Hit the Road & Visit These Cheap Family Vacation Spots all Over the US!

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Pack up the kids and get away – without breaking the bank!

When you think about taking the entire family on a vacation, you may be picturing one of two paths: An expensive trip or a boring one. But there are vacations that allow you to have a blast while spending very little!

We combed through all the most popular spots, asked our Hip readers for their favorite cheap family vacation locations, & compiled this list of places that will ensure your next family vacation isn’t boring or expensive. 🙌


Check out these cheap family vacation spots…

Let’s start in the Southwestern US!


Top Choice: San Diego, California – We Recommend Staying in La Jolla!

aerial view of San Diego skyline at sunset

Calling all sun-seeking explorers! Families will love the laid-back vibe of San Diego, and the city’s climate is close to perfection year-round. It’s a great fit for families wanting to both relax and explore, and we’d recommend getting started with a stroll along the famous Coronado Beach.

woman sitting on mans shoulders in the ocean

San Diego is also super close to La Jolla, which Collin & her fam visited recently and loved! She said, “It’s a little pocket right by San Diego that is so FUN! Great restaurants, shops, and beautiful beaches to explore.” And as a bonus, you’ll find that staying in La Jolla is a little more budget-friendly than staying right in downtown San Diego. 🙌

When you’re ready to wash off the sand, check out these other San Diego attractions.

  • Take the family on a harbor cruise with children’s tickets starting at just $14. Just remember to pack your sunscreen, especially if you go in the afternoon.
  • No trip to San Diego would be complete without a visit to the zoo! At $52 for children and $62 for adults, the ticket prices to enter the San Diego Zoo are a little bit of a splurge–especially for larger families–but it’s totally worth the expense! Plus, there are a ton of other free attractions to offset the spendier ticket costs.

Runner Up: Grand Canyon, Arizona

view from grand canyon rim trail

Your Junior Ranger can hold an official title at the Grand Canyon! The Grand Canyon is clearly a milestone of every trip to this area, but your kids can solidify their interest by becoming a Junior Ranger at no extra charge, where they’ll be tasked with helping preserve the park’s beauty.

Once your kids have confirmed that the park is pristine, consider these activities.

  • Experience the spotlight in the picturesque Antelope Canyon with Navajo Tours. Tickets start at $60 for children, and you can only experience Antelope Canyon via a guided tour. The opportunity to visit this magical place is truly worth the cost!
  • Ride a classic train car on the Grand Canyon Railway. People of all ages will love the old-fashioned experience and gorgeous views of the canyon.
  • Hike along the Rim Trail. While the Grand Canyon is filled to the brim with hiking trails, many of them are fairly difficult, even for experienced hikers. The Rim Trail is a wonderful, free-to-explore trail that the little ones will be able to enjoy as well.

Hip Tip: To maximize your savings, check this website for fee-free days!


Hip Favorite: Zion National Park, Utah

zion national park entrance

Trek along the steep red cliffs in Utah’s first National Park. The park offers week-long passes for just $35 or less, and trust us–you’ll want to use all those days to explore as much as possible. Our Hip teammate, Lina, actually used the awesome RVshare service to vacation in Zion, and you can read all about her experience here!

Once you’re settled in for the week, you can hit the trails and check out these attractions.

  • Take a scenic drive through the Kolob canyonsTake in all the crimson cliff walls and walk along one of the hiking trails if you’re up for it!
  • Visit the Zion Narrows. One of the park’s most popular areas, it’s accessible via the paved, kid-friendly, and wheelchair-accessible Riverside Walk.
  • Join in on a ranger-led activity. Zion National Park has some awesome, educational, and fun ranger-led activities that everyone will enjoy, including a program that addresses the ways we can protect the canyon’s ecosystem.

Hip Tip: If you have the time, visit the reader-favorite Gunlock Reservoir. You may be one of the very lucky few who get to see the stunning waterfall!


These may be the coolest family vacation locales in the Northwest.


Top Choice: Seattle, Washington – We Recommend Staying in Kent!

view of gas works park in seattle washington

Don’t let the rain deter you from visiting this exciting city. Seattle has so much to offer for every type of traveler, and it’s the best mixture of wilderness and city amenities. After a long drive, stretch your legs at Seattle’s unique Gas Works Park. Remember to bring a kite to fly through the wide-open fields!

And if you wanna save even more, we recommend staying in nearby Kent. While it’s a part of the same metropolitan area as Seattle, a quick Airbnb search shows that the cost of a short-term stay in Kent can be significantly cheaper than staying right in Seattle. Plus, the town has its own set of parks, museums, and free outdoor activities to enjoy!

After you’ve had some fun, head out to these other attractions.

  • Stop by Pike Place Market. Visiting city markets is often one of the best cheap family vacation activities, and Pike Place is no exception! The market is a classic Seattle institution and a must-visit according to locals!
  • Live out your retro dreams at the Seattle Pinball Museum. Adults will love the chance to experience a piece of their childhoods, and kids will love learning some new pinball tricks!

Runner Up: Yellowstone, Wyoming

aerial view of yellowstone park canyon where you can have a cheap family vacation

Delve deeper into Yellowstone! After exploring Yellowstone National Park, strap on a life jacket and hit a whitewater tour or a scenic float adventure. Pricing starts at $59 each through Yellowstone Raft Company.

Prefer to stay out of rough waters, or even just dry land? Consider these options!

  • Explore Bridge Bay Marina with Yellowstone Boat RentalsBoat rentals start at an affordable $62/hour for parties of up to six people.
  • Visit the National Elk Refuge. The refuge houses many species of endangered animals & is a great experience for the whole family.
  • Experience a classic rodeo. No trip to Jackson Hole is complete without it!

Hip Favorite: Whitefish, Montana

field of yellow flowers on Montana mountain

Whitefish, Montana may be a resort town, but you don’t have to pay high resort prices. It’s a gateway to a ton of inspiring outdoor activities and makes the perfect jump-off point for an active, exciting family vacation! We recommend starting out with a simple walk through downtown Whitefish where you can stretch your legs & window shop at all the cool artisan shops.

