Heading out for that well-deserved vacation doesn’t always have to be a budget buster. With the tourism industry more competitive than ever, hoteliers and online travel sites attract more consumers through deep discounts for most every major destination in the country. Whether it’s a family with kids, the solo traveler or a young couple just starting out, cities across the nation offer plenty of options for a fabulous vacation experience without breaking the bank. The following are five of the best budget vacations in the U.S.
With an abundance of hotel rooms going for less than $100 even during the height of summer, Atlanta is one of the best budget destinations in the Deep South. What’s more, Atlanta has an excellent public transportation system with bus and rail service to all of the city’s top attractions, including the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and Centennial Park. Of course, there is nothing like experiencing southern hospitality when visiting one of the city’s top-rated downtown restaurants within your budget, like Lunacy Black Market, Park Bar and Poor Calvin’s Absolute Fusion. Other top local attractions to visit are the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, Turner Field and Georgia’s most popular attraction, Stone Mountain Theme Park, about 20 miles east of the state capital.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Not everyone who visits Vegas comes to gamble, take in world-class entertainment or frequent some of the country’s best nightclubs. While there is plenty of glitter and glitz, hotel rooms average around $90 in the world’s gambling capital and the list of possibilities for affordable dining seems endless. Due to stiff competition, local hotels offer discount rates practically year round, especially in downtown Las Vegas, where places such as the D Las Vegas, El Cortez Hotel and the Plaza Hotel may be booked for under $50. To entice gamblers and visitors, hotels along the strip offer budget prices for great food, such as the $1.99 shrimp cocktail at the Golden Gate Hotel, $6.99 steak dinner at Ellis Island Casino, sandwiches and salads for under $7 at Planet Hollywood’s Earl of Sandwich and Secret Pizza at the Cosmopolitan. For free entertainment, the Fall of Atlantis at Caesars, Fountains of Bellagio, the Fremont Street Experience, the Volcano at the Mirage and M&M’s World are all good choices.
Affordable hotels, cheap eats and low-cost iconic attractions all combine for an economical visit to Nashville. Boasting more than 37,000 rooms, Music City has a bevy of budget to mid-priced hotels, starting around $40 per night during the peak season. The city’s top attractions are all moderately priced and among the must-see attractions are the world famous Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Free self-guided walking tours or riding the free Music City Circuit bus service enables visitors to take in other top attractions like the Tennessee State Capitol, Military Museum, historic Music Row and Centennial Park, home to the world’s only full-scale reproduction of the Parthenon in Greece. At night, visitors can enjoy one of the many neon-lit “honky tonks”like the Bluebird Cafe, Legends Corner and Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for some low-cost dining and live entertainment.
Visiting Orlando’s top attractions like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando may not be cheap, but this popular tourist destination has a sizable share of low-cost attractions, hotels and eateries. During the summer months, advertised bookings for three star hotels start at below $40 per night, with top hotel chains like Hyatt, Aston and Marriott all offering rooms for less than $100. Of course, visiting Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are among the top draws and can quickly drive up costs on a budget vacation. If visiting the mega-resorts is a must, travelers should look for online deals from sources like AAA, MouseSavers and major credit card companies. But there are plenty of low- or no-cost activities to take in, like a free visit to Universal CityWalk and Downtown Disney/Boardwalk or a ride on the I-Ride Trolley for outlet shopping.
The beautiful City of Roses is easily one of the best affordable destinations in the Pacific Northwest. Portland has several options for low-cost accommodations from nearby campsites and RV parks to two star hotels starting at $50. Additionally, this bike-friendly city has one of the nation’s best public transportation systems, a vibrant downtown area that thrives with many low to moderately priced restaurants and perhaps best of all, there’s no sales tax for shopping throughout the state. Best bets for affordable attractions in Portland are the International Rose Test Garden, the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge with panoramic views of Mount Hood looming in the distance and downtown Portland. The city’s downtown is home to several top attractions, such as Powell’s City of Books in the Pearl District, Lan Su Chinese Garden in Old Town, Pioneer Square and the Portland Art Museum.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com.