50 Affordable Family Vacation Ideas That All Ages Will Love
You don't have to wipe out your savings to have an amazing time with the kids. Check out these cheap family vacations perfect for your next budget-friendly trip.
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Memory-making family vacations on a budget
In a dream world, annual family trips to Paris, Tokyo or Disney World would be affordable. But budget constraints tend to mean that less expensive vacations are necessary. Luckily, there’s no shortage of cheap family vacations within a road-trip drive or a quick flight on a budget airline. So whether you’re looking for budget-friendly quick trips, longer beach vacations (with your very own beach house rental), family-friendly resorts in the Caribbean or all-inclusive hotels in Hawaii, we’ve got options for you.
With these affordable family vacations, traveling on a budget and exploring rich history is possible in every single state (and neighboring destinations, such as Mexico, the Caribbean and Canada). Take advantage of the wonderful things the locals love—from free museums and outdoor concerts to strolling through cobblestone streets and national parks. In short, we’ve got the perfect budget-friendly family vacations that you will want to take this year.
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Why you’ll love it: The District is consistently one of the most affordable family vacations (and a great family-friendly spring break destination), thanks to a slew of free things to do all over the capital, including almost every museum in town, as well as the National Zoo. Plus, there are year-round cheap eats, gorgeous walks along the water and more monuments per square mile than any other city.
Budget tip: All the legendary Smithsonian museums are free to enter, including the powerful National Museum of African American History and Culture, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Gallery of Art. The National Zoo also doesn’t charge admission. In springtime, the gorgeous cherry blossom trees turn D.C. a stunning shade of pink (head to Tidal Basin for a photo opp). And let’s not forget about sites like the Washington Monument, the National Mall and the White House, none of which cost a penny to see.
How to get there: A trio of airports service Washington, making your cheap family vacation even easier to book. There’s Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, 30 miles north of the nation’s capital, as well as Dulles International Airport, just 28 miles to the west. Ronald Reagan National Airport is a mere 4 miles south along the Potomac River.
Where to stay: For a stylish stay that won’t break the bank, check out the Phoenix Park Hotel. The kids will love staying in a posh place that feels like a movie set, and you’ll love that they won’t complain about the walk to the museums along the National Mall (because you’ll only be a few blocks away).
Why you’ll love it: An underrated travel destination? Maybe. But this Midwest city is jam-packed with affordable family vacation ideas. There’s the chance to go back in time at Conner Prairie, a sprawling outdoor living history museum, or entertain little ones at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, arguably the most magnificent, robust children’s museum in the country. Plus, the Indianapolis Zoo’s orangutan enclosure is a sheer delight.
Budget tip: Finding delicious, filling and cheap eats is a must to have truly affordable family vacations. At some point during your stay in Indy, make sure you get a doughnut (or a dozen) from Long’s Bakery across from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
How to get there: The Indianapolis International Airport is an easy 14-mile, less-than-20-minute drive to and from the best downtown hotels in the city.
Where to stay: Stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Indianapolis Downtown on the Canal for easy access to paddle boats and a short walk to nearly everything your family will love in the city, including museums, parks, sports complexes and more.
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Crystal River, Florida
Why you’ll love it: Considered the teddy bears of the sea, the big, beautiful manatees filling the waterways here are the main reason to visit. The opportunity to swim with manatees in the wild starts as low as $65 per person for a three-hour boat tour, which includes a wetsuit, equipment and terrific tour guides. As far as tourist experiences go, especially those involving wild animal encounters, that’s the best deal in the country.
Budget tip: You can book both a manatee swim and a room at the Plantation on Crystal River together, a combo we consider one of the best budget-friendly options in America—it’s more expensive to walk into some amusement parks than it is to have a comfortable room on site and get up close and personal with these big friendly giants.
How to get there: The Crystal River manatees are swimming about one hour north of the Tampa International Airport. Because Florida is a year-round destination, make sure you’re aware of the best time to book a flight to the Sunshine State.
Where to stay: When you book a room at the Plantation on Crystal River, you’ll be right where hundreds of manatees are also staying. Plus, the family-friendly resort has beach chairs, umbrellas and towels, as well as a nine-hole golf course and an outdoor heated lagoon pool, perfect for the kids.
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Why you’ll love it: There is nowhere else in the country with the landscape, color and natural beauty found in Southern Utah. This is the destination for outdoor lovers, bird-watchers, hikers, climbers and photographers alike. The national parks found in this part of America are breathtaking, awe-inspiring and will make everyone in your family forget about their devices, schoolwork, jobs and worries.
Budget tip: A secret to scenic savings, the National Park pass ($80 annually) allows access to 2,000 federal recreation sites and covers the pass owner and up to three additional adults (16 and over) at sites that charge per person. Children ages 15 or under are admitted free. With Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reed, Canyonlands and Arches national parks all within a seven-hour drive from Moab, you can visit 7% of all U.S. national parks in one cheap family vacation, for one price. Now that’s good value!
How to get there: Las Vegas International Airport is just a three-hour drive from Zion National Park. Along the way, you can and should get out to spend time in Valley of Fire state park in Nevada.
Where to stay: Good values may seem hard to find when it comes to hotels near Utah’s national parks, but the Best Western Plus (to the west of Zion’s entrance) has a pool and prices that are fair for the in-demand region.
Why you’ll love it: Plan a cheap family vacation to Detroit, and you’ll get to experience the rise, fall and rebirth of a legendary American city all in one weekend. Detroit is one of American’s best hidden gems, a city where you can visit the birthplace of the Model-T at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, 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, play on Belle Isle Park between Michigan and Ontario and tour the Henry Ford Museum and GreenField Village in nearby Dearborn. There’s so much vital American history here (the good and the bad), as well as a bright future that’s still being written today.
Budget tip: You’ll want to check out the Detroit River Conservancy, where you can walk, blade or bike your way along the 3.5-mile riverwalk while enjoying the city’s impressive skyline. It’s one of the best free tourist attractions in the country.
How to get there: The Detroit Metro Airport, a domestic Delta airline hub, is just 25 minutes by car from the city center.
Where to stay: While you’ll find a number of great hotels in Motor City, a stay at the Courtyard Downtown provides easy access to the Detroit People Mover, an automated public transit system that runs through the hotel and makes it a breeze to move to locations around the city, including the waterfront area and Comerica Park (to see a Detroit Tigers baseball game).
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Why you’ll love it: This beautiful seaside town in South Carolina is a water-sports playground for all ages and heaven for golf aficionados, whether your family members love playing a full 18 holes or prefer a friendly mini-golf competition with decorative windmills.
