It would be great if you could afford to visit every city on your travel bucket list. But if your budget is forcing you to hone in, focus on the places that offer the most bang for your buck.
To help you pinpoint affordable vacation spots, GOBankingRates looked at five factors in the most popular U.S. cities to visit: safety, airfare, hotel price and food and drink costs. Based on those criteria, we identified the 10 best and 10 worst vacation cities.
10. Denver, Colo.
Denver ranks No. 10 on our list of best vacation spots because airfare to the Mile High City is affordable. However, the city also has the highest nightly hotel rate among the cheapest destinations — $101.33. In a city known for its breweries, the cost of a beer is higher than other places on our list. But if you’re a beer lover, Denver has a Beer Trail that includes 27 of the city’s breweries along its route.
9. Nashville, Tenn.
Named one of the best places to go in 2017 by both Frommer’s Travel Guide and Travel + Leisure, Nashville's popularity as a tourist destination might explain why airfare and accommodations are on the pricier side of the best cities list. The average hotel price is about $98 per night.
However, Music City still offers travelers a good value — especially if you like music. You can listen to live music almost any time of day without paying a cover charge at many of the honky tonks in downtown Nashville.
8. New Orleans, La.
If you want to visit New Orleans for its nightlife, you won’t blow your budget on drinks. The cost of a drink here is the lowest of any city on our list at just $3.25 for a domestic beer on average. Plus, airfare and hotel costs are among the lowest in our rankings. And you can enjoy the gardens, architecture and street performers in the city’s best-known attraction — the French Quarter — for free.
However, keep in mind that New Orleans is the least safe city on our list, which pulls it down in our rankings of best vacation spots.
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7. Austin, Texas
The capital of Texas is a hot spot for music lovers thanks to its live music scene and big-name festivals like South by Southwest. It makes it onto our list of best vacation spots because of its affordable accommodations, food and drink. Plus, it’s one of the safest cities in our rankings.
However, airfare to Austin costs more than flights to most of the other best vacation spots — $378.50 for a round trip. You can offset the cost of a flight, though, by taking advantage of free and low-cost things to do in the city — such as the popular Barton Springs Pool.
6. San Antonio, Texas
Get your fill of Tex-Mex and a variety of other cuisines for a bargain in this Texas city. San Antonio has the lowest food costs in our rankings — just $40 for a three-course meal for two. The cost of a drink and a hotel stay also are relatively cheap, but the average airfare is the highest among the best vacation spots.
While there, you can see many of San Antonio’s hot spots and historic sites by biking, strolling or taking a river cruise along the River Walk.
5. Phoenix, Ariz.
Travelers on a budget who want to explore the Southwest should head to Arizona’s capital and largest city, Phoenix. Inexpensive accommodations make the Valley of the Sun one of the best cheap vacation spots — you can get a hotel room for just $56.33 a night. And there are plenty of free and affordable things to do, such as hiking through the Sonoran Desert or Camelback Mountain, strolling in the city’s arts district or learning about Native American culture and history at the Heard Museum.
4. Dallas, Texas
The No. 1 visitor destination in Texas is also one of the best vacation spots in the U.S. because it is an affordable getaway. You can explore the city for free — including the Dallas Arts District — on the McKinney Avenue Trolley. And you probably won’t blow your budget enjoying the city’s Southwestern cuisine because the average cost of a three-course meal for two people is just $45.
3. Salt Lake City, Utah
If safety is a concern, consider vacationing in Salt Lake City. It has the best safety ranking on our list. Safe doesn’t mean boring, though. Salt Lake City offers plenty of outdoor recreation, arts and culture and scenic attractions, such as the Great Salt Lake.
However, the average airfare to Salt Lake City is more expensive than the price of flights to most of the cheapest vacation spots on our list. A roundtrip flight costs just over $350 on average.
2. Orlando, Fla.
A vacation at Disney World can be expensive, but the city where it’s located — Orlando — is the second most affordable vacation destination on our list. There are plenty of inexpensive things to do outside of Disney World. Plus, airfare, food and drink costs in this Florida city are among the lowest in our rankings. The average cost of a flight is just $247.23.
1. Las Vegas, Nev.
You might be surprised to learn that Las Vegas is the most affordable vacation spot on our list. Though Sin City is known for its lofty prices, the cost of traveling to and staying there is actually quite low. It’s the cheapest city to fly to, with average airfare of $222.90. And because there are so many discount options, Las Vegas has the lowest average hotel price on our list — just $24.67 per night.
