45 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.
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Tons of fun without breaking the bank
Need a break from the work and school grind, but don’t have a lot of time, or money, to book a week-long trip? We have the solution—mini-breaks that pack lots of vacation vibes into just a few days and won’t break the bank to boot. Check out these easy-to-get-to destinations and get ready to spring into fun. Wherever you travel, try to cross these 24 summer bucket list ideas off your list.
Asheville, North Carolina
Why you’ll love it: The entry point to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a funky mix of breweries (the most per capita in the United States), great food, arts (the River Arts District is a fun and free way to spend a day), history (the Biltmore Estate), free-spirited hippie culture, and spectacular nature. For the latter, plan a picnic hike to the Craggy Mountains, and stop to smell the berry bushes and take in the exceptional panoramic views of the Craggy Pinnacle Trail.
Budget tip: Live music fills the streets of Asheville; you can listen to everything from old-time mountain music to new alternative rock just by dropping something in the tip jar. Kids will love the free Friday drum circles in Pritchard Park where they can bang a drum and dance along (the festivities get rolling around 6 p.m.).
Where to stay: The Holiday Inn Asheville-Biltmore East feels more like a mountain lodge than a chain property, but it still has all the hallmarks that make Holiday Inn family-friendly, including a great pool and affordable deals; kids 18 and under stay for free in their parents’ room, and up to four kids 11 and under eat free any time of the day at the on-site restaurant.
Why you’ll love it: With silky soft, snow-white sand and gentle Gulf of Mexico water, Clearwater’s beaches are multiple award winners, and are perfect for families who want to spend their minivacation splashing in the surf. When you’re ready to dry off, hope on the free trolley to the Clearwater Aquarium, home to Winter and Hope, the dolphin stars of the Dolphin Tale movies.
Budget tip: There’s a free sunset festival with live entertainment every.single.night right at Clearwater’s main beach at Pier 60.
Where to stay: Enjoy swim-in movies, life-sized games, and s’mores at the beachside firepit at the beachfront Sandpearl Resort. Spacious rooms can accommodate the whole family, plus Sandpearl just launched a Tech-Free Treasure Chest that rewards families with a surprise for going their whole meal without digital devices (a great habit we’re happy to take home from our mini getaway).
Why you’ll love it: Mother Nature went into hyperdrive in this breathtaking corner of Arizona; Sedona is surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest, four wilderness areas, and six state parks. Everywhere you look are the stunning peaks and spires of red rocks and sandstone outcroppings. Nature-loving families can hike and bike along hundreds of miles of free trails, and at night the stars put on a spectacular show, no ticket required.
Budget tip: Sedona is less than a two-hour drive (100 miles) from the Grand Canyon, making it an easy day trip without the added expense of spending the night at pricey accommodations near the national park.
Where to stay: Plan an Arizona stay-cation at the luxurious Enchantment Resort located in the heart of Sedona surrounded by the towering red rock walls of Boynton Canyon. The resort offers more than 100 activities for families every week, plus pools, tennis, hiking, biking, and a kids club, and spacious suites big enough for the whole family. Best of all, Arizona residents receive a 15 percent discount off the best available rate. Sedona is home to one of the most stunning desert escapes in the United States.
Why you’ll love it: The insider secret of southern California locals, Temecula has all the charm, and wine and food, of Napa and Sonoma, without the crowds or high prices. Just a short drive from L.A. and San Diego, this is a hidden wine country, with beautiful vineyards, and plenty of outdoor activities in near-perfect climate. There’s plenty to do for families, too, with a car-free Old West-style town dating to the 1800s, horse ranches, and even kid-friendly vineyards.
Budget tip: Don’t miss the super fun Pennypickle’s Workshop, a children’s museum that’s designed as the laboratory of fictional Professor Phineas T. Pennypickle, a scientist, inventor, and time traveler; kids under 18 months are free, adults are $5, and kids are $10.
Where to stay: Pechanga Resort Casino might not sound like a family destination, but with the 4.5 acre Cove pool complex, your kids can play all day in the water, and a $3 million expansion added a wealth of rooms, so there’s always a deal to be had; plus, Pechanga has a beautifully landscaped RV Resort, so you can bring your own RV or trailer and really save on your vacay. Before you go, brush up on these 12 unspoken etiquette rules of RV camping.
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 $48.
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 $197 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 a memorable time catching a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game at the Rogers Centre 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 new bike program with preset 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. Want to save $5,500 this year? Just cut out these three items.
