The 15 Best Affordable Family Vacations

From the Grand Canyon to Niagara Falls, these budget-friendly locales will appeal to the whole family.

U.S. News & World Report

The 15 Best Affordable Family Vacations

Sunset over the mountains during the summer Rhododenron bloom at Roan Mountain.
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These destinations deliver on fun and affordability.

Planning a budget-friendly family vacation can be tricky. When you add in transportation and lodging costs, along with meal and activity expenses, the total price can quickly soar into the thousands. But finding a destination that appeals to your multigenerational group without breaking the bank is possible. With the help of traveler feedback and editor analysis, U.S. News identified the best vacations for money-conscious families. Whether you're hoping to relax on the beach or explore America's national parks, you'll find a getaway to suit your family's needs.
The Virginia Beach fishing pier is a very popular and productive fishing spot. Virginia Beach is an independent city located in the U.S. state of Virginia. Virginia Beach is a resort city, and the Oceanfront is a main tourist attraction. The city is known for its pristine beaches, coastal cuisine and entertainment.
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15. Virginia Beach, Virginia

You and the kiddos could spend your whole Virginia Beach vacation enjoying the sand and boardwalk (and not spend a dime to do so), but you'd be missing out on the city's other must-sees. For a dose of history, head to First Landing State Park, where the Jamestown colonists greeted the New World in 1607. For just $4 to $5 a vehicle, you and your crew can learn about the English settlers who landed at the nearby Chesapeake Bay Center before exploring the park's 20 miles of trails and nearly 3,000 acres of land. To cut down on restaurant tabs, consider purchasing picnic fixings at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market.
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These destinations deliver on fun and affordability.

Planning a budget-friendly family vacation can be tricky. When you add in transportation and lodging costs, along with meal and activity expenses, the total price can quickly soar into the thousands. But finding a destination that appeals to your multigenerational group without breaking the bank is possible. With the help of traveler feedback and editor analysis, U.S. News identified the best vacations for money-conscious families. Whether you're hoping to relax on the beach or explore America's national parks, you'll find a getaway to suit your family's needs.

15. Virginia Beach, Virginia

You and the kiddos could spend your whole Virginia Beach vacation enjoying the sand and boardwalk (and not spend a dime to do so), but you'd be missing out on the city's other must-sees. For a dose of history, head to First Landing State Park, where the Jamestown colonists greeted the New World in 1607. For just $4 to $5 a vehicle, you and your crew can learn about the English settlers who landed at the nearby Chesapeake Bay Center before exploring the park's 20 miles of trails and nearly 3,000 acres of land. To cut down on restaurant tabs, consider purchasing picnic fixings at the Virginia Beach Farmers Market.

14. Tampa, Florida

Tampa is home to a bevy of attractions tailor-made for families, including Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium and the Lowry Park Zoo. The only problem? Admission tickets to all these sites can add up quickly. If you know you'll be visiting more than one attraction, purchase the Tampa CityPASS, which grants you entrance into five attractions for one price. If you're on the hunt for low-cost or free things to do, pay a visit to Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center or hop in the car. Some of Florida's most popular shorelines, including Clearwater Beach, Honeymoon Island State Park and Treasure Island, are located less than an hour away from downtown Tampa.

13. Minneapolis – St. Paul

Minneapolis deftly balances awe-inspiring natural wonders with entertaining indoor attractions. A visit to the 53-foot Minnehaha Falls won't cost you a thing, and neither will a walk around the metro's Chain of Lakes. If the weather won't cooperate, head to the Mall of America. Though it's free to enter the shopping mecca, many of the mall's kid-friendly attractions will put a dent in your budget, including the Crayola Experience + Store, Nickelodeon Universe and the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium. However, you can save money by purchasing tickets online or visiting after 5 p.m. If you're planning to stay in St. Paul, consider a visit to the Science Museum of Minnesota.

12. Williamsburg, Virginia

If you're hoping to sneak in a history lesson during your family getaway, consider a trip to Williamsburg. Home to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and the Yorktown Battlefield, this city along the Virginia Peninsula is like a living museum. When little ones grow tired of the historical demonstrations and re-enactments, head to Busch Gardens or Water Country USA. And when grown-ups need a break, the Williamsburg Winery is just 4 miles south of central Williamsburg. Though admission to the city's attractions can be pricey, combo tickets can help offset the cost.

11. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Myrtle Beach is that rare destination that can truly appeal to every family member. Its nutmeg-colored beaches are the top attraction, but this budget-friendly resort town on South Carolina's coast is also home to more than 100 golf courses, not to mention a smattering of putt-putt courses for golf pros in training. When you need a break from the sand or the greens, head to the Family Kingdom Amusement Park for a beachside Ferris wheel ride or to the Myrtle Waves Water Park for a spin down one of its many slides.

