June 16, 2024

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Traveling Around the World

16 Affordable Family Vacations to Take This Summer

Summer is right around the corner and vacation is top of mind. And while any trip will set you back a bit, there are plenty of destinations that won’t break the bank. The trick is picking the right one — places where the summer season is quieter or lodging and food are more affordable. And when you’re traveling with kids, things like pre-packing snacks and shopping at local grocery stores to prepare your own meals can go a long way toward lowering overall costs.


To lend a hand, we’ve rounded up 16 spots where you can have a memorable vacation at a reasonable price. The best family vacation destinations have free and lower-priced attractions, as well as properties that welcome kids with complimentary, family-friendly amenities.


Our roundup of the best summer vacation ideas includes a handful of relaxing beach destinations, bustling city excursions, and trips that include a bit of both. We’ve also listed domestic and international options, so you’ll find inspiration for an all-out adventure and ideas for a long weekend away.



San Diego, California

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California’s sunny San Diego has tons of activities for families, with theme parks, water parks, kid-friendly museums, and 70 miles of beaches. The Go City All-Inclusive Pass can be used for top attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Legoland California, harbor cruises, and several museums in Balboa Park, providing you with discounts of up to 50 percent per person.



Bar Harbor, Maine

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Bar Harbor has plenty of places to go swimming, including the freshwater beach at Echo Lake, which has calm waves that are good for kids. You can also follow signs labeled “The Museum in the Streets” around Bar Harbor to create your own walking tour, or hop on one of the myriad hiking, walking, or cycling trails. At nearby Acadia National Park, a vehicle pass will get the whole family into the park for a day of hiking and views of Maine’s wildlife and wild coast.



Winter Park, Colorado

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While you might think of Winter Park as a snowy destination, it’s also a great place to visit in the summer, especially if you’re looking to escape the heat. In a single day, families can enjoy hiking, ropes courses, gondola rides, and climbing walls. Buy your day passes early — these provide access to all the activities noted — to secure the best available prices. Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp about 20 minutes away by car, has one of the only summertime tubing hills in the United States, as well as miniature golf, archery, and a climbing wall to keep everyone busy.



Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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Kidsburgh” has tons of great activities for families — from the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. In the summer, there’s a 10-day Grand Prix with vintage cars and walking tours to help you enjoy the city and get some exercise. You’ll also find economical lunch spots, while the subway line offers free rides around downtown. Consider hiking or biking along the Great Allegheny Passage, which provides a scenic, outdoorsy way to explore the city’s many bridges and tunnels along a 150-mile trail.



Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

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If you and your kids love the water, head to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. At properties like The Breakers, guests can enjoy five water slides, several on-property pools, a sunken pirate ship, and a long lazy river. There’s also shuffleboard, a giant chessboard, and cornhole. If your family is into mini-golf, look no further than this seaside town, which boasts over 30 courses.



St. Louis, Missouri

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Free attractions in St. Louis include Purina Farms (open April to October), where children can enjoy dog agility shows and animal barnyards, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, which is kid-friendly. Admission to the City Museum, with its 10-story slide, huge ball pit, and 40-foot high Ferris wheel, is available through day passes or memberships. Afterward, stop by Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, known for shakes so thick they can be served upside down.



Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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Located next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is for the adventurous outdoor lover, with plenty of opportunities for biking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting, and more than 800 miles of hiking trails. For a day of shopping that the whole family can get behind, visit the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, an eight-mile loop road that features eateries alongside artisan galleries selling handmade goods.


Lodging options in Gatlinburg include resorts and cabins — check the tourism board’s website to see which ones offer free nights or discounts. Gatlinburg is also about a 20-minute drive from country music icon Dolly Parton’s famous Dollywood, a great day trip for all the amusement park lovers out there.



Lisbon, Portugal

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Ready to explore the world with your kids? In Lisbon, families can enjoy an all-in-one city and beach vacation. Explore the city’s distinct neighborhoods, castles, and palaces, or hop aboard a funicular to climb its steep hills for a scenic tour of the city. Lisbon is also home to 10 free museums, including the kid-friendly Money Museum.





