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10 Best Budget Vacations for Spring

By The Budget Travel Editors
January 27, 2022
Myrtle Beach
Jkellyimaging/Dreamstime
The snow will melt! We promise! And Budget Travelers know that there's no time like spring to visit brag-worthy beaches and celebrated cities—for a fraction of what the crowds will be paying in summer.

Planning a spring escape, whether it's a week or more or just a weekend getaway, is easy once you know the go-to destinations where the weather is inviting, the crowds are not overwhelming, and the price is right. Here, 10 of our very favorite North American spring vacations.

1. MYRTLE BEACH

South Carolina

Why wait till summer for a warm beach getaway?

If you want a dreamy beach vacation, it's already warming up down in Myrtle Beach! Its miles of sand, charter fishing expeditions, and Ripley's Aquarium (where you can get nose-to-nose with sharks) will keep you busy while the sun shines, and its world-class eateries roll out an irresistible southern-style welcome with local micro-brews, seafood buffets, and oceanfront tables. The Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, which opened just five years ago, feels as if it's been here forever. Welcoming crowds by the million with its charm and hospitality, the boardwalk features the Family Kingdom amusement park that includes the massive Skywheel and Slingshot, and the just-opened Twist 'n Shout steel roller coaster (visitmyrtlebeach.com). Westgate Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Resort provides beach access and ocean views, a heated outdoor pool, heated "lazy river," kids' water play area, and a "kids eat free" policy.

2. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Tennessee

Tour an American paradise before the summer crowds pour in.

America's most popular national park, a major theme park, and miles of trails and streams for under $150 per night? Yup. Head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for fishing, hiking, and scenic drives like the six-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, and don't forget to spend at least one day at 150-acre Dollywood for authentic Tennessee music, food, and, of course, thrill rides such as the Wild Eagle and Mystery Mine. Local motels offer restaurants, indoor pools, and mountain views.

3. POINT PLEASANT

New Jersey

Psst! The boardwalk of your dreams opens in spring, but don't tell or everyone will want to go.

Point Pleasant is, well, pleasant enough in summer if you enjoy being part of a major scene, rubbing elbows with in-the-know New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey girls and boys who love Jenkinson's Boardwalk and the lovely stretch of beach here. (Point Pleasant is about 70 miles south of New York City and about 75 miles northeast of Philadelphia.) But the place starts hopping on weekends in April, the rides are open, the cotton candy is just as sweet, but rates for hotel rooms just a block from the beach can be literally a third of the summer price. Grab dinner on the boardwalk, or hit Woodchucks BBQ. The White Sands is a reliable, friendly hotel right on the beach.

4. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

Affordable all-inclusive resorts put this island paradise within reach.

The DR offers everything you might want on a Caribbean break, without the sticker shock you might expect. One of the reasons is incredible all-inclusive resorts like the Majestic Colonial Beach Resort in Punta Cana. Las Terrenas, a lesser-known but no less appealing former fishing village in the Samaná province, has amazing beaches and wallet-friendly prices. Explore Los Haitises National Park, a protected forest, in a kayak with a guide who will take you through lagoons and mangrove canals amid pelicans and leatherback turtles. Another affordable lodging option is Eva Luna, in Las Terrenas, which has five Mexican-style villas, each with a kitchen. 

5. NEW ORLEANS

Louisiana

The Big Easy is easier than ever now that Mardi Gras crowds have headed home, and 2018 is the city's 300th birthday!

Cobblestone streets! Hot jazz! Unforgettable cuisine! New Orleans's French Quarter is just the beginning of a great getaway that combines warm spring weather with elbow room now that Mardi Gras has turned into Lent. Trendy nightclubs, ivy-covered townhouses, and Creole cottages make for a backdrop like no other. Don't miss the annual French Quarter Festival in April, load up on beignets at Café Du Monde, and explore the city's unique music scene with a free self-guided audio tour courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park. You'll find plenty of stylish and affordable lodging, such as the Westin New Orleans Canal Place.

6. WASHINGTON, DC

Celebrate your freedom in our nation's capital—where it seems just about every attraction is free.

From tours of the Capitol building to the endless galleries and exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution, from the National Archives (you may have heard of some of its contents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?) to the Library of Congress, this town offers more in the way of freebies than anywhere else. When you're ready to step outside and enjoy the spring air and cherry blossoms, pay a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It may be surprising to you, but it's not to locals and other insiders, that one of the best restaurants in town is the Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the National Museum of the American Indian—you can try buffalo and fry bread, among other delights. Book a room at the affordable and homey Adam's Inn, and tell them Budget Travel sent you.

7. LAS VEGAS

Nevada

It's always open, it's always jumping, and it's surprisingly affordable even for "low-rollers."

If you haven't found yourself on the Strip yet—it's one of the most popular destinations for girl getaways, bachelor parties, and of course impromptu weddings—you should put it on your list. In addition to the grand décor (including faux European landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Venetian canals) and the obvious strike-it-rich lure of slots, cards, and dice, Las Vegas offers a $2 billion airport, the Mob Museum, and kitschy retro finds like Champagnes Café, which does its best to bring '50s chic back to life. While hotel rates are not quite the rock-bottom the city was once known for, reasonable lodging can be found, especially off the Strip, in stylish downtown.

