By Natalia Kvitek

Bang for Less Buck: Best Value American Destinations for 2017

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 2363

Picking your next vacation destination is a bit like picking a partner. At surface value, exotic destinations from the jungles of Madagascar to the remote deserts of Chile might be hunky dory, but taking into account how affordable and well-liked these destinations are impacts their value. With our Best Value Destinations, we’ve highlighted some smaller, homegrown destinations with great hotel prices and a history of satisfied travelers that often get overlooked in favor of bigger names.

Where should you travel this year? Leave the passport in the drawer and discover these high-value, highly-rated US destinations in 2017!


#1. Branson, MO

Autumn in Branson Lake Taneycomo

Autumn sun setting over Lake Taneycomo. Photo by Branson Convention & Visitors Bureau CCBY

When you think you know Branson, go back and visit again. There’s a really good chance you’ll find something new, fun and affordable. For any budget traveler, that’s really exciting. In 2016, the iconic Navy Pier Ferris Wheel relocated from Chicago to Branson, literally changing the landscape of the city and adding another must-visit attraction to an already stacked lineup of things to see and do.  Branson’s food, lodging, shopping, shows, outdoor adventures, and attractions provide ample opportunities for fun and a trip to this section of the Missouri Ozarks doesn’t break the bank.

Stephen Foutes, blogger Visit Missouri

What To See and Do

Branson Belle Showboat

Aboard the showboat Branson Belle at sunset. Photo courtesy of Branson CVB.

Titanic Museum: While it may seem unlikely in a landlocked town, the honor of hosting the Titanic Museum is not taken lightly. To celebrate the movie’s 20th anniversary, the museum will be flooded with actual costumes, props, set pieces and other elements from the film in a new gallery.

Showboat Branson Belle: The 700 passenger paddle wheeler is a concert cruise steering revelers across Table Rock Lake and offers a variety of musical genres. The all-new noon show, “Country On The Lake,” sees rising stars performing beloved country hits and other memorable classics.

The Runaway Mountain Coaster: This thrilling ride follows the area’s natural topography in specially engineered carts that allow the user to weave in and around the Ozark hillside. Speeds reach up to 30 mph, but you remain in control of whether you want to slow down or brave the fast tempo all the way to the end.

Raiding the Country Vault: Belt out your favorite country songs alongside chart-topping Nashville stars who are joined by iconic country musicians on stage in the atrium at the Starlite Theatre. The big show opens mid-March.

Fritz’s Adventure: Bring the outdoors inside over three stories and across 80,000 square feet of adventure time for the entire family. Everything goes indoors where you’re encouraged to scale city walls, crawl through tunnels and find your way through an industrial maze.

What To Eat

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The Ferris Wheel lit up at dusk. Photo courtesy of Explore Branson. 

Billy Gail’s Café: Come with a big appetite and leave satiated with change to spare. Massive (read: gigantic, truly) portions of breakfast and lunch classics are delicious and unbeatably affordable. The cozy log cabin setting only adds to Billy Gail’s charm.

Mel’s Hard Luck Diner: Classic American food is served up with a song. Mel’s wait staff serenades and gets guests clapping and dancing while they wait for their signature milkshakes in this 50s diner setting. This memorable experience is complimented by the fantastic, family-friendly food selections.

Danna’s BBQ & Burger Shop: Get to know the locals at Danna’s over a platter of their mouthwatering smoked meats. This Ozark BBQ joint has a secret sauce that smothers and softens meat till it’s tender and served hot for you to devour.

Where To Stay

Angel Inn Central

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Bright, airy rooms are budget-friendly too! Photo courtesy of the Angel Inn Central

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Located just steps away from the entertainment district that defines Branson, the Angel Inn Central also starts your day off with a free buffet style breakfast. Biscuits and gravy, eggs, donuts, fruit and pancakes (among other goodies) get piled high on your plate following a dreamy night’s sleep on the pillowtop mattress. Kids under 17 stay free and an indoor pool and hot tub merits packing a bathing suit year round.

#2. Montgomery, AL

Lake beside Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

Birds hanging out lakeside near the Museum of Fine Arts. Photo by Ralph Daily CCBY

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#3. Wichita, KS

Wichita Farmers market

The Wichita Farm and Art market against blue skies. Photo by Ty Nigh CCBY

Wichita supports local talent better than anyone in the country with its diverse and supportive entrepreneurial culture. Wichita is a value destination because we have a tremendous art culture, several microbreweries, fun shopping, a diverse selection of phenomenal eating places, and a city that embraces an active lifestyle as well. I always like to suggest Ziggy’s Pizza and The Anchor for food, The Workroom and Lucinda’s for shopping, and the Riverside district for hiking/biking/jogging.