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 is just $64 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. Add these 20 small towns to your must-visit list in 2020.
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
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. (Atlanta CityPASS 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 $219 starting price.
Why you’ll love it: Conroe is perfect for families who want to escape the crowded and fast-paced city. It’s located about an hour north of Houston. In Conroe, families love to visit Lake Conroe, which is surrounded by great restaurants, parks, and entertainment venues. Heading out on the lake in a boat, breaking out the fishing rods, or just putting on a bathing suit and jumping in the water are all great ways to enjoy a summer in Texas.
Budget tip: Check the Lake Conroe website‘s event calendar to see when Family Karaoke night is at The Edge Restaurant and Bar. Kids eat for only 99 cents with the purchase of an adult entree.
Where to stay: The La Torretta Lake Resort & Spa will keep your family entertained for your entire stay. They have miniature golf, an aqua park with a lazy river, a gorgeous view of the lake, and it’s only a 15-minute drive from Sam Houston National Forest. Summer rates start at a little under $150 per night.
Niagara Falls, New York
Why you’ll love it: Kids of all ages on family vacations 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, and 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 these fun facts about the world’s most beautiful waterfalls.
Why you’ll love it: Take the family to the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior to make some amazing memories this summer. Spend your days in the sun on one of the many beaches that line the lake or pack a picnic and head to a park where you can explore nature. Also, travel over to the neighboring harbor town of Grand Marais to visit shops and eat the World’s Best Donuts.
Budget tip: Pack your own lunch and head over to Cascade River State Park for an afternoon of bird watching and trail hiking.
Where to stay: Book your stay at Cascade Lodge on Lake Superior. You’ll be right on a private beach, next to a golf course, and within a 15-minute drive of Lutsen Mountains and Superior National Forest. Rooms start around $95 per night.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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 around $106 per night.
Why you’ll love it: Sometimes the kids only want to go to Disneyland; never fear, we’ve found a way to visit Mickey on any family vacations 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 offers can’t miss deal for families including packages that include a double room, free shuttle to the park, and even a $100 gift card to Disney for every night you stay starting from $229 per night. 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 less than $200 a night in summer.
Rapid City, South Dakota
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.
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 start at $178. Find out 11 cheaper alternatives to Europe’s most expensive cities.
Cape May, New Jersey
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 cobblestone 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 Rico
Why you’ll love it: Devastated by a double hit of Mother Nature in 2017, Puerto Rico is recovered from the storms and is focused on welcoming families for summer vacation. Since you don’t need a passport to visit the Spanish-speaking island (it’s a U.S. commonwealth), the island is 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 $224 and a location that lets you easily explore Old San Juan and gives you front row access to the new Entertainment District, plus there’s a super cool infinity pool with great views over the San Juan lagoon. Discover 15 more islands in the United States you can visit without a passport.
Reno Tahoe, Nevada
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 starting at $40/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 is home to 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 $130/night; rooms with two Queen beds are an additional $15. Find out the other top summer vacation destinations in the country.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
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 around $144 per night. Find out tips to make an affordable family vacation happen.
Panama City, Panama
Why you’ll love it: Travelers on the hunt for an upscale family vacation ideas filled with rich local culture at bargain prices should visit Panama, one of Latin America’s most thriving, cosmopolitan destinations—and with no currency exchange and easy direct flights from many major U.S. cities, traveling there is a breeze. Nearby natural areas offer the opportunity to see everything from swinging sloths to tiny tree frogs in their natural habitats.
Budget highlight: Kids can visit Panama’s amazing fabulous frogs and turtles, plus get up close with slimy sea cucumbers and other sea life, at the Culebra Nature Center, for just $1 for children under 13.
Where to stay: The Westin Playa Bonita is just minutes from the bustling downtown on a mile-long stretch of golden sand surrounded by lush tropical rainforests, and rooms start at just $120 a night. The resort’s Kids Club offers destination-focused experiences including native songs and dances, talent shows, and treasure hunts. Families can also book the Sand, Sloths, & Skyscrapers package, complete with a visit to the area’s new sloth sanctuary, and a walking tour of Casco Viejo. These are family vacation destinations even picky teenagers love.
Why you’ll love it: A dynamic city with Old West charm, Denver has a vast array of kid-friendly attractions here, including an aquarium, zoo, botanical garden, art museum with a fabulous hands-on projects space, and the fascinating History Colorado museum—all perfect for family vacations. Coors Field is right downtown, which makes it easy to catch a family-fun Rockies baseball game. And a free tramcar traverses 16th Street, so you can leave your car behind while you try out all the great dining and shopping lining the long pedestrian-friendly zone.
