13 Cheap Family Vacations That Don’t Skimp on Fun

This year's top budget-friendly family vacation destinations in the U.S. deliver maximum bang for your vacation buck.
Santa Monica pier aerial view
(Photo: Matthew Lejune via Unsplash)

When you add up transportation, lodging, and meals, the most popular family vacation spots around the U.S. can get expensive fast. If you have a large family or rely on restaurants for meals, even modest trips can start to feel financially overwhelming. But the good news is cheap family vacations aren’t just doable—they can actually be among the best family vacation ideas you’ll ever have. 

Budget-Friendly Family Vacations in the United States

By taking advantage of free activities, advance planning, and strategic frugality, cheap family vacations don’t have to mean boring family vacations. Here are my picks for the top budget-friendly family vacation destinations in the U.S.A. that deliver the maximum value for your vacation buck.

1. Custer State Park and the Black Hills, South Dakota

Person on the zipline at Rushmore Tramway Adventures
South Dakota is one of the country’s most action-packed family vacation destinations on a budget (Photo: TravelSouthDakota)

South Dakota’s first and largest state park, Custer State Park, is a 71,000-acre wildlife preserve known for its free-ranging bison herd, buffalo safari jeep tours, and buffalo round-ups. As if custom built for family road trips, it boasts a number of scenic drives where you can take in the Black Hills scenery and additional wildlife like bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goats, pronghorns, deer, prairie dogs, and perhaps even a mountain lion. 

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The park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway is a prime viewing route for the wildlife that lives among its pine-covered hills, rolling prairies, and red-walled canyons. Another way to spot animals is taking a two-hour Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour to not only view the wildlife up close in their natural habitat, but also learn about the animals and park history from a guide. 

“The Black Hills offers plenty of fun in a fairly compact and easy to navigate region, which means you can stay in one place and see it all,” says FamilyVacationist contributor Kathryn Sarkis. “Just a short hop from Denver, it’s a year-round destination that makes it perfect for a long weekend or weeklong vacation.”

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With low- and no-budget activities such as camping, hiking along the numerous trails, swimming in the park’s five lakes, boating, fishing, horseback riding, and even watching performances in the Black Hills Playhouse, there’s something for everyone on a budget in Custer State Park. Conveniently, it’s located just east of the city of Custer, and it’s not far from other budget-friendly family vacation spots like Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park. You can easily explore all three in one affordable family trip in 2024.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Vacations Near Custer, South Dakota

The nearly century-old State Game Lodge was the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady for three months in 1927. The State Game Lodge has a variety of national park lodge-like accommodations, from historic guest rooms in the main lodge to more modern hotel rooms and luxury cabins. In addition to accommodations, the State Game Lodge serves as the departure point for the Buffalo Safari Jeep Tours.

For an even cheaper family vacation that makes the most of the surrounding natural beauty, check out Gold Camp Cabins. This rustic resort offers multi-room cabins with kitchens, BBQ grills, and a fire ring. There’s a fishing pond on site, too.

2. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Peaceful sunrise on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina (Photo: @shannonfieldsphoto via Twenty20)
Beach destinations like Myrtle Beach make for affordable family vacations (Photo: @shannonfieldsphoto via Twenty20)

Spending lots of time on the beach is an easy way to keep family travel costs down, and Myrtle Beach is among the most budget-friendly vacation spots for doing just that. It’s also drivable from a lot of different places along the East Coast, which means you can save money on flights, too.

“Known for its bustling boardwalk, amusement parks, old-fashioned arcade games, live entertainment, and other attractions, Myrtle Beach can keep everyone in your group occupied for days,” says FamilyVacationist contributor Kara Williams. “The resort area stretches along a full 60 miles of coastline and includes quieter spots like Surfside Beach, which is popular among families for its multiple beach access points.”

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After spending the day on the sand, there’s lots of free entertainment and events to be found at night (especially during the summer) at places like Broadway at the Beach, Barefoot Landing, and The Market Common. The local tourism bureau also offers a downloadable coupon book for even more vacation discounts.

