08/02/2023

Penelope Tours

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18 Best Family Vacations on a Budget

18 Best Family Vacations on a Budget

Traveling with your family can be a great bonding experience, but it can also put a strain on your wallet. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the best family vacations on a budget that will leave both your bank balance and your kids happy.

From cultured city breaks to taking a step back in time, there’s a vacation for every family on this list. Explore the great outdoors in Yellowstone National Park, play on the beaches of Florida, or hit the slopes of Whiteface Mountain in New York, but whatever you decide, the whole family is sure to have a great time.

There are vacation ideas for every interest in the family on this list, all you need to do is pick your destination and start packing. So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your family’s next adventure today using our helpful guide to the best family vacations on a budget. 

Best Family Vacations on a Budget

1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach Scenery at Night

Often overlooked as a budget-friendly destination, Myrtle Beach is a great place to visit for families on a budget. This beautiful beach city, with golden sand and teal waters, is a popular spot for families of any size or age.

Visitors can enjoy the beach, walk or ride bikes along the scenic boardwalk, play mini golf, visit the aquarium, or explore one of the many museums. Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach is a great place to start with its many stores, restaurants, and attractions like the Alligator Adventure zoo and House of Blues Myrtle Beach.

For an affordable family vacation, our favorite budget-friendly place to stay is at Dunes Village Resort. The resort is home to Myrtle Beach’s largest indoor waterpark at 30,000 square feet, with a lazy river that the kids are sure to enjoy.

There is an onsite restaurant and cafe, and rooms cater to any size of family. The resort is on the beach, and nearby attractions include Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, Captain Hook’s Adventure Golf, and Pine Lakes Country Club, among many, many others.

See Related: Where to Stay in Myrtle Beach: Best Areas & Neighborhoods

2. Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park Scenery

This list of budget-friendly family vacations cannot be complete without mentioning Yosemite National Park in California. A few hours drive from some of the state’s major cities, this park is accessible by car.

One of the most visited national parks in the USA, Yosemite brings in over 3 million tourists annually. Full of beautiful sequoias, cascading waterfalls, and endless hiking trails, there is so much to do here – all while taking in the breathtaking natural beauty surrounding you.

No matter the age of your little ones, you can get around the park by walking, biking, or hopping on the free shuttle to see some of the park’s best attractions. Some trails are even accessible with a stroller! The National Park Service maintains a listing of tours for Yosemite National Park. The best time to see the waterfalls is in April when the snow has melted, and the cascades are in full force.

To make this vacation cheaper, you may opt for camping. Bringing your own food into Yosemite Park is permitted. If camping is out of the question, why not stay in one of the many nearby lodges or resorts? We recommend the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort, which is centrally located and offers amenities for the whole family. 

3. Banff, Canada

Banff National Park Scenery

Located in Alberta, Banff is undoubtedly one of Canada’s most beautiful spots. Situated in the Rocky Mountains, Banff is a small mountain town used as a base to access some of the best skiing and other outdoor activities in Canada.

Be warned: winter here is cold! If you are looking for a warmer getaway, there are still plenty of things to do in the summer. Banff National Park is extremely popular with tourists. You’ll be completely immersed in the mountains, surrounded by natural wildlife and stunning views.

Make sure to see Lake Louise, an emerald-green beauty that will leave you and your family breathless. Get there early for photos, as lines tend to be long.

One of the best activities with children is the Johnston Canyon. This 1.5-hour hike is the perfect length for little feet and is extremely safe. While you’re here, try renting a canoe on Moraine Lake and seeing the park from a different perspective.

Banff and Lake Louise Tourism maintains a complete list of both summer and winter activities. The town of Banff is full of family-friendly restaurants and even a few museums the whole family will enjoy. For a budget-friendly accommodation, we recommend the Bow View Lodge, only a 5-minute walk from Banff city center.

