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 destination — places where the summer season is quieter or lodging and food are cheap. And when you're traveling with kids, little things can go a long way toward lowering your overall cost — things like pre-packing snacks and making a stop at a local grocery store so you can make some of your own meals.
To lend a hand, we've rounded up destinations where you can have a great vacation at a great price. The best family vacation destinations have free and inexpensive 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 vacation destinations, bustling city excursions, and trips that include a bit of both. We've also listed both domestic and international options, so you'll find inspiration for an all-out adventure as well as ideas for a long weekend away.
Related: More summer vacation ideas
1. San Diego, California
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 like the San Diego Zoo, Legoland California, harbor cruises, and museums in Balboa Park, providing you with a discount of up to 50 percent.
2. Bar Harbor, Maine
Bar Harbor has plenty of swimming (which is, of course, free), 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, and cycling trails. At nearby Acadia National Park, a $30 vehicle pass will get the whole family into the park for a day of hiking and views of Maine's wildlife and wild coast.
3. Winter Park, Colorado
While you might think of Winter Park as a winter destination, it's also a great destination in the summer — especially if you're looking to escape the heat. In a single day, families can enjoy hiking, ropes courses, gondola rides, climbing walls, and Colorado's longest alpine slide. If you buy your day pass early (which provides access to all the activities noted), it's $10 for kids under the age of 4 and $59 for people ages 5 and over. The nearby Snow Mountain Ranch has one of the only summer tubing hills in the United States, as well as miniature golf, swimming, and indoor and outdoor climbing walls.
4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
"Kidsburgh" has tons of great activities for families — from the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. In the summer, there's a 10-day Grand Prix with vintage cars and walking tours for enjoying the city and getting some exercise. You'll also find lunch spots where you can get a meal for under $10, and the subway line offers free rides along the Golden Triangle, taking you around downtown.
If you're looking to spend some time outdoors, consider biking along the Great Allegheny Passage, which provides a scenic way to explore the city's many bridges and tunnels along a 150-mile trail.
5. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
If you and your kids love the beach, 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, giant chess, and cornhole. If your family is into mini golf, look no further than this seaside town, which boasts more than 50 courses.
6. St. Louis, Missouri
Free attractions in St. Louis include Purina Farms, where children can enjoy dog agility shows and animal barnyards, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, which is very kid friendly. Admission to the City Museum, with its 10-story slide, huge ball pit, and 40-foot high Ferris wheel, is $18 for ages two and up. Afterward, stop at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, known for custard shakes so thick they can be served upside down.
7. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
With a location next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is for the adventurous outdoor lover, with whitewater rafting, 800 miles of hiking trails, biking, and horseback riding. For a day of shopping that the whole family can get behind, visit the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community, which features handmade goods from local artisans alongside eateries. There are a variety of lodging options to choose from in Gatlinburg, including resorts and cabins. Some accommodations are offering free nights and discounts.
8. Lisbon, Portugal
Ready to explore the world with your kids? In Lisbon, families can enjoy a city and beach vacation in one. Explore the city's distinct neighborhoods, castles, and palaces, or hop onboard a funicular to climb the city's steep hills. For a ride up and down you'll pay around $4, giving you a cheap and scenic tour of the city.
9. Vienna, Austria
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, food, and recreation.
With the Vienna Pass, travelers can get free access to more than 60 of the city's top attractions, including museums, a giant Ferris wheel, attractions like Madame Tussauds, and the world's oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schoenbrunn, which dates back to 1752. The pass has single-day and multi-day options (including up to six days at a steep discount).
10. Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is an ideal family beach getaway, with plenty of resorts and all-inclusive properties that can cost as low as $100 a night. While the country has plenty of amazing destinations, it's hard to top Punta Cana for family travel. The town has 30 miles of white-sand coastline, picturesque coconut palms, and direct flights from over 28 countries and 96 cities around the world.
11. Fort Myers, Florida
If you and your crew can handle the heat, head to Florida. The white-sand beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel boast plenty of free, outdoor fun — and when it gets too hot, you can rent a kayak and slip through the mangroves or compare your shell findings to those found at the The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, the only museum in the U.S dedicated entirely to seashells (kids under 5 are free).
For an added dose of adventure, spend a few nights camping on Cayo Costa, a remote island only accessible by boat. Chances are you'll have the entire 9-mile island almost entirely to yourselves.
12. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
There's plenty of free fun to be had right across the border in Canada. In Victoria, 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 resident goats. For a free 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 (an aerial adventure park) is less than $20 per person and includes an endless array of zip lines, wobbly bridges, rope swings, ax throwing, and bungy jumping.
13. Morro Bay, California
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 (and affordable) place to visit. From the coast you can spot otters and whales, book a BBQ and bonfire right on the beach, or spend the day on the water, sailing, golfing, biking, and surfing.
14. Rincón, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has a little something for everyone — in addition to direct flights from 42 cities. The surf town of Rincón on the westernmost tip of the island (2.5 hours from San Juan by car) is perfect for families, with its laid-back vibe, beautiful beaches, and great waves.
You can 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, the hotel puts you right on the ocean and has a stunning beachfront pool perfect for lounging and playing.
15. Mackinac Island, Michigan
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 all the way around the island, taking a ferry under the Mackinac Bridge, or cruising around the coast by kayak.
And when you're on the island, there's no place like the historic Grand Hotel, which is kicking off its 136th season in 2022. In addition to old-world hospitality and perks like afternoon tea, kids can head to the on-site stables, the expansive pool, or spend the day playing lawn games and mini golf.
16. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
We're guessing a trip to the Grand Canyon has long been on your family's to-do list. 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 of the park.
On the North Rim, you can cozy up in the Grand Canyon Lodge (book early to secure a room!) or reserve a campsite at the North Rim Campground, which has pleasant summer temperatures and acts as the perfect basecamp for the North Rim's abundant wildlife, hiking trails, and views over the stunning canyon (which is 18 miles wide and a mile deep).