Coast to Coast: Cheap Must-See Attractions in All 50 States

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

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Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Doug Meek/shutterstock

A Virtual Cross-Country Tour

Whether you're in the midst of planning a road trip or looking at a map for the first time to decide where to go, you can count on finding plenty of free or cheap attractions across the country. We've taken an in-depth look at tourist destinations and found one site in every state — and Washington, D.C. — that's sure to delight travelers on a budget.

The search factored in ways to reduce out-of-pocket expenses, whether in rural or urban settings. We did not set a specific price ceiling for the attractions, but where fees are imposed, they're generally less than $25 for adults and cheaper for children, seniors, military members, and sometimes for students; stated price ranges reflect these discounts or different tour options. 

16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham

Alabama: Civil Rights History

Birmingham is home to many inexpensive museums and historical sites. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute costs $15 for adults, but is free or discounted for seniors, college students, and youth. Across the street, the 16th Street Baptist Church offers tours for $10 a person for adults; entrance to the church is by donation.   

Alaska - Dog Sledding

Alaska: Denali National Park and Dog Sledding

Dog-sled teams are a symbol of the region and an important part of the area's history, and still used in Alaska. You can learn about the sled dogs at the Denali Kennels during the summer or winter. The kennels are located within the Denali National Park, which charges a $15 entrance fee for visitors 16 and older.

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Arizona: The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is a destination for travelers from around the world, and it's worth fighting the summertime crowds in the South Rim area. The visit can be as inexpensive as you make it; camping and grocery stores are friends to anyone on a budget. Take the time for a short hike, along the South Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles) or Skeleton Point (3 miles), for example, and enjoy stunning views of the canyon from a different perspective.

Related: 19 Money-Saving Tips for Visiting National Parks

Old State House
Old State House by Wasted Time R (CC BY)

Arkansas: Little Rock Landmarks

The capital of Arkansas is filled with historic sites, shopping options, restaurants, and more. Visitors can see a lot by taking the Downtown Little Rock One-Day Walking Tour. The tour includes the Old State House Museum, the River Market District, the Clinton Library, and more.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

California: San Francisco

Although the cost of living in San Francisco may be high, there are some surprisingly cheap and fun attractions to experience in the city. Watch a Giants' game for free from the waterfront promenade; tour the Mission District's street murals; walk across the Golden Gate Bridge; make faces at the sea lions at Pier 39; or take in a view of the city by riding up the glass elevator the Westin St. Francis hotel in Union Square. The rest of the Golden State is also packed with budget attractions

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Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings, Colorado
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Colorado: Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Mesa Verde National Park in Montezuma County is a must-see if you're in southwest Colorado. Entrance to the park costs $30 a vehicle from May through September ($15 otherwise) and is valid for seven days; guided tours for the Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House cost $8 a person. This extra fee gives you access to the largest archeological preserve in the country, with structures that are at least 700 years old. 

Related: Incredible Ancient Ruins Across North America

Gillette Castle, Connecticut
Karen Grigoryan/shutterstock

Connecticut: Gillette Castle

The Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam boasts a 24-room mansion that looks like a medieval castle. Completed in 1919, the state of Connecticut bought the grounds and castle from the estate of William Hooker Gillette (a distinguished thespian of the time) in 1943. The site is fun, interesting, and enjoyable for all ages, according to TripAdvisor reviews. Parking and entrance to the park are free, but there's a $6 fee for ages 13 and up and $2 for ages 6 to 12 to enter the castle. 

Related: The One Absolutely-Can't-Miss, Must-Do Thing in Every State

Hagley Museum and Library, Delaware
Hagley Museum and Library, Delaware by Unknown author (None)

Delaware: Hagley Museum and Library

The Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington has something for everyone. History buffs can learn about the evolution of the DuPont Co. while nature lovers will enjoy a tour of the estate. Entrance for children aged 6 to 14 is $10, adults pay $20, and students and seniors pay $16.

The Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C.

District of Columbia: The Smithsonian Museums

When you're in the nation's capital, the range of free and cheap things to do is almost endless. The Smithsonian museums are mandatory, and each of the constituent parts offers something different (e.g., air and space, natural history, American art).

The Everglades, Florida
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Florida: The Everglades

Everglades National Park, the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, is just an hour west of Miami. The entry fee is $30 per car and it's good for seven days, leaving plenty of time to explore the park's fantastically diverse environment, which includes mangrove swamps, freshwater sloughs, and cypress forests. The park is home to a dazzling array of wildlife, ranging from crocodiles, manatees, and panthers to more than 350 species of birds and 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish.

Historic Savannah, Georgia

Georgia: Historic Savannah

One of Savannah's biggest attractions — a stroll through the city's downtown historic district — costs absolutely nothing. With cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, and many places to stop and grab a beer or coffee, this is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. If strolling isn't your thing, hop aboard downtown's free shuttle, which will ferry you around the historic district.

