The kids will be out of school soon and the summer break will officially begin. If you’re like most families, you’re probably planning a vacation within a specific budget. As much as we would love to travel to places like Disney or exotic destinations, sometimes they are simply out of our budget. Plane tickets alone can run anywhere from $1000-$2000 dollars for a family of 4 depending on the destination and airline.
But I don’t want you to be discouraged by the numbers. As a family, we have taken several trips on a shoestring budget without sacrificing our experience. There are some really great cities in the U.S. that your family can explore without busting your budget. Depending on where you live, you might be able to turn it into a road trip and bypass flying altogether. In fact, traveling by car is how we prefer to travel because we get to see various places along the way. And if you stay off the main highway, you will also discover some local gems.
Traveling is our family’s favorite way to create memories and recharge. Even a short weekend trip to a big city can be a great experience for the family. These destinations may not be the norm when we think of a family vacation, but I can assure you that they can be just as fun.
Family-Friendly Trips That Are Easy on Your Budget
This is one of my favorite budget-friendly cities to visit with my family. Most of the attractions in D.C. are free. You can easily spend an entire day, or weekend, in D.C. just by visiting the free museums and local landmarks. Some of our favorite attractions include the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, The Lincoln Memorial and The Washington Monument. Also, check out the Tidal Basin which is home to several memorials and cherry blossoms that are a must-see during peak bloom. Parking is the only thing that can set you back a few dollars when visiting a big city. I suggest using an app like SpotHero to find parking before you head out so you can scout the best rates and available spots in the city.
There are so many amazing things to see here that it would be hard to list them all, but I’ll just share a few highlights. Lincoln Park Zoo is free seven days a week and it’s a great attraction for the entire family. Make sure to go see King, the first black rhino to be born at the zoo in the last 25 years. It also has an underwater viewing area where you can peek at sea lions. The Navy Pier is also a must-see. It’s a 50-acre playground that includes a Ferris wheel, ice-skating rink, 2 kids museums, and fireworks two days a week during the summer. It was one of our favorite stops when we visited Chicago last year. My youngest had a blast splashing around in Polk Bros Fountain which is located in front of the Navy Pier entrance. Don’t forget to take a walk along the shore and take in the beautiful view of Lake Michigan.
Take a stroll through Castleberry Hill and check out all of the amazing artwork on display. While in ATL, you can also visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. tomb and tour Dr. King’s birth home, all for free. Atlanta’s Children Museum is free the second Tuesday of every month and has a lot of interactive displays for kids. If you want to spend the day outdoors, check out Piedmont Park where you can toss a frisbee, have a picnic, or go on a bike ride. A trip to Atlanta is not complete without a visit to Centennial Olympic Park where you can also catch the Fountain of Rings show. The world’s largest interactive fountain featuring the Olympic Ring symbol offers four shows daily. The fountains are also a great spot for your little ones to splash around and cool off on a hot day.
New York City, NY
Believe it or not, there are some great ways to see New York City that won’t bust your budget. If you really want to see NYC in all it’s glory, take a ride on the Staten Ferry. The commuter ferry is free for all and when you get to the other side you just get in line to go back again. It’s a lot of fun and offers some great photo opportunities. City parks are typically hidden gems that often get overlooked, and NYC has one of the best in the world. Central Park always has something going on and it’s free. It is the perfect place to people watch, have a picnic, or be entertained by a street performer. New York also has several wonderful museums that offer free admission or allow you to pay what you can afford. The New York Public Library is the second largest public library in the United States and also a must-see. You can browse at your own leisure, or go on a free tour to see the stunning architecture the library has to offer.
One of the best things to do in Houston is make a stop at the Miller Outdoor Theater. Performances range from classical ballet to Shakespeare. If you visit during the summer, Market Square Park also offers free movie screenings. All you need is your chair, or blanket, and popcorn! Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a 155-acre nature sanctuary that offers 5 miles of trails and exhibits. All free of charge. If you are in the area on a Saturday, check out the Urban Harvest Farmer’s Market. It is a great way to check out local fare, and free samples are always available. Houston is also home to several great museums that are always free, budget-friendly or offer free admission on specific days.
Philadelphia is one our family’s favorite cities and one we visit quite often since it’s a short drive away. There’s a ton to do and see in Philly and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy the City of Brotherly Love. You can get your history fix by visiting the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall, which are both free. Then explore the city by going on a self-guided walking tour of Philadelphia’s street murals. Not only will you burn tons of calories, you’ll see beautiful street art while weaving your way through various neighborhoods. Philly also offers plenty of parks where you can relax and take in the views. One of my favorites is Spruce Street Harbor Park which offers hammocks and life-sized board games with a beautiful view of the Delaware River. If you have time to spare take a walk through Chinatown to enjoy a variety of shops, restaurants, and the famous 40-foot Friendship Gate.
What are some of your favorite budget-friendly destinations? I’d love to hear from you!