Budget tip: At most golf courses along the Grand Strand, kids under 16 can golf for free with a paying adult, which will help you save a bundle. Need more convincing? Myrtle Beach consistently ranks as one of the top cheap beach destinations in the country, and if you plan your trip right, you can enjoy one of the many free arts and music festivals it hosts throughout the year, making Myrtle Beach a budget family travel goldmine!
How to get there: The closest airport is Myrtle Beach International Airport, but for more flight (and pricing) options, look at flying into Charleston, South Carolina (about 2.5 hours away), as well as Wilmington, North Carolina, for short domestic flights.
Where to stay: There are cheap beach hotels, but the Homewood Suites by Hilton at the Grand Mall is the perfect headquarters for affordable family fun in Myrtle Beach. With five golf courses within a 15-minute drive, beaches just three miles away and a cornucopia of restaurants and shopping a short walk from the lobby, it is ideally situated for anything you and your family want to do. Plus, there’s an outdoor pool for the kiddos.
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Why you’ll love it: This is the rare chance to disconnect in a thoroughly unique place. Set in the woods (but still so close to so much to do), the surprising destination of Glenmont, Ohio, has a lot of unique family fun, whether you fancy a three-hour zip-lining adventure, a nine-mile canoe trip down the Mohican River, a horseback ride through the countryside, a mountain biking jaunt or a less strenuous visit to Amish Country near Millersburg, Ohio, for craft and furniture shopping and lots of baked goods. It’s all pretty darn perfect and Instagram-worthy, if you ask us.
Budget tip: Plan to spend your time unplugged and in nature, which famously, doesn’t cost a dime. From biking to hiking, burning calories to indulging in delicious Amish baked goods, this is the cheap family vacation you need.
How to get there: The Columbus airport is just an hour and 20 minutes away. Or, consider making this a part of an ultimate family road trip or a quick weekend getaway.
Where to stay: There’s one specific place you should stay in central Ohio: The Mohicans Treehouse Resort in Glenmont. The cabins, gorgeous farmhouses and—you guessed it—epic treehouse hotels, including an Airstream trailer high in the trees, are truly one of a kind.
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New York City, New York
Why you’ll love it: Because it’s New York City! It’s 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 affordable hotels all across the city, if you know what to look for and where to go. If you have teens in tow, a visit to music venues like Irving Plaza or Webster Hall is a must. And the bookstores in that part of the city, the impossibly cool East Village, once the home of punks and poets, are world famous (The Strand’s used-book racks on the sidewalk are the stuff of legend).
Budget tip: What other affordable things can you do with the family while in the city? Walking the High Line doesn’t cost a penny, and neither does visiting Central Park, Tompkins Square Park, Union Square Park or Bryant Park. You’ll find a surprising number of lush and fun green spaces that feature farmers markets, free live music and dog parks. Add some time to explore these hidden gems in NYC even locals don’t know about. When you get hungry, grab a slice of pizza or take advantage of the many great lunch special deals and happy hour specials on drinks and food.
How to get there: Three airports and a rail service will easily get you and your family into and out of Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, including LaGuardia Airport (the closest to Manhattan), JFK International Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.
Where to stay: Voco Times Square South won’t break the bank, but it will have you close to all the theaters and shopping in midtown Manhattan. Then you can take a short walk, bus or subway ride to the East Village, Lower East Side and Financial District to pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial.
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Why you’ll love it: Want to know how to travel for free? Freedom from an expensive family vacation awaits in Philly. Downtown can be magical, thanks in part to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, the always-free-to-see Liberty Bell, the free-to-climb Rocky steps at the Art Museum and plenty of places to indulge in a Philly cheesesteak. This is one of the best cities for budget-friendly family vacations.
Budget tip: One of the things that makes Philadelphia special is its music history. For free live music every week, take your kids to see famous (or soon to be famous) bands at World Cafe Live’s free Friday lunchtime concerts (Adele, Dr. Dog, St. Paul and the Broken Bones and many more have graced the stage).
How to get there: Philadelphia International Airport is less than a 20-minute drive from the center of the city.
Where to stay: You can’t go wrong with a stay near the Avenue of the Arts. Try the classy but down-to-earth Cambria Hotel, and you’ll be central to everything worth seeing and doing in the City of Brotherly Love.
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Los Angeles, California
Why you’ll love it: Southern California is not known for its affordability, but Los Angeles has a lot to offer those on the hunt for cheap family vacations. Really! 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.
Budget tip: L.A. offers star-studded trips great for families in large part because of its beaches. Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu and others are all free and ideal for people-watching, picnics and activities in the sand. Be sure to grab a bite at the legendary Malibu Seafood on California 1 (the Pacific Coast Highway). The fresh food is less than half the price of a fancy seafood house in the city, and it comes with free million-dollar views. Of course, a cheap family vacation out west would not be complete without at least one meal at In-n-Out Burger, the made-to-order, inexpensive and beloved fast-food chain.
How to get there: Venice Beach is less than 15 minutes (without traffic) from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), and the Broad Museum is only 30 minutes away (without traffic) on the 110. Because LAX has so many flights in and out of the city, it’s a great destination to consider using any credit card travel rewards.
Where to stay: The many hotels near LAX offer good value, but they put you a drive away from everything. Instead, stay at one of the fantastic, artful and surprisingly wallet-friendly boutique hotels, like The Kinney on Venice Beach, which boasts playfully colorful rooms. You’ll be a short walk from the beach, and at the hotel you can enjoy a dip in the outdoor pool and rent a bike to pedal your way up to Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier.
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Why you’ll love it: This charming four-season small town, nestled beneath the Big Sky, Montana, mountains, is a sheer delight for families looking for something different from their next vacation. While the destination has become popular (and pricey at times), there are still budget-friendly ways to explore. Main Street is littered with lovely boutiques, coffee shops, chocolatiers, a fantastic live-music venue, independent ice cream shops, eateries and fashionable renovated roadside motels. And less than two hours away are the north and west entrances to Yellowstone National Park.
Budget tip: Just south of Main Street is the marvelous Museum of the Rockies, with more dinosaur bones than you’ve ever seen in your life. A short drive north is prime skiing at Bridger Bowl, neither of which will dent your bank account, making Bozeman one of the more affordable family vacations in the area. For more destination inspiration, these are the must-see places in the U.S. to take your kids.
How to get there: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is 15 minutes from the heart of this charming town.
Where to stay: The Lark will make you nostalgic for the roadside motels of your childhood road trips, but it’s upscale enough to please modern families.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Why you’ll love it: There’s something for everyone to do, see, eat and love in this cheap family vacation paradise. Remember: Vegas only gets expensive when you’re losing money in the casinos. There are plenty of inexpensive family vacation spots to explore in the desert, and Vegas has many family-friendly things to do, including riding the VR Big Apple Coaster at the New York–New York hotel, experiencing the FlyOver Vegas flight simulator, heading to a Golden Knights hockey game, cheering on the Las Vegas Lights FC soccer team and enjoying a Cirque du Soleil show. Tasty eats are also flourishing, especially at American Coney Island at the D Hotel and Beerhaus, where you can enjoy craft beer, ping-pong tables, cornhole and foosball.
