15 Affordable U.S. Cities To Add To Your Bucket List

Photo: Rex USA.
You don’t have to fly to Europe or trek across an ocean to find a fun summer getaway. The U.S. is home to a cool and eclectic selection of cities that won’t cost an arm and a leg to visit. And while places like New York, San Francisco, or New Orleans are always a safe bet, we’ve rounded up 15 destinations that will help you discover something new about our great country.

Whether it’s the history of St. Augustine, the music of Nashville, or the art of Santa Fe, this list has something for every kind of traveler — plus recommendations on where to stay and what to do while you're in town. Don’t forget to send us a postcard!

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Photo: Connection/Rex USA.
Denver, CO
The mile-high city of Denver is a burgeoning, evolving destination with endless things to do. It's close to the Rocky Mountains and less than two hours from several ski towns. In the summer, it's known for its active nightlife and outdoor activities like biking and sporting events. Downtown Denver has something for everyone, from hip bars to museums to shopping to old-school theaters, and it has easy public transportation. Also: Weed is famously legal in Colorado, so...do with that what you will.
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Photo: Courtesy of The Warwick Hotel.
Denver, CO (Continued)

Where To Stay:
The Warwick Hotel, close to downtown’s 16th Street Mall, is nice and budget-friendly, with rooms available for $130 on the hotel’s official website. Got some extra cash to drop? Book the Nativ Hotel instead, which houses hip rooms that are 420 friendly.

What To Do:
Hit up some local breweries in the neighborhood around Denver’s Union Station. If the Rockies are in town, the nearby Coors Field is great for a baseball game.
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Photo: Rex USA.
Portland, OR
Portlandia offers a skewed – but sometimes on-point – view of Portland, a small Northwestern city that's exceptionally liberal and laid-back. It draws a lot of weekend guests who come for the good food, the hip vibe, and Voodoo Doughnut's ridiculously delish pastries. It might not be exactly the sort of experience you’ve seen on TV, but Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are shooting the next season of Portlandia in Portland this summer, so it’ll be pretty close.
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Photo: Geoff Moore/Rex USA.
Portland, OR (Continued)

Where To Stay:
It’s cliché (and somewhat overrated) to stay at the Ace Hotel when you crash in Portland. Instead, try the funky McMenamins White Eagle Saloon & Hotel (around $65 per night) or Kennedy School, an actual converted school (around $175 per night).

What To Do:
The city's full of good bars and restaurants, but it’s also home to one of the country’s best bookstores. No visit is complete without browsing the shelves of Powell’s City of Books. Just make sure you bring an extra suitcase for all your purchases.
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Photo: Ron Sachs/Rex USA.
Baltimore, MD
Baltimore hasn't always been the hippest city, but the Maryland seaport locale actually has quite a lot to see. There are the obvious ocean-adjacent attractions at the Inner Harbor, as well as ubiquitous crab dishes, but Baltimore also has a thriving nightlife scene and a handful of interesting historical sites. And if you get bored (which you probably won’t), Washington, D.C., is just a quick train ride away.

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Photo: Courtesy of Baltimore Museum of Art.
Baltimore, MD (Continued)

Where To Stay: Get a room at the Brookshire Suites Inner Harbor, located a short walk from the harbor in the midst of downtown. You can find rooms on discount travel sites for as low as $119 per night and, as a bonus, the hotel offers fitness classes.

What To Do:
Baltimore has a plethora of museums, including the Baltimore Museum of Art (pictured), and the Edgar Allen Poe House and Museum. But if you’re looking for something more lively, there are music venues like Pier Six Pavilion, Rams Head Live, and Baltimore Soundstage.
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Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.
Portland, ME
Portland is a charmingly small city (though it's technically Maine’s largest) that offers a low-key, seaside feel. It has a port, lots of parks, and an arts district with museums, libraries, and theaters. Then, of course, there's the seafood: You can score oysters, Maine lobsters, and, interestingly, sea cucumbers, and indulge in the infamous "Italian sandwich." It’s not the closest destination, but it's easily accessible from anywhere along the East Coast or surrounding parts of New England.
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Photo: Courtesy of Press Hotel.
Portland, ME (Continued)

Where To Stay:
Portland has several affordable chain hotels, but we suggest you squirrel away your cash to book the Press Hotel (pictured) which takes its inspiration from 1920s writers' offices. There’s a spa, an art gallery, and a hip bar, and the hotel itself is housed in the former offices and printing plant of the Portland Press Herald.

What To Do:
Arty travelers will be thrilled by the Portland Museum of Art and the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, while others might prefer to visit the Novare Res Bier Cafe, which boasts a menu of more than 500 bottled brews and 25 rotating taps.
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Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Pinckney Inn.
Charleston, SC
The South Carolina city of Charleston was founded back in 1670, and still has cobblestone streets and classic, old-timey buildings. Its long history is on display in the architecture and tourist sites, which include Fort Sumter, and it's well-known for its local food and music. The summers are hot and humid, but there’s nothing like some gumbo and fried oysters to make you forget all your troubles.