On rainy or just-too-hot days, head to the always-free Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum to check out its collection of Southern art and other works. Do some bird-watching while strolling the Murrells Inlet MarshWalk, or head to Myrtle Beach State Park to swim, shell, fish, bike, and hike. Last but not least, the Myrtle Beach area is home to some 50 themed miniature golf courses for hours of family fun that’s easy on the pocketbook.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Trips Near Myrtle Beach 

Budget-friendly family hotels are plentiful in Myrtle Beach. Westgate Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Resort has recently renovated oceanfront rooms and villas and amenities like a heated pool and lazy river, often for under $100 a night, while Captain’s Quarters Resort has multiple pools, a lazy river, a water playground area, and a 20-lane bowling alley. If camping’s your thing, there are lots of places where you can pitch a tent or park your RV and still enjoy easy access to the beach.

3. Bowling Green, Kentucky

Entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park (Photo: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock)
Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, the largest known cave system in the world, is free to enter (Photo: Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock)

Cheap family vacations don’t get any more all-American than the caves, cars, and pure Americana in the rolling green hills of Kentucky’s Cave Country. Just an hour north of Nashville, the small (and underrated) town of Bowling Green is the closest tourist center to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest known cave system and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot. Mammoth Cave is 40 miles northeast of Bowling Green, making it an easy day trip with plenty of other things to do in the area.

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There’s no fee to enter Mammoth Cave National Park, and the aboveground activities like nature walks and hikes are free as well. You do need a ticket for a scheduled tour to enter the cave itself, and it’s recommended that you purchase your tickets ahead of time as they will sell out. Cave tours are inexpensive (they range from $8 to $23 in 2024, slightly less for children, seniors, and season pass holders) and take anywhere from one to three hours to complete. 

Beyond Mammoth Cave, the gearheads in your family will love the National Corvette Museum ($17 per ticket for ages 13 to 61, with discounts for younger kids, seniors, and members of the military). A fun highlight is the Corvette simulator ($10), which lets you get behind the wheel of a virtual C6 Corvette and drive it around a racetrack

Nestled along the Barren River, Beech Bend Park is a classic family-run entertainment complex that includes an amusement park, water park, drag strip, and campground. Its raceway is one of America’s oldest continually operating drag strips. Races take place every weekend between March and November, and many events are nationally recognized car shows. Sometimes you can even drag your own car out on the strip.

Where to Stay for Budget-Friendly Vacations Near Bowling Green, Kentucky

Close to shops and restaurants, Hilton Garden Inn Bowling Green is an affordable bargain that offers a cooked-to-order breakfast, heated pool, and whirlpool. It’s a great and relatively cheap home base for all of Bowling Green’s family-friendly attractions.

4. South Padre Island, Texas

Isla Grand Beach Resort on South Padre Island (Photo: Isla Grand Beach Resort)
Isla Grand Beach Resort is a great value on South Padre Island (Photo: Isla Grand Beach Resort)

A South Texas barrier island, South Padre Island offers affordable year-round beach-focused getaways the whole family will enjoy. The area’s been dubbed the Sandcastle Capital of the World, and you can find more than two dozen sand sculptures around the island made by pros from near and far by following the free Sandcastle Trail. Create your own masterpiece on the beach for some free family fun.

“I recently spent time on South Padre Island checking out its most family-friendly sights, and love how many opportunities there are to get kids off screens and out into nature, playing at the beach, riding horses, seeing wildlife up close, and even maybe catching a liftoff into space,” says FamilyVacationist contributor Mina Hippert.

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South Padre Island’s animal residents also get a lot of love here. Check the schedule at Sea Turtle Inc. to see if there’s a free public hatchling release while you’re in town, then follow the Sea Turtle Trail to see artistic interpretations of the aquatic reptile. The South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary is a great place to spot all kinds of wildlife and winged creatures; more than 200 species of migratory birds stop at the island during their annual spring and fall migrations.