Budget tip: The iconic Bellagio fountains don’t cost a penny to enjoy, nor do the Bellagio’s Conservatory and Botanical Gardens inside the hotel. The topiaries change throughout the year but are always stunning and worth walking through when the Vegas heat gets to be too much. For a short drive, flee the lights and head out to the Valley of Fire or the Hoover Dam.
How to get there: Harry Reid International Airport is no more than a 10-minute cab or ride-share ride to the Las Vegas Strip. And on a clear day, you’ll love the view as you fly into town.
Where to stay: The Park MGM is a stunning property that’s home to delicious restaurants and the Dolby Live (an indoor amphitheater where Lady Gaga performs regularly). When staying there, you will be close to the best Sin City has to offer.
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Why you’ll love it: For families who have dreams of seeing the tulips and windmills of the Netherlands on a not-so-grand budget, there’s the other Holland on the west coast of Michigan. This is one of those small American towns with European vibes. Play in the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan, or tiptoe through the tulips and take goats for walks at Nelis’ Dutch Village (open April through September).
Budget tip: Beach time along Lake Michigan is a pleasant way to pass the time without spending a dime. For more budget family travel in the area, Holland is also just a short day trip away from Indiana Dunes National Park, which is free to enter for those with a National Parks Pass, making this Midwestern cheap family vacation even cheaper!
How to get there: Holland is located 2.5 hours from Chicago’s Midway International Airport and about three hours from Detroit Metro Airport.
Where to stay: Stay at the prettiest Holiday Inn you’ll ever see and enjoy the indoor/outdoor pool all year long.
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Gulf Coast, Florida
Why you’ll love it: Florida’s Gulf Coast technically runs 770 miles from the Panhandle to the edge of the Everglades, but we’re focusing on all those great towns in the middle, including St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa Bay. This is an affordable year-round destination for families where you can enjoy sandy beaches, easy access to Disney World and Orlando, low-priced rental homes and hotels, the best all-inclusive resorts in Florida, the beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter, the famous dolphin.
Budget tip: For baseball fans, it’s hard to beat easy access to handfuls of Major League Baseball spring-training sites. Spring-training baseball games offer sports fans on a budget the best chance to see their favorite teams, enjoy a game and hot dog at a normal price and get up close to some of the game’s biggest stars in smaller ballparks. The Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays all have spring-training facilities and ballparks on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
How to get there: Tampa International Airport is centrally located to many of the great beach towns and spring-training baseball facilities dotting Florida’s gulf.
Where to stay: Traveling off-season is a big money saver, so you’ll want to look at the best all-inclusive resorts for families. But no matter when you visit the area, you can’t go wrong with a stay at the Lido Beach Resort. Here, you’ll have your choice of the pool or white-sand beaches, and you’ll be within a short walk to Lido Key’s shopping and restaurant scene.
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New Orleans, Louisiana
Why you’ll love it: Every family should experience the magic of the enchanting Crescent City. From the affordable nightly jazz at legendary Preservation Hall to the famous Audubon Zoo, New Orleans is a place unlike any other. Walk Bourbon Street, buy a purple-and-yellow Mardi Gras mask, book a Cajun swamp tour, eat too many beignets or wander around the spooky St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
Budget tip: For those who aren’t spooked easily, a stroll through any of the city’s above-ground cemeteries is a great way to spend time without spending money. Read the tombstones and take eerie photographs of wilted flowers and crumbling stones.
How to get there: The appropriately named Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport is just 20 minutes by car from the heart of the city.
Where to stay: To be close but not too close to the rowdy action, stay at the affordable Homewood Suites by Hilton on the edge of the French Quarter. You’ll have a pool, mini-golf and plenty of washers and dryers for cleaning your sweaty clothes after you explore the sticky bayou.
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Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia
Why you’ll love it: Visiting Jefferson’s Monticello and learning about its complicated history is a must for any American who cares about our nation’s roots. Conveniently, Richmond, Virginia, is only about an hour east and offers so much to round out a family vacation to this Virginia spot. In Richmond, check out historical sites, affordable sporting action in the form of the Kickers (a professional men’s soccer team), cool shops and a variety of restaurants.
Budget tip: The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is one of the best art museums in America. It’s open 365 days a year and admission is completely free. Plus, with works by Van Gogh and Edgar Degas and myriad sculptures on the immaculately landscaped grounds, a day spent here will be fulfilling, thought-provoking and budget-pleasing,
How to get there: Conveniently, downtown Richmond is just 10 miles (about a 20-minute drive) from the Richmond International Airport.
Where to stay: The Moxy Richmond Downtown has the feel of a boutique hotel but is in the Marriott portfolio, so you can use and earn points when you stay here. They have bunk bed and queen bed loft rooms available that will make your kids happy, and you’ll be just steps away from everything downtown has to offer.
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West Yellowstone, Montana
Why you’ll love it: Montana’s gateway to Yellowstone National Park is a destination in and of itself, thanks to shops, restaurants, rental cabins and spacious and comfortable hotels like the Clubhouse Inn. During the winter, you can rent a snowmobile in West Yellowstone and travel into an empty Yellowstone National Park to see bison grazing by steamy geysers and Old Faithful erupt in the snow. Visiting Yellowstone in the warmer months continues to be one of the greatest budget-friendly family-travel ideas too, and one of the best national park road trips you can take.
Budget tip: Affordable food is scarce in Yellowstone, and what you will find is more expensive than it should be. Instead, shop for groceries in town then pack snacks and meals for your adventures in the park.
How to get there: Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is two hours away.
Where to stay: As the main entry point to one of the most popular national parks, West Yellowstone is not the cheapest destination when it comes to accommodations, but the ClubHouse Inn is a family-friendly hotel just blocks from the entrance that has an indoor pool, free expanded continental breakfast and doesn’t charge a pet fee.
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Redwood Country, California
Why you’ll love it: If you want a left-field, left-coast cheap family vacation idea that will wow every single member? Visit the Northern California coast and stand among the largest trees in the world. The Trees of Mystery tourist attraction (with the gigantic Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues) is a sheer delight for all ages, but experiencing the Redwoods doesn’t have to cost a penny. Just drive, pull over at trailheads and wander through this magical part of America. Taking a tour of the California coast? Be sure to check out the strangest roadside attraction in the state if you do.