8. MONTREAL

Quebec, Canada

An old-world city in the heart of North America.

Just strolling the streets of this friendly, moderately priced Canadian city feels like you've crossed the Atlantic and entered a whole new world. Once the thrill of hearing French—and tasting continental treats like fresh croissants—has worn off a bit, hit the Montreal Biodôme, which re-creates four ecosystems, including more than 200 species of animals. Don't miss the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica, the Vieux-Port de Montreal park, and the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal. Stay at Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites, and consider a day trip to the countryside in mid-to-late March to witness maple syrup in the making.

9. CAPE ANN

Massachusetts

A New England beach getaway for a song.

For authentic New England without the throngs, Gloucester, MA, a tight-knit fishing community on Cape Ann, just 45 minutes north of Boston, is a good place to start. Expansive beaches, frothy seas, wonderfully old-fashioned Main Streets, historic lighthouses, and some of the freshest locally sourced meals around make this "other cape" a reason to bypass the better known-and infinitely pricier-beach destinations along the Massachusetts coast. Hit Gloucester's Good Harbor Beach, a wide stretch of fine, white sand edged by dunes and a gurgling creek leading into a refreshingly chilly pocket of the Atlantic, and Rocky Neck artists' colony, where you can soak up some of the sumptuous light that has drawn artists including Milton Avery, Edward Hopper, and Winslow Homer. Blue Shutters Beachside Inn has comfortable rooms with beach views and a welcoming living room with a fireplace that's surprisingly welcome even on summer evenings.

10. SANIBEL ISLAND

Florida

Your own private island? Well, it's about as close as you'll find...

Sure, there's a long list of things you can do on Sanibel Island. But maybe the most appealing of all is... nothing! If your idea of a spring vacation involves warm sand, subtropical breezes, and the luxury of staring, snoring, or reading, this island has your name on it! Check into the Tropical Winds Beachfront Motel and Cottages and you'll enjoy a private beach and outdoor pool. Feeling a bit adventurous? Sanibel is a mecca for outdoors enthusiasts and you can take your pick of cycling the island's miles of trails; kayaking or canoeing its waterways; water-skiing; and fishing. Or hit the golf course or tennis courts. Grab a bowl of fish stew at Sweet Melissa's Cafe.