The island is also known as the Fireworks Capital of Texas, and multiple fireworks displays take place over the beach and bay throughout the week during the summer months. Family-friendly festivals and events are on the calendar throughout the year, and you might even be able to catch at SpaceX launch from the nearby Boca Chica launch site.

Where to Stay Near South Padre Island, Texas

There’s no shortage of family resorts in Texas, and the Isla Grand Beach Resort ranks among the best of them for value. It boasts a prime beachfront location on the southern part of South Padre Island and amenities like two swimming pools, tennis courts, and sand volleyball courts. La Copa Inn is another good option. There’s a free hot daily breakfast, family suites with kitchenettes and space to spread out, and a private boardwalk leading to the beach.

5. Santa Monica, California

Entrance to the Santa Monica pier at sunset
Santa Monica’s sunny beaches can be a part of a cheap family vacation in California (Photo: Gerson Repreza via Unsplash)

A city within a city, Santa Monica’s location within greater Los Angeles makes it a great home base for SoCal family beach vacations. And while LA can get pricey fast, Santa Monica’s sunny beaches are a great budget equalizer when planning cheap family vacations.

“For an introduction to California’s sun-kissed lifestyle, Santa Monica can’t be beat,” says FamilyVacationist contributor Allison Tibaldi, who recommends “renting bikes and pedaling the beachside path past the Santa Monica Pier’s Ferris Wheel.”

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Santa Monica has a popular stretch of beach adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier. This classic amusement pier opened in the early 1900s and has a number of kid-favorite rides, including a roller coaster and the Pacific Wheel. An unlimited ride wristband is $40 for ages eight and up and just $20 ages for seven and under; individual ride fees range from $5 to $12 in 2024. Since it’s a public beach park, you can bring a picnic lunch to save on food costs as well.

Of course, Southern California is known for its endless summers and beach culture, and it’s easy to check out the other beaches in the Los Angeles area too:

  • Venice Beach is the place to people watch and always has a number of roller skaters, skate dancers, artists, and bodybuilders on scene.
  • Manhattan Beach’s long strip of sandy shore is anchored by beach volleyball courts and the free nonprofit Roundhouse Marine Studies Lab and Aquarium.
  • Hermosa Beach is a two-mile strip connecting Manhattan and Redondo Beaches
  • The Strand is a 20-mile paved biking and running path that stretches all the way from Hermosa Beach back north to Santa Monica.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Vacations Near Santa Monica, California

You can pay upwards of $500 per night at some Santa Monica hotels, but for the perfect combination of budget-friendly affordability and location, try the Ocean Lodge Santa Monica Beach Hotel. This three-star family-friendly beachfront hotel has rooms in the $165 per night range and is just a five-minute walk from Main Street and Santa Monica Pier. Another cheap family vacation is Sea Blue Hotel, a cute place right across from the pier that boasts both junior and family suites and has one of the lowest price tags on the beach.

6. Bangor and the Maine Highlands, Maine

View of Mount Katahdin (Photo: @Altechphoto via Twenty20)
Head to Maine for cheap family vacations loaded with free and affordable activities (Photo: @Altechphoto via Twenty20)

The Great Outdoors is just a scenic drive away for families in the Northeast. The Maine Highlands region, which includes Moosehead Lake, Baxter State Park, Mount Katahdin, and the city of Bangor, is an area filled with natural beauty and wildlife. Bangor itself boasts miles of biking and hiking trails inside Bangor City Forest, and the Orono Bog Boardwalk is a one-mile nature walk into the bog on the University of Maine’s campus.

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Legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan welcomes visitors to Bangor in the form of a 30-foot-tall statue, and the Maine Discovery Museum ($10 per person in 2024) in Bangor is devoted to children and encourages creative play. Teens and pop culture fans will know that legendary horror novelist Stephen King’s long-time home is in Bangor, and it’s easy to explore the places that have inspired many of his novels, such as It, Pet Sematary, Carrie, and The Stand

Only an hour-away from Bangor is Acadia National Park, the only national park in the Northeast and a relatively cheap family vacation destination that’s loaded with beaches, islands, scenic walking and carriage trails, and one of the country’s top national park campgrounds. It’s a great four-season destination, but it’s at its most budget-friendly in the winter (when there’s still plenty to do). Bangor is a great starting point to stock up before visiting this rocky section of the Atlantic coast.