Jen Cole, Wichita blogger

What To See and Do

Wichita Design District Murals

Spot the flag of Wichita proudly painted on one of 22 murals across the design district. Photo courtesy of Visit Wichita.

“Wichita has an exploding cultural scene, from music to art to craft breweries to food trucks. As a big ‘small town,’ it’s easy to be a part of the buzz, explore all that it has to offer, and to fall in love with the ever-friendly and vastly evolving city. Some must stop shops include the Nifty Nut House, Spice Merchant, The Workroom, Hatman Jacks, Reverie Coffee Roasters, and Cocoa Dolce Chocolates. Must do’s include Avenue Art Days mural tour, Keeper of the Plain fire lighting ceremony, Final Friday art crawl, and a Wichita State basketball game.”

Janelle King, Wichita Designer

Douglas Design District: Locate all 22 murals in the Design District painted by Wichita artists with this map. They offer the perfect backdrop for photo taking and give a sampling of the rich artistic scene of the city.

Botanica: Spanning across 18 acres, themed gardens burst with butterflies and blooms, boasting over 50,000 tulips and 100,000 daffodils come spring. The holidays turn the gardens into an illuminated winter wonderland with over 1 million lights lighting the paths. 

Old Cowtown Museum: Wichita’s 19th century Wild West past is brought to life with wagon rides, pretend gunfights, and ice-cold sarsaparillas.

Local Brews: Wichita’s beer scene is bustling with award-winning breweries. Anchor has long reigned as craft beer kings with more than 40 on tap and a further 200 bottled varieties, plus local artisanal meats and cheeses on the menu. Other local faves include Central Standard Brewing, Aero Plains Brewing or the newest contender, Third Place Brewery.

The Dockum Apothecary: The first speakeasy to open up in Wichita is taking craft cocktails for a Prohibition spin with a vintage ambiance.

What To Eat

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Locals love a taste of the many craft breweries dotting the city, including Central Standard Brewing, pictured here courtesy of Visit Wichita.

Wichita BBQ: Wichita is home to one of the Midwest’s best-loved BBQ scenes. For a finger-licking taste of Wichita, head to Delano Barbecue Company in the Delano District– side of onion rings required. Bite Me BBQ downtown and Monarch in Delano could very well be engaged in a battle for the best ribs. Let us know who’s your winner!

Old Town District: The restaurants in this fantastic neighborhood occupy a global stage. Try Wasabi Sushi, some Korean grub at GangNam Grill or chow down streetside at District Taqueria.

Uniquely Wichita: The face of Wichita is constantly shifting and you can taste the change at modern restaurants like Piatto Pizzeria, rolling out authentic Neapolitan pizza, or Dempsey’s Burger Pub for a Wichita spin on the current burger-love wave.

Where To Stay

Hyatt Regency Wichita

hyatt-regency-wichita guest room

Photo taken from trivago.

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This four-star hotel is located along the Arkansas River and minutes to downtown Wichita’s attractions. Rest up to take in the sights on the incredibly plush Hyatt Grand Beds™ in spacious guestrooms outfitted with modern accents and stunning city or river views.

#4. Macon, GA

Macon Georgia fountain

Historic Macon beams a quaint atmosphere. Photo courtesy of Macon CVB

We have soulful charm, rich history & heritage from musical to Native American and African American, incredible architecture and a vibe of our own.”

Valerie Bradley, Macon Visitors Bureau

What To See & Do

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The Ocmulgee Indian celebration is a cherished Macon event. Photo courtesy of Macon CVB.

The Big House Museum: Also know as the Allman Brothers Band Museum, the boys, their families, and friends lived here for three glorious and formative years before making it big. The house is open to visitors looking for memorabilia and touching reminders of the band’s history.

Tubman Museum: Since 1981, this museum has dedicated its efforts towards the preservation and exhibition of African-American history, art and culture. It is the largest museum of its kind in the United States and teaches the story of African-Americans through exhibits, publications, and classes.

Ocmulgee Riverwalk Heritage Trail: Running over 11 miles long, this popular trail is perfect to skip, jog, rollerblade or bike your way around town. Locals love to float down the river in the summer or you can wind your way with a paddle and canoe. Stop into the historic Riverside Cemetery, a city landmark, to pay your respects while enjoying the tranquility.

Cherry Street: If you’re after a taste of the party, Cherry Street is the heart of Macon after dark. From an arcade bar to dive bars and live music stages, it bustles with action.

