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9 Fun US Family Vacation Ideas on a Budget

9 Fun US Family Vacation Ideas on a Budget

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Trying to plan a family vacation on a budget but don’t know where to go? Keep scrolling to check out the coolest US family vacation ideas on a budget that your kids will love!
This list of US family vacation ideas on a budget was co-written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Guest post by Megan of Let’s Jet Kids

Everything seems to be so expensive lately that it’s hard to imagine spending a ton on a vacation. But traveling doesn’t have to cost a ton.

If you are looking for family vacation ideas on a budget, there are plenty of options so you can still make those fun memories.

When you think of the word vacation, do you often think of somewhere exotic or tropical, AKA expensive? While those kinds of places are definitely exciting, it’s possible to take a family vacation on a budget.

Here is a list of the best family vacations on a budget within the US.

Note: Everyone has a different way to define “affordable.” This post is defining it based on accessibility, meaning low-cost airlines travel there, (or many airlines travel there so you can pick the cheapest.) You’ll also find budget-friendly hotel/accommodation options. 

Once you get there, you can pick which activities meet your budget.  This post provides activities for each location.  Many are free, many are affordable, and a few are larger tickets.  This way, you can mix and match activities to meet your budget.

9 Budget-Friendly US Family Vacations That Don’t Skimp on Fun

Wilmington, North Carolina

A beach vacation can be a great way to take an affordable family vacation. If you find the right location, it doesn’t have to cost a lot.

Beach vacations are great because most of the entertainment and the whole purpose of the trip is free (or very cheap entrance to some beaches). 

Wilmington, North Carolina Riverwalk along the waterfront of the Cape Fear River
Wilmington is a budget-friendly vacation destination.

Wilmington itself is a great city, but it’s also great because it’s the gateway to Wrightsville Beach, a beautiful East Coast getaway.

To get to Wilmington, you can fly right into Wilmington International Airport (ILM) on major airlines like Delta, American Airlines, and United.

If you don’t mind driving a little, you can also find cheaper flights on low-cost carriers to Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR- 1-1/2 hours away) or Raleigh-Durham (RDU- 2 hours away.)

Things to do in Wilmington, NC with Kids

Wrightsville Beach

This is a beach destination, so just relax at Wrightsville Beach for a while. Build some sand castles, boogie board, splash in the waves, or chase the birds.

Image of Beachfront houses and vacation rentals in Wrightsville NC Outer Banks
Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina.

Heading to a beach is a great way to spend time together, not to mention it’s usually free!

Battleship North Carolina

If you’re looking for something other than the beach to break up the time, take the history buff to Battleship North Carolina. You can get on and walk around on the ship that went through WWII for $14 and under.

Wilmington Railroad Museum

You could also stop at the Wilmington Railroad Museum where kids can build their own train tracks, see over 20 model trains, or see 100-year-old steam locomotives! Admission is $10 and under.

Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park

If you’d like some water-fun with excitement, visit Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park in Wilmington. There’s something fun for any mood you’re in.

Go to the massive water park, play laser tag, go carts, and climbing wall, and more! Prices vary depending on which activities you choose. 

Where to Stay at Wrightsville Beach

The best place to stay is always near the beach. Here are a few locations with decent rates!

Blockade Runner Beach Resort is highly rated and right on the beach. This clean hotel can sleep 4 to a room. Check rates here.

Silver Gull Motel is a great price for being right on the beach! Johnnie Mercer’s Pier is just a short walk away. Rooms even have a small kitchen, which can really help keep the family on a budget. Check rates here.

Fresno, California

Fresno makes an affordable family vacation because the airport here is pretty accessible, but not usually too expensive to fly into. 

Millerton Lake in Fresno California
Millerton Lake in Fresno, California.

To get to Fresno, you can fly right into Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT). We have found super cheap fares here in the past. There are plenty family-friendly things to do in and around Fresno.

Here are a few things to do in Fresno for families.

Things to do in Fresno with Kids

Storyland and Playland

Storyland has a cool story behind it! Originally created over 50 years ago, Storyland was made to inspire a love of learning and make-believe.

