7 Budget-Friendly East Coast Road Trip Destinations
The Northeast region is vastly different from other regions in the United States. It is densely populated and highly historic being a part of the original Thirteen Colonies.
The Northeast USA also offers some of the most culturally diverse experiences and cuisines, stunning national parks, and over half of the National Historic Landmarks in the USA to visit along your East Coast USA road trip.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE
Submitted by Kate Storm, Our Escape Clause
We loved our laid back time in Acadia National Park! While the hiking is beautiful, Acadia also provides a sort of old-fashioned leisure that seems reminiscent of a time when national parks were more about relaxation than hardcore adventure.
This is a place that will make you want to have a picnic, enjoy a sunset or two, and breathe in crisp New England air. If you’re looking for a beautiful and affordable nature destination in the United States, while on your East Coast USA road trip it’s hard to beat Acadia National Park.
Things to Do in Acadia National Park on a Budget
If you’re looking for bargain travel in the United States, our incredible national park system is almost always a great option… and Acadia National Park in Maine is no exception. Home to the beautiful hiking, gorgeous views, and laid-back atmosphere, Acadia National Park makes for a perfect laid back holiday.
While you’re here, don’t miss a visit to Sand Beach, a stroll around Jordan Pond, or a chance to see the sunset at the top of Cadillac Mountain. Because Acadia is a national park, all of these things and more are included in one flat fee.
Acadia National Park costs $25 per car (including occupants) to visit, or if you don’t bring a car of your own Acadia National Park provides a shuttle system during the summer to hit some of the park’s best spots (entry costs $12/person). Entry to Acadia National Park is good for one week, giving you plenty of time to explore.
Places to Eat in Acadia National Park on a Budget
For an affordable and delicious way to start the day, don’t miss breakfast at Jordan’s Restaurant – I’m still dreaming of their blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins! Located in Bar Harbor, the restaurant is less than a 10-minute drive from Acadia’s Park Loop Road, making it the perfect place to start the day. Budget about $10 for a hearty breakfast at Jordan’s Restaurant, or less if you are a light eater in the morning.
A little pricier option is Jordan’s Pond House, the famous tea spot located inside the park. It is an iconic spot and worth squeezing into any budget. Head for lunch or afternoon tea instead of dinner – you’ll save money and have an opportunity to eat out on the terrace overlooking Jordan Pond! Budget about $15 for lunch at Jordan’s Pond House, though you can spend a little less or a lot more depending on what you order. Whatever you decide to order, definitely, make sure it includes their famous popovers!
Where to Stay in Acadia National Park on a Budget
If you are looking for an adventure in the great outdoors you should definitely consider camping. Otherwise, The Quimby House Inn located in nearby Bar Harbor, Maine is a perfect option for those looking to stay close to the park but not go camping.
Submitted by Corinne & Jim Vail, ReflectionsEnroute
An old New England seaport and whaling town, Mystic is a quintessential small town and well worth a visit on an East Coast USA road trip. Walking around Mystic feels like time stopped in the mid-1950s where walking the main street of town and stopping in at the local ice cream shop makes a perfect afternoon.
Things to Do in Mystic on a Budget
Mystic Seaport is the number one attraction and a great way to spend the whole day learning about the fishing past of the eastern seaboard. Some of the exhibits include people dressed up and showing you how things were made and done in days past, a whaling ship that you can explore as well as other vessels, and a planetarium. The cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children.
Another place to visit is the Mystic Aquarium. Mystic Aquarium offers educational programs and animal encounters are also a great way to spend the day. The cost for adults is $33.50 and children are $24.50. If art is your thing, don’t miss out on the Mystic Museum of Art. This small museum that has revolving exhibits highlighting artists from the area and the admission is free.
Places to Eat in Mystic on a Budget
A great pizza joint to visit is Mystic Pizza. It also has the added attraction of having been a Hollywood Movie set! The Engine Room has great décor and even better menu. Go early evening and enjoy a happy hour as well. For fine dining and some superb fresh seafood dine out at Oyster Club…that is if you are willing to make a splash!
