmers markets, art exhibits and outdoor concerts.

29. Lake Powell, Arizona

Lake Powell, is a 186-mile lake that has the majesty of the Grand Canyon spread across 96 canyons. The lake actually has more shoreline than the entire West Coast, as well as access to awe-inspiring views such as Antelope Canyon and Rainbow Bridge, the world's largest natural bridge. The lake's shores aren't dotted with business, so both affordable and fun options are either camping or renting a houseboat with a group to traverse the area.

30. Alexandria, Virginia

According to Money, Alexandria is the top U.S. destination to visit in 2018 for travelers on a budget because the average hotel price is $140 a night, while airfare on average runs around $300 round-trip. D.C.'s oldest neighborhood is just a few miles from many of the capital's monuments for half the price. Alexandria also offers easy access to Mt. Vernon and Virginia wine country, while a free trolley provides access to the city's nearly 200 shops and restaurants along King Street.

31. Cleveland, Ohio

For a big city-getaway with arts and culture without LA or NYC prices, check out Cleveland, Ohio. Home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, music fans can also catch free concerts on Wade Oval Wednesdays and free concerts and conservatory student recitals at the Cleveland Institute of Music. The Cleveland Orchestra also offers free tickets at select concerts to children 18 and under. Cleveland has free downtown transportation as well as about 60 miles of walking, hiking and horseback riding trails around the city and green space along Lake Erie.

32. Biloxi, Mississippi

For a beach vacation that won't break the bank, hit up the Gulf town of Biloxi, Mississippi. The town is back and better than ever after being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Besides lounging on white sand beaches and playing in the warm waters, visitors can escape the sun at cultural landmarks such as the Beauvoir estate and Civil War museum and the Biloxi Lighthouse. Nearby casinos offer entertainment after dark as well as summer deals.

33. Santa Fe, New Mexico

With its unique and colorful art and food scene, Santa Fe has a cult following of fans who return to the city year after year. Whether you're a first-time or long-time visitor, you can see this jewel of the Southwest without dropping major dough. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum is free for children 18 and under, while the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian is free for Native Americans, active duty military during the summertime and for everyone every first Sunday of the month. Spend Saturday at the state's largest farmers' market. In July, check out the International Folk Art Market. Sante Fe also offers access to cooking classes, whitewater rafting, stargazing tours and more.

34. Bellingham, Washington

Just a few miles from the Canadian border, Bellingham is a peaceful yet vibrant town with amazing access to nature. It has many affordable B&Bs and can be reached via cheap direct flights from many major airports on Allegiant Air, according to Forbes. Stroll through the farmers market and historic Fairhaven Village and visit the pier at Boulevard Park. For outdoor fun, head to Mt. Baker or go on a whale watching trip on the Pacific.

35. Clear Lake, Iowa

Named a Great American Beach by USA Today, Clear Lake is a hidden gem with affordable accommodations from $35 a night motels to yurts, according to Forbes. Visit the Surf Ballroom and Museum, where Buddy Holly played his last show before the Day the Music Died. Hike through nine miles of trails in the Lime Creek Nature Center area, and enjoy the city's namesake lake on an authentic vintage paddle boat, charter a boat at sunset or simply take a swim in the shallow waters.

36. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Nicknamed Brew City, Milwaukee makes it free or cheap for beer-lovers to tour their favorite breweries and sip some samples. The iconic Milwaukee Art Museum is free for children 12 and under as well as free for everyone the first Thursday of every month. Milwaukee River has a 2-mile promenade lined with public art, and the free Sculpture Milwaukee installation lines Wisconsin Avenue with 20-plus works. To enjoy the outdoors, hit up Bradford Beach not far from downtown.

37. Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

The beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains meets a portal through time in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. The extremely affordable city sits in the middle of the Appalachian Trail and offers both casual nature-lovers and die-hard sportsmen hiking, fishing and whitewater rafting opportunities. The Harpers Ferry National Historical Park includes a district that re-creates the town from the 19th century and the important John Brown Museum and fort.

38. Annapolis, Maryland

U.S. News and World Report considers Annapolis a top cheap summer destination for history buffs. Home to the free U.S. Naval Academy (and plenty of tasty seafood), visitors can also take in City Dock, Ego Alley and St. Anne's Church for no charge and the historic area can be traversed by foot.

39. MidCoast, Maine

Maine is a popular summertime getaway, but if you venture away from the more traditional tourist destinations, you can get a great deal. Quaint villages in the MidCoast region offer more affordable food and lodging, allowing you to do and see more of Maine's natural beauty at Reid State Park and Popham Beach. As for events, the Maine Lobster Fest, held in August in Rockland, costs just $1 on opening day and $8 every other day for adults. Later that month, check out the Maine Highland Games in Topsham.

40. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg, Tennessee offers plenty of affordable accommodations, such as B&Bs, RV parks and cabin rentals, with access to priceless natural sights. Known as the Gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you can explore 850 miles of trails and unpaved road. The Gatlinburg Sky Lift and Aerial Tramway offers a birds-eye view of the sprawling park. The town's Music Trail gives you a glimpse of bluegrass history, while the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community Trail features the largest group of independent artisans in North America, according to USA Today.