The park-style is set up to encourage early literacy, with storytellers, storytelling exhibits, fairytales that come to life, musicians, singers, magicians, and more!

Admission is very affordable ($4-$6), making it so everyone can access this great literacy-park! 

Playland is focused more on rides and entertainment. This small amusement park has teacups, a mini coaster, a Ferris wheel, a train, a carousel, and more.

You can pay for just the rides you want ($1 per ticket and most rides are at least 3), or purchase a pass for the whole park!

Forestiere Underground Gardens

The Underground Gardens is like nothing you have probably seen before, and the kids will love seeing this uniquely-designed farm! When a Sicilian immigrant came to the US over 100 years ago, he dreamt of becoming a citrus farmer. 

Without creating a blueprint, he worked from the images in his mind to create patios, arches, passageways, and garden courts and chiseled away for 40 years.

He eventually created his farm with over 10 acres! He planted many fruit trees underground, making it easy to simply bend down and harvest the fruit.

Forestiere Underground Gardens’ admission is $23 for adults and discounted prices (or free) for children.

Go to One of Many Parks in Fresno

Fresno has many beautiful, outdoor spots to enjoy with the whole family. Try Woodward Regional Park (just a few dollars per vehicle to enter) with its beautiful lake, trails, playground, and peaceful setting. 

Make sure to visit the Japanese Garden while you’re there. Oso de Oro Park is a family-friendly place to gather and play. And Roeding Park is great for relaxing near the groves of trees, playing on the playground, or having a picnic before seeing the Fresno Chaffee Zoo ($9-$15), which is housed right there.

Yosemite National Park

This is the real gem of going to Fresno, and what really makes the trip great. If you need family vacation ideas on a budget, National Parks are always a good idea.

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is an epic family vacation spot.

While there are many extreme, challenging things to do in Yosemite, there are plenty of things to do in Yosemite with kids, too! Make the drive (about an hour-and-a-half) to the entrance of Yosemite.

There are plenty of kid-friendly tails in Yosemite. Walk through the Grove of Giants, take an easy route to a Yosemite Falls viewpoint, or enjoy sitting among the ducks at the pond at Tuolomne Meadows. 

At $35 per car (or no cost for those with a National Parks pass), Yosemite is a great, affordable way to vacation as a family. 

Where to Stay in Fresno

Holiday Inn Express & Suites River Park is not far from Woodward Park, an easy drive to the zoo, and about 15 miles from the Underground Gardens makes this clean, comfy, affordable hotel nice and convenient! Check rates here.

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is one of the best family vacations if you’re on a budget. This affordable family vacation can be accessed through San Antonio International Airport, and once you get there, there are plenty of budget-friendly hotels.

San Antonio, Texas, USA cityscape at the Riverwalk.
Check out the River Walk in San Antonio.

Here are a few fun things to do with the whole family in San Antonio.

Things to do in San Antonio with Kids

Legoland Discovery Center

Starting at about $25 if you purchase ahead of time, the Legoland Discovery Center is the perfect place for family fun in San Antonio.

Check out Miniland, the interactive city exhibit made with over 1.5 million Legos. Then have a virtual reality experience, ride on the Merlin’s Apprentice, or check out the 4D cinema.

There’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained for the entire day so you don’t have to go spend money elsewhere.

Japanese Tea Garden

This Japanese Tea Garden is the perfect thing to do in San Antonio with kids. The garden began as a $7,000 project with a simple vision for a lily pond.

With recent renovations of $1.6 million, it continues to be a place of peace, culture, and education in San Antonio. 

Japanese Garden Overlook Texas
It’s always nice to walk through a Japanese Tea Garden.

You’ll be able to see stunning scenes of arch bridges, ponds, plants, pavilions, islands, and more at this garden. As if that wasn’t good enough, visiting this Japanese Tea Garden is FREE.

Tower of the Americas

Kids will love getting to go up, up, up into the Tower of the Americas. You can choose to just visit the observation deck, dine at the Chart House Restaurant at the top, or enjoy a 4D experience.

