These are the 10 most affordable vacations in the U.S.
These family-oriented U.S. vacation spots boast adult- and kid-friendly attractions at a reasonable price.
Home of the Daytona International Speedway, this city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast has more than 23 miles of sandy beaches where families can get their fill of ocean fun.Paul Giamou / Getty Images/Aurora Creative
After planning, traveling, keeping track of luggage and children, and dealing with squabbles and untimely bathroom needs, if you return intact with everyone still mostly on speaking terms, you’re likely to consider it a success. (Even if you feel like you need another vacation to recover from it.)
Family dynamics aside, it can be challenging to find a destination that offers an appealing balance for both kids and parents without busting your budget. And some of the “best” U.S. cities for families to make their vacation destinations — as identified by a variety of expert sources — can be costly to stay in.
To find the 30 most affordable of those popular spots, GoBankingRates analyzed a variety of data like the cost of meals and hotel stays, along with the availability of kid-friendly attractions. The company used several sources, including “best of” lists from U.S. News & World Report and NBC “TODAY’s” “40 Great Places to Take Your Kids Before They’re Grown,” to compile its initial list.
Here are the top 10 most affordable spots in the GoBankingRates report, based on the average costs involved in staying there. The prices listed below are for a family of four. They don’t include travel to or from the city or tickets to certain local attractions. In other words, plan accordingly.
With its nearly 7 miles of sandy white beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and its relative affordability, Gulfport has ranked on many “best of” lists, including for visiting and retiring. For families looking for an affordable beach trip with opportunities to explore beyond the water, the GoBankingRates report notes at least five “major” kid-friendly attractions, including the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies and the Gulf Islands Water Park. Also, as the state’s second-largest city with year-round population of about 68,000, Gulfport has no shortage of shopping and dining options. And, fun fact: Brett Favre, former NFL quarterback and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was born there.
Visitors can feel transported back to colonial American times in the restored historic area of this city. With people dressed in garb of the 18th century, horses and buggies clomping by and historical reenactments all year, visitors get a taste of what life was like when American colonists decided to establish an independent nation. In nearby Yorktown, you can visit the American Revolution Museum with its galleries of artifacts and interactive exhibits. If you get your fill of history, the 383-acre Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg offers a variety of rides from roller coasters and water slides to those for little ones, along with a plethora of food and music.
At the foot of the Rocky Mountains and yet still more than a mile above sea level, the city ranks third on U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 list of best places to live. With its mild temperatures and low humidity, outdoor enthusiasts can find a variety of suitable family-friendly attractions. Those include the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo — which also has an open-air chairlift ride up the mountain — and the Garden of the Gods Nature Center, among others. Other popular attractions for families include the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center and the Ghost Town Museum.
Home of the Daytona International Speedway and a popular destination for students on spring break, this city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast has more than 23 miles of sandy beaches where families can get their fill of ocean fun. On top of the boardwalk with its shops, restaurants and rides, there also is Daytona Lagoon, a water park that also offers go-karts, a climbing wall and laser tag, and the Joyland Amusement Center. For educational outings, the Marine Science Center, Discovery Center, and Museum of Arts and Sciences are options.
This is the state’s capital and one of the three anchor cities for the Research Triangle Park — the other two are Durham and Chapel Hill. While the area is known for its major research universities, Raleigh offers other educational spots geared toward kids that aren’t quite old enough for college yet. One of the city’s main draws for families is the Marbles Kids Museum, which offers a variety of imaginative, interactive exhibits with age-appropriate, hands-on activities like playing fireman or creating art. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences also is in downtown Raleigh. For outdoor activities, you can head over to Pullen Park to ride a carousel or train, or rent a paddle boat in season.
The state’s largest city is chock full of history, culture and kid-friendly sites, making it a popular place for families to visit. Its historic section, dating to 1709, boasts adobe buildings in Pueblo-Spanish style and a variety of shops, restaurants, galleries and museums. One top spot for families is Explora, a science center for kids of all ages, which offers 20,000 feet of more than 250 interactive exhibits. There’s also the Albuquerque Biological Park, which has an aquarium, zoo, botanic garden and beach. And, for an eagle’s eye view of the city, hot-air balloon rides are offered year-round, weather permitting.
Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, Branson ranks 20th on U.S. News and World Report’s list of best family vacations. With a variety of attractions — including the Promised Land Zoo, a dinosaur museum, water sports and more than 40 music venues — the city of 11,500 residents hosts millions of visitors each year. About 14 miles from downtown is Silver Dollar City, a park whose attractions include roller coasters and rides for kids, a limestone cave, a steam train and artisans who make and sell their wares year-round.
This historic Texas city ranks 21st on U.S. News and World Report’s list of best family vacations in the United States. Of the 30 cities analyzed by GoBankingRates, it also has the most major kid-friendly attractions: 11. Those range from the historic Alamo, where you can get a feel for its significance in 19th-century American history, to the San Antonio Zoo and nearby theme parks. And, of course, there’s the River Walk — a city park with walkways along the San Antonio River, couched by a variety of shops and restaurants and historic sites. Be aware that summertime temperatures in San Antonio can reach nearly 100 degrees.
This fast-growing metro area in the northern part of the state is best-known for being home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Nicknamed “The Rocket City,” Huntsville gives visitors a chance to learn about space exploration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Among its attractions are an original Saturn V rocket and a state-of-the art planetarium with astronomy shows. Another popular family spot is the EarlyWorks Family of Museums, which offers a hands-on experience with history.
The oldest city in the continental U.S., St. Augustine was founded in 1565. It offers a variety of family-friendly activities that bring the area’s history to life. At the Pirate & Treasure Museum, you can learn about the history of pirates and colonial American via educational and interactive exhibits. At the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park — which has a working archaeological dig on site — visitors can learn about the city’s roots and feed peacocks that roam the property. The city also boasts 42 miles of beaches fronting the Atlantic Ocean for plenty of swimming and sand-castle building.