15 Low-Key Summer Destinations for Budget Travelers (#10 Feels Like an Island Getaway)

With so many things more expensive than ever, a fun summer vacation is still within reach.
Updated May 21, 2024
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Summer travel is as American as it gets, conjuring images of families piling into the car for a road trip to a favorite destination. Ideally, the trip takes you to a lake or a sunny place where you can enjoy long days out in nature.

Or perhaps you prefer heading to a more urban locale for your summer escape. No matter your preferences, there are excellent vacation spots where you can beat the crowds without running up a massive balance on your favorite travel credit card.

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Biloxi, Mississippi

Kovcs/Adobe lighthouse at biloxi mississippi

This affordable Gulf Coast gem is known for its beautiful beaches, casinos (with low minimum bets), and history. For fun, enjoy lounging on the sandy beaches, playing the slots, and exploring historic sites.

A day trip to Ship Island is a must, as is dining on the abundant, fresh seafood (especially shrimp) in the vibrant culinary scene.

Charleston, South Carolina

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With its cobblestone streets and gorgeous waterfront, Charleston has plenty to offer visitors. Check out the city's historic district, look for dolphins on a boat tour, and enjoy views of the harbor on an afternoon stroll.

Be sure to sample some of the city's delicious Lowcountry cuisine, which won't put a huge dent in your wallet.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Christopher Boswell/Adobe sunrise at downtown chattanooga tennessee

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chattanooga has tons of affordable outdoor activities and local attractions.

A visit to Lookout Mountain is a must. Then enjoy the revitalized Riverwalk and take a cruise on the Tennessee River. Dine on a diverse variety of cuisine, but a plate of Southern specialties can’t be missed.

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Florence, Oregon

Cascade Photo/Adobe aerial view of heceta lighthouse

Florence is a cute coastal town in Oregon known for its uncrowded public beaches, towering sand dunes, and bustling arts scene.

Hang out downtown, nosh on farm-to-table fare, hike in the nearby Siuslaw National Forest, get your adrenaline going in a dune buggy, or just chill out on the beach.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

SeanPavonePhoto/Adobe gatlinburg tn usa

The gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a quaint mountain town known for its beauty, outdoor mountain adventures, and eight-mile loop dotted with local restaurants and shops.

The park is the main draw, as is a ride on the Gatlinburg SkyLift Park. A day trip to Dollywood is a must. Consider camping for the most affordable lodgings.

Grand Junction, Colorado

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Located in the heart of Colorado's wine country, Grand Junction has Moab and Grand Canyon energy without the crowds or price tag. Outdoor activities run the gamut from hiking and biking to climbing.

The otherworldly Colorado National Monument is a must-see. Afterward, go wine tasting and stroll through downtown.

Mendocino County, California

Mary Ellen Tysinger/Wirestock Creators/Adobe vineyard rows in mendocino county

Beat the crowds in Napa and Sonoma and save money by heading to Mendocino County, which has an abundance of charming vineyards.

While in town, drive Highway 1, which has stunning views of the Pacific, and hike among the redwoods in the Mendocino National Forest. For the cheapest lodging, use Airbnb.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

SeanPavonePhoto/Adobe city skyline on lake michigan

Oodles of craft breweries? Check. Gorgeous beaches on Lake Michigan? Check. Affordable prices and fewer crowds than Madison? Check. That, plus the weather, makes Milwaukee a great summer destination.

Baseball fans can take in a Brewers game. Oh, and Midwest Living named Milwaukee the culinary capital of the Midwest in 2023 — a bonus!

New Paltz, New York

khalid/Adobe historic mohonk mountain house

Nestled in the scenic Hudson Valley, New Paltz is a funky college town with great outdoor recreation and eclectic downtown. Locals love hiking and picnicking at Mohonk Preserve in the summer.

Historic Huguenot Street is great for history-loving tourists. And, affordable lodgings and dining are easy to find in this off-the-radar gem.

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Ocala, Florida

Mark J. Barrett/Adobe thoroughbred mares and foals lounging

While Florida is famous for its stunning beaches, Ocala is an excellent and affordable home base to visit Florida’s lesser-known but equally gorgeous springs.

You can kayak Silver Springs and look for wildlife like monkeys (yes, really!), take a dip in Rainbow Springs, and tubing at Ichetucknee Springs. Afterward, enjoy the cute downtown.

Omaha, Nebraska

Jacob/Adobe aerial view of downtown omaha

There's so much to do in affordable and underrated Omaha. Walk along the 3,000-foot Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, shop and dine in the bustling Old Market district (pro-tip: order the steak or Reuben), and visit museums for a history lesson.

Kids (and adults with robust inner children) can't miss the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Located at the confluence of three Rivers, Pittsburgh is affordable across the board and pleasant in the summer. Plus, it's kid-friendly and less crowded than Philly.

Dine on abundant Polish cuisine, peruse the Andy Warhol Museum, catch a Pirates game, and ride the Duquesne Incline to enjoy sweeping city views.

Portland, Maine

Wangkun Jia/Adobe portland cathedral in downtown portland

Situated along the serene Casco Bay, Portland comes alive with gusto in the summer. It's the perfect place for getting your lobster fix, going on a brewery crawl, and wandering through the artsy downtown.

Take a fun cruise around the bay to see lighthouses and harbor seals in this affordable Northeastern vacation spot.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Martin/Adobe colorful houses line the hill

Stunning San Juan is an affordable city known for its architecture, delicious cuisine, and utterly beautiful beaches.

Viejo San Juan is the heart of the action, buttressed by the El Morro and Castillo San Cristobal forts. Feast on dishes like Mofongo, enjoy the boisterous nightlife scene, and of course, hit the beach.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Patrick/Adobe sunset in voyageurs national park

Voyageurs National Park — one of the least visited in the country — is known for its gorgeous lakes, outdoor activities, and wildlife viewing.

Explore the park's network of waterways by kayak, go fishing, or hike along one of its many trails. At night, look out for the Northern Lights!

Bottom line

Jacob Lund/Adobe retired couple walking around

Whether you're looking for outdoor adventure, urban adventures, or just a relaxing getaway, these destinations promise plenty of fun.

If you’re on the lookout for an international adventure thanks to scoring cheap plane fare, there are plenty of ways to travel more as well. The world is your oyster.

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Intro Offer

Earn 25,000 online bonus points after you make at least $1,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening - that can be a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases

Annual Fee



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Author Details

Cat Lafuente Cat Lafuente is a Florida-based writer and editor with extensive experience in digital and print content spaces. Her own personal finance journey — particularly consolidating debt and paying it off, in turn boosting her credit score and becoming a homeowner — inspired her to join the FinanceBuzz team; she hopes she can help others do the same.

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