13 Affordable Family Vacations to Take This Summer
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, whether you want 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. As for what makes these family vacation destinations so great, the key is having great free and cheap attractions, while also having properties that welcome kids with complimentary amenities, from unlimited water park access to mermaid lessons right on the beach.
Related: How to Have a Great Summer Vacation
San Diego, California
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 Safari Park, the nearby Legoland California, harbor cruises, and museums in Balboa Park at a discount of up to 50 percent. Passes, which range from one to seven days, also include unlimited access to SeaWorld San Diego.
Hotels in the area are also known to provide activities and amenities specifically for kids. The Hotel Del Coronado has a kids program where children can take part in art and crafts, mermaid lessons, and treasure hunts on the beach.
Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor offers swimming, like 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 11 through August 15, you can also enjoy free popcorn and kid-friendly movie viewings at Agamont Park.
Winter Park, Colorado
While you might think of Colorado's resort town of Winter Park as a winter destination, it's also great in the summer. Rates start at $89 per night 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 only three summer tubing hills in the United States, as well as miniature golf, swimming, and indoor and outdoor climbing walls. Every Thursday in the summer from June 14 through August 13, there are free concerts at Hideaway Park.
“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 that run 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.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
If you and your kids love the water, head to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. At properties like Sea Mist, guests can get free unlimited access to its water park as well as discount passes to the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Splashes Oceanfront Water Park.
In the summer, the property offers a fifth night free, a free Friday with each seven-day stay, a $90 EZ-cash card for those who book their trips 90 days in advance, and 15-percent off of stays from June to August on select rooms every Sunday through Wednesday.
St. Louis, Missouri
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 $14 for ages three and up. Afterwards, stop by at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, which its popular custard shakes that are so thick, they can be served upside down.
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 the Ripley’s Mirror Maze to get lost in a sea of kaleidoscopic mirrors (admission: $9), or wander through Gatlinburg’s Arts and Crafts community, which features handmade goods from local artisans.
Ready to explore the world with your kids? In Lisbon, families can enjoy and 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.
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. Through 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 (about $72 for adults and $27 for kids) to six-day passes ($189 for adults and $95 for kids).
The Domincan Republic
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 city’s numerous streets make for attractions all in 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.
There are plenty of affordable hotels in the area, with rates starting at $44 per night.