40 Affordable Destinations for a Family Vacation
In a dream world, we could afford to take our families to Paris, Tokyo, and Disney World every single year. For most of us though, budgets dictate that we find more affordable family vacation destinations.
Thanks to a slew of free museums—all those Smithsonians and the National Gallery of Art!—the National Zoo that has pandas but has no cost to enter, and gorgeous cherry trees that blossom every spring, the District is one of the most affordable family vacation destinations in the country. For a spacious, stylish place to stay close to everything you will want to see and do in D.C. without breaking the bank, check out the stunning and spacious Georgetown Suites.
This Midwest flyover state is far more than just the setting of Parks and Rec, and the capital is jam-packed with affordable family fun. There’s the chance to go back in time at Conner Prairie, a sprawling outdoor living history museum, and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, arguably the most magnificent, robust children’s museum in the country. Plus, the Indy Zoo’s orangutan enclosure is sheer delight. Make sure you get a donut (or a dozen) from Long’s Bakery across from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Crystal River, Florida
There are some superb family dining options in this sleepy, swampy stretch of West Florida, including Greenhouse Bistro in neighboring Homosassa, but the main reason a family should want to visit Crystal River are the big, beautiful manatees filling the waterways here. The opportunity to swim with manatees starts as low as $65 per person for a three-hour boat tour, including wet suit, equipment, and terrific tour guides.
With little more than an America the Beautiful National Parks pass ($80 annual, free for current military members as well as for 4th graders and their families) you can have an affordable family vacation for the ages. With Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reed, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks all within seven hours of driving starting from the Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, you can visit 8 percent of all U.S. National Parks in one vacation for one price. Now that’s affordable! Get inspired for your trip by taking a gander at these 10 stunning photos of National Parks in full bloom.
Experience the rise, fall, and rebirth of a legendary American city during an affordable family vacation in Detroit. Discover and play the unique blend of football and bowling that was invented at the Fowling Warehouse, gawk at the backyard oddity known as Hamtramck Disneyland, visit the birthplace of the Model-T at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, play on Belle Isle Park between Michigan and Ontario, and tour The Henry Ford Museum and GreenField Village in nearby Dearborn. Staying at the Courtyard Downtown provides easy access to Detroit’s People Mover which runs through the hotel.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
This South Carolina beach town is a watersports playground for all ages and golf heaven—both the long and frustrating and mini and fun versions of the leisure sport. At most golf courses along the Grand Strand, kids under 16 golf for free with a paying adult which will help make Myrtle Beach an affordable family vacation destination.
The cabins and treehouses at The Mohicans are truly one of a kind, as is this fertile area for affordable family fun. Whether you fancy a three-hour zip line adventure, a nine-mile canoe trip down the Mohican river, riding horses in the countryside, mountain biking, or prefer a less strenuous visit to Amish Country for craft and furniture shopping and eating too many baked goods, there is something for everyone in Central Ohio.
Taking advantage of the exchange rate in Canada’s capital is easy and fun with your family. The beautiful capital building on Parliament Hill is free to enter and tour, Beavertails treats delicious and cheap, ByWard Market colorful and festive, and the world’s largest indoor collection of totem poles at the Canadian Museum of History is stunning.
New York City
It is beyond time to stop believing that the Big Apple is a big expense. Rush tickets for Broadway and off-Broadway shows will get you in the door for a fraction of the face value cost, and there are plenty of budget hotels, like the funky four bunk bed rooms at Lord & Moris in midtown, for less than $100 a night. While in the city, walking The High Line doesn’t cost a penny, neither does Central Park, and in summer there are great kids bands like 2018 Grammy Award winner Lucy Kalantari and The Pop Ups playing for free outdoors all over the city. If all that sounds too touristy for you, you’ll love exploring these 11 hidden gems even local New Yorkers don’t know about.
Freedom from an expensive family vacation awaits in Philly. Take your kids to see famous (or soon to be famous) bands at World Cafe Live’s Free at Noon Friday lunchtime concerts all year long. On Friday evenings in the summer, head out to the historic Smith Memorial Playground in Fairmount Park for the Kidchella summer family concert series. Downtown is magical too, thanks in part to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, one of the coolest places in America you’ve never heard off, the always free-to-see Liberty Bell, free-to-climb Rocky steps at the Art Museum, and the best Philly cheesesteaks in the city made fresh all day and night at Jim’s on South Street.