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Budget Travel Lists

The 6 Best Places in the World to Get an Affordable Luxury Hotel Room NOW

Picture this: You. Your dream city. And a hotel with plush carpeting, a seasoned concierge who knows all the city's best spots, and high style you never thought you could swing without one of those fancy black credit cards. Nice, huh? You're going to love this news: Hotels.com just released its Hotel Price Index data for this past year, and there are some very pleasant surprises for Budget Travelers: Hotel rates across the U.S. have gone up, but the opposite happened in several desirable cities abroad. In fact, rates so low that you can afford a chic stay at a 4-star or even 5-star hotel (ahem, Warsaw) for what you would have paid for a lower-star-rated property in years past. Take a quick glance at your travel bucket list and cross-reference it with the cities below, then pick your palace. (Rates are all based on current Hotels.com pricing.) Because sightseeing is that much sweeter when you know you'll have your own personal marble soaking tub to unwind in at the end of the day. Warsaw, Poland Average daily 5-star hotel rate: $107 Change from 2013: Down 13% Why not stay at the... Hotel Bristol. If what you picture when you think of a "luxury hotel" is traditional glam that pays homage to neo-Renaissance and Art Deco styles, rich upholstery in the lobby, towering drapes on the windows, and polished marble as far as the eye can see, book here now. Each room—even the junior suites—has a gray marble bathroom with a separate bathtub and shower, and the hotel has an indoor heated pool with cool-hued tiling in "cobalt blue," "forest green," and "cream." Now let's talk location: The historic, 1908-built hotel is right next to the Presidential Palace and within walking distance of Old Town, the Royal Castle, and the National Theater and Opera House (from $108, hotelbristolwarsaw.pl). Marrakech, Morocco Average daily 4-star hotel rate: $99 Change from 2013: Down 11% Why not stay at the... Riad Flam. You'll think you've died and come back in another life as a Moroccan king when you get a load of this hotel's common areas, decked out with tasseled burgundy cushions, opulent mirrors, and ornate hookahs. Each of the boutique property's eight rooms—all with intricate carved-wood detailling, some with four-poster beds—represents a different soul-nurturing stone, from the Ambre room (used historically for its medicinal properties) to the luxe Ruby room (thought to heighten energy and sensuality). After a long day of bargain-hunting at the souks, drift into the hotel's lush, peaceful courtyard, with lounge chairs for sunbathing, and up into an elevated wood terrace for a soak in a jacuzzi tub with massage jets and a view of the city around you. When you rise the next morning, breakfast is included—pancakes, dates, and fresh juices are a few of the options (from $77, riadflam.com). Jakarta, Indonesia Average daily 4-star hotel rate: $113 Change from 2013: Down 11% Why not stay at the... DoubleTree by Hilton Jakarta-Diponegoro. With retro-style rooms so curvy and modern you'll think you're sleeping in a space pod, plus deep soaking tubs in the bathrooms and resort-like perks including a lagoon-style pool with a streamlined soda parlor–themed cocktail bar that serves milkshakes and booze, this is no ordinary business hotel. Geared toward families, the property has child-friendly amenities, like a kids' pool and indoor kids' club packed with toys (and babysitting services if you need them). With or without the rugrats, a complimentary weekend shuttle will take you to Grand Indonesia Shopping Town, where you can buy batik tapestries and taste local dishes like crispy duck for cheap. While we're on the subject of food: DoubleTree doles out warm chocolate-chip cookies to all its guests upon arrival (from $77, doubletree3.hilton.com). Mumbai (Bombay), India Average daily 4-star hotel rate: $114 Change from 2013: Down 10% Why not stay at the... Vivanta by Taj President. As hot spots go, this business-friendly but design-forward Taj location is quite the scene, especially the Wink bar, known for its social mixing and mingling, infused syrups that incorporate flavors like vanilla and anise, and signature vodka-and-lychee Winktini. Located in South Mumbai, near the Colaba Causeway shopping street (try haggling for a stylish pair of kolhapuri chappals, or leather slippers) and the National Gallery of Modern Art, the hotel has a sizable outdoor pool with beach umbrellas and sleek, modern decor that gives nods to ancient India. Travelers praise it for its attentive service, especially considering its 292-room size (from $124, vivantabytaj.com). Bangkok, Thailand Average daily 4-star hotel rate: $100 Change from 2013: Down 9% Why not stay at the... Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn. Three words: rooftop infinity pool. You might never leave the water after taking in the streamlined 14th-floor space's sweeping panoramas of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River. Another draw for view hounds: Every single room looks out onto either the river or the city, so you'll be hyperaware that you're not in Kansas anymore. The hotel's Glass House restaurant's massive buffet is legendary: Around 26 bucks buys you a lunchtime spread of foods including sushi; lobster; classic Thai, Japanese, and Chinese dishes; meat entrées cooked to order; fresh fruit; and pastries and desserts so picture-perfect they look like movie props (from $106, eastinhotelsresidences.com). Istanbul, Turkey Average daily 4-star hotel rate: $131 Change from 2013: Down 7% Why not stay at the... Levni Hotel & Spa. So well located it's almost ridiculous—everything from the Hagia Sophia to the Grand Bazaar to the Istanbul Modern Art Museum is within walking distance—the Levni also has surprisingly affordable spa treatments: A traditional kese (exfoliation glove) scrub, including a hammam steam treatment and soap massage, starts at about $42. If you're a spa traditionalist, 60-minute massages (including the deep-compression, sleep-promoting jet lag massage) are about $85. Plus: The longer you stay, the more perks you rack up if you book through the hotel's website. A three-night stay earns you a free airport transfer; six nights or more nets a complimentary transfer, welcome dinner, and 30-minute spa treatment (from $95, levnihotel.com).

