Want to see another part of the country but don’t want to break the bank? No problem! We gathered up all the intel on the best places to take kids without spending a ton. Historical sites, days on the lake, amusement parks and more—these destinations have it all. Scroll down to see them all.

photo: Kate Loweth

Mesa, Arizona

Year-round warm weather and spring training baseball make Mesa, AZ a must-visit destination for families.

What to Do
Spend some time exploring the desert flora and fauna at Usery Mountain Regional Park Nature Center. Learn about native snakes and scorpions at educational programs for families and stop at the Nature Center to check out the desert tortoise habitat. The i.d.e.a. Museum is the perfect place to explore imagination through art, science and technology. Just down the street is the Arizona Museum of Natural History where you can learn all about the prehistoric mammoths and other creatures who roamed Arizona. 

Where to Stay
The newly-renovated suites at the Marriott Residence Inn provide ample room for families of all sizes to spread out, as well as a kitchen with fridge, oven and microwave to keep eating out to a minimum. Save your dollars for activities and enjoy the complimentary breakfast buffet (waffles anyone?) that is offered every morning. In the summer months, you can grab a room here for under $100. 

Find out morevisitmesa.com


photo: Elkhart Lake

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

There's something idyllic about a family vacation on a lake. Elkhart Lake will bring you back to the 1950s in all the best ways. 

What to Do
Water sports are king in this lake town, of course. Scoop up a canoe or kayak at the Osthoff Resort or book Jay's Guide Service to take you around the lake for some fishing. Learn about the history of the area at the Wade House Historic Site and Carriage Museum. If you want an activity that includes a whole lot of walking, head to the Ice Age National Scenic Trail where you can hike through the nearby wilderness area. 

Where to Stay
The landmark Siebkens Resort is owned and operated by the fourth generation of the Seibken family. This Victorian building provides one-, two- and three-bedroom condominium hotel suites with open floor plans, full kitchens, an outdoor pool and so much more. The resort is also home to Sissy’s Coffee Coffee & Ice Cream Shoppe, perfect for beating the heat with its covered outdoor patio. 

Find out more: elkhartlake.com

photo: Visit Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

After surviving a major hurricane hit, Myrtle Beach is revitalized and ready to welcome your crew of adventure seekers!

What to Do
Family Kingdom has no entrance fee (perfect for parents or grandparents who want to opt out of rides), and those opting for rides can buy an all-day wristband for under $30. Explore The Boardwalk and Promenade which includes lots of fun options along the way like the SkyWheel and old-school arcades like Fun Plaza. History buffs will love visiting the free-admission L.W. Paul Living History Farm. Myrtle Beach is also known for its world-class golf and boasts a really cool Kids Play Free program year round. 

Where to Stay
Most of the area’s 90,000+ accommodations are condo-style, making them ideal to host larger groups and cook some meals to save money. Dunes Village is a great option because it is oceanfront, offers multiple waterparks onsite and always boasts a slew of specials, so a two-bedroom suite runs under $170/night for the spring.

Find out morevisitmyrtlebeach.com

photo: Visit San Antonio

San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is steeped in history, offers great weather and the countless budget-friendly activities make it a hot spot for families in 2019.

What to Do
You can stroll the Riverwalk (eating at the restaurants is the splurge), explore the Japanese Tea Garden and San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, among other things—all for free. And of course, don’t forget the Alamo. If you want to go all out and do Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Natural Bridge Caverns and other hot spots, be sure to book a San Antonio Explorer Pass, where you can pick and choose your favorite activities and create an entertainment package at discounted prices.

Where to Stay
Avoid hotels on the Riverwalk and look in other areas for budget-friendly lodging. The Hyatt Residence Club Wild Oak Ranch has multi-room suites, an indoor/outdoor heated pool, lazy river, hiking trails, a shuttle to SeaWorld and other awesome family amenities. Prices start at $139 per night.

Find out more: visitsanantonio.com

Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota

Sure, most people would cringe at the low temps that rule during winter months, but Minnesotans know that the Twin Cities offer winter magic that is rare, indeed.

What to Do
If you visit the Twin Cities during the winter, be prepared for frigid temps, but there's still plenty to do. Check out the Family Center at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which is always free. You can hit up the biggest indoor mall in the country and ride a roller coaster or two. A visit to the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is a must in good or bad weather. It’s free, the conservatory is a winter oasis, plus there are a ton of events happening all year long. Grab a cheap bite to eat and expand palates all at once with a trip to Midtown Global Market and sample local craft brews at one of the area’s most kid-friendly breweries.

