For a fraction of Los Angeles prices, stay in Riverside, where you can enjoy its namesake, the Santa Ana River, or stop by LA or Huntington Beach after just an hour in the car. Not that you’ll necessarily want to leave Riverside, where you can enjoy gorgeous hike at Mount Rubidoux. Plus, don’t miss a free tour of California Citrus State Historic Park so you can sample fresh fruit while learning about the state’s citrus industry.
Atlanta, GeorgiaiStock/Sean Pavone
Barbecue fans will go crazy over Atlanta’s affordable food offerings. At Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q, you can enjoy a plate of pulled pork with bread and two sides (Brunswick stew or Frito pie, anyone?) for just $15. With no entry fee, you can explore the almost 35 acres of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site to see Dr. King’s birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and the Eternal Flame at the tomb of Dr. King and his wife. You’ll want to see Centennial Olympic Park too, past home of the 1996 Olympic Games and current home of the Fountain of Rings water show.
Minneapolis–Saint Paul, MinnesotaiStock/AndreyKrav
During a stay at the Twin Cities, you’ll have easy access to both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Take in the surprisingly fresh city air by enjoying its 20 lakes (including Lake Superior) and more than 200 miles of walking and biking trails. Drive just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, and you can window shop in the country’s largest mall, the Mall of America, which is also home to the nation’s largest indoor theme park. If you can’t resist pulling out your credit card, have no fear—there’s no sales tax on clothes or shoes in Minnesota.
San Antonio, TexasiStock/f11photo
The missions in San Antonio (including the Alamo) were declared a World Heritage site, and visiting the landmarks won’t cost you a dime. If you plan your trip for the first Friday of the month, you can also participate in one of We Run San Antonio’s no-fee pub-crawl run, which features a different theme like ’80s or beach party, every month.
Denver, ColoradoiStock/John Schmelzel
Fresh air lovers will have an easy time finding cheap activities in the Mile High City. You can visit the Coors brewery for a free tour of the biggest single-site brewery in the world, or sample craft beer at a local microbrewery. Buy a Mile High Culture Pass for $52.80 to get five days’ worth of unlimited access to five museums, a botanic garden, and a zoo, keeping your days full while you get cultured.
Tampa, FloridaiStock/Judy Kennamer
The average domestic flight to Tampa costs about $307—way under the $361 average for any American city, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Take a stroll down the Tampa Riverwalk to explore downtown attractions while taking in a scenic view of the riverfront. Along the way, stop by the Tampa Museum of Art on a Friday to enjoy pay-as-you-will admission while admiring 20th-century sculptures and ancient Greek and Roman artifacts.
Raleigh, North CarolinaiStock/Sean Pavone
A hotel in Washington, DC will cost almost twice the price of a room in Raleigh, but the City of Oaks offers a similar selection of free museums. The North Carolina Museum of Art and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences are two of the most popular tourist spots in the city, and neither charge admission. If museums aren’t your speed, head to one of the local breweries for a free tour.
Known for its natural beauty, sustainability, and outdoor activities, Portland is a great option for traveling cheap. Make like the locals by taking in the sites on a bike, or grab a $5 day pass for public transportation. Then check out 500 plant varieties at the International Rose Test Garden to see for yourself why Portland is known as the City of Roses. Weekday afternoons, you can stop by local-to-Portland Stumptown Coffee Roasters’ Annex to learn how to appreciate different coffees before checking out a small coffee-brewing exhibit.
Birmingham, AlabamaiStock/Jeremy Edwards
Snagging the top spot on Zagat.com’s 2015 list of America’s Next Hot Food Cities, Birmingham is a great place for traveling foodies looking for cheap eats. Head to the Five Points South district to take a seat at restaurant greats like Hot and Hot Fish Club, Highlands Bar and Grill, and Dreamland BBQ. You also won’t want to miss the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in the Civil Rights District, where you can enjoy a self-guided tour for just $2.
With airfare about 20 bucks cheaper than the national average, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg to get to Phoenix. Plus, as one of the sunniest cities in the country, there’s slim chance your plans will get rained out. Take a sundown stroll past the some of the city’s vintage neon signs, or take a daytime jaunt by Tempe Town Lake. Over the weekend, stop by the Scottsdale Pavilions Car Show, the nation’s longest-running weekly car show to admire classic, luxury, and muscle cars—or one of its 35 food trucks.
Providence, Rhode IslandiStock/DaveLongMedia
Take a stroll down history lane on the cobblestone of Benefit Street while taking in the colonial buildings lining it. Don’t miss WaterFire Providence, which lights up the city by setting fire down the three rivers downtown on certain weekends.