Budget tip: Denver CityPASS gives you discounted access to kid-friendly city highlights, including the aquarium, zoo, and museums starting at $32, a 38 percent discount.
Where to stay: HALCYON, a hotel in Cherry Creek, located in the charming walking-friendly neighborhood, has a rooftop pool, a free gear garage with bikes and longboards, and complimentary muffins and scones in the morning, plus snacks, coffee drinks, and even wine and beer for mom and dad from 4 to 9 p.m. at its “kitchen counter” check-in desk, from $179 a night. It’s also right around the corner from a Whole Foods and one of the city’s most-beloved burger spots, The Cherry Cricket. Be sure to check out these awesome spring break getaways for families too.
Hamilton County, Indiana
Why you’ll love it: If you have kids who love trains, this affordable heartland destination, nicknamed Rail Country, should be at the top of your list. In the fall, hop on The Nickel Plate Express for scenic train excursions featuring educational experiences for families (both kids and parents). When you’re not riding the rails, stop by Conner Prairie, the Smithsonian-affiliated living history museum and park with hundreds of acres of exploration for families and kids. Including 4-story, interactive treetop outposts and an outdoor 1836 Prairietown where kids can visit with 1800s Indiana settlers, and play games and learn a trade from the local interpreters dressed in period garb.
Budget tip: Spend time in the great (free) outdoors at Strawtown Koteewi Park, which features a canoe launch on the White River for boating and fishing, nature trails for hiking or cycling, equestrian trails, an archery center, and a treetop course.
Where to eat and stay: For family eats, don’t miss Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream in the town of Carmel, home of The Big Ugly, a one-pound burger-eating challenge (eat the whole burger and you’ll get your picture framed on Bub’s infamous burger wall). Waddle back to your suite at the Residence Inn by Marriott – Carmel, Indiana, which includes full kitchens, complimentary hot breakfast buffet, indoor pool, and outdoor SportCourt and BBQ patio starting at $140 per night.
Why you’ll love it: Known as “charm city,” Baltimore is an enchanting, family-friendly destination loaded with history. Families can enjoy the scenic Inner Harbor or watch a ball game down the block at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. You can also sight-see by water-taxi or climb aboard Baltimore’s own pirate ship in Fell’s Point, Fearless, to hear swashbuckling tales of adventure. The fantastically fishy National Aquarium is a must-visit too!
Budget tip: A visit to Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key penned “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is free for everyone.
Where to stay: Housed in the historic former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad headquarters, Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore Inner Harbor (from $177) is a kid’s dream with 14 Bunk Bed Suites (not to mention the warm cookies we’ve had at check-in). The Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel puts families right next to two other kid favorites, the fascinating fish-filled National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center, starting at $134 a night. Don’t miss these top family travel destinations in every state.
Why you’ll love it: Naples-area beaches are regularly ranked among the best in the world, landing on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for the Top 25 Beaches in the United States. Families can learn to skimboard on Naples Beach; then take a stroll to the iconic Naples Pier, where fishermen hang their lines in hopes of a bite. For a peaceful beach scene, head to Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island.
Budget tip: For great, free, souvenirs, take the kids shelling along the pristine barrier island sands of Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island.
Where to stay: Naples Grande Beach Resort features views of the Gulf surrounded by beautiful lawns, gardens, and reflecting pools, and they just unveiled 50 newly renovated villas, perfect for family getaways. Rates start at $249 a night for tower rooms, and the property offers a variety of free kids’ programming including balloon toss, tie-dye time, watermelon eating contests, and more. Bonus: Naples is home to one of the 15 beaches with the best seashells in the world.
Why you’ll love it: Summer and fall in the Rocky Mountains bring gorgeous blue skies, temperate weather, and plenty of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the fresh mountain air. Take the gondola up Peak 8 for Epic Discovery family fun activities with bungee jumping, obstacle courses, mini-golf, mountain slides, and more.
Budget tip: The Riverwalk Center (which you can reach by free trolley car) offers a slew of summer concerts offered without a cost.
Where to stay: One Ski Hill Place, a Rock Resort, is located right at the base of Peak 8 and offers multi-room suites that function as a private condo with full kitchens and living rooms, perfect for families to spread out, plus there are two indoor pools and a private two-lane bowling alley in the hotel, and free shuttle service to area restaurants. Learn more about the best ski resorts in Colorado.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Why you’ll love it: For blue skies, golden sands, and resorts loaded with kid-friendly fun, look no further than the Dominican Republic, the popular Spanish-speaking island just an hour’s flight from Miami, and the wide-open beaches of Punta Cana.