Either way, you’ll get great views of San Antonio! ($16.50 and under)

Take a Boat Ride on the San Antonio River

Learn about the history and culture of San Antonio from the water! Kids will enjoy getting to ride on a boat as they explore and learn. It’s a nice, relaxing way to really tour the city! Plus, it’s often said that the best way to see a city is from the water.

Brackenridge Park

This is the kind of park both kids and adults will enjoy. The beautifully landscaped and planned park area is perfect for walking along the river, through the trees, and even stretches through many attractions such as the zoo, a kid’s train ride, and Tea Garden.

Aquatica

Though a little on the higher price end, this fun, family water park will keep everyone entertained for the entire day!

Aquatica has plenty of big water slides for single- and multi-riders, a wave pool, 3,000 square feet of play for smaller kids, lazy river, slides for the littles, and SO much more!

This is the perfect place for families to cool down during a hot trip! (Seasonal, check dates and rates).

Affordable Places to Stay in San Antonio

Hampton Inn & Suites at Market Square is a convenient location. You can walk to many landmarks, including the river which is only a few minutes away! Check rates here.

Tru by Hilton– Walk to the Alamo, the River Walk, the Tower of the Americas, and more! Plus, you and the kids can enjoy and outdoor pool and clean, modern rooms…at a great price! Check rates here.

This Home2 Suites by Hilton is right on the river walk. The decor, landscape, and beautiful pool will really make you feel like you’re vacationing! Check rates here.

South Padre Island, Texas 

If you need family vacation ideas on a budget that involves the beach, this is the one.

Beach in South Padre Island, Texas. South Padre Island, Texas, USA.
South Padre Island is a budget-friendly family vacation destination.

South Padre is a great family vacation on a budget. It’s a beach location, without the crazy-high beach prices. There are so many things to do in South Padre with kids in addition to soaking up some rays.

What Airport is near South Padre Island?

To get to South Padre Island, there are a few airports you can fly into. We flew into Harlingen at the Valley International Airport.

Depending on the city you are coming from, you may be able to get a direct flight. Otherwise, there are plenty of layover options.

Southwest and Frontier both fly into Harlingen, as well as United and a few other major airlines. After you get to Harlingen, it’s about a 1-hour drive into South Padre. 

A few airlines also fly into Brownsville. It’s just a little bit closer, but may cost a little more as well.

Family-friendly Things to do in South Padre

The Beach

This is an obvious choice. South Padre has great beaches with great sand, great water, and waves! There are plenty of mass-merchant beach stores where you can grab a boogie-board for cheap and let the kids enjoy playing in the water all day!

South Padre Island Birding Center

This South Padre Birding Center is a fun attraction, and is $10 per adult (less for kids).

Walk through a little museum-type building and then go to the top of the lighthouse tower to look over the area. Then take your time as you walk through huge stretches of boardwalk that go through the marshes.

Here you’ll find plenty of wild life! Alligators live within the marshes as well as plenty of bird species! Kids will have fun on this educational, wild stop!

Sea Turtle Rescue Center

The Sea Turtle Rescue Center is another really fun place to stop in South Padre and at $10 or under, it’s affordable as well. Walk through a small building of rescued turtles undergoing rehabilitation. 

Albino sea turtle
See the sea turtles at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center.

Then make your way to the outdoor theater area. Here, the staff comes out to share education on sea turtles that is informative, entertaining, and interesting.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Center has a mission of rescuing turtles, rehabbing them, releasing them, protecting them, and educating the public about them. 

Take the Kids on a Pirate Cruise

For around $40 (and under), you can go aboard a pirate ship! It all begins before you even get on the ship, where you’ll enjoy entertainment from one pirate as you wait. Then aboard, the entire cruise has an interactive show.

Pirates entertain and invite kids to swab the deck and work on pirate skills. At the end, they’ll earn their own pirate certificate! 

These are among some of the most fun things to do in South Padre Island with kids.