And just a few hours west of Bangor is the state’s High Peaks region, home to the Maine Huts and Trails organization, which maintains family-friendly huts and trails for walking and biking trips.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Vacations Near Bangor, Maine

For cheap family vacations that deliver an authentic Maine outdoors experience, stay at the campgrounds at Baxter State Park, the northernmost point of the Appalachian Trail. Primitive cabins are available, but you will need to bring all supplies for sleeping and cooking. Those who aren’t into “roughing it” will find a variety of chain hotels in Bangor. One option is Country Inn at the Mall, which includes breakfast in its nightly rates. The affordable Whitetail Inn and Suites in Lincoln boasts a central location and offers several units with kitchenettes.

7. Hershey, Pennsylvania

Entrance to Hersheypark
EHead to Hersheypark for cheap family vacations that can compete with Disney and Universal for theme park thrills (Photo: Hersheypark)

How can you go wrong with an entire town dedicated to chocolate? At Hershey’s historic amusement park, Hersheypark, you’ll find more than 60 sweet rides, including 15 roller coasters, an outdoor water park, and a family campground. One-day tickets start at $85 in 2024, but seasonal promotions can bring them as low as $40 per day depending on the time of year. There’s also an entire chocolate-themed dining establishment, The Chocolatier Restaurant, with fantastic theme park views and a menu showcasing classic family fare with a fun chocolatey spin. 

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And the best part? Admission to Hersheypark doesn’t just cost less than Disney or Universal (a lot less), it also goes further. Every ticket holder is entitled to a sweet preview of the amusement park on the evening before your scheduled visit that adds some bonus time inside the park for no additional cost.

Other attractions in Hershey include Hershey Gardens, The Hershey Story, ZooAmerica, and Hershey’s Chocolate World (home to Hershey’s largest candy store). At Hershey’s Chocolate World, chocolate tours are always free. Of course, if you ever decide to leave the kids at home for a weekend, there are plenty of romantic getaways in Pennsylvania that are great for couples too.

“The sweetest place in the United States also happens to be within driving distance of many northeast cities,” notes FamilyVacationist’s Carly Caramanna. And if you can skip the cost of flights, Hershey becomes an even more budget-friendly family vacation destination.

Where to Stay Near Hershey, Pennsylvania, for Affordable Family Vacations

At Hershey Lodge, the hotel’s official motto is “kids are not just welcome, they’re expected.” Kids even have their own kid-sized check-in desk. Children sign the guest book, color, learn about resort activities, and maybe even meet a Hershey character or two. Hershey Lodge has two outdoor pools and a large, heated indoor pool, basketball and tennis courts, and free mini golf for hotel guests. 

Hershey Lodge also has a free shuttle to Hersheypark and Hershey’s Chocolate World. And on select dates each year, it offers a variety of discounted packages that include park tickets, breakfast, and/or free nights.

8. Central Florida

LEGOLAND Florida Water Park is one od the top Orlando-area water parks for families (Photo: LEGOLAND)
Central Florida has plenty of cheaper alternatives to the Disney and Universal theme parks (Photo: LEGOLAND)

There’s no question that many of the best family vacations involve the roller coasters and lazy rivers of the Orlando theme parks and Disney water parks. Unfortunately, no trips built entirely around the Florida theme parks would ever qualify as cheap family vacations. The good news is there’s a host of free and affordable attractions worth visiting in Orlando and Tampa that are perfect for cheap vacations with kids. You might even save enough money on these budget-friendly alternatives to afford a day or two at Disney’s Star Wars land or Universal’s Harry Potter theme park as well. 

