The Best US Vacation Destinations To Travel To On A Budget

In the U.S., the interest in domestic tourism has risen from 2022 to 2023 by as much as 39%, with 80% of adults planning domestic travel in 2024. Although domestic travel generates an average of $918 billion per year, you don't necessarily want to contribute a huge chunk of that yourself. When it comes to your vacation budget, you don't want to spend more than 10% of your net income on a vacation.

With the average cost of a week-long vacation in the U.S. hitting $1,984 for a single person and $3,969 for a couple in mid-2023, and the average domestic flight up almost 10% to $381.55 due to inflation in 2023, that may be easier said than done if you don't do a little research first. Unfortunately, 55% of us don't consider travel when we take our yearly budgets into account at all, and since most of that goes onto a credit card with creeping interest, some Americans find themselves overwhelmed and going into debt. For a cheaper but equally fun vacation that will protect your credit and your wallet, these are the best destinations within the U.S. to travel on a budget.

Destin, Florida

Destin, Florida doesn't get as much praise as more popular Floridian locales like Miami, Orlando, or Palm Beach. However, Destin is still part of the Sunshine State, and there are cheap options for an incredible vacation to be found. The Florida coastline offers several free amazing beaches including Destin, Miramar, and Walton Beach, as well as sunrise and sunset views that make lounging or a picnic at any time of the day a pleasure. Other free excursions include a walk along the harbor at Harborwalk Village, where you can find reasonably priced food and fun in the form of restaurants, watersports rentals, boat tours, fireworks, and free Tuesday movie nights on the beach.

Destin averages 61 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit on 343 sun-soaked days each year, with rounded quartz courtesy of the Appalachian Mountains and the previous Ice Age to thank for its golden beach sands. In terms of culture, museums like the Destin History & Fishing Museum reveal the history of the fishing industry in Destin from the 1830s to today. If you like fishing but don't want to spend money chartering a fishing boat excursion, drop a line into the water at The Island Pier at Fort Walton Beach, where an adult fishing pass will set you back a budget-friendly $8. 

Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia boasts over 4 million visitors each year, with a pedigree that includes three U.S. presidents, the second-oldest university in the nation, and colonial Williamsburg — an old settlement lying at the center of the Historic Triangle — that includes neighbors Jamestown and Yorktown to the east and west. This is a vacation locale for the American history buff or anyone interested in exploring the nation's history and early culture. For $119, purchase a Historic Triangle Ticket to gain seven days of access to all the historic museum and trade store sites Williamsburg, and neighboring Jamestown and Yorktown, have to offer.

Skip the hotel if you're driving an RV by parking at the Williamsburg Campground, 80 acres of greenspace close to everything including free Wi-Fi, cabins, and yurts if an RV isn't your speed, and activities like splash pads and pools. If you're a first responder, take 10% off your stay. Orbitz shows prices between $80 to $191 per night. 

St. Paul, Minnesota

Airbnb offers over 1,000 locations in and around St. Paul — some as low as $101 to $144 U.S. per night. With 3- and 4-star-hotel prices generally in the same vicinity, there's no reason to find yourself trapped in an overpriced situation here. St. Paul and Minneapolis are the Twin Cities of Minnesota, with over 160 parks and access to eight lakes. Named after the apostle Paul by Roman Catholic missionary Lucien Galtier in 1841, the region has been host to a wide array of people including Indigenous tribes, European settlers, and more recently, African-American, Asian, and Hispanic communities who have grown to about one-third of the population.

There are free guided tours of the State Capitol, housed within the second biggest marbled dome on earth, not to be outdone by the Landmark Center, where you can enjoy free lunchtime ballet performances every Tuesday, Gangster Ghost Tours for $10 per person, and live music on Wednesdays. If you're an art lover, be sure to visit the Minnesota Museum of American Art, which has free admission to the public every day of the week. The Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is open every day of the year and admission is free with a suggested donation of $4 for adults. You'll find amusement park rides, zoo animals, and a beautiful floral garden to walk through. 

Jacksonville, Florida

Jacksonville, Florida is another Floridian destination that beats Miami and Orlando on cost. The weather is beautiful, sunny, and conducive to a budget-friendly vacation. Jacksonville has you all set if you're up for an outdoor adventure. Surfing, boating, paddleboarding, and fishing are easy to access from Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier, Neptune Beach, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park. The latter boasts 450 acres of green space and dunes for on- and off-road biking and hiking. Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve has 46,000 free square feet of parks and woodland for picnics and outdoor fun.