Where to Stay in South Padre

Holiday Inn Express & Suites South Padre- While this isn’t directly on the beach, it’s just a short walk away. And if you’re really on a budget, this is a great pick. The hotel is clean and comfy, and the pool is definitely above-standard for a hotel!

The Hilton Garden Inn is a beach front hotel. It has all the comforts you need and want, clean, and has a great pool! For beachfront, it’s a decent price.

Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Pigeon Forge, TN is a great location for exploring the Smoky Mountains. Aside from that, there are plenty of things to do in both Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg (about 15 minutes apart) for kids! 

Top 10 Budget Friendly Fall Travel Destinations That Won’t Break the Bank featured by top US family travel blogger, Marcie in Mommyland: Gatlinburg is a great place to stay to experience the Smoky Mountains National Park in Fall
Autumn morning in the Smoky Mountains National Park.

The nearest airport is Knoxville, TN, just under 30 miles away. Fares to Knoxville are usually pretty reasonable, making it a great, budget-friendly family vacation. Here are some fun things to do in the Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area with kids.

Things to do in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg with Kids

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is home to more fish than there are people in Gatlinburg! With over 10,000 animals, the kids will love seeing the sharks, rainforest exhibits, and fish from the coral. 

They’ll especially love the Discovery Center, where hands-on experiences with some animals await! Admission varies depending on how many attractions you’d like to add to your visit.

Gatlinburg SkyLift Park

Take a ride on the iconic chairlift at Gatlinburg SkyLift Park that’s been around for over 60 years! You’ll be able to catch some great views of Gatlinburg and the Smokies.

Aerial view of Gatlinburg Tennessee
Isn’t this view amazing?

You can also walk across the longest suspension bridge on the continent, which was completed in 2019. This is an easy, thrilling way to experience Gatlinburg.

Pricing varies by season. You can save a little bit by buying online in advance.

Forbidden Caverns

About 45 minutes from Gatlinburg (30 minutes from Pigeon Forge) is one of the many caves in Tennessee. Forbidden Caverns provides a tour guide through the cavern as you learn all about the formations and grottoes of Forbidden Caverns.

Kids will love the stalagmites, stalactites, and various sparkling formations. There’s even sound and light effects to enhance the experience. Entrance is $12-$20 (Free under 4).

The Island in Pigeon Forge

The Island in Pigeon Forge is fun, entertaining place for the whole family. Famous restaurants like Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville and Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen provide the perfect place for dinner.

Island in Pigeon Forge Ferris Wheel
Take a ride on the Great Smokey Mountain Wheel.

Then, ride the Great Smokey Mountain Wheel for great views and relaxing fun. The kids will also love a well-done, fountain light-show accompanied by lights and music. The Island is a great, clean, family-friendly place to enjoy a few hours.

Ride the Rocky Top Coaster in Pigeon Forge

At Rocky Top Coaster, prices are from $14-$18. Unlike a typical coaster where you enjoy just 1 minute on the ride, this mountain coaster lasts a shocking 9+ minutes!

With ups, downs, and themed tunnels, kids and adults will enjoy this thrilling ride! Go at night for an experience filled with colorful lights!

Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge

Combine history and fun at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. Kids will love walking through replicated areas of the Titanic and seeing over 400 artifacts from the ship. Take a walk through the rooms, parlors, rooms, and halls of this museum. 

You can also walk to the sloping deck to experience the slide as the ship tilted and walk down the grand staircase. Then, touch an iceberg and feel what 28-degree water feels like. Don’t miss this, the largest Titanic museum!

Admission is $15-$35, or you can buy a family package for up to 2 adults and 4 kids for $115. Check ticket availability.

Shows, Rides, and Events at Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge

Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge is actually a great place to bring the family. You can play all day on the rides and enjoy various concerts by popular musicians. There’s plenty of BBQ to eat and shows that vary depending on the season. 

If you’re there in summer, you’ll be able to see the nightly fireworks show! While $89 seems steep, it is loaded with value when you consider spending all day (and evening!) having fun and being entertained. Check the latest rates.

If you’d like a little more, adjacent to Dollywood is the Dollywood’s Splash Country Waterpark. Kids will love cooling off in the summer on slides and attractions for big and small!