Budget Travel Lists

10 Ways the Strong Dollar Can Nab You a Dream Trip

With the U.S. dollar booming, 2015 is shaping up to be one of the best years for Budget Travelers in recent history. The dollar is at a 12-year high against the euro, for instance (at the time this piece was published, the euro was worth $1.07, compared with $1.38 last April). As a consequence, travel to top-of-your list destinations on the continent (not to mention the U.K. and Scandinavia) can be 20 percent less than they were last year. Even a popular spot like Paris is seeing airfares down 14 percent from last year. Go slightly off the beaten path (to, say, Eastern Europe or the Irish countryside) and you may rack up savings of 30 percent. It's up to you whether you use the strong dollar to lock in a lower vacation cost or to indulge in a newly affordable splurge; the time is perfect for either strategy. But if all this sounds a little too good to be true, you're right to ask: How, exactly? Truth is, there are some concrete steps we recommend for taking advantage of the strong dollar, and a few great travel destinations in particular where currency rates are making travel especially attractive. Here, our 10 tips for seeing the world on the "super dollar." PAY NOW You can lock in the dollar's great exchange rate with the euro, pound, peso, and other currencies by pre-paying for your trip now. Package tours and cruises sometimes offer a discount for paying early, and this year you can save even more by paying when the dollar is at its zenith. (Of course, we don't know how currencies will fluctuate later in 2015, but we believe now is the best time to buy.) If you're booking your own flight and lodgings, pay now to lock in the exchange rate and to avoid getting shut out of the busiest travel season in years. Airplane seats and hotel rooms are going fast. GET YOUR FOREIGN CASH NOW Rather than wait till the day you fly to procure some euros, rupees, or Canadian dollars (full disclosure: that's been my accidental policy recently), get on it now while the rates are great. Whether you're just filling your wallet with walk-around money or setting up a foreign bank account (a good idea for an extended overseas stay, especially at today's rates), this is a smart way to lower your travel costs before your trip. GET TRAVELERS CHEQUES OR PREPAID CARDS NOW While travelers cheques have diminished in popularity with the advent of online banking and debit cards, they do offer you the opportunity to literally "buy" foreign currency at a great rate right now. American Express Travelers Cheques are available in Canadian dollars, Euros, British Pounds Sterling, and Japanese Yen (as well as U.S. dollars, of course) and are best cashed at banks in your destination country (not all retailers accept them these days). Same goes for a prepaid card such as the Travelex Multi-Currency Cash Passport Prepaid MasterCard, which you can load up with euros now and then use at ATMs during your trip. GET A CREDIT CARD WITH NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES In the past, when you used your credit card overseas you were likely to be socked with a foreign transaction fee. Sadly, any savings you might have seen from a favorable exchange rate could get sucked right back into the void by fees of 3 percent. But in a recent survey, CreditCards.com found that it's easier than ever to find a card with no foreign transaction fees. In fact, four major card issuers (Capital One, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, HSBC, and Discover) do not charge the fee to any of their card holders. Other major companies offer some no-fee cards and others that still come with the fee. The most common fee is 3 percent, but the survey found that American Express charges only 2.7 percent. If you have been one of the estimated 33 percent of cardholders who didn't even know there was a foreign transaction fee, now you know and you should get yourself a fee-free card. SEE EUROPE A new study by Hopper.com suggests that the U.S. dollar will buy you 20 percent more this year than last, and that airfares have fallen due to competition with foreign air carriers and the falling price of fuel. The biggest bargain in Europe right now is Russia, where the U.S. dollar can buy nearly twice as many rubles as it did last year and flights are down 25 percent (round-trip airfare from New York to Moscow can be less than $400). But more tried-and-true European destinations are super-bargains this year as well, with Paris down 14 percent (and round-trip flights down around the $500 mark!) and most major Eurozone areas (including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Austria) down around 20 percent. The British pound and the non-euro currencies of Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are also down against the dollar. Travel to always-more-affordable Eastern and Central European nations (including Hungary, which is not in the Eurozone but whose currency is down against the dollar; and the new addition to the Eurozone, Latvia) for even bigger bargains. ENJOY MEXICO With recent coverage including Spring Break Secrets of Mexico and How to Do the Riviera Maya on a Budget, it's no secret that Budget Travel loves our neighbor to the south. We also love that the U.S. dollar is now worth about 15 pesos, making the stylish steals in Mexico's swanky resort zones more appealing than ever. Flights from the U.S. are plentiful and affordable, and the all-inclusive experience at the country's major waterfront resorts is an indulgence you can't afford not to try. HEAD NORTH TO CANADA Enjoy a taste of Europe without leaving North America! Americans have an easy time coming and going across the border, and cities like Montreal and Québec City literally feel like you've hopped the pond for amazing meals, elegant wines, and the chance to brush up on your French. Of course, skiers love Canada's amazing runs, too. Recent years have seen a strong Canadian dollar keep some Americans south of the border, but the surging U.S. dollar has changed all that. HomeAway.com, a leading vacation rental company, is reporting great rates in our friendly neighbor to the north, with Whistler, British Columbia, averaging about $164 per night; Vancouver around $135; Montreal at $96; Toronto at $142; and beautiful Québec City at $143. GET A TASTE OF SOUTH AMERICA Brazil's currency has dropped about 30 percent against the dollar over the past year, making hotspots like Rio de Janiero and São Paulo more affordable. Airfare from New York to Rio is now under $1,000 according to Hopper, and hotels are down about 12 percent. Colombia, one of Budget Travel's Where to Go in 2015 picks, is a bargain because its currency is down 18 percent against the dollar, with hotels down about 10 percent. We love Argentina and have recommended Buenos Aires as an affordable alternative to Paris for culture, great food and wine, and romance; these days the dollar has doubled against the Argentine peso. EXPLORE AFRICA We love South Africa's cultural diversity, incredible wildlife parks (it may be the best place in Africa to enjoy the safari experience), and unexpectedly awesome wine scene. Cape Town is 13 percent more affordable in 2015 thanks to the strong dollar, with flights from New York down 24 percent according to Hopper. When planning your 2015 travel, remember that Cape Town enjoys one of the world's most perfect climates, and its spring starts just as our summer is ending. VISIT ASIA Asian destinations like India and Thailand have always been on our list of affordable luxuries, but with the surging dollar they are more within reach than ever. India has made its visa requirements much easier for Americans, and its economic hiccups have made the exchange rate with the dollar very favorable. And with the dollar now worth about 120 yen (up from about 80 four years ago), pricey Japan is approaching a level of expense that is relatively down to earth compared with recent years.

Budget Travel Lists

10 "Hidden Gems" You'll Love This Summer!

