We asked several travel writers for recommendations on where to take cheap family vacations in the US, and received some surprising answers. I expected to receive a list of lesser known cheap places to travel in the US, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that even some of the most exotic and popular US travel destinations can also be one of the best places to travel for a cheap family vacation.
Hold on to your hats because you may not believe us when we share these cheap places to travel in the USA, but we have it on good authority that you can definitely enjoy these places on a budget! So if you are looking for budget friendly family travel inspiration in the US, check out these cheap US vacation spots ! Why wait til retirement to discover the beautiful USA and it’s amazing cities, outdoor adventures, and family fun? Let’s travel now!
One of my absolutely favorite cheap family vacations is when we travel to Colonial Williamsburg, VA during the Christmas holiday season. There are so many great things to do with kids in Colonial Williamsburg, VA and during the holidays. The best part is that Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg team up to offer the Holiday Bounce Ticket. These generally cost under $99 per adult and gets you entrance into Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens Christmas Town for three days. Children 5 and under get in free with a paid adult. A family of 4 could get into both Busch Gardens and Williamsburg for three days for $300 or less!! If you compare that to the normal summer rate, that is a savings over over $250!
While there are fewer coasters open during the holiday season at Busch Gardens, Christmas Town is stunning and, personally, Christmas is my favorite time of the year to visit Colonial Williamsburg, VA.
Experience Colonial style Christmas dinners which include my personal favorite: hot buttered rum! Attend a Colonial ball and enjoy Colonial Christmas treats and goodies, tour the museums, talk to the “locals” and end it all with an 18th century Christmas Grand Illuminations with fireworks and musket fire! (Some of these have an added cost)
There are numerous affordable hotels and timeshares in the area. We enjoyed a 2 bedroom condo at Wyndham on our last visit for under $150 and shared that with the grandparents because that’s how we do great family time and stretch those travel dollars.
Snowshoe Resort, WV
Snowshoe Resort in West Virginia is a dream playground for everyone in your family. During the winter, snow sports dominate and kids can take an all-day group ski or snowboard lesson. The mountain hosts several events throughout the season from slalom races and terrain-park jams to a beer festival.
After a snowball fight or taking a snowmobile tour, you can warm up by fire pits and sip hot cocoa or snuggle under a blanket on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Guests staying in Snowshoe accommodation can visit the “Big Top” for free: it’s complete with bounce houses, bungee jumping, a rock wall, pool tables, arcade games and more.
During the summer these activities get moved outside and guests can also try ziplining through the village or relax at the lake and various pools. Popular pastimes include mountain biking, horseback riding, 4×4 tours, golfing and yoga. Be sure to catch an outdoor movie under the stars!
-Summer from Traveling Summer Travel Blog
New Haven, CT
Alicia at www.travelswiththecrew.com says,
My favorite cheap family vacation in the US is New Haven, Connecticut. It is sandwiched between two of the most expensive cities in the United States (New York City and Boston). However, New Haven gives you a little taste of the big city at a much cheaper price point. In the downtown there are free tours of Yale University campus, two free art museums, and a dinosaur museum that offers free visits on certain afternoons.
Get out of downtown and take a hike around East Rock Park and visit the scenic New Haven overlook. Drive to the beach at Lighthouse point and enjoy a day of sun and sand.
Your family will love the food that New Haven is known for….pizza! Pizza is New Haven’s best cuisine choice and you have a lot of options. Visit Pepe’s for their famous clam pizza. Add a pepperoni pizza for the kids and pay less than $40 for an enormous, delicious meal. Follow it up with our favorite ice cream at Arethusa Farm Dairy and get two enormous scoops for under $5.00.
For more great tips on visiting New Haven, CT in the fall visit Alicia’s post on A Fall Weekend in New Haven.
Myrtle Beach, SC
If you love the beach, putt putt, and plenty of seafood, then Myrtle Beach, SC is your ticket to a perfect cheap family vacation. Myrtle Beach continues to be a very popular family vacation destination. With more than 10,000 hotel rooms to choose from in Myrtle Beach, you are sure to find an accommodation that will fit your family vacation budget.
As you can imagine, however, Myrtle Beach can be a very crowded family vacation destination if you travel during the peak Spring Break and Summer seasons. One of our favorite ways to save on family vacations and beat the heat and the crowds is to travel in late spring before Memorial Day or early fall just after Labor Day. The rates on those 10,000 hotel rooms in the Myrtle Beach, SC area drop considerably in the shoulder seasons.