Once you’re warmed up, seek out these other adventures.

  • You can’t miss the chance to visit Glacier National Park. Known as the “Crown of the Continent,” there’s really nowhere in the country like it, and a 7-day permit is only $35 per vehicle. You can also check it out on a fee-free day, but you’ll probably want more than a day to explore.
  • Visit the largest lake west of the Mississippi. Flathead Lake is cradled in picturesque mountains and tons of other scenic areas, and it’s sometimes surrounded by food stalls and fruit vendors in the summer.
  • Take advantage of Whitefish Mountain Resort. No matter what time of year you visit, you can bet there’s something exciting happening at the resort, from night skiing in the winter to mountain biking & zipline tours in the summer.

The Southeastern US has some top choices for cheap family vacations!


Top Choice: Outer Banks, North Carolina

pier leading into the ocean

Become a junior aviator at the birthplace of flight, and see wild mustangs on the Outer Banks. Wild Horse Adventure Tours takes you to the beach to find the wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs in their natural environment starting at about $50/day.

Once you’ve got a real wild horse chase out of your system, check out the local favorites:

  • Visit the North Carolina Aquarium. You might catch one of the free daily programs that happen throughout the year!
  • History buffs will love the Island Farm Living History Site. You can get a taste of the way the mysterious Roanoke settlers lived and catch one of the live demonstrations.

Runner Up: Virginia Beach, Virginia – We Recommend Staying in Chesapeake!

buildings along coastline at Virginia Beach for a cheap family vacation

Venture down a 35-foot water slide drop at Virginia Beach. Ocean Breeze Waterpark has a million-gallon wave pool, a lazy river, and even a pirate ship for the little kids, with packages starting at $32/day/person.

And we all know beach towns are usually a little (or a LOT 😱) more expensive, so we’d recommend staying in Chesapeake, Virginia if you want to score a better deal on accommodation. It’s a beautiful city also located on a waterway & just a short drive away. Just because it’s not directly on the beach, it’s significantly less pricey than some surrounding areas.

Once you finish drying off, visit the nearby hotspots.

  • Tour the Military Aviation Museum. Tickets to enter are super affordable at only $7.50 for youth ages 6-17 and $15 for adults.
  • Check out an event at the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge. The tours usually consist of a short hike and the chance to see some pretty cool wildlife!
  • Like many coastal cities, Virginia Beach houses a great aquarium. Keep an eye on their calendar of events to see what cool shows they have coming up.

Hip Tip: Try these ingenious beach hacks and enjoy your stay!


Hip Favorite: Gatlinburg, Tennessee

people walking across suspension bridge in gatlinburg tennessee

Rent a cozy cabin in this fun mountain getaway. Gatlinburg is a super-popular family destination in the Southeast, and for good reason! There are tons of activities for kids–and kids at heart 😉–and all the restaurants, attractions, and outdoor activities you could possibly ask for, including the unique Sky Bridge!

It’s hard to pick from all the options, but these are some classic Gatlinburg experiences that won’t break the bank.

  • Take a hike in the most popular national park in the country. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has over 500,000 acres to explore–and it’s totally free to enter! Even if you’re not super into outdoor activities, a sunset drive up to Clingmans Dome is well worth the trip.
  • Visit nearby Pigeon ForgeOnly about 15 minutes away from Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge has its own fun set of attractions (including Dollywood Theme Park), and a visit to one almost wouldn’t be complete without stopping by the other!

The Northeastern US has something for everyone–including world-famous museums!


Top Choice: Niagara Falls, New York – We Recommend Staying in Buffalo!

boat in water at the base of cheap family vacation spot niagara falls

Ride a boat through the heart of Niagara Falls’ iconic waterfalls. You can always watch the waterfalls from above, but riding on the Maid of the Mist allows you to take a boat trip right into the heart of the spray, at prices starting at $11.20/person.

To avoid paying tourist prices when you visit, you can stay in nearby Buffalo, NY. In fact, my Hip sidekick Emily lives there and says you’ll find plenty to see and do with the gorgeous and lively waterfront, insanely delicious eats (it is the birthplace of Buffalo Wings!), and stunning architectural history.

Not only will the places in Buffalo be more cost-effective for your cheap family vacation, but you’ll also have more options, as those Airbnbs and hotels right by the Falls are scooped up pretty quickly during peak seasons.

Once you re-establish your sea legs, venture out to explore these activities!

  • Relive a bit of history at Old Fort Niagara. Visitors can soak in over 300 years of history, and better yet, kids under 5 can enter for free!
  • Bring out your inner spelunker at the Cave of the WindsOr, well… sort of. “Cave” of the Winds might be a bit of a misnomer, but it still gets you up close & personal with the powerful waterfall.
  • Have a once-in-a-lifetime zipline adventureFamilies with older children can take advantage of this awesome zip line ride to see the falls from a whole new perspective!

Runner Up: Bar Harbor, Maine

boats docking in bar harbor maine

A Dive-in Theater adventure highlights a trip to Bar Harbor. You’ve seen a drive-in theater, but how about a Dive-In Theater?! Push the captain overboard in his dive gear and watch as he interacts with creatures on the seafloor, with tickets starting at $16 each for kids.

Once you’ve got your fill of sea creatures, check out these nearby attractions.

  • Enjoy walking through the Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve. The public can tour these beautiful gardens on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and children under 12 can enter for free.
  • Visiting Bar Harbor means that Acadia National Park is right in your backyard! The entrance fee is only $30 per vehicle, and it’s worth the cost to see the only National Park in the Northeast!

Hip Tip: Book and save with these smart and effective travel scheduling tips!