Budget tip: You’ll find a plethora of all-inclusive options for cheap family vacations with massive pools, kids activities, evening entertainment, and unlimited food and drinks (even if that means chicken fingers and fries for your picky eaters), all for the price of a regular hotel room, and kids stay and eat free if you book on Travelocity.
Where to stay: At The Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real, the luxe all-inclusive is offering a Kids for Free promotion where two children stay for free with every paying adult. Family Concierge suites room include milk and cookies turndown service, mini bathrobes and slippers for kids, bathroom toys, access to Kids Zone, and more. Don’t miss these 12 other best all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.
Pismo Beach, California
Why you’ll love it: Playful Pismo Beach and nearby Shell Beach offer the quintessential southern California beach vacation, from swimming and hiking to kayaking and surfing—it’s all outdoor fun all the time. Energize your vacation with an ATV drive on 5.5 miles of beaches open to off-road vehicle use in Oceano Dunes, the only California State Park where vehicles may be driven on the beach. If actual horsepower is more your thing, enjoy a horseback ride instead. Pismo Beach Pier is the place to go to throw a line in the water and wait for a tug, while Pismo Beach’s award-winning boardwalk is rife with delicious treats and colorful boutique shops.
Budget tip: Thousands of vibrant orange and black Monarch Butterflies gather in Pismo Beach annually (October to February), seeking shelter from the freezing northern winter on the limbs of a grove of Eucalyptus trees at Pismo State Beach. (The grove is easily accessible on State Highway 1 at the south boundary of the city limits of Pismo Beach.)
Where to stay: The charming Cottage Inn by the Sea offers Pacific Ocean views, a pool, and free breakfast with double rooms starting at $161 per night.
Why you’ll love it: Say Aloha to the beautiful (free) beaches of Maui. Your family can swim, sun, and play on the wide stretches of amazing sand and sea for just the price of sunscreen (rent some inexpensive snorkel gear for a tropical rainbow view too). Then ride way up into the clouds at Haleakala National Park, a dormant volcano.
Budget highlight: The Road to Hana is as exciting as any theme park roller coaster, and all it costs to ride is gas for your car.
How to get here and where to stay: Check with Hawaiian Air for deals on flights starting at just $377 round-trip from the U.S. mainland as well as amazing hotel deals, such as condo-style accommodations at the Maui Sunset in centrally located Kihei for just $146 a night. They even have a kitchen where you can whip up tropical smoothies for the family. Find out even more reasons Maui is the best island in Hawaii.
Yellowstone National Park
Why you’ll love it: The gushing waters of Old Faithful, the swirling colors of prismatic springs, the steam of Mammoth Springs, the wildlife of Lamar Valley, and the soaring views and waterfalls of Canyon Village—this is the trip your kids will still be talking about years to come.
Budget tip: Fourth graders visit National Parks for free, so be sure to go online and register your rising fourth-grader if there’s one in your family.
Where to stay: A visit to a national park is the perfect time to fire up an RV (either your own or rented one) for a cheap family vacation. Harvest Hosts is a unique experiential company offering RVers the opportunity to stay at any of their over 600 host locations across the United States. For a single membership payment of $79 per year, you can stay at uncrowded, one-of-a-kind destinations such as farms and historical sites. Prefer something less crowded? These 10 national parks are so far off the beaten path they are practically secret.
Why you’ll love it: It’s a city with a sandy beach right downtown! How fun is that? Plus there are scenic riverboat rides, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of science, Lincoln Park and the zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, and a giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Oh, and pizza, lots and lots of cheesy, stringy, deep-dish pies perfect for family dining.
Budget tip: The Lincoln Park Zoo, which features waddling penguins among its highlights, is one of the few free zoos in the country.
Where to stay: Homewood Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown offer spacious digs with kitchens with full-size refrigerators, microwaves, and stove cooktops (perfect for making healthy meals when you’re not eating pizza) from $129 per night.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Why you’ll love it: Even though it may seem like a grown-up getaway, the laid back vibe of the Big Easy actually makes it a perfect spot for a family vacation. In addition to eating beignets around the clock and watching the free outdoor performances at Jackson Square, you can take a cruise on the Creole Queen paddleboat; watch for gators on the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours; get up close with nature at the Audubon Nature Institute (including the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium), the Aquarium, or the Zoo; and deep dive into history at the National WWII Museum, featuring a 4D cinema experience narrated by Tom Hanks. Plus there’s Carousel Gardens where you can enjoy more than a dozen rides for kids including a roller coaster and a historic carousel.