Southern California is not known for its affordability but L.A. has a lot to offer families traveling on a budget. There’s the mind-bending Broad Museum, a stroll along the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a hike up around the Hollywood sign—all free—and of course the beaches of Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu, and more. There are also some fantastic boutique hotels, like The Kinney in Marina Del Rey.
Stevenson, British Columbia
This sleepy fishing village in Richmond, B.C., just south of the Vancouver airport, is special because of the role it played in the popular ABC television show Once Upon A Time. During the majority of the show’s seven seasons, Stevenson stood in as Storybrooke, the town Emma Swan, Mr. Gold, Regina, Aurora, and more acted out their high drama take on familiar fairy tales like Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Mulan, and Sleeping Beauty. It remains unchanged since, so fans can eat, shop, and wander around Storybrooke just like their favorite characters.
This charming four-season small town nestled in the mountains beneath that famous Montana Big Sky is a sheer delight for families looking for something different from their next vacation. The idyllic Main Street is littered with charming boutiques, coffee shops, chocolatiers, a live music venue, independent ice cream shops, eateries, and fashionable renovated roadside motels like the RSVP and Lark. Just south of Main is the marvelous Museum of the Rockies with more dinosaur bones than you’ve ever seen in your life and a short drive north is prime skiing at Bridger Bowl.
There are cheap hotels to be found both on the Strip and in downtown Vegas, and memorable sights to see like the iconic Fountains of Bellagio that don’t cost a penny. Vegas has many family-friendly things to do too, like the VR Coaster at New York-New York, and tasty all-ages eats waiting for you at American Coney Island at the D Las Vegas and the Beerhaus, with its ping pong tables, corn hole, and foosball. All this makes Vegas an affordable family vacation destination. As a bonus, you can flee the lights and looniness of the Strip by heading out to the Valley of Fire and/or the Hoover Dam, each within a short drive in either direction. You’ll also want to check out these 10 must-see Vegas attractions for non-gamblers.
When you’re on a tight budget, a family vacation to France is probably not feasible but francophiles can still experience the giddy joy of saying, “un croissant s’il vous plaît.” Eat your flaky pastry without leaving the continent by heading to Montreal to live the French life while on vacation. Walk the crooked streets of the old city, have a picnic up on Mount Royal, and practice your français.
For families who have dreams of seeing the tulips and windmills of The Netherlands but whose budget doesn’t permit such a grand getaway, there’s the other Holland, the one on the west coast of Michigan. Tiptoe through the tulips and take goats for walks at Nelis’ Dutch Village and play in the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan. Holland is also just a short day trip away from the magical sand dunes of America’s 61st and newest National Park, Indiana Dunes National Park. Holland is just one of the charming small towns in the United States with a European vibe you’ll want to visit.
Gulf Coast, Florida
For baseball fans, it is hard to beat easy access to two handfuls of MLB Spring Training sites but Florida’s gulf coast is about much more than just March baseball. The gulf coast of the Sunshine State is an affordable year-round destination for families. Enjoy fine sandy beaches, easy access to Disney and Orlando just a couple hours away, low price rental homes and hotels, the beautiful Marie Selby botanical gardens, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the famous dolphin. Traveling off-season is a big money saver. Here are 12 of the best off-season travel deals.
Every family should experience the magic of the enchanting Crescent City! From the affordable jazz on offer nightly at the legendary Preservation Hall to the famous Audubon Zoo (where “they all ask for you”), NOLA is a place unlike any other on earth. Walk the famous Bourbon street, buy a purple and yellow Mardi Gras mask, eat too many beignets, wander around the spooky St. Louis Cemetery #1, and dance the night away in the real city that never sleeps.
Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia
Visiting the complicated history of Jefferson’s Monticello is a must for any American who cares about our nation’s roots. Conveniently, the college town of Charlottesville and neighboring Richmond (about an hour east) offer so much more to round out a family vacation of any length. In Richmond, there’s affordable sporting action in the form of the Kickers, a USL (second division) professional soccer team, a tremendous free fine art museum, and the funky Carytown neighborhood with cool shops and eateries.
West Yellowstone, Montana
Montana’s gateway to Yellowstone National Park is a destination in and of itself, thanks to shops, restaurants, hotels and rental cabins. From West Yellowstone, you can rent a snowmobile to travel all over the place in winter, including into an empty Yellowstone National Park to see Old Faithful erupt in the snow and bison grazing by steamy geysers. Bringing the whole fam? You won’t want to miss these smart tips for making traveling with kids easier.