Hip Favorite: Washington, D.C. – We Recommend Staying in Arlington, Virginia!

people walking in front of the washington monument

History, fun, and world-class museums all wrapped up in one city? You’ll find all that–and a ton more!–in the US capital. D.C. proves that cheap family vacations can still be inspiring and exciting, and we can’t think of a better way to start than by visiting the free Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the most-visited natural history museum in the world.

The hotel and Airbnb prices right in D.C. can be downright scary for us frugal folks 🤣, so we’d recommend searching Arlington, Virginia for more reasonable accommodation prices. It’s only about 20 minutes from the heart of D.C. and has its own set of historical attractions.

Once you’ve seen all the displays at the museums (which, to be honest, is probably an impossible task in a single day), venture out to these other sites.

  • Take an afternoon walk around the District Wharf. You’ll find free kids activities, like oversized bocce ball sets, fountains, and swings, as well as $18/hour kayak rentals and even the occasional free concert!
  • Smell the roses at the US Botanic Gardens. Entrance is totally free to this living flora museum which includes plants from all different habitats.
  • Go around D.C. on a bus tour. There’s so much to do & see in D.C., and a bus tour will show you all the highlights without being overwhelming. Plus, you won’t have to worry about the little ones getting tired of walking around.

The Midwest is a haven for cheap family vacation activities.


Top Choice: Cincinnati, Ohio

view of cheap family vacation spot cincinnati ohio skyline

Don’t underestimate the Queen City! There’s a lot more to Cincinnati than meets the eye, and the city is packed with fun, frugal activities for families. Start out your trip with a visit to the city’s only escape room, where tickets start at under $25 per person, and work together to solve the puzzles in time!

Once you’ve found the way out, explore these other Cincinnati must-sees.

  • Window shop at Findlay Market. The whole family will love exploring the market and seeing all the happenings, from the weekend farmer’s market to the special events and street performers that sometimes pop up there. Better yet, entrance is totally free!
  • Just like San Diego, the Cincinnati Zoo can’t be missed! It’s one of the best in the United States, and with general admission tickets starting as low as $8.50 for kids and $14.50 for adults, it’s also a total bargain!

Runner Up: Rapid City, South Dakota

travel to view Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota

View Mt. Rushmore and so much more in this South Dakota town. Mt. Rushmore may be what Rapid City is known for, but this town also boasts a free seven-acre play area that’s also home to bounce houses, carousels, and train rides for just $2 each at Story Book Island. It’s the spot to visit in South Dakota for a cheap family vacation!

Check out these other family-friendly activities in town.

  • Tour the Museum of GeologyThe museum houses a ton of exhibits on paleontology and mineralogy, and kids will think the skeleton & fossil collections are super cool!
  • Relax at the Reptile Gardens. This is a must-see for any animal-loving bunch, and the garden has way more than just reptiles!
  • Get up close & personal at Bear Country USA. Kids will love the rare opportunity to be closer than ever to wild animals in their natural habitat.

Hip Tip: Road trippin’? Save tons of money on gas with these easy tips!


Hip Favorite: Duluth, Minnesota

bridge over river in cheap family vacation spot duluth mn

There’s more to Minnesota than the Twin Cities and Mall of America! Duluth is a small port city on Lake Superior, but it has no shortage of fun, cheap family vacation activities. This getaway is absolutely perfect for anyone who loves exploring & a cheap family vacation that makes having fun a top priority! Start your vacation with a swim along Brighton Beach on the banks of Lake Superior.

Once the colder water has woken you up, check out these other activities.

  • Rent a Surrey bike and work together to peddle around Canal Park. Surrey rentals start at only $29 per hour and the kids will have a blast exploring the park this way!
  • Swim out to explore the legend of “Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum” just feet away from the bank of Lake Superior. There are a lot of stories surrounding the building’s history, and kids + adults alike will enjoy peeking through the ruins.
  • Go for a sleigh ride with Positive Energy Outdoors. These folks can take you on a dog sled ride, how cool is that!? But if that’s a little over your budget, don’t worry, they also have affordable kayak & paddleboard rentals, rock climbing, and other seasonal activities.

Hip Tip: Although it’s a bit further north of Duluth, one Hip reader said that Split Rock Lighthouse is also a must-see!


Don’t get weighed down by luggage– check out our tips to keep from overpacking!


Brandi has an Associate's Degree and 5+ years of experience writing and creating online content for local businesses.


Join The Discussion

Comments 125

  1. Michelle

    You’re also in Acadia National Park’s backyard when you visit Bar Harbor – stunning hiking and biking trails, with a chance to watch the earliest sun rise in the continental US! And of course don’t forget the opportunity to eat super fresh, super inexpensive seafood. We are life-long Maine residents and feel so lucky to live in such a gorgeous natural environment!

    • Shil

      Hi Michelle,
      I’m traveling to Maine with young kids this fall and would like some inputs on what to do and how to do them best from locals like you. Pls share your email or email me shilthemommy @ gmail.com
      Thank you.

      • Cg

        Were also thinking about visiting Maine this summer! Please share any must do’s! My kids love the ocean so any kid beach friendly areas you can suggest would be greatly appreciated! TIA

        • Amanda

          Check out old orchard beach! Kennebunkport is great too. The Portland Head lighthouse, you can climb all over the rocks when the tide is out. The highlight of our last trip for our 3 kids was blueberry picking in the summer!

        • Bp

          We visited Acadia last weekend and Bar harbor is great for sovenier shopping and restaurants. We also went to portland. YOu can take ferry for casco bay lines to Peak island. Its a very nice place. You can take your car on ferry, or go walk in. At the island they have bikes and golf carts to rent. Sand beach, cadillac mountain, thunder spot are main attractions in acadia.

    • Amber

      We are also wanting some travel info, it would be greatly appreciated

      • Amber

        Forgot my email lol amberleeminix @ gmaildotcom

    • Aley0010

      I would love some information as well please! My email is alley0010@aol.com. Thanks you so much!