Where to Stay in Mystic on a Budget
The Mermaid Inn of Mystic is my absolute favorite. It’s within walking distance of everything and is cute and cozy.
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Submitted by: Kelsey Ohleger, Kelsey Social
Newport, Rhode Island offers New England charm in a more laid-back atmosphere. The location on Aquidneck Island makes this city appealing to those looking for sailing, yachting, fishing, or a beach vacation. Although Newport is known for summer getaways, this city is welcoming and charming during most of the year which makes it a perfect stop on your East Coast USA road trip.
Things to Do in Newport on a Budget
The Cliff Walk National Recreation Trail is a top free attraction in Newport. Walk along the rocky shoreline and admire the mansions overlooking the water. Take a look at impressive properties like The Breakers and the old summer home of the Vanderbilt family. The path runs for 3.5 miles along the water beginning at Memorial Boulevard and ending at Easton’s Beach.
Explore the heart of Newport on historic Thames Street. The street runs parallel to the waterfront and has been Newport’s main commercial drag since the 18th century. You can find a variety of shops and dining options here.
For scenic views and charming atmosphere, visit the Castle Hill Inn, the former summer home of a Harvard marine biologist. The lawn is covered with Adirondack chairs to look out at the Narragansett Bay. Visit here for a drink, a meal, or just to catch the sunset on the lawn or from the lighthouse.
Places to Eat in Newport on a Budget
If you’re in Newport, you’re hopefully a fan of seafood because there is no shortage of it on the island. Head to The Mooring Seafood Kitchen and Bar to enjoy freshly caught seafood while watching the yachts pull into the harbor. Get the $12 bag of doughnuts for a mix of lobster, crab & shrimp fritters with chipotle-maple aioli.
Del’s is a Rhode Island institution that has been selling frozen lemonade since 1948. On a hot day, this fresh lemon treat is a great way to cool off in Newport.
Where to Stay in Newport on a Budget
There are many various accommodations in Newport that are perfect for any budget. The Newport Harbor Hotel & Marina is close to attractions or the Historic Hill Inn.
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
Submitted by: Inma Gregorio, A World to Travel
I never get tired of walking around its iconic landmarks and undiscovered places not so famous but incredibly charming and interesting as well. So much that I cannot wait to go back and continue exploring its many faces and a bunch of unusual things to do in New York City beyond the touristy path!
Things to Do in New York City on a Budget
While there are many things to do in New York City that are well-known one of the lesser-known things to do is explore the settings of your favorite movie scenes for free. Serendipity, When Harry Met Sally, Night at the Museum, Ghostbusters, Breakfast at Tiffany’s – just to name a few.
After, take yourself on another free activity on the Staten Island Ferry at sunset to admire the NYC skyline from a distance. Of course, a trip to New York City isn’t complete without a trip to one of the finest parks in the USA. Stay fit as you get lost, jog or simply breathe clean air in Central Park.
Places to Eat in New York City on a Budget
New York-style pizza slices can be found all over the city. Visit any hole-in-the-wall Italian pizzeria and grab a slice for around $2-5. Another fun place to visit is the Hard Rock Cafe on Broadway. But the bill might run you close to around $25. Another experience to have is the Fishmarket Restaurant. It typically runs around $30, but with all the money you’ve saved on free attractions, it’s well worth the splurge!
Where to Stay in New York City on a Budget
New York City hotels can come with a steep price tag. Your best route for budget-friendly accommodation would be a local Airbnb.
MORRISTOWN, NEW JERSEY
Submitted by Collette Stohler, Roamaroo
While Morristown may be known as a quaint suburb in Northern New Jersey, it was once called the “military capital of the American Revolution.” This town played a vital role in the Americans independence of Britain during the revolution.
Hundreds of years later, its charming downtown area, historic parks, and performing arts center have made it a cultural capital of Northern New Jersey. Located just 25 miles west of Manhattan, visitors to Morristown can rejoice in the affordability and bevy of activities this small town has to offer.