Other Fun Things to Do in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg with kids!

There is so much to do in this area that it’s hard to list everything. But here are a few more fun things to do in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

  • Indoor tubing year-round at Pigeon Forge Snow
  • Get in some adventure in at the Outdoor Gravity Park, where ages 5+ can get inside the ball and go zorbing one of the tracks!
  • Visit the Pigeon Forge Gem Mine! After sifting and finding your own gems, you can have them polished and even set into jewelry! Various stones come in different buckets (and vary by price). But the museum itself is free!
  • Have a gRRRReat dinner at the Pirates Voyage. Come watch Blackbeard go to battle among shipmates, mermaids, and birds as you all feast on a 4 course, veggie, vegan, or gluten-free meal. 
  • WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge offers both education and entertainment in its 35,000 sq. ft. indoor area. Experience extreme weather, lights and sounds, and imagination exhibits the kids will love!

Where to Stay in Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Forge is a great central location to both Gatlinburg, the caverns mentioned above, and Sevierville, which is also worthy of exploring. There are plenty of affordable accommodations in Pigeon Forge.

Here are some convenient locations:

Arbors at Island Landing Hotels & Suites is a short walk away from The Island, making it ideal for those evenings out to grab some dinner or ride The Wheel! It comes highly rated and has a nice outdoor pool, as well. Check rates here.

Willow Brook Lodge is just a few miles from Dollywood and close to The Island! The great outdoor pool has a kids area and even has a waterslide! Check rates here.

Clarion Inn in Pigeon Forge is another great, affordable hotel. It’s highly rated, and the kids will love the pool, which also has a waterslide and splash/fountain area. The location is great, sitting a short distance from The Island and the Titanic Museum. Check rates here.

Ramada by Wyndham is a quick walk to the Titanic Museum, not far from The Island, and just a few miles from Dollywood. It has an indoor pool and includes a quick, on-the-go breakfast, making mornings easy! Check rates here.

Branson, Missouri

What is the nearest airport to Branson?

To get to Branson, the closest airport to fly into is Branson (BKG). Frontier flies here, which is a relatively affordable airline, but not many others do.

The best airport is Springfield-Branson (SGF) which is about 50 miles away, and more airlines fly here, giving you more options. This affordable family vacation spot is gaining attention and popularity for the many family-friendly things to do!

Fun Things to do in Branson with Kids

Branson is an up-and-coming destination with lots of fun things to do for the whole family!

Image of Chapel of the Ozarks in Branson Missouri
Chapel of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri.

If you can snag a cheap flight into Branson (check Frontier or Southwest!), then it becomes an affordable family trip, as there and plenty of budget hotels!

You can use anything left in the budget for fun activities. From rides to nature, here are a few fun thing to do in Branson, Missouri for kids!

Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City is known as being a fun, clean amusement park. Take your pick between the water park or theme park.

The theme park offers a wagon ride, roller coaster, tall free fall ride, and small coasters and train rides for the littles (and much more!)

There’s plenty for both older kids and younger kids to do at Silver Dollar City!

Silver Dollar City isn’t cheap, but it is an activity that will last all day long so you don’t have to spend on other activities that day. Check the latest rates and availability.

Titanic Museum in Branson

The Titanic Museum in Branson offers tickets aboard a museum dedicated to remembering and learning about the Titanic.

View hundreds of artifacts and tour through rooms, halls, the grand staircase and more. Check the latest rates and availability.

Dolly Parton’s Stampede and Dinner Show

At Dolly Parton’s Stampede and Dinner Show, find your seat in the 35,000-square-foot arena. Then enjoy the fun show of horses and talented staff who perform tricks and competitions among each other, all while you feast of 4 courses. 

The kids will love getting to meet the horses before the show even starts! All this fun and food comes in from $60-95 (check the website for current pricing as it varies by day/time). 

This is one of the bigger ticket items that provide a lot of value with entertainment and food.  However, walking along to meet the horses is free!

Visit Branson Landing

Branson’s Landing is a nice area of shopping, food, activities, and fun for kids.

