22 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, CaliforniaWaitForLight/Shutterstock
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 for families in Southern California for kids of any age.
Budget tip: The Balboa Park Explorer pass bundles 16 attractions into a discounted pay-one-price ticket starting at $27.
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. 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 US$200. Here are more of the most popular destinations in Canada.
Cape Cod, MassachusettsJay Yuan/Shutterstock
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 $275 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 IslandRichard Cavalleri/Shutterstock
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 at $230 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, ColoradoEsther Kolis/Shutterstock
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 $104 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).
Houston, TexasCire notrevo/Shutterstock
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: CityPass Houston starts at just $49 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 at $170 for a double room.
Portland, OregonBob Pool/Shutterstock
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, WisconsinKeith Bell/Shutterstock
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 $100 with multiple bedrooms (and bathrooms, a priceless bonus if you have teens) in Fish Creek.
Lake Cumberland, KentuckyKarl Swanson/Shutterstock
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), miniature golf ($4), and a boating adventure to Cumberland Falls ($9), all 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 $100 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 CarolinaStephen 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.
Why you’ll love it: For families who love to explore museums and cultural sites, Atlanta is ideal. Middle schoolers will love seeing the massive whale sharks at Georgia Aquarium (the largest in the country), visiting the Heisman Trophy at the College Football Hall of Fame, and sampling soda to their heart’s content at World of Coca-Cola. Teens will also appreciate the more mature tone of the Center for Civil and Human rights as well. (CityPass Atlanta offers a reduced price package that includes all of these must-visit spots.)
Budget tip: Martin Luther King Jr Birthplace and Memorial is a National Park with free entrance; walking in the footsteps of history here will definitely resonate with your kids.
Where to stay: The Embassy Suites at Centennial Park puts you right in the middle of the action, provides you with a second room so you can close the door on your big kids, has a pool, and includes a free all-you-can-eat breakfast in the $197 price.
Niagara Falls, New YorkLidiia Kozhevnikova/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: Kids of all ages will be impressed when they hear the more than 3,000 tons of water that crashes over the falls here every second. Here you can witness nature at its best, explore acres of pristine hiking trails and scenic terrain, immerse yourself in outdoor adventure. You can walk around Niagara Falls State Park (the oldest park in the country) for free, but experiencing the views of the thundering falls aboard the famous Maid of the Mist is what will be the most memorable way to take in the falls (including a soaked selfie). Or sign up for the Cave of the Winds tour, where you’ll find yourself deep in the Niagara Gorge and face to face with the crashing water of the falls.
Budget tip: Old Falls Street is three cobblestone blocks filled with free family activities like outdoor movies and concerts. Kids will enjoy learning about the power of water at the free Niagara Power Vista Center.
Where to stay: Sheraton at the Falls has summer rates starting at $161, an indoor swimming pool that’s the largest in the area, and is walking distance to many of the top attractions. Don’t miss more of the best family vacations in each state.
Albuquerque, New MexicoUnderawesternsky/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: As the hot air balloon capital of the world, the skies of Albuquerque are always filled with colorful inspiration for kids with a love for things that fly. Kids will really enjoy a ride on the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway—North America’s longest double-reversible aerial tramway—that travels to the top of the 10,378-foot Sandia Peak. (Kids under 5 are free; be sure to print out the $5 coupon from the website for you.) And exploring the ABQ BioPark, a unique environmental museum comprised of an aquarium, botanic garden, and zoo is always a hit too, as is the free fishing lakes at Tingley Beach.
Budget tips: Summerfest is a series of free community events featuring live music, children’s activities, climbing walls, a craft beer garden, food trucks, and vendors selling local, handcrafted goods.
Where to stay: The Nativo Lodge offers a pool to cool off in and creatively decorated rooms, including the #1INDN which offers two tented beds, sure to be a kid favorite; rates start at $81 per night.
