3 fun and cheap road trips

Why spend a mint on your next vacation? Your perfect road trip is waiting. Hop into a car and enjoy one of these three great getaways to Texas Hill country, the Pacific Northwest or small-town New England.

Texas Hill country
road cowboy
A buckaroo in Bandera, which bills itself at the cowboy capital of the country.

Trip no. 1: 293 miles

Day 1: Austin

Do. Start your tour of America's hippest state capital by biking the 10-mile Town Lake Trail, suggests FreeFunInAustin.com founder Heidi Gollub. (Rentals from $28 at the nearby Bicycle Sport Shop; trail is also called the Ann and Roy Butler Trail.)

Then head to the University of Texas, where the LBJ Presidential Library is fresh from a $10 million renovation. Stroll across campus to the Blanton Museum of Art to see European and Latin American works. Entry is free on Thursdays (other days: $9).

Eat. Top Chef winner Paul Qui's new place, Qui, is jumping -- if pricey. Go cheap at Qui's East Side King, serving up $8 tori meshi -- a spicy fried chicken -- and curry buns for $4, says Caitlin Ryan, editor of Austin lifestyle website CultureMap.

Stay. Rates drop up to 50% in summer. Try the Hotel San Jose, known for its minimalist design, where low-season rates start at $150.

Day 2: Austin to Fredericksburg

Distance: 126 miles

Eat. Stop in Lockhart, a smoked-meat mecca, and feast on sliced brisket and pork ribs ($12 a pound) at communal tables in Black's Barbecue. Later that night -- assuming you have room left -- snag a table at the Pink Pig, a new restaurant in Fredericksburg, where chef Rebecca Rather serves up sweet and savory pies.

Do. Visit the Wild West Store in Wimberley, where owner Ulli Johnston, nicknamed the Boot Whisperer, promises to find you the perfect vintage cowboy boots (from $185).

Stay. End your day in Fredericksburg, where average B&B rates are $145 in summer, according to BedandBreakfast.com. One good option: the Inn on the Creek (don't miss the garden hot tub). Rooms from $99.

Day 3: Fredericksburg to Bandera

Distance: 116 miles

Do. Outside Kerrville follow the Guadalupe River to the unassuming Hunt Store. Settle in among the taxidermy and feedbags for surprising lunch specials, such as pineapple-and-pork quesadillas ($8) and, on Sundays, live bands. Next, check out the curious crew of maple trees -- unusual in Texas -- at the Lost Maples State Natural Area (admission: $5). Even if you miss leaf-peeping season, it's worth seeing the park's dramatic limestone canyons.

Eat. Expect wide-brimmed hats and boots in Bandera, the self-proclaimed cowboy capital of the world. Get in the spirit at eatery O.S.T., or the Old Spanish Trail, where barstools are topped with saddles (dinner: $16).

Stay. Good rates and perks make guest ranches a steal, says Texas Monthly travel editor Jordan Breal. At Flying L Ranch, most meals are included, and rates drop from $129 to $90 a night November through March.

Day 4: Bandera to San Antonio

Distance: 51 miles

Do. Finish the drive in San Antonio, where many of the most iconic sights -- including the historic Alamo and the River Walk -- are free. Download the free San Antonio Vacation Experience app to snag some local discounts. A recent offer: buy-one-get-one-free tickets for the San Antonio Museum of Art.

Eat. Head to the Frutería-Botanero, where you can snack on two tapas -- think octopus tostadas -- and a tequila cocktail for $18. Or make reservations at Nao at the Culinary Institute of America, located in the city's beautifully restored Pearl Brewery complex. Down the block, check out Dos Carolinas, a shop selling bespoke guayaberas -- the pleated shirts that are an unofficial San Antonio uniform.

Stay. You can avoid downtown parking fees by bunking in a residential neighborhood, such as Monte Vista. Spend the night in the area's five-room 1908 Ayres Inn (from $125 a night) and wake up to a free breakfast.

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  @Money - Last updated July 26 2013 06:02 PM ET
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