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Besides Mickey Mouse, what’s the first thing kids think of when you mention Florida? Perhaps alligators come to mind. The Circle B Bar Reserve on Lake Hancock has 3,000 to 4,000 alligators and one of the most impressive bird habitats in the country. And, proving that the best deals are free deals, admission to the nature reserve is totally free.

Families looking for an alternative theme park to Disney and Universal can head to LEGOLAND Florida, which is built on the former site of Cypress Gardens. LEGOLAND Florida offers more than 50 different rides and attractions, including the Pirate River Quest, a boating adventure that traverses a tropical lake and canals with various wildlife sightings along the way. (The tour is fit for all ages and includes ADA-accessible boats.) The park also features plenty of LEGO models, live shows including a water ski show, and the original botanical garden. It’s an especially good amusement park for kids on the younger side.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Vacations in Central Florida 

At Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo, the one of the best dude ranches east of the Mississippi River, the on-site recreational activities including horseback rides, airboats, swamp buggy tours, zip-lines, and a weekly Saturday night championship rodeo. Kids will love the cowboy-themed accommodations ranging from family glamping tents and teepees to two-bedroom cabins and Conestoga wagons. While some of the accommodations can get expensive, the basic campsites sleep up to six people for $50 to $65 per night.

9. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

View of Gulf Shores shoreline
Enjoy 32 miles of unspoiled beaches in Gulf Shores, Alabama (Photo: Tristan Fox via Unsplash)

Located on a narrow barrier island at the southernmost tip of Alabama, the family-friendly Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area is 32 miles of soft white sand beaches along the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The inland areas beyond the dunes are marked by pine tree forests, freshwater lakes, rivers, bayous, and coves filled with an abundance of wildlife.

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With nearly 6,500 acres of protected land, 28 miles of paved and enhanced trails, and almost three miles of beautiful beaches, Gulf State Park is one of those state parks that’s so grand it feels like it could easily be a national park instead. The park received an $85 million dollar infusion following the BP oil spill and has upgraded its facilities immensely with that investment. Its Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability is a world-class ecotourism and experiential learning facility developed in partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society. 

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach have plenty of other budget-friendly family attractions as well. Kids love the Fort Morgan Historic Site, Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo ($15 for kids, $23 for adults in 2024), and the Ferris Wheel at The Wharf ($8 per person, and kids three and under are free).

Where to Stay for Budget-Friendly Family Vacations Near Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama

Located right on the beach, The Lodge at Gulf State Park is a Hilton Hotel inside the park that was totally reconstructed after Hurricane Ivan (2004) and opened in 2018. Dedicated to sustainable tourism, the lodge is right next door to the park’s Interpretive Center, Alabama’s most environmentally friendly building. “Built to meet LEED Gold standards, The Lodge has views of the Gulf of Mexico or Gulf State Park,” notes Beth Luberecki, FamilyVacationist’s editor-at-large.

For a cheaper vacation option, consider Courtyard by Marriott Gulf Shores Craft Farms, which boasts an outdoor pool and on-site restaurant, often for under $100 per night.

10. Washington, D.C.

View of the Washington Monument (Photo: @1davidlange via Twenty20)
Many of the best things to do in Washington, D.C., are free or extremely inexpensive (Photo: @1davidlange via Twenty20)

“Visiting the Greater Washington, D.C. area offers infinite opportunities for learning and fun,” says Nina Cohen, a frequent FamilyVacationist contributor who visited D.C. with her children. “All museums on the Mall are free of charge, though some may require timed entry reservations.”

The nation’s capital is always a cheap-but-fun family destination because so many of the most popular sites have free admission. History-loving families should head to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of African American History and Culture (start your visit on the ground floor for the history tour or on the top floor for a celebration of African-American arts and culture), National Air and Space Museum, Library of Congress, or Ford’s Theatre.

