8 Affordable U.S. Destinations for 2020
Lesser-known places around the country where you can vacation for less
by Kitty Bean Yancey, AARP, November 8, 2019
En español | Vacation bargains can be hard to find in certain areas of the country, but they still abound in places where the cost of living — and leisure — is lower. Consider these eight spots off the well-worn tourist track that boast appealing attractions, budget lodging and compelling reasons for mature travelers to visit in 2020.
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Colorado Springs, Colorado
Anyone with a yen to see the 2020 Summer Games knows that pricey Tokyo will be a budget-buster. But Olympics fans can still have a gold-medal experience at “Olympic City USA,” about 75 miles south of Denver. Tour the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center ($15, $13 if you’re 65 and up) and see hopefuls practicing. Due this spring: The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum. Free outdoor enticements include the Garden of the Gods red-rock formations and the scenic 19-mile drive up nearby Pikes Peak. Rainbow Lodge and Inn room rates start at less than $70 a night, including breakfast. The modern, eco-friendly new SCP Hotel (with rates starting at $90 a night) has an innovative “fair trade pricing” policy, in which you can negotiate a lower rate if your experience disappoints.
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Attention, savvy shoppers! Celebrate Maine’s 200th anniversary of statehood in 2020 with a spree in its oldest incorporated town (established in 1647). Just over an hour’s drive north of Boston, Kittery is the cat’s meow for bargain hunters, with a dozen outlet centers. Snag deals on Chico’s, Cole Haan, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Lululemon and more. Refuel on fried seafood (or burgers, if that’s not your thing) at reasonably priced Bob’s Clam Hut, serving loyal patrons for decades. Kittery also remains a working port, so you can watch the lobstermen come in. Or hop over the bridge to enjoy the restaurants and attractions in the historic waterfront town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Stay in B&B’s, including the Coachman Inn or the Water Street Inn, for around $100 a night.
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A laid-back, walkable beach town in overbuilt South Florida? Believe it. Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, just north of flashy Fort Lauderdale, is like stepping back in time, with prices to match. Go diving or snorkeling by the coral reef, and plop down on white sand or in an umbrella-shaded Adirondack chair in community areas. Take in a free concert or watch gulls circle over the fishing pier. Or use the free wheelchair-accessible Pelican Hopper shuttle to cruise to mom-and-pop restaurants. Rates at the renovated oceanfront Plunge Beach Resort, which offers complimentary bikes, sink to less than $100 a night in the off-season (late March through November).
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Saranac Lake, New York
This upstate New York village that’s 2½ hours north of Albany was once a magnet for artists and fresh-air-seeking tuberculosis patients such as author Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as a summer home for Albert Einstein. It’s still a draw for its natural beauty and surrounding Adirondack Mountains, but lately also for its wonderful food scene. Diners savor under-$20 local cheese plates and changing menus at the Fiddlehead Bistro, as well as craft cocktail specials at Bitters & Bones. Inexpensive live music venues abound. Winter attracts skiers and snowshoers; in warmer months, you can bike, relax in the sun, enjoy the lake, and hike surrounding peaks or survey them from a chairlift at nearby Lake Placid. Sleep at the elegant, recently renovated Hotel Saranac (rates start around $120 a night) or at Gauthier’s Saranac Lake Inn on the waterfront, where you can find rates as low as $80 a night.
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Lafourche Parish, Louisiana
Check out the new Cajun Bayou Food Trail for an affordable, appetizing glimpse into the lives and culture of past and present generations of Cajuns. You can start about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans in Thibodaux and end in Port Fourchon, about 72 miles away, or drive in the opposite direction. Either way, you’ll want to sample gumbo, étouffée, jambalaya, steamed crawfish, pecan pralines and more at family-run establishments such as Bubba’s II PoBoys in Thibodaux (where a seriously overstuffed oyster po’boy will set you back just $12.95). Learn about the area’s rich roots at Bayou Lafourche Folklife and Heritage Museum in Lockport (open Tuesdays and Thursdays). Take a swamp tour, dance to zydeco music and sleep in at comfy B&B’s with local flavor. At 19th-century Dansereau House in Thibodaux, double rooms start at less than $100 a night, or you can pay even less at one of the many chain hotels in the area.
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PHOTO BY: Daniel Dempster Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Burnet County, Texas
Texas Hill Country near San Antonio and Austin is getting crowded — and less affordable. So point the car toward Burnet County (pronounced BURN-it), in the region’s northeast, about an hour’s drive from Austin, for a tranquil getaway near several man-made lakes. Fish or launch a boat at Painted Sky Inn on Lake Buchanan, where contemporary waterside rooms with kitchenettes start at $100 a night. You might see soaring bald eagles on a boat tour there, but you’ll be sure to glimpse feathered species at nearby Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge, a popular birding destination. Sip a tempranillo or syrah while overlooking unspoiled countryside at Torr Na Lochs Vineyard & Winery (“hill over lakes” in Gaelic), owned by a retired couple self-taught in winemaking. Refuel in Marble Falls, where 90-year-old Blue Bonnet Cafe has a $3.59 per slice “pie happy hour.” And you’ll find budget and moderately priced chain hotels across the county.
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With Nashville a chart-topping tourist mecca, it can be easy to overlook a nearby gem. About 20 miles to the south of Music City, Franklin is known for an important 1864 Civil War battle (guided battlefield tours cost $25), antebellum homes, live music venues and an award-winning Main Street for strolling, shopping and dining, plus free events such as Pumpkinfest and Dickens of a Christmas. Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant serves $14.99 barbecue plate dinners and traditional Southern “meat and three” lunches. Franklin has inexpensive chain lodgings, plus inviting Airbnb’s. You’ll save hotel dollars by making it a base for visiting Nashville attractions.
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Paso Robles, California
Lesser known and easier on the wallet than California’s Napa, Sonoma and Santa Ynez wine valleys, Paso Robles, located on the state’s central coast between L.A. and San Francisco, has plenty to offer. This includes more than 200 wineries pouring award-winning vintages in tasting rooms with a relaxed vibe. Some of the wineries overlook photo-ready grape-draped hillsides, and you can usually try free samples if you buy a bottle or two. Drive under canopies of live oak trees on a circular tour along Vineyard Drive and Adelaida Road, stopping wherever strikes your fancy. Walk the historic downtown before checking into the renovated Farmhouse Motel, where rates start at around $70 a night during slower winter months and the rooms have fridges to chill that vino.