Where to Go for a Budget-Friendly Summer Vacation in All 50 States
Summertime brings longer days and warm-weather wanderlust. Whether you hit up a park, take a tour, attend an event, drive a scenic byway, or explore a destination dish by dish, there are many ways to have fun this summer across the United States. Here are 50 places to go in 2016.
Related: 10 Tips for Finding Last-Minute Summer Travel Deals
Palm Desert, in the Coachella Valley, offers plenty of opportunities to explore, shop, dine, and relax. There are many miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. Visitors of all ages will love the Living Desert Zoo Gardens, an attraction dedicated to the conservation and preservation of the desert in its natural state. It's $20 for adult admission, but at 1,200 acres, the zoo can provide a full day of entertainment (save money by bringing in food and seeking out picnic areas). For a different kind of Palm Desert experience, window shop the more than 300 shops and galleries of the mile-long El Paseo shopping district.
Related: 20 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Palm Springs
There's more to Miami Beach than sun-kissed beaches, stunning views, and hot nightlife. See the ecosystems of Biscayne National Park, south of Miami, including Biscayne Bay and its offshore reefs; discover the historic Art Deco District; get active with beach volleyball, walking, and biking trails, a tennis center, and kiteboarding at Crandon Park; people-watch on Ocean Drive; and check out Miami's vibrant art scene with walks among its galleries.
Related: 20 Free and Cheap Things to Do in Miami
Chicago is an easy city to navigate on foot. Spend the day shopping along the Magnificent Mile, snap photos of your reflection in Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean," ride the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel at Pier Park or go to the beach on Lake Michigan. Chicago also stakes claim to two of the tallest buildings in the country -- Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Building, where a drink at the 95th floor Signature Room comes with views similar to the $20-plus observation deck. During summer months, Millennium Park is home to many free concerts and festivals. Don't forget to grab a slice of deep-dish pizza or a Chicago-style hot dog.
Related: 38 Tasty Places to Eat for Cheap in Chicago
As the birthplace of Elvis Presley, Tupelo offers visitors a chance to explore the humble home where he was born (tours start at $8 for adults, $5 for kids ages 7 to 12), the hardware store where he bought his first guitar, and other sites that molded the boy who would be king. The full Elvis experience includes the city's many live music venues and, of course, Southern cuisine. Not an Elvis fan? Tupelo is also the headquarters of the Natchez Trace Parkway, the 444-mile scenic byway extending from Nashville, one of the top 10 most-visited national park sites in the country.
Related: 20 U.S. Road Trips With Stunning Scenery You Have to See
Madison is a college town with plenty of culture and culinary chops (including a growing distillery movement and thriving craft beer scene). Nearly two-dozen free entertainment ideas gathered by the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau include botanical gardens, rooftop concerts, mansion tours, museums, and family-focused shows at the Overture Center for the Arts.
Cody makes a good base for day trips to Yellowstone National Park, which is only a half-hour drive ($20 for adults arriving by foot or bike, $30 for cars). Yellowstone will have plenty of crowds, lines, and sold-out facilities over the summer, making it good strategy to stay somewhere outside the park that's interesting on its own. Cody's Buffalo Bill Center of the West is five museums in one and 14 miles away is the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, on the site of a camp that incarcerated more than 14,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. Cody is also an outdoor adventure mecca and hosts the Old Trail Town Museum of the Old West, a collection of frontier buildings showing what it was like to live on the frontier.
Related: 10 Cheap Places to Stay Near Major National Parks