10. Destin, Florida

Miles of sugary white sand are the main draw of a Destin getaway (Crystal Beach, in particular, is beloved by visitors for its clean shoreline and clear waters). But this vacation hot spot on the Florida Panhandle offers much more than beaches. It's also a well-known fishing destination. Budding anglers can cast a line at any one of the city's jetties, beaches or piers, or learn about the area's sea creatures at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park. If you're traveling with a large group, consider booking a vacation rental or beach cottage rather than several hotel rooms to cut down on lodging costs.

9. Gatlinburg, Tennessee

If you and your family want to explore Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you'll want to use Gatlinburg as your home base. That's because this town in eastern Tennessee boasts three park entrances in its downtown. Since the park (Gatlinburg's top attraction) doesn't charge an entrance fee, it would be easy to devote your entire vacation budget to food and lodging. But your kids will likely want to take a ride on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram and enjoy the bevy of attractions stationed at the peak, including an alpine slide, chair swings, mini-golf and a maze.

8. Niagara Falls

This majestic state park (the oldest in the U.S.) provides an unforgettable experience for youngsters. But executing a low-cost Niagara Falls family vacation is all about timing. Though summer is the best time to visit thanks to 70- and 80-degree temperatures, fall yields the lowest lodging rates. If you don't want to trade in balmy climates for discounted accommodations, you can still save by purchasing a Discovery Pass. The ticket covers admission to five of the area's top attractions and activities, including the Maid of the Mist boat ride, Cave of the Winds Mountain Park and the Aquarium of Niagara.

7. Hilton Head, South Carolina

At first glance, Hilton Head may not seem like an affordable getaway. After all, the small barrier island has earned a reputation among well-heeled retirees for its enviable golf courses, resort spas and expansive tennis clinics. But the island's wide, clean and free beaches are the real highlight here. Because the sand is fairly hard-packed, it's perfect for bike riding. If your little ones are curious about all the creatures that call the island home, consider visiting the Coastal Discovery Museum or the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which are both free of charge.

6. Outer Banks, North Carolina

This chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina is a haven for history buffs and beach bums. When youngsters aren't building sandcastles along the area's wide shorelines, they can climb the tallest sand dune on the East Coast. Aviation geeks and aspiring pilots will want to pay a visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where the first flight took place, while "Pirates of the Caribbean" fans take to the high seas with Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks. To dodge expensive accommodation rates, consider visiting in late spring or early fall to avoid the summer price inflation.

5. Ocean City, Maryland

A visit to Ocean City is all about the beach and the boardwalk. Running along the 10-mile-long east coast of the island, the beach is the perfect place to while away a day in the sun. When you're in need of some sustenance, head to the 3-mile-long boardwalk, home to eateries, souvenir shops, bars and rides. Some of the area's most popular, kid-friendly attractions can also be found here, including Ripley's Believe It or Not, the Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum and Trimper's Rides and Amusements. To keep your vacation budget in check, avoid renting or buying gear such as chairs and umbrellas at the beach, where prices are at a premium.

4. Yellowstone

A family trip to Yellowstone requires a lot of planning. If you're willing to bring your own tent and cook your own food, you can save a bundle on accommodation and food costs as long as you avoid the summer high season, when campground rates tend to rise. But with all of Yellowstone's awe-inspiring natural wonders, such as Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Prismatic Spring, the extra effort may be worth it just to see your kids' faces as they witness these showstoppers in action. If you're planning to visit nearby Grand Teton National Park, you can save $10 on admission by purchasing a combo pass to both parks.

3. Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon has the ability to leave visitors of all ages stunned by its beauty. Whether you're a family full of adrenaline junkies ready to tackle the Colorado River rapids or you're looking for a leisurely mule ride along the Bright Angel Trail, this national park delivers. As long as you reserve a lodge or campsite in advance, scoring affordable accommodations is a cinch. What's more, the park's free shuttle buses make it easy to save on gas and avoid traffic. If you really want to cut costs, plan a spring or fall visit, when crowds are thin, temperatures are comfortable and lodging prices are no longer at their summer peak.

2. San Diego

October is the best time to take a family trip to San Diego, during the city's annual Kids Free San Diego event. For the whole month, more than 100 participating attractions, restaurants and hotels offer free admission or discounts for children. This includes some of the city's most popular attractions such as the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, which waives admission fees for children ages 3 to 11. If you miss out on Kids Free San Diego, you can still save on tickets with the Go San Diego Card. Or, simply soak up the area's many free outdoor spaces, including Coronado Beach and the beloved Balboa Park.

1. Branson, Missouri

If you're looking for a cheaper alternative to the Disney parks, Branson may be your answer. Nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, Branson is home to Silver Dollar City, an amusement park with rides and attractions that transport visitors back to the 1800s. Sneak in another history lesson at the Titanic Museum, which features interactive exhibits that teach kids about the infamous sinking ship. When you and your crew need to cool off, avoid the pricey admission fees at White Water Branson and head to Table Rock Lake instead, which is free to access and boasts nearly 800 miles of shoreline.
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Ann Henson, Senior Editor

Ann Henson is a Senior Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News & World Report. Since ...  Read more

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