Where to Stay
Check out budget-friendly Airbnb options, where some spots start as low as $35 a night.

Find out more: minneapolis.org

Sacramento, California

The golden state’s capital flies under the radar when compared to tourist hot spots like San Francisco and Los Angeles, but there’s plenty of fun to be had year-round at bargain prices.

What to Do
The capitol building itself is rich in history and architectural splendor, you can take a free tour and then wander the urban green space known as Capitol Park. The city proudly claims to be America’s Farm to Fork capital and there are dozens of free farmers markets that showcase over 8000 acres of boutique farms that flourish in the surrounding counties. Old Town Sacramento, a 28-acre State Historical Park, is a peek into the past, with old buildings from the Gold Rush era still intact and housing everything from restaurants to wacky gift shops and the free Wells Fargo History Museum. Rent a bike and explore the American River on the Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail—over 32 miles of pathway that goes from Discovery Park to Folsom Lake.

Where to Stay
The Hilton Garden Inn is just a few minutes away from downtown—which means cheaper rates. It offers adjoining rooms for families of more than four. It also has an outdoor pool that is kept warm well into the chilly winter months.

Find out more: visitsacramento.com

Cody, Wyoming

This small town in northwestern Wyoming outside of Yellowstone National Park offers an authentic Western experience befitting a town that was founded by a legend, Buffalo Bill Cody. Many travelers visit the town as a prelude to a trip to the world’s first national park.

What to Do
Summer-season visitors will find an array of affordable fun including free adventures like watching the antics of the Wild Bunch, who perform six nights a week in front of the Irma Hotel, the heart of the town. Built by Buffalo Bill and named for his daughter, visitors should take a look at the room-long Cherrywood bar in the dining room, a gift from England’s Queen Victoria after Buffalo Bill staged his Wild West Show for the queen. There’s also the Cody Nite Rodeo, the country’s only summer-season nightly rodeo. Families looking to keep their wallets in their pockets can also take a drive east along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway to Pahaska Tepee, where Buffalo Bill went to relax with friends such as Teddy Roosevelt and the Prince of Monaco. Don’t forget binoculars. Wildlife watching is free and you must might get glimpse of bison, eagles, bighorn sheep, river otters, elk or even bears or wolves. (Don’t forget to practice safe viewing by leaving plenty of distance from the animals.) Don’t miss the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, with five museums under one room. The Draper Natural History Museum explores the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and it’s a must-see for anyone planning a trip to the park.

Where to Stay
Blair Hotels, a collection of three hotels conveniently located on Sheridan Avenue, the town’s highly walkable main street. There’s a Comfort Inn and Holiday Inn plus the Buffalo Bill Village, with comfortable cabin accommodations. Take time to visit the gift shop, with a fun collection of clothing, jewelry, candy and gifts items.

Find out morecodyyellowstone.org

Pensacola, Florida

Located on the Florida panhandle, this small beach town lays claim to being home to "the World's Whitest Beaches."

What to Do
After spending plenty of time with your feet in the sand, be sure to stop by the National Naval Aviation Museum. Not only is it the world’s largest aviation museum in the country, but it offers free admission daily. Don’t miss Bands on the Beach, which occurs every Tuesday from Apr.-Oct. Pack a picnic, bring the kids and relax to free music as you watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. Explore the 8.5 mile Pensacola eco-trail, where the whole family can learn about local plant life, look for and collect seashells and even keep an eye out for a sea turtle or two! For fresh and local eats and goods, wander through the Palafox Market on Saturday mornings.

Where to Stay
There are plenty of budget-friendly offerings, from KOA campsites to VRBO homes and hotels like the Hilton Pensacola Beach Hotel, which has family-friendly suites with kitchen and bunk beds available. Rates start at $119 a night.

Find out more: visitpensacola.com

Wells, Maine

This friendly beach town has a much more laid-back vibe (and cheaper prices) than nearby Kennebunkport.

What to Do
In Wells, the seven miles that are known as Crescent Beach and Drake’s Island Beach is always a popular tourist attraction, but there are plenty of other cheap activities for families. Head to the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge and walk the one-mile trail that’ll take you through salt marshes. Go to the world-famous Maine Diner and order a bowl of the clam chowder, and if you are headed there during the winter, Harris Farm is just over 30 minutes away and offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat bike rides for reasonable prices (kids 6 & under are free on the weekends, adults are only $15.).

Where to Stay
The Misty Harbor Resort is open year-round and offers lots of family-friendly amenities like an indoor pool, playground, in-unit kitchen, a prime location on the trolley route and proximity to markets and the beach. Current rates start at $109 per night.

