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Affordable holidays in the USA

A trip to a major US city or historic National Park doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, there are many surprisingly inexpensive, but non-bottom-dollar ways to explore and enjoy it all, from sea to shining sea. Here’s how…

01/04/2022Fact-checked 24/05/2022

The Hollywood sign overlooks La La Land (Adobe Stock)

Los Angeles

Soaking up what Los Angeles has to offer means soaking up the sunshine. And that’s easily done in the City of Angels, from the trails around Griffith Park with views of the Hollywood sign and the free-to-visit observatory (for fans of Rebel Without a Cause) to hikes in Topanga Canyon to the entertainments of Santa Monica Pier. The Broad, downtown LA’s contemporary art museum, is free, including its Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, with advanced booking. LA’s Metro connects downtown to neighbourhoods such as North Hollywood, Culver City, Long Beach, Koreatown, and Little Tokyo. And join a parade – depending on the season, you can catch LA Pride or the Hollywood Christmas Parade.

Visit one of the city’s ritziest areas, Beverly Hills, and have a full American breakfast or juicy burger at Brighton Coffee Shop, serving since 1930. In Culver City’s Platform, Loqui taqueria is one of the best in the city, while Salt & Straw scoop shop in Venice Beach serves flavours such as pear and blue cheese and cornflake cookie with marionberry jam. Out at Malibu Country Mart, you’re almost guaranteed to see some celebrities’ kids congregating around the Starbucks. Choose your venti caffeinated product and then take the short walk to the Malibu shoreline.

Where to sleep: If you don’t want to sacrifice space or style, look at Downtown LA hotels, such as the Omni or the Ace Hotel Downtown.

Wild asters grow with abandon on the High Line (Alamy); pedestrian bridge in the Meatpacking District viewed from the High Line (Rosario Janza/Unsplash)

New York City

While a visit to the Big Apple isn’t likely to be light on your wallet, it can be done in a pound-wise fashion. Public transportation, including ferries, and your own two feet make much of the city accessible. Walk the High Line on Manhattan’s West Side and you’ll have views of the Midtown skyline, the Hudson River and public artworks along the way. Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge or take the ferry to Governors Island to immerse yourself in a grand juxtaposition of soaring towers and sparkling waterways. Soak up culture by taking advantage of the museums’ free hours, such as the Guggenheim Museum on some Saturday afternoons, or ‘pay-what-you-wish’ at the Whitney Museum on Friday evenings. Children aged 16 and under always enter for free at MoMA. Snap up same-day Broadway tickets at a fraction of the regular price by lining up at the TKTS booth in Times Square or book ahead on the TodayTix app, where some tickets start as low as $10.

Nearly every cuisine in the world is represented here, and affordable eats will appeal to even the pickiest palates, from pizza to dim sum to falafel. In January and February, Restaurant Week runs for a month and is a great way to dine at top spots such as Pastis, Babbo, and Gramercy Tavern for as little as $21.

Where to sleep: The first New York Hotel Week launched in January, offering a 22 per cent discount on standard rates at 110 participating hotels, including top hotels such as The Pierre and The Beekman.

Amicalola Falls in Chattahoochee National Forest, eight miles from the southern end of the Appalachian Trail (Alamy)

Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia

These azure-hazed peaks are part of a continent-dividing mountain range that runs from Pennsylvania to northern Georgia and ends in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Just 1.5 hours from Atlanta and three hours from Knoxville, TN, and Asheville, NC, these mountain ridges feel remote and wild. In fact, this is where you’ll find the southern terminus of the 2,000-mile-long Appalachian Trail. There are walks and hikes for all levels and ages: for those who want to forest bathe on a simple two-mile loop, to more rigorous hikes that cross over the Appalachian Trail.

Whether you’re a sceptic or a believer, everyone will enjoy the Sasquatch Museum for a Bigfoot encounter (children under five go for free). The town of Blue Ridge is a walkable burg with boutiques, pubs, and a large used bookstore, and, at the Serenity Garden Café, the biscuits and gravy are served with a heaping of Southern fried hospitality. Across the railroad tracks, the white-pillared historic county courthouse is now the Blue Ridge Mountains Art Center, with local crafts, quilts, paintings and sculpture on display.

Where to sleep: The Hampton Inn Blue Ridge is the best bet right in town but, if you want to get closer to nature, rent one of the many mountainside cabins, which come complete with cosy wood-burning fireplaces and priceless views.

National Museum of African American History and Culture (Alan Karchmer); the Jefferson Memorial (Adobe Stock)

Washington, D.C.

The residents of the District of Columbia don’t have elected representatives in the federal government (see every licence plate), but they do get to enjoy some of the nation’s most significant museums and monuments for free, as do visitors. Pay nothing for admission to the National Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and many others, including one of the country’s most spectacular: the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which documents the African American experience from enslavement to today. The inverted bronze David Adjaye-designed structure stands out amongst the Neoclassical buildings on the National Mall.

From the wharf on the Potomac River, one of D.C.’s newest neighbourhoods, take a free jitney to East Potomac Park and walk a circuit around the Tidal Basin to see the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the FDR Memorial, and the moving Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Back on the Wharf, toast s’mores at Camp Wharf at the Firepit after enjoying East and West coast oysters at Hank’s Oyster Bar.

Where to sleep: Kimpton hotels in D.C. offer families and travellers modern design and spacious rooms, plus many offer a third night free for stays of three nights or more. All are within walking distance of the White House, the Capitol building, or the Mall, including the stylish George – A Kimpton Hotel, in the Capitol Hill business district.

The sublimely named Ooh Aah Point (Adobe Stock). Opening image: the Grand Canyon (Jason Thompson/Unsplash)

Grand Canyon National Park

Millions of visitors a year come to the Grand Canyon to be awed by the sheer scale of it – 277 miles long, 6,000 feet deep, and roughly ten miles across. The South Rim is the most accessible (download your National Park Pass before you go – individual permits are $20) with a free shuttle bus that connects the nearby towns and lodges to the visitors’ centre, hiking trails and campgrounds.

Walk the Rim Trail to take in the views from Mather Point, Yavapai Point, and the aptly named Ooh Aah Point, while the popular Bright Angel Trail will take you below the rim down to the Colorado River, a descent of more than 4,300 feet. Resthouses along the nine-mile trail have water stations and bathrooms. Grand Canyon Village and Tusayan have a number of southwestern restaurants where you can try Navajo frybread and the local chili.

Where to sleep: While the most affordable option is to camp inside the park (reservations must be made months in advance), it requires having the gear for an outdoor adventure. Look slightly further afield in the towns near the Southern Rim, such as the Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon in Tusayan.