Niagara Falls, Ontario
It’s kitschy but still oh-so-cool! Niagara Falls will always be an affordable fun family vacation destination thanks to attractions like Maid of the Mist which will get you wet and wonderful up close pictures of the falls and the kid-favorite Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Booking a big hotel room with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the falls and the frequent fireworks exploding above them is cheaper than you’d think. Check out the premium two-bedroom deluxe suite with views of both the Canadian and the U.S. falls, a giant whirlpool tub, and a fireplace.
Crescent City, California
To be fair, there isn’t much to Crescent City but as a pivot point, it is hard to argue with this relatively unknown vacation destination on the wild Northern California coast. Within a day trip to the north is the otherworldly Crater Lake in Oregon, and a short drive south are thousands of majestic redwood trees in national and state parks, the Trees of Mystery tourist attraction which is very much worth seeing, and the magical Fern Canyon perfect for a family day hike. Be sure to check out the strangest roadside attraction in every state along the way.
Sante Fe, New Mexico
Much like New Orleans does, Santa Fe presents families with a vacation destination unlike anything else on the planet. Spending days wandering the walkable downtown old city, watching light dance around the orange of the adobe buildings as the sun sets, and having your mind blown at Meow Wolf will give your family vacation memories to cherish forever, all without blowing apart your budget.
Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
A family vacation in Coeur D’Alene means epic watersports on a lake which native singer-songwriter Josh Ritter croons is, “a diamond in the valley’s hand.” Your kids will also go crazy for artisanal ice cream shops and a tremendous independent toy store tucked into a very walkable downtown.
Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Situated just a stone’s throw from Seattle’s SeaTac airport and Bainbridge Island, yet at the same time, a world away is a peninsula home to the remote wilderness of a National Park and Mecca for Twilight book and movie lovers. Whether you spend time taking too many selfie’s in Forks and La Push or head out to Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the lower 48 states, Olympic Peninsula can be your affordable vacation home away from home. Find out more literary landmarks every book lover should visit.
Pennsylvania’s famed Amish Country is about to get more colorful this year! The new Cartoon Network Hotel is opening up soon, next to the kid-favorite Dutch Wonderland amusement park, meaning you can spend your family vacation with the casts of Adventure Time and Ben 10! If your kids ever let you leave the hotel, there’s plenty of outlet shopping, the chance to catch a show at the American Music Theater, and an independent movie at the funky Zeotropolis art house cinema.
Orange Beach/Gulf Shores, Alabama
Many now know this sandy stretch of Alabama as the home of The Hangout Festival but even when the most famous bands in the world aren’t rocking out on the beach here, this secret gem counts one of the largest piers (nearly 2,500 feet long) on the Gulf of Mexico as a permanent resident. That spot is perfect for fishing with affordable rentals available at the bait shop. Also fun for families is the Wharf with a Ferris wheel, zip line, and mini-golf, and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s lemurs, sloths, and kangaroos are always ready for an encounter.
Sure, there’s a roller coaster in the Mall of America but Minneapolis is a great affordable family vacation destination for more than its famed shopping mall. There’s delicious food and friendly people, an incredible sculpture park, brand new stadiums for the local MLS and NFL teams, and a still fresh ballpark for Twins baseball. For music lovers and vinyl collectors, Minneapolis is home to Electric Fetus, one of the best record stores in the country, and the place Prince used to buy all his vinyl. Of course, it’s also cool to traverse the city using the Skyway System which keeps locals warm during frigid Minnesota winters.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
A string of stellar resorts like the Barceló Maya, each offering easy access to a bevy of watersports, waterparks, pools for days, day trips to cenote swimming holes and to Mayan sights like Tulum and Chichen Itza, beverages complete with cutesy umbrellas, and miles of gorgeous sandy beaches make Riviera Maya on the Yucatan Peninsula a prime destination for an affordable, often all-inclusive, family vacation. Speaking of, you won’t want to miss these all-inclusive resorts around the world you can totally afford.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Easy, affordable Southwest Airlines flights from many U.S. airports will have your family in San Juan in no time, and a taxi will carry you to Old San Juan from the airport in less than 20 minutes. From there, you have two 16th-century forts which share one inexpensive admission fee, Parque de las Palomas (aka Pigeon Park) that will either delight or freak you out, depending on how you feel about hundreds of birds eating out of your hand, feral cats for miles, and more pastel-colored buildings than you could possibly photograph in a long weekend. The El Yunque rainforest and several pristine beaches are just a short rental car drive or Lyft ride away.
