10 dreamy US vacation destinations that are surprisingly affordable
Ranking features like travel costs and hassles, local costs, attractions, weather, activities and safety, WalletHub compared 80 of the most populated metro areas in the U.S. to arrive at a list of top American vacation destinations.
While some of these cities on the list may initially surprise you — since they have reputations for high costs — the truth is savvy travelers can find great deals in these places if they plan ahead, blending value and fun. Each spot has its own flavor and appeal, but activities are wide-ranging; any traveler can find something engaging and intriguing to do in any one of these major cities.
Here are 10 of the top vacation destinations to check out, plus a few ideas for how to have an affordable trip that feels deceptively luxurious.
10. New York City, New York
You already knew that New York City is home to many incredible activities and attractions: The Big Apple scored spot four for attractions and two for activities on WalletHub's survey. But perhaps you thought it's impossible to see NYC on a budget? Think again.
Hike through Central Park or cycle across the Brooklyn Bridge free of charge. Or you can spend the day in one of the many historic museums on the cheap such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art — where you can just donate what you please — or the American Museum of Natural History or the Whitney Museum of American Art. Eat your way through the city, such as going on the iconic Pizza Tour or sampling some hometown fare on the cheap.
You can even stay in the city for a reasonable price if you avoid touristy areas: For example, you can still book a stay at a top-rated Brooklyn B&B for $150 or less — or the Condor Hotel in Clinton Hill for less than $200 a night in late August. You'll be near the mansions Charles Pratt gifted to his sons, and can see the cool sculptures and friendly Pratt cats at the Pratt Institute.
9. Sacramento, California
Known for its ideal climate, Sacramento scored three for "best weather" on WalletHub's survey. Typical summer temperatures are in the mid to high 80s with little chance of rain. Feeling adventurous? You could explore sites like the historic Benicia Clock Tower or the John Natsoulas Gallery. Dig the thrills of an escape room? Don't miss the highly rated Escape Sacramento or Enchambered: Sacramento Escape Room.
Staying in the Sacramento area on a budget is easy, with options like the quirky boutique Greens Hotel or Old Sacramento's Vagabond Inn Executive. East coast dwellers shouldn't miss grabbing an In-N-Out Burger before leaving, or trying the Mexican grub at Chando's Tacos.
8. Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas
Although the Dallas-Fort Worth area did not come in the top five on any specific list on the WalletHub survey, Fort Worth was recently ranked as the fourth hottest and affordable destination by Money. A weeklong trip for two is possible for about $2,280.
Not only do you score with reasonable airfare, but there are plenty of fun and free things to do in Fort Worth — including the JFK Tribute or the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. In Dallas, you can swing by the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens and the Zero Gravity Thrill Amusement Park.
Staying in Dallas affordably shouldn't be a problem, with options like the conveniently-located Magnolia Hotel Dallas-Park Cities or the Westin Galleria Dallas. In Fort Worth? Get cozy at the Rosen House Inn bed and breakfast or the Omni Fort Worth Hotel.
7. Houston, Texas
Ranked at number seven for travel ease and cost, Houston will delight any foodie or history buff. With more than 11,000 restaurants around, you've got plenty of choices. Want unique local grub? You might try spots like Crawfish and Noodles or Gatlin's BBQ. For unforgettable fried chicken, don't miss Frenchy's Chicken, both heavenly and affordable.
Once you've satisfied your taste buds, try "out of this world" exploration at the Space Center Houston. Tickets are a little pricey but you can make a day of it. Or visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science or enjoy an evening of theater at Theatre Under the Stars.
Worried about finding a good place to stay? You'll have your choice of hotels in the area including Hotel Indigo at the Galleria and the Royal Sonesta Houston Galleria. Plus, budget conscious folks have tons of B&Bs to choose from.
6. Atlanta, Georgia
"Hotlanta" has some of the lowest travel costs and the fewest hassles (ranked at number four), according to WalletHub, though perhaps you'd like to be hassled — by zombies? The Big Zombie Walking Tour is the perfect way to pay tribute to your favorite show, The Walking Dead, or the film Zombieland. Take your pick of three different tours for about $70 for three hours of gruesome fun, and cap off the evening with a Haunted Evening Atlanta Pub Tour.
If spooky stuff isn't your thing, check out the iconic King Center or the Georgia Aquarium. For a true taste of Atlanta, don't miss the Atlanta Southern Food Tour where you can sample an array of southern delicacies. Also, no trip would be complete without a visit to Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. After a day of food and fun, lay your head at a top-rated, low-cost hotel like the Inn at the Peachtrees or the eccentric Social Goat Bed and Breakfast.
