If you’re looking to create unforgettable memories without straining your budget, we’ve curated a list of the best cheap summer bucket list destinations in the United States.
Use this guide that features US travel ideas to explore new places, immerse yourself in vibrant cultures, and bask in the beauty of nature—all while keeping costs in check.
From the charming mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, to the eclectic city of Portland, Oregon, and the soulful streets of New Orleans, Louisiana, these destinations offer a perfect blend of affordability and captivating experiences.
We’ll take you on a virtual journey through these budget-friendly havens, where you can discover stunning landscapes, indulge in local cuisines, explore historic sites, and consume yourself in lively cultural scenes— all while keeping your wallet happy.
So, get ready to plan your perfect summer getaway without worrying about breaking the bank. These destinations in the United States offer an array of exciting opportunities that won’t drain your savings.
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Cheap Summer Bucket List Destinations in the US
Whether you’re a nature lover, a music enthusiast, or a foodie, our list of cheap summer destinations in the US has something for everyone.
Below you’ll find tips on finding affordable accommodations, uncover hidden gems, and budget-friendly activities for each of the bucket list destinations.
Check out our other USA Bucket List Travel Ideas – plus download the free checklist of things to see, do, and eat in each state!
Nestled in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, a vibrant arts scene, and outdoor activities. Known for its laid-back atmosphere, the city boasts stunning landscapes, including the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Hiking enthusiasts can explore trails such as the Appalachian Trail or take a scenic drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
For a taste of history, visit the impressive Biltmore Estate, a grand mansion surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens. While there may be an admission fee for the estate, Asheville itself offers affordable accommodations, budget-friendly dining options, and local craft breweries to enjoy.
Austin, the capital of Texas, is a vibrant city known for its thriving music scene, food trucks, and outdoor activities.
Start your exploration on South Congress Avenue, where you’ll find an array of unique shops, restaurants, and live music venues. Cool off with a dip in Barton Springs Pool, a natural spring-fed swimming pool located within Zilker Park.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the Texas State Capitol, where you can learn about the state’s history and admire its stunning architecture.
Austin’s food truck culture offers a variety of affordable dining options, ranging from tacos and barbecues to international cuisine.
As the self-proclaimed “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin hosts numerous music festivals and boasts a vibrant nightlife scene, with many venues offering free or inexpensive shows.
Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, is known as the ultimate destination for country music lovers. Start your visit by dousing yourself in the city’s rich musical heritage at the Grand Ole Opry, a famous venue that has hosted legendary performers for decades.
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum offers a comprehensive look at the history and evolution of country music. Wander down Broadway, where honky-tonks fill the air with live music day and night.
Explore the vibrant Gulch neighborhood, known for its trendy shops, restaurants, and art galleries. For a taste of the local cuisine, indulge in the famous Nashville hot chicken, a spicy and flavorful specialty.
Nashville offers a range of accommodations to suit various budgets and is a city where you can enjoy a lively and affordable summer experience.
Known for its lively music scene, rich history, and distinctive cuisine, New Orleans is a city that exudes a unique cultural charm. Explore the vibrant French Quarter, with its colorful architecture, street performers, and lively atmosphere.
Stroll along the historic streets, visit the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, and indulge in the city’s famous beignets and gumbo. For a taste of New Orleans’ rich musical heritage, immerse yourself in the live jazz performances found throughout the city.
Take a leisurely walk along the Mississippi River, or venture beyond the city to experience the natural beauty of the Louisiana Bayous.
With its abundance of affordable accommodations, street food options, and free or low-cost attractions, New Orleans is an enticing and budget-friendly destination.
Santa Fe is a city that captivates visitors with its unique blend of Native American, Spanish, and contemporary influences. Explore the historic Plaza, the heart of the city, surrounded by adobe buildings, galleries, and shops selling Native American crafts.
Art admirers will appreciate the city’s numerous art galleries, showcasing a diverse range of artistic styles and mediums. Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to admire the works of the renowned American artist.
Outdoor enthusiasts can take advantage of the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains, offering opportunities for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
Be sure to sample the flavors of New Mexican cuisine, with its distinctive dishes featuring green chiles, such as enchiladas and posole.
Some of the best things to do in Burlington are free! Swing on the benches and take in those lovely Lake Champlain views at Waterfront Park, see the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet (it’s a thing!), swim at North Beach (access is free if you enter on foot or bike), go hiking, and just outside of town is the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory where you can go on a free tour and sample some of the best ice cream around.
Clearwater, Florida is a great place to visit on a budget. There are lots of inexpensive things to do in the area. Honeymoon Island State Park is a great place to spend the day relaxing at the beach and going on a bike ride.
Also, be sure to check out Sunsets at Pier 60. This free event is held every night with performers, local vendors, and more. Plus, it is a great place to watch the sunset.
Little Rock is one of the best cheap summer destinations in the US, especially for families. Lodging and getting around is low cost and simple.
Visit the Esse Purse Museum and search for murals in the SoMo neighborhood. Along the Arkansas River, explore Riverfront Park and take advantage of the scenic walking bridges, a fun splash park and a wetlands trail.
The Little Rock Zoo, the Clinton Presidential Library and Central High School National Historic Site also offer affordable, and educational, options the entire family will enjoy.
Denver, Colorado, is an underrated cheap summer destination. With activities like relaxing in the lovely Confluence Park, wandering around the beautiful RiNo Arts District (known for its breweries and street art), and enjoying ice cream at local favorites like Little Man Ice Cream, there are numerous cheap summer activities in Denver.
