you desperately need to get away and go somewhere? You might have daydreams of exotic tropical cruises or sightseeing in Europe, but your tight-budget reality may demand a dirt-cheap vacay.
Luckily for you and your wallet, the U.S. has many fun and affordable places to visit, maybe one that’s just a short road trip away.
Check out America’s top low-cost travel destinations, according to U.S. News. Its ranking is based on an analysis of opinions from experts and readers.
17. Biloxi, Mississippi
The lighthouse is a popular attraction in Biloxi.
When you think of gambling destinations, Las Vegas or Atlantic City might come to mind first. But Biloxi, on the U.S. Gulf Coast, has no less than a dozen casinos right along the water that offer cheap hotel accommodations and entertainment.
Grown-ups can bar-hop down Fishbone Alley, visit a brewery or take a tasting tour at Boggy Creek Vineyard. For family fun, there are plenty of free parks and museums, and admission to the popular Biloxi Lighthouse is just $5 for adults, $2 for kids.
16. Oklahoma City
When in Oklahoma City, you’ll want to visit the state Capitol.
Oklahoma City is nicknamed “The Big Friendly,” and visitors will find it budget-friendly. Historic old Route 66 runs through the city and is dotted with landmarks and museums you can visit for free, including the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Other interesting and relatively inexpensive attractions include the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the American Banjo Museum. Kids will enjoy Frontier City, a Wild West-themed water park. Look for coupon codes online.
15. Branson, Missouri
The Titanic Museum in Branson looks like a replica of the ship, complete with an iceberg!
Never heard of Branson? Well, how about the Titanic? Branson has a museum built like a replica of the “unsinkable” ship, where you and your significant other can pose for once-in-a-lifetime photos and see actual items saved from the wreckage.
But your kids may not enjoy listening to Celine Dion on repeat or watching you get teary about some guy named Jack. Make it up to them with a visit to the World’s Largest Toy Museum or one of the many amusement parks in the area.
14. Daytona, Florida
The speedway is one of the main attractions in Daytona.
Fans of NASCAR will already know that this Florida beach town is the home to the Daytona International Speedway. Racing tickets aren’t exactly cheap, though Groupon usually has good deals.
If you would rather take it slow while you’re on vacation, soak up some sun with a good book on Daytona Beach. When you’re done, you can visit one of the area’s many beautiful museums or see a live show at the Daytona Playhouse.
13. Raleigh, North Carolina
A vacation in Raleigh will keep your family busy.
You’ll find so much to do in Raleigh that you won’t be able to accomplish it all in one trip.
North Carolina’s capital city has several free museums, including the North Carolina Museum of History, and museums that do charge admission all tend to have free or discount days.
If you’re ready to spend a little bit of cash, you could see a game or concert at the PNC Arena or shop at the ginormous Crabtree Valley Mall.
12. Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas
You can experience an authentic cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards.
The Dallas area offers big-city attractions at small-town prices. If you stay in the heart of Dallas, you can hop on a free trolley to get around town. The city also is home to the Texas State Fair, JFK historic sites and the football Cowboys.
If you’d rather see authentic cowboy history, visit the Fort Worth Stockyards. You can experience free historic demonstrations of cattle-driving, a Wild West show and a “cow camp” where kids and adults can learn to be cowboys and cowgirls.
11. Jacksonville, Florida
Kids and adults will find a lot to love in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville is a sprawling city with so many affordable attractions, you’ll have plenty to keep you entertained after you’re done tanning in the North Florida sun.
The Cummer Museum has beautiful artwork and a lovely outdoor garden. Craft beer lovers will find multiple breweries, and kids will love the Jacksonville Zoo and Sweet Pete’s, a candy shop featured on CNBC’s “The Profit.”
Hotels offer deals for under $100.
10. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg offers beautiful mountain scenery — and quirky attractions.
At the gateway to awesome Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a city rich in natural beauty. But if you have kids who’ll yawn at the scenery, there are quirky museums, a chair lift ride and even a mountain coaster.
Grownups will enjoy the hiking trails, skiing (in season), whisky distilleries, breweries and wineries. On Airbnb, you’ll find dozens of options to rent an entire house or apartment — maybe even a romantic log cabin — for less than $100 per night.
Phoenix is a desert city with plenty of things to see.
Within its city limits, Phoenix offers several legendary golf courses and interesting sights, such as the historic Tovrea Castle and the odd and man-made Mystery Castle. The Desert Botanical Garden is a gorgeous tribute to the local landscape.
A budget traveler can rely on Phoenix’s decent public transportation — Valley Metro rail and bus. And, you’ll find numerous hotel options for under $100 per night. Use a hotel rewards credit card to rack up points from your stay.
8. Salt Lake City
The Great Salt Lake is a great reason to visit Salt Lake City.
As the name suggests, one of the biggest attractions when you visit Utah’s capital city is the Great Salt Lake, which spans an impressive 1,700 square miles. Admission to Great Salt Lake State Park costs just $3 per car.
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Hogle Zoo are worth visiting, too, and are fairly inexpensive, and if you go in the winter, you’ll find great ski resorts in the surrounding area. An adult lift ticket can cost as little as $39.