The Best Budget and Waist-Friendly Vacation Spots in the U.S.
There’s a common misconception that going on vacation leads to unhealthy eating and weight gain, but your summer trip doesn’t have to cost you hours in the gym or pricey post-vacation cleanses. NerdWallet Health looked at the 50 largest cities in the U.S. to find the best budget-friendly vacation spots for the health conscious. We considered the following:
- Is the weather nice enough to spend your time outside, while avoiding harmful UV rays? We included average days of rain in July (based on past years) and percent chance of sun exposure from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Cities with fewer days of rain and lower sun exposures received higher scores.
- Is it easy to purchase fresh foods? We incorporated the number of farmers markets within 10 miles.
- Will you be able to get around the city on foot, or will you need to rely on cars or public transportation? We looked at the Walk Score® for each city.
- Are hotels affordable? We researched average hotel prices in July according to Expedia.
Need help choosing your healthy summer destination? Take our quiz.
To help you plan your vacation, our Nerds studied every city on the list to find the best local spots to satisfy your healthy lifestyle (we have no financial connection to any profiled businesses). Check out what we found:
1. New York, New York
Already a favorite domestic vacation destination, NYC tops our list for healthy vacation spots. If you love to cook with fresh foods, New York is the place for you to be this summer. One organization, Greenmarket, alone has a network of 54 farmers markets in the city. Not in the mood to cook? Stop by Sweetgreen for a quick soup or salad with local, organic ingredients—or plan a nice dinner out at Pure Food and Wine, which serves up raw, organic fare. If you’d like to take advantage of New York’s incredible walkability, consider a walking tour—you can even combine your love for food and fitness with a Foods of New York tour, which includes tastings along your cultural walking tour. Looking for a real workout? Check out Barry’s Bootcamp, which claims to be the “1,000-calorie workout.” You’ll find Barry’s only in some cities, so check it out while you’re in town.
2. San Francisco, California
With virtually perfect weather for enjoying a summer vacation while avoiding sun damage, San Francisco has lots to offer for active travelers. While you’re in town, sign up for a Fitmob workout at the Marina Green or Dolores Park to get your workout in while checking out the local parks. Fitmob wants to improve the health of the nation by building a community around fitness—and you can get free classes for a week when you sign up! If you’re looking for an activity on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday, don’t miss the Ferry Building Farmers Market; it’s a great chance to see the historic building and views of the Bay, while also sampling some local cuisine. If you’re looking for a healthy but trendy dinner, try Gracias Madre in the Mission District for vegan Mexican cuisine—bet you’ve never tried that before!
3. Portland, Oregon
If you’re looking to save on your hotel this summer, Portland’s average nightly rate of $164 may be appealing. For an even cheaper option and alternative experience, check out Tierra Soul, an urban farm and guesthouse that has rooms with a queen-sized bed for just $105/night. If you’ve come to eat, try an Eat Adventures Portland food tour or a meal at Noble Rot, which features local and organic ingredients, many of which come from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. If you’re in Portland in July and have a taste for good beer, check out Oregon Craft Beer Month—not necessarily a healthy activity, but well-deserved after a Cycle Portland Bike Tour. To escape the city you can also venture about 10 miles north to Sauvie Island, half of which is a wildlife reserve.
4. Washington, D.C.
While you may run into some rain in D.C. in summer, the upshot is that you’re likely to avoid lots of sun damage. Start your day at Yoga Heights, a new yoga studio focused on whole-body wellness, then wander to the Eastern Market historic farmers market on Capitol Hill, which, depending on the day, may have anything from live music to local craft vendors. For dinner check out Ripple (across the street from the Uptown Theater) for sustainable, organic, local food. Swing by Alexandria—minutes away from downtown D.C., in Virginia—for waterfront activities, healthy restaurants and scenic biking trails. Cheese lovers with dietary restrictions shouldn’t miss Cheesetique, which offers gluten-free and vegetarian options.