Ocmulgee Indian Mounds: This historic national park holds traces of 17,000 years of continuous human habitation. Ceremonial mounds, temples, and trenches showcase the engineering skills of ancient Southeastern Native American cultures. It is also the site of the annual Ocmulgee Indian Celebration, held annually in September.

What To Eat

Dovetail restaurant Macon bar seating

The quaint interior at Dovetail. Photo by Haley Sheffield for Moonhanger Group.

Nu-Way Weiners: Having celebrated the big 1-0-0 last year, the hotdog stand and its original Cotton Avenue location have been dishing up secret recipe chili hot dogs under the bright lights of its original neon sign to the delight of residents and visitors alike.

The Rookery: This hangout bar is known for playful menu names that highlight some favorite Macon personalities, including a Ray Charles burger and the Jimmy Carter Shake. Enjoy them best with a craft beer on their outdoor patio and catch some live music.

Dovetail: This farm-to-table restaurant was applauded in the magazine Southern Living for its incredible pre-Prohibition era cocktails and delicious food. Their spin on Southern food has brought a modern edge to comfort food while supporting regional farmers and purveyors.

Where To Stay

Hilton Garden Inn Macon/Mercer University

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The inviting lobby at the Hilton Garden in Macon. Photo taken from trivago.

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Located on the Mercer University Campus and a short distance to the historic center of Macon, the Hilton Garden view offers spacious rooms with an emphasis on comfort. A Mirra® ergonomic chair by Herman Miller accompanies the working space in the guest rooms while the Garden Sleep System™ adjustable beds guarantee a solid night of sleep. 

#5. Lincoln, NE

New Quilt Center exterior Lincoln Nebraska

New Quilt Center in Lincoln. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism.

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#6. Lafayette, LA

Lafayette Louisiana Tim Mueller Accordion

Photo by Tim Mueller

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#7. Sioux Falls, SD

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Blue skies and waterfalls in Falls Park. Photo courtesy of Visit Sioux Falls.

Our community loves visitors so much! We are one of those cities where we ask if you want to pet our dogs, or we pay your meters if we notice they’re low. We tell you the nice places to eat, but we’re not afraid to tell you about the fantastic dive bars, too. We’ll joke with you about our weather, our Dakota accents, and our chislic. We tell time in hours — It’s six hours to Mt. Rushmore. One hour to Vermillion. — and most of us can call the governor by his first name. And, if you want to see the falls of the Big Sioux River, we’ll probably drive you there – or at least have you follow us there in your own car.

Thea Miller Ryan, Sioux Falls writer

What To See & Do

sioux-falls-district

The District, Sioux Falls’ finest entertainment venue. Photo courtesy of Visit Sioux Falls.

Falls Park: Running north, the namesake park is 123 acres with a free five-story observation tower and an elevator that has amazing views. Stop by during the day, but don’t miss out on seeing the park lit up at night.

SculptureWalk: Grab a map at any of the many brochure boxes on Phillips Avenue and follow along the SculptureWalk year round. Fan favorite is Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby’s piece titled, “Maestro!”

Midco Aquatic Center: Beautifully lit with natural light streaming in through the glass, the newly-built aquatic center boasts an Olympic-size pool, splash pad, and sundeck plus a recreational pool. A day at the pool is guaranteed to bring the kid out in anyone.

Fernson Brewery: This archetypal Sioux Falls brewery uses fresh falls water and South Dakota yeast coupled with hops from the Pacific Northwest and barley from Minnesota and Wisconsin. What you get is a great American beer, available fresh from the tap at their downtown tap room.

What To Eat

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Grab a craft brew and some bites at Fernson. Photo courtesy of Visit Sioux Falls.

CH Patisserie: Top Chef: Just Desserts winner Chris Hanmer sells his beautifully sweet creations downtown. Grab a coffee and don’t hesitant to dunk– unbelievably, they taste even better than they look.

M.B. Haskett Delicatessen: Set yourself into the very capable hands of the chef here. A prix-fixe menu means you don’t have to make any difficult choices and rest assured you will try the best local bounty, masterfully flavored.

Jacky’s Restaurant: Like any good Latin American place, it has its own menu language: wet burrito, Christmas style (with red and green sauce).

Where To Stay

Hilton Garden Inn Sioux Falls

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Funky decor and an unbeatable location in Sioux Falls. Photo taken from trivago.