Vienna, Austria

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The walkability of Austria’s capital city is part of what makes it such an affordable stop for families — plus, there are several free walking tours, including those that introduce you to the city’s music, street art, and recreation. With the Vienna Pass, travelers receive complimentary access to more than 90 of the city’s top attractions, including museums, a giant Ferris wheel, and spots like Madame Tussauds wax museum. The pass has single-day and multiday options, including up to six days at a steep discount.



Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

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The Dominican Republic is ideal for a family beach getaway thanks to its many all-inclusive resorts. While the country has lots of amazing destinations that are worth visiting, it’s pretty hard to top Punta Cana. All ages can enjoy the 30 miles of white-sand coastline, picturesque coconut palms, and direct flights from more than 28 countries and 96 cities around the world.



Washington, D.C.

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For a family vacation in a bustling city full of affordable hotels, kid-friendly restaurants, and free attractions, plan a visit to Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital has lots to offer for anyone on a budget. All the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, and the monuments and memorials along the National Mall are free to enter, as are several outdoorsy spots like Rock Creek Park and the U.S. National Arboretum. Plan ahead, though, as some require free timed passes for entry.


Register in advance through your home state representative’s office and take the kids on a free (and educational) tour of The White House — if all else fails, the White House Visitor Center just around the corner makes a worthy alternative. You can also reserve free timed tickets online for a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol Building.





Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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There’s plenty of free fun to be had right across the border in Canada. In Victoria, British Columbia, on the country’s western coast, families can stroll through Beacon Hill Park, try their hand at lawn bowling, or drop by the children’s farm to meet the park’s residents and watch the twice-daily “goat stampede.” For a day of coastal bliss, walk along the water at iconic Fisherman’s Wharf and grab a sweet treat at Jackson’s Ice Cream. A day at WildPlay Element Parks‘ Victoria location offers a variety of aerial adventure packages with access to zip lines, wobbly bridges, rope swings, ax throwing, and bungee jumping.



Morro Bay, California

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There’s nothing quite like settling in along the California coast with your kids in tow, and the often overlooked community of Morro Bay is a great place to visit. Spot otters and whales from the coast, pack a picnic to enjoy on the beach, or spend the day sailing, golfing, biking, or surfing. When you need a break, grab a bite at Sylvester’s Burgers — the garlic fries are out of this world! Afterward, head to Morro Bay State Park or drop by the Morro Bay Maritime Museum.



Rincón, Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico has a little something for everyone, and it’s easily accessible with direct flights from more than 50 cities. The surf town of Rincón, on the westernmost tip of the island, is about a 2.5-hour drive from San Juan. Its laid-back vibe, beautiful beaches, and great waves are perfect for families. Book a room at the Rincon of the Seas Grand Caribbean Hotel, or save on food by reserving a villa with a kitchen — the largest villas can accommodate up to six people. Either way, this hotel puts you right on the sea and has a stunning beachfront pool perfect for lounging and playing.



Mackinac Island, Michigan

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In the summer, there’s no place like Mackinac Island, a National Historic Landmark void of chain hotels and cars — yes, you read that right. Instead, your family will be treated to an old-timey experience filled with world-famous Mackinac Island fudge and days spent biking around the island, taking a ferry under the Mackinac Bridge, or cruising around the coast by kayak.


The star of the island is the historic Grand Hotel, which opened its doors in 1887. In addition to old-world hospitality and perks like afternoon tea, the hotel features on-site stables and an expansive pool. Kids can also spend the day playing lawn games and mini-golf.



Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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A trip to the Grand Canyon is almost certainly on the to-do list for lots of families. And while the natural wonder tends to be busy in the summer, you can avoid the crowds and find better pricing by heading to the North Rim (open seasonally). Cozy up in the Grand Canyon Lodge — book early to secure a room — or reserve a campsite at the North Rim Campground. This area offers pleasant summer temperatures and serves as the perfect base camp to enjoy the abundant wildlife, hiking trails, and views of the stunning canyon, which is 270 miles long, 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.