Budget tip: Be sure to ride the historic wooden streetcars—a ton of fun for kids, and only $1.25!
Where to stay: The Hilton New Orleans Riverside has a great location out of the fray of the French Quarter, but close enough to take advantage of all the city has to offer, and not only does it offer rates starting at $126.
Why you’ll love it: Ruminate on the Revolution on Beantown’s historic streets while following the (free) Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, red-lined route that winds past 16 historically significant sites dating back to the American Revolution. Don’t miss taking a spin on the swan boats in the lake at the Boston Public Gardens in Boston Common, and plan a stop at the New England Aquarium and Museum of Science too.
Budget tip: Catch a breeze strolling the Harborwalk, which offers breathtaking views of Boston Harbor and the Boston skyline.
Where to stay: Green-from-the-ground-up Element Boston Seaport and forward-thinking Aloft Boston Seaport both offer families a strategic Seaport District locale just minutes from the best of the city. Naturally, Boston is one of the 16 best cities for American history buffs.
Cooperstown, New York
Why you’ll love it: If you have baseball fans in the family, you’ll want to focus on Cooperstown, home to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where they honor some of America’s athletic heroes. You can also visit The Fenimore Art Museum, which boasts an extraordinary collection of American Indian and folk art, or step back in time at The Farmers’ Museum where American history comes to life with real-life experience on a working Farmstead. Then taste your way through over 40 specialty food products at the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, including cider that’s been made for over 150 years in a water-powered mill.
Budget tip: Explore the extensive, and free, beauty of the Central New York Region the perfect setting for outdoor adventures from hiking along 350 miles of trails to paddling down the historic Old Erie Canal, or even mining for diamonds.
Where to stay: The newly renovated Otesaga Resort Hotel offers a range of family-friendly recreational facilities, including a heated outdoor pool, lake canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding, bike riding, croquet, and tennis courts.
Point Pelee National Park, Ontario, Canada
Why you’ll love it: Looking for an adventure on a cheap family vacation? We’ve got you covered. This spectacular national park lets you spend your days walking the more than 10 miles of trail and exploring Lake Erie. Bonus: Even though it feels incredibly remote, it’s just an hour’s drive from Detroit.
Budget tip: Stay up late for Dark Sky Nights, a free presentation about the stars and the wonders of the night sky from the Royal Astronomical Institute.
Where to stay: Stay in comfort and convenience under the canopy of the Carolinian Forest in a Parks Canada oTENTik. An oTENIK is a cross between an A-frame cabin and a prospector tent on a raised wooden floor for families or groups of up to six. It’s like the luxury “glamping” options springing up across the country, but you bring your own food and bedding, and prices start at just a little over $100. Discover more luxury camping adventures even indoor people will love.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Why you’ll love it: Not only does this destination feature 60 miles of gorgeous beaches and warm ocean waters, but it’s also known as the “mini-golf capital” for its plethora of pint-size courses. Take in all the beach scenery, attractions, and vacation snacks strolling the free 1.2 mile-long Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade.
Budget tip: There’s free live music, fireworks, and family entertainment throughout the summer along the Boardwalk and free concerts at Plyler Park.
Where to stay: The Caravelle offers a beachfront location, multiple pools, a water playground, game room, and kids clubs from just $109 per night.
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 starting rates this summer around $120 a night. 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. A kid’s camp, great for ages 4 to 12, is available for an extra fee, as is horseback riding, biking, and guided hikes.
Why you’ll love it: Start your Music City visit with a stop at the Ryman Auditorium to explore the origins of country music and even step on the stage where The Grand Ole Opry started (then head to its new home for a fabulous all-ages show). A highlight of the Country Music Hall of Fame is the Taylor Swift Education Center where kids can learn to strum a ukulele or create a take-home art project. Be sure to indulge in some home cooking at a meat-and-three or Nashville Fried Chicken spots.
Budget tip: Don’t miss the live music at the surprisingly family-friendly Honky Tonks (during the day that is) up and down Broadway. It’s free, but be sure to throw a few dollars in the tip jar for the hard-working musicians.
Where to stay: The kid-pleasing Kimpton Aertson Hotel has a pool that spans the entire rooftop and there’s a great spot for quick eats, Caviar & Bananas, attached to the artsy hotel as well. Now, learn these secrets to traveling cheap, straight from travel agents.