    • Mackyjane

      We had a chance to stay in Bar Harbor at the Black Friar’s Inn July 4, 2017 and loved seeing the fireworks out over the water! Acadia National Park is a must for anyone who enjoys hiking and we highly recommend Beal’s Lobster Pier!

      • Martha

        I grew up spending summers in Maine. The best family beaches, in my opinion, are at Wells and Ogunquit. Those beaches are next to each other. For Ogunquit, go to the Footbridge Beach. When down there, make sure you drive into Perkins Cove and walk on the Marginal Way. The boats come in there, and there are fabulous restaurants all over the cove.

    • V

      We traveled to Maine a few years back and went to Acadia National Park. By far, one of our favorite family trips. My youngest still talks about the blueberries and the night we boiled fresh lobsters. Out of all the National Parks we have been to, this one has had the best Junior Ranger programs. My boys became best friends with Ranger Genevieve.

  2. Jen

    I live in St. Louis. The Zoo is a must…and it is free! Also, the Arch grounds and museum have been recently renovated and is also a must visit on a trip to the STL. The City Museum is also an a unique, amazing place to visit.

    • Angie

      I agree! The zoo is awesome and I don’t mind spending extra on souvenirs because it’s free and amazing!

    • el

      Yes, native STL person here and totally disagree with the list they put together! No Arch, no City Museum, no Grant’s Farm, no Botanical Garden? A simple Google search would get better information than this list. And so many free attractions! Makes for a fantastic trip for families, or really, anyone. Dig deeper for better ideas if you are planning a STL trip! There is lots to do!

    • melinda

      We just got back from St Louis. The zoo, science center, history center and Grant’s farm are all free! The arch is really affordable as well. City museum wasn’t cheap but well worth it.

      • Xna

        314parent here. I was surprised they didn’t prioritize to highlight all the free attractions. And if we are talking about kids here…. then city museum is a must! Even if don’t have kids. City museum is still a must!

    • Tm

      Bye your arch tickets early! I waited in case we didn’t go and the whole day sold out in minutes. Oops! My 5 year old is still mad. Lol

      There’s free parking for the science museum if you’re willing to walk the bridge over the interstate. Which we did and was soooo fun!

      We also stayed in st Charles which had a super cute historical area with restaurants and shops. So much to do!

      • Tm

        Buy* lol

      • Candis

        Oh my goodness that is so funny!

        • candis

          The funny part was your cute 5 yr old not the fact you missed a fun adventure. Sorry… 🙂

    • Michelle

      Our family is visiting St. Louis for 3 days July 2nd – 4th. We have the City Museum, Zoo, Science Center, Arch & Incredible Pizza on our list. Are we missing any must sees? or Events taking place at this time?

      • Jen

        Fair St. Louis will be going on July 4-6. Music, air shows, etc. on the Arch Grounds. Be sure to stay for the fireworks that take place on the riverfront as well!

        • Michelle

          Awesome! Thank you!

        • Tiffany

          I agree. The waterfront fireworks on the 4th are a must.

      • mamasweetpea

        Definitely take advantage of the “free” attractions. The zoo-museum districts are free for visitors to enjoy but are paid for by Saint Louis City and County taxpayers. They include the Zoo, Art Museum, Science Center, Botanical Garden and History Museum; all these attractions in or around Forest Park are fabulous. http://fun4stlkids.com/ has a listing of activities/events going on in the area. So many family friendly attractions in STL. Aside from city museum, if you have young ones, they may enjoy the Magic House (a children’s museum). There’s also Annheiser Busch brewery house tours, Purina Farms, and much more. Definitely try STL style pizza at IMOs and BBQ @ Bogart’s or Pappys and Ted Drews Frozen Custard. Many of our community pools are also like mini water parks.

      • xna

        I would say skip incredible pizza. I recommend botanical garden instead or grants farm.

      • candace

        Pappy’s Smokehouse. They were on Man vs. Food. Will not be disappointed. Get in line right when it opens!

    • Lindsey

      We are doing a quick stop in St Louis on our road road trip from CO-PA and our friend said top places to go are zoo, city museum, and of course the arch. We have 3 kids and are only planing to be there for 8 hours but excited to hopefully do those 3 things.

      • Laura

        You might want to do two of the three. If I were to pick, I would say the Zoo and Arch are the top two. We spent 6 hours at the zoo alone! I would say that you should allow at least 2 hours for City Museum and, since it is pretty expensive, if you don’t have that kind of time then just do the Zoo and Arch and pass on City Museum. The Science Center and the Art Museum are both near the zoo and are both free so you could spend any extra time in those. Or, plan for more time in the Lou!

  3. TJ

    We’re leaving for Kill Devil Hills, Outer Banks this Sunday! You know what I discovered this year while searching for a rental? I’m sure lots of others already know this, but this was a new discovery to me! Often it’s cheaper to rent thru a rental agency than to find a place on Airbnb or VRBO. If you search on Airbnb, it will usually list the rental company. So just go to the rental agency site and prices may be cheaper. One house we looked at was $600 cheaper on the realty website as opposed to Airbnb or VRBO.
    Or obviously if you know the realty company just go right to their website and search.

    • Casey

      I agree about using a realtor/rental company over Airbnb or VRBO. The fees they add on have gotten ridiculous. Also, sign up for their emails. I was able to save 20 percent on our house. I used to love VRBO but the last time I went to rent there, the fees added up to over $700.

      • Denise

        How do I contact the realtor company your speaking about?

        • TJ

          If you go to Airbnb or VRBO and search the area and dates you’re looking for, it will bring up a list of places, right? Ok so then click on one that you interested in. Just a bit underneath the picture it will say “Owned by” or “Managed by” and often it will be a realty company, but not always. So then you just Google that realty company and (hopefully) perform the same search and find the same house.

          OR if the property has a name just Google the property name and it might come up under a realty company.

          Good luck!

