15 Family Vacation Spots That Won't Break the Bank
Everyone loves a good family vacation. It gives everyone a chance to escape the day-to-day stress and embrace new adventures and create new memories — together.
And although taking a break from the daily grind is important, a family vacation is often seen as a luxurious splurge instead of an investment in the family itself. However, vacations don’t have to be pricey to make an impact on children. Ultimately, they should be all about fun and encourage creativity and play. But, researching destinations, comparing hotels and airfare, and finding age-appropriate attractions can cause major headaches.
That’s why we’ve rounded up trending, budget-friendly destinations to visit this year that both parents and children will love. Grab the kids, pack up the suitcases and check out these family-friendly hotspots.
Kansas City, Missouri
Most travelers flock to Kansas City for its world-famous barbecue and jazz scene, but that’s not all this Midwest city has to offer. This trending destination landed itself on National Geographic’s “Best Trips 2019” list and was applauded for its urban revival. The 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City and Kansas City Streetcar are recent additions, giving visitors an inside look into KC’s vibrant arts scene and rich history.
Families can also stroll through Kansas City’s 18th & Vine historic jazz district and make stops at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and adjacent American Jazz Museum. Another must-see attraction in town is The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — admission is always free, and the museum is known for its neoclassical architecture and extensive art collection spanning 5,000 years.
Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Although Playa del Carmen is legendary for its nightlife and entertainment, it’s more than just a Spring Break getaway. Families can kick back and relax at Riu Palace Mexico, a beachfront, all-inclusive resort, where parties are not allowed, and the freshwater pool sits right next to the Caribbean Sea.
A highlight in the Riviera Maya, Snorkel Xtreme offers a day of action-packed adventure for the whole family, including snorkeling, zip lining and rappelling. Fat Cat Catamaran tours are another great option for families; the 45-foot luxury catamaran has plenty of space for strollers, and kids ages 2 and under are free.
Yellowstone National Park
Spread out across more than 2.2 million acres, Yellowstone reaches into Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, offering plenty of dramatic peaks and crystal-clear lakes for families to explore. The park attracts more than 4 million visitors a year, and for good reason. Yellowstone is an outdoor lover’s paradise with its countless hot springs, forests, mountains, meadows, canyons, geysers and waterfalls.
Old Faithful, the world’s most-renowned geyser, is a must-see for every visitor. The awe-inspiring eruptions occur approximately every 90 minutes, averaging about 130-feet high. Several hotels, dining areas and a visitors center surround Old Faithful, and families can even choose to see the geyser via bus tour, like those offered by Buffalo Bus Touring Company.
Named one of the “10 Best U.S. Cities to Visit in 2019” by Smarter Travel, Nashville is constantly in the spotlight. Music City is a great destination for families — whether it’s exploring the dynamic music scene, navigating the outdoors or seeking out the best Nashville hot chicken sandwich.
At the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, kids can learn some guitar basics, dance to country music, design costumes, write songs and dive into more than 2.5 million artifacts, including photographs, recordings and instruments. Cheekwood Estate & Gardens is a 55-acre botanical garden and art museum, and its Tuesdays for Tots program allows kids to get hands-on with art- and garden-based activities.
The Grand Canyon
One of the most iconic sites in the world is also the most affordable. Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Arizona's Grand Canyon is on Travel + Leisure’s “50 Best Places to Travel in 2019.” The Grand Canyon, measuring in at 277 river miles in length, up to 18 miles in width and 1-mile deep, sees 6 million visitors a year and is an officially designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because of this, the canyon can get pretty crowded.
The South Rim — housing the Grand Canyon Village and Bright Angel Trail — is very popular for sightseers and holds the most amenities. To escape the crowds, however, check out the North Rim. This is the spot for camping and hardcore hikers. The park’s peak season is during the summer months, making March to May or September to November the best times to visit.
Mouth-watering Mexican cuisine, consistent sunshine and 70 miles of coastline all add up to an incredible family vacation. San Diego is home to one of the country’s favorite zoos and plenty of budget-friendly hotels, making it a top family destination in the United States.
Balboa Park houses 17 museums and cultural institutions, including the San Diego Air & Space Museum, and it’s also where the world-famous San Diego Zoo and Safari Park is located. Get on the water and explore the USS Midway Museum, which gives children a hands-on view of maritime history inside a historic aircraft carrier.
Asheville, North Carolina
Appalachian heritage meets a contemporary, urban metropolis in Asheville. The mountain town was also listed on Smarter Travel’s “10 Best U.S. Cities to Visit in 2019” for its consistent growth, trendy shops, restaurants and cafes.
