9 Affordable U.S. Destinations for 2022
Consider these less-visited towns for a fun getaway that won't cost a bundle
by Kitty Bean Yancey, AARP, AARP, December 16, 2021
Consider these nine destinations off many travelers’ radar that boast compelling reasons to visit, plus big bang for the buck. Go on weekdays and off-season for best prices.
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PHOTO BY: Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
After years playing third fiddle to Memphis and Nashville (a two-hour drive to the northwest), Chattanooga is stepping into the spotlight. The so-called “Scenic City” has added hotels, restaurants and attractions in the last several years, and recently expanded its 16-mile paved Tennessee Riverwalk. Stroll along it past the River Gallery Sculpture Garden, then grab an espresso drink made with locally roasted beans at Rembrandt’s Coffee House near the riverfront. Take the mile-long trip up Lookout Mountain on the steep Incline Railway, whose trolley-like cars now can accommodate wheelchairs ($15 for adults; adults 65 and older ride for $7.50 December through February). Score a $15 burger and craft beer during weekday happy hours at Chattanooga Brewing Co. Tap your feet to live music at the bars on Station Street. Then lay your head at the many lodgings whose rates start at less than $100, including Best Western Royal Inn and the Comfort Inn Downtown. Splurge on the Choo Choo Hotel (winter rates from $129), once a beaux arts railway terminal, or the Moxy Chattanooga Downtown (around $150 and up). The visitchattanooga.com website has a “Deals” section offering discounts.
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PHOTO BY: Peter Titmuss / Alamy Stock Photo
Orange County, New York
For first-rate, cut-rate retail therapy, head an hour’s drive north of New York City in Central Valley, where you'll find Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, whose 250 stores are a bargain hunter’s heaven. Prowl for 65 percent discounts on sought-after brands including Ralph Lauren, Coach, Nike, Burberry, Old Navy and Ann Taylor. Afterward, celebrate your thriftiness with $6 beef-and-corn tacos at A Better Place Bar & Grill. Orange County also lures tourists to the Hudson Valley with its history and natural attractions. The Adirondack-rustic Bear Mountain Inn in Bear Mountain State Park has hosted presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower and is where Kate Smith is said to have written her hit "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain." Rates start at $99 off-season. Sample locally made wine, beer, cider and distilled spirits at multiple locales, including Tin Barn Brewery and Applewood Winery. Also worth a visit: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and West Point Museum, which has free exhibits of military artifacts, including weapons and soldiers’ gear dating to the 17th century.
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PHOTO BY: Jan Butchofsky / Alamy Stock Photo
St. George, Utah
Rocks and docs! This southern Utah gateway to Zion National Park is a two-hour drive northeast of Las Vegas, and is a treat for hikers and those fascinated by red sandstone formations. Now it’s becoming a medical tourism mecca thanks to surgical centers with board-certified physicians who provide procedures approved by Medicare that would cost many times more elsewhere. But outdoor enthusiasts appreciate it, too — for, among other things, the more than 38 miles of trails at nearby Snow Canyon State Park ($15 per vehicle). The outdoor Tuacahn Amphitheatre hosts famous acts such as the Temptations (tickets for their April 9 concert start at just $39). Stay at the recently renovated, family-owned Chalet Motel, where spic-and-span units with kitchenette can cost less than $70 a night. Splurge on a room with panoramic views at the Inn on the Cliff, $120 during slow times. For authentic south-of-the-border dishes under $15, eat at Angelica’s Mexican Grill.
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PHOTO BY: Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright / Alamy Stock Photo
This pretty little city in the state with the lowest cost of living has a rich history and plenty of reasons to visit. Once a cotton capital, Greenwood — a two-hour drive south of Memphis — played a role in the fight for civil rights. In 1966, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activist Stokely Carmichael delivered his famous call for Black power in Greenwood. In later years, Greenwood was the filming location for The Help, which spotlighted racial injustice. You can take a self-guided driving tour of sites, including historic homes, used in the movie. Other attractions include the Viking Cooking School’s classes (using Viking appliances, of course), plus great bars featuring Delta blues music. Aficionados of the 1967 hit "Ode to Billie Joe," sung by onetime Greenwood resident Bobbie Gentry, can cross the Tallahatchie Bridge, which figures mysteriously in the song. Sink your teeth into a $13 half slab of ribs at Drake’s BBQ and stay in a renovated ’40s tin-roofed tenant cabin at Tallahatchie Flats, where rates start at $85 a night.
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PHOTO BY: Bruce Leighty / Alamy Stock Photo
Not comfortable traveling to Amsterdam in the COVID-19 era? Savor genuine Dutch flavor 150 miles northeast of Chicago in this small town established by Dutch immigrants in 1847. Think cobblestone sidewalks, Netherlands architecture and cuisine, plus millions of tulips blooming in spring. Visit the Holland Museum (seniors, $6; adults, $7), spotlighting the city’s heritage. Photograph the 250-year-old sole working Dutch windmill in the U.S., in 36-acre Windmill Island Gardens (adults, $10), closed from mid-fall through winter. May’s Tulip Time Festival and late November into December, when the Kerstmarkt holiday market sets up, are popular times to visit. Traverse a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk to view the “Big Red” lighthouse that guards the channel connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. And it costs nothing to tour De Klomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory, where artisans turn out hand-carved clogs and Delft pottery. Order Dutch pancakes and pea soup at deBoer’s Bakkerij. Rates at Microtel Inn & Suites, including breakfast, start at less than $65 on slow nights.