You can go bowling, hit the arcade, jump on a boat to tour around the river basin, dress up in vintage gear for some fun family photos at Buster’s Old Time Photos, go through a maze of mirrors, or zip line over Lake Taneycomo. 

There’s plenty to eat at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, Guy Fieri’s Kitchen and Bar, Famous Dave’s BBQ, and so many more! 

If you need free things to do in Branson, Branson Landing also has a free fountain show unlike any other! With lights, music, geysers of 120 feet, and fire, the kids will love watching this magical show from noon till bedtime!

Table Rock Lake

Kids will have a blast at Table Rock Lake as they take in the fresh air and adventure. Table Rock Lake is free to visit.

Scenic overlook at sunrise in Branson, Missouri showing the water reservoir from the Table Rock Lake Dam and colorful fall foliage.
Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri.

Grab a boat ride, or hop in a kayak, canoe, or stand-up-paddle board to see the scenery of this massive lake. With 800 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty lake to see!

Off the water, you can head just south of the lake to hike or bike with the kids in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Or just stroll along the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail, an easy trail that’s accessible (stroller friendly 🙂 

Other Fun Things to do in Branson, Missouri

Branson is full of fun activities for the whole family. Here are a few more worth mentioning:

  • Take a golf cart tour to Top of the Rock. Explore incredible scenery and views of the Ozarks.
  • Visit the National Tiger Sanctuary in Saddlebrook. About 16 minutes from Branson, this sanctuary is a rescue organization that provides homes for animals. You can take a walking tour, feeding tour, behind-the-scenes tour, or riding tour.
  • See a show- Branson has plenty of live, entertaining shows in the theater district. Find one your family would enjoy and spend the evening being entertained by lights and music!
  • Visit WonderWorks Branson for an exciting and educational day! Explore weather, Earth, light, space, physics, and more in this family-friendly environment!
  • Explore The Promised Land Zoo, where you can sign up for a VIP package to have animal encounters!

Affordable Hotels in Branson, Missouri

There are plenty of affordable hotels in Branson, which makes it a great, budget, family vacation! Here are a few that have great locations (and look fun for the kids!)

Stormy Point Village is just a two-minute walk from Table Rock Lake. Plus, the outdoor pool is made just for little kids! There’s a little water park area, plus a bigger slide the older kids will enjoy. Check rates here.

Branson Towers Hotel offers a large indoor pool, as well as an arcade and games room the kids will love. Walking into this hotel is a charming experience, with stairs going up the levels in a butterflied fashion (there are elevators, too).

Plus, it’s not far from the theater district, the Titanic Museum, and other attractions. Check rates here.

Best Western Music Capital Inn has a nice big indoor pool, an arcade, and a games room, and it’s located right in the theater district. It even has a free breakfast buffet. Check rates here.

Best Western Plus Landing View Inn & Suites is a great location for accessing Branson Landing. There are activities all around! Kids will enjoy the indoor pool, and parents will love the option of connecting rooms. Check rates here.

YMCA of the Rockies, Estes Park, Colorado

What Airport Should You Fly Into for YMCA of the Rockies?

YMCA of the Rockies is the perfect, adventurous, affordable family vacation! It’s located about an hour and a half from Denver International Airport (DEN) in Estes Park, Colorado. 

Denver has many affordable flights from many cities. It is a hub for Frontier, making it one of the more budget-friendly routes.

All other major airlines go to Denver as well. This is one of the lesser-known family vacation ideas on a budget that is packed with fun.

Is YMCA of the Rockies Affordable?

That, of course, depends on your definition. But relative to other destinations and including the value and inclusions…YES! 

YMCA of the Rockies is a destination in-and-of itself. Rates are around the $150-$200 range for most accommodations. You can rent a cabin at the property for around that price, making plenty of space for the whole family to stay in only one rented “room”. 

The cabins also come with small kitchens, making affordable food easy with a trip to the market. Or, you can pay for the all-you-can-eat buffet at the main site. There are also rooms at the lodge, without kitchens, that cost even less.

