Great ideas for family vacations, from laid-back islands to bustling cities to charming small towns.

By Talia Avakian
February 25, 2020
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Summer is right around the corner, and for families thinking of where to plan their next getaway, there are plenty of destinations that won't break the bank.

Picking the right location to travel to during the busy summer season can make all the difference when it comes to saving money. (There are also many ways to save while on your trip, like pre-packing snacks and making a stop at a local grocery store so you can make some of your own meals.)

We've rounded up destinations where you can have a great vacation at a great price, perfect for a relaxing beach vacation, a bustling city excursion, or a trip that combines both. There are domestic and international options, so you're sure to find something right for your family whether you want a long weekend away or an all-out adventure. The best family vacation destinations have great free and cheap attractions, as well as properties that welcome kids with complimentary amenities, from unlimited water park access to mermaid lessons right on the beach.

1. San Diego, California

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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 San Diego Card can be used for top attractions like the San Diego Zoo, the nearby Legoland California, harbor cruises, and museums in Balboa Park at a discount of up to 50 percent.

2. Bar Harbor, Maine

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Bar Harbor offers swimming, including the freshwater beach at Echo Lake (with calm waves good for kids). Follow the signs labeled “Museum in the Streets” to take your own walking tour, and you can also find trails for hiking, walking, and cycling. At nearby Acadia National Park, enjoy hiking, camping, and coastline views.

From July 17 through August 21, you can also enjoy free popcorn and kid-friendly movie viewings at Agamont Park.

3. Winter Park, Colorado

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While you might think of Colorado's resort town of Winter Park as a winter destination, it's also great in the summer. You can find  summer discounts at the Winter Park Resort, and families can enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, rafting, zip lining, and Colorado’s longest alpine slide.

The nearby Snow Mountain Ranch has one of the only summer tubing hills in the United States, as well as miniature golf, swimming, and indoor and outdoor climbing walls. There are free concerts and events throughout the summer at Hideaway Park.

4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Kidsburgh” has tons of great activities for families, from the Pittsburgh Zoo to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. In the summer, there's a 10-day Grand Prix with vintage cars, and walking tours for enjoying the city and getting some exercise. You’ll also find lunch spots where you can get a meal for under $10, and the subway line offers free rides along the Golden Triangle, taking you around downtown.

If you're looking to spend some time outdoors, consider 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 new water slides, several on-property pools, and one of the longest lazy rivers in Myrtle Beach. There’s also shuffleboard, life-size chess, cornhole, and a Sno-Cone stand on the pool deck. Families can also have snacks and drinks delivered poolside from the Rusty Reel Bar and Grill. Upon check in, guests receive one complimentary ticket to either Myrtle Waves or Wild Water & Wheel, and one complimentary round at Paradise Adventure Mini Golf. And, if your family is into mini golf, look no further than this seaside town, which boasts more than 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, where there are art activities and free 30-minute tours. Admission to the City Museum, with its 10-story slide, huge ball bit, and 30-foot high Ferris wheel, is $16 for ages three and up. Afterwards, stop at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, known for its popular custard shakes that are so thick, they can be served upside down.

7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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Right by Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is for the adventurous outdoor lover, with whitewater rafting, 900 miles of hiking trails, biking, and horseback riding. Visit Gatlinburg’s Arts and Crafts Community, which features handmade goods from local artisans.

There are a variety of lodging options to choose from here, from resorts to cabins. Some accommodations are offering free nights and discounts for this year.

8. Lisbon, Portugal

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Ready to explore the world with your kids? In Lisbon, families can enjoy a city and beach vacation in one. Explore the different neighborhoods, castles, and palaces, or hop onboard a funicular to climb the city's steep hills. The trams cost less than $4, giving you a cheap and scenic tour of the city.

9. Vienna, Austria

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The walkability of Austria’s capital city is part of what makes it an affordable stop for families, and there are many free walking and cycling tours. With the Vienna Pass, travelers can get free access to more than 60 of the city’s top attractions, including museums, a giant Ferris wheel, and attractions like Madame Tussauds, and the world's oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schoenbrunn, which dates back to 1752. The pass comes with multi-day options, from single day to six-day passes.

10. The Domincan Republic

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The Dominican Republic is an ideal beach getaway, with resorts and all-inclusive properties starting as cheap as $100 a night. Punta Cana is a popular destination for beach and golf lovers, and its airport is also the best connected in the Caribbean, with flights to and from over 20 countries.

11. Bali, Indonesia

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If you can find a cheap flight, Bali is a budget-friendly destination. Summer is one of the best times to visit, as it is in the island’s dry season, which runs from April through October. Visiting during this time means you’ll avoid regular thunderstorms, and can enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, snorkeling, glass bottom boat rides, and rice paddy walks.

The island is home to attractions like the Waterbom Bali water park, and some of the area’s top family hotels start as low as $23 per night.

12. Taipei, Taiwan

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The city’s numerous streets are attractions all on their own, from the restaurants and shops that line Yongkang Street to the night markets that provide an open-air buffet to explore. Free walking tours make them all the easier to explore. The Yangmingshan National Park offers a relaxing escape to soak in natural hot springs. In Maokong, families heading to the Taipei Zoo can hop aboard a gondola ride from the zoo up into the hills to enjoy the gorgeous views.

13. Phuket, Thailand

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As the biggest island in Thailand, Phuket offers tons of great beaches. Besides its clear waters and prime snorkeling stops, Phuket is also home to attractions like the Anthem Wakepark, a cable wakeboarding water park. Family-friendly accommodations can be found for under $100 per night.