Budget tip: Spend a day inside Fern Canyon and on Gold Bluff Beach. These areas feel like a special secret on the edge of an ancient world that time has left behind. Pack waterproof shoes and a towel, snacks and water bottles, and spend hours hiking and exploring this mystical canyon.
How to get there: One doesn’t simply stumble upon the Redwoods. These trees are not near much, which helps to keep this place special. The closest major cities and airports are Sacramento and San Francisco, which are three and six hours away by car, respectively.
Where to stay: Set up camp at the handsome and hospitable Holiday Inn Express in Klamath. From here, it’s an easy day trip north to the otherworldly Crater Lake in Oregon and a short drive south to thousands of majestic redwood trees in national and state parks.
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Sante Fe, New Mexico
Why you’ll love it: Spend your days wandering the walkable downtown, watching light dance around the orange of the adobe buildings as the sun sets and having your mind blown at Meow Wolf, an immersive art experience. Your family will have vacation memories to cherish forever, all without blowing your budget.
Budget tip: Santa Fe is an artist’s paradise, thanks to the color and light. To experience this without spending a dime, stroll Canyon Road and pop into the galleries and sculpture gardens that line this stretch for free.
How to get there: You can fly into Albuquerque, rent a car and make the one-hour drive to the city of Santa Fe, which is less than 65 miles away.
Where to stay: To find the best value in Santa Fe, consider a stay at the Lamplighter Inn. The location is great, the pool is fun for kids and adults alike and the price can’t be beat.
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Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
Why you’ll love it: A family vacation in Coeur D’Alene means epic water sports on a lake, which native singer-songwriter Josh Ritter croons is like “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. They might moan that it’s not Disneyland, but Coeur D’Alene is an idyllic staycation or romantic weekend getaway for anyone in the Pacific Northwest.
Budget tip: You can do water sports, parasail and rent bikes, but it costs nothing to walk along the water, hike the trails and stroll the quaint small town. Spending time outdoors and in the fresh northern Idaho air is the best and cheapest thing to do in this nature lover’s paradise.
How to get there: If you do want to fly into this diamond destination, use Spokane International Airport, which is less than 40 miles to the west in neighboring Washington.
Where to stay: While in town, stay at the Best Western Plus. You’ll be treated to a gorgeous indoor pool and a delicious free breakfast, making this family vacation much more affordable.
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Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Why you’ll love it: Even though it’s situated just a stone’s throw from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, this peninsula somehow feels like it’s a world away. It’s home to the remote wilderness Olympic National Park and is a mecca for Twilight book and movie lovers. Whether you spend time taking too many selfies in the town of Forks (where Twilight was set), surfing in La Push or hiking into the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic Peninsula is cheap, wondrous and as off-the-grid as you can get while still being within driving distance of a major American city.
Budget tip: For one of the coolest free outdoor experiences in the country, head out to Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the lower 48 states. Walk down to the beach and experience the true wilderness of the rugged Pacific coast.
How to get there: From Seattle, you are a two-hour drive to the Olympic National Park visitor center and a further 90 minutes to the Washington coast at La Push.
Where to stay: The Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles is positioned perfectly to be your picturesque home base for exploring this wild and wonderful edge of America. Plus, it has an amazing backdrop you have to see to believe.
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Why you’ll love it: Pennsylvania’s famed Amish Country is now a whole lot more colorful. The new Cartoon Network Hotel opened last year, and it’s right 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 area also offers plenty of outlet shopping, the chance to catch a show at the American Music Theater and an independent movie at the funky Zoetropolis art house cinema. It’s easy to see why Lancaster is one of the quirkiest cities in America.
Budget tip: We can’t promise that you won’t spend money here, but a walk around the Lancaster Central Market doesn’t technically cost anything. You’ll surely be tempted into buying fresh baked goods and handmade souvenirs, and thankfully, the prices in Lancaster are affordable.
How to get there: Located under 90 minutes away from Philadelphia International Airport, the fun and outlet shopping deals waiting for you in Lancaster.
Where to stay: You might not think a themed hotel would be budget-friendly, but the Cartoon Network Hotel is affordable and a must-see if visiting with kids in tow. The restaurants serve food from cartoons, and there’s a game room, pool, play area and free parking.
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Orange Beach/Gulf Shores, Alabama
Why you’ll love it: This sandy stretch of Alabama (home of the Hangout Music Festival) is one of the best weekend getaways. It counts one of the largest piers (nearly 2,500 feet long) as a permanent resident, perfect for fishing—with affordable gear rentals available at the bait shop. The Wharf in Orange Beach is also fun for families, with a Ferris wheel, zip line and mini-golf. Plus, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s lemurs, sloths and kangaroos are always ready for an encounter.
Budget tip: Passes to see the biggest pop, rock and hip-hop stars at the Hangout Music Festival are not friendly to your bank balance, but there are many other inexpensive things to do in Gulf Shores. There are the white sand beaches, of course, which won’t cost you anything (expect for a bottle of sunscreen). You should also visit the free-to-enter Coastal Arts Center for a break from the sun.
How to get there: Pensacola International Airport in Florida and the Mobile Regional Airport are both close, but the former will have more affordable flight options and is just about an hour away from Gulf Shores.
Where to stay: The best affordable hotel in the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area is SpringHill Suites, thanks to simply stunning rooms, a remarkable outdoor pool and patio and free breakfast the kids (and your wallet) will love.
Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas
Why you’ll love it: It’s easy to enjoy the charming capital city of Little Rock. And no matter what time of year you visit, you’ll want to have one of the greatest meals of your life at Brave New Restaurant, spend an incredible hour at the incomparable Esse Purse Museum and take a guided tour of the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site. Visiting a place so important to the civil rights movement has never been more essential, and it still doesn’t cost a penny. It’s the best free thing to do in Little Rock.
Budget tip: Hot Springs National Park is less than an hour’s drive from Little Rock, and let us tell you: It’s worth a visit. It’s the only national park with ancient thermal springs, mountain views, incredible geology, forest hiking trails and babbling creeks all tucked into the middle of a town.
How to get there: The Clinton National Airport in Little Rock is the best to access the capital, of course.
Where to stay: Stay just outside the downtown Hot Springs area, on the water, at the glittering DoubleTree Hotel. The look of the hotel on the outside is cool, and the pool area jutting out on the Ouachita River is an absolute blast for kids. Plus, the nautical themes inside will make you feel like you’re at a quaint boutique hotel, not a chain.
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Why you’ll love it: An easy day trip from both Austin and San Antonio, Fredericksburg has plenty of budget eats, including at Das Peach Haus (Fredericksburg peaches are considered the Cadillac of peaches in the U.S.). You can lap up the German-immigrant history at the Pioneer Museum and hike up Enchanted Rock, a pink granite monolith. Head to the Smithsonian-grade National Museum of the Pacific War. With unflinching displays and a wealth of artifacts, it’s a powerhouse of information that will help you and your kids fully understand World War II—from the events leading up to it to the actual conflict fought in the Pacific. (The museum is located in Texas because the general in command was a Fredericksburg native.)