Jekyll Island, GA
If you are looking for a more slow paced less crowded beach with the low country feel of the the south, consider Jekyll Island, GA. We discovered Jekyll Island several years ago as the perfect mid-point overnight destination on our way back to Tennessee from Disney World. We immediately fell in love with this very quiet and almost secret coastal location. Since that discovery, however, several new hotels and a small town centers have been developed. We generally use our Marriott Reward points to stay for free at the Westin Jekyll, Island, but there are also Days Inn, Hampton Inn, and Holiday Inn on the Island.
Despite being home to the most visited US National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains, and being a short drive to the 16th best amusement park in the World: Dollywood, Gatlinburg, TN is still a remarkably inexpensive and cheap family vacation destination. The Great Smoky Mountains is one of the few national parks in the US that does not require an entrance fee so you can enjoy an entire week’s worth of wildlife exploration, hiking, and waterfall trekking absolutely FREE!
Additionally, if you enjoy free activities like people watching and window shopping, the Village Shopping center and downtown Gatlinburg has plenty of both to go around. If you have a bit of money in your budget for family fun, consider a Bundled set RIPLEY TICKETS for their many family fun Smoky Mountain attractions.
Nikki from She Saves She Travels says Omaha, NE is a great place to visit on a budget!
“If you’re looking for a cheap place to travel in the U.S., try the middle of the country! Omaha, Nebraska is an affordable destination that’s easy to get to via plane, car, or train. Hotel prices are a fraction of what you’ll pay in a coastal city, plus you’ll find plenty of fun adventures in and around Omaha.
There’s a ton of family-friendly things to do, especially in the summer when the city really comes alive. Don’t miss the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, a zoo so spectacular it’s consistently named one of the top five zoos in the world! Walk under sharks in the aquarium, feed the giraffes and trek through the largest indoor desert in the world.
Explore many of Omaha’s outdoor recreation areas for hiking, tubing, ziplining and more activities for kids. You can usually find free admission to museums and festivals, concerts and outdoor movies in Omaha, too. Visit downtown to walk the first pedestrian bridge in the U.S. that connects two states together – Nebraska and Iowa. And make sure to check out the Old Market, which includes some of the most Instagrammable places in Omaha.
Before you leave Omaha, make sure you taste a legendary Omaha steaks dinner, served at many local restaurants. And grab one of the best ice cream cones you’ll ever eat in your life. You’ll be glad you did!”
St. Louis, MO
St. Louis, Missouri is one of the best and cheapest places to travel in the US with kids. There are so many great free things to do in and around the city. One of the best things to do in St. Louis with kids that is free is to spend a day at the St. Louis Zoo. The Contemporary Art Museum is also a great thing to do while visiting, as well as spending a day splashing around at the free Carondelet swimming complex.
Don’t forget to check out the Science Center! General admission is free there as well. If you are looking for a budget-friendly place to stay- St. Louis has a ton of private Airbnb’s that fit into all different price ranges.
Parents, if you’re looking for a way to relax with a drink in hand- many of St. Louis’ lesser-known breweries are kid-friendly and some even have games and arcade games to entertain the kids! A great and budget-friendly way to get around St. Louis is to take the MetroLink- a metro system that services downtown St. Louis as well as the greater St. Louis area. If you are coming from other areas in the midwest- make sure to check out tickets on the Amtrak- it could be cheaper than driving or renting a car!
-Jessica from Unearth The Voyage
Jen Brommer from Travelwithaplan.com has some great tips for visiting the Northern U.S. in Duluth, MN.
“Duluth, MN is our family of 5’s favorite place to visit in the Northern U.S., and it just happens to be one of the cheapest places to travel as well (bonus!). When we travel to Duluth, MN during the summer months, we can have loads of fun and make dozens of lasting family memories without ever opening our wallets.
To get a skyline view of this beautiful city that sits along the shoreline of the Great Lake Superior, start the day off with a trip to the free Enger Park, with a hike to the top of Enger Park Tower. Afterwards, head down the hillside to spend the day walking around or riding the free trolley throughout Canal Park.
Located in the harbor of Lake Superior itself, Canal Park is the cornerstone to any family getaway to Duluth. Highlights include watching giant cargo ships from around the world enter the harbor, witnessing the port’s famous Aerial Lift Bridge rise up and down to let passing ships through, and visiting the free Lighthouse Pier, Maritime Museum, and William A. Irvin floating ship museum.”
Visit here to get her detailed 2-day itinerary for the perfect (inexpensive) family getaway to Duluth, MN!
San Antonio, TX
Texas, in general, is very affordable for families, but San Antonio, in particular, offers a number of family-friendly activities on a budget. This small city is home to not only the Alamo but a number of historic Jesuit missions that are free to visit. Together these missions are the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas and a must-see.
