There is quite a bit that goes into planning a summer vacation, from packing for the whole family to navigating busy airports and planning out your itinerary so that you hit all the must-sees. If you're crunched for time and money, however, planning can get even more stressful, as you now have to work about getting cheap flight tickets while avoiding hidden fees and figuring out how to save money on your hotel stay. As summer draws to a close, it may seem as though it's too late to get in on a quick getaway that won't drain your wallet, but there are still plenty of destinations perfect for a spur-of-the-moment trip.
By choosing a destination that's already an affordable summer spot, you can either make it easier to get good summertime deals or make it entirely unnecessary. With just a bit of determination, patience, and research, you can get some great deals on accommodations, transportation, and local attractions. Don't worry about having to figure out just where you can go that'll be easy and wallet-friendly; we've got you covered with this list of 20 last-minute summer vacations you can afford.
Home to the busiest airport in the world, Georgia's capital isn't hard to reach. Once you do get there, there's plenty to do in terms of food and fun. The world's favorite soda has its headquarters in Atlanta, and a tour of the World of Coca-Cola provides sweet insight as well as samples. Visitors can also visit the world's largest aquarium by volume of water, take a tour of CNN's studio headquarters, or visit the largest dinosaur ever excavated at the Fernbank Natural History Museum. You can pay tribute to the civil rights movement here as well, as the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site gives visitors the opportunity to visit the civil rights leader's birthplace, home, church, and gravesite, along with a museum and memorial dedicated in his honor. The city's role in the civil rights movement is memorialized in the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the largest collection of Civil War memorabilia resides at the nearby Atlanta History Center, as well. A number of other ancient, modern, and natural history museums and exhibits populate Atlanta, and those who wish to see as many as they can should take the time to buy the Atlanta CityPASS, a nine-day discounted pass to visit five local attractions, often with the ability to cut lines. The city is, however, one of the worst for mosquitoes, so make sure you follow all the right tips to avoid getting bitten.
Atlantic City, New Jersey
The legality of casino gambling has made Atlantic City a very popular East Coast destination, but that's not all it has to offer. This New Jersey spot has plenty of family-friendly attractions, including the country's oldest boardwalk, which stretches 4 miles and is sure to take you back in time. You can also use guides on the boardwalk who will give you a lift in an old-fashioned rolling chair to its hotels, resorts, shops, and casinos if you're not up for the walk. Several piers off of the boardwalk offer even more attractions. Go to Garden Pier to visit the local history museum and the Atlantic City Arts Center where you can enjoy all kinds of live shows or check out Steel Pier for rides and games at the local amusement park. The Atlantic City Aquarium has eight giant tanks full of amazing marine life, but you can also enjoy the sea outdoors by visiting Absecon Lighthouse and climbing its 228 steps for a fantastic ocean view.
Locals may love to "Keep Austin Weird," but this city is a good kind of odd, which one of the many reasons we love it. Austin has a unique ambience in comparison with the rest of the state and is the live music capital of the world, with tons of music venues and festivals to check out. Like everything else in Texas, Austin is geographically huge, so it's divided into six districts. Austin offers tons of shopping, art galleries, and multiple museums and parks, and outdoor endeavors are popular, particularly rock climbing and mountain biking. You can also go for a swim in a spring-fed pool or rent a kayak, canoe, paddle board, or tube. Make sure you try the Tex-Mex while you're there too! Austin's food scene is a great mix of Southwestern and cosmopolitan.
Boston has everything for those seeking a big city with a small town feel. History abounds in the 16 districts of Beantown, and over 16 million people come to experience it every year. Site of the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and the Siege of Boston, Boston is known as "The Cradle of Liberty" due to its pivotal role in American independence. As a result, the Freedom Trail - a two-and-a-half-mile walking history tour - is an absolute must for every visitor and a great way to start off your weekend. You can also experience history indoors at the city's many museums, saving quite a bit with one of several visitor passes such as the Go Boston Card or the Boston CityPASS to witness history, art, science, and culture. Boston also has some beautiful parks and is one of the best urban hiking cities, but the best spot to explore is the renowned Boston Common and Public Garden, the oldest public park in the nation. Downtown Boston holds Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market where you can find plenty to eat or shop. Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is one of Boston's most famous landmarks, and catching a game there is an all-American experience many tourists make sure to partake in.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Although the city of Cannon Beach has a population of only around 1,700 people, over 750,000 visit every year to enjoy an affordable vacation in one of America's best beach towns. Photos of its shore often feature the 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, the third largest monolith in the world. Low tide reveals the starfish and other marine life living near the base of the rock. You can also find even more natural beauty at Ecola State Park, a favorite of many hikers and campers with great views of the Oregon coast. The nearby inns and beach houses aren't too expensive, especially if you don't stay right on the water, and many have special rates for Sunday through Thursday bookings.