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Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Pinckney Inn.
Charleston, SC (Continued)

Where To Stay:
The Ansonborough Inn, a boutique hotel built inside an old warehouse, is fun and runs less than $200 per night. You should also check out the Andrew Pinckney Inn (around $199 per night), which has a rooftop terrace bar and complimentary breakfast.

What To Do: Charleston is packed with things to do, from historical sites to places to dig into good Southern cuisine. But if you get tired of actually doing things, head to Folly Beach, about 12 miles south of downtown, and lay by the ocean.
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Photo: Amy Harris/Rex USA.
Nashville, TN
Nashville, Tennessee’s capital, is known as Music City because of its long history with country music. The city is home to Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium, and the Country Music Hall of Fame, and continues to play host to dozens of live performances around town every day. It’s the perfect spot if you like to drink whiskey while listening to a country band and chowing down on Southern food.
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Photo: Courtesy of VisitMusicCity.com.
Nashville, TN (Continued)

Where To Stay: Hit up the Hutton Hotel, which is walking distance from a bunch of restaurants and coffee shops. If you dig around, you should be able to find a room for less than $200 a night.

What To Do:
Grab a drink at upscale cocktail bar Patterson House before you head out to Broadway to catch some live music. You can also check out Third Man Records, Jack White’s record label, which houses a very hip music shop and occasional in-store performances.
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Photo: Elinor Jones/Rex USA.
Austin, TX
Austin has rapidly become one of the country’s coolest cities, especially thanks to major events like SXSW and Austin City Limits. But heading here for a vacation rather than a festival is also worthwhile. Cruise along 6th Street or check out the city’s famous Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. If you’re into Mexican food (and margaritas) or BBQ, this is the place for you. And you’ll be thrilled to learn that breakfast tacos can cure any hangover.

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Photo: Courtesy of Franklin Barbecue.
Austin, TX (Continued)

Where To Stay:
Hotel San Jose, set in a 1930s motor lodge in South Austin, has rooms for $195 per night and is the epitome of minimal chic. If you want to save money, try the zen Casulo Hotel, a boutique spot located outside of the city center. Its quiet, calm rooms go for around $159 a night.

What To Do:
Eat, drink and shop. Line up at the über-popular Franklin Barbecue as early as possible to try its famous brisket, and then head to South Austin to browse the area's many vintage shops. If you want to splurge, grab dinner at acclaimed Japanese spot Uchiko or hop a ride to the seasonal restaurant Foreign & Domestic.
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Photo: Connection/Rex USA.
Louisville, KY
You probably know Louisville as the home of the Kentucky Derby, but the Southern city has a lot more to offer than just giant hats. Founded in 1778, it’s Kentucky’s largest city, and it has seen a resurgence since the mid-'90s. Summer offers attractions like the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, which puts on free plays in Central Park, and the Forecastle Festival, a big music fest in Waterfront Park held every July.
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Photo: Courtesy of Galt House.
Louisville, KY (Continued)

Where To Stay:
Book a room at the Galt House in downtown Louisville right on the Ohio River for as little as $106 per night. The massive hotel will situate you right in the center of the action and put you walking distance from some of the city’s best bars.

What To Do:
Embark on the Urban Bourbon Trail, a run of bars and restaurants across the city. You can pick up a passport at the Visitors Center or download the app and trek to at least six locales along the route.
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Photo: Connection/Rex USA.
Kansas City, MO
You don’t have to head for one of the coasts to find a worthwhile vacation spot. Kansas City has a vibrant art and music scene, along with dozens of cool bars and restaurants to check out. It is also home to several major art museums, including the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, as well as the American Jazz Museum. It’s easily accessible from anywhere in the central U.S. and drivable from many nearby cities.

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Photo: Courtesy of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.
Kansas City, MO (Continued)

Where To Stay:
You could pick one of the many cheap chain hotels around town, or you could stay at the historic Hotel Phillips, a quaint and well-located option. It’s old, but rooms run only $160 per night and it’s right in the heart of downtown.

What To Do:
Kansas City was recently voted the No. 1 city in America for BBQ by Time, so you should certainly seek out the ribs. Danny Edward's Boulevard BBQ and Arthur Bryant’s are top choices, but don’t forget about LC's Bar-B-Q, which offers the best of the city’s signature burnt ends (made from the fatty ends of brisket). Once you’re full, grab a cocktail at Julep.
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Photo: Rex USA.
Newport, RI
The seaside town of Newport may attract a lot of millionaires, but you can visit even if you’re not profusely wealthy. It's a well-known summer resort town, especially for those in New England, and has a lot of bars and clubs that will keep you partying until the wee hours. It’s also home to several festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival in late July.
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Photo: Joe Sohm/Getty Images.
Newport, RI (Continued)

Where To Stay:
Newport is not the cheapest, as evidenced by the city’s many mansions, but you can try to score a deal at The Attwater or Hotel Viking. Another good option is the Carriage House Inn, just outside of downtown, where rooms will run you $150 per night.

