We're tracking down the 51 coolest affordable hot spots in the U.S. (one in each state, plus Washington, DC). Here, the first installment in our series, with uniquely awesome destinations in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that won't break the bank.
ADAMS MORGAN, WASHINGTON, DC
There’s barely a policy wonk to be found roaming the streets of the capitol’s hippest ‘hood.
In 2014, Merriam Webster’s Dictionary declared “Brooklyn” an adjective. That said, Adams Morgan in Northwest DC is very Brooklyn, a hub of all things indie, vintage, and craft. There are funky retailers like Idle Time Books, a go-to for used and out-of-print books, Urban Dwell, a trendy home goods store, and Meeps, a vintage shop. Also, while the five-square-mile area has long been known for its $2 slices and Bud Lite specials, it’s evolved into an exciting destination for creative restaurants, which stand side-by-side with taco joints and other millennial staples. Budget-minded foodies are well served at Mintwood Place, known for its American Southern comfort food with a French twist (see: escargot hush puppies) and Bul, which turns out Korean street food and soju. Las Canteras, which specializes in Peruvian comfort foods at an unbeatable value, like its $24 three-course midweek dinner special, is another must-try. And while you’re in the area, wrap up the night at Jack Rose, one of the country’s most impressive whiskey bars.
PAWTUCKET, RHODE ISLAND
The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution specializes in producing great vacations.
Masses of sports fanatics book their hotels in Boston months in advance if they have tickets to see the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Some of the truer die-hards, however, know to head to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, home of Pawtucket Red Sox McCoi Stadium, where the “Paw Sox,” the Red Sox’s minor league team, play. It’s an affordable way to catch a game and earn bragging rights to say “I saw him when” about up-and-comers. Besides, there’s always a chance of catching a Major League player hanging on the field here. This town, which borders Providence to the north, sits along a National Heritage Corridor and is recognized as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It has the colossal long-abandoned mill buildings to prove it. Today most of them are occupied by breweries, artist spaces, or recording studios, but the Slater Mill Museum offers an interactive crash course on the area’s influence on modern American manufacturing. On top of all that is the great outdoors. In recent years the Blackstone River has been cleaned up and opened to all sorts of recreational water sports. Blackstone River Bikeway, which runs a scenic 48 miles from downtown Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence. Rooms downtown can put you out less than $125.
OCEAN CITY, NEW JERSEY
Ocean City bills itself as America’s Greatest Family Resort, so you can bet there are plenty of affordable things to do for large groups that include young’uns. In peak season, the town sees up to 1 million visitors, not least because of the stunning stretches of beaches and the lively boardwalk, which is dotted with sweet shops, galleries, surf shops, and even a water park. It’s a dry town, so you won’t find any loud bars with rowdy crowds. What you will find is an ample selection of low-key kid-friendly eateries. Just their names alone is enough to make even the pickiest eater smile. (See: Hamburger Construction Co. and Augie’s Omelette Waffle House & Grill.) While there are plenty of motels and B&Bs to choose from, Ocean City is actually a popular destination for campers with varied campground options.
THE BRONX, NEW YORK
That's right, the Bronx. You got a problem with that?
Watch the fishing boats chug in and out of the harbor. Dig into a plate of exquisitely fried clams, the initial hot crunch giving way to the warm, gentle eruption of pulled-from-the-sea bivalve-ness. Welcome to Johnny’s Reef, one of City Island’s most popular joints for fresh seafood. And, no, you’re not in Nantucket, you’re in the Bronx. Yup. As in Joe Pesci. As in Kurtis Blow. From its vibrant art, food, and music scene to some of the biggest, wildest urban parks in America, the Bronx is transcending its tough-guy rep and is poised to join the ranks of its more frequently visited neighbors (Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens) minus the sticker shock. The South Bronx has become the borough’s marquee attraction lately, with diverse cultural attractions and home-style restaurants bringing in visitors like never before. Book a Hush Hip Hop Tour to get a feel for the neighborhood’s creative vibe and the chance to meet local hip-hop artists who helped create the now-worldwide music and arts phenomenon. Stop by the Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos Community College for a taste of up-and-coming contemporary artists. Chow down at Sam’s Soul Food and other authentic eateries. The Bronx Museum of the Arts, a relative newcomer among NYC museums (founded in 1971), celebrates contemporary art reflecting a diversity of styles and cultures. Ready for a more rustic experience? Wave Hill, in the suburban-feeling Riverdale neighborhood, is a historic home and beautiful gardens with views of the Hudson River. The finest Italian food in New York City can be found in the Belmont neighborhood, especially along Arthur Avenue, where standouts such as Dominick’s have been stuffing grateful guests with fresh pasta, veal, and vino for decades. The Bronx is, of course, also well-known for such family-friendly hot spots as the new Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Garden. The retro-chic Opera House Hotel in the South Bronx offers easy access to major subway lines and rooms for under $200/night.