See Related: Best Vacations for a Group of Friends

4. Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

We can’t recommend Yellowstone National Park enough! A budget-friendly family vacation, you can spend a day or a whole week at this park without ever hearing your child say, “I’m bored!” The first national park in the United States, Yellowstone takes its name from the yellow sandstones along the banks of the Yellowstone River.

The park, mainly sitting in Wyoming with small sections in Montana and Idaho, is most known for its many hot springs and geysers. In fact, the park contains the largest concentration of geysers in the world. While here, you can’t miss Old Faithful, a famous geyser that you’ll want to line up to see erupt! Make sure to head to the Mammoth Hot Springs near the North Entrance of the park for even more geothermal viewing fun.

Want to get out on the water? Yellowstone offers white-water rafting, as well as guided boat tours. Another activity your kids will love is checking out the natural wildlife surrounding the park. Keep an eye out for the black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and bison that wander the open meadows and forests.

The young ones have the chance to become a Junior Ranger and learn all about the conservation of the park’s wildlife through different activities. With so much to do, we recommend looking into insurance that covers adventure sports and activities – just to be on the safe side!

Choosing where to stay in the park depends on your family’s interests. A great place in West Yellowstone is the Yellowstone Lodge, a five-minute drive to the park’s West Entrance and walking distance from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. 

5. Ocean City, Maryland

Ocean City Aerial View

Ocean City is a small seaside town on the East Coast. Typically frequented by generations of Easterners heading for their summer homes, the beach town has become extremely popular among tourists due to its budget-friendly activities and accommodations. The town is tailored for family fun in the sun, no matter the age!

Take a step back in time by walking along its three-mile-long wooden boardwalk, or take the kids on its carousel that’s over 120 years old! For more fun, take a ride on the lazy Ferris wheel or the roller coaster that’s located directly on the beach at the action-packed Jolly Roger Amusement Park, where you can find savings all-year round.

A bit farther from the boardwalk, you’ll find one of the most popular town attractions: Frontier Town. An amusement and water park, this is the perfect place to head to when the beach gets a little too crowded.

Did we mention that Ocean City boasts over 10 miles of free beaches? Accessing them is just as convenient, with the beach town offering a free tram lining the shoreline – perfect for the tired little ones after a long day in the sun. Don’t forget to enjoy Ocean City’s local delicacy: saltwater taffy!

For a seaside stay with amenities the kids will love, stay at Holiday Inn Ocean City

See Related: Virginia Beach vs Ocean City: What’s the Difference

6. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park Scenery

Acadia National Park is one of the lesser-known budget vacation destinations. The only national park in New England, Acadia National Park is excellent for families visiting the American Northeast. This Maine gem offers a diverse coastal and inland landscape, home to a variety of wildlife creatures.

You can swim, canoe, hike, bike, and much more in the park. Known for its multitude of hikes, there are some for every age and level.

The Beehive hike is the most child-friendly! If the little ones are all tuckered out, make sure to take a drive through the scenic Park Loop Road. Other favorite activities include: playing at Sand Beach, hiking Cadillac Mountain, or taking a boat tour to Baker Island.

The park has designed a scavenger hunt program designed to get your kids curious about the park and encourage them to explore the environment surrounding them. All you have to do is download your scavenger hunt sheet. 

Bar Harbor is one of the towns on Mt. Desert Island and is complete with all the amenities needed before spending some time in nature. For a budget-friendly stay, check out the Edenbrook Motel in Bar Harbor. 

7. Grand Canyon, Arizona

Grand Canyon Scenery

“Grand” is an understatement when visiting this top U.S. destination. The Grand Canyon, located in the blistering heat of Arizona, is a 6,000-feet deep chasm that isn’t as scary as it sounds for the kids. They’ll love taking in the views of the rust-colored canyon and the nearby Colorado River.

The Grand Canyon National Park is world-famous for its hikes that take you to some of the best viewpoints of the massive drops. The most kid-friendly trail is the Bright Angel Trail, suitable for all levels due to its well-maintained track. For a little bit of history about the Canyon, you can take your family on the Trail of Time, which includes a geological time scale.