          • Denise

            Thank you TJ

            • Martha

              I agree with all of this! We own a beach property, and we have it listed with our property manager and with VRBO. Price to rent is the same either site, but the extra fees VRBO charges make it incredibly more expensive!!

    • Stephanie

      So true! I found this out last fall. We saved over $400 on a 4 night vacation by using the realty company that was listed on the VRBO website. And it still included the cleaning and everything. It is easier in my opinion also because the company has after hours numbers if there are issues and you could run into trouble if you can’t get hold of the host from VRBO. I also received an email from a cabin we had rented on VRBO, the owner gave us contact info as they were no longer going to use VRBO to list the cabin. They noted that the fees keep going up for us and for them as renters and they wanted to offer an affordable stay.

      • Vanessa

        How do I find the realty company? I don’t see anything listed with the VRBO.

        • TJ

          Some of the properties are just listed by the owners. It will say just under the picture of the property when you click on it. It says “owned by” or “managed by” or something like that. And then it might say just the owner’s name or it might say the name of a realty company. Good luck!

    • Sheila

      We’ve been vacationing in the OBX twice a year for over 20 years. We’ve stayed in every town top to bottom of the OBX and stayed in alot of different rentals. Now we only go to Carolla and book with Twiddy. We’ve found our sweet spot.

      • TJ

        Thanks for those extra tips, ladies! I’m going to sign up for the realty company’s emails so we can prepare for next year.

        Sheila, I found several nice houses in Corolla but hubby wanted to go just slightly south this year. He grew up going to OBX but this will be my first time there. I love history so I’m planning to take the family to the Wright Bros. memorial and Roanoke. Anything else you would suggest?

        • Sheila

          If you will be more south….Jockeys Ridge state park, Nags Head, free. Its the tallest sand dune on the east coast and you can see the sound and the ocean at the top. I really enjoyed the Elizabethan garden on Manteo, not free, but a great change seeing all the greenery as the ocean areas don’t offer much. There’s also Bodie Island lighthouse if their your thing. I mean who doesn’t love a lighthouse. But most importantly food! I’ve Got Your Crabs in kill devil hills is awesome and the Blue Moon Grill in nags head are the first that come to mind for your area. All of OBX is littered with fab food so look at yelp and other reviews as eating great food is a great part of a beach vacation.

  4. mom of 4

    Hey I was wondering what is fun and cheap in the south or the best deals in that area

    • Jennifer

      What part of the South did you have in mind? Alabama and Florida beaches are beautiful. We don’t spend much money because we split the room cost between our family, eat all meals in the room, and avoid the tourist traps.

      • mom of 4

        Thanks for replying and I was thinking about Biloxi Mississippi but am looking for any ideas on free/ cheap ideas I have 4 kids it doesn’t have to be that specific area

        • Robyn

          In Biloxi there is a Margaritaville that is strictly for kids. I’m not sure of the price but you can go for the entire day. It’s a HUGE water park and arcade. (My grandkids are not fans of arcades anyway.) But my daughter takes her kids there and they LOVE it. Also check out Ship Island. There’s a boat that runs every so often but it gets you past the muddy brown water. You would swear you’re in Florida.

          • Robyn

            There is also some sort of marine park in Gulfport. (We haven’t checked that out yet.) And of course you can make a day trip to New Orleans. The zoo and aquarium are awesome and you can usually find discounted tickets through coast radio stations.

        • Robyn

          Check out the Lynn Meadows Discovery Center. It’s a children’s museum. There is a free train museum on Pass Road in Gulfport. It’s Lego trains not full size trains but it was pretty cool for a free adventure.

        • MSmomof5

          Sorry but Biloxi beaches are awful & nasty from the casinos. We have family that lives there & they even told us never get in the water because it’s so nasty. And there aren’t any waves either. I’d go over into AL if I wanted to visit a beach.

        • Rhonda K

          Have you looked into Orange Beach or Gulf Shores, AL area? We were just there in May and had a great time! We went to beaches, drove into Mobile to tour the USS Alabama, visited Fort Morgan and Gulf State Park, and went on a Dolphin Cruise. It was very fun!

      • K80

        In Florida it is a good idea when trying to avoid tourist traps to remember Groupon, Living Social and the numerous coupon books that are free at gas stations and restaurants. There is also something called Explorer Pass that you pay a set amt for and depending on what option of pass you choose you can do a variety of things. Some let you pay such n such and do any 3 choices of the many, some passes let you pay a set mt and you can do anything and everything on the list in a 2-3 day time frame. Many cities have them but its really cool in the Orlando area for when you have been there done that with Universal or Disney. Or you just need a break.

      • Jennifer

        I live in Mississippi and while I do love Biloxi, For just a bit further drive you can have white sandy beaches with clearer water such as Gulf Shores or Orange Beach ,Alabama. Biloxi has more of a brown water. To me the best free entertainment is the beach and pool at whenever we stay. We don’t do all the “extras”or buy souvenirs, really. I just have “the talk” with my kids before we go and let them know we are going to the beach to enjoy the beach. If you do choose Gulf Shores and decide to eat out, Lulu buffets is a cool place that has fun games to do while waiting on a table that my kids love. Consider staying in a less expensive place like the town before Gulf Shores(Foley) for less money then visit the public beach. Pensacola beach is also nice but there is a toll bridge on the way in and out and you will have to use for things like going to Walmart. We have been going to Panama City Beach, Florida for the past few years. I give my kids a little money to spend at “the everything’s a dollar” stores(like Dollar tree but stranger stuff) for a treat. If you go to any of these places on July 4 there will be free fireworks on the water, weather/wind permitting.

  5. Natasha

    I just booked hotels for Niagara Falls a few weeks ago…. taking a roadtrip with my boyfriend who just moved to PA from Texas …. I’ve been there before so I sorta know where to go and what to see but it’s been his bucket list item since before we met…. got a train ride in Pa planned then onto Erie to see the lighthouses and then all the way up to NY… there is so much to see and do on a roadtrip from Erie to Niagara

      • Natasha

        This is on my list of things to do on the way home and I havnt seen it before so I’m super excited to get there and explore haha😄 I have a full 4 days packed with things to do

    • Amanda A

      What else are you doing?