However, you will spend more on food and drink in Vegas than in some of the other best vacation spots on our list. You could also easily blow your budget at the casinos if you’re not careful.
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10. Los Angeles, Calif.
Kicking off the list of worst cities to vacation in is Los Angeles, but it’s probably no surprise that the home of Hollywood is one of the most expensive places to visit. Although hotel and airfare costs aren’t much higher than in the cheapest places to visit on our list, food and drink costs in L.A. can put a dent in your travel budget. The cost of a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant is $60, and a domestic beer costs $5 on average.
However, there is no shortage of things to do and see in L.A. — including plenty of free attractions like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica pier.
9. Seattle, Wash.
High hotel, food and drink prices put Seattle on our list of most expensive vacation spots. For example, you'll pay $65 for a dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant. However, you can keep spending in check if you visit this city by taking advantage of the free things to do there. For example, enjoy samples from vendors at Pike Place Market, one of the oldest continuously operated farmers markets and home to the original Starbucks coffee store.
8. Portland, Ore.
Portland makes our list of worst vacation spots because it has the highest average hotel price of any city in our rankings — $167 per night. Airfare, on the other hand, is relatively affordable, and food costs are on par with prices in the best vacation spots. To keep a vacation to Portland affordable, enjoy the city’s free offerings, such as brewery tours, Forest Park and public art.
7. Philadelphia, Pa.
Airfare, hotel and food costs are high in Philadelphia, which is why it’s seventh on our list of worst vacation cities. The average roundtrip airfare is about $367, and the average price of a hotel room is about $105. Plus, the city’s safety rating is the third lowest on our list. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay anything to see some of Philadelphia’s most famous attractions like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
6. Memphis, Tenn.
With the lowest safety rating and one of the highest airfare cost in our rankings, Memphis is not a top spot to vacation. However, food and drinks are a bargain in Memphis compared to the other most expensive travel destinations. A beer costs less than $4, and you can get dinner for two for $50. Plus, there are plenty of budget-friendly things to do — like watching a free outdoor concert at the Levitt Shell, the site of Elvis Presley’s first professional performance.
5. Jersey City, N.J.
The average cost of a flight to Jersey City — $417.13 — is the highest in our rankings. Hotels don’t come cheap in this city, either. In fact, you’ll actually pay more, on average, to stay here than in nearby New York City. Jersey City’s low safety score also is a mark against the city.
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4. Boston, Mass.
It’s far from cheap to visit this popular destination. Boston has the second-highest hotel cost on our list — $121.33. Plus, food and drinks are pricey. You can save money in Boston, though, by visiting its many free attractions — such as Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, the Freedom Trail, Samuel Adams Brewery and the USS Constitution.
3. Washington, D.C.
Not only is the nation’s capital one of the most popular travel destinations in the U.S., it’s also one of the most expensive. Although the average hotel price is reasonable, the cost of food and drink in Washington, D.C., will put a big dent in your budget — $70 for dinner for two and $6 for a domestic beer. Plus, safety is a concern here. Fortunately, some of the city’s top attractions — the museums and galleries that are part of the Smithsonian Institution — are free.
2. New York, N.Y.
Be prepared to open your wallet wide if you want to visit the Big Apple. New York ties with the No.1 worst vacation city when it comes to high food and drink costs on our list — expect to pay at least $75 for dinner for two and $6 for a beer. And it has the third-highest cost of airfare in our rankings — $382.32. However, you can keep costs under control by visiting free attractions like Central Park, the 9/11 memorial and the Brooklyn Bridge.
1. San Francisco, Calif.
San Francisco is the worst city for saving money in the U.S. if you live there, and it’s certainly not much cheaper to visit. It ranks as the worst vacation city because costs are high across the board. In fact, only one other city — New York — has food and drink costs as high as San Francisco’s.
However, there are a few things you don’t have to shell out big bucks for in San Francisco. For example, you can take a free walking tour of the Golden Gate Bridge and stroll through Chinatown or visit Fisherman’s Wharf.
Methodology: To compile our rankings, GOBankingRates graded 30 of the most popular cities in the U.S. on five factors: safety, airfare, hotel prices, food costs and drink costs. Safety ratings were provided by Numbeo.com. The cost of airfare is based on average roundtrip ticket prices from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Hotel cost is based on the average price of each city’s three cheapest hotels with a rating of three stars or higher on Hotels.com. Cost of food reflects a three-course meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant. Cost of drink reflects the price of one domestic beer.