The National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger program, which includes guided hikes orientated for the whole family to learn more about the Canyon’s past.

The most affordable way to stay in Grand Canyon Park is to camp. Some lodges are on the park grounds, but these fill up as much as a year in advance. The Grand Canyon Inn and Motel is located in Grand Canyon Junction and is about a 25-minute drive from Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim Entrance.

See Related: How to Take an Epic Grand Canyon Road Trip

8. Washington, D.C.

Downtown Washington Night Lights

Another cheap vacation for families is none other than the nation’s capital itself. Washington, D.C., is an excellent choice for the kids. Full of interactive museums, historical exhibits, and the White House, you can learn about history while ensuring your children stay entertained and interested.

The National Mall, despite its name, has nothing to do with shopping. This area, open 24/7 and free to the public, contains the most historic and important monuments and memorials to the country.

This includes the world-famous Lincoln Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to name a few.

The Smithsonian Institute is another amazing attraction in Washington that operates 19 different museums, galleries, gardens, and even a zoo. The most well-known museum out of this is perhaps the Museum of Natural History. Again, these are all free to enter, making Washington the ultimate cheapest vacation idea.

If you need some fresh air, why not visit one of the many parks the capital offers? Theodore Roosevelt Island is a relaxing place to take the kids for a day out in the sun, with kayaks and canoes available to rent. The city isn’t too season-dependent, so to save even more cash, why not go in the fall or winter? You’ll skip the queues and save on accommodation during the off-season. For a great, family-friendly place to stay within walking distance from the National Mall, we recommend Hotel Harrington.

9. San Diego, California

San Diego Skyline Scenery

San Diego is an extremely family-friendly place to visit and the best place to book a flight in the sunny state of California. San Diego is the most versatile vacation option from the beaches, museums, and popular attractions.

Hit the beach with over 70 miles of beautiful Pacific Ocean coastlines and find an endless range of water activities. Here, you’ll find plenty of oceanside resorts to relax on as your kids build sand castles and you dream the day away.

For more inland activities, make sure to check out some of the world-class attractions such as LEGOLAND California, and SeaWorld. Another can’t-miss in San Diego is Balboa Park, a cultural haven located in the heart of the city.

With 17 museums, botanic gardens, and home to the famous San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, this urban park provides the whole family with endless hours of entertainment and enrichment. To save over forty-percent on attraction tickets, we recommend buying a San Diego City Pass .

San Diego is by no means a small city, so we recommend staying at the Comfort Inn Gaslamp Convention Center in the Gaslamp Quarter.

See Related: Best Museums in San Diego, California

10. South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island Aerial View

If you’re looking for a cheap beach vacation for the family, South Padre Island is an excellent choice. With over 34 miles of coastline, this island offers more than enough beaches for everyone. This Texas island is also home to a range of family-friendly activities.

Visit Sea Turtle, Inc., a sea turtle conservation center, enjoy a dolphin-watching tour, or explore one of the many nature parks on the island. There’s also a waterpark and horseback riding for those who want to add more excitement to their vacation.

For nature lovers, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is a great place for families. They offer a variety of attractions that are budget- friendly and educational. It offers an aquarium, a touch tank, and a multitude of critters to see.

If you’re traveling on a tight budget, there are plenty of free things to do on South Padre Island as well. Relax on the beach, take a stroll down the boardwalk, or enjoy the many outdoor activities the island has to offer.

All in all, South Padre Island is not only a gorgeous beach haven but an educational experience for the whole family. Stay at Comfort Suites Beachside for full-service amenities like free breakfast and easy beach access.

11. Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel Aerial View

When choosing beach vacations in Mexico, Cancun tends to be the first option. Though vibrant, it is not always the most kid-friendly destination.

Instead of Cancun, we encourage you to opt for Cozumel, a small island off the coast of Mexico. With its international airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de Cozumel (CZM), this is an easy choice.