  6. kerRI

    If you love the beach make sure you consider a stop in Rhode Island. Especially if driving by in order to go to other destinations. Miles upon miles of beach and just when you think your done.. look to the left and there is more beach !! 😃 Lots of incredible seafood of course too..

  7. Lauren

    The “other things to do” sections for Niagara Falls and Bar Harbor are switched!

    • Jennifer (Hip Sidekick)

      Thanks so much for pointing that out, Lauren! We are getting those fixed up now!

  8. Marina

    I grew up by Rapid City, SD and Storybook Island is a must for families with littles ( although mine are older and still love it!). Another great place to visit in RC is Dinosaur Park, its a free park with huge statues of Dino’s. It is alot of stairs, but if you can make it, it’s worth it!

  9. m

    Headed to Duluth, MN for some mountain biking. We will be camping. Any locals on here that can mention some “must see” activities? We have a teen and 8 year old. Thanks

    • Amy

      Duluth MN is beautiful!! I’d make sure to check out Canal Park and eat at Grandmas!

    • S.

      I would highly recommend watching the big ships come in under the lift bridge and taking a tour on the Vista Fleet of Lake Superior. If you are into animals, the aquarium is neat.

    • Jennifer

      If you head about 20 minutes further North, Two Harbors is a cute smaller town and to go Gooseberry State Park. The waterfall is wonderful, lots of scenic hiking, and the view is great. In fact the whole trip up the north shore to Grand Marais is great if you have time to explore. In Duluth, the Lake Walk/Canal Park, watching ships come in, Hawk Ridge (great hiking and migrating bird viewing), Park Point, Enger Tower/Park. Guessing if you are mountain biking, you are looking at Spirit Mountain already, but don’t skip their alpine coaster, it is a fun and pretty ride down the rails!

    • Emily

      Split Rock Lighthouse is further north of Duluth (up near Gooseberry and Castle Danger) but if you have time, it is beautiful and the tour is great!

    • Sarah

      We went to Duluth last summer with a teen and a 10 year old. We loved Gooseberry Falls a little further north, you can actually swim in the waterfalls. There is a famous pie shop (I can’t remember the name, but order ahead if possible because the lines are crazy) along the way and it’s a beautiful drive, have fun!

    • Valerie

      Headed to Spirit Mountain??? We camped there two summers ago. Pretty good biking for the Midwest. Not too far there is a skate park called Superior Skate Park in Superior, Wisconsin. Also, depending which way you are coming from (we were traveling from Iowa) check out Cottage Grove Bike Park in Cottage Grove, MN.

  10. jade

    Yes love to see my city Houston, tx!

  11. Monique

    Love how everyone is swapping travel info everyone is so friendly I love it!!!!

  12. sharon

    Any tips for Seattle?

    • R

      I’m from the Seattle area and this list is a little bewildering. I can’t believe Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, or Woodland Park Zoo weren’t included. Go to TripAdvisor and scroll through the top attractions there; far better “iconic Seattle” than this list.

      • shop4mybabies

        born and raised. Pike place is a must every time you’re in the city, not just once…it’s iconic, it’s amazing, and it supports local vendors/farmers. Woodland park zoo is fantastic, but expensive if you have a large family. Dicks burgers are cheap and make up for the zoo cost, it’s just a couple miles away. The space needle was a do it one time and i’m fine with that, but I still think it’s cool to say you’ve done it and see the view. we love the experience music project, the paramount and 5th avenue theaters if you want to take in a show

        • ashleybrown

          In regards to Seattle I also don’t understand why Kent was choose as the less expensive place to stay. There are so many more fun “less expensive” places to stay.

    • Lisa

      If you’re heading to Seattle and want to do attractions get the CityPass it will save you $. Free stuff Pike Place, Olympic Sculpture Garden, go to west Seattle and hit Alki Beach.

  13. Jennifer

    How is the Outer Banks on this list, but not DC? OBX rentals are pricey in the summer. DC has dozens of museums to check out (most of them are free), plus a free Zoo and a lot of other free events all summer.

    • Dn

      😀 I was thinking how did Virginia Beach make the list and not D.C.? Smithsonian museums are awesome. But still fun to read and good info.

      • sarah

        We are headed to DC next week and the hotel was very affordable, everything we are doing is free… Even the bus is free.

    • SavingsMama

      OMG Obx hotels were $400 a night for an average, 2.5 star type of place🤪 Airbnb would be better but obviously those all have certain time requirements etc. Va Beach is expensive in the summer as well if you stay at the tourist area. In the same sense, safe locations in DC can get up there however, all the Smithsonians are free!

  14. Heather

    our family is traveling to galveston tx area in three weeks looking for free cheap things people would recommend there, also any recommended places to eat would be helpful, flying into Houston Hobby staying near League City Thanks

    • Natasha

      It’s a bit on the pricey side but I just come back from visiting Galveston and the Moody Gardens rainforest pyramid is spectacular you get to walk through the rainforest and there are no berries between you and a lot of the animals …. the birds fly free and so do the monkeys…. some animals are contained for safety purposes but it was an experience I will never forget

      • Natasha

        *barriers not berries lol

    • Tnn

      Kemah Boardwalk

  15. 🙂

    Does anyone have any suggestions for Jacksonville Florida for early December? I’m traveling down for a wedding but planning to stay a couple of days extra to explore. Where to stay and what to do would be greatly appreciated!!! Thanks! 🙂

    • Sheila

      We spent a week in Amelia island Fl just outside of Jacksonville in April. It’s one of my favorite places I have visited. We were a few doors down from John Grisham’s house (I was informed by a local as I had no idea)lol. He picked a good island!!

