What are the best affordable family destinations? The biggest vacation cost is usually the airfare, so the closer to home you can find a destination that will please the whole family, the cheaper the trip. Take a look at our weekend getaways section which lists ideas from major U.S. cities, family vacations on the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, the South and Southwest. If you are on a budget, stay in a cabin or a campground in a national park, or look for cheap vacation rentals online that will let you stay for under $100 per night. If you have access to the kitchen, you can prepare some of your own meals which will save you a lot of money. For best value, look for destinations where you will have access to many free activities, whether that’s hiking along a scenic trail, outdoor pool, games, or a kids’ club. Take a look at our family packages section for some of the best packages hand-picked by our editors.
Chosen By: Patricia Stone, founder of Global Adventuress. She's traveled to 157 countries and seeks out unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations for solo travelers, girlfriends, couples and families. Her site has been featured in the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and was nominated by USA Today as a Top 20 Travel Destination site.
“I cannot speak highly enough of how well-organized this tour was. Everything matched up to the tour description and our tour guide Nick and driver Tony made the day absolutely fantastic. Nick was very informative about all landmarks and aspects of the DC area and was happy to answer all questions that came his way. Highly recommended to anyone looking to experience the monuments and history of DC!” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
Why: The Central Coast runs roughly from Santa Barbara to Monterey and the string of small towns between San Simeon and Pismo Beach is an unexpected surprise for many California coast road trippers. This is where SoCal surf town meets fishing village, and otters and elephant seals share the spotlight with European masterpieces at the Hearst Castle. Veer away from the coast and in a few minutes you'll find yourself at the wineries of Paso Robles, with tastings that are half the price of Napa and Sonoma. Adelaida is open daily; for a special hilltop tasting, try their Vineyard Tour, Taste and Tailgate. An emphasis on eating local and fresh creates foodie-worthy dining options throughout the region. Pismo Beach and quaint Moonstone Beach in Cambria offer the largest selection of lodging with the best value outside of the holidays and summer. Guests at Cambria Shores Inn relax each evening in Adirondack chairs positioned perfectly to take in the sunset. Afterwards, take a five-minute stroll to Sea Chest Restaurant for local seafood or drive to the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach where the Deadliest Catch crew dined and all things crab are on the menu.
What to do: Crystal Cruises, the first cruise company to complete the entire Northwest Passage, has several options for experiencing Alaska’s glaciers. For example, its Glacier & Gold Cruise visits the Inside Passage where it parallels the tallest coastal mountains in the world. On port days, kids can learn about the historic Gold Rush in the once-booming frontier town of Skagway or do optional excursions like dogsledding or taking a floatplane to go fishing in a remote inlet. Of course, it’s also nice to just relax on the Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity and use their spotting scopes to look for humpback whales, get crafty in the Fantasia children’ playrooms or hit up the all-you-can-eat Scoops Ice Cream Bars.
Why you’ll love it: It’s a city with a sandy beach right downtown! How fun is that? Plus there are scenic riverboat rides, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of science, Lincoln Park and the zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, and a giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Oh, and pizza, lots and lots of cheesy, stringy, deep-dish pies perfect for family dining.
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Why you’ll love it: Playful Pismo Beach and nearby Shell Beach offer the quintessential southern California beach vacation, from swimming and hiking to kayaking and surfing—it’s all outdoor fun all the time. Energize your vacation with an ATV drive on 5.5 miles of beaches open to off-road vehicle use in Oceano Dunes, the only California State Park where vehicles may be driven on the beach. If actual horsepower is more your thing, enjoy a horseback ride instead. Pismo Beach Pier is the place to go to throw a line in the water and wait for a tug, while Pismo Beach’s award-winning boardwalk is rife with delicious treats and colorful boutique shops.
Budapest, Hungary: Another affordable European destination for this summer is Budapest. Here, you’ll get two cities for the price of one — Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. With new routes from American Airlines launching this summer to/from Philadelphia, competition is driving airfare prices down. Andrey Danilovich, Getty Images/iStockphoto
Washington, DC is a vibrant city with dozens of free attractions and events that make it an ideal destination for a family vacation. Once you’re near the Mall, major landmarks and iconic government buildings are everywhere you look: the Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and many more. Have your kids pull out their coins and dollar bills to see replicas of the very buildings they’re standing in front of. Book a line-skipping VIP tour and check them all off your list.
Mexico City: Despite a longstanding reputation as a dangerous city to visit, Mexico City is conspicuously absent from the State Department’s warning, and for good reason; the downtown core in particular is considered quite safe, and the city has numerous attractions for visitors — including street art, colorful markets and more than 150 museums. Getty Images
Steeped in Civil War history, the picturesque town of Gettysburg makes a pleasant and educational base for families. Tour the Gettysburg Battlefield, the National Military Park, and the Shriver House Museum at your leisure, or hop on a guided bus tour of the town to get the expert lowdown on all the key sights. From historical re-enactments to ghostly tours, there’s so much here to keep the whole family entertained.
Cleveland: For art lovers, Cleveland is a delight. This modern, vibrant city has more than its fair share of world-class museums, galleries and theatres. Cleveland Museum of Art, located in Fine Arts Garden north of the Wade Lagoon, has more than 30,000 priceless art pieces. Cleveland Cultural Gardens, created by University of Cleveland students, features living, blooming exhibitions of world cultures and history. Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art showcases modern local artists in a range of permanent and temporary exhibits. Check the program of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the world’s most renowned institutions of its kind. There is always something going on at Playhouse Square, among the country’s biggest and best performing arts centers. There is also The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which is dedicated to archiving the history of music and those artists who have influenced it. If all this art becomes a bit too heavy, sit on the bench in the University Circle, a green square mile in the center of Cleveland, where everything that happens in the city intersects. It is the beating heart of Cleveland.
