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10 Affordable Spring Vacations

Now is a great time to visit these budget-friendly destinations across the U.S.

spinner image wildflowers grow in a meadow with mount rainier in the background
Views of Mount Rainier are one of the budget-friendly perks when visiting Seattle.
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Winter-weary adults deserve spring breaks, too. Whether it’s relaxing on a beach, waxing skis or spending quality downtime with friends or family, consider options that cater to a variety of interests without maxing out your credit cards.

spinner image wildflowers grow around an old fence in texas hill country
Texas Hill Country is a great place to see wildflowers in the spring.
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Texas in bloom

Spring is ideal for visiting Texas Hill Country, an hour’s drive northwest of San Antonio. Roadside fields strewn with bluebonnets await their close-ups. Quaint Fredericksburg is becoming a top wine travel destination: The area is home to more than 50 vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms. Locally owned Fischer & Wieser pours samples of Texas and international vintages and sells award-winning peach salsa and cooking condiments (the $7.99 roasted raspberry and chipotle sauce is a bestseller). Lodging includes the intimate, pet-friendly Hotel Kitsmiller on Main, where rooms can start at $75. History buffs can tour the National Museum of the Pacific War (adults, $24; 65 and up, $16; World War II vets free). It focuses on maneuvers in the Pacific theater in World War II. Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the Allied Pacific forces, hailed from Fredericksburg.

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spinner image wildflowers in a meadow in front of the flatiron mountains in boulder colorado
Boulder offers beautiful views of the mountains.
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Rocky Mountain highs in Colorado

Boulder, a bustling college town in the shadow of the Rockies about 30 miles northwest of Denver, provides plenty of peak experiences. Get in your steps on more than 40 miles of hiking trails in the city’s vast Chautauqua Park. Founded in 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua campus also emphasizes continuous learning via affordable lectures and concerts. Two can stay in a historic lodge starting at about $121 nightly until May, when rates rise. Cottages cost more. Downtown’s centerpiece is the brick pedestrian portion of Pearl Street, lined with locally owned bars, eateries and coffee shops. Saturdays starting in April, a farmers market lures crowds with produce, fragrant flowers, free food samples, entertainers and crafts. University of Colorado students and alums bite into a $12.80 Sinkburger with Creole-spiced fries at century-old The Sink. Its most famous employee was a young Robert Redford. In April, skiers can schuss Eldora Mountain for less than $100 daily (half what’s charged at big-name Colorado resorts). About 21 miles west of Boulder, Eldora is served by buses that are complimentary on weekends.

spinner image cruise ship the margaritaville at sea
Margaritaville at Sea is an affordable cruise option.
Courtesy Margaritaville at Sea
spinner image a couple enjoying the franklin park conservatory in columbus ohio
The Franklin Park Conservatory offers accessible and budget-friendly activities.
Courtesy Experience Columbus
spinner image beach umbrellas and people sunbathing on delray beach in florida
Delray Beach offers miles of sandy shoreline perfect for relaxing in the sun.
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Sun and shop in Florida

Delray Beach, Florida, Fort Lauderdale’s lesser-known neighbor to the north, is blessed with long stretches of uncrowded sand and locally owned boutiques, bars and restaurants on lively Atlantic Avenue. By contrast, Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens ($15, adults; $13, 65 and older) provides a peaceful respite for lovers of culture and cultivation. It earned a 2022 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Award. Galleries in the Pineapple Grove Arts District are another worthy diversion. Stay in Old Florida style at the yellow stucco Colony Hotel & Cabaña Club, where rooms (some accessible) start at less than $175 during the spring off-season in May and June.

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spinner image cruise ship the margaritaville at sea
Margaritaville at Sea is an affordable cruise option.
Courtesy Margaritaville at Sea

Escape to Margaritaville

Crave a change in latitude with booze in the blender? Jimmy Buffett fans and thrifty cruisers now can board the Margaritaville at Sea line for cheap sailings from Palm Beach, Florida, to the Bahamas and back. Two-night outings on the 1,680-passenger Paradise start at about $97 per person, not including fees, taxes, tips and alcohol. Active service members, veterans, doctors, nurses, first responders and teachers sail free when sharing a stateroom with a paying passenger. Highlights include a show featuring Buffett hits, the 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar and cabins with whimsical tropical décor. In Freeport, Bahamas, guests can laze on the beach or splash out $99 on a swim-with-pigs excursion.

spinner image a couple enjoying the franklin park conservatory in columbus ohio
The Franklin Park Conservatory offers accessible and budget-friendly activities.
Courtesy Experience Columbus

​Hello, Columbus!