Things to Do in Morristown on a Budget
Travel back in time to Henry Wick’s Cape Cod style home that was built in 1750 while visiting Morristown National Historic Park. At the Mayo Performing Arts Center choose from rock stars, comedy shows, or an elegant symphony. Prices vary on performance. Go for a hike in the rolling hills of Morristown at Jockey Hollow Grand Loop Trail. The best time to hike is in the fall months when the trees turn magnificent hues of oranges, reds, and yellows – best of all? It’s free to visit!
Places to Eat in Morristown on a Budget
At South + Pine American Eatery choose from delicious American dishes like spaghetti squash, fried chicken, or a fresh roasted beet or autumn harvest salad. Most main courses are ~$25. If you want a great juicy American burger, look no further than The Committed Pig. Burgers cost around $13.
Where to Stay in Morristown on a Budget
Located just five miles outside of Morristown you can stay at the Fairfield Inn & Suites for under $100/night on average.
Submitted by James Cave, Worldwide Shopping Guide
Steeped in American history, Philadelphia is a city that should feature on any East Coast USA road trip.
Things to Do in Philadephia on a Budget
Philadephia is home to the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and of course most famously: the steps that Rocky famously ran up. You definitely won’t run out of things to see and do here. To make the most of it, consider taking a free walking tour with Free Tours by Foot who offers several name-your-price tours of Philadelphia.
Places to Eat in Philadephia on a Budget
As well as having plenty of things to see, Philadelphia also has plenty of things to eat! The list of things to try is almost endless, but should definitely include a Philly Cheese Steak, Scrapple, and Shoo-Fly Pie.
The Grill Smuckers and Shoo Fry are two popular places to try Scrapple, and you can expect to pay around $5-6, while the Amish stand in Reading Terminal Market is a great place to get a slice of Shoo-Fly Pie ($2).
As for Philly Cheese Steak, everybody you meet will have a recommendation for the best place and the only logical thing that you can do is try them all. You should expect to pay around $9-11 at most places – perfect for any budget-conscious traveler.
Where to Stay in Philadelphia on a Budget
It’s relatively affordable to stay here too. City House, a Philadelphia-based hostel company, has two hostels in the city and a bed in a dorm room in either typically costs between $20 and $40. Alternatively, Apple Hostels of Philadelphia offers slightly more boutique hostel accommodation. Here, a Queen Room with a large double bed costs usually around $90 per night – ideal for couples or those who feel they’re a little too old for form rooms.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Submitted by Kay Rodriguez, Jet Farer
In my opinion, the best thing about Washington, DC is that there’s such a wide variety of activities to do in a very compact space – and yes, there’s more than just museums and monuments here. Outdoor lovers, foodies, history buffs, and art aficionados can have a meaningful and memorable experience here in the US capital while on your East Coast USA road trip.
Things to Do in Washington, D.C. on a Budget
There are so many unique and interesting things to do in Washington, DC, it’s hard to choose just a few. The best part? Many of them are FREE! The Smithsonian Institution has 19 museums ranging in subject from art to aerospace, and all of them are free to enter. Additionally, DC has several historic monuments and green spaces to explore, including the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, Rock Creek Park, and many more.
If museums and monuments aren’t your thing, DC is also home to several charming neighborhoods to explore. Meridian Hill Park is home to hula hoopers and a weekend drum circle. Dupont Circle has a vibrant farmer’s market, and nearby Adams Morgan is home to lively nightlife. Shaw has hidden back alleys with quiet coffee shops and Takoma Park has some weirdly wonderful vegetarian food. There’s a lot to take in here if you know where to look!
Places to Eat in Washington, D.C. on a Budget
One of the best neighborhoods for eating and drinking is the 14th Street NW/Logan Circle area. With several blocks of restaurants, bars, and shops, this is a lovely place to spend an evening eating, drinking, and wandering around. If you go during happy hour, you can even get a steep discount on food and drink! Some of the most well-known restaurants in this area include Ghibellina, Estadio, and Compass Rose, but there are several others within a short walk that are worth trying.
Where to Stay in Washington, D.C. on a Budget
For Washington, DC, your best bet for cheap accommodations is to use Airbnb. You can find private rooms there for as low as $50 per night!
What is your first stop on your East Coast USA road trip?