Budget tip: Walking up and down Main Street during the day is a treat, thanks to the cute shops selling local wines, fruit and handmade products, but at night the real value reveals itself. Live music spills from the bars and restaurants, meaning you can enjoy a cheap family vacation full of free concerts and entertainment.
How to get there: Both the San Antonio and Austin airports are under two hours away, giving you two easy access points to this charming German city in the heart of Texas.
Where to stay: Rarumpelpunzeldornaschenwittchen is a joy to say, spell and stay in while in Texas. Two bed-and-breakfast cottages named Rapunzel and Rumpelstilzchen are smack dab in Texas Wine Country.
Why you’ll love it: 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 Major League Soccer and National Football League teams, and a still-fresh ballpark for the Minnesota Twins. 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.
Budget tip: Skip the car and the ride-shares to make your cheap family vacation even more affordable. Use the clean and efficient light rail system to get into the heart of downtown from the airport. Rides are just $2 each.
How to get there: The Minneapolis International Airport sits right beside the Mall of America and is just a dozen miles south of downtown.
Where to stay: No matter when you visit the Twin Cities, stay at Holiday Inn Express & Suites downtown to enjoy a pool, free breakfast every morning and a location central to everything that’s awesome in Minneapolis.
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Riviera Maya, Mexico
Why you’ll love it: Ready for a quick jaunt out of the States? Riviera Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula is calling your name. You’ll find a string of stellar all-inclusive Mexican resorts with easy access to a bevy of water sports, water parks and pools, not to mention day trips to cenote swimming holes, Mayan sites and the pyramid of Chichén Itzá, plus miles of gorgeous sandy beaches. And let’s not forget the beverages with the cutesy umbrellas. Even better, many of the hotels here are family-friendly.
Budget tip: As with other tropical tourist destinations and resorts, the best deals exist during off-peak months. You may get free nights, significant savings and still have the same warm water, soft beaches and relaxation available, only without the crowds and high prices.
How to get there: Fly into Cancún, then catch your resort shuttle bus or a taxi to your property. Once there, chances are you won’t go far, although excursions can take you directly and safely to the Mayan sites nearby.
Where to stay: The Hard Rock Hotel has one side for guests of all ages and another that’s adults only, meaning that no matter who is (or isn’t) joining you, you’ll have the perfect pad for your Mexican getaway. The property is all-inclusive and affordable when you consider the food and drinks that flow all day and night.
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Why you’ll love it: Before or after cheering on the Portland Thorns (women’s professional soccer club) and the Timbers (men’s professional soccer club) with some of the most rabid fans in the country, head on over to devour tiny handcrafted Pip’s Original Donuts. Portland has an indoor skate park, rock climbing gyms, indoor play areas and the biggest and best independent bookstore west of the Mississippi.
Budget tip: Serving Oregon since the ’70s, Powell’s makes shopping for a book you can’t wait to read delightful. And because Powell’s buys so many books from customers, gently used copies are often available, at much cheaper prices.
How to get there: The airport in Portland is very close to downtown, just a 12-mile drive that shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes, no matter where in town you decide to stay.
Where to stay: Kitschy, cute, cool and cheap, Inn at Northrup Station has big rooms decorated in even bigger colors, with balconies, free breakfast and ice cream sundae bars. The property is in a cool part of town with tons of local restaurants and is a pleasant walk to the soccer stadium, Providence Park and Powell’s Books.
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Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Why you’ll love it: Easy, affordable flights from many U.S. airports will have your family in San Juan in no time for one of the warmest, yet coolest, cheap family vacations around. There are plenty of incredible resorts in Puerto Rico and an endless list of attractions you’ll want to see. In San Juan, two 16th-century forts share one inexpensive admission fee: Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal. Then you can head to Parque de las Palomas (aka Pigeon Park), which will either delight you 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 National Forest and several pristine beaches are just a short rental car drive or Lyft ride away.
Budget tip: You don’t need a car to enjoy Old San Juan, but if you want to take a drive out to the rainforest, you’ll need one. Instead of renting a car for your whole stay, grab a Jeep or something fun for a single day from the Hertz at the Sheraton in Old San Juan, and go explore the island.
How to get there: A taxi will carry you to Old San Juan from the airport in less than 20 minutes.
Where to stay: Old San Juan is always a popular summer destination, and you’ll love it even more when you stay at the classy Decanter Hotel. It’s located just cobblestone steps away from everything that’s bright, colorful and fun about this historic neighborhood.
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Why you’ll love it: Denver’s neighbor deserves its own pick as a fun family-vacation destination because of a pleasant, walkable downtown area packed with restaurants and local shops. You’ll also be close to all the action: whitewater rafting, kayaking and swimming in Clear Creek, which cuts through the heart of Golden. See a band perform at nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater, arguably the best outdoor music venue in the country. And while thirsty adults can enjoy the Coors Brewery Tour in Golden, the entire family will enjoy the surreal trip back in time at Lakeside Amusement Park, outside of Denver.
Budget tip: Rent bicycles for free for an hour and explore the wide trails running on either side of Clear Creek.
How to get there: Denver International Airport is a short 30-mile, or 35-minute, drive away from the quaint charm awaiting you in Golden.
Where to stay: To be at the center of everything west of the Mile High City, pop into the Holiday Inn Express. It’s minutes away from Red Rocks, Golden and the coolest parts of Denver itself. Plus, you can enjoy a convenient breakfast and a great pool during your stay.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Why you’ll love it: The gateway to Acadia National Park is a charming village filled with quaint shops, good restaurants, more ice cream parlors per square foot than just about anywhere (some serving Maine blueberry soft-serve) and an improv comedy troupe suitable for all ages.
Budget tip: While you need a National Park Pass (or pay for a daily entry into Acadia), there are many waterfront trails around Bar Harbor to enjoy for free. Plus, the downtown area is small and extremely walkable.
How to get there: Considering road tripping it to Bar Harbor? Make sure you know how to budget for a road trip. If not, the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport is just 20 minutes away, but the price and availability of flights may not be budget-family-travel appropriate.
Where to stay: You’ll find a fair number of affordable accommodation options, including Acadia Inn, where you can enjoy an outdoor pool, free breakfast, spacious rooms and a hiking trail out back, which will lead you straight into the national park. You can’t get a better location than that.