Art lovers will enjoy the sculptures of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden or the National Gallery of Art. Both are free, though sometimes timed passes are required at even free D.C. museums. Nature lovers will enjoy the National Zoo, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, the Potomac River, and Rock Creek Park. Of course there’s always free sightseeing just by walking down Pennsylvania Avenue and spying the White House or strolling the length of the National Mall, checking out the monuments and memorials between the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial. Take a detour off the mall to stroll around the Tidal Basin and visit the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

With all of the free options in and around the National Mall, you may be wondering how you can fit it all in. The good news is that the DC Circulator has a regular bus route in and around D.C.’s most popular sites; it’s still just $1 per ride in 2024 (kids five and under are free) and you get a free transfer within two hours to Metrobus, so you can rest your weary legs and hit as many sites as your family can comfortably enjoy.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Vacations Near Washington, D.C. 

The mid-range Gaylord National Resort is just outside Washington, D.C., on the shores of the Potomac adjacent to all the shops, restaurants, and activities of National Harbor. Its nearly two-acre glass enclosed atrium brings the outdoors in (without D.C.’s infamous humidity) and contains gardens, fountains, and two-story period houses that serve as gift shops. In the same general area, Residence Inn National Harbor is a less expensive suite-style hotel option that includes free breakfast. 

11. Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri
Branson is synonymous with family vacations in the Midwest (Photo: Faith Perkins via Unsplash)

With all of its family-run business and entertainment offerings, Branson truly puts the “family” in family vacations. You’ll find many of the kid-friendly attractions as you cruise down the Country Boulevard of Missouri Highway 76. Branson’s Entertainment District, called The Strip, hosts theaters with a number of extravagant shows, but there’s also the World’s Largest Toy Museum ($16 for kids over seven, $25 for adults, or $75 for a family pass), Branson Ferris Wheel ($11 to $15, and toddler are free), Titanic Museum ($15 or $35 or $115 for a family pass), Aquarium at the Boardwalk ($20 to $45), and multiple high-rise Mario Kart-style go-kart tracks like The Tracks. 

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The show that launched Branson’s tourist boom, The Shepherd of the Hills, is located at the western end of The Strip. This production has run for decades and features a massive cast (more than 90 people), live animals, a shoot-out, and a fire as it weaves a colorful story of the Ozarks and the people who settled there. Shepherd’s is now an Adventure Park with options that go far beyond the theater production that made it famous, offering canopy tours, zip lining, coasters, and more.

Just outside of town is Silver Dollar City, a theme park that’s also part living history museum, part artisan community, part food festival, and part natural wonder (seriously, you can go spelunking there). When you’ve had your fill of the roadside attractions along The Strip, head out on a real Midwest road trip for some hiking, biking, or climbing in the surrounding forests, mountains, and lakes.

“State parks, fantastic caverns, cool lakes, and loads of accessible hiking trails in the Ozark Mountains are easy to find just minutes away from the downtown action,” says Chelsea Adams, a FamilyVacationist contributor.

Where to Stay Near Branson, Missouri 

On the shores of Table Rock Lake, Big Cedar Lodge is an attraction unto itself. The lodge offers a wide range of accommodations from family-friendly hotel rooms to private luxury cabins. There are also five different swimming pools, a sandy beach, paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks all available for use. In both the Theater District and in and around Downton Branson, there are plenty of even more economical options such as the Hotel Grand Victorian and The Lodge of the Ozarks.

12. New York, New York

View of the Manhattan skyline and Empire State Building in New York City (Photo: @eric_urquhart via Twenty20)
There are actually plenty of free and cheap things to do in New York City (Photo: @eric_urquhart via Twenty20)

It may not be the first place you think of for cheap family vacations, but New York City can actually be among the best family vacations on a budget but when you take advantage of all the free and inexpensive things to do there. Yes, some attractions can be expensive, but if you strategically mix those free and inexpensive activities alongside a few pricier splurges, you can easily make the Big Apple a budget-friendly vacation destination.

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Central Park may be one of the most famous urban parks in the world, and its 843 acres make up the largest green space in Manhattan. The park itself is a National Historic Landmark and has a number of kid-friendly attractions like the Central Park Zoo, Bethesda Terrace, playgrounds, statue walks, boating, tennis, and a variety of recreation and sporting activities. Central Park’s open-air Delacorte Theater is home to the popular Shakespeare in the Park productions and various other plays, concerts, and performances. 