Anaheim, CaliforniaMarc Rasmus/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: Sometimes the kids only want to go to Disneyland; never fear, we’ve found a way to visit Mickey without breaking the bank. The Disney experts at UnderCover Tourist offer discounted tickets and additional money-saving tips at their site as well as calendars about when to visit when it’s least crowded. And of course Disney magic is always a hit with kids of all ages.
Budget tips: Pack a refillable water bottle and some on-the-go snacks to cut back on additional park costs.
Where to stay: The Anaheim Marriott is offering a can’t miss deal for families this summer: A double room, free shuttle to the park, and a $100 gift card to Disney for every night you stay for only $269. (Make sure you enter promotional code THM). Ask for a high floor facing the park (which is just a few blocks away) and you’ll be able to watch the nightly fireworks from your room, too. Here are 14 more ways to save on your next trip to the Magic Kingdom.
Why you’ll love it: For tweens and teens, this getaway is a perfect fit; it’s 35 miles east of Los Angeles, but without all the traffic and commotion, so they can explore on their own without parents worrying. Claremont Village is home to over 150 shops and restaurants (don’t miss the I Like Pie Bakeshop or the frozen treats at 21 Choices) and where you’ll want to spend your evening. The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and Folk Music Center are local favorites to visit, and there are events going on every week throughout the summer.
Budget tip: The five-mile Claremont Wilderness Trail in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains attracts hikers from all over the area and is a great way to work up an appetite for all the Village treats.
Where to stay: The Doubletree Claremont has lots of kid-pleasing amenities, including warm chocolate chip cookies when you check in and a huge outdoor pool; doubles start at $179 a night in summer.
Rapid City, South DakotaNagel Photography/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park are all within driving distance, but Rapid City is a great destination for all ages, especially elementary school-ages who will be able to relate their school lessons when they explore the City of President’s sculptures and history.
Budget tips: There’s plenty to do for free in Rapid City: Visitors can participate in a free, interactive walking guide of the City of Presidents, a series of life-size bronze statues of our nation’s past presidents along the city’s streets and sidewalks. A slight detour leads into Art Alley, a stunning expression of Rapid City’s creative community. After a day of exploring, cap off the day with a stroll through Main Street Square, a community hub featuring year-round free events for travelers to enjoy, as well as public art such as The Sculpture Project.
Where to stay: Hotel Alex Johnson, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year; it’s right in the middle of Rapid City and offers rates as low as $99 per night.
Tucson, ArizonaTim Roberts Photography/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: This western city offers a special treat: A true, old-fashioned dude ranch offering an Old West vacation at throwback prices.
Budget tip: Visit Saguaro National Park where kids can participate in the free Junior Ranger Program and earn a special badge.
Where to stay: Tanque Verde Ranch is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and they’re offering a special $150-per-night family stays for the entire summer. The family-owned property provides an authentic wild west experience with horseback riding and much more, through Arizona’s most breathtaking desert landscapes of the Rincon Mountains. The $150 for the 150th special includes breakfast and free use of the pool and general facilities. A kids camp, great for ages 4 to 12, is available for an extra fee, as is horseback riding, biking, and guided hikes.
Montreal, CanadaMemory Trigger/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: Want to feel like you’ve jetted across the Atlantic for the weekend and still make it back home for work on Monday? Then add Francophile Montreal to your getaway plans. The city is steeped in French language, cuisine, and culture. Kids will love strolling the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal and munching on classic croissants and crepes, not to mention visiting more modern sights such as the Biodome to see penguins and learn about natural science.
Budget tip: Throughout the summer, La Ronde, the local amusement park (worth a visit), presents massive fireworks displays as part of the annual International Fireworks Festival. You can watch them for free from the Jacques Cartier Bridge which becomes a pedestrian-only viewing area.
Where to stay: The Westin Montreal, just a block from Old Montreal, is a kid favorite for its glass bottom pool that looks down onto the street (bring goggles for the best view). Summer rates from US$178.
