Hit the Road & Visit These Cheap Family Vacation Spots All Over the US!
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Check out these cheap family vacation options to travel on a budget.
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. 🙌
Hip Tip: Many of these places have City Passes that allow you access to tons of activities at a discounted rate. Check it out because it’s definitely a bang for your buck!
Let’s start in the Southwestern US!
Top Choice: San Diego, California – We recommend staying in La Jolla!
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.
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 $24. This can get pricey for bigger families, but the views are incredible. Just remember to pack your sunscreen, especially if you go in the afternoon.
- Entrance to San Diego’s Balboa Park is 100% free! Be sure to check out the botanical park and San Diego Museum of Art, which is free for anyone 17 and under.
- No trip to San Diego would be complete without a visit to the zoo! At $55 for children and $65 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
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 around $92 per person, 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
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 canyons. Take in all the crimson cliff walls and walk along with 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.
- Explore Snow Canyon State Park. Here, you’ll walk among extinct volcanos and lava flows!
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!
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!
- Explore the Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s operated by the Seattle Art Museum and is covered with stunning art pieces. Plus, it’s free!
- Tour the Seattle Aquarium. Aside from the amazing sea creatures, they also offer wonderful public programs for those passionate about marine wildlife.
- Experience the iconic Space Needle. You don’t want to miss this infamous building, and you can’t beat the views! Tickets start at $26 for children under 13 and $35 for adults.
Runner Up: Yellowstone, Wyoming
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 Rentals. Boat 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
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
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:
- Relive some history at the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Junior Aviator Experience. Learn all about the Wright Brothers and their life-changing achievements.
- 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.
- Experience Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It’s the tallest sand dune on the east coast and is completely free to experience! Plus, you can’t beat the ocean views.
Hip Tip: Many readers recommend looking for a rental directly through a realty company or rental agency. Many times, it ends up being the same homes on Airbnb and VRBO but cheaper because there are no additional fees!
Runner Up: Virginia Beach, Virginia – We recommend staying in Chesapeake!
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!
Hip Tip: Try these ingenious beach hacks and enjoy your stay!
Hip Favorite: 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.
- Tour the impressive Ripley’s Aquarium. Kids will love the weird and wonderful sights & exciting glass bottom boat adventure!
The Northeastern US has something for everyone–including world-famous museums!
Top Choice: Niagara Falls, New York – We recommend staying in Buffalo!
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 Winds. Or, 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 adventure. Families 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
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 the Great Maine Lumberjack Show. You can see 12 exciting events in a one-hour show, and kids can get in for only $11!
- 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 (depending on if they’re open when you go), 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!
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.
- Explore Smithsonian National Zoological Park. This zoo is completely free and even has giant pandas! Plus, it is AZA-accredited (Association of Zoos & Aquariums), so you can rest assured knowing they take top care of the animals and habitats!
The Midwest is a haven for cheap family vacation activities.
Top Choice: Cincinnati, Ohio
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, the entrance is totally free!
- Visit the King’s Island Amusement Park. Thrill-seekers will love the attractions at the nearby amusement park, and daily tickets (which include a pass to the sister park Soak City) start at only $45!
- 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 $5.50 for kids and $15.50 for adults, it’s also a total bargain!
Runner Up: Rapid City, 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 Geology. The 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
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 cold 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 $30 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.
- Take a cruise tour with Vista Fleet. They offer various different sightseeing tours for around an average of $20 per person. It’s a great way to view the city!
- Enjoy a hike at Hawk Ridge. Embrace the great outdoors at this stunning nature preserve. Plus, it’s also a bird observatory! What sounds more relaxing than some bird watching?
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!