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PHOTO BY: Rob Crandall / Alamy Stock Photo
Vermont’s biggest city (population 45,000) retains a small-town feel. Stroll past family-owned Vermont Flannel Company and Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery on pedestrian-only Church Street Marketplace downtown. Order a Change Is Brewing coffee/brownie/marshmallow cone from socially conscious Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, headquartered in South Burlington. Admire local and international works at the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art, where admission is free. Discover the up-and-coming dining scene, where you'll find farm-to-table restaurants and spots to sample variations of Canada’s decadent gravy-and-cheese-curd slathered fries called poutine (Montreal is a two-hour drive to the north). Citizen Cider serves its own hard ciders and locally sourced beef burgers with poutine for less than $20. Cruise Lake Champlain in the warmer months on the Spirit of Ethan Allen (from about $15). Budget lodgings include all the usual chains starting at around $100 to $150 a night. Spend $150 and up on bed and breakfast at Lang House on Main Street to get that New England inn vibe.
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PHOTO BY: Pat & Chuck Blackley / Alamy Stock Photo
Black Mountain, North Carolina
The word is out about the crafts, eateries and breweries in Asheville, but less familiar is Black Mountain, 16 miles to the east. Boutiques and eats are on par with Asheville's, but generally carry lower price tags. Try Chifferobe Home and Garden for affordable antiques, shabby chic home decor, folk art and jewelry, and Mountain Nest, a gallery selling arts and crafts from more than 100 regional artisans. Among the roster of farm-to-table restaurants is Louise’s Kitchen, housed in a 1904 farmhouse and known for delicious and ample breakfasts. Order a “big boy burrito” — two local free-range eggs, sausage, bacon, shredded cheese, potatoes and pico de gallo stuffed into a tortilla — for $10. Recover in one of the rocking chairs decorated by local craftspeople, placed around “The little town that rocks.” Like Asheville, Black Mountain is bait for beer lovers. You can choose from more than a dozen local brews at BAD Craft (beer, art, desserts) or Lookout Brewing Company. Bed and breakfast buffet for two starts at about $160 in the winter off-season at the Victorian Red Rocker Inn, and you can find rooms as low as $99 at the Monte Vista Boutique Hotel. Scenic Lake Tomahawk Park is a great place to walk, while the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway beckons road trippers.
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PHOTO BY: Don Smetzer / Alamy Stock Photo
Billed as a tank of gas away from major Midwest cities including Chicago and Milwaukee, the former mining town and steamboat port in northwest Illinois is the perfect inexpensive getaway. Its old-fashioned Main Street is lined with brick buildings housing shops, bars and restaurants. You can taste wines from local vineyards, ditch the car and take a guided trolley tour (prices vary), or visit the white-pillared Ulysses S. Grant home for $5. In warm-weather months, kayaking on the Galena River is popular. Wet your whistle at quirky Root Beer Revelry, stocking dozens of varieties of the classic beverage (Key lime, anyone?) or at Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub & Grill, where Guinness is on tap and Kathleen Leonard’s beef shepherd’s pie with Irish soda bread ($19) is the star. Affordable B&Bs are plentiful, including the 19th-century Belle Aire Mansion Guest House, which advertises itself as “the friendliest bed and breakfast in Illinois.” Rates start at $100, including a hot breakfast and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Those 60 and older get $10 off by booking directly.
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PHOTO BY: Sean Pavone / Alamy Stock Photo
Once overlooked as a vacation choice, Oklahoma’s second-largest city is making headlines with its innovative, free Gathering Place. The 66.5-acre park on the banks of the Arkansas River — due to expand to nearly 100 acres — melds outdoor activities with the work of local and international artists and appeals to both kids and grownups. Bird-watch, attend events such as Native American storytelling or go on a self-guided “scavenger hunt” to ID flowers and wildlife. Pathways are accessible, and wheelchairs can be rented at no cost. A free Gathering Place app is provided by AARP Oklahoma. Architecture buffs salivate over the city’s art deco buildings. Must-sees include the Philbrook Museum of Art, in an Italian Renaissance-style mansion once owned by an oil magnate (seniors 62 and older, $10; adults $12). The new Greenwood Rising history center tells the story of the Greenwood District, dubbed “Black Wall Street,” and the deadly 1921 racially charged attack on its businesses and residents. Admission is free. Chow down alongside locals at Tally’s Good Food Café, famed for its cinnamon rolls and Fat Boy cheeseburger. Hip Aloft Tulsa Downtown has rates starting under $100.
Kitty Bean Yancey, a former USA Today deputy managing editor, is a travel writer and the winner of multiple Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers.
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