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Where else would you want to reside on your Sioux Falls adventures other than riverside? The supremely comfortable Hilton Garden Inn offers lovely views of the Big Sioux River. Bundle up to soak in the sights beside the fireside on the outdoor patio or swim laps in the indoor pool. Complimentary WiFi and space to stretch out to work or relax rounds out this experience.

#8. Lake George, NY

Lake George New York Steamboat

The elegant Minne-Ha-Ha Steamboat cruising across Lake George. Photo by Martin Dubé CCBY

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#9. Little Rock, AR

little-rock-pixabay

Photo courtesy of Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

A budding entertainment district right on the river offers all sorts of fun – like shows and movies at the Ron Robinson Theater, hands-on native animal education at the Game and Fish Nature Center and even a trip back to the 90s at the Clinton Presidential Center. Sing at the top of your lungs with friends at one of the River Market’s two competing piano bars, or enjoy fried chicken, fish or sausages at one of the local restaurants.”

Kat Robinson, Tie Dye Travels 

What to See & Do

Little Rock Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park on a sunny day. Photo courtesy of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

Arkansas River Trail & Big Dam Bridge: The river trail snakes through the metropolitan area of Little Rock, connecting cyclists, joggers, and amblers to 38 parks, six museums and a huge diversity of landscapes and habitats. You can cross the longest pedestrian-bicycle bridge in North America to the other side of mostly flat terrain.

Esse Purse Museum: As one of only three brick-and-mortar purse museums in the world, the Esse will leave you enthralled by all things handbag related with a rotation of exhibits and a permanent collection spanning almost a century old.

Museum of Discovery: Get your hands in on the action at this family-friendly museum located in the historic River Market District. The Director of Visitor Experience, Kevin Delaney, recently debuted a weekly science experiment TV series on the Science Channel as well as being featured regularly on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Little Rock Central High School: At the center of desegregation struggles in 1957 was this high school. The day nine African-American teens began their first day with escorts from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division was integral to the history of the Civil Rights movement. Visit the school with a scheduled tour 24 hours in advance. 

Rock Town Distillery: This artisanal craft distillery uses the finest Arkansas grains grown within 125 miles of the distillery to craft smooth, award-winning spirits. It was the first legal distillery located in Arkansas since Prohibition and you can both tour and sample their wares (provided you are above the age of 21!).

What to Eat

Cheese Dip Little Rock

All hail the Little Rock cheese dip. Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau

Little Rock’s best-known dish is cheese dip. You’ll find it on the menu at pubs, pizza joints, neighborhood sandwich shops and Mexican restaurants. Every version is different, from U.S. Pizza Company’s Judy’s Best and its green and white emulsion, Arkansas Burger Company’s white cream, Izzy’s Rotel-enhanced, Heights Taco & Tamale’s golden orange, Mexico Chiquito’s dark orange, Cafe @ Heifer’s goat cheese version and even the two-parter at Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro. Dip your chip – and don’t forget to let the excess roll off – and enjoy a unique flavor of Little Rock.

Kat Robinson, Tie Dye Travels

Heights Taco & Tamale: Sample the golden orange cheese dip along with a plate of tamales and one of their perfect margaritas. Skip the jalapeno onion dip unless you live close by and can return often– it’s addictively delicious.

Loblolly Creamery: This a small-batch, premium ice cream producer has been featured in foodie mag Saveur. Flavors, like honey green tea, salted caramel and dark chocolate sorbet beg you to skip dinner in favor of a three-scoop cone.

Food-related festivals and special events: Cross the world with The International Greek Food Festival, The Jewish Food Festival, Turkish Food Festival or try the World Cheese Dip Festival and the Arkansas Cornbread Festival.

Where To Stay

The Capital Hotel

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One of Little Rock’s most majestic and historic hotels. Photo taken from trivago.

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Luxury abounds in Little Rock with a stay at the Capital. Onsite you’ll find signature restaurant, One Eleven, whose Chef Joel Antunes has been recognized with a Michelin star as well as being a James Beard semi-finalist. In your room, Molton Brown Bath Products up the ante on luxury, which is complemented by the Frette bed and bath linens with a sumptuous experience all-around. 

#10. Springfield, MO

Springfield Missouri Square

Downtown Springfield. Photo courtesy of the Springfield, MO Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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Which of our best value cities will you plan to visit in 2017?

See our Best Value Destinations for every type of traveler here.

Natalia Kvitek
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Natalia is a list-maker, international adventurer, professional bon-vivant and a lover of art, fashion, ponies and pizza. She aspires to swim in every sea, expand her global snacking repertoire and be reincarnated as an otter. Her favorite trips see her veering off-piste and her favorite hotels must have a bathtub big enough for swimming.