Denver’s neighbor deserves its own pick as an affordable family vacation destination because of a pleasant, walkable downtown area packed with restaurants and local shops, and the free bicycle rental program perfect for exploring the wide trails running either side of Clear Creek. Also wonderful is the opportunity to whitewater raft, kayak or swim through the city on Clear Creek, and to see a band perform at nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater–the finest outdoor music venue in the country! Finally, thirsty adults will enjoy the Coors Brewery Tour in Golden.
Bar Harbor, Maine
The gateway to Acadia National Park is a charming village with quaint shops, restaurants, more ice cream parlors per square foot than just about anywhere, an improv comedy troupe suitable for all ages, and a fair number of affordable accommodation options, including the Acadia Inn. While there, enjoy an outdoor pool, free breakfast, spacious rooms, and a hiking trail which will lead you straight into the National Park that backs up to the hotel.
Amelia Island, Florida
This slender enchanting stretch of Floridian paradise sits just on the border of Georgia. Amelia Island is perfect for an affordable family vacation because of sunset cruises, fine fishing and kayaking, Fort Clinch State Park, a vibrant artist village, and the chance to play the French ball game of petanque.
The City Museum, which is not a museum at all but rather a wild, epic up-cycled play space for all ages, is the greatest place in America to be a child, and it helps to make St. Louis a must-visit destination for families looking for a unique vacation. Of course, there’s also the famed Gateway Arch and the engineering marvel that is the joyous elevator ride up to the top. Finish off your stay in St. Louis with lunch, root beer, and a massive milkshake at Fitz’s and a Cardinals baseball game. Stay at the beautiful Union Station Hilton to experience the glorious ceiling light show in the lobby.
With year-round Kidtopia family-friendly events, the mountain resort is a must for families. In the winter, your crew will enjoy exploring the mountaintop snow fort, daily hot chocolate and cookies and, if you’re in town in early March, the Music Festival featuring big names (for the 10-and-under set, at least) like Koo Koo Kanga Roo. Plus, kids ski for free with an accompanying adult. Come summer, you’ll be welcomed with strider bicycle races, free outdoor movies (with popcorn!), family nature hikes and more. Hotel rates in the summer start at a very affordable $139 a night.
You don’t have to “Walk with Spring” on a months-long through-hike to get a taste of the Appalachian Trail experience. There are many opportunities to disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with nature all along the 2,000-mile trail stretching through 14 states. Whether you choose the Great Smokey Mountain portion in Tennessee or prefer to hike a New Hampshire section, camp in a tent or seek shelter in hotels nearby, there’s a piece of this majestic trail to suit every family’s vacation needs.
Salt Lake City
When visiting the greater Salt Lake City area, be sure to check the soccer calendars of both Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals because seeing a match at the picturesque Rio Tinto Stadium is an affordable sporting treat. Also a treat, walking far out to the water at Great Salt Lake State Park and on Antelope Island, and wandering around Temple Square. In neighboring Provo, be sure to see if Brigham Young University TV’s popular sketch comedy show Studio C is having open dress rehearsals or live tapings (both of which offer free tickets). And at Snowbird, there is fun waiting for families on the mountain no matter the weather!
Grand Canyon, South Rim, Arizona
Even a contrarian has to admit that this is one of the most remarkable places on earth. The Grand Canyon is an epic, timeless, and classic family vacation destination. Whether visited on its own or as a part of a cross-country family road trip, everyone needs to stand in awe of the depth, color, and scope that no photograph can do justice in expressing. Thankfully, visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon requires little more than a National Parks Pass and a well-placed hotel stay. The best value is found just a handful of miles outside the park. You just may find the experience changes your life.
Historic Columbia River Highway, Oregon
Of course, Portland is a superb city, but the many waterfalls, cascades, locks, trails—and the Columbia River Gorge—that are nestled in along this scenic highway are, in and of itself themselves, a vacation destination worth packing up and piling the kids into the car to see and explore. Splash, hike, and swim—and take hundreds of photos of—Bridal Veil, Multnomah, Horsetail Falls and the many other cascades lining this impressive stretch of America.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
For families looking for a trip steeped in 17th-century history, but who find Boston too bustling and expensive, look a bit further up north to the charming city of Portsmouth. Wander the oldest neighborhood to be settled by Europeans in New Hampshire at the Strawbery Banke outdoor living history museum, tour a real submarine, the USS Albacore (and make all the tuna jokes you want!), and casually stroll the vibrant downtown area teeming with independent eateries and shops selling local handmade goods. You’ll also want to add these 16 historic American cities to your bucket list.
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