Cape May, New JerseyJorge Moro/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: Take Exit 1 from New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway and you’ll discover this charming Victorian beach town whose tree-lined streets are lined with gingerbread-trimmed guesthouses. This Jersey Shore gem has a pedestrian cobble-stone mall with toy stores and ice cream shops, a small boardwalk with an arcade.
Budget tip: One of the best souvenirs here is free, if you know where to look: Cape May diamonds, silicone gems that appear naturally in the sand. The kids will love discovering and collecting them.
Where to stay: The Madison Avenue Beach Club offers condo units with kitchens and separate bedrooms and a big pool and reasonable rates around $200 in the middle of summer. Here are some of our favorite family-friendly beaches around the country.
San Juan, Puerto RicoVenturelli Luca/Shutterstock
Why you’ll love it: Devastated by a double hit of Mother Nature in 2017, Puerto Rico is recovering from the storms and is focused on welcoming families for summer vacation. From Miami, flights to the historical city of San Juan start at just $99 round trip on Frontier Air. Since you don’t need a passport to visit the Spanish-speaking island (it’s a U.S. commonwealth), it’s a great easy first cultural trip for elementary school-aged kids.
Budget tip: El Morro, the walled fortress in Old San Juan, is a must visit; the kids will love playing among the ramparts and watching the seas for pirates. Since it’s a National Park, you can get in for free if you have a National Parks Pass. For more inexpensive fun, hit the beautiful beaches in San Juan’s Condado and Isla Verde neighborhoods.
Where to stay: The Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel & Casino has double rooms starting at $173 and a location that lets you easily explore Old San Juan, plus there’s a super cool rooftop infinity pool with great views over the San Juan lagoon. Find out the other top summer vacation destinations in the country.
Reno Tahoe, NevadaCourtesy Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority
Why you’ll love it: The largest alpine lake meets the biggest little city in the world in Reno Tahoe. This quirky city on the rise has incredible street murals, the Nevada Museum of Art, and the Guinness Book of World Records Tallest Outdoor Rock Climbing Wall at the Whitney Peak Hotel. Summer is the time for festivals: Artown in July features musical performances, interactive workshops, and art exhibits; the Shakespeare Festival, at Lake Tahoe, puts on multiple traditional Shakespeare plays—including versions for kids; and then there’s the Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook Off, the country’s best rib competition. Take a drive over to North Lake Tahoe to enjoy the sun, beach, and water sports.
Budget tip: Reno Tahoe is an awesome place to be outside, so take advantage of free entry to the area’s great hiking and biking trails. Rent bikes for only $45/person/day, and ride along the Truckee River, starting in Reno and ending up at North Lake Tahoe. Stop for a picnic brought from town and enjoy it over great views of the Sierra Nevadas and the Lake.
Where to stay: One of the best family-friendly properties in town is the Circus Circus Reno. This fun and quirky property includes the Midway, a massive arcade and carnival-themed area, with old classics like ski ball, Whack-a-Mole, and air hockey. King bedrooms start at $55/night; rooms with two Queen beds are an additional $15.
Bowling Green, KentuckyCourtesy Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Why you’ll love it: Bowling Green, located just an hour north of Nashville, is tucked in among the rolling green hills of South Central Kentucky’s Cave Country. It’s home to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest underground cave system, and the Lost River Cave, which offers Kentucky’s only underground boat tour, as well as Chaney’s Dairy Barn, a real working dairy farm that also happens to make the best ice cream in Kentucky. Don’t forget to check out the city’s National Corvette Museum where every single Corvette in the world is produced.
Budget tip: Free summer activities include exploring the national park on your own and Chaney’s “Ice Cream and a Moovie” outdoor movie series.
Where to stay: Fairfield Inn & Suites has free Wi-Fi throughout the hotel and fitness facilities that include a pool and exercise room. It’s conveniently located just minutes away from Bowling Green’s local attractions such as Lost River Cave, Beech Bend Raceway And Park, Mammoth Cave, and the National Corvette Museum nearby. Rates start at $105 per night. Next, find out tips to make an affordable family vacation happen.