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Jorge Villalba/istockphoto

Hawaii: Volcanoes National Park

Lying on the beach, hiking, and snorkeling are all favorite pastimes in Hawaii, and none cost much. Visitors to the Big Island should stop by Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a chance to get up close to an active volcano. Enter with a vehicle for $30 (good for seven days) and drive to the lookout points. There also are hikes for any fitness level or desired duration.

Peregrine Fund World Center for Birds of Prey, Idaho

Idaho: Peregrine Fund World Center for Birds of Prey

Near Boise, the Peregrine Fund's center is an 850-acre site with breeding facilities, offices, a research library, and educational facilities. Visitors enjoy getting a close look at, and learning about, birds of prey from around the world. Entrance is $7 to $12 a person.

Lincoln Park Zoo, Illinois

Illinois: Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo in northern Chicago is free. New residents include three African lion cubs born this year: Pesho, Sidai, and Lomelok. Parking at the zoo can be costly, but four city buses stop near or at the entrance and the Brown or Purple rapid transit lines can drop you off at Armitage station, about 1 mile away.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indiana
Action Sports Photography/shutterstock

Indiana: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Racing enthusiasts shouldn't miss their chance to visit the home of the Indianapolis 500 and the Auto Racing Hall of Fame. "Kiss the Bricks" tours take visitors on a 30-minute narrated trip around the 2.5 mile track; $25 for adults, $24 for seniors, $15 for kids 6-15. Admission to the speedway's museum is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $8 for kids 6-15.   

The High Trestle Trail, Iowa

Iowa: The High Trestle Trail

The High Trestle Trail just north of Des Moines is 25 miles long, but you can skip to the main attraction — a 13-story bridge over the Des Moines River between the towns of Madrid and Woodward. The trail is free to explore, and the half-mile-long bridge is a work of art, with intentionally placed steel cribbing and blue LEDs that light up the structure at night.

Botanica, Kansas

Kansas: Botanica

Wichita's Botanica gardens are a favorite attraction for residents and tourists alike. Admission is $8 to $10, and there are 29 different gardens to explore, including one inspired by Shakespeare. Stroll across the meadows and through woodlands, or amble about the indoor greenhouse or butterfly house, the peony garden or the children's garden.

Maker's Mark Whiskey Tour, Kentucky
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Besthoff Sculpture Garden, Louisiana

Louisiana: New Orleans

With more than 9 million visitors a year, New Orleans is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations and it’s also full of free fun. Keep things cheap by enjoying the street music and take a free tour through Algiers Point, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, and many cemeteries. The India House Hostel is just a few minutes from a streetcar stop and offers dorm or private rooms from $31 to $75 per night. 

Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Maine

Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Free to the public, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art features a mix of permanent and special exhibits. The painting and drawing collection dates back to 1811, but over the years, donations and acquisitions have added more than 20,000 pieces in a myriad of styles and media from around the world.

Fort McHenry, Maryland

Maryland: Fort McHenry

If you're stopping in Baltimore, don't miss the chance to visit Fort McHenry. The inspiration behind "The Star-Spangled Banner," the fort is accessible by public transportation. Entrance is $15 for those 16 or older, and there are free daily ranger talks throughout the day.

The Freedom Trail, Massachusetts

Massachusetts: The Freedom Trail

Take a history-filled adventure and walking tour of Boston along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, which winds through the city's neighborhoods, with stops at more than 16 sites; many are free to enter. Purchased online, guided tours cost $8 for children, $17 for adults, and $15 for seniors or students, but you can enjoy a free self-guided tour by reading information at each site and using the official Freedom Trail Foundation app.

Related: 30 Beautiful Road Trips That Celebrate American History

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
The Mall of America, Minnesota
IVY PHOTOS/shutterstock

Minnesota: Mall of America

The Mall of America is filled with more than just retail stores — there's an aquarium, movie theater, house of comedy, Nickelodeon Universe theme park, mirror maze, and Lego store with a 34-foot Lego robot. Although walking around the mall is free, you're not likely to leave empty handed. Check the Mall of America's website for current promotions from retailers.

Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

Mississippi: Vicksburg National Military Park

The Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the battle of Vicksburg and the larger Vicksburg Campaign of the Civil War. Reviews on TripAdvisor give high marks to the audio tour and the historical artifacts, including a gun boat, cannon display, and fortifications. The visitor center offers a 20-minute orientation video. Entrance is $20 a vehicle, and a guided tour (in your car) costs another $60 for up to two hours.

The Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, Missouri

Missouri: The Nelson-Atkins Art Museum

In the Missouri side of Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is free for all visitors, which also offers free guided drop-in tours. There's an outdoor sculpture garden, visiting exhibits, and a permanent collection with works of art from around the world and throughout history. Reviews on TripAdvisor praise the museum for its variety of art and say that there's something for everyone.

Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, Montana
Dan Breckwoldt/shutterstock

Montana: Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks

In Montana, the outdoors draws more visitors than any museum. Between Yellowstone ($35 entrance fee, good for seven days) and Glacier National Park ($35 entrance fee, good for seven days), there's no way to choose a "best" destination, so go with the one that suits your itinerary and interests.

Gene Leahy Mall, Nebraska
Lianna N./Yelp

Nebraska: Gene Leahy Mall

Walk through Gene Leahy Mall in the central part of Omaha and enjoy the new gathering space and play space. Hear concerts at the amphitheater during the summer and marvel at the thousands of lights adorning the park in winter. One highlight not to be missed: two large slides that children and adults like to race down.  

Las Vegas, Nevada

Nevada: Las Vegas

Las Vegas is one of Nevada's most popular destinations, and for travelers with some self-control it's an inexpensive destination. Shows, drinks, and museums are free or cheap in Vegas. If you're not set on a specific hotel, even accommodations at the big names are relatively affordable.

Portsmouth's Harbour Trail, New Hampshire

New Hampshire: Portsmouth's Harbour Trail

Tour the historic sites in Portsmouth by following the Harbour Trail. Choose among the three sections — downtown and the waterfront, the commercial and residential South End, or State Street to Haymarket Square — or take it all in. 

Related: Famous Ships You Can Visit 

The Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

New Jersey: The Atlantic City Boardwalk

Atlantic City lacks the glamour of Las Vegas, but boy, does it have history. The iconic boardwalk was a first in the United States; this is the birthplace of salt water taffy; and the city was known as "the world's playground" during the two decades before World War II. Sign up for the casinos' loyalty programs; even if you don't gamble, they offer benefits off the floor, such as discounted parking.

Related: 40 Best Boardwalks in the Country

Carlsbad Caverns: Bat Flight Program

New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns

The Carlsbad Caverns beneath the Guadalupe Mountains contain more than 117 limestone caves. Entrance to the park costs $15 for those 16 and older (free for younger visitors), which includes self-guided tours through the caves; ranger-led tours cost an extra $8 and up for adults and $4 and up for children, but only the King's Palace tour is currently offered. Time your visit to coincide with the bats' flight out of the caverns in the evening and you can catch the free Bat Flight talk by a park ranger.

Big Apple Freebies, New York

New York: Big Apple Freebies

A well-known secret among New Yorkers who regularly show the sights to out-of-towners, the free Staten Island ferry floats right past the Statue of Liberty for a view of the iconic lady. Many of the city's top attractions, such as Central Park, Grand Central Terminal, and Rockefeller Center, are free to enter. Summer visitors can take advantage of the no-cost concerts and free movies presented in parks throughout the five boroughs.

The Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

North Carolina: The Blue Ridge Parkway

Drive the scenic 252-mile Blue Ridge Parkway for total immersion in the Blue Ridge Mountains and make pit stops along the way. Buy a treat at the Mast General Store (the oldest continuously operating general store in the country) in Valle Crucis, ride horseback through the woods on the Dutch Creek Trail in Sugar Grove, and take home a memento from the famous Folk Art Center in Asheville.

Related: 50 Most Beautiful Highway Drives in America

The Heritage Center and Museum, North Dakota
The Heritage Center and Museum, North Dakota by State Historical Society of North Dakota (CC BY)

North Dakota: Heritage Center and Museum

Located next to the capitol building in Bismarck, the Heritage Center and State Museum is one big, free history lesson. Looking back at prehistoric times through to the era of the Northern Plains Indians to the present and on to the future, you'll get an extensive education about the area you're visiting. This is a must-see attraction, according to reviews on TripAdvisor.

Aviation Heritage Park, Ohio

Ohio: Aviation Heritage Park

Dedicated to the Wright brothers and the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park offers visitors free tours and entrance to several museums and historic buildings. See Dunbar's home, the Wright brothers' bicycle shop, a flight simulator, and a historic flying field.

The Conoco Museum, Oklahoma

Oklahoma: The Conoco Museum

In Ponca City in northern Oklahoma, the Conoco Museum will appeal to some travelers. Admission is free, and the museum gives an in-depth history of the oil and gas company ConocoPhillips, the state's oil industry, and the oil and gas industry in general.