5. Los Angeles, California
If you’re looking to escape the rain, Los Angeles is your best bet—but be sure to pack a high SPF. Once you’ve lathered up, head out for a stand-up paddle board yoga class with YogAqua. To some the epicenter of healthy eating, L.A. has no shortage of restaurants serving quality fare. If you’re looking for something extreme, check out M Café de Chaya, which offers “contemporary macrobiotic” fare—you won’t see any red meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, or refined sugar on the menu. On a hot summer night track down Street Food Cinema for an outdoor movie and local food trucks. If you’re looking for full-blown retreat and have a larger budget for your vacation, the California Health & Longevity Institute, which offers science-based lifestyle rejuvenation, may be for you.
6. Baltimore, Maryland
With great hotel prices and low sun exposure, Baltimore comes in as the sixth-healthiest vacation spot. If you’re looking for a different workout than usual, try Canton Club, a gym that’s rethinking what it means to be fit. Rather walk for exercise? Why not do it at the National Aquarium—you’ll be so distracted by the sea life that you won’t even realize you’re exercising. Refuel at the Breathe Bookstore Café, which offers vegetarian food with vegan, gluten-free, raw and Ayurvedic options. If you don’t have dietary restrictions and are looking to experience the local seafood culture, opt for a crab feast at Captain James Seafood Palace.
7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philly may be your winner if you’re worried about sunburns this summer, with the lowest chance of catching rays among our top 15 cities. Vegetarians can rejoice, with great restaurant options like Vedge and HipCityVedge. Fit in with the locals and stop by FlyWheel to try out an indoor cycling class, then grab some dinner ingredients at the Rittenhouse Square farmers market. If you want to get a bit more touristy, consider a bike tour from Wheel Fun Rentals.
8. Long Beach, California
If you’re on a budget but still want to get some beach time in this summer, consider Long Beach for its cheap hotel rates. You’re also unlikely to get rained on. On your way to the beach, pick up a local, organic, cold-pressed juice or two from Rainbow Juices. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could even opt for one of their juice cleanses. For organic vegetarian cuisine, try Steamed, which sources their veggies from local farms. With its mediocre walking score, relying on your feet to get you around Long Beach may be a challenge—but biking is a great option. Check out Bike Long Beach for a one-stop online guide for biking in Long Beach, including everything from bike paths to events.
9. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Start your trip to Minneapolis by scoring some wheels from Nice Ride, the city’s bike-sharing system. On Saturday ride over to the Mill City Farmers Market for an outdoor shopping experience overlooking the Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River—but get there early because the market closes at 1 p.m. If you’re inspired by the view of the river, you can go on a paddle board tour with Stand Up MN. The founder of the Mill City Farmers Market also owns the nearby Spoonriver restaurant, a good option for local and sustainable fine dining if you’re not in the mood to do the cooking yourself.
10. San Jose, California
A hidden gem for music lovers (on any given week, you can count on some 40 downtown venues offering live music), San Jose also makes our list for healthiest vacations. Techies and science geeks should stop by the Tech Museum of Innovation. If you’d prefer to be outside browsing the shops, head over to Santana Row for shopping, dining and events throughout the summer. For an even more authentic dose of local culture, check out the San Jose Flea Market and the Downtown San Jose Farmers Market, put on by the Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association.
11. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago boasts lots of innovative options for workout enthusiasts. Hiding from the rain? Check out GO Cycle for indoor classes. If indoor cycling is old news to you, don’t fear—GO Cycle’s combo classes like Go Yo (40 minutes of cycling, 30 minutes of yoga) should keep you entertained. Shred415, founded by two of Chicago’s top fitness experts, is another option if you prefer high-intensity interval training classes. You can even take a free tai chi, yoga, Pilates or Zumba class in Millennium Park. If the fancy new workouts are too much for you and an old-fashioned run is what you’re craving, check the Chicago Area Runners Association for a list of fun runs. Stop by Protein Bar post-workout for an on-the-go healthy meal—the restaurant claims to “do healthy … healthier.” If you aren’t comfortable at a new gym but still want to fit in some exercise, look for Bobby’s Bike Hike, which offers guided bike and walking tours, food tours and bike rentals.
