No. 6 Salt Lake City
While the Utah city dropped four spots in the survey’s affordability category this year, readers still found it to be family-friendly, peaceful, and pleasantly spic-and-span. Like a lot of reasonably priced cities, Salt Lake offers a discount pass on its tourist board website: Connect Pass easily pays for itself by bundling a long list of free meals and attractions, such as tours of Olympic Park or admission to the Natural History Museum of Utah and Hogle Zoo.
No. 7 Houston
Business travelers will like how this city affects their per diem: according to Zagat, restaurant meals are about $3 cheaper than the national average. You can bring that average down even more if you stick with the city’s old-school Tex-Mex—like Ninfa’s on Navigation, which claims to be home of the nation’s first fajitas (Mama’s Tacos al Carbon, $9.99). Hotel values, meanwhile, include Midtown’s new La Maison, which starts at $159 a night. The city also scored in the top 10 for its classical music, which can be heard for free at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park.
No. 8 Savannah, Ga.
This southern town may have strolled into the affordable top 10 using its pedestrian-friendly charm. Voters appreciate the portable happy hours (thanks to open-container laws) and the rich history, which you can access with walking-tour apps such as Historic Savannah and Haunted Savannah ($2.99 each). You could also call it a history tour when you check out the city’s top-ranked frozen desserts at Leopold’s Ice Cream parlor (est. 1919). The downtown institution sells old-fashioned sodas and rum bisque, lemon custard, and tutti-frutti ice cream.
No. 9 Austin, Texas
Many of the Texas capital’s diversions are geared toward local college students and young techie types. Among the best food trucks, for instance, is Gourdough’s on South Lamar, which may finally legitimize the donut as a complete meal: its Boss Hog donut ($5.50) is topped with pulled pork, potato salad, and honey BBQ sauce. Meanwhile, one of the most classic, all-ages Austin experiences costs just $3: taking a dip in Barton Springs in Zilker Park; it’s great for some free and colorful people-watching.
No. 10 Providence, R.I.
The diverse Rhode Island capital is the only northeastern city to make the budget-friendly top 10 this year, perhaps thanks to its crowd-pleasing dining, arts, and theater scenes. No-cover-charge events are especially common in summer: on the third Thursday of the month, for instance, you can take part in the free Gallery Nights, which feature free rides on an Art Bus. In summertime, it’s also free to stroll through the WaterFire displays, evening bonfires that line the city’s rivers.