Psst. Can you keep a secret? If you're looking for a world-class vacation minus the crowds, Budget Travel has got a hot tip. Well, actually we've got 10 of them. Over the past year we've visited some of America's most amazing parklands and unique small towns. Stretching across the U.S., our list of beautiful hidden gems includes ocean spray, lapping lakeshores, forests, mountains, and some of the nicest hosts you'll ever meet. What all these places have in common is that you might have never heard of them without BT's spilling the beans. Enjoy! SEE 10 BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN PARKS! 1. VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK  Nevada One of the state's best-loved parks is the Valley of Fire, 42,000 arid acres about an hour's drive northeast from Las Vegas. The park delivers its own kind of high-stakes drama, trading neon and nightclubs for 150-million-year-old sandstone formations and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs (images carved in rock). You could even say it has star quality: The surreal, burnt-sienna landscape stood in for Mars in the 1990 movie Total Recall. If you're embarking on your own photo safari or DIY sci-fi flick in Nevada's largest state park, don't miss Arch Rock, Elephant Rock, or the Beehives, all of which are essentially solid-stone versions of exactly what they sound like. And be sure to take snapshots with and without people in the frame—the structures are even more outstanding when you can get a sense of their scale. Most important of all: Bring lots of water with you. There are few facilities within the park, and the sandy stretches of some hikes make them more strenuous than you'd think, particularly in the summer, when Mojave Desert temperatures top 120 degrees. Best to come in spring or fall for a more comfortable trip. Where to stay: The park contains 72 campsites, including RV spots with water and electrical hookups (campsites cost $20 per night plus $10 for hookups; There is a $2 discount for Nevada residents). If that's not your speed, the family-run North Shore Inn has a pool, in-room fridges, and powerful air conditioning (northshoreinnatlakemead.com, doubles from $85). 2. BEAUFORT  North Carolina Captain Horatio Sinbad is what you might call a friendly pirate. He's got six cannons on his 54-foot brigantine, the Meka II, but he's also got Wi-Fi. He's got a gold tooth and a gold hoop in his left ear, but his mate lovingly wears the matching earring on a chain around her neck (and brings him coffee on deck). He makes his living as a pirate, sailing the East Coast to lead mock invasions—"historical entertainments," as he calls them—then dutifully returns to Beaufort, N.C., every chance he gets. "The water is clean, the fishing is great, and the people are friendly," he says. "This is home port for me." If you'd just dropped into Beaufort, you might be surprised to find that a pirate has weighed anchor there. Perched on an especially serene stretch of the North Carolina coast, the town has an air of Southern gentility about it, with restored 17th- and 18th-century buildings that flank the local historical society. Feeling a shiver in your timbers? A cup of rich gumbo and a slice of salty, pillow-soft French bread at the Beaufort Grocery restaurant and bakery will warm you up nicely (117 Queen St., beaufortgrocery.com, cup of gumbo $4.25). There's even a thriving health-food store, the Coastal Community Market (606 Broad St., coastalcommunitymarket.com, locally made hummus $4). And yet Beaufort's got a wild side, starting with the undomesticated horses you'll see roaming just across Taylors Creek. Blackbeard himself sailed those waters, and his spirit pops up at the North Carolina Maritime Museum (315 Front St., ncmaritimemuseums.com, admission free), the Queen Anne's Revenge restaurant (510 Front St., qarbeaufort.com, crab-stuffed shrimp $15), and beyond. If he were alive, you'd almost certainly find him on a stool at the Backstreet Pub, a dive-bar-like joint that also serves as a live-music venue and a lending library for sailors. Owner Liz Kopf likes to call her place the funkiest bar from Maine to Venezuela: "I always say there are more characters per capita in here than anywhere in the state" (124 Middle Lane, historicbeaufort.com, beer $2 on Mondays and Tuesdays). Where to stay: Confederate jasmine and animal topiaries frame the Langdon House B&B (135 Craven St., langdonhouse.com, doubles from $108).  3. LUDINGTON STATE PARK  Michigan Snug between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, this nearly 5,300-acre park has seven miles of sandy, dune-strewn beaches, a historic lighthouse you can climb, more than 20 miles of hiking trails (plus paths for biking and cross-country skiing), and the shallow, clear Big Sable River, which is perfect for drifting down in an inner tube. No wonder Ludington has been a Great Lakes-area favorite since it was established 76 years ago. Where to stay: Ludington's four campgrounds fill up quickly; reserve campsites six months in advance or cabins and yurts one year out, when openings are posted (midnrreservations.com, camping from $16). You can also try the Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast, an 1892 home with an original oak banister, leaded-glass windows, and a porcelain-tiled fireplace (ludington-michigan.com, doubles from $115). 