Charleston, South Carolina
There are many reasons to add Charleston to your travel bucket list immediately. A great destination for Southern history and culture, visitors to South Carolina's oldest and largest city can enjoy its centuries-old homes, historic streets, beautiful gardens, and Revolutionary and Civil War-era sites. A height restriction ordinance has kept the Charleston skyline low, and so it is populated with the city's many churches, as well as the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The nation's history of slavery is particularly apparent here, and one can visit the sites of old slave markets as well as former slave plantations. In addition to walking tours, there are also carriage tours available for those wishing to experience Charleston without putting in quite as much physical effort.
Charlotte, North Carolina
North Carolina's largest city is divided into 16 districts, which have seen a lot of growth in the past two decades. Charlotte is known as the home of Carowinds, a Cedar Fair theme park full of thrilling roller coasters which lies on the border of the two Carolinas, straddled by Charlotte and South Carolina's Fort Mill. The city also has an entire district of museums, including museums for children, art lovers, Southern culture and history buffs, and even aviation geeks. Racing fans will enjoy the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which finds its home here, and outdoor sportsmen will enjoy the U.S. National Whitewater Center, where you can mountain bike and whitewater raft, among other things.
The nation's third largest city is a perfect weekend getaway for those who prefer a more urban vacation with both destinations for food lovers and an arts scene. Its famous skyline boasts not only the Willis Tower (formerly and often still known as the Sears Tower), but also some of the world's best museums, art galleries, parks, and more. You don't need admission to anything to witness some of the Second City's great art, however; downtown Chicago has an entire collection of modern sculptures that you can enjoy on your own or with a two-to-four-hour walking tour. Lake Michigan may not be an ocean, but it provides some great beaches all the same, Chicago being considered the second cleanest urban waterfront in the world. The Windy City is also home to Taste of Chicago, the world's largest outdoor food festival, and of course, the divisive Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.
Cleveland is severely underrated when it comes to American tourist destinations, which is surprising when you consider all that it has to offer in terms of culture and recreation. A three-day weekend here would be jam-packed, as there are so many museums, parks, gardens, theaters, and galleries, that the city has the densest concentration of cultural attractions in the country. An absolute must for all visitors to Cleveland is a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to the city life, Cleveland also has quite a few outdoor activities, having historically been referred to as the "Forest City"; you'll find plenty of places to go hiking, biking, and even skiing in the winter. Lake Erie is also a great place to enjoy walks on the beach, swimming, fishing, boating, and other water sports.
Dallas has plenty to offer, with two large aquariums, a zoo, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, and multiple museums dedicated to art and science. Go downtown to see the X that marks the spot where President John F. Kennedy was killed in the back of an open-topped limousine and visit the Sixth Floor Museum, located in the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald shot him. Zero Gravity Thrill Rides Amusement Park, the world's only amusement park dedicated to thrill rides, has five extreme rides that you can enjoy, and Six Flags Over Texas is the original Six Flags park. Dallas also has a great food scene that isn't to be missed, and bull-riding is also a must for lovers of extreme sports.
America's Comeback City has indeed come back with a vengeance as a destination not just for domestic travelers but for those from all over the world. After decades of a declining economy and population, Detroit has seen a revival thanks to new additions and attractions, as well as renovations to its many historic buildings. The city's abandoned buildings have been turned into art galleries, distilleries, and more thanks to growing scene of artists and young upstarts. Travel costs here are also noted to be low, and if you love it enough, you're more than welcome to stay; the city of Detroit has actively been encouraging people to move there.
Located in southeastern Pennsylvania, "Sweetest Place on Earth" should be at the top of the bucket list for every American chocolate lover. The hometown of Milton S. Hershey, then named Derry Church before it was renamed after him, it was here that the chocolatier built a chocolate plant for his growing business. Today, visitors from all over the world come to Hershey's Chocolate World for a free tour of how the confectionaries are made in addition to other chocolate-related exhibits. Hershey Park is also a major draw, one of the country's best family-friendly amusement parks and full of rides, shows, and shops of everything Hershey chocolate. For non-sweets-related plans, there is also a zoo and an auto museum, as well as the Indian Echo Caverns for visitors to explore.
Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
Nearly 3 million people annually make it out to the border of California and Nevada to visit Lake Tahoe, one of the biggest, clearest, and deepest freshwater lakes on the planet. Lake Tahoe is a year-round destination with offerings that vary with the seasons. While it's known as one of the best winter destinations for skiing and snowboarding, it's still a great place to be in the summer with plenty of opportunities for hiking, golfing, boating, and other watersports. Dining, shopping, and nature sightseeing are all worthwhile endeavors to pursue in this beautiful getaway spot.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Pronounced "MAK-i-naw," Macinac Island is one of the summer's most popular destinations with its Victorian charm and fun activities for the entire family. The island is a three-in-one destination: You can visit Active Mackinac for a more outdoorsy time with biking, hiking, horse-riding, and paddling; Grand Mackinac for a more upper-class experience at the Grand Hotel resort; or Fudgie Mackinac to indulge your sweet tooth with the island's famous fudge amid historic and shopping sites. Tours of the island are available on foot, bike, or even via kayak or stand-up paddle board, both of which are available for rentals. Golfing and fishing are also popular endeavors. We also recommend bringing your own bicycle; Mackinac is known for its island-wide motor vehicle ban.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Over 14 million people descend on Myrtle Beach every year for swimming, seafood, and shopping. Its popularity as one of the most family-friend beaches for summer can cause it to be quite crowded during high season, but sunrise sees moderate temperatures and quiet shores. Myrtle Beach's Broadway is full of nightlife, bars, shops, restaurants, a movie theater, and an aquarium. Myrtle Beach has tons of variety shows and concerts, as well as more miniature golf courses per square mile than any other place in the world. Regular golfing is also world-class at Myrtle Beach, and many people travel here specifically to hit one of the area's more than 120 golf courses.
New York City, New York
Despite its expensive reputation, New York City is a pretty great value if you're a tourist. The New York restaurant scene is unparalleled, with chefs from around the world settling in the five boroughs to set trends, and the world often looks to New York when seeking out the latest in fashion, film, art, and more. New Yorkers, including their mayor, are protective of their world-famous pizza, and their restaurants are among the most Instagrammed in the country, if not the world. Among its many popular attractions, Broadway shows continue to lead the world of theater, Fifth Avenue and New York Fashion Week rule the fashion industry, and the modern-day hipster came out of the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Niagara Falls, Ontario and New York
The American side of Niagara Falls is not as commercialized as the Canadian side due to its designation as a state park, so it offers a getaway more focused on the natural beauty of the falls and is definitely an American bucket list tourist attraction. Get up close and personal with the falls through Cave of the Winds, an experience that brings visitors down an elevator to a walkway that leads right to the bottom of the Bridal Veil Falls. There's also, of course, Maid of the Mist, a boat ride that will take you around the bottom of the falls. Learn the geological history of the falls at the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center or take one of the many sightseeing or historic tours of the area.
Phoenix gets seriously hot in the summertime, but as long as you make sure you stay hydrated, you're sure to have a good time. Visit the Arizona Science Center and the Desert Botanical Garden to explore the region's natural wonders, or one of the area's many galleries and museums celebrating American, Southwestern, and Native art. Phoenix is full of Arizona's best art institutions, with plenty of theaters, venues, and events, but you can also simply admire its natural beauty in one of its many prime stargazing spots.
The Poconos, Pennsylvania
One of the most photogenic vacation spots, the Poconos are a longtime favorite for families and adventurers. The Poconos are one of the best regions for hiking and camping, and food options are abundant as well. Amusement parks provide all kinds of entertainment, and the local lakes, some man-made and some natural, are perfect for boating and fishing. NASCAR fans will enjoy the Pocono Raceway, whereas history lovers will appreciate the Pocono Indian Museum which showcases the history of the natives of Delaware.
Historic Williamsburg, Virginia, is a 301-acre living history museum that presents a picture of the nation's colonial days, and there are multiple parks and attractions which lovers of American history will enjoy. One of Williamsburg's most fun attractions, however, is Busch Gardens, an amusement park where you can explore multiple sections modeled after European countries and cultures and one of the happiest places on Earth that aren't Disney.