The nation's capital takes its "by the people, for the people" ethos seriously. A surfeit of attractions honoring the country's heritage costs nothing to tour — including landmarks along the National Mall: the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, and memorials to veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
America's national parks offer budget-friendly holidays, but only a handful offer free admission anymore. One that does is also the most-visited national park in the country: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a vast forest wilderness in North Carolina and Tennessee that welcomes more than 9 million visitors annually.
From 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (9 p.m. during daylight saving time), it costs nothing to stroll the east sidewalk promenade of this San Francisco landmark that stretches high above the sparkling blue waters of the Golden Gate Strait. Walk, bike and even dine on the bridge (at the Bridge Cafe), with heavenly views all around.
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
All of the heralded Smithsonian museums in D.C. offer free admission, including the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo. This means you can see first-rate attractions — such as the Wright Brothers' 1903 flying machine, the Hope Diamond and giant pandas — without paying a dime.
National September 11 Memorial & Museum, New York
Since opening in September 2011, this 8-acre memorial of remembrance and honor to those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks has fast become one of New York's most popular pilgrimages. Shimmering waterfalls cascade into two reflecting pools set into the massive footprints of the World Trade Center's original Twin Towers.
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You won't need to pony up admission to gape at this chiseled-in-stone behemoth, but you will have to pay parking costs. Still — what a sight! Carved into the granite cliffs of Mount Rushmore are the 60-foot heads of four American presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt (Theodore) and Lincoln. It's South Dakota's top attraction.
When do two lanes of curving blacktop become a destination? When the surrounding scenery is as spectacular as that along routes 36 and 360 — better known as the Hana Highway on the island of Maui. This corkscrew 70-mile road follows Hawaiian countryside embroidered with taro fields, rain forests and eye-popping seascapes.
An oasis for city dwellers, this 843-acre swath of urban green offers plenty for visitors, too. You can kick back on the green grass of the Sheep Meadow, stroll the Literary Walk beneath a canopy of elms and watch summer productions of Shakespeare in the Park — all for free.
Originally established in 1718, this Spanish mission in San Antonio was the site of a historic battle for Texan independence and remains a spiritual touchstone in the heart of Texans. Look for a mammoth live oak and a pecan tree, both designated as “heritage trees,” on the Alamo grounds.
Yes, you might spend a few bucks on hooch and a nice bowl of gumbo, and hotel rooms are a whole other high-rolling story. But it costs nothing to revel in the spectacle of the music, plumage and floats of New Orleans' Mardi Gras. Souvenirs are free, too, thanks to the "throws" — those beads and doubloons that are flung from parade floats.