Cheap but Fun Cities in the United States

by Frugal Brian

las vegas

For some crazy reason, when I tried to research ‘cheap’ cities in the United States, I got things like ‘worst cities’ in America, ’crummiest cities’ in America and so on.  Apparently, cheap and trashy are synonymous in many people’s minds.  That’s not what this article is about.  Cheap, for the purpose of this article, will mean frugal.

Forbes…… $$$ At least that’s what I think of.  So I guess they would know about cheap.  They do in fact list some which they call ‘bargain boom towns’ where you can get more for less.  They actually published their top 100 online.  Who you may ask, received the dubious ranking of the cheapest city in the United States of America today?  None other than Manchester-Nashua, New Hampshire was awarded the title.  With an unemployment rate of only four, a low crime rate, and a culture index of 24, they blew the city listed at 100 out of the water.  That city just happens to be Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas whose unemployment rate rolled in at 92, a staggering crime rate, and a culture index of 75.  To gain a better understanding of what all this means, the chart can be found on under lifestyles.

Keep in mind when discussing the cheapest city in the United States, the question of which city that would be depends on the type of cheap that you’re looking for.  Cheap housing, cheap night out, cheap taxes, cheap car prices, cheap vacations…  And even if they do have, let’s say a low cost of living, if the unemployment rate is sky high, you still won’t be able to afford to live there…  No job!

All that said; let’s take a look at some inexpensive cities in the United States to visit or vacation.  Categorizing by lowest hotel costs, low air fare and/or low gas prices, while still offering ‘the most’ (food, shopping, nightlife, culture).

  • Phoenix, Arizona rolls in at number one, it’s basically a sports lover’s dream come true.  Racing (boat and car), major league baseball and professional lacrosse all take place in Phoenix.  Both water and dessert attractions pretty much cover all bases, as well as a ghost town and state park.
  • Las Vegas, Nevada: No surprise here; with 90+ casinos, reasonable room rates, over 14 shopping malls, outdoor art exhibits, crazy cheap meal buffets, free drinks and entertainment, how on earth can you go wrong?  Many travel agencies offer sweet package deals but some people like to put together their own packages (sometimes for less).  Fountains, light shows and animal parks will appeal to the whole family.
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (reasonable air fares and even more reasonable train rates are available to this destination) Bourbon street, the French Quarter, endless nightlife, infinite dining experiences, antiques, boutiques, numerous attractions for history buffs, and a diverse music collection (yes of course, Jazz) spell out an eventful, yet relatively inexpensive, collection of good times.  Oh, and one last thing…MARDI GRAS!  Hello!
  • Austin, Texas: Yee Haw! (or something like that) Austin is, in a word, weird.  And there’s no shortage of it.  Music festivals and nightlife are two things that Austin does best.  Pure spring water, bike trails through rolling hills and a much needed break from the heat at Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs (crazy collection of flavored sno-cones) will give the entire family something to do until mom and dad drop the kids off at the hotel and head out for the evening. 
  • Orlando, Florida: Home of Universal Studios and Sea World.  Budget friendly theme parks and hotels are now a big part of Orlando.  Art galleries, floral sites, farmers markets, and big bad cypress trees (photo op) are just a few of the attractions in this tropical paradise.
  • Dallas, Texas: FOOD!  My kind of town.  Mexican, barbecue and Tex Mex all combine to offer one of the most down home culinary experiences of all time.  Amazingly, Dallas has more culinary establishments per capita than does the infamous New York City.  For history buffs, the museum devotes one floor in its entirety to JFK.  ‘Trees’ and ‘Club Clearview’ are the best places to sample local musical talent but ‘Deep Elm’ in the warehouse district has the city’s finest music venues as well as interesting shopping opportunities. (don’t miss Mia’s Tex Mex Restaurant)
  • San Antonio, Texas: I’m sensing a pattern here.  The walk way along the San Antonio River known as The River Walk, is packed with bars shops and restaurants of all types.  Not too far from the river is the infamous Alamo viewable from the touring barge or a walk along the path.  As with in Dallas, Tex Mex rules (I may have to stop writing long enough to take a trip south!).  Taking a trolley through the city allows one to sample a choice of delectable delights.  If art is your thing, a magnificent collection can be found at the McNay Art Museum as well as a fascinating medieval collection on the upper floor.
  • Nashville, Tennessee-country music anyone?  Nashville manages to maintain a small town feel despite its cities’ skyscrapers.  Market Street’s nightly live music, chocolate shakes and cheeseburgers (in paradise), line dancing at the Wild Horse Saloon and of course the Grand Old Opry are only some of Nashville’s many attractions.  Musical shows and theme parks can be found at Opryland and for you more seasoned travelers, enjoy a bit of Europe by visiting the Parthenon (one of the city’s most well known attractions).

Need one more?  Okay.

  • Portland, Oregon: Home of Voodoo Donuts. Uh huh, that’s right.  (Don’t miss their ‘bacon-maple-Donut’) Whereas some of the other vacation areas where they offer temperature to the extreme, Portland has mild temperatures and low rainfall.  It hosts one of the largest wilderness parks (in city limits) in the U.S. and is also home to a classical Chinese Garden.  Keeping the throes of visitors in a jolly mood every year are Portland’s Craft Beer Festivals. (okay so I’m traveling here right after Tex Mex) Oh, and the doughnut place… they host weddings.

So there you have it.  Reasonable air fares, good hotel rates and a decent number of ‘freebies’ make each of these some of the cheapest cities in the United States.

Need to travel to these cities?

One of the best discounts users can get is by using online booking agencies such as travelocity or orbitz.  They purchase in bulk so they can give the best discounts available.  They often have coupons as well that can yield even more savings. Search for a travelocity coupon or orbitz coupon code to discover some of these discounts. 

So what do you think about my list?

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