Times Square, the “Crossroads of the World,” is what many people think of when they think of New York City. Kids will be mesmerized by the bright lights of the towering marquees and costumed characters. The Empire State Building is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper that opened in 1931 and held the title of tallest building in the world for almost 40 years.

Finally, the Staten Island Ferry is a free service sponsored by the city of New York that shuttles passengers between lower Manhattan and Staten Island. The five-mile, 25-minute trip offers fantastic views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island as well as Manhattan’s skyline and bridges and won’t cost you a penny.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Vacations Near New York City 

SoHo 54 in lower Manhattan is kid-friendly and offers rooms large enough to accommodate kids for about $150 on select nights. More expensive, but still among the most affordable New York family hotels at certain times of the year, is the centrally located The Muse New York (formerly Kimpton Muse Hotel), less than a block from Times Square and Broadway and easy walking distance to Central Park.

13. Port Angeles, Washington

Lake Crescent Exterior - Lake Side and Dock
The waterside tables and chairs at Lake Crescent Lodge provide both a beautiful view and a chance to relax or play after your hike in the Port Angeles area (Photo: Lake Crescent Lodge)

Only about two hours from Seattle, Port Angeles feels like it’s a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city. With easy access to some of the most beautiful spots on the Olympic Peninsula and lots to do for family members of all ages and abilities, Port Angeles is a perfect low-budget coastal adventure spot for your next family vacation.

Most people come to Port Angeles because it’s the northern gateway to Olympic National Park. Heading west out of town, stop first for the walk to Marymere Falls; this gentle hike through old growth forest crosses the river and winds up to a beautiful vista of the 90-foot waterfall. Following your hike, if you aren’t staying at Lake Crescent Lodge, it’s worth a stop. The waterside tables and chairs provide both a beautiful view and a chance to relax or play after your hike. Families can rent single or tandem kayaks; canoes; or paddleboards on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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Loop around by car to the other side of Lake Crescent for another easy shaded walk on the Spruce Railroad Trail to Devil’s Punchbowl. This mostly paved walk takes you down a former rail trail, along the lake, to a swimming hole that can’t be missed. Jump from the rocks or bridge or simply ease in to get refreshed. For the more adventurous and hearty, the hike up Hurricane Ridge affords magnificent vistas of both the Olympic mountains and Vancouver Island.

In town, you can get a sense of both the surrounding natural beauty and conservation efforts at the Feiro Marine Life Center. And for a small entry fee ($6 for adults, $4 for kids ages three to 17, and free for children under three) you can see up close the diverse marine life that makes up the Salish Sea. Combining natural beauty with the talent of local artists, the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center hosts exhibits that live in and among the beautiful setting.

If you want to get a sense of the town from the water and experience the Salish Sea while adding another beautiful city to your vacation, take the 90-minute Black Ball Ferry from Port Angeles out to Victoria, British Columbia. You can sometimes pair your ferry crossing with lodging for discounts and have a two-for-one vacation.

Where to Stay for Cheap Family Vacations Near Port Angeles

Nature lovers shouldn’t miss Lake Crescent Lodge. With peak season pricing as low as $161 per night, this is a national park treasure. The lobby has games and a beautiful setting for any meal, and room options vary from shared bathroom to private cabin. For more downtown charm, contact the Sea Cliff Gardens Bed and Breakfast for availability and annual rates.

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Dave Parfitt
Dave Parfitt is a freelance travel writer interested in illuminating transformative family travel, multi-generational travel, inclusive and accessible travel, under-the-radar destinations, and immersive, authentic experiences. Dave's work has appeared in Lonely Planet, AAA, Fox News Travel, US News & World Report, FamilyVacationist, TravelAge West, USA Today, and Family Circle, to name a few. An academic with a PhD in neuroscience, Dave also works as an educational developer at a four-year college in Western New York when not in a theme park, national park, or on a cruise or road trip with his family.