5 Affordable, Underrated Travel Destinations in the U.S.
By Kristin Wong
Major airlines are cutting their fares to keep up with the competition, making travel more affordable and accessible than ever. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami are known for their tourism, but why not check out a hidden gem that's yet to be overrun with tourists? These under-the-radar destinations have all the amenities of a travel-friendly city without the crazy crowds and tourist traps—and your dollar will get you further, to boot.
1. CLEVELAND, OHIO
Nestled on the coast of Lake Erie, Cleveland is undergoing a travel renaissance. Since 2011, over $3.5 billion has been spent on visitor-related infrastructure investments, says Nick Urig of Destination Cleveland. “What some still think is just a stop on the interstate is home to some of the country’s most renowned cultural institutions, quirkiest museums, [famed] sports teams, and most-visited green spaces,” Urig tells mental_floss.
In particular, Downtown Cleveland has transformed significantly in recent years. In its first few months of opening, the Hilton Cleveland Downtown was booked solid during the Republican National Convention and Games 3 and 4 of the NBA Finals. “And with the World Series having happened just steps from the hotel, we know we will only see the numbers of visitors and events in the city continue to rise,” Stuart Foster, VP of global brand marketing for Hilton, tells mental_floss. “As a Cleveland native, it’s incredible to see all the transformation happening in this great city.”
It’s also affordable. According to Kayak, median flight prices to the city from the U.S. and Canada are 22 percent lower than they were in 2015, and median hotel rates are under $250 a night. When visiting, you’ll want to make time for the West Side Market, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. “The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the only nationally recognized art museums to offer free admission to its permanent collection, which features more than 45,000 pieces of art from artists like Dali, Monet, and Warhol,” Urig says.
2. BOISE, IDAHO
“Boise is often called a ‘mini Austin’ for its similar characteristics: laid-back, outdoorsy, hills and rivers in the city, identical capitol buildings,” says Erin Bulcher, Content Manager at FareCompare.com. Domestic round-trip flights to Boise are about $350 on average, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Once you get there, you can stretch your dollar by taking advantage of Boise's many free outdoor activities. With the Boise River running straight through it, the city offers amazing fishing, whitewater rafting, and scenic views. “Boise is a place you can hike or ride a bike in the hills, come off the trail and hit up a pizza joint or grab a drink at a local bar,” Bulcher says. She recommends simply walking the Boise River Greenbelt, a 25-mile trail that follows the river and passes through museums, golf courses, and beautiful scenery.
3. PORTLAND, MAINE
The East Coast’s version of Portland is a charming city with small-town vibes, and it’s definitely worth a visit. “What used to be a place to pass through on the way up Maine's rugged coast is now packed with a week's worth of must-try restaurants and brews,” says David Solomito, VP of NA Marketing at Kayak. “Dining options abound but traditionalists like to stop by the foodie haunt that started it all: Fore Street.”
Known worldwide, the gourmet restaurant opened in 1996 a block from the waterfront in Portland's Old Port District. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Port features cobblestone streets and 19th century buildings, but it’s also known for its bustling nightlife. You can take a walk down the city's main drag, Congress Street, to check out the many bars, shops, and art.
If you prefer to stay outside of the hub, check out Portland’s historic West End—and better yet, stay in a classic New England bed and breakfast (the Pomegranate Inn is a fun option). Once you're fed and rested, head to the Portland Museum of Art, which is free every Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. and $15 otherwise. And of course, you have to see a lighthouse or two in Portland; for that, you can drive up the coast and stop at the gorgeous Portland Head Light in Fort Williams Park.
4. SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
It’s probably best known for being home to the Alamo, a must-see historic mission that sits smack-dab in the middle of San Antonio’s downtown area, but there’s a lot more to the city than that. The San Antonio Riverwalk, for example, stretches through downtown and is lined with restaurants, galleries, and hotels. “While everyone remembers the Alamo, they often forget about San Antonio,” Solomito says. “The city defines Tex-Mex culture, so be sure to head to Rosario's, or another of the city’s many great restaurants, for an authentic taste.”
“Recently the city is seeing a bigger travel surge because it's a smaller city of Texas but has all the Southwestern charm,” says Jennifer Buglione of Texas-based public relations firm Giant Noise. You’ll want to check out the McNay Art Museum, San Fernando Cathedral, and for a little kitschy fun, the Buckhorn Saloon & Museum. For a more upscale experience, try the Paramour, a swanky rooftop bar close to the Museum of Art in Downtown San Antonio; compared to the price of fancy cocktails in New York and L.A., the $12 drinks here will feel like a steal.
5. MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA
Let’s face it, when you think getaway, you probably don’t think of Minnesota. However, Minneapolis is a gorgeous outdoorsy city known for its music and theater—and since it’s still considered under-the-radar, it’s generally pretty affordable.
Visitors shouldn't miss the Minnehaha Falls, a 53-foot waterfall within the city limits; it is arguably even more beautiful in the winter when the Falls freeze over. And art lovers should be sure to check out the Walker Art Center or Midway Contemporary Art Gallery. If you choose to stay at the Le Méridien Chambers Minneapolis, the hotel will give you free entry to many of the museums around the city. For a more upscale experience, stay at the The Foshay, the W's Minneapolis location (you can still snag a room and breakfast for less than $200 per night). Both hotels also offer complimentary biking tours of the city.
Kayak also named Minneapolis one of their Top 10 cities to visit for New Year's Eve. Median flights for late December and January are around $285, and hotels are less than $200. It’s cold in the winter, yes, but Minneapolis has an 11-mile interlocking skyway system that spans a whopping 69 city blocks, so you’re covered (literally).
All images courtesy of iStock.