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The Jefferson Memorial in DC is one of the many free attractions the city has to offer.

From the beachy shores of California’s coast, to the fast-paced, buzzing hub of New York City, the United States offers an abundance of destinations within its 50 states. Taking up the central part of the North American continent, the United States beholds a range of climates, a variety of terrains including the deserts, the plains and the mountainous regions. With all of this to experience, it can be confusing to know where to go, so most stick to the larger cities of New York or Los Angeles. Although these are incredible cities to visit, they can also be costly. There are many 'local secret spots' that will capture your heart and allow for an amazing holiday.

Where to go and What to See

Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital may not be as large as Los Angeles or have the flashing lights of Times Square, but it does have much to offer, especially for those on a budget.

Monuments

Take a free tour of these national landmarks, many dedicated to America’s forefathers, and take in the sights of the most beautiful buildings in the country. You can head out on a guided tour starting at the Lincoln Memorial or do a self-guided tour. For a romantic twist, do the tour by moonlight. The soft white glow cascading off the monuments and reflecting off the tidal basin will be sure to win the heart of all.

For an adventure with the kids, download the app to do a scavenger hunt around the monuments and the city.

If you are lucky enough to be visiting in the spring, be sure to check out the cherry blossoms around the tidal basin and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The cherry blossom trees were gifted to America by the Japanese and bloom once a year around April. The annual cherry blossom festival offers free activities for children and adults.

Don’t forget to check out the White House where the President of the United States lives and the US Capitol building where the country’s major politicians work.

Museums

Between the monuments and the museums, you could plan an entire holiday’s worth of activities without spending anything at all. The Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., consisting of 19 museums and a zoo, are completely free to visit and will fulfill all educational requests. You can visit the National Gallery of Art, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History, among others.

National Zoo

A popular visit for the spring, summer, and fall months is the National Zoo. With over 2,000 animals, the zoo could be an all-day event. There are 6 major exhibits for you to wonder at and learn more about the creatures that inhabit them. Be aware that particularly in the spring and summer months, the zoo is a popular local and tourist destination. In the summer months of June-August, the zoo can get particularly crowded and be quite uncomfortable with the summer heat. It may be best to attempt a visit during the week when there are less crowds and perhaps during the fall months of September through November, when most children are back in school.

Austin, Texas

Austin will bring you a mix of the city with the great outdoors. This university town is perfect for the traveller on a budget. With most university kids in the area living on cheap eats and low budgets, you will find much to do for a lower price than you may pay in some of the other Texas cities.

Food Trucks

The best way to get a meal for a cheap price is a food truck. These exciting little restaurants-on-the-fly can offer a great meal without the hefty price of a personal waitress. These gems can sometimes be a local secret, making you think the food won’t be very good, but really you’ll find a few better than a 5-star restaurant. Grab your meal and spread out a blanket at a local park and enjoy the southern breeze.

Barton Springs in Zilker Park

This three-acre pool is a great way to cool off in the steamy Texas heat of summer. This 3-acre, manmade pool is filled by water from the Main Barton Spring, the fourth largest in Texas. The pool is very popular year-round due to its constant, year-round temperature of about 20-22 degrees. At a price of around three US dollars, this is a very affordable and fun activity.

Music Capital

Austin is the music capital of the world and nothing is more romantic than grabbing dinner and listening to a live band or performer. You can always find numerous free music venues all around Austin that will satisfy all genre preferences.

Don’t forget to take advantage of all the free, outdoor activities available around Austin as well as the many fun spots just a short drive away.

Phoenix, Arizona

The capital of Arizona is a hub of buzzing society. This is the most populous city in the American Southwest and as such, will offer much to do.

Botanical Garden

This 145-acre desert botanical garden shows off much of the plant life in the Sonoran desert and of arid lands around the world. You can view demonstrations of how plant life are able to sustain in the desert regions and view some of the animals that are popular in the desert such as lizards, birds and the roadrunner.