4. HAMMONDSPORT New York Hammondsport, N.Y., may well be the recycling capital of America. Not garbage recycling (though they do that, too). We're talking about the vintage seaplanes restored and flown by the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum (8419 State Rte. 54, glennhcurtissmuseum.org, admission $8.50). The birdhouses made of scrap wood in front of the Aroma Coffee Art Gallery (60 Shethar St., 607/569-3047, birdhouses from $40). Even the cypress paneling in the Bully Hill Vineyard's lower dining room came from old wine barrels (8843 Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Dr., bullyhill.com, smoked pulled pork sandwich $13). "When my husband and I came back to live here, the first thing he did was start restoring old boats," says Nancy Wightman, whose husband, Ed, grew up in the Finger Lakes region. "It's not just about loving history. You get the sense that's who the people here are." It's tempting to say that there's something in the water, but Hammondsport's passion for the past really comes via the wine. The Pleasant Valley Wine Company, opened in 1860, was the first in the Finger Lakes region (8260 Pleasant Valley Rd., pleasantvalleywine.com, bottles from $6). In 1962, a Ukrainian viticulturist further transformed the local wine industry at his Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars by successfully planting European grapes in the colder New York climate (9749 Middle Rd., drfrankwines.com, bottles from $9). Today, both those wineries—and several more—are mainstays of the landscape. That's literally true of Dr. Frank's, which sits on an impossibly green piece of land overlooking its vineyards and sparkling, Y-shaped Keuka Lake. The vineyard is run by Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson. "I enjoy hearing stories about children sitting on my grandfather's knee 40 years ago," says Fred. "That's very rewarding." Also rewarding: After all these years, tastings at Dr. Frank's are still free. In fact, many of the best things in Hammondsport are. Sunbathing on condo-less Keuka Lake, kicking back on the town square for outdoor summer concerts on Thursday nights, jam sessions in the basement of the Union Block Italian Bistro—spring for one of the plus-size meals, such as linguini and clam sauce (31 Shethar St., unionblockitalian.com, linguini with clam sauce $19). "We're pretty darn proud of what we've built here," says Mayor Emery Cummings, who has lived in Hammondsport for every one of his 54 years, "and we're hoping to keep it the way it's always been." Where to stay: You'll find a spiral staircase, crown moldings, and bits of vintage wallpaper in the octagonal 1859 home that has been converted into the Black Sheep Inn (8329 Pleasant Valley Rd., stayblacksheepinn.com, doubles from $149).  5. CACHE RIVER STATE NATURAL AREA  Illinois There are more famous swamps than the one in Cache River State Natural Area, a nearly 15,000-acre Illinois state park 30 miles from the Kentucky border. The Everglades, say, or Okefenokee. But who wants a crowd along? One of the northernmost examples of a true Southern swamp, the delightfully under-the-radar Cache River park gets only about 200,000 annual visitors—that's about one visitor per acre per month. Other life forms aren't nearly so scarce here: The park's wetlands, floodplains, forests, and limestone barrens harbor more than 100 threatened or endangered species. It's best explored by canoe, along six miles of paddling trails that bring you face-to-face with massive tupelo and cypress trunks. There are also 20 miles of foot trails in the park and a floating boardwalk that leads to the center of Heron Pond, which is carpeted in summer with a bright-green layer of floating duckweed. BYO boat, or rent one from White Crane Canoe and Pirogue Rentals in Ullin, Ill., about 12 miles west (whitecranerentals.com, canoe rental $15 per person per day). Where to stay: A half-hour drive west of the park, Anna, Ill., has a handful of antiques shops, a pottery museum, and the Davie School Inn, an 11-room, all-suite B&B in a converted 1910 schoolhouse (davieschoolinn.com, doubles from $100). 6. WEAVERVILLE  California You expect certain trappings in any Gold Rush town. A saloon, a main street, maybe a hitching post. Also a 138-year-old working Chinese temple. No? You'll find one in Weaverville, where the Joss House State Historic Park is a testament to the town's unsung history of tolerance (630 Main St., parks.ca.gov, admission $4). Chinese immigrants, facing discrimination in ports such as San Francisco, were welcomed here and ultimately accounted for up to 25 percent of the Rush-era population. "Some of our staff looks at this place as a museum piece you just have to keep clean and take care of," says guide Jack Frost. "But Chinese people who work in the parks system say it's a national treasure." Maybe it's the mining connection, but Weaverville is a place where you often strike it rich in unexpected places. The 1854 drugstore and bank are now home to the La Grange Cafe, which features a wildly creative menu of boar, rabbit, and buffalo-as well as an impressive wine cellar in the old bank vault (520 Main St., 530/623-5325, buffalo burger $11). Mamma Llama Eatery & Cafe hosts a surprisingly funky roster of live musicians: Gypsy jazz, junkyard percussion, even didgeridoo (490 Main St., mammallama.com, hoagie $5.75). Where to stay: One place that hews to a more period Old West experience is the 132-year-old Weaverville Hotel, which features four-poster beds, clawfoot tubs, and a peaceful Victorian library (481 Main St., weavervillehotel.com, doubles from $99). 7. BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK  West Virginia Blackwater Falls's namesake cascade isn't just the most picturesque spot in this 2,456-acre park—it's also one of the most photographed places in the state. The area is equally eye-catching when it's dressed in the bright greens of spring, the Crayola-box colors of autumn, or silvery winter, when parts of the falls freeze into man-size icicles. The falls themselves—more brown than black—get their distinctive hue from tannic acid that leaches into the river from hemlock and red spruce needles upstream. Where to stay: Outdoorsy types can pitch a tent at 65 campsites, or upgrade to one of 26 deluxe cabins with full kitchens, private bathrooms, and fireplaces—but not A/C. For that creature comfort, you'll need to book a night in the 54-room lodge, which also has a game room and an indoor pool (blackwaterfalls.com, camping from $20, lodge rooms from $84). 8. DAMASCUS  Virginia If you decide to drive to Damascus, you'll likely be in the minority. This is hiking and cycling heaven, where seven major trails intersect, including the undulating Virginia Creeper and the granddaddy of them all: the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. In a nifty bit of irony, six of the seven trails converge in a parking lot, at Mojoes Trailside Coffee House (331 Douglas Dr., mojoestrailsidecoffee.com, lattes from $3.50), where most mornings you'll find a clutch of locals and through-hikers chatting about travel plans. Breakfast is the big meal in town, and the more energy-boosting calories the better. Yet the carbo-loading, hard-core trekkers you'll find in Damascus don't always look as you'd expect. "Mamaw B." (her adopted trail name) was in town beginning her usual 15- to 18-mile hike. She's 71 and has been backpacking for 31 years. "The secret to good health is to remain active and to always have something to look forward to," she says, as she sets off from Mojoes toward-where, exactly? She just smiles and points north. Where to stay: The Lazy Fox Inn is famous less for its trailside location than for its legendary country breakfast that includes cheese grits, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, and sausage (133 Imboden St., lazyfoxinn.com, doubles with private bath from $85).     9. KATY TRAIL STATE PARK  Missouri The largest rails-to-trails conversion in America, the 240-mile Katy Trail spans Missouri's midsection, from Clinton in the west to Machens in the east, along the former track of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (a.k.a. the Katy). The mostly flat path is open to hikers and cyclists—and in some sections, horseback riders—and traverses historic railroad bridges, tunnels, forests, valleys, and open fields. In spots, it skirts the edge of the Missouri River. Some hardy souls tackle the whole trail (a roughly five-day undertaking for an experienced cyclist). Those who prefer a more leisurely trek should consider a day-trip between Rocheport and Boonville, two early-19th-century towns (the latter established by Daniel Boone's offspring) separated by 12 miles of nature preserves, vineyards, and river views. Where to stay: There are no campgrounds in the park, but you can have your pick of small-town inns along the route. Some cater to cyclists with extras such as free laundry service, double-size whirlpool tubs, and free bike storage and tune-up tools. Rocheport's School House Bed & Breakfast, in a three-story brick schoolhouse from 1914, sweetens the deal with fresh-baked cookies at check-in (schoolhousebb.com, doubles from $149). 10. OHIOPYLE STATE PARK Pennsylvania If ever there were an all-purpose park, southwestern Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park is it. Looking for waterfalls? It has four (including the one in our slide show above, which seems as if it must have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, just five miles away). Trails? Hikers get 79 miles of them—plus 27 miles for cyclists, 11 for folks on horseback, and nearly 40 for cross-country skiers. And why not throw in a natural water slide or two? The lifeblood of the 20,000-acre park, however, is the Youghiogheny River Gorge—a.k.a. the Yough. The Middle Yough, which flows to Ohiopyle from Confluence, Pa., is the gentler section, with Class I and II rapids for rafters and kayakers; the Lower Yough, downstream, gets up to Class IV whitewater. Combined, they attract a good chunk of the 1 million people who visit the park every year. Where to stay: The quietest campsites in Ohiopyle's Kentuck campground are the walk-in sites numbered 51-64 and 103-115; however, some folks have found the camp's firm 9 p.m. quiet hours a little too restrictive. If your brood tends to get livelier as the night wears on, consider a vacation rental in Hidden Valley, Pa., or Seven Springs, Pa., both less than 30 miles to the northeast; these two ski towns have solid selections of rental condos and homes that can be deeply discounted in the off-season (vrbo.com).

