41 Mini Family Vacations That Won’t Break the Bank
These great getaways offer big fun on a small budget. We’ve rounded up choices all around the country, so a fabulous family vacation is always right around the corner, even if you only have a day or two.
San Diego, California
Why you’ll love it: San Diego’s near perfect summer weather, the free beaches of Coronado Island, and the museums and outstanding zoo in Balboa Park all add up to a memory-making quick getaway when it comes to family vacations for Southern California parents with kids of any age.
Budget tip: The Balboa Park Explorer pass bundles 16 attractions into a discounted pay-one-price ticket starting at $32.
Where to stay: The Coronado Beach Resort is located directly across the street from the iconic Del Coronado Hotel (where Some Like It Hot was filmed), and offers condo-style units with kitchenettes starting at just $159 a night (you’ll also have complimentary access to all the amenities at the Loew’s Resort, too.) San Diego is also one of the best ever spring break destinations.
Why you’ll love it: This cosmopolitan Canadian city is just a 90-minute trip from 60 percent of the United States, so it’s easy to reach for many family vacations. Once you’re there, kids will have memorable time catching a baseball game right under the CN Tower (you should take a trip up to the top of the tower for the amazing views, too) and riding a moving sidewalk through a shark tank at the neighboring aquarium. Hop on a ferry to explore Toronto’s islands; one is an amusement park! There are also free beaches downtown to catch some summer rays.
Budget tip: The U.S. dollar is strong against Canadian currency, so it will feel like the whole city is on sale.
Where to stay: Children will love the Chelsea Hotel‘s indoor pool with Toronto’s only indoor waterslide; you’ll love the weekend summer rates that are less than U.S. $200. Here are more of the most popular destinations in Canada.
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Why you’ll love it: Nothing says summer like a trip to the beach, especially the expansive, and free, sandy shores of beautiful Cape Cod, a favorite of Boston-ites looking to escape the city. Plus beaches are a great fit for babies and toddlers, who can spend endless hours playing with you in the sand and surf.
Budget tip: Driving to the Cape? Bring along the family’s bikes to explore the free fun on the 26-mile, car-free Cape Cod Bike & Rail Trail.
Where to stay: Ocean Edge Resort offers plenty of family fun on a sprawling 429-acres. Highlights for families include kayaking, family basketball tournaments, outdoor movies, kite making, s’mores at the private beach bonfire, scavenger hunts, and even special toddler lawn games. Summer prices start at $300 for a one-bedroom villa with plenty of room to spread out and a kitchen where you can save money by making breakfasts and easy meals.
Providence, Rhode Island
Why you’ll love it: Providence is terrific for families, especially high school kids since the capital city is home to a wide range of colleges (Brown University, Johnson & Wales, Rhode Island School of Design), where they can get inspired with campus tours and on-campus museums.
Budget tips: Visitors can go on a free self-guided walking tour of historic downtown Providence, which dives into the making of the now “Creative Capital.” Stop by the brand new Free Play Bar & Arcade that includes over 130 classic video games plus pinball, skeeball, and air hockey, all for free. Then, attend a free WaterFire event this summer, where as many as 80 small bonfires are set ablaze along Providence’s three rivers for the annual summer events, creating a free, one-of-a-kind light show that lasts from just after sunset until about 12:30 a.m. The events are often accompanied by outdoor concerts, street dancing, and other entertainment.
Where to stay: Providence Marriott, which launched a brand new bike program with pre-set routes last year. Summer rates average around $200 per night. And don’t miss local budget-friendly dining favorites like the infamous Olneyville New York System for traditional Rhode Island staples of hot wieners and coffee milk.
Estes Park, Colorado
Why you’ll love it: Known as the base camp to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Estes Park is only 90 minutes from Denver International Airport, but has an authentic Colorado mountain village feeling with plenty of outdoor activities to fit any member of the family. Families can try hiking in the national park on their own, booking a mountain bike ride, learn fly-fishing, or try rafting experiences—to name a few. There’s also a number of unique festivals throughout the summer.
Budget tip: Don’t forget to bring your National Parks Pass which grants free access to your full car into the gorgeous Rockies.
Where to stay: The YMCA of the Rockies is one of the best-kept family vacation secrets in the country; you can get a fabulously clean and spacious 2-bedroom log cabin with mountain views starting at just $109 per night. And the sky’s the limit for activities for families here, including hikes into neighboring RMNP, horseback rides, archery, roller skating, and arts and crafts (some activities have a fee).