The River Walk is San Antonio’s other highlight and is also completely free to visit. There are restaurants for all budgets along the water as well as affordable and educational boat tours that float down the river. From Ripley’s Believe it or Not to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, San Antonio is the perfect destination for a family.
Visiting San Antonio is one of the most popular things to do in the Texas Hill Country. And since this small Texan city is so focused on tourism, there are accommodation options for all budgets and countless options for entertainment.
-Erin from Sol Salute
Glacier National Park
“As with most National Parks, Glacier National Park is one of the most affordable places to travel with kids in the US. Once you pay the $30 entrance fee into the park, almost everything is free. Families can take advantage of the free junior ranger programs where kids learn about the park, the flora and fauna, and the wildlife within the park, as well as how to stay safe in Glacier. There are paid activities in Glacier National Park, such as rafting, horseback riding, and kayaking, but these are all optional. There are plenty of free family-friendly hikes around the park, and skipping rocks and swimming are always free! There are plenty of affordable family-friendly lodging accommodations just outside the park, and if you really want to save money you can always camp inside the park.”
Want More National Park Inspiration? You got it!
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- 11 Epic US National Parks You Must Visit Before The Kids Grow Up!
One of the coolest places to explore in the Pacific Northwest with kids is the little wild west-themed town of Winthrop, Washington.
The drive from Seattle to Winthrop is about 3.75 hours and winds through the gorgeous North Cascades National Park.
If you are outdoorsy, there are lots of active things to do in Winthrop and Methow Valley.
Hiking and camping top the list, but there’s also biking, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, rock climbing, fishing, boating, and more.
The Methow Valley is the birthplace of smokejumping and kids will love watching firefighters leap out of planes. There’s also Schafer Museum, an indoor/outdoor museum highlighting pioneer life. And a fish hatchery where families can see salmon spawning.
Walking through this western-themed town is pretty fun, too! There’s an independent bookstore with an extensive children’s section complete with a train table, lots of toys, cool puzzles, and books of course!
And there’s a little ice cream stand where you can sit on real cowboy saddles while you enjoy your treats!
There are several campsites, RV parks, and affordable hotels/motels in the area. If you’d like to be right in town, Hotel Rio Vista is conveniently located on the end of the main street in downtown Winthrop and it’s perfect for families with kids.
-Marcie from Marcie in Mommyland
Chicago can be a very budget friendly city, especially since some of the greatest things to see are free. A walk along the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago or State Street is a great experience to see the hustle and bustle of the city. The Lincoln Park Zoo is a free zoo along Lake Michigan’s Coast, slightly north of the main downtown area. Taking in one of Chicago’s staple foods, a Chicago style hot dog or Chicago pizza is budget friendly as well. Travel on the elevated L train is cost friendly and a good way to get around Chicago to visit place such as the Bean.
A walk along Navy Pier to admire the shops, restaurants and the Ferris Wheel is free, or take part in one of the many festivals Chicago has to offer such as Taste of Chicago in the summer or several jazz festivals in the fall. Book a budget friendly accommodation at Comfort Suites Michigan Avenue or the St. Clair Hotel for your stay in the Windy City.
Diana from The Elusive Family
Seattle’s a big city, with tons to offer for families visiting with kids. Free spots to have fun and run around are plentiful! There are public places such as libraries and parks, neighborhood festivals, and major art and science museums with child discounts and a free day each month.
In the wider downtown area, where most visitors stay, here are three highlights that are popular with kids:
- The Center for Wooden Boats – On Lake Union, just north of downtown, this learning center is all about boats. For free, families can walk the docks and browse the boats on display, then see inside the museum building with more exhibits.
- Seattle Center – This huge place has plenty of art and things to see without any fee. There is a huge fountain, outdoor art, and a huge playground that incorporates music and other arts! Across the street is the Gates Foundation Discovery Center, also totally free, with interactive exhibits and videos for kids to learn about our global community.
- The Klondike Gold Rush Museum – In the pioneer area of downtown Seattle, this little museum is always free. It is highly-rated, with video and displays for kids and adults to learn about the gold rush and historic Seattle.
Portland is one of the best “big” cities to travel to with friends and family because it’s got all the city vibes with a low key feel and most importantly, it’s a very budget friendly city. In the city, I recommend walking down Alberta avenue to check out the trendiest area of the city with their chic stores and food joints.
I also recommend eating at one of the hundreds of food carts located all over Portland. You will see them everywhere. Grab some interesting doughnuts at Voodoo doughnuts, visit Powell’s Bookstore (biggest independent bookstore in the world) and go for a walk along the Willamette river walkway for beautiful views along the river.