Amelia Island, Florida
Why you’ll love it: This slender, enchanting stretch of Floridian paradise sits just on the border of Georgia. Why is Amelia Island so perfect for an affordable family vacation? Let us count the ways. There’s a plethora of sunset cruises, fine fishing, kayaking, a vibrant artists’ village, the chance to explore a real fort at Fort Clinch State Park and the opportunity to learn and play the French sport of pétanque. Plus, you have miles of sandy beaches and abundant Florida warmth to make this one of the most peaceful trips in the Sunshine State.
Budget tip: Egans Creek Greenway is filled with moss-draped oak trees, flowers and native wildlife, such as otters, birds and alligators. You can walk, bike or simply relax outside here on a nice day without denting your vacation budget.
How to get there: Amelia Island may feel like a world away, but in fact, Jacksonville (and its airport) is a mere 30 miles away.
Where to stay: For the ultimate in rest and relaxation, make the dreamy Omni Resort your home away from home. Alternate between soaking in the pools and wandering down to the beach, and dine at any (or all!) of the hotel’s 10 restaurants during your stay. If you’re spending time in the Sunshine State, don’t miss these beaches Florida locals want to keep secret.
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St. Louis, Missouri
Why you’ll love it: The City Museum, which is not a museum at all but rather a wild, epic upcycled play space for all ages, is the singular greatest place in America to be a child, and it’s just one of the things that makes St. Louis a must-visit Midwest vacation spot for families. 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 day in St. Louis with lunch, root beer and a massive milkshake at Fitz’s. And don’t forget to catch a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.
Budget tip: While heading to the top of the Arch does cost money, the Museum at the Gateway Arch beneath it and the Old Courthouse, the site of the Dred Scott case, across the street, are free. Additionally, for flower lovers, you can spend time at the Jewel Box in Forest Park, a 50-foot-tall glass greenhouse filled with hundreds of plants and flowers. The Art Deco buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Admission is just $1 per person, but is free on Monday and Tuesday mornings.
How to get there: St. Louis Lambert International Airport is 16 miles from the Gateway Arch, and you’ll probably see the Arch upon landing.
Where to stay: Stay at the beautiful Union Station Hilton to experience the glorious ceiling light show in the lobby.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Why you’ll love it: This northern suburb of Philadelphia is bursting at the seams with cheap travel ideas. While it’s most famous for being the home of Sesame Place, Bucks County also features cute little towns, family-friendly entertainment destinations and stellar shopping. Make a plan to spend a day or two in Peddler’s Village, an idyllic nest of independent shops (handmade soaps, fine olive oil and one of the best toy stores in the area), delicious restaurants and fun festivals (peaches in the summer, Halloween and apples in the fall, and more).
Budget tip: For an inexpensive night (or day) out with kids, Without a Cue Productions sets up massive performance tents on the lawn at Peddler’s Village, where you can see murder-mysteries or stand-up comedy shows all summer long.
How to get there: Philadelphia International Airport is an hour’s drive from Sesame Place, Peddler’s Village and all that awaits your family in Bucks County.
Where to stay: For more proof that you can have nice things with kids in tow, stay at the colonial-style Golden Plough Inn, nestled into the 43 acres of Peddler’s Village. Little kids will love having their own four-poster queen beds in the Superior Village rooms.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Why you’ll love it: Utah is known for its scenic drives (try out the ultimate Utah road trip), and the greater Salt Lake City area has all the views to boast. Check out a soccer match at the picturesque Rio Tinto Stadium, walk by the water at Great Salt Lake State Park or on Antelope Island, or wander around Temple Square.
Budget tip: In neighboring Provo, see if Brigham Young University’s popular sketch-comedy show, Studio C, is having open dress rehearsals or a live taping (both of which offer free tickets).
How to get there: Salt Lake City International Airport is a mere six miles to the west of downtown, meaning you can grab your bags and be in the heart of the city in less than 10 minutes.
Where to stay: Stay at the Snowbird Resort for family fun on the mountain—no matter the season. You won’t be downtown, but you’ll be in the heart of the greatest outdoor attraction in the area. The Cliff Lodge is one of four properties on site and has two swimming pools, four hot tubs and Snowbird’s only ski-out, ski-in accessibility.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Why you’ll love it: A visit to Punta Cana is all about the resort you choose to call home. Use the best travel apps to find a Caribbean resort that provides you and your family with pools, sandy beaches, all-you-can-eat food, live music, casinos and family fun.
Budget tip: Consider visiting Punta Cana in the off season (April to September) for the warm water and sunshine you’re dreaming of, without the price tag and the crowds.
How to get there: Depending on where you stay, Punta Cana International Airport is a quick taxi or shuttle bus journey. Once at your resort’s property, you likely won’t need a car, just a golf cart if you want to have fun moving around.
Where to stay: Consider the Hard Rock Hotel in Punta Cana, where you’ll have your own in-room hot tub (every room has one) and plenty of diverse restaurant options, including a fantastic Italian spot and a fast-fresh Mediterranean bistro serving up outstanding hummus and falafel when you want a healthy quick bite. Tennis courts, several pools, a concert venue and a massive stretch of perfect sandy beach make this resort a true rock star. While there, book the excursion to ride two-person ATVs through a mud course and get hilariously filthy with your kids.
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Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington
Why you’ll love it: Of course, Portland is a superb city, but the many waterfalls, cascades, trails and the Columbia River Gorge nestled along this scenic highway are, in and of themselves, vacation destinations worth exploring. Flowing through both Oregon and Washington, Bridal Veil, Multnomah Falls, Horsetail Falls and the many other cascades line this impressive stretch of America where you can splash, hike and swim. While in the area, listen to the “Fantasy of Fashion” episode of the Articles of Interest podcast and then spend a few hours exploring the curious Maryhill Museum’s Théâtre de la Mode exhibit to see the miniature mannequins that saved the French fashion industry during World War II.
Budget tip: Spend your days driving along the 70-mile Historic Columbia River Highway to gawk at spectacular waterfalls. Bring your bathing suit and towels to hop into the water at the bottom of several falls, and leave your cash in the car, because this natural experience is 100-percent free.
How to get there: Portland International Airport is an hour away by car, along the very path you’ll want to spend the majority of your time exploring.
Where to stay: Wondering whether to choose an Airbnb or a hotel? In this case, we’d suggest ending your eventful Columbia River days at the Klickitat Treehouse in White Salmon, Washington, a stunning Airbnb home that’s situated between three massive Douglas firs and sits 20 feet above the ground.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Why you’ll love it: If you’re looking for a trip steeped in 17th-century history but find Boston too bustling and expensive, look a bit farther north to the charming city of Portsmouth. Wander the oldest New Hampshire neighborhood settled by Europeans at the Strawbery Banke outdoor museum. Tour a real submarine named the USS Albacore (and make all the tuna jokes you want!), and casually stroll the vibrant downtown area teeming with independent eateries, toy stores and shops selling local handmade goods.