Budget Travel Lists

Coolest Small Towns in America 2015

#1 GRAND MARAIS, MN: Paddler’s paradise on Lake Superior (pop.: 1,351). Get your canoe on! Here on the north shore of Lake Superior, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is one of the world’s perfect paddling destinations, with miles of waterways to navigate. Whether you’re craving a romantic getaway or a real adventure, Grand Marais has a little something for everyone, including cozy B&Bs, a vibrant arts community, an annual Fisherman’s Picnic, Superior National Forest, and restaurants whose names say it all: Angry Trout Cafe, World’s Best Donuts, and Sven and Ole’s Pizza! #2 CHINCOTEAGUE, VA: A mid-Atlantic island escape (pop.: 2,941). This incredibly beautiful island town offers a mid-Atlantic summer getaway complete with perfect beach­es with trails for cycling and walking, fresh seafood (and an annual seafood festival!), and its legendary wild ponies. But it’s also a year-round hot spot, especially during its holiday parades and house tours. The town is also a favorite spot for amazing boat tours and as an ideal locale for watching NASA rocket launches from the nearby Wallops Visitor Center. #3 HILLSBOROUGH, NC: Art and literature come alive in the mountains (pop.: 6,087). Talk about local spirit! Hillsborough amassed the most nominations this year to make our list of semifinalists. The town has serious literary cred, with several bestselling authors not only making their home here but also participating in local events and the annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Enjoy the newly opened Riverwalk trail, Last Fridays Arts Walks, historical build­ings dating back to the 18th century, and Occoneechee Mountain. Top-notch local restaurants offer live music, and you may even spot the mayor on a night out. (You’ll know him by his signature bowler hat!) #4 ALLEGAN, MI: Mayberry on the Kalamazoo River (pop.: 4,998). Locals sometimes refer to Allegan as a “modern-day Mayberry,” and we can understand why. Friendly eateries like The Grill House, Minnie Sophrona’s Restaurant, and Corky’s Drive-In, plus an old-timey movie theater and much more, make visitors feel at home here. And with the lovely Kalamazoo River winding its way through town and Allegan’s proximity to Lake Michigan, inland lakes, and ski resorts, all four seasons can be filled with outdoor fun and natural beauty. Whether you’re craving a thriving food and art scene, a buzzworthy county fair, or you just love fishing (including ice fishing!) or golf, Allegan is a warm and welcoming getaway. #5 WASHINGTON, NC: A Southeast sailing mecca (pop.: 9,744). Locals like to say that Washington has a small-town feel but big-town activities. The waterfront downtown is a major draw, with a renovated theater, wonderful shops, and a wine-tasting scene that surprises some visitors. The Pamlico River is popular with the sailing crowd 10 months of the year, and hunting and fishing are thriving activities in the area. Founded in 1776 and named for General George Washing­ton years before he became our nation’s first president, this town wears its history proudly but lightly, sometimes referring to itself as “Little Washington.” #6 DELHI, NY: Galleries, antique shops, and a film festival in the Catskills (pop.: 3,087). The western Catskills in Upstate New York make for a wonderful setting, with rolling hills and the Delaware River (yes, its west­ern branch reaches all the way up here) flowing through town. A thriving Main Street is ideal for browsing eclectic gal­leries, antique shops, and an artisan guild that features local talent. If you ever tire of exploring the hiking trails and enjoying water sports on the river, get ready for the Catskill Mountains Film Festival, the Delhi Covered Bridge Run, and the Taste of the Catskills food festival, among other crowd-pleasers in this popular town. #7 FORT MYERS BEACH, FL: This perfect island town is your gateway to the Everglades (pop.: 6,277). On Estero Island, on Florida’s southwest­ern coast, Fort Myers Beach should not be confused with the nearby city of Fort Myers. Here, everybody knows everybody, and you’re never more than a mile or so from the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Think of this as your entry point for exploring this remarkable stretch of coast­line, including gorgeous islands, Everglades National Park, and creatively prepared local seafood at restaurants such as The Beached Whale and Matanzas on the Bay. #8 HURON, OH: Beaches, craft beer, and live music on Lake Erie (pop.: 7,149). Where the Huron River meets Lake Erie, one of the Midwest’s hidden gems is waiting for you. Go hiking at Shel­don Marsh State Nature Preserve, visit the Huron Pier for some great fishing, relax on Nickel Plate Beach, or hit the local golf course. You can enjoy this town just by taking a leisurely stroll along downtown’s waterfront streets and visiting the scenic boat basin for photo ops or one of the town’s many festivals. Craft beer and live music are both on tap downtown as well, and you can take your pick of lodgings, from a resort experience to a comfy B&B. #9 SNOHOMISH, WA: Quirky festivals in the Pumpkin Capital of the Pacific Northwest (pop.: 9,098). With idyllic rolling farmland, Puget Sound, and the Cascade Mountains as a backdrop, this town is a Pacific Northwest paradise just a short drive from Seattle. Activities here are as big as all outdoors, with hot-air ballooning, sky-diving, and unique local festivals such as “GroundFrog” Day and the Easter Parade, with its Sauerkraut Band. You can bike or walk the Centennial Trail, be one of the first to see the brand-new aquatic center, and enjoy downtown Snohomish’s excellent restaurants and justly famous antique shops. In fall, this is the Pumpkin Capital of the Northwest! #10 OLD ORCHARD BEACH, ME: An iconic boardwalk and perfect stretch of New England beach (pop.: 8,624). There’s more to this town than its namesake beach, though truth be told the seven-mile stretch of sand is awesome in its own right, with its legendary amuse­ment park and nightlife that includes live bands and great seafood. But Old Orchard Beach is also a prime base for kayakers who want to explore area rivers, fishermen or day-trippers who crave a cruise out on the Atlantic, and those of us who are content to contemplate beautiful lighthouses (like nearby Cape Elizabeth) and watch the tide roll in and out.

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