Some of the top destinations for families are the Caribbean, Florida, California and Hawaii, attracting vacationers with their sandy beaches and colorful sunsets, especially during the colder months and in the summer when there is no school and kids can get away for a longer vacation. Many families enjoy cruises which allow them to see many destinations in a short span of time. Mega cruise ships offer a wide variety of activities, from pools and waterslides to rock climbing and kids' clubs. Consider the season - the destinations that work best in the spring and summer may not be as interesting in the winter. Resorts with water parks include the Arizona Grand Resort, the Lake Lanier Islands, the Gaylord Palms Resort. Unique getaways in the U.S. include The Cloister at Sea Island, The Bishop's Lodge, Hilton Hawaiian Village and Grand Wailea Resort.
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If your children have read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, they’ll expect India to be bursting with sights, sounds and colors, and they won’t be disappointed. Sample delicious curries, ride a train through rural villages, and photograph the iconic Taj Mahal (note: the main dome is being refurbished, starting in April 2017) on a Comfort Northern India Family Holiday. You can look—from a safe distance—for tigers in Ranthambore National Park, visit temples and smell spices and incense as you stroll through markets and bazaars. In the city of Jaipur, shop for textiles and pottery as camels, rickshaws and motorbikes go by.
What to do: See where Olympic dreams are born and watch athletes train for upcoming events at the Olympic Training Center. Then, hand feed the giraffes at the country’s only mountain-top zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Older kids will want to hike to the summit of Pikes Peak — the mountain that inspired the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” — and cross North America’s highest suspension bridge at The Royal Gorge. Finally, explore the geological wonders of Garden of the Gods, rated the No. 1 park in the U.S. by TripAdvisor users in 2014.
In La Fortuna, at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, you'll find a variety of lodging options; many boast hot springs and natural pools on the property. Hotel Los Lagos offers villa rentals that can sleep up to nine and feature a full kitchen, dining room and volcano views. Arenal Kioro has spacious family suites with two queen beds and a daybed that can sleep a small child, as well as options for connecting or adjoining rooms and free cribs on request.
With new babies, booking a one-way flight is essential. Think about renting a vacation house or apartment for maximum space and flexibility. Or go the all-inclusive route: resorts and cruises handle the meals and sometimes also the child care too. Some luxury hotels have amenities jut for babies, such as chic cribs or infant-only toiletries. With school-aged children, consider traveling with another family whose kids are your children’s age. Companionship goes a long way towards engaging—and delighting—young ones. (Pools go a long way in this department, too.) Disney World and Disneyland are big players at this age, as is camping. The National Park System is probably the best bang for your vacation buck anywhere in the world, being consistently stunning and always affordable. Kid-friendly resorts can provide a variety of on-site activities, such as pizza-making or baby shark feeding or mini science camps, all while giving parents a break.
These deals are different from fare alerts in that they don’t correspond to a locale of your choice – instead, it’s a company-curated list of deals that may include locations all over the country and the world. Signing up for these types of emails is particularly valuable if you aren’t set on a certain destination or time-frame and simply want to go somewhere and get a good deal on the trip.
Twelve-time winner of "best cruise line in Alaska" from Travel Weekly's Readers Choice Awards, Princess Cruises recognizes that different ages have different needs. Kids clubs are divided into two age groups: 3-7 and 8-12, while teens 13-17 have their own space at Remix, with DJ workshops and hip-hop dance classes. The whole family can come together for the Klondike Festival (with sled-dog presentations) and the Midnight Sun Party (an all-ages gathering on the top deck under the Midnight Sun). Excursions include visiting a gold mine and watching a lumberjack competition. Princess has even teamed up with the Discovery Channel to present adventures tied to the popular Deadliest Catch franchise.
Forgo fancy duds and pack extra swimsuits for the Abacos' endless water activities, including boating, snorkeling, swimming and paddleboarding in the clear, shallow waters. Island-hopping is a must: Green Turtle Cay offers plenty of shelling and a bit of history at the colonial settlement of New Plymouth, while the Sunday-afternoon pig roast at Nipper's Beach Bar & Grill in Guana Cay is a tradition — kids can build sandcastles and splash in the calm blue water while you wait. Abaco Beach Resort's "Bahama Buddies" program introduces younger visitors to local children and invites them to spend the day together, learning how to catch and cook fish, make island crafts and crack coconuts. There's a variety of accommodations for all family sizes: oceanfront rooms with two beds, and one-bedroom suites with a pullout sofa.
Why you’ll love it: Start your Music City visit with a stop at the Ryman Auditorium to explore the origins of country music and even step on the stage where The Grand Ole Opry started (then head to its new home for a fabulous all-ages show). A highlight of the Country Music Hall of Fame is the Taylor Swift Education Center where kids can learn to strum a ukulele or create a take-home art project. Be sure to indulge in some home cooking at a meat-and-three or Nashville Fried Chicken spots.
What to do: Bring your passport, so you can view them from the Canadian and American sides; to visit both, just cross Rainbow Bridge. Board the Maid of the Mist boat from either shore to get right up to the raging water (they give you ponchos so you don't get drenched). By day you'll see rainbows; at night, the falls are dramatically lit, and there are fireworks too! If your kids aren’t afraid of heights, they’ll also love the bird’s eye view from Skylon Tower.
The summer is definitely the best time to take advantage of a Virginia Beach vacation package. The classic seaside vibe paired with a festive boardwalk and wooden roller coaster rides will please everyone on your trip. If you need a little more excitement, head for the East Coast’s version of Vegas. Our Atlantic City vacation packages will make you feel like you’ve made it to the big time. You may end up even saying “What happens in Atlantic City, stays in Atlantic City,” by the time you leave.