Activities at YMCA of the Rockies

One reason this is an affordable family destination is because once you get there, you don’t have to spend any more money to enjoy the time there.

YMCA of the Rockies includes tons of activities in your stay! (A few bigger activities have an additional fee as does dining on site.) 

Activities you can enjoy are roller skating, basketball, swimming, biking, axe throwing, an escape room, yoga, astronomy, arts and crafts, disc golf, challenge courses…and so many more! There is plenty to keep the whole family busy during this bonding vacation!

Nearby Activities to YMCA of the Rockies

YMCA of the Rockies is located in Estes Park, Colorado, which is the entrance to the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you need a day away from the YMCA, head to RMNP for the day. There are plenty of kid-friendly hikes to enjoy that are easy and have gorgeous views. 

Siesta Key, Florida

If you are looking for relaxing family vacation ideas on a budget, look no further than Siesta Key in the Gulf.

Welcome to Siesta Key sign by beach
Siesta Key is a popular AND affordable beach vacation.

This key brings the tropical white sands you dream of in far-away places, but it’s right in the US! 

What Airport is Near Siesta Key?

The closest airport to Siesta Key is Sarasota-Bradenton International (SRQ). It’s only about a 11 miles away, making it super easy to transport the family!

And, most airlines fly into this airport, so you can search around for the best deal.

Fun Things to do in Siesta Key

First, the beach is the obvious answer. If you fly to Siesta Key, be ready to really enjoy the beautiful beaches and water. Siesta Key can be a nice, relaxing, fun beach vacation for the whole family.

If you want to explore a little, there are plenty of beach areas to check out. Siesta Beach is the most popular. There’s also Crescent Beach, which is just as beautiful and can be slightly less crowded.

You could also have some typical beach-town experiences, like going out of a boat ride, going parasailing, or taking a tour to see the sea-life.

Affordable Accommodations in Siesta Key

Hotels aren’t the most budget-friendly in Siesta Key. But that’s ok because there are plenty of affordable, nice condo or home rentals.

This can save even more because then you have a kitchen to make a few meals in. That will save even more in the end. 

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis actually has a lot of cool things to do for the whole family, making it one of the best family vacations on a budget. Plenty of airlines fly into St. Louis (STL), often with competitively priced fares. 

St. Louis, Missouri, USA downtown cityscape with the arch and courthouse at dusk.
There are a surprising number of things to do in St. Louis for families.

Once you’re there, there are many free things to do. You can easily find accommodations at an affordable price, as well! There’s plenty of fun to have here. 

To make this family vacation even more affordable, check out these free things to do in St. Louis with kids.

Best Free Things to do in St. Louis for Families

Saint Louis Zoo

The Saint Louis Zoo has been rated one of the best zoos in the country! The best part? Admission is FREE! You can walk through this awesome zoo without paying admission.

Polar Bear at the Saint Louis Zoo
Polar Bear at the Saint Louis Zoo.

There are a few special exhibits inside that have a low-cost such as the carousel and the Sea Lion Show. 

Forest Park

Forest Park is 1,300 acres, making it a bit larger than Central Park in New York. It has been known as one of the most beautiful parks in the world!

Forest Park has lakes, streams, trees, paths, and more, which attract 13 million visitors each year.

The park is home to many other fun attractions, such as the Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Art Museum, and the Saint Louis Science Center. Visit free, and park free!

Laumeier Sculpture Park

Laumeier Sculpture Park is recognized internationally as a non-profit arts organization. It began in 1972 when Matilda Laumeier gifted the sculpture park to St. Louis County. It is FREE and open to the public. 

The St. Louis Walk of Fame

If you walk down Delmar Boulevard, you’ll see stars in the sidewalk with the names of famous people who are from St. Louis or spent their influential years there.

Such stars include Maya Angelou, Chuck Berry, Yogi Berra, William Clark, Robert Duvall, and many, many, more.

Hang Out at Union Station

While at Union Station, you can go to one side of the Whispering Arch in the Grand Hall. There, you can whisper one thing, and the person on the other side of the arch will be able to hear.