Find out more: visitmaine.com/wells

photo: © 2016 Peanuts Worldwide LLC, peanuts.com

Buena Park, California

If you're looking for a taste of the SoCal sun, Buena Park offers loads for families to do while still keeping the budget in check.

What to Do
Home to Knott's Berry Farm, families who visit this area of Orange County will enjoy its proximity to gorgeous beaches, parks and all the area attractions like Disneyland. Travel back in time and take advantage of the many historic buildings and museums in Buena Park that offer free tours like the Whitaker-Jaynes House, the Bacon House, the Tice House and the Stage Shop Hotel. Visitors will also enjoy a stop at Knott's Independence Hall, a true brick-by-brick replica of the original in Philadelphia with free admission. Pint-sized paleontologists will definitely want to stop at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, home to the Clark Interpretive Center that features ice age fossils and local geology exhibits including a nine-million-year-old baleen whale skeleton. Don't forget to stop at Porto's Bakery and Cafe for an out-of-this-world Cuban treat!

Where to Stay
At the Holiday Inn Buena Park-Near Knott's, kids 18 and under stay free and eat free all day at the on-site restaurant. After your day of activities, enjoy the massive hotel pool and Jacuzzi. Rooms start at $116/night and they offer suites and adjoining rooms to accommodate families. 

Find out morevisitbuenapark.com

Canaan Valley, West Virginia

Canaan Valley Resort is a four-season mountain destination that’s about 2 ½ hours outside of Washington, DC in West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands. Nearby are the charming mountain towns of Thomas and Davis, West Virginia, where families can go to enjoy mountain music and an authentic Appalachian vibe.

What to Do
The Canaan Valley Ski Area is an all-day playground for the entire family, even the little ones who can find their ski legs in beginner ski school and practice on the Critters Crawl trail. This ski area is the highest mountain valley east of the Rocky Mountains, with affordable lift tickets ($39 for adults midweek; $42 weekends) and a variety of other winter experiences. The resort also has a tube park with as many as 12 tube lanes, ice skating rink and cross-country skiing. If you’re there on a Thursday, don your warmest PJs and head to Pajama Night at the Ice Rink

Where to Stay
With 160 rooms, 23 cabins and 34 campsites, Canaan Valley Resort provides lodging for families of all sizes. When it’s time to warm up, head to the lodge for a pizza dinner including local brews for the grownups. The resort also has an indoor pool for splashing away any excess energy and an arcade for a friendly game of air hockey before heading to bed in a modern, spacious lodge room.

Find out more: canaanresort.com

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Visit this charming tourist city at the base of the Smoky Mountains in the springtime, before the staggering summer crowds show up.

What to Do
The city is very walkable, there’s a low-cost trolley, mountain access via the Ober Aerial Tramway and there are plenty of free activities including miles of hiking, fishing, the 8-mile Great Smoky Mountains Arts & Crafts Community Loop, walking along the Little Pigeon River, visiting Cades Cove for breathtaking views and more.

Where to Stay
There’s no shortage of lodging in Gatlinburg, and in the off-season, deals abound. Take advantage of the prices and book a cozy cabin via VRBO, where some of their top cabin rentals start as low as $101 a night.

Find out more: gatlinburg.com

Albuquerque, New Mexico

One of the most cost-effective vacations can be had in Albuquerque—this city was awarded a spot in the “Top 10 U.S. Value Destinations” by Hotwire and has also found itself in many "Top 10 Cities for Families" lists.

What to Do
You’ll only pay between $4-8 for admission at one of the 19 museums in the city. And, if you visit the Rio Grande Nature Center you can enjoy a free walk and birdwatching along the stunning Rio Grande Bosque Trail. This lovely family-first city boasts 310 days of sunshine and blue skies per year, which is probably why it’s the ballooning capital of the world. Additionally, families can enjoy hiking, jeep tours, bike outings, whitewater rafting, rock climbing and horseback riding.

Where to Stay
From campgrounds to bed and breakfasts to hotels to ranches, Albuquerque has it all. Visit their website to find the accommodations that are ideal for your family’s budget and needs.

Find out more: visitalbuquerque.org

Branson, Missouri

This southwest Missouri spot is nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains offers outdoor experiences and old-time charm. 