Budget tip: Free outdoor summer concerts with nationally known touring musicians are a highlight for anyone looking for fun, budget-friendly family-travel ideas.
How to get there: Fly into Boston Logan International Airport, an easy one-hour drive up I-95 to Portsmouth.
Where to stay: For a modern, affordable hotel close to the heart of the old British-style Portsmouth, try the Port Inn and Suites, with free parking and WiFi and a stone’s throw from downtown. It has a pool for your kids to expel their energy before bed and a free breakfast. If you’re interested in taking a longer vacation in the area, check out this guide to a White Mountains road trip.
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San Diego, California
Why you’ll love it: You could build an entire trip around the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park, and no one would question it. The two wildlife hot spots are just the beginning of what makes the city one of the best cheap family vacations in America. Baseball lovers will adore the downtown ballpark, while history buffs will enjoy exploring the USS Midway aircraft carrier and learning about Liberty Station’s military past as a naval training center in the 1920s. Plus, the natural beauty of Balboa Park and the sandy beaches lining the Pacific Ocean will surely make everyone in your family happy.
Budget tip: Don’t miss the joy of watching airplanes come in for a landing right over the city skyline. It’s one of the most spectacular sights in the country, and it doesn’t cost a penny.
How to get there: San Diego International Airport is drastically close to downtown.
Where to stay: To add a little rock-and-roll edge to your sunny SoCal stay, book a rad room at the Hard Rock Hotel. It’s located within sight of the Padres’ Petco Park and a short walk to the Gaslamp Quarter.
Hudson Valley, New York
Why you’ll love it: New York’s Hudson Valley has no shortage of family fun in store. Go to the New York Renaissance Faire or pretend you’re in the Scottish Highlands while touring Lyndhurst, a jaw-droppingly beautiful Gothic revival mansion in Tarrytown. And if you’re with the kids, you’ll definitely want to head to the town of Goshen, located at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, because that’s where Legoland is, of course!
Budget tip: Farmers markets, wineries, natural beauty, arts, culture and history await in this region, and much of it is inexpensive or free to enjoy. Walk, run or bike over the Walkway Over the Hudson, which is the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, dating back to the 19th century and spanning the Hudson River between Poughkeepsie and Highland.
How to get there: Albany is an hour north, but when flying into the Hudson Valley, you’ll likely want to look at flights into Newark, New Jersey, or New York’s LaGuardia Airport, each under two hours away by car. Plus, most of that drive is very scenic along the Hudson River.
Where to stay: The hotel and each of the Legoland Resort‘s seven themed lands are not only fun to stay and play, it’s where kids can get their licenses at driving school, patrol the wharf as members of the coast guard academy and experience the Lego Factory Adventure Ride, where families are shrunk down to miniature size and can witness the colorful creation process of a Lego brick.
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Door County, Wisconsin
Why you’ll love it: One of the great things about travel is the chance to discover a brand-new place, taste new food and have experiences not available at home. On this gorgeous peninsula surrounded by Green Bay and Lake Michigan, you can do all that and more. While in this part of the Midwest, be sure to have at least one slice of local cherry pie, find a jellybean in the bottom of a Wilson’s ice cream cone and kayak into sea caves. Door County offers old-fashioned fun and will make you nostalgic for a bygone era of simple summer family vacations.
Budget tip: A state park sticker for $10 a day gets you unlimited access to five Door County state parks, trails, beaches, lookouts and other attractions, plus the chance to rent kayaks or take part in other water sports—hello, cheap family vacations! The Garden Door is a free experience designed and maintained by Master Gardeners. There’s a fairy garden, double kaleidoscope, pond, children’s play area, pollinator garden, memorial tunnel and more.
How to get there: Green Bay’s airport is roughly 90 minutes away by car. You might have more luck with affordable pricing in and out of Milwaukee International Airport, but it’s twice as long a drive to reach the tip of the Door County peninsula.
Where to stay: Make The Landing your charming base for your Door County vacation. There’s a fun indoor pool, game room, complimentary tea, board games, puzzles and more for the kiddos to enjoy.
Grand Canyon, South Rim, Arizona
Why you’ll love it: In short, you’ll love it because it’s the Grand Canyon. 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 the canyon is the focus of your travels or just one part of an Arizona road trip, every member of your family will be awestruck by the its depth, color and scope, which no photograph can do justice to.
Budget tip: Buy a National Park Pass for $80 and enjoy free access to every national park and historic site in America for a full year (for everyone in your vehicle), making it the best value for cheap family vacations.
How to get there: The closest major airports to reach the Grand Canyon South Rim are found in Phoenix (three-and-a-half hours away by car) and Las Vegas (four hours away). Using Vegas for this cheap family vacation means a stop to experience the splendor of the Hoover Dam for free.
Where to stay: Thankfully, visiting the South Rim requires little more than a National Park Pass and a well-placed hotel stay. The best value is found just a handful of miles outside the park, at the Yavapai Lodge in the Grand Canyon Village. There, you’ll enjoy free parking and shuttle service to reach the nearby canyon rim.
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Why you’ll love it: Sitting at the confluence of three rivers, Pittsburgh has a bevy of bright yellow bridges, an amazing ballpark (with a street party before every home game), the Andy Warhol Museum (he’s the Steel City’s most famous native son) and a stellar zoo. The Pirates also play in the prettiest baseball ballpark in America. Plus, they put French fries on their sandwiches here! What’s not to like?
Budget tip: The unique incline trains are the best budget activity for families in Pittsburgh. Every kid will love riding up the creaky wooden trains to get sweeping views of the city and the three rivers. The ride to the observation deck happens in a 145-year-old incline car and costs just $2.75 each way for adults, $1.35 for kids 6 to 11 years old and free for anyone younger.
How to get there: Pittsburgh International Airport is 18 miles west of the city, requiring about a 20-minute drive, without traffic.
Where to stay: Stay in a spacious room at the conveniently located Residence Inn North Shore, and spend your days walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to reach downtown.
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Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Why you’ll love it: This beach town sits way down at the bottom of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico and provides the perfect place for much-needed family fun in the sun. While there is a lot to do, what Cabo provides is the platform for you and your family to do absolutely nothing but soak in the sun on the beach or by a pool.
Budget tip: The best way to save money in Cabo is to avoid being in Cabo during peak season, when prices spike with the temperature. For more activities, spend time in the peaceful Estuary of San Jose del Cabo. This biological paradise is free to enter on your own (tours are also available for a fee) to see shore birds and preserved wetlands.
How to get there: Los Cabos Airport allows you to fly into this sliver of beach-town paradise.