NEW BEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS
A fishing industry hub with style fit for the hipster.
Let the history buffs and sports fans have Boston and let the beach bums have Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. The culture vultures can take Williamstown, but if you’re someone who appreciates all of the above, New Bedford should be your stop in Massachusetts. With what’s been recognized as the #1 fishing port in America, the town’s overall vibe is rooted in history. The long standing New Bedford Whaling Museum pays homage to its rich maritime legacy, as does the brand new New Bedford Fishing Heritage, which opened in June 2016. The town has actually added a lot more in recent years. The newly installed Harbor Walk offers quintessential Massachusetts scenery, lighthouses and all. The craft beer scene, meantime, is getting increasingly exciting, with spots like Greasy Luck Brewery, a brewpub with live music, joining the community in winter 2016 and Moby Dick Brewing Co. opening its doors in March. All this in a city dense with creative types as evident from its vibrant arts community, which makes for great gallery-hopping and antiques hunting. It’s so lively, in fact, that the Massachusetts Cultural Council named New Bedford the most creative community 2017.
A small New England town with big literary allure.
If you go to the town of Brooklin’s website, you’ll probably see an announcement for an upcoming town meeting at the Brooklin School Gym. It’s that kind of town. Between its clapboard farmhouses, idyllic village-like downtown, complete with a general store and galleries, and the historic Brooklin Boat Yard, as well as The Wooden Boat School, its New England charms have been a draw for all sorts of artists, musicians, sculptors, and writers, most famous among them being EB White, who took a lot of inspiration from the oceanside surrounds when he penned “Charlotte’s Web.” Michael Chabon and Edmond White are among other literary types who've found refuge here. There are a few B&Bs in town where you can get a room at a B&B in the neighborhood of $125/night.
JIM THORPE, PENNSYLVANIA
Sixteen miles of scenic train route keeps a Victorian spirit alive in the Poconos
The Pennsylvania landscape is dotted with charming small towns, and Jim Thorp is certainly among the stand-outs. Known as the “Switzerland of America” because of its European-esque mountain setting, it’s been a municipality for about three centuries, but in 1954 it was re-christened in honor of James Francis Thorpe, a Native American who won the Olympic medal for decathalon in 1912. History looms large here—especially its legacies of coal mining and railroad development—and that history is on full display in Old Mauch Chunk Historic District. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (tours available) is one of the eight National Historic Landmarks in the district. But the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, a 16-mile trail that starts in Jim Thorpe and runs along a former railroad route, is arguably a bigger draw for history buffs. From May to December you can ride the rails in cars that date back to 1917. The town is an easy trip from Philly and NYC and centrally located hotels and B&Bs can be found for less than $150 a night.
FIRST STATE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, DELAWARE
A new national park makes history.
When someone mentions national parks, your mind probably leaps to iconic landscapes like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia. But even as cities around the country get built up and developed, there’s still land getting their historic designation today. The First State National Historical Park that runs through Delaware and into Pennsylvania was established in 2013, making it one of the newest national park. The park links seven sites, from the northern to central parts of the states all the way down to the southern beach region. Of course, it’s worth taking your time and wandering, but there are indeed not-to-be-missed sites, like Historic New Castle, a cobblestone colonial village where you can visit New Castle Court House, a National Historic Landmark. Continuing the legal theme, the Dover Green Historic District, which was first established as a public space in 1717 under William Penn’s watch, lays claim to being the site where the Constitution was first ratified. And if you make Dover your overnight, rest assured there are lodgings with luxury trimmings for as low as $99. The Dover Downs Hotel, for one, is located just a quick drive to The Green and the John Dickinson Plantation, both park stops.
MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE
Big city attractions and natural enclaves in an historic village setting.