Plum Island Massachusetts is the perfect summer destination just outside of Boston. Plum Island is a 11-mile-long island in Newbury/Newburyport Massachusetts known for its cute cottages, bird watching and great beach access.
It has 3 beautiful beaches- Plum Island Beach, Newbury Beach and Sandy Point State Reservation- which offer visitors a peaceful day on the beach away from Cape Cod’s crowds.
North Bend, Washington, is a small charming town about 30 miles east of Seattle. A relatively quiet town, it serves as a gateway to a variety of outdoor activities and attractions.
There are many fantastic and inexpensive opportunities for hiking, biking, camping, wildlife viewing and chasing waterfalls. The absolute best things to see are Snoqualmie Falls, Rattlesnake Ledge at sunrise and Twin Falls waterfall.
Harpers Ferry, WV is probably best known for its history, but when you add in its natural beauty, numerous hiking trails and two rivers that converge at the town's edge, you have the perfect combination for a summer vacation that won't break the bank.
Whether you like hiking on scenic trails, spending a lazy day on an inner tube in the water, or exploring a historic town with amazing architecture, you won't be disappointed in Harpers Ferry.
There are many cheap things to do in Chicago over the summer- even free! Stroll around The Bean (Cloudgate) at Millenium Park, cool off in the Chicago Cultural Center, or check out the free admission days at Chicago's famous museums.
Tillamook, at the Oregon coast, is a great place to visit in the summer. Some free things to do include going to the Tillamook cheese factory for a free tour of the manufacturing facility, and going hiking on the beach. My favorite beach there is Rockaway Beach, where there is the Rockaway Beach Old Growth Cedar Preserve.
For those visiting Redlands during the summertime, there are plenty of cheap things to do. For one, visitors can attend a performance at the historic Redlands Bowl. These shows happen twice a week for two consecutive months and are completely free to the public!
Or, spend some time exploring the many parks. The most popular park is Prospect Park, which is right next to Kimberly Crest, a French-style Victorian mansion dating back to the 19th century.
If you’re looking for cheap summer US destinations that you can’t beat South Padre Island. You can spend your time exploring the 65 miles of untouched beaches along the Padre Island National Seashore. Don’t leave without stopping at Bird Island Basin Beach and Malaquite Beach too.
Next, admire some awesome street art while on the South Padre Island Sea Turtle Art Trail before standing awe of 30 unique, pro sandcastles on the Sand Castle trail as you enjoy the best things to do in South Padre Island
St. Louis is a fantastic choice for budget-conscious travelers, as it offers plenty of free attractions. From exploring the charming Grant's Farm (Home to Budeweiser's Clydesdales) to the award-winning Saint Louis Zoo and visiting the iconic Gateway Arch National Park, there are plenty of free or cheap experiences for everyone to enjoy in this vibrant city.
Bend is a city that simply oozes PNW charm, whilst being friendly on the hip pocket. From floating the Deschutes River to walking the famous Bend Ale Trail or cycling from Old Mill District there are so many fun and creative ways to explore outdoors.
Some mustn't miss free activities in summer include the weekly farmer's market on a Wednesday, and the Munch and Music Festival every Thursday evening in Drake Park. Nostalgia buffs, come and visit the Last Blockbuster!
And for nature-lovers, Deschutes National Forest offers 1.6 million acres of outdoor fun long with the spectacular Tumalo Falls and Newberry National Volcanic Monument for spectacular lakes and lava flows in the Cascades!
Madison is a college town, and there are lots of free activities to enjoy. Tour the stunning Capitol building, and be sure to climb up to the observation deck around the dome for fantastic panoramic views of Madison.
Visit the Olbrich Botanical Gardens -- the outdoor gardens are free, and one the highlights is the incredible Thai Pavilion!
If you're interested in art, the Chazen Museum (located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison) is free and filled with a wide range of fine arts. And nature lovers can go for a walk in the 1200-acre arboretum.
Do you know that Pizza Hut was born in Wichita, Kansas? They turned their first restaurant into a museum that is free to visit.
Great Plains Nature Center, Wichita Sedgwick Co. Historical Museum, and Keeper of the Plains, the pride of Wichita, are some of the places that you can't miss when exploring Wichita. They are free or charge a small admission to visit.
While Hawaii is known as an expensive destination, Oahu is the cheapest of the islands to visit, with tons of daily flights heading there and affordable accommodations, including hostels and Airbnbs, in its capital city of Honolulu.
Once you’re in Honolulu, you’ll be easily able to entertain yourself for free, from snorkeling or boogie boarding at Waikiki Beach or the other incredible beaches or checking out any of the world-class hiking trails, like the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail, in the nearby Ko’olau mountains.
You can even get around the city on public transit, which just costs a few dollars, and can help get you to pretty much anywhere in Honolulu or the surrounding area.
The best things to do on a road trip from San Francisco to San Diego are free—especially for nature enthusiasts! The drive alone is spectacular with tall redwoods and amazing coastal vistas.
Stopping at the scenic view points in Big Sur is a must. Don’t miss the famous Bixby Bridge. Animal lovers will want to visit to the Point Piedras Blancas Light just outside of Cambria to see hundreds of elephant seals in their natural habitat.
Some of the best cheap things to do in Sedona during the summer are enjoy all the incredible outdoor activities in the area. Most trailheads require a red rock pass, but if you already have an American the Beautiful pass you can display that.
There are plenty of hikes, swimming holes, kayaking and incredible viewpoints or scenic drives to check out in Sedona.