What to Do
With three area lakes, dozens of attractions and a vast array of lodging, families of all ages and sizes choose Branson as their destination of choice for fun. Get up close and personal with tons of different animals at the Promise Land Zoo and then enjoy some entertainment with your dinner at Dolly Parton's Stampede. Spend some time on the water at Table Rock Lake where you can go tubing, jet-skiing, fishing and even scuba diving on the lake's 43,000 acres of water.

Where to Stay
Wyndam Mountain Vista has suites that sleep up to 10 people with rates starting at $110/night. Families will especially love the game room, basketball courts, swimming pool, hot tubs and in-room washer/dryer.

Find out moreexplorebranson.com

Atlanta, Georgia

If you haven’t visited The ATL with your family yet, you should most definitely add it to your vacation to-do list.

What to Do
There’s a ton to see here for everyone in your family, including the Children’s Museum of Atlanta for younger kids; Centennial Olympic Park, where you can watch a synchronized water show; the Center for the Puppetry Arts, where you can see Jim Henson’s Muppet collection; the World of Coca-Cola and Stone Mountain Park. To soak up some culture, visit the Atlanta History Center, where 33 acres are waiting to be explored (military is free and Bank of America customers have free admission the first weekend of every month). 

Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a straightforward hotel to rest your heads, take a look at The Inn at the Peachtrees. Here you’ll find free WiFi and breakfast and, most importantly, you’ll be located near the CNN Center, Centennial Olympic Park, World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. Plus, Piedmont Park is not too far away. Room rates start at around $96 per night.

Find out more: atlanta.com

Portland, Oregon

Portland has long been a haven for families looking for good food and outdoor fun at a cheap price. 

What to Do
From hands-on science activities at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry to loads of beautiful parks (hello, Washington Park!), public fountains and open-air weekend markets—Portland has loads of free things to do with your kids. Young kiddos under five will love Portland Children's Museum, and kids ages six to ten will find the Portland Art Museum, Oaks Amusement Park and Children's Theater interesting. A bike ride along the riverfront is perfect if you want to explore on two wheels.

If your family wants to "Keep Portland Weird," you may want to check out Voodoo Doughnuts or make your own pancakes at Slappy Cakes. And, if you're trying to save a penny, check out the Chinook Book app, which has discounts at hundreds of restaurants and attractions around the city.

Where to Stay
One of the best travel planning resources is the Travel Portland website. Here, you can find up-to-date scheduling info for concerts, family-friendly events and fun happenings around the city. Also, you can book lodging based on a specific neighborhood or level of "alternativeness."

Find out more: travelportland.com

Memphis, Tennessee

Elvis' hometown has been ranked a top budget-friendly family vacation spot for several years. The recently-completed 137-million-dollar expansion means there's even more to do.

What to Do
Go on a tour of Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion, explore the Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park, watch the Peabody ducks make their daily trek and don't forget to take the monorail to the free Mud Island River Park, where the popular Riverwalk—an exact scale model of the lower Mississippi—will give kids a bird's-eye view of the famous river.

Where to Stay
A great Memphis lodging option is Hyatt Place Memphis Primacy Parkway, located near the Memphis Botanic Garden and Memphis Zoo. Here you can park for free, hop on the included WiFi, splash in the outdoor pool and enjoy complimentary daily breakfast. 

Find out more: memphistn.gov/visitingmemphis


photo: Sharon Mollerus via flickr

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago has loads of family-friendly (free or nearly free) activities that will light up your vacation.

What to Do
Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo, a free zoo with an interactive farm. Chicago also has free and discounted days at many of their world-class museums: Art Institute of Chicago, Adler Planetarium, Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago History Museum, The Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, National Museum of Mexican Art, and more. 

Visit Millennium Park, which has countless fun free events and activities for families such as live music and yoga at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, art exhibitions throughout the park, a huge playground with views of Chicago’s skyline, Crown Fountain (kids can splash and run through this art installation), and of course, the ever-popular Cloud Gate aka “The Bean.” Be sure to check out the official Chicago CityPass to book admission to top attractions at a fraction of the cost. 

Where to Stay
Built in 1929, the Intercontinental Chicago Magnificent Mile is like walking into a slice of Chicago’s rich past. It's also located right on the Mag Mile, making it easy to get your family to all that Chicago has to offer. If you book their Parking Package, you’ll get free valet parking. For the most fun, book the Snuggle is Real package that includes a blanket and teddy bear for you to take home, hot cocoa turndown service, unlimited in-room movies, a $50 in-room dining credit and late checkout. Prices start at $125 per night.

Find out more: chooseschicago.com

—Kate Loweth, Gabby Cullen & Wendy Altschuler

Editor’s Note: Rates were current upon publication.


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