It’s a popular tourist destination for scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming with dolphins. There are many things to do on Cozumel island, guaranteed to entertain the whole family. You can visit the Chankanaab Beach Adventure Park that offers shops, bars and eateries, and a lagoon for snorkeling, diving and swimming with dolphins.

If you’re looking for a place to relax, the budget-friendly Casa del Mar Cozumel Hotel & Dive Resort is a great choice. You can sunbathe on the white sand beaches, lounge in a hammock, or enjoy the teal waters with your loved ones.

See Related: Travel Tips for Visiting Mexico on a Budget

12. Destin, Florida

Destin Coastline Scenery

Destin is one of the most affordable beach destinations in Florida. It offers a variety of things to do and activities for everyone in the family.

The Destin Harbor Boardwalk is a great place to start your day with a stroll down the pier. You can also take a boat tour to learn about this area’s history, wildlife, and natural beauty.

The Destin Commons is another great place for shopping, dining, and entertainment. If you are looking for some nearby activities, check out Henderson Beach State Park, the amusement park, The Track – Destin, the Destin History & Fishing Museum, or just a 10-minute drive away is the Island Pier, formerly known as Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, and Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone. For those who want to spend time on the water, there are a variety of activities, including dolphin cruises, fishing charters, and parasailing.

Gator Beach – The World’s Greatest Alligator Park is also a great and exciting place to visit. For budget-friendly stay, we recommend Club Destin. It fits the whole family, is centrally located and has easy access to the beach.

13. Wilmington, New York

Dam in Wilmington

Wilmington is a hidden tourism gem in New York and a perfect destination for families on a budget. From the tranquil and scenic Lake Placid to the snowy slopes of Whiteface Mountain, there are many outdoor activities to keep the family busy.

For those who enjoy skiing or snowboarding, Whiteface Mountain is a great place to spend a day. The mountain has a variety of trails that are perfect for all skill levels, and the views from the top are breathtaking. Suppose you want to take a break from the cold, head to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum to learn about the history of the 1980 Winter Olympics.

For a more relaxing day, take a stroll through the charming streets of Wilmington and explore all the small shops and businesses that line Main Street. Be sure to stop at one of the local bakeries for a warm treat! We recommend using The Hungry Trout Resort as your base if you are looking for accommodation.

See Related: Where to Stay in New York City with Family: Best Areas for Families

14. Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls Aerial View

Niagara Falls is one of the most talked-about destinations in North America. There are plenty of things to do on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, including museums and marine life exhibits. On the American side, visitors are welcome to explore caves and take in views from atop Goat Island.

Being a Canadian myself, we have a constant rivalry about who has the better side of Niagara Falls between America and us. Putting my obvious bias aside, many people chose to hop the border to visit the northern neighbor instead.

One of the top attractions here is The Falls Viewer. You will have to take an elevator or walk up about 500 stairs for that amazing view! This attraction also offers one-of-a-kind views from both sides of Niagara Falls from the Canadian and American sides. You’re sure to get your adrenaline rush as you take in The Falls and feel the mist from them!

The City of Niagara Falls is budget friendly and has various things to do. You can visit the top attraction in the area, the famous Horseshoe Falls, and be entertained by the falls thundering close by. There are also museums such as the Marine Land Discovery Centre that are great to explore with children.

For those who want to see something different, there are a variety of other waterfalls that are worth exploring, including Devil’s Hole Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. The Days Inn by Wyndham Niagara Falls Centre St. By the Falls is a very budget-friendly hotel near the falls. 

15. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Gatlinburg Cityscape

Gatlinburg is a small Tennessee town nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. This town is a great place to visit for families on a budget, as there are plenty of free things to do here.

For adventure seekers, hike up to Clingmans Dome, which offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Pigeon Forge, about 20 minutes away, is a great place to visit for those who enjoy the theatre. You can find shows such as Dolly Parton’s Stampede and the TITANIC Museum Attraction.