    • Ronda

      Jax resident…Any of the beach areas are great to visit with many things to do – Jax beach, Neptune beach, Ponte Vedra or close by St Augustine, FL (30 mins away) even in early Dec the weather should still be nice enough for the beach

    • MommySpendsLess

      I’d drive a little and check out St. Augustine, although it can be crowded once they start the Christmas lights. Just walking around all the shops is free but there at least a dozen little tours/reenactments/museums (including the fort) that each have a small admission fee, which makes it very customizable to your interests and budget. You could also get a trolley pass from one of the tour companies but I think it’s very walkable. We live about two hours away and my mom, tween daughter and I made a day of it pre-COVID and we all enjoyed ourselves. We could easily spend another day checking out everything we ran out of time to do. At night the atmosphere is more grown-up but during the day it’s very tame.

    • Jhollybrown

      Def research the various beaches along the coast of Jax. It’s interesting how much they vary as you drive north to south. (Powdery white to course shell beaches within 20 minutes of each other) Ponte Vedra Beach area is very nice (more expensive, upscale). Jacksonville Beach area is more casual with lots of free beach parking, restaurants, ice cream shops within walking distance. My fave: Maple Street Biscuit Co. St. Augustine is 45 min south of Jacksonville and will be for those who enjoy touristy stuff (gift shops, old historical fort on the coast, burgers/ice cream, etc). I would not go to St. Aug if you want to spend the day sunbathing on the beach.

  16. kharrington

    Ok. I hope someone gets use out of this sweet little tip! So hundreds (if not thousands) of museums have what is called the “passport program ” where you can buy your family pass at any museum and it is good at all the other museums that participate in the program for FREE or very very low cost. We have done this for years and last May my daughter graduated from college in LA. We drove down with the other 7 of us and hit free museums all along the way. It was great and a huge money saver when you have a family of 8! We bought our pass at the least expensive museum that was semi close to us and got so much use out of it. Also, many many museums offer nearly free entry if you are on govt food assistance(which I think is awesome😁), always worth a phone call to ask😁.

    • Rhonda K

      Yes! We recently bought a membership to our local museum, which was $65 and on our vacation used it to get into McWane Science Center (would have cost us $93) and U.S. Space and Rocket Center (would have cost us $143). Definitely a good investment and we felt like we could stop at places for just a couple hours without feeling guilty about the cost. If I find a museum/zoo we want to visit on a trip, I look to see what reciprocal program it’s part of and then look to see what’s in our area or if we already have a membership to a museum that’s in the same network.

  17. KB

    Anybody have vacation tips for Denver in August? I have two college age girls (no shopping, please :). Staying for three days. Thanks!

    • Cami

      Red rocks amphitheater, Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Denver Zoo, Boulder farmer’s market (so many local vendors and artisans, food trucks, music, and so on), Broomfield Butterfly Pavillion, Broomfield Bay Aquatic Park (so cheap!), Flagstaff Mountain, so many places to hike, downtown Boulder is great.
      My kids have been to CO and Disneyworld and they are on the same level of awesomeness – and CO cost a fraction of Disneyworld.
      I hope you have a great time and add to the memory bank!

    • Jen

      Downtown: Elitch Gardens (theme park and water park), Denver Aquarium, Rockies game at Coors Field, and museums like Molly Brown House and Art Museum. Greater Denver area: Water World water park, Denver Museum of Nature & Science which is next to the Denver Zoo, and Red Rocks (unique but quick stop). If you’re willing to travel further and plan your day around: Estes Park/Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park), Georgetown Loop Railroad, or Idaho Springs for Argo Mine Tour, eat a mountain pie at Beau Jo’s, ziplining or river rafting at CO Adventure Center, plus drive up Mount Evans.

  18. Lpaulus67@aol.com

    Hello there fellow H2Savers: we will be traveling to the Grand Canyon next spring (Mid May) with a high school graduate. (Grand Canyon was at his request). Any suggestions for the 3 of us? (one adult with minor disabilities, such as stairs & uneven ground, but willing to try)Curious about the railway tour & possibly a rafting experience for him & his dad. TIA

  19. 😎

    Love your site, but I noticed 2 things on this post. Fist, I live in Houston & the picture shown doesn’t look like any skyline I am familiar with. Could the picture be from another city? Also, the picture shown for Grand Canyon is of Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ, which is a 2hr drive from Grand Canyon. We just got back from a vacation where we visited both of those places. Just thought I’d warn others incase they expected to see these vistas on their visits. Thanks!

    • Ash

      Any tips for Grand Canyon? Or surrounding areas. I’m leaving for that area on Friday. Southern Utah also.

      • 😎

        Desert View @ Grand Canyon & any viewpoints on the way from Grand Canyon Village. The drive to Page is a must for Antelope Canyon (upper or lower). Horseshoe Bend was a long walk from the parking lot, but worth the view. Be ready to pay for parking. Everything is close together in Page so very convenient if driving. In Utah we went to Zion -gorgeous scenery, fun drive & several wild animals to see.

        • sarah

          My tip for the grand canyon is go to the north rim!!! WAY less crowded, not as hot And there are various mule rides, which are amazing and totally worth the $! Zion get there EARLY. Crowds have gotten crazy. Get out and hike some of the trails (note many are still closed due to flooding last year) It is totally different from up high! Zion is my fav national park and I have been to and hiked almost all of them out west. Bryce canyon is less crowded and if you want even less crowds, Kodachrome basin state park is amazing.

      • Heather

        I’m in Southern Utah! Zion is amazing, Snow Canyon State Park is beautiful, amazing red rocks etc. Gunlock Falls is a phenomonem that only happens about every 7- 8 years when one of our reservoirs overflows. Its so amazing – but be careful! The North Rim of the grand canyon and mule rides there are so fun! If you have time, Bryce Canyon National Park is my personal favorite.

        • MinDee Romberger

          Just a heads up that this year the waterfalls at Gunlock Reservoir are all dried up. We’re going through a serious drought right now in Utah.