For day nature/day trips out of the city, I recommend going to two nearby places. Cannon beach is a must see location if you want a beach! It’s a little chillier than your typical beach but way less crowded and more mellow. The second place you want to visit is Multnomah Falls and the general Columbia River Gorge area for hiking and nature sightseeing (a tour is pricier but worth it).
Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Barbara is a peaceful beachside city that sits by the Pacific Ocean. It is in stark contrast to the bustling streets of San Francisco and LA, and thus one of my favorites cities along the West Coast. With quiet streets and a charming atmosphere, Santa Barbara is a great destination for a family getaway.
You Might Also Like: 5 Free Things To Do In Santa Barbara, California
The city is perfect for beach-hopping. The Pacific is crystal clear and the sandy beaches just a tad off-white. You should also make time for some outdoor hikes. Santa Barbara is known for its mountain ranges. A day-trek along the rolling hills between different wineries will be a great way to spend a day.
Some of the best free things to do in Santa Barbara are a visit to the Coronado Butterfly Preserve, a stop at the Carriage and Western Art Museum, and walks by the harbor. If you’d like to kick it up a notch, a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo or the Wolf Museum of Exploration will surely satisfy any child’s curiosity!
Don’t miss our review of the Fess Parker DoubleTree in Santa Barbara
When you think of Hawaii, luxury resorts are expensive luau performances may come to mind. Those sure are expensive, especially when you’re traveling with kids. But do you know that there’s another side to Hawaii, one that’s wild, pure and well, way more affordable?
If you’re looking for that authentic Hawaii experience then the east-side of the Big Island might be the destination for you. Sure, you’ll have to take airfare into account but a decent amount of miles will solve this issue.
You won’t find any resorts on this side of the island, mainly because there aren’t white, sandy beaches. This also means more affordable prices for accommodation without resort fees.
There are so many awesome free things to do near Hilo.
- Swimming with turtles in a local lagoon
- Climbing in giant banyan trees
- Visiting Rainbow Falls
- Playing at a black sand beach or
- Stargazing at the Mauna Kea Volcano Visitor Information Center just to name a few.
Other epic family-friendly activities are very low-cost, like hiking to ‘Akaka Falls in the like-named State Park ($1 per person), trying some freshly sliced coconut or – probably the coolest of all – hiking through the crater of the infamous Kilauea volcano in Volcanoes National Park and literally feeling the heat ($25 per vehicle). It was our most memorable vacation so far and the most affordable episode of our Hawaiian adventure.
So, keep an eye on your airline miles balance and make that dream trip happen without breaking the bank. (Because as I say here at VeraVise Outdoor Living, What Ya’ Waitin’ For? Let’s Travel NOW!)
Insider tip from VeraVise: If you live in a small town, (like we do) check a larger metropolitan international airport like Nashville, TN or Atlanta, GA. Our savings on airfare to Hawaii is as much as 50% in a larger metropolitan city. Even if we pay for parking, we can save as much as $2000 on tickets for our family of five. Check Skyscanner for great rates!
Bonus: Even Los Angeles Can Be An Affordable Family Vacation
Coritta from https://itzafamilything.com/ shares some great ways to enjoy Los Angeles with your family on a dime.
When you think of Los Angeles affordability is not one of the first things to come to mind. There are several inexpensive and free family activities in and around Los Angeles. You can entertain your little ones for hours at these family-friendly attractions.
- California Science Center. The science center is packed full of interactive educational activities for your kids to enjoy. You can spend the day at the science center then head to the rose garden for a photoshoot. The rose garden is full of different color roses and is a perfect spot to take pictures of your adorable little ones.
- Cabrillo Marine Aquarium – This aquarium is very small but has a lot of heart. There is no entrance fee but donations are greatly appreciated. There is a section of the aquarium that kids can interact with sea life and learn along the way. Who says learning can’t be fun?
- Santa Monica Pier – The Santa Monica Pier is certainly a tourist attraction, but it is worth all the hype. The beach is beautiful and is filled with restaurants and entertainment. You can walk along the pier, check out the shops, or even stop at the shopping center nearby.
- Venice Beach – Venice Beach is where all the artist goes to create. You can hear music, watch dancers, see street art and enjoy great food. There is nothing more fun than hanging out with your kids on a sunny California day admiring an artist at work. Tip: There is usually someone on the beach making balloon animals for a small fee.
- Griffith Observatory – With all the smog in Southern California, a look at the stars from the Griffith Observatory is a welcome sight. It is a bit of a hike to the top but the city at night will all the lights shining below is indescribable.
What are your favorite budget friendly family vacation spots? Did I leave a cheap place to travel with the kids off the list? Leave us a comment and tell us about your favorite cheap places to take the kids in the US.