Some more of the top attractions include taking a walk through Gatlinburg Trail, visiting Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and exploring the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. The theme park Anakeesta is another great Gatlinburg attraction that offers stunning views of the Smoky Mountains, and here you can also ride on the Anakeesta Rail Runner, a family-friendly coaster.

Finally, no trip to this Tennessee town is complete without visiting the aforementioned queen of the country’s own Dollywood Theme Park. Dollywood has been voted one of America’s most affordable theme parks.

Gatlinburg is also home to many great restaurants that offer budget-friendly meals. Our favorites include the Pancake Pantry, Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, and the Smoky Mountain Brewery. For a centrally-located family accommodation with a pool, check out the Sydney James Mountain Lodge

See Related: Best Things to do in Tennessee & Places to Visit

16. Outer Banks, North Carolina

Outer Banks Coastline

Popular way before the eponymously-named hit Netflix show, the Outer Banks in North Carolina is a must-add to every family vacation list. A barrier island off the coast, this place is well-known for its wild ponies that roam free on the miles of pristine beaches. Activities here are endless and include everything from fishing, swimming, kayaking, and stand-up paddle boarding to visiting old lighthouses, taking a ghost tour of Kill Devil Hills, or visiting the Wright Brothers National Monument.

There are also plenty of cheap places to eat with options like the famous OBX Waffle Fries, Drunken Jacks seafood restaurant, and Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar. Plenty of water sports rental companies will help you get set up with everything you need for a day of fun in the sun, most of which are located right on the beach.

The OBX is a great place for surfers of all levels, and Kitty Hawk Kites is the perfect place to take a surfing lesson. Finally, be sure to check out Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which is home to the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast. After a long day of exploring, rest your head at the centrally-located Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Nags Head Oceanfront.

17. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Punta Cana Aerial View

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one more tropical paradise as one of the best vacations with kids. This Caribbean gem is one of the best cheap family vacations, and is a great place to visit for its stunning beaches, crystal clear water, and incredible snorkeling and diving opportunities.

Families can also enjoy horseback riding, kite surfing, and windsurfing along the beachfront. Other activities include taking a cigar factory tour (for the interested adults!), going on a safari adventure, or visiting Manati Park, the first-ever theme park in Punta Cana.

This is a great place to get up close and personal with some native animals, including dolphins, sea lions, iguanas, and parrots. The park also has a swimming pool, botanical gardens, and a live show.

For those looking for some thrills, head to Bavaro Adventure Park. This outdoor adventure park has zip lines, mini golf, paintball, ATV rides, and more.

The Four Points by Sheraton is a great option for those looking for a centrally-located hotel in Punta Cana Village. The hotel is just a 10-minute drive from its private beach and 1.2 miles from the Punta Cana International Airport. The hotel has free Wi-Fi, a swimming pool, and a gym.

See Related: Puerto Rico vs Dominican Republic: What is Better to Visit?

18. Bandera, Texas

Bandera, Texas
FiledIMAGE – stock.adobe.com

Looking to go back in time to the Wild West? Bandera, Texas, is the perfect place for your next family vacation. This historic town was once considered the “Cowboy Capital of the World” and is now a popular tourist destination for those looking to experience a taste of the Old West. There are plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained in Bandera.

Take a scenic horseback ride through the Hill Country State Natural Area, go hiking or mountain biking on one of the many trails, visit the Bandera Natural History Museum, or explore one of the many quaint shops downtown. The Frontier Times Museum is a great place to learn about the area’s history and see some interesting artifacts from the past.

The Dixie Dude Ranch is both a working and guest ranch that offers horseback riding, hayrides, and cowboy cookouts. They also have a petting zoo with goats, pigs, sheep, and chickens for the kids to enjoy.

Don’t forget to try some local food specialties like BBQ and Tex-Mex. The centrally-located and highly-rated Vaquero Motel has free Wi-Fi and free private parking. Downtown Bandera is only an 8-minute walk from the hotel.

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