With its museums, minor league sports, tax-free shopping, and Lake Massabesic, a watershed that offers fishing, boating, and biking trails, Manchester is a prime pick for a budget-minded getaway in the Granite State. A rejuvenated mill town and New Hampshire’s largest city, Manchester offers history, culture, a diverse dining scene, and an entrepreneurial spirit for a fraction of the cost of a stay in most cities. The Currier Museum of Art has over 12,000 works from iconic and contemporary artists and kids between 13 and 17 can enter for $5; the Millyard Museum's exhibits chronicle over 10,000 years of the region’s history. Sports? You bet. Catch a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game, the Toronto Blue Jays minor league team, if you’re there between April and end of August. The restaurants are collectively a study in the diversity of comfort food, from the old-school diners to Puritan Backroom, which opened a century ago and is said to have originated chicken tenders to newer spots, like locally-obsessed Republic Café, which offers an array of international staples (Spanish meatballs, Moroccan lentil stew) made with local ingredients at out-of-this-world prices. There’s also spots like The Foundry, the state’s largest locally-focused farm-to-table restaurant, that fetch prices on par with bigger metropolises, but it’s worth the splurge. And splurge you should. After all, you can book a room here for under $150. That’ll even leave you enough to visit one of the town’s microbreweries, like Milly’s Tavern, home to Stark Brewing Company, and Candia Road Brewing.
Hip modern dining amid an historic backdrop.
When you think of history in New England, you probably think about the marquee sites in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but plenty of Revolutionary War-era moments went down in the green hills and valleys of Vermont. History is on display in the delightfully artsy college town of Bennington, which is nestled in the Green Mountains in the southern part of the state. The towering Bennington Battle Monument, which has an observation deck, pays homage to a major battle in 1777 and Bennington Old Village, established by religious separatists in 1761, is now a National Historic District. But this being a college town, there’s plenty of contemporary spots to keep you entertained on a student’s budget, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. The pancakes at the diner Papa Pete’s are said to be the world’s largest and Lil’ Britain Fish & Chips Shop, complete with a provisions shop, will have you feeling like you’re on the English coast in no time. Despite it having a small beer scene, it’s nothing to scoff at. Top-rate brewers include Northshire Brewery and Madison Brewing Pub, a brewery and eatery and the town plays host to the Southern Vermont Homebrew Festival as well as Hopfest each year. Add to that spots for nature lovers, like the sprawling Veterans’ Home Deer Park and Trout Pond and hotel rates starting around $150, you have yourself a getaway that’ll keep every family member happy.
NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT
Iconic art, sustainable sushi, and colonial parks in a legendary college town.
Countless cities play host to universities, but rare is the city that is practically defined by and absolutely worth visiting for its academic institution. New Haven is among those rare ones, as Yale offers a variety of attractions, not to mention a campus that’s swoon worth for its architecture and other incredible sites. The school’s Yale University Art Gallery, renovated and expanded in 2012, houses a world-class collection, from ancient artifacts to iconic modern art. Best part? Admission is free. There’s nearly 2,000 paintings and 200 sculptures from across the pond at Yale Center for British Art, the largest collection of British art outside the UK. It’s free as well. They’re located in the vibrant historic downtown, a maze of bluestone sidewalks, that’s referred to as Shops at Yale and also includes an array of local boutiques, notable theaters, and restaurants. But Yale doesn’t have a total monopoly on the city. Established in 1638, New Haven Green, once the site of a jail and now a National Historic Landmark, has free walking tours and summer concerts. The culinary options include historic joints, like Lois’s Lunch, recognized by Library of Congress as the official birthplace of the hamburger in 1900 and eateries that are as creative as anything you’d find in a big metropolis, like Miya’s Sushi, a James Beard Award-winning spot known for being the first sustainable sushi restaurant. And spending time in New Haven won’t take a massive bite out of your wallet, with plenty of hotels in the $150 to $200 range.
A charming gaslight district is just a ferry ride away.
Patterson Park, Baltimore’s answer to Central Park, is well worn, but the Fell's Point neighborhood, which you can get to via water ferry, is an adorable neighborhood where an indie spirit pervades. The cobblestone gaslight district is cut through by Thames Street, which runs parallel to the water. It's home to about 50 bars and restaurants, like Barcocina, a nouveau Mexican spot with outdoor seating overlooking the water. And brewhounds, take note: Max's Taphouse, which has over 100 taps and nearly 1000 beers in bottles, is regularly rated one of the top beer bars in the world. The neighborhood's streets are lined with funky indie shops, like The Sound Garden, a store with new and used CDs and vinyl, and Hats in the Belfry, a fancy milliner shop for toppers of all styles. Other storefronts house antique stores, book stores, coffee shops.