16 Affordable Family Vacations to Take This Summer

From laid-back islands to charming small towns and bustling cities — here are some of the best family summer vacation ideas.

Summer is right around the corner and vacation is top of mind. And while any trip will set you back a bit, there are plenty of destinations that won't break the bank. The trick is picking the right one — places where the summer season is quieter or lodging and food are more affordable. And when you're traveling with kids, little things like pre-packing snacks and making a stop at a local grocery store so you can make some of your own meals can go a long way toward lowering your overall cost.

To lend a hand, we've rounded up 16 destinations where you can have a memorable vacation at a reasonable price. The best family vacation destinations have free and inexpensive attractions, as well as properties that welcome kids with complimentary, family-friendly amenities.

Our roundup of the best summer vacation ideas includes a handful of relaxing beach vacation destinations, bustling city excursions, and trips that include a bit of both. We've also listed both domestic and international options, so you'll find inspiration for an all-out adventure as well as ideas for a long weekend away.

1. San Diego, California

Balboa Park in San Diego

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California's sunny San Diego has tons of activities for families, with theme parks, water parks, kid-friendly museums, and 70 miles of beaches. The Go City All-Inclusive Pass can be used for top attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Legoland California, harbor cruises, and several museums in Balboa Park, providing you with discounts of up to 50 percent per person.

2. Bar Harbor, Maine

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Bar Harbor has plenty of places to go swimming, including the freshwater beach at Echo Lake, which has calm waves that are good for kids. You can also follow signs labeled "The Museum in the Streets" around Bar Harbor to create your own walking tour, or hop on one of the myriad hiking, walking, or cycling trails. At nearby Acadia National Park, a vehicle pass will get the whole family into the park for a day of hiking and views of Maine's wildlife and wild coast.

3. Winter Park, Colorado

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While you might think of Winter Park as a winter destination, it's also a great place to visit in the summer as well, especially if you're looking to escape the heat. In a single day, families can enjoy hiking, ropes courses, gondola rides, climbing walls, and Colorado's longest alpine slide. Buy your day passes early — these provide access to all the activities noted — to secure the best available prices. Nearby, Snow Mountain Ranch has one of the only summertime tubing hills in the United States, as well as miniature golf, swimming, and a climbing wall to keep everyone busy.

4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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"Kidsburgh" has tons of great activities for families — from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. In the summer, there's a 10-day Grand Prix with vintage cars and walking tours to help you enjoy the city and get some exercise. You'll also find lunch spots where you can get a cheap meal, while the subway line offers free rides along the Golden Triangle, taking you around the downtown area. If you're looking to spend some time outdoors, consider hiking or biking along the Great Allegheny Passage, which provides a scenic way to explore the city's many bridges and tunnels along a 150-mile trail.

5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

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If you and your kids love the beach, head to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. At properties like The Breakers, guests can enjoy five water slides, several on-property pools, a sunken pirate ship, and a long lazy river. There's also shuffleboard, a giant chess board, and cornhole. If your family is into mini-golf, look no further than this seaside town, which boasts over 50 courses.

6. St. Louis, Missouri

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Free attractions in St. Louis include Purina Farms, where children can enjoy dog agility shows and animal barnyards, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, which is very kid-friendly. Admission to the City Museum, with its 10-story slide, huge ball pit, and 40-foot high Ferris wheel, is affordable as well. Afterward, stop by Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, known for custard shakes so thick they can be served upside down.

7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee


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With a location next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is for the adventurous outdoor lover, with plenty of opportunities for biking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting, and more than 800 miles of hiking trails. For a day of shopping that the whole family can get behind, visit the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, which features handmade goods from local artisans alongside eateries.

There are a variety of lodging options to choose from in Gatlinburg, including resorts and cabins — check the tourism board's website to see which ones are offering free nights or discounts. Gatlinburg is also a 30-minute drive from country music icon Dolly Parton's famous theme park Dollywood, a great day trip for all the amusement park lovers out there.

8. Lisbon, Portugal

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Ready to explore the world with your kids? In Lisbon, families can enjoy an all-in-one city and beach vacation. Explore the city's distinct neighborhoods, castles, and palaces, or hop onboard a funicular to climb its steep hills for a cheap and scenic tour of the city. Lisbon is also home to 10 free museums, including the kid-friendly Money Museum.