Heard Museum

Although the price of this museum may not be the cheapest of activities, at 18 US dollars (for adults, 7.50 for kids, free for children 5 and younger) you will see enough to make it worthwhile. This museum is one of the most famous Native American culture museums in the world. It celebrates culture and arts of numerous tribes, especially those from Arizona and New Mexico. Here you can explore 12 exhibition galleries, an outdoor sculpture garden, a cafe, a contemporary art gallery, a trading-post style shopping area and the BUILD. Toy Brick Art exhibit. You can also take a free guided tour to ensure you are getting the very best experience.

Phoenix is very hot during the summer months (can be over 35 degrees) and during this time prices for hotels and resorts plummet, making it a very cheap place to stay. If you opt to rent a car, you can take a drive outside of the city and experience many of the beautiful canyons and ridges and see some indigenous petroglyphs of the area.

Portland, Oregon

Famous for micro-breweries and a liberal lifestyle, Portland is quickly becoming the penny-pinching town of the Northwest. The well-known food trucks will offer cheap-eats on the go and the micro-breweries offer tours and tasting, mostly for free. Many of the sleeping accommodations are eco-friendly and under US$100 per night.

Outdoor Activities

With 130-plus kilometres of trails in the wooded paths of Forest Park, you can get out and experience the beautiful outdoors of the lovely city.

Lan Su Chinese Garden

This urban retreat will make for a great escape from the booming city-life with its pond, pavilions and teahouse. The entry fee is under 10 US dollars with many activities to make it well worth it. You can head out on a public tour or participate in one of the many classes offered.

Oregon Zoo

For under 10 US dollars, you can experience many of the animals native to the Pacific Northwest and Amur leopards, orangutans, hippos and polar bears.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Located about 2 hours south of Washington, D.C. is the quaint town of Charlottesville. This gorgeous city is home to the University of Virginia, founded by one of America’s founding fathers and the third president of the United States. Due to its distance from the major hub of Washington, it holds the charm of Virginia and the class of D.C., but has significantly lower prices. You will find many cheap or free options in this lovely little town.

University of Virginia

The grounds of the university are centred in downtown Charlottesville and are a beautiful spot all year. Here you can view the rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson to represent the 'authority of nature and power of reason' and was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. You can also visit 'The Corner,' a popular hangout for college kids, locals and tourists alike. There are a few shops, restaurants and bars here, definitely the hub of nightlife.

Downtown Mall

This outdoor mall area is a historic road, now closed off to auto traffic that is surrounded by shops, restaurants, and a cinema. You can often find street vendors selling cheap goods or pop into one of the shops to find some of the quirky treats offered. There are many upscale restaurants as well as casual ones in this area. If you’re in the mood for a live performance, the Paramount and The Jefferson both usually have great options, but beware you may need to book in advance.

Vineyards

The area surrounding Charlottesville already offers numerous beautiful vineyards with dozens popping up each year. King Family Vineyards offers a Polo Match in June supporting breast cancer research and many other matches through-out the nicer months. The Carter Family apple orchard and vineyard right outside of Charlottesville has one of the best views in the area.

If you are looking to experience most of them, you can rent out a bus for the whole family or friends and do a 'wine-hopping tour' where you will receive tastings of the vineyards offerings. You may want to prepare the aspirin and bottled water ahead of time, this fun adventure will certainly leave you feeling bubbly.

Travel Tips

Different areas of the USA will have different climates during the same time of the year. If you are planning to visit more than one region, it may be a good idea to do some background research and find out typical climates for each of these regions especially during the tricky fall or spring seasons. In general, the more north you go, the cooler it is.

Also, do some research on options in these cities. Don’t settle on the first hotel or restaurant you come across. With a bit of devotion you can almost always find deals, bargains or coupons.

Pick a town, any town. With any of the destinations on this list you’re guaranteed a fun-filled and interesting holiday in the United States that will give you the most bang for your buck. And with the money you’ve saved by travelling smart, it means you’ll be able to add another destination to your schedule. Smarttraveller notes how important travel insurance is for every holiday, and as someone who pays attention to value and a good deal, you know how important choosing the right travel insurance plan really is. Cover-More’s Essentials travel insurance plan is affordable, without skimping on the cover you receive. You could say, the Essentials travel insurance plan is a great high-value, low-cost option for your holiday needs.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ron Cogswell