Why you’ll love it: If you think Houston is only a business city, you’re in for a surprise when you visit with your family. Start your visit at Discovery Green, an urban park designed for kids, with everything from $5 kayak rides on gentle Kinder Lake to special toddler play-group hours. The Children’s Museum of Houston is one of the best in the country, with indoor and outdoor spaces where they can have hands-on fun.
Budget tip: Houston CityPASS starts at just $52 and includes admission to Houston favorites such as the out-of-this-world Space Center Houston, the Children’s Museum, and nearby Kemah Boardwalk amusement Park on Galveston Bay, for the most summer bang for your buck.
Where to stay: The Marriott Marquis will wow your family with a lazy river pool in the shape of Texas, and it’s located right across from Discovery Green. Prices for summer stays start around $200 for a double room.
Why you’ll love it: Known for its natural beauty, sustainability, and outdoor activities, Portland is a favorite option for affordable family vacations. It’s a great destination for teens who will enjoy biking around the city like a local or taking in the sites on the great public transportation system, including a cool funicular (and a pass is only $5). There are hip vintage spots and multiple food truck parks where they can try food from around the globe without high restaurant prices. Take in the views of the city and the 500 plant varieties at the International Rose Test Garden.
Budget tip: Take a drive outside the city’s perimeter to hike up to the rushing waters of Multnomah Falls.
Where to stay: The Kimpton RiverPlace Hotel has a prime location right on the Willamette River for easy kayaking access, they also have free bikes for exploring, and offer pool use at the nearby sports club. Prices start at $190. Check out these other affordable cities in the United States.
Door County, Wisconsin
Why you’ll love it: You can explore more than 300 miles of shoreline jetting out into Lake Michigan and Green Bay in Door County all dotted by charming communities and a Midwestern friendliness that will make you feel like you stepped back in time. Younger kids will enjoy peering through the periscope at Door County Maritime Museum with views of Sturgeon Bay and active shipyards; teens will enjoy hiking, biking, and kayaking along the Mink River Estuary. Everyone will love the classic Skyway Drive-In and the creamy treats served up at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Wilson ice Cream Parlor.
Budget tips: Hike the Ridges Sanctuary Family Discovery Trail to gain a new appreciation for nature at Wisconsin’s oldest private nature preserve. Guided hikes are free for kids 18 and under and just $5 for adults.
Where to stay: Julie’s Park Cafe & Motel gives you several options for family-friendly lodging at budget-friendly prices, including condominiums and cottages for around $125 during peak season with multiple bedrooms (and bathrooms, a priceless bonus if you have teens) in Fish Creek.
Lake Cumberland, Kentucky
Why you’ll love it: The Lake Cumberland State Resort Park is located on one of the ten largest man-made lakes in the country, and it’s one of the top vacation destinations in the eastern United States. But, it’s still affordable, with elementary school-aged activities such as horseback riding ($18) and miniature golf ($4) within easy budget reach.
Budget tip: There’s plenty to do at the lake that won’t cost a dime, including beautiful hiking trails filled with summer birds such as cardinals, bluebirds, goldfinches, and hummingbirds. You can also introduce the kids to angling for Kentucky bass, or let them run wild at the playground.
Where to stay: All the park lodging starts at around $135 per night, including DuPont Lodge, the Cottages, and Woodland Rooms, which have free access to the indoor pool, and also include free meals to kids 5 and under at the restaurant. Camping is around $30 per night (plus an additional $3 for pool access).
Crystal Coast, North Carolina
Stephen B. Goodwin/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: Located along North Carolina’s central shore, the Crystal Coast has been a favorite beach destination for generations and represents one of the few remaining natural barrier island systems in the world with 85 miles of sparkling beaches. Base yourself near Beaufort, a 300-year-old town filled with pirate lore (Blackbeard’s sunken flagship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, rests in its watery grave just miles offshore), and plan a trip to The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for an up-close look at what lives beneath the seas.
Budget tip: Kick back for a full day of free fun on the beach!
Where to stay: The Inlet Inn is right on the waterfront in Beaufort and offers water view rooms with private porches starting at $160 in summer, which includes a continental breakfast delivered right to your room every morning.