The 10 Most Affordable Cities to Visit in Spring
Too-distant summer memories can wreak havoc on the psyche, but few things are more therapeutic than the promise of a spring getaway after a long winter. If vacation is all you ever wanted but a serious lack of funds is making it hard to get away, don’t fret. There are plenty of affordable cities that can help you shake up your routine while satisfying your wanderlust. Here, we rounded up ten destinations that offer a distinct sense of place, each guaranteed to banish cold-weather blues without emptying your wallet.
Jen has been a staff editor at Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Afar, and Elle Decor. When she's not snowmobiling in the French Alps or tasting scotch straight from the barrel in Scotland, she's at home in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
Palm Springs, CA
Design connoisseurs have long made the two-hour trek from Los Angeles to this midcentury oasis in California’s Sonoran Desert, but JetBlue’s affordable direct flights and more relaxed lodging options like the Saguaro Palm Springs and Ace Hotel have made this Rat Pack–era escape accessible to those seeking sun and palms from farther afield. Stay within budget—and break up your pool time—with a hike in nearby Joshua Tree National Park. You can also marvel at the Modernist homes of Hollywood legends on a $20 walking tour with the Palm Springs Historical Society.
New Orleans, LA
It isn’t hard to see why the Big Easy remains a perennial favorite among spring travelers. After the Mardi Gras madness but before the bayou swelters, NOLA has something for everyone, from French-colonial architecture and toe-tapping jazz venues (Preservation Hall is a must-see) to a vibrant, multicultural culinary landscape that ranges from beignets to banh mi. Rent a bike and wind your way through lanes lined with Greek Revival and Italianate mansions in the Garden District, then take in the voodoo mystery of the crypts at Lafayette Cemetery before ending in the French Quarter’s lively Jackson Square.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that cherry blossom season is reason enough to visit the nation’s capital in the spring, when the monuments are at their most photogenic and the government is in full swing. But there’s more to Washington, D.C. than political intrigue. The resurgent restaurant scene has been hailed as the country’s most exciting, and designer hotels and buzzy cocktail bars are following suit. To make the most of the city without breaking the bank, beeline for the free entry at the Smithsonian museums or embark on a historic walking tour of Capitol Hill, the Tidal Basin, and Bishop’s Garden.
If Europe feels like a splurge, consider Montreal. The Québécois city has all the history—the 1829 Notre-Dame Basilica, centuries-old cobblestone streets—with none of the sticker shock thanks to affordable flights from most major domestic hubs. It doesn’t hurt that the native language is French. While much has been made of the multicultural food renaissance that’s transforming neighborhoods like Mile End, simple pleasures abound. Explore the Art Deco Atwater food market, climb to the top of Mont Royal for a hilltop vista of the city, or while away the hours on a stroll through Montreal’s Old Town.
With its moss-covered oaks, antebellum mansions, and horse-drawn carriages, Savannah is steeped in historical charm. But this romantic Southern belle is also the site of the region’s most energetic creative movement. The Savannah College of Art & Design has pumped new life into the 284-year-old city, inspiring adaptive reuse projects across town. Starting there, peruse the local galleries on a low-key contemporary art tour. Looking for something even more laid-back? Neighboring Tybee Island is known for its pristine beaches, funky shops, and picturesque lighthouse. Afterwards, check into the stylish Perry Lane Hotel, which features a ground-floor wine market and buzzy rooftop bar.
Adrenaline junkies and adventure-sports lovers will find plenty to love in the Mile High City. In the spring, skiers and snowboarders give way to hikers, rafters, and mountain bikers in the 42 state parks that surround Denver. Prefer a little less action? Admire the pieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art, or explore the works of local artists at galleries in the up-and-coming River North Art District (RiNo for short). Here, you’ll also find specialty stores, a 10,000-square-foot urban beach club, and highlights of the craft-beer scene at such breweries as Great Divide and Ratio Beerworks.
It’s been more than a half-century since Elvis crooned on the shores of Waikiki in Blue Hawaii, but Honolulu remains a beloved vacation locale for both families and honeymooners thanks to its jaw-dropping natural beauty. Surfers flock to Oahu’s North Shore for world-class waves and powdery beaches, and history buffs congregate to pay their respects at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. When it comes to experiencing the authentic spirit of the city, though, you’d do best to do as the locals do and queue up for dessert at the family-owned stalwart Matsumoto Shave Ice.
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In the last decade, the angsty birthplace of 1990s grunge has transformed itself into a bona fide cultural destination. Its location in the heart of the Pacific Northwest makes hiking, biking, and kayaking a must, but its tech-capital status has brought an influx of hip restaurants, art galleries, and, of course, coffee shops. If more leisurely pursuits are on your agenda, don’t miss Pike Place Market, one of the country’s best places to stock up on local fish and produce; an afternoon spent picnicking in Fremont’s revitalized Gas Works Park reveals why Seattle is often called the Emerald City—free of charge.
Austin is more than just cowboy hats and barbecue pits, though there are plenty of those to go around—just ask anyone who’s ever been to smoked-meat mecca the Salt Lick. The Lone Star State’s liberal capital is also a beacon for cultural hijinks: Music lovers get their two-step in at honky tonks and indie rock venues across the city (or festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits), and food lovers have their pick of everything from the brisket tacos at Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ to the fried-chicken doughnuts at Gourdough’s. If you’re looking to get weird and embrace this famously eclectic city’s motto, the groovy shops on South Congress should do the trick.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
For a taste of the exotic without leaving your backyard, look no farther than Puerto Rico. Two hours from mainland U.S.A., the island’s allure lies in its Caribbean beaches, waterfall-dotted El Yunque rainforest (home of the melodious coquí frog), and lively blend of Spanish, African, and indigenous cultures. With colorful colonial architecture and cobblestoned streets, the capital makes an ideal launch pad for exploring it all. Thanks to the city’s free trolley service, you don’t need a fortune to tour the 16th-century fortress El Morro, take in a salsa show at Old San Juan’s Nuyorican Café, or taste your way through the city’s many restaurants.
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