The Portland Rose Garden, Oregon

Oregon: The Portland Rose Garden

The Portland International Rose Test Garden, a.k.a. the Portland Rose Garden, boasts more than 650 varieties of roses and more than 10,000 flowers when in full bloom (that would be June). Entrance is free, as are the daily tours at 1 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

Gettysburg Military Park, Pennsylvania
Cole DeLancey/istockphoto

Pennsylvania: Gettysburg Military Park

Visit the battlefield and learn about a fraught era in American history at the Gettysburg National Military Park. The park and museum are free to enter. Once inside, you can watch the film "A New Birth of Freedom" narrated by Morgan Freeman and see the Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting, but there is a fee for the movie: $13.75 for children (ages 6-12) and $18.75 for adults.

The Waterfire Bonfire Display, Rhode Island

Rhode Island: The Waterfire Bonfire Display

An outdoor art performance that's become a tradition in Providence, WaterFire features more than 80 bonfires that burn along the city's waterways mostly on Friday and Saturday evenings in the spring, summer, and fall. Walk along the river and enjoy the scene with the crowd, which can reach 100,000 people.

Historic Charleston, South Carolina
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

South Carolina: Historic Charleston

Charleston is a charming city filled with history — this is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. It’s also a city filled with affordable fun. Take a name-your-own-price tour through Charleston with Free Tours by Foot, which offers several thematic tours, including ghost, architecture, food, and Civil War.

The Badlands, South Dakota

South Dakota: Mount Rushmore and the Badlands

Many of South Dakota's popular sites are clustered in the state's southwest. Wall Drug Store, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore,  Custer State Park, and The Mammoth Site can all be visited over several days. The national and state parks aren't expensive, and if you camp out, the total cost of the trip will be fairly cheap.

Nashville, Tennessee
Sean Pavone/shutterstock

Tennessee: Nashville

You can't visit Nashville without catching a few live shows. There are free summer concerts in Centennial Park; free bluegrass on Sundays at the Station Inn; and a wide variety of free performances at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts. To get around, hop aboard the Music City Circuit, the free downtown-area bus service.

Related: 34 Bucket-List Destinations for Music Lovers

I-10 | The Alamo
Dean Fikar/shutterstock

Texas: The Alamo

Join the more than 2.5 million people who drop by the Alamo every year. Free to visit, the several remaining structures are fully supported by donations and proceeds from the gift shop. The historic site in San Antonio is conveniently located near the River Walk and is widely hailed a must-see in TripAdvisor reviews.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Utah: Zion and Bryce Canyon Parks

Tackle two top sites in one trip by visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. It's worth taking several days at each to get the full experience. Unfortunately, the parks' popularity comes at a cost: Accommodations can be limited and the entrance fee for each is $35 a vehicle (valid for seven days).

Hildene, Vermont

Vermont: Hildene

Hildene in Manchester, Vermont, was the summer home of President Lincoln's eldest son. The house remained in the Lincoln family until 1975, and was purchased soon after by the Friends of Hildene. Admission costs $23 for adults and $6 for youth and includes access to the house, farm, and gardens.

Arlington Cemetery, Virginia

Virginia: Space Museum and Arlington Cemetery

Depending on your mood, there are two free sites to see in northern Virginia — Arlington National Cemetery and the Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Arlington National Cemetery is the resting place of hundreds of thousands American military members, with remains of soldiers from every conflict since the Revolutionary War. At Udvar-Hazy Center, you can see a wide range of aircrafts, including a Concorde, SR-71 Blackbird, and the space shuttle Discovery.

Pike Place Market, Washington

Washington: Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market in Seattle is free to enter, but you likely won't leave without buying a nosh. This is one of the oldest farmers' markets in the country and spans 9 acres. Watch fish fly at the Pike Place Fish Market, sip a cup of coffee at the original Starbucks or maybe a pint at Pike Brewing Co., or have a sweet bite at the Daily Dozen Doughnut Co.

Highland Scenic Highway, West Virginia
Ross Ellet/shutterstock

West Virginia: Highland Scenic Highway

The Highland Scenic Highway traverses numerous changes in elevation measuring more than 2,000 feet. Scenic viewpoints of the state's rugged Allegheny Mountains abound along the route's 52 miles. The Cranberry Glades Botanical Area in Hillsboro showcases the diverse animal and plant life of the mountainous wetlands.

The Basilica of St. Josaphat, Wisconsin

Wisconsin: The Basilica of St. Josaphat

Construction on the Basilica of St. Josaphat began more than 100 years ago and today the church stands as one of the top tourist attractions in Milwaukee. Admission is free, and the visitor center is open daily. Self-guided tours are always an option, but the visitor center is open Monday through Saturday.

Yellowstone, Wyoming

Wyoming: Another Route to Yellowstone

A visit to Yellowstone shoots to the top of many bucket lists despite the $35 vehicle entrance fee, which is good for seven days. Even if you can't find a vacant campsite or cabin within the park, you can lodge nearby and spend all day sighing at the bounteous natural wonders.

Related: 25 Things You Didn't Know About America's Oldest National Park