Where to stay: Stay at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Los Cabos, and you’ll be in a prime place to go whale-watching, ride horses on the beach, swim with dolphins and experience incredible snorkeling. And you can even squeeze in a little grown-up time while you’re here too: Sip fruity drinks and have some romantic moments while the kids explore the hotel’s Roxity Kids Club, go bowling and become rock stars at the Music Lab. Cheers to that.
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Why you’ll love it: What’s not to love about Atlanta? The city has become the de facto Hollywood, with The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, many of Marvel’s recent superhero films, The Vampire Diaries and Stranger Things all filmed here. History buffs can go deep into the Civil Rights Movement through world-class museums like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, as well as several must-see Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. landmarks. Meanwhile, sports fans have shiny new stadiums to enjoy football, soccer and baseball, as well as Olympic Park, which is now a 22-acre green space with events, fountains and those famous Olympic rings. There’s also the Center for Puppetry Arts, which boasts artifacts from Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal and The Muppets.
Budget tip: Perfect for history-focused cheap family vacations, the impressive and important National Center for Civil and Human Rights has a four-pack ticket deal for $64, but Bank of America cardholders gain free admission on the first full weekend of each month.
How to get there: With more than 100 million yearly passengers, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world’s busiest. Driving into Atlanta from the airport is about an eight-mile straight shot on the interstate.
Where to stay: Access all that and more from the Hyatt Regency, which is within walking distance of everything Atlanta has to offer.
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Cañon City, Colorado
Why you’ll love it: Denver is a lovely city, but Cañon City is the place to be for affordable family vacations in Colorado. About two hours from the Mile High City, it’s home to a plethora of outdoor adventures and stunning sights. Check out the gorgeous Royal Gorge railway (a 1950s-era train), go skydiving and take a horseback ride through the orange rocks of the Garden of the Gods.
Budget tip: The best things to do on a budget in Cañon City, unsurprisingly, involve the great outdoors. Get in the car to experience Skyline Drive and Tunnel Drive, and lace up your hiking boots to stroll through Red and Temple Canyon parks to truly see what makes this area so special.
How to get there: The closest major airport, with the majority of affordable direct flights into the region, is in Denver, about 100 miles away, but you can also fly into Colorado Springs Airport (36 miles away) or the Fremont County Airport (six miles) and reach Cañon City quicker.
Where to stay: Located right on Highway 50, only two miles from the city center and five miles from the Royal Gorge Train, this Hampton Inn will serve as your reliable, affordable and budget-friendly home while visiting Cañon City. Kids will love the pool after a day exploring in nature, and you’ll love not having to pay for breakfast.
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Why you’ll love it: The attractive capital of our friendly northern neighbor ranks as one of the best places to travel in Canada. Walk through the colorful ByWard Market, enjoy your first sweet beaver tail treat (a Canadian staple), visit the Royal Canadian Mint and check out the cool hockey exhibits inside the Canadian Museum of History.
Budget tip: The Canadian capitol building is positively stunning, both at night and during the day. Free tours of the impressive structure are a must.
How to get there: A quick 15-minute taxi or Uber ride will get you from Ottawa International Airport to the city center, or you can save money by hopping on the fully accessible Line 97 bus from the airport for a 25-minute journey.
Where to stay: You’ll be saving so much money doing inexpensive things in Ottawa, you may consider splurging on a stay at the glamorous Fairmount Chateau Laurier. It’s one of the prettiest hotels in North America, and it will make your kids feel like princes and princesses. They may even be inspired to learn a little French while they’re playing royalty.
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Burlington, Vermont, and Montreal, Quebec
Why you’ll love it: These two charming cities are so close and yet so far from each other. Paddleboat on Lake Champlain in the former and practice your French as you order a pain au chocolat in the latter. Separated by one border and only 95 short miles, enjoy the best of both worlds as you explore the natural mecca of Vermont and the cosmopolitan charm of Montreal.
Budget tip: Activities perfect for cheap family vacations in Burlington include taking affordable tours of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company ($5 for adults, kids under 12 are free) and the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory ($6 for teens and adults, kids under 12 are $1), as well as visiting with the animals for free at Shelburne Farms.
How to get there: Just three miles and a 10-minute drive away, Burlington International Airport makes visiting Burlington simple. A day trip up to Montreal is about an hour and 45 minute drive.
Where to stay: Green Mountain Suites is a luxurious yet affordable home base for exploring this region, and the ski lodge aesthetic inside and fire pits outside will make you feel warm and welcome. If skiing is your thing, you’ll want to bookmark this list of the best places to ski this winter.
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Why you’ll love it: Boston is full of history on land and in the harbor, where a lot of tea was once spilled. During a long weekend in this historic city, take a ghost tour to learn about the supernatural side of Beantown, visit the fantastic New England Aquarium, catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, stroll around historic Faneuil Hall and, if you’re a bookworm, spend a few hours inside the stunning Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States.
Budget tip: Pack a lunch and have a picnic in Boston Common or Boston’s Public Garden, the latter of which is home to the adorable Make Way for Ducklings statues. Bring a copy of Robert McCloskey’s classic children’s book about the duck family with you to read and make this free excursion in Boston even more special.
How to get there: Boston Logan International Airport is just about four miles from Faneuil Hall. Depending on traffic, that should mean a 15-minute Uber to your hotel.
Where to stay: Finish off your days in Beantown with a drink on the rooftop bar of the Cambria Hotel. This affordable, beautifully designed and literary-inspired hotel is an easy walk to the famous Cheers bar. For a quicker path into downtown, the “T” at the Broadway MBTA station is right outside.
Why you’ll love it: Is a trip to Lubbock a left-field selection as far as cheap family vacations go? It sure is, but Lubbock is a surprisingly fun hub of art, music, theater and mid-century architecture. You’ll love wandering around downtown and looking up at the stunning buildings, as well as popping into stellar restaurants like The Nicolett or sampling the local wineries to visit. Enjoy a show at the glittering new Buddy Holly Performing Arts Center—Lubbock was his home.
Budget tip: This west Texas town is thriving, thanks to one of the most spectacular public art collections found anywhere on earth. Massive sculptures are scattered all over Texas Tech University’s campus. Tours are free and involve riding around in a cute trolley, so even your little ones will be in heaven. To get the kids even more on board, promise them an hour or two at Prairie Dog Town. This public park is every bit as fun (and as literal) as the name suggests. Bring some bread or carrots and feed the little cuties for free.
How to get there: Lubbock can feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but the west Texas city is just a five-hour drive from Dallas. If you’d prefer to fly, Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport is just 15 minutes from downtown.
Where to stay: Families will love the Cotton Court Hotel on Broadway. The grassy courtyard is abuzz with activity every night—multiple fire pits, rocking chairs, live music, a bar and a pool.