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How to Visit 5 Popular U.S. Cities on a Budget

Learn how to pull off a wallet-friendly retreat with these tips and tricks.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Visit 5 Popular U.S. Cities on a Budget

San Diego downtown skyline at sunrise with boat in harbor.

Prioritizing big-ticket items and researching cost-effective dining and transportation options in advance are simple ways to slash costs.(Getty Images)

If you want to skip town without breaking the bank, fret not: There are plenty of simple tricks to stretch your vacation dollars further in popular locales across the country. The most highly trafficked U.S. cities may seem out of reach, but with a little legwork and proactivity, you can plan a budget-conscious getaway in vibrant metropolises. Beyond researching cost-effective transportation and dining options, scouting the web for rock-bottom airfares and splitting expenses with travel companions, there are plenty other road-tested tips for optimizing value. Read on for tips for visiting world-class destinations on a shoestring budget.

Philadelphia

With vibrant culinary scenes, world-class museums and plenty of free and affordable attractions, the City of Brotherly Love offers plenty of enticements for budget-minded visitors. Philly even has its own BYOB policy at several restaurants, due to costly liquor licenses. Reading Terminal Market will be your destination for an authentic Philly cheesesteak and salted soft pretzel. After you refuel, get in a free history lesson by visiting Independence Hall and Liberty Bell Center. As far as transportation is concerned, getting to Philly by train is a cost-effective transit option, as many major cities along the East Coast are served by Amtrak. And within the city, it's easy to get around on foot, by bike or by the efficient and cheap buses, subway and trolley system managed by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Get the best bang for your buck by staying within city limits at a hostel, like the Apple Hostels of Philadelphia, or a boutique outside the city center.

San Diego

Rather than visiting crowded West Coast metropolises such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, instead venture to San Diego for greater savings. With consistent sunshine, proximity to the ocean and plenty of free attractions, the city is a top getaway for active types, history buffs and sun-seekers alike. Driving is a convenient and inexpensive way to get around town. During your visit, you can't miss checking out iconic (and free) city attractions and areas, including Balboa Park, Mission Beach and the Gaslamp Quarter. And to trim accommodation costs, consider booking a hostel or vacation rental in Point Loma.

Kansas City, Missouri

In Kansas City, you can sample delicious barbecue and embrace captivating art and music scenes without draining your bank account. The beauty of traveling to Kansas City is its central location in the Midwest, which is easy to reach from a variety of areas across the country. Plus, affordable flights are easy to come by thanks to competitive offers from low-cost carriers. Once you arrive, rely on the city's B-cycle bike program or bus service to get around in a flash without paying a pretty penny. Take a free tour of the Boulevard Brewing Company or make your way to the Power & Light District to explore a wealth of restaurants, shops and buzzy nightlife spots. Checking out the Crossroads Arts District, which boasts more than 70 art galleries and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art are also must-dos during your trip.

Houston

As the fourth-largest city in the U.S., Houston lures visitors with cultural and urban splendors. It's also home to the Space Center Houston, a host of shops and galleries and plenty of affordable places to stay. The Amtrak and greyhound bus service offer inexpensive options to reach Houston, but the key to saving on transportation costs is planning ahead. When in Houston, rely on public transportation not only to slash costs, but also since the traffic will be congested, particularly at rush hour. For a cost-effective stay, consider booking affordable accommodations on Airbnb or retreating to a the Houston International Hostel in the Museum District, which offers nightly rates for under $20, and a comfortable and convenient home base for exploring top downtown attractions. While in Houston, explore the Menil Collection, which contains over 15,000 works of Byzantine and 20th-century art collections, among others. Make your way to the Art Car Museum, Rothko Chapel and Miller Outdoor Theatre for more entertainment. And when hunger sets in, look for affordable (and delicious) food trucks across town.

New Orleans

Brush up on history with a leisurely stroll past beautiful architecture in this historic Southern city. While hotel rooms can be pricey in the Big Easy, particularly during peak-season events such as Mardi Gras, you can reduce costs by planning a summer visit or booking a bed-and-breakfast away from the French Quarter. Best of all, there are plenty of free seasonal festivals, street performances and prime opportunities for people-watching at any time of year along Bourbon Street, which won't cost you a dime. Plus, the historic streetcars run by the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority offer an affordable way to get around. While it can be tempting to visit the city during the popular Jazz & Heritage Festival or Mardi Gras, remember you'll have to contend with heavy crowds and sky-high room rates during these peak times of year. Regardless of when you want to plan a trip, don't miss checking out storied sights, mansions, museums and centuries-old cemeteries, as well as free city attractions, such as City Park and St. Louis Cathedral.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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