Ohio’s once-under-the-radar vacation destination, billed by the Experience Columbus marketing association as a one-day drive for more than half the U.S. population, is rolling out the welcome mat with a “Live to Break Free” spring promotion. Experience Columbus is giving away two tickets to the stunning Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (usually $19-$22 for adults) or the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium ($27.99-$29.99 for out-of-town adult guests) when hotels are booked via experiencecolumbus.com. Spring attractions include a cherry blossom festival April 1-9. Sample craft beer in the Brewery District or stroll the brick streets of German Village, established by early settlers. Scarf up an $18 sausage sampler with German potato salad at century-old Schmidt’s Sausage Haus while listening to live oompah music. Veterans, active-duty military and gold star families get free admission to the National Veterans Memorial and Museum (normally $18 for adults, $16, 65 and up), which honors all service branches.

spinner image sandhill cranes on the platte river in nebraska
Sandhill cranes are one of the many wildlife attractions on Grand Island.
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Crane-watching nirvana in Nebraska

Novice and veteran bird-watchers from around the world flock to the Grand Island, Nebraska, area in springtime. The draw: an annual northward migration of more than 500,000 gray and tan sandhill cranes along the Platte River. Best viewing opportunities generally are from the second half of March to early April. Later, see swarms of other migrating birds. The National Wildlife Federation says more than 300 species have been sighted over the central Platte River. You can take a guided tour, but a free public viewing deck is available at the county’s River Park. Another lure: The area has inexpensive lodgings and campgrounds. 

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Actor Morgan Freeman was one of the founders of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.
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Music lovers’ mecca in Mississippi

Drive the U.S. 61 “Blues Highway” south of Memphis, Tennessee, past acres of cotton fields to hear live music and trace the roots of this quintessentially American music genre. Dine and dance at the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, cofounded by actor Morgan Freeman. Visit the nearby Delta Blues Museum ($12; $10, seniors 65-plus) and stay at one of the most offbeat lodgings in the nation. The funky Shack Up Inn (“The Ritz We Ain’t,” its website proclaims) includes restored tin-roofed sharecropper cabins updated with indoor bathrooms and kitchenettes. Cabins, some named for blues greats, can be less than $100 a night and have hosted everyone from international road trippers to Nashville songwriters looking for an inspirational place to pen a hit. Music greats such as Ike Turner, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits have stayed there. 

spinner image forested mountains in the distance in olympic national park washington
Olympic National Park is one of the budget-friendly options around Seattle.
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Peace out in the Pacific Northwest

Start nearly 11 miles north of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where you can opt for a retro experience at Peace Vans. Laid-back staffers will put you in a restored VW pop-up camper that can sleep four and is easier to drive than an RV. For $179 a night through March ($265 starting April 1), including 125 free miles a day, you can visit Mount Rainier National Park in the off-season, when waterfalls are gushing and crowds have slowed to a trickle. Roll onto a ferry to visit the San Juan Islands or drive to Olympic National Park, a bucket list destination covering nearly 1 million acres, including rain forests, 73 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline and glaciers (entrance, $30 a vehicle). You’ll have a mini kitchen, heater and assistance 24/7. Vans have no bathrooms, but Peace Vans has two campgrounds equipped with them that run $25 a night. If you desire a more modern camper, a Mercedes with AC costs the same. Rates rise after April 1.

spinner image the rose crystal tower in greenville south carolina
The “Rose Crystal Tower” by Dale Chihuly is 22 feet tall.
Courtesy VisitGreenvilleSC

Retiree retreat in South Carolina

Greenville, a congenial river city of about 72,000, has become a go-to for empty nesters and mature travelers. It’s easy to navigate foodie-friendly Main Street on free, wheelchair-accessible trolleys that run Thursday-Sunday. Cheap eats include Tex-Mex Comal 864 from 2023 James Beard Awards chef nominee Dayna Lee-Márquez. Elsewhere, try shrimp and grits, Vietnamese pho or Jamaican jerk chicken at mom-and-pop eateries or food trucks. Scope out public art installations, including Dale Chihuly’s translucent Rose Crystal Tower in Falls Park. May 12-14 brings the 19th annual Artisphere on Main Street, where more than 140 artists display and sell their works. The Greenville County Museum of Art, also free, houses the largest public exhibit of Andrew Wyeth watercolors. Active visitors can rent a bike and hop on the 22-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail.

spinner image couple walking on the beach at sunset in encinitas california
Swami's Beach is a gorgeous spot to watch the sunset in Encinitas.
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Savoring the surf in Southern California

Swami’s Beach in Encinitas gets a shout-out in the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA,” so you know that the waves in this classic California seaside community north of San Diego are epic. Watch daredevils hang 10 or wipe out. Stroll, bike and enjoy the walkable downtown. Take in a quirky sight: a large mosaic depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe riding a board, known as Surfing Madonna. Days on the sand don’t get much sunnier than at Moonlight State Beach, with umbrella and beach chair rentals and snack bar for comfort. Stay within walking distance for weekday spring rates that include breakfast from sites including Booking.com starting at about $120 nightly in April and rising slightly in May at the nearby Brisa Pacifica Hotel. Shoot the breeze with locals at the unpretentious Fish Shop. They’ll likely steer you to the mahi mahi tacos.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 7, 2016. It has been updated to reflect new information.

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