  20. k

    Any suggestions for Memphis or Branson?

    • Alyssa Underwood

      Branson- Silver Dollar City, the Aquarium, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the Titanic Museum. There are lots of mini golf and go carts. Go on the Branson Ferris Wheel. You could go to the lake as well.

  21. Sarah

    Any suggestions for Ocean City, Maryland? Places to go, things to do, restaurants? Going for a week in July 🙂

  22. Amanda

    Houston has an awesome zoo they have been updating and children’s museum! There’s a weekend pass you can get for the aquarium, kemah and pleasure pier (Galveston).

  23. LS

    any suggestions for St. Petersburg, FL area? Thanks everyone!

  24. ShaJ

    Any suggestions for a hotel stay in La Jolla or San Diego? Reasonable within walking distance to any beach?

    • Shelley

      We like the Catamaran Hotel in Mission Bay. You can walk to the beach, but is also on the Bay. They usually have a luau complete with dancers and singers one day a week, but aren’t starting that up again until next year. They have a paddle wheel boat that goes across the bay to their sister property.

    • Magnolia83

      Catamaran is a great option – also check out the Bahia Resort and Paradise Point, which also have great beach access. Anything on the beach in La Jolla is going to be very expensive so I’d try looking in the Mission Bay area if you want to find something a little more affordable. I would avoid Pacific Beach with kids, it’s a very young college party crowd.

  25. iamkris10

    just as an aside- if you are in any new town trying to hit all the ‘usual’ sites – check out citypass. It has saved us a lot of money over the years!

  26. laurieh79

    Any suggestions for Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie, or Okeechobee Florida area in the summer?

    • Rebeccaperson

      There is a Disney Vacation Club resort in Vero Beach. You could look into renting points for a stay. Lots of family friendly activities at the resort.

  27. Carol

    We did South Dakota/Mt Rushmore and the kids liked that more than Disney World. We bought a fundraiser type booklet and got B1G1F entrance to many places, and freebies like kids meal or ice cream in others. Did a kids’ program at the Mammoth Site where we left our two boys in their care and they dug for bones (fake, not in the real dig site). They loved it.
    My husband and I went to Niagara Falls a couple years ago and loved it. Lots of things to do for families – kind of like Gatlinburg. We did stay on the Canadian side right overlooking the falls. Parking is high on the Canadian side though at the time if you stayed in the casino it was either free or very inexpensive. I just looked at going again, at Embassy Suites where we stayed before, and parking is an additional $75. Check Groupon – they do have packages with free meals and attractions. We were able to get Ruth Chris Steakhouse $200 discount as well as a few others.

    • shannont

      FYI The Canadian border is still closed to non Canadians. If you plan a trip to Niagara Falls you’ll have to stay on the American side unless you’re a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

  28. carver

    Just an FYI for those visiting Utah. Springdale the gateway city to Zion has had recent flash flooding causing significant damage to roads and building. I would recommend checking before you go on accessibility. All of Utah is in a severe drought. Gunlock falls does not currently exist. I’ve also heard rumor they may divert the spill over water in the future because of overcrowding and safety issues. Too many people with reckless behavior visiting the site. My spouse is law enforcement for natural resources and has had to rescue way too many people from avoidable dangers. And some have not been rescued as well 😢.

  29. Bea

    Any suggestions for staying near the South rim at the Grand Canyon. I found that all the hotels are so expensive around there and they’re nothing special. Appreciate any tips. 🤗

    • mayd2bz

      If you don’t mind driving back and forth, you can stay in Williams, AZ. The accommodations are decent and cheaper. It’s an hour drive to the south entrance. That’s what we did a few years ago. I traveled with my 2 young kids, so it’s doable. It really helped our budget because we spend a few days in that area. If you’re going to AZ, I recommend Slide Rock State Park. It’s fun for the kids (and me too) 😁

  30. amanda-46

    Amazing post! Thanks H2S and readers!!

    • Amber (Hip Sidekick)

      You’re welcome!

  31. pokz007

    Mid Aug .. going to Maine from NJ… 2 kiddos 6 and 9…need a hotel with kitchen due to food allergies… any info/advise please?

  32. MJ

    Any tips/recommendations for a trip to Boston with kids and small dogs?

  33. Hikingfunmom

    Haha! Rapid City has nothing on Custer State Park, Badlands, Toadstool Geological Park, or evening Mt. Rushmore. Stay in Custer for a truly wonderful vacation! Yes, there are a few things to do in Rapid City, but who travels to South Dakota to visit a city??? Bear Counery is fun, but WILD animals in the Black Hills are better!

    • jaxjay

      This is true. I was born in Rapid City. The entire state is full of adventure. Camping, fishing at the lakes (Angostura, Sheridan, Pactola), climbing mountains, state parks, Rushmore, Dinosaur Park, Badlands, many forts, and it has hundreds and and hundreds of the highest rated public cave systems in America. Wind caverns, Rushmore caves, Jewel cave, Winderland cave, Black Hills cave, etc. Custer, hot springs, spearfish, Rapid city are great. I live in Fl now since ’97 but have been all over the US and abroad. All of the recs H2S listed are great! Thanks for posting😀

  34. Sdgirljen

    I live in San Diego and work in La Jolla. I rarely take vacation days bc I can’t fathom going anywhere else. Staycations are my jam and I’ve lived here for 20 years and still find new and fun things to do each weekend. Last weekend my son and I went kayaking on Mission Bay. Thanks for all you do- you really help me save SO much $ which can afford me to live here!

  35. SavingsMama

    Any tips to save on rental cars or are they just all super high because of extra Covid cleaning? We’ve found $56 the absolute lowest price , in comparison two years ago the same location $22 (which we thought was high😆!) I’ve found cheaper airfare than car rental TBH!

  36. Mary

    Any Michigan vacations tips, upper peninsula or northern?

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