12. San Diego, California
Another great beach spot, San Diego also features hotels with reasonable rates. If running is your forte, go for an early run on the beach before it gets too sunny. Extreme workout enthusiasts should check out Gut Check Fitness, founded by the “World’s Fittest Man.” For a more boutique experience, head to Fit Athletic Club, downtown’s first luxury fitness club, complete with a pool, spa and sauna. For a meal out, try Harney Sushi, the first sustainable sushi restaurant in San Diego, or Kitchen 1540 for an upscale, sustainable and organic yet “adventurous” dining experience—and be sure to scope out their outdoor patio. Need to get away completely? About 25 miles north of San Diego you’ll find Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa, a Mediterranean-inspired haven that, while pricey, offers a variety of complimentary fitness classes for all guests.
13. Seattle, Washington
Gluten-sensitive travelers can rejoice in Seattle. Thrive Cafe serves up food free of all major allergens, as well as offering a juice cleanse and lectures on nutrition and wellness. Even baked goods come certified gluten-free from the Flying Apron Bakery and Café. If you’re less restricted by your diet, try a Savor Seattle food tour—one of their tours takes you around the famous Pike Place Market, while others explore different parts of the city. Check the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance for local markets: it runs seven different locations that are open in July. If outdoor workouts like running or cycling aren’t for you, try Strength Studio for fun and comfortable small-group classes.
14. Milwaukee, Wisconsin
If you’re a music fanatic, Milwaukee is the place to be this summer—Summerfest, the “world’s largest music festival,” takes place in late June and early July. In between music sets, why not participate in the Color Run, which comes to Milwaukee on July 6. Be sure to check out Milwaukee Public Market for cooking classes, in addition to fresh foods and artisan products. Visit the Riverwest Co-Op Café for vegan and vegetarian fare, and shop for some groceries while you’re there.
15. Boston, Massachusetts
Be ready for high hotel prices in Boston—but know that you’ll have plenty to do while there, and no lack of great food. Lace up your walking shoes for a tour of Cambridge with Cambridge Historical Tours—from a Ghost Tour to a private tour. If you’re hungry, opt for a Cambridge Food Tour. Next, track down a Clover Food Truck by Clover Food Lab, whose mission is to change how people think about fast food. You can also visit Life Alive for organic and “therapeutic” food, made with ingredients delivered daily. Craving Chinese food? Skip the grease at East by Northwest, which offers locally sourced Chinese cuisine. Work off your meal(s) with a class at Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga, but be prepared for a room heated to temperatures in the 90s.
The Best Vacation Spots for the Health Conscious
|City||Days of rain in July||Possibility of sunshine in July||Farmers markets within 10 miles||Walk Score®||Average hotel cost/night for July||Score|
|New York, NY||9||65%||148||88||$259||70.2|
|San Francisco, CA||1||66%||40||84||$291||60.9|
|Los Angeles, CA||0||82%||50||64||$180||57.8|
|Long Beach, CA||1||82%||12||66||$114||57.4|
|San Jose, CA||3||66%||28||48||$175||55.1|
|San Diego, CA||1||68%||23||49||$201||54.0|
|Sources: NerdWallet Health analysis. National Climatic Data Center from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. United States Department of Agriculture. Walk Score®. Expedia.|
More useful articles for the healthy and savvy traveler:
How to eat healthy on a budget
10 reasons to eat healthy
Buy these nutrient-rich vegetables for your next meal
Headed to the farmers’ market? These are the healthiest vegetables
Guide to markets and restaurants for the vegan traveler
Where to get a free gym pass
A guide to running outdoors with allergies
How to get in shape for free
The health and financial benefits of walking
How to treat a sunburn
Skin cancer basics: why SPF is important
Days of rain and percent chance of sun: National Climatic Data Center from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Number of farmers’ markets: United States Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Marketing Service.
Walk Score®: Walkscore.com ranks neighborhoods based on walkability to destinations like grocery stores, parks, restuarants, and more.
Average hotel cost per night in July from Expedia.
Ocean photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
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