You know how the song goes — “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy.” Unfortunately, when it comes to summer travel, it’s also expensive. Kids are out of school on vacation, everyone wants to get away and prices aren’t cheap — especially this year. According to a recent report from Hipmunk.com, the cost of domestic flights is up 4% since 2017 and flights from the U.S. to Europe are up 2%. Gas prices are also predicted to run 14% higher this summer than last.
But don’t give up: According to travel experts, there are plenty of cheap places to travel this summer in the United States. I tapped into a handful of experts to get their top tips for the best places to go from coast to coast.
Quaint coastal bungalow at dusk on Mount Desert Island, Maine. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Where: Mount Desert Island, Maine
Chosen By: Eileen Ogintz, syndicated columnist, creator of TakingtheKids.com and author of the just-released Kid’s Guide to Maine.
Why: You can go out on a lobster boat, see tiny lobster hatchlings at the Oceanarium and eat all kinds of seafood and every variety of lobster dish — even lobster ice cream — at Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium. Come to this part of Maine for the stellar views, the historic July 4 celebration and Acadia National Park, where you can hike, bike ride on the famous carriage roads (no cars!), count the stars in the clear night sky, look for bald eagles and swim (if you can brave the cold water). There are plenty of sailing trips, whale-watching tours, farmer’s markets for picnic fixings, outdoor movies at Seaside Cinema overlooking the harbor (free popcorn!) and more. Try the Morning Glory Bakery for breakfast; the Thirsty Whale for lobster rolls and chowder. Hadley’s Point in Bar Harbor is five minutes to the beach and offers camp sites, as well as 16 new cabins in the woods, a heated pool and a playground. The Acadia Inn is another affordable bet.
Where: Monterey, California
Chosen By: Patricia Stone, founder of Global Adventuress, has traveled to 162 countries and seeks out unique, off-the-beaten path destinations for solo, girlfriends, couples and family travel. Her site has been featured in the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and nominated by USA Today as a Top 20 Travel Destination site.
Why: Monterey is one of the best places to visit along California’s central coast for abundant natural beauty, vibrant marine life and spectacular beaches — and it’s possible to do it affordably. Rent a bike for only $10 per hour and cycle part of the 29-mile Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, or kayak along the coast with Adventures by the Sea and watch the sea otters frolic. A highlight is a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to observe a diversity of marine life up close; the jellyfish exhibition is mesmerizing. Window shop along fabled Cannery Row. Go whale watching year-round and spot humpbacks, blue whales or gray whales. Don’t miss the 17-Mile Drive between Monterey and Pebble Beach, one of the most memorable road trips in the country. The entrance fee is only $10.25 to see the views along this scenic coast. Stop at points of interests along the way, bring a picnic and take a stroll on the beach, especially at sunrise or sunset. Hungry? Order a bowl of clam chowder for under $10 at Fisherman’s Wharf. Savor fresh California/Spanish cuisine at Estéban. Or munch on tapas and flatbread pizza at the waterfront Taste of Monterey. The iconic Sardine Factory is known for its low prices during happy hour. There are several boutique hotels and quaint B&Bs in this town. Reserve a room at the hacienda-style hotel Casa Munras for as low as $129 per night, or find more inns with boutique charm at Inns of Monterey. If you are looking for a bit more of a splurge, the Spindrift Inn has oceanfront views, complimentary breakfast in bed (delivered on a silver tray) and free afternoon wine and cheese, all for rates starting at $199 per night.
Traverse City, Michigan
Chosen by: Cindy Richards, editor-in-chief for two leading family websites, TravelingMom.com and TravelingDad.com. Traverse City consistently makes the list of her well-traveled family’s Top 10 Best Family Vacations Ever.
Why: This northern Michigan town sits at the base of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay in the shadow of the expansive and pristine Sleeping Bear Dunes, one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Even if you can’t visit during the annual National Cherry Festival (June 30 to July 7), try a cherry burger or brat or one of the many other cherry-enhanced specialties you’ll find around town. Drive north along the Old Mission Peninsula for wine tasting, farm-to-table restaurants and a chance to climb the Mission Point Lighthouse, built in 1870, for breathtaking views of the lake. Bike, hike, kayak or fish your way around the town and the surrounding natural wonders. If you visit in the summer, time your trip to take in a Beach Bums game. This is baseball the way the National Pastime was meant to be — fun, family friendly and affordable. Definitely make time for art and yumminess — Traverse City is on a list of “100 Best Art Towns in America” and it was named a Top 5 Foodie Town by Bon Appetit. Keep the art and food affordable by wandering the galleries, then visiting the city’s food truck scene — eight trucks at a time stop in the Little Fleet lot, an open-air bar with craft cocktails, live music and a cool Scandinavian vibe.