5. San Diego, California
If fun stuff to do is important to you, then San Diego should be on your radar. Ranked number one for having the most activities on the WalletHub study, San Diego boasts some of the most famous and affordable attractions in the country. Don't miss the infamous San Diego Zoo or historic Balboa Park. Other breathtaking (and free) sites include Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and La Jolla Cove. The temperate summertime weather typically hovers in the mid to low 60s, so pack a jacket for any daily excursions.
Looking for lodging in the area? Try the Best Western Plus Island Palms or Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa. Or visit the Old Town area and stay at the enchanting (and possibly haunted) Cosmopolitan Hotel. And for the true taste of San Diego, don't miss hitting the California Tap Room for famous hand rolled pretzels and beer or Trust in the Hillcrest area.
4. Chicago, Illinois
Ranked number five in attractions and four for activities, a vacation in Chicago is guaranteed to delight. Because O'Hare airport is a hub for many flights, WalletHub also cites Chicago as being an easy and affordable destination.
What is there to do in Chicago? Plenty! In addition to the many museums like the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum, don't miss out on Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival in July or channel your inner Ferris Bueller and gaze at the city through the clouds from the Skydeck Tower.
In addition to an abundance of activities are food and lodging choices. Stay downtown near The Loop at The Palmer House Hilton or in hip River North neighborhood at the ACME Hotel Company Chicago. Don't leave the city without sampling authentic Chicago-style pizza either. Take the Chicago Pizza Tour to try a variety of pies in the city or hit places like Robert's Pizza Company or Pi-Hi Café. Other highly rated, cheap eats include Portillo's and Big Star for Mexican.
3. Orlando, Florida
The land of Mickey Mouse ranked number three for most activities, according to WalletHub, which positions Orlando as one hot destination for summer travel. Beyond the typical visit to one of the famous theme parks, Orlando offers a number of fun and quirky activities. Because temperatures can soar into the mid to high 80s during the summer, water adventures like a kayak tour, an airboat ride or a swim with the manatees or dolphins can keep you cool. You can also take in La Nouba; one of Cirque du Soleil's signature shows or take a sunrise hot air balloon ride.
The number of food and hotel options are almost as abundant as the activities. Staybridge Suites in neighboring Lake Buena Vista is a great option or check out the Point Orlando Resort. Restaurant options depend on what you are in the mood to eat: From Market on South for a vegan option to JJ Fusion Grille for a Mediterranean-Mexican mash up, you'll find your culinary niche in Orlando. And if you fall in love with the city and want to move here? Orlando ranks first as being one as being the best city for millennials looking for a job thanks to a growing job market and affordability.
2. Los Angeles, California
Coming in at number two for having the most attractions, according to WalletHub, Los Angeles also offers pleasant weather and an endless list of ways to spend your vacation. From a number of tours you can take to visiting museums like the Getty Center or the Griffith Observatory, you can customize your visit to the "City of Angels" any way you desire. Low-cost and free attractions include a visit to the iconic "Hollywood" sign or a hike through Runyon Canyon Park.
The number of hotel options is equal to the vast choices of attractions in L.A. The grand Hollywood Hotel is a nice option as well as Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys. And where to eat? You could hit up Eggslut for a breakfast like no other or the infamous and original Pink's Hot Dogs. Looking to eat a little healthier? Café Gratitude has many vegan-friendly options and so does 25 Degrees.
1. Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas is ranked at number one for having the most attractions, thanks to a plethora of casinos on the strip, a vast range of shows and cool, diverse activities like Vegas Indoor Skydiving, the Mob Museum and Red Rock Canyon National Park. See the city from the sky in a helicopter or a hot air balloon tour. In case you get inspired to tie the knot, Vegas has tons of chapels and wedding venues — with or without Elvis officiating.
Looking for a deal on lodging in Vegas? Check out Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino or Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino for rock-bottom rates. Want to stay away from the strip? The Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa has great deals and so does the Downtown Grand, an Ascend Collection. Vegas is known for offering endless buffets at local casinos but don't miss the Kitchen at Atomic, Luke's Lobster Las Vegas or Gangnam Asian BBQ Dining.
Like Orlando, Vegas is actually an emerging hot spot for millennials looking for work and a place to live, as the work-life balance is rated 82% better for workers than other big cities in the country, per a recent report.
Correction: May 23, 2017
An earlier version of this article misidentified the ACME Hotel Company in Chicago as being located in Lincoln Park. The actual location is in the River North neighborhood.
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