As per Visit Jacksonville, your furry friends will be able to soak up the sun with you since Jacksonville has some of the most dog-friendly options of any spot in the state. Atlantic Beach, Jacksonville Beach, Mayport Naval Air Station, and Neptune Beach are the best beaches to bring your pup, with a few restrictions. Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach require your dog to stay on a leash, although Neptune does have dog-friendly patios for grub. Atlantic Beach has a $3 to $5 entry fee, which is much less than an entry ticket to Disneyland. 

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio is among the cheapest Mid-Western big cities to visit for a weekend, with lodging typically hovering between $100 and $200 per night for a decent hotel in the city center. With 20 parks like Scioto Audubon Metro Park, you'll have plenty of free time to explore, picnic, or just lay around among floral surroundings. Cornhenge may sound corny, but if the idea of a public art exhibit featuring over 109 stalks of corn floats your boat, the Field of Corn is a must-see. North Market Downtown is a massive market full of cheap eats and shopping in support of local vendors. Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is for fans of comics and cartoons and is free to experience. Meanwhile, Seventh Son Brewery offers local brew and food trucks serving budget-conscious eats all in one place.

In terms of free activities, there are several to choose from. The Columbus Museum of Art is Free every Sunday and Ohio State University's museums are also free to enter. Parks like Inniswood Metro Gardens and Blendon Woods Metro Park are free and perfect for picnics, hiking, and nature-watching.

Kings Canyon National Park, California

Aside from its abundance of natural beauty, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks also host the General Grant Grove, and the General Sherman Tree, the second largest and largest trees in the world, respectively. As per the National Park Service, permits are required to enjoy the park and can be obtained easily six months in advance through for $15. There's an additional $5 upcharge per person added to the permit, which is still a steal.

Summer is the best time to camp, hike, or fish in the park. Spring is best to experience the blooming season, and Autumn is a great time to take a long hike, so long as you're dressed and packed for colder weather. A $20 shuttle bus from the Visalia Transit Center will take you to the park's most scenic areas. In terms of accessibility, the trails are even wheelchair friendly so everyone can go on a hike. If you bring your vehicle, long scenic drives are also a possibility, and aside from the cost of gas and your permit, will cost you very little. 

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park is a gem of domestic travel in the U.S. and gives you a week of access for as little as $20 to $35, depending on if you're on foot or in need of parking for anything from a bicycle to an SUV, while an annual pass is $70. This is inarguably the cheapest way to stay and places you right inside the park for easy access. 2.2 million acres of wilderness offer geysers, hiking trails, lakes, canyons, and wildlife including wolves and grizzlies. While you shouldn't get close to either, carrying bear spray is advised, and if you see them, make enough noise to not surprise any animals. Should you encounter any bears or wolves, ensure you stay at least 100 yards away from them. The Mammoth and Grand Prismatic Hot Springs are natural wonders, with the latter being named for its prism-like rainbow coloration caused by thermophilic bacteria attracted to warmth. 

Fargo, North Dakota

Fargo, North Dakota is more than the name of an award-winning film. It's also an excellent choice for a frugal vacation.It's an ideal road trip destination traveling from Bismarck. A ride of under four hours takes you to The World's Largest Buffalo, the Buffalo Museum, and the woodchipper used for nefarious means in the movie of the same name at the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau. Another four hours along I-29 will take you to the majestic Sioux Falls to the South.

The region's largest farmer's market, the Red River Market, happens seasonally on Saturdays with free parking for motorists and free shuttle buses with a bus voucher you can download from the website. If you're a Snap user, you can use your EBT card and get $30 in spending money for $15 from your account. Visit the Drekker Brewing Company and Brewhalla, a food and drink hall inside the brewery with regular events. The Fargo Air Museum highlights aircraft going as far back as The Wright Brothers up to present-day unmanned aircraft. A $15 ticket gets you up an up close and personal aeronautic excellence. 

Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and absolutely deserves its spot on this list. If flying, your best bet is to rent a vehicle at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is a 90-minute drive form the park entrance. While a helicopter ride is another option, that one comes at $250 per person. Your cheapest choice in terms of lodgings is camping in the North Rim, just hope the desert weather holds up. A trip to the Canyon Village Market to stock up on provisions will keep you out of pricey tourist trap restaurants. Again, the North Rim offers buffet dining with a spectacular view at the Grand Dining Room for a night you feel like more than beans and franks. Infinitely Instagrammable, exhaustingly hike-able, and thanks to a one-day float trip that will take you down the Colorado River for under $100 per person, it's floatable too. $30 gets your vehicle passage to the grounds for up to four people, and along with a tent, bring spare gas and water so you don't have to worry about spending extra on any of that, either. 

San Antonio, Texas

To get the most out of a budget-friendly trip to San Antonio, start by buying and downloading a San Antonio pass, which can save you up to 50% on attractions including Sea World, Six Flags, and the San Antonio Missions UNESCO site. The pass covers you for up to 60 days and can save you a lot of money on places you would likely end up visiting anyway. While significantly less expensive, free may be more your speed. If that's the case, take a walk through a Japanese Tea Garden with a 60-foot waterfall, enjoy a swim at the San Pedro Park Pool with skate parks, picnic areas, and tennis courts, or take a hike through the Friedrich Wilderness Park.

If cultural attractions are your thing, The McNay Art Museum offers free admission every Thursday with daily free access for military servicemen and servicewomen, veterans, and their family members. The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is a state-of-the-art theatre with many great performances from music to dance and stageplays, with tickets starting around $30. If you want to get your morning stretch in, you can join in on a free yoga class every Sunday morning and take a self-guided one-hour tour of the park when you're done.

Washington, D.C.

Free walking tours are part of the appeal of the nation's capital, with landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial and the White House along the route, the latter of which you would be wise to book a few months in advance. The Smithsonian Museums, a group of 17 different institutions, are all free to visit and are quite thought-provoking. A stroll along the Tidal Basin, adorned with beautiful cherry blossoms along calm waters, will also take you by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Jefferson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorials. Three-star hotels can be found for $150 to $175 per night in the city center.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts offers free tours, the National Gallery of Art is free to enter, and Palmer Alley, although spectacular to walk through, is also free to do. There are free guided walking tours of D.C. with tipping suggested but not required. The Library of Congress is home to 164 million different books, archival photos, recordings, and maps, and that just barely scratches the surface. Amazing art is housed by immaculate architecture in a building worthy of spending a day in the largest library in the world.

Asheville, North Carolina

The great outdoors continues to reign supreme where a cheaper vacation is concerned, and Asheville doesn't disappoint with the North Carolina Arboretum's over 400 acres of trees, hiking, and bike trails. While parking is $16, access to the park is free. Rent a canoe or Kayak and take a two to three-hour floating tour through the River Side Arts District for $50, where you can enjoy a pair of breweries and art shops along the way. In the summer months, check out the Houston-Astros-affiliated Asheville Tourists Baseball Club, where adult admission is just $11. The S&W market is a colossal 10,000 square-foot food hall Fodor's called one of the top 10 best food halls in the U.S. Weekly events include Brews, Blues & Brunch with a live blues band every Sunday, Drag Music Bingo hosted by Divine the Bearded Lady every second Friday. If wine is more your jam, visit Bottle Riot in the River Arts District with special events and live DJs spinning vinyl every week. Soul Sundays offers Mimosas and Bloody Marys for $7. 

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach is a small coastal city in Oregon about 80 miles northwest of Portland. According to the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce, there are free weekly concerts and a playground area for families with young children at City Park. If tennis or pickleball tickles your fancy, you can borrow rackets and balls from the nearby Visitor Information Center to use a pair of tennis courts or four mobile pickleball nets for Wimbledon-level solo or team matches. The summer season allows you to bring out your inner child at a beachfront sandcastle contest. 

If the region's history is of interest, check out the Cannon Beach History Center and Museum and a historical walking tour of the city. If you're an art lover, check out the local arts and culture scene at Cannon Beach with a Public Art Tour. The area has a bohemian style dating back to the 1960s and 1970s with opportunities to engage with the local arts community — like an annual Sculpture Without Walls competition — creating visual spectacles like outdoor sculptures and installations. You'll find over a dozen public art displays along the beach between parks, sidewalks, and boulevards. Best of all, everything mentioned here is free to experience.