Image: Dallas Museum of Art
Amy Conn-gutierrez  /  AP file
Mary Lingwall looks at photographs taken by the late Dallas retailer Stanley Marcus at the Dallas Museum of Art in Dallas. This spring, the museum will showcase 140 works by renowned landscape painter J.M.W. Turner through May 18. Admission is $10 (free on the first Tuesday of the month).
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 3/25/2008 10:21:37 AM ET 2008-03-25T14:21:37

High gas prices, rising airfares and a bad case of economic jitters — if this keeps up, the term “value vacation” could become the next great oxymoron in travel.

Unless, that is, you heed a recent Hotwire study that compared travel costs — airfares, rental cars and hotels — in 50 markets across the U.S. Combining that data with each destination’s affordable entertainment options and overall appeal, the study went on to name the best cities in the nation for value-minded travelers.

From bargain baseball to free festivals, here’s a look at what’s going on in the top five this spring:

Phoenix
Cactus League season may be winding down, but there’s still plenty of bargain baseball in the Valley of the Sun. The Arizona State University Sun Devils are off to a hot start this year (19-1), and Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks play their home opener April 7. Tickets for both teams go for as little as $5.

For a more contemplative experience, head to the Desert Botanical Garden where both the wildflowers and the butterflies are now putting on their most colorful displays. The facility celebrates the grand opening of its new cactus and succulent galleries on April 5. Admission is $10, plus $3 for the butterfly pavilion.

Other seasonal highlights include the Great Arizona Picnic (part of the Scottsdale Culinary Festival) and Gibson Jazz & Blues Festival in Glendale. The former ($10) features samples from 50 local restaurants; the latter (free), plenty of great music. Both run April 12–13.

Dallas-Fort Worth
Art lovers will find a lot to like around the Metroplex this spring. Leading the list is the Dallas Museum of Art, which is showcasing 140 works by renowned landscape painter J.M.W. Turner through May 18. Admission is $10 (free on the first Tuesday of the month).

In Fort Worth, visitors can ponder the striking wooden sculptures of Martin Puryear through May 18 at “The Modern” or the works of Fort Worth modernists at the Amon Carter Museum through May 11. Admission to the former is $10 (free on Wednesdays and the first Sunday of the month); the latter is always free.

For an even more eclectic approach to art, consider the Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival, which takes over Sundance Square April 17-20. This year’s festival is expected to draw more than 500 artists, musicians and other performers.

Orlando
While the local theme parks are gearing up for summer, spring is festival season in Orlando. Among the options:

March 28–April 6: The 17th annual Florida Film Festival features 150 films from more than 30 countries. The gala events can be pretty pricey, but tickets for individual films are $10.

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April 13: Fiesta Medina is a community celebration of Latin culture and music, complete with food booths, craft displays and a children’s carnival area. Admission is $15, children 10 and under are free.

May 14–17: The Florida Music Festival showcases new music — alternative, pop, country, urban, hip hop and more — and the up-and-coming musicians who make it. Admission is $10 per day, $25 for three days.

May 15–26: Encompassing hundreds of theatrical shows and visual artworks, the Orlando International Fringe Festival is dedicated to “theater, dance, art and madness.” Ranging from mild to wild, individual shows are $5–$10.

Denver
Cultural diversity is front and center this spring with three festivals that reflect the city’s eclectic demographics:

Running April 23–27, the Black Is ... CultureFeast is a multi-media celebration of urban art, including film screenings, live music and art installations. Select events charge admission, but the youth-oriented BrownSuga Fest on April 26 is free.

The next weekend (May 3–4), the city celebrates Mexican culture with one of the nation’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations. The free festival features a parade, kids’ carnival, continuous entertainment and more than 350 vendors of food, crafts and other goods.

Two weeks later (May 17–18), aficionados of Native American art and culture will gather in Morrison for the 8th Annual Indian Market and Powwow. Festivities include an art show and traditional dance performances. Admission is $6.

Atlanta
Spring is the season of rebirth, so perhaps it’s not surprising that two of Atlanta’s most popular spring events are being revamped this year. Both the Atlanta Dogwood Festival and Atlanta Jazz Festival have moved from Piedmont Park to new locations.

Now in its 72nd year, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival will take place April 4–6 at Lenox Square Mall in Buckhead. This year’s event will feature more than 200 artists and craftspeople, along with food booths, live music and a kids’ village.

Then, in May, the 31st annual Atlanta Jazz Festival will celebrate “31 days of jazz” with performances throughout the city. A few venues charge admission, but free highlights include weekend concerts in various neighborhoods and a three-day festival in Woodruff Park over the Memorial Day weekend.

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