What To Do:
Tour some mansions (which actually inspired the new Comedy Central show Another Period) and then head downtown to eat, drink, and party. White Horse Tavern is the oldest bar in the U.S. and worth a visit, but if you’re looking for something hipper try Christie's.
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Photo: Wolgang Kaehler/Getty Images
San Jose, CA
A short drive south of San Francisco, San Jose is best known for being part of the tech-heavy Silicon Valley. But the city, which is California’s third largest, has a readily walkable downtown area and plenty to do. There’s a museum dedicated to Egyptian history and art, lots of parks, and a hilltop observatory. The best part of San Jose is its growing restaurant and bar scene, and its many high-end coffee shops. In short, you don’t have to work for a tech company to enjoy the city.

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Photo: Courtesy of 55 South.
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Where To Stay:
Hotel Valencia Santana Row is one of the city’s best boutique hotels, but it may take some work to find a bargain on one of its elegant rooms. Depending on the weekend, you can score a room for as low as $200 (though it’s often more expensive). Save money at the Arena Hotel ($164 a night), which is old but convenient.

What To Do:
San Jose’s nightlife scene has become considerably hipper in recent years. Check out 55 South for cocktails, Original Gravity Public House for beer, and Philz Coffee for java. When you get hungry, line up outside the Falafel Drive-In, an ironic yet classic spot that serves pita sandwiches and banana shakes.
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Photo: Connection/Rex USA.
Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh has been the location of many recent movies, including this summer’s Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, so its industrial cool factor is becoming more and more well-known. The city goes heavy on sports, boasts a ton of theater productions, and attracts a lot of live music. But its food and cocktail scenes have also gotten people buzzing. If you live on the East Coast or in the Midwest, it's just a drive or a quick flight away.

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Photo: Courtesy of Andy Warhol Museum.
Pittsburgh, PA (Continued)

Where To Stay:
Book the Priory Hotel, a historic boutique hotel on the North Shore near downtown. Rooms run around $165 per night and the hotel has a complimentary shuttle that will drive you around Pittsburgh. It also encourages the use of bicycles and offers bike parking and maintenance.

What To Do:
Have dinner at Meat & Potatoes, a gastropub that serves high-end comfort food like fried pickles and poutine. The city also houses the Andy Warhol Museum, which is the largest museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single artist, and should be high on your list of attractions to hit.
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Photo: View Pictures/Rex USA.
Santa Fe, NM
New Mexico’s capital of Santa Fe is considered the quintessential Southwestern city. It's designated as a UNESCO Creative City in design, crafts, and folk art, and has tons of art galleries and jewelry stores to peruse. It also has dozens of spas, which can help transform your vacation into the most relaxing experience possible. While it's a bit of an unexpected destination for young people, if you’re interested in art and culture it's a great spot to visit.

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Photo: Courtesy of the O’Keefe Museum.
Santa Fe, NM (Continued)

Where To Stay:
Go rustic at the El Rey Inn, a motel built on the original Route 66, which runs as low as $109 a night. There’s a pool, hot tub, and Southwestern charm in spades — which will help you immerse yourself in the Santa Fe lifestyle.

What To Do:
Head to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (pictured) to view a collection of the iconic artist’s work. If you’re especially interested in her life, you can also tour O'Keeffe's home and studio, which are located in Abiquiu, about 48 miles outside of Santa Fe.
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Photo: Travel Library/Rex USA.
St. Augustine, FL
Founded by the Spanish in 1565, St. Augustine is one of the oldest cities in America. That history is still present today in the coastal city, and plenty of old sites are open to visitors. These days, people come for both the history and the culture — which still takes influence from the old Spanish settlement days — as well as the long beaches and nearby state and national parks. The area's funky, throwback vibe makes for a fun weekend away, and it’s remarkably cheap, especially since many of the historical sites are free to visit.

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Photo: Courtesy of Casablanca Inn.
St. Augustine, FL (Continued)

Where To Stay: St. Augustine is perfect for those on a tight budget. The Cozy Inn, about a 20-minute walk from downtown, has rooms for $82 a night, and the Casablanca Inn on the Bay (pictured) runs $99 per night, and has a view of the water.

What To Do:
St. Augustine is filled with history, including the Mission Nombre de Dios and the Ximenez-Fatio House. The St. Augustine Distillery is among the most popular tourist destinations, and here's no shortage of outdoor activities and water sports to enjoy. Don't forget to stop by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm — if you dare.
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Photo: Connection/Rex USA.
Jackson, WY
Jackson is located in the midst of the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, and is a popular winter destination thanks to its world-famous skiing. But it makes for a good summer destination as well, especially if you work it into a car trip that also includes stops at the national parks. Despite the town’s population of less than 10,000, there are a slew of activities for travelers. The weather is also very temperate during July and August, which means you can get outside and have fun.

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Photo: Bill Coster/Rex USA.
Jackson, WY (Continued)

Where To Stay:
Jackson has a lot of posh (and pricey) hotels, but if you’re on a budget, the Antler Inn is woodsy and very close to downtown. In the summer months, you can nab a room for $110-200 per night. Plus, it boasts a 25-person hot tub.

What To Do:
Jackson is a town for outdoorsy travelers, especially in the summer, when you can hike, go whitewater rafting and horseback ride through the mountains. The proximity to Grand Teton National Park, which is 26 miles away, means the massive national park is a must-visit, even if only for a photo.

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