Biltmore, America’s largest home and Asheville’s most popular attraction, will offer new hands-on experiences this year. Think electric tricycle tours and falconry lessons. Families visiting in the fall months can hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for jaw-dropping hues of color. Have some adrenaline seekers in the family? Try whitewater rafting or zip lining with French Broad Adventures.
As the fastest-growing large city in the United States, Austin is a destination that begs to be explored. From mouthwatering barbecue and Tex-Mex to a booming tech industry and renowned music scene, Austin has it all. And although the eccentric city has a high student population and is known for its festivals, Austin is big on families.
Check out Zilker Botanical Garden, where rose, herb and Japanese gardens are interconnected with streams, Koi-filled ponds and waterfalls. Adventure seekers can hop in the water with Austin Kayak Tours and learn more about the city’s history while taking in panoramic views of Austin’s skyline.
This progressive, Pacific Northwest city has become well-known for its independent boutiques, locally roasted coffee, diverse food scene (with more than 500 food trucks) and abundant art galleries. The city’s chilled-out vibe makes for a perfect vacation destination for parents, while the kids will love the zoo and playful museums.
Portland is also big for outdoor enthusiasts — try hiking and biking in Forest Park, exploring the Columbia River Gorge, stand-up paddle boarding on the Willamette River or reaching new heights at the volcanic Mount Hood, home to the nation’s longest ski season.
Pittsburgh has been nicknamed “Kidsburgh,” and it’s no wonder why. From the Pittsburgh Zoo to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Steel City has tons of great activities and attractions for families. The subway line also offers free rides around downtown, and many lunch spots run for under $10, making it easy on the wallet.
For a little exercise and a (fun) history lesson, try a downtown walking tour, courtesy of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), offering 150 miles of biking and hiking, provides a scenic way to explore Pittsburgh’s tunnels and bridges.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is full of unspoiled natural beauty. Family trips to The Mitten State include heart-pumping outdoor adventure, rushing waterfalls and endless miles of shoreline. Take the kids to Munising, where they can hike Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the country’s first national lakeshore. They surely won’t forget exploring the pristine beaches, lush forests and sandy dunes that line Lake Superior.
Take advantage of the summer months by cruising along the Pictured Rocks shoreline on a kayak tour with Paddling Michigan, or check out campsites nearby at Little Beaver Lake, Twelvemile Beach or Hurricane River.
Atlanta is home to rich civil rights history, a burgeoning food and drink scene, and is known for its Southern charm and hospitality. But families visiting The ATL can’t miss Pemberton Place. Located in the heart of downtown, Pemberton Place is a 20-acre hub that houses the World of Coca-Cola, Georgia Aquarium and Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The CNN Studio Tour is an exciting way for children (4 and older) to learn how a newsroom operates, and visitors can watch behind-the-scenes action and see what it takes to put a broadcast together. A quick cab ride from downtown, Fernbank Museum of Natural History brings natural history to life through innovative galleries, programming and hands-on exhibits.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Located in the heart of the American West, Jackson Hole is skirted by the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges, offering powdery skiing in the winter and gorgeous hiking in the summer. Also on Travel + Leisure’s “50 Best Places to Travel in 2019”, luxury ski resorts, spas and world-class restaurants have brought some elegance to this wild western town.
The Jackson Hole Grand Adventure Park, located at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, is loaded with family fun. The Grand Adventure Pass includes tram access, Teewinot access, a ropes course, bungee trampoline, gondola access, bike park ticket and climbing wall. The Aerial Tram, in just 12 minutes, glides up 4,139 feet, offering unparalleled, 360-degree views of the Tetons, Jackson Hole valley and surrounding mountain ranges.
Charleston, South Carolina
Pirates, 120 public parks, antebellum mansions and alligators. Charleston is full of unique family attractions and was also named the best small city in the U.S. in Conde Nast Traveler’s "2018 Readers’ Choice Awards" survey. The city’s biggest draw is its Southern charm, historic architecture and world-class cuisine — think tangy barbecue, Lowcountry favorites and ridiculously fresh seafood.
At the South Carolina Aquarium, families can go behind the scenes with a tour of the Sea Turtle Hospital and learn how staff nurse sea turtles back to healthy lives. Another popular stop is the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, where the kids can climb a medieval castle, get behind the wheel of a pirate ship or create an original work of art in the museum’s art center.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Orlando always gets the spotlight when it comes to family vacations in Florida. But, Fort Lauderdale’s thriving arts scene, 23 miles of beaches and quirky eateries should not be ignored. Located downtown, the Museum of Discovery and Science is perfect for younger children, offering 200 interactive exhibits including live animal habitats and flight simulators.
Butterfly World, the world’s largest butterfly park and home to over 20,000 live butterflies, is also great for both kids and parents. Just a short drive from Fort Lauderdale, the park includes botanical gardens, waterfalls, roses and passion vines that families can explore.