9. Vienna, Austria

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The walkability of Austria's capital city is part of what makes it such an affordable stop for families — plus, there are several free walking tours, including those that introduce you to the city's music, street art, and recreation. With the Vienna Pass, travelers receive complimentary access to more than 70 of the city's top attractions, including museums, a giant Ferris wheel, attractions like Madame Tussauds wax museum, and the world's oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schoenbrunn, which dates back to 1752. The pass has single-day and multi-day options, including up to six days at a steep discount.

10. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic is an ideal family beach getaway and is home to plenty of resorts and all-inclusive properties that can cost as low as $100 a night. While the country has plenty of amazing destinations that are worth visiting, it's pretty hard to top Punta Cana for family travel, with 30 miles of white-sand coastline, picturesque coconut palms, and direct flights from more than 28 countries and 96 cities around the world.

11. Washington, D.C.

US Capitol Building, National Mall and Northwest Washington at sunrise from Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA

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For a family vacation in a bustling city full of affordable hotels, kid-friendly restaurants, and free attractions, plan a visit to Washington, D.C. The nation's capital has lots to offer families without breaking the bank. All the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo, as well as the monuments and memorials along the National Mall are free to enter, as are several outdoorsy spots like Rock Creek Park and the U.S. National Arboretum.

For a real treat, register ahead of time through your home state representative's office and take the kids on a free tour of The White House — if all else fails, the White House Visitor Center just around the corner makes a worthy alternative. You can also reserve a free timed ticket through the website and take a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol Building. Either way, it's sure to be a fun and memorable experience for the whole family, especially if there are any history buffs in the mix.

12. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria harbor during the day

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There's plenty of free fun to be had right across the border in Canada. In Victoria, British Columbia, located along the western coast of the country, families can stroll through Beacon Hill Park, try their hand at lawn bowling, or drop by the children's farm to meet the park's resident goats. For a free day of coastal bliss, walk along the water at iconic Fisherman's Wharf and grab a sweet treat at Jackson's Ice Cream. A day at Wildplay Element Parks, an aerial adventure park, offers a variety of packages with access to zip lines, wobbly bridges, rope swings, axe throwing, and bungee jumping.

13. Morro Bay, California

View over Morro Bay

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There's nothing quite like settling in along the California coast with your kids in tow. And the often overlooked community of Morro Bay is a great (and affordable) place to visit. Spot otters and whales from the coast, book a BBQ and bonfire right on the beach, or spend the day sailing, golfing, biking, or surfing. When you need a break, grab a bite at Sylvester's Burgers — the garlic fries are out of this world! Afterward, head to Morro Bay State Park or drop by the Morro Bay Maritime Museum.

14. Rincón, Puerto Rico

Hillside house and rainbow, Rincon, Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico has a little something for everyone — in addition to direct flights from 41 cities. The surf town of Rincón, located on the westernmost tip of the island about a 2.5-hour drive from San Juan, is perfect for families, with its laid-back vibe, beautiful beaches, and great waves. Book a room at the Rincon of the Seas Grand Caribbean Hotel, or save on food by reserving a villa with a kitchen — the largest villas can accommodate up to six people. Either way, this hotel puts you right on the ocean and has a stunning beachfront pool perfect for lounging and playing.

15. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinaw Island Town View, Michigan

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In the summer, there's no place like Mackinac Island, a National Historic Landmark void of chain hotels and cars — yes, you read that right. Instead, your family will be treated to an old-timey experience filled with world-famous Mackinac Island fudge and days spent biking all the way around the island, taking a ferry under the Mackinac Bridge, or cruising around the coast by kayak.

And when you're on the island, there's no place like the historic Grand Hotel, which opened its doors in 1887. In addition to old-world hospitality and perks like afternoon tea, kids can head to the on-site stables, the expansive pool, or spend the day playing lawn games and mini-golf.

16. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Colorful sunset overlooking the Colorado River deep in the Grand Canyon

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We're guessing a trip to the Grand Canyon has long been on your family's to-do list. And while the natural wonder tends to be busy in the summer, you can avoid the crowds (and find better pricing) by heading to the North Rim of the park. On the North Rim, you can cozy up in the Grand Canyon Lodge — book early to secure a room! — or reserve a campsite at the North Rim Campground, which has pleasant summer temperatures and acts as the perfect basecamp for the North Rim's abundant wildlife, hiking trails, and views of the stunning canyon, which is 18 miles wide and a mile deep.

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