Where: Saint Michaels, Maryland
Chosen By: Merry Lerner is an Emmy Award-winning TV producer and the creator of Let’s Be Merry, a lifestyle blog that focuses on travel and wellness. Merry’s goal is to inspire everyone to get out and enjoy the world, living life to the fullest. Follow her on Instagram for her latest travel and wellness tips.
Why: For a picture-perfect summer weekend, head to Saint Michaels, Maryland, a quaint and charming harbor town on the Chesapeake Bay. The area has everything you could ask for, good food, shopping, culture and plenty of outdoor activities to keep you occupied. There are a variety of bed and breakfasts that are moderately priced, including The Parsonage Inn and The Old Brick Inn, as well as the Tidewater Inn, located a few miles out of town. Take advantage of the town’s proximity to the bay with an afternoon sail, a kayaking excursion or a paddleboard session. If you’re more of a landlubber, the quiet country roads are an ideal spot for biking. Or stroll down Talbot Street, the town’s main drag, where you’ll encounter red brick sidewalks, Victorian homes, curated shops and cafes. The town has a winery and a brewery, and if you want a dose of history, check out the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Don’t forget to feast on the fresh, local seafood. The Crab Claw and St. Michael’s Crab & Steak House are two affordable and casual options right on the water. For dessert, check out Justine’s ice-cream parlor. With milkshakes starting at $5, you’re sure to get a sweet bargain.
Where: Greenport, New York
Chosen By: Sara Bliss writes about a range of topics including business, beauty, health, design and travel. She is the author of 10 books, including Hotel Chic at Home, which has been featured in Forbes and which features over 130 hip hotels around the world.
Why: With its sweeping vineyards, abundant farmland, rocky beaches and historic towns, the North Fork has always felt more accessible than the more posh scene in the Hamptons on the South Fork. The most vibrant spot on the North Fork right now is the coastal town of Greenport. Go for the rising foodie scene at spots like Noah’s and American Beech, set in a 19th-century horse stable that has also been converted into an 11-room inn with chic rooms that start at $169. Trendier spots are balanced by throwback seafood meccas like Claudio’s and Crabby Jerry’s, vintage and antiques shops like Beall & Bell (without the sticker shock of the Hamptons) and a beautifully restored 100-year-old carousel overlooking the water where rides cost just $2. If you want to spend time on the water, $2 will also get you aboard the 10-minute ride on the Shelter Island Ferry, where you can dine for cheap at the Pharmacy diner, rent a bike to tour the island or take a stroll in the 2,000-plus acre Nature Conservancy Mashomack Preserve.
Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Tourism
Virginia Beach’s False Cape State Park.
Where: Virginia Beach
Chosen By: Candyce H. Stapen is an award-winning travel journalist and family travel guru. As a USA Today travel editor, she launched online sites and wrote features. Her travel articles appear in numerous outlets. Find out more about her at gfvac.com and follow her @familyitrips.
Why: Not far from Virginia Beach’s bustling boardwalk, False Cape State Park gifts beach lovers with nearly six miles of dune-bordered, pristine shoreline where seagulls and sandpipers far outnumber sunbathers, even in high season. Instead of paying peak hotel rates, campers set up in the sand, savoring priceless water views for nominal fees ($11-$13 per site). Enjoying the 3,844-acre, mile-wide barrier spit between the Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean requires some motivation. To reach the park, overnighters must arrive by boat or by hiking or biking five miles through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Day visitors board a roundtrip tram. False Cape’s primitive camping requires toting in supplies, carrying out trash and using pit toilets. Water is available. The work is worth the rewards. From the windswept beaches, watch dolphins feed offshore; in the marshlands, discover ospreys and herons; and along the woodland trails, search for eagles in the treetops. At select times, the park offers guided kayak outings and other programs. When you crave a meal more satisfying than a protein bar, pedal or paddle to Blue Pete’s Restaurant. The local favorite situated on a creek near the wildlife refuge serves sandwiches, burgers and crab cakes. The nearby North Bay Shore Campground offers campsites with electrical hookups, and cabins with refrigerators and air conditioning.