St. Louis Union Station.
St. Louis Union Station.

In the evening, you can enjoy the light show at the Grand Hall!

Other Fun Things to do in St. Louis:

Here are a few more fun things to do with the kids. These ones DO have a cost associated with them.

  • Visit the World Chess Hall of Fame. Even if you aren’t a chess player, this museum provides entertainment with tons of various chess boards (and sizes) and education about how chess impacted the world.
  • Missouri Botanic Gardens offers a great display of plants, flowers, and other flora in a beautiful setting. On site is also the Tower Grove House, a mansion from 1849 that you can tour.
  • Circus Flora is a one-ring circus under the classic big top and it only runs in St. Louis!
  • Play at Union Station- This entertainment area features a big Ferris Wheel, carousel, aquarium, mini golf, ropes course, mirror maze, and more! It’s the perfect place for the whole family to spend the day!
  • If you’ve got the time, drive an hour to Meramec Caverns in Stanton. A little over an hour away from St. Louis, the kids will love exploring through these caverns on a tour that lasts over an hour!
  • Combine history and fun at Grant’s Farm. Learn about Ulysses S. Grant while you take a tour through the farm of animals, a petting zoo, and even some Clydesdales!
  • Go up the Gateway Arch. This is family-friendly, as long as no one is claustrophobic or afraid of heights. The pod you ride up in is a bit small, and at the top…well, it’s pretty high up. It’s a great view from the top and a classic stop in St. Louis.

Affordable Hotels in St. Louis

The Marriott St. Louis Grand is right downtown. It’s a beautiful hotel with great proximity to the Gateway Arch, City Museum, Aquarium, and more attractions. Off-season rates are a great deal. Check rates here.

Hampton Inn Gateway Arch is another great option. Not far from the river, Hampton has great accommodations and is just a few minutes walk from the Arch. Kids will love the indoor pool all year long. Check rates here.

Drury Inn & Suites Convention Center is also a decent rate with a great location and has an indoor pool. You also get a free breakfast buffet, making mornings easy. Check rates here.

Best Budget Vacation Destinations in the US FAQs

What makes Siesta Key a budget-friendly destination for families?

Siesta Key, Florida, offers beautiful, free public beaches, affordable accommodation options like condos and beach house rentals, and inexpensive activities like boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

Why is Branson considered a good destination for budget travel?

Branson, Missouri, is known for its affordable entertainment, including many family-friendly shows and concerts. It also offers inexpensive outdoor activities like hiking and fishing.

What budget-friendly attractions does St. Louis have for families?

St. Louis, Missouri, has many free attractions, including the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Science Center, and the Missouri History Museum.

How can families enjoy South Padre Island on a budget?

South Padre Island in Texas offers affordable accommodation options, inexpensive beach activities, and low-cost dining options.

What makes Fresno a good option for families traveling on a budget?

Fresno, California, offers access to affordable outdoor activities like hiking and camping in nearby Yosemite National Park and affordable local attractions like the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

What are some inexpensive activities for families in Pigeon Forge?

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, offers affordable attractions like Dollywood and the Titanic Museum, plus many free or inexpensive outdoor activities in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

What budget-friendly attractions are available in San Antonio for families?

San Antonio, Texas, offers many affordable attractions for families, including the Alamo, the River Walk, and many free or inexpensive parks and museums.

Family Vacation Ideas on a Budget Wrap Up

As you can see, you don’t need a lifetime of savings to see some really cool places and have some fun with the family.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed getting some family vacation ideas on a budget, with lots of great destinations for kids that are affordable. 

There are plenty of free and affordable things to do in many cities.  Combine these activities with affordable airfare to these accessible cities and you’ll have to decide which of these best budget family vacations to enjoy next.

About Megan:

Megan has 4 kids and a great husband who all love traveling.  They travel as much as possible, which means sticking to a lower budget wherever they explore. 

Looking for more budget travel resources? Check out the best fall destinations for families on a budget, my top tips for traveling on a budget, how to visit Oahu on a budget, and how to visit Disney World on a budget.

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