Cheap Summer Vacations
Plan a Budget-Friendly Family Getaway
Darryl Leniuk / Digital Vision / Getty Images
Our selection of fun family vacation spots proves that it is possible to plan an awesome summer vacation without dipping too far into the savings account. Whether your crew is looking to relax on the beach or ride the whitewater rapids, we have affordable vacation suggestions for every taste.
Asheville, North CarolinaTake a scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway and see why Asheville attracts creative types and vacationers alike. This eclectic town has a burgeoning River Arts District, boasts some of the nation's best craft breweries and is home to the iconic Biltmore estate, "American's very own Versailles." Start off with breakfast at the popular, farm-to-table Early Girl Eatery, which dishes up Southern comfort food with a side of retro charm. Next meander through galleries in the River Arts District before stopping at Wedge Brewery for a draft, a game of core hole and a bite from one of the food trucks posted up outside. In the evening, enjoy live music at local haunt 5 Walnut Wine Bar or curl up with a book at the dog-friendly Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne bar. 960 1280
Cannon Beach, OregonCannon Beach is best known for its majestic monoliths like Haystack Rock (an ideal beach selfie spot). However, its miles of serene beaches and a charming (yet refined) art scene make it one of the best resorts on the famed Oregon coast. Surf shops, galleries and wine bars line Hemlock Street. We suggest stopping by the Wine Bar at Sweet Basil's Cafe for bacon-wrapped dates, Willamette Valley wine selections and live music. 960 1280
Finger Lakes, New YorkSkip the Hamptons-bound jitney, instead road trip to this scenic, Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Popular for its wineries (nearly 100 in all) and New England scenery (think: rolling hills, deep-blue vistas dotted by Amish farmland and charming small towns) -- life slows down as you follow paved 2-lane blacktops along the slender lakes' shores. Follow the popular Cayuga Lake Wine Trail near Seneca Falls, where a host of 15 wineries (and 4 distilleries), scenic waterfalls and gourmet restaurants beckon you to stop. We like Maxie's Supper Club & Oyster Bar, a Cajun seafood restaurant and raw bar. Stop in before 6 to beat the crowds and be treated to half-priced raw oysters or start your meal off with their signature cornbread and honey butter and Southern-style fried green tomatoes. 960 1280
Florida Keys, FloridaWhy spend the weekend on 1 Florida beach, when you can island hop through the Florida Keys -- preferably in a convertible -- on scenic Highway 1 through Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon and, last but not least, Key West. Each mile marker seems to bring a new slew of kitschy gift shops, snorkeling spots, and roadside fish shacks, but we recommend stopping for conch fritters at roadside seafood joint, Alabama Jacks on Key Largo, checking into Casa Morada on Islamorada (the half-way point between Miami and Key West) and touring the Ernest Hemingway Home on Key West. 960 1280
Austin, TexasForgo the crowds at Barton Springs and instead cool off at Hamilton Pool Preserve, a lesser-known oasis. Approximately 23 miles west of Austin, this historic swimming hole was formed when an underground river collapsed. Hamilton Creek spills out over limestone cliffs to create a 50-foot waterfall. It's an approximately 10-minute "hike" from the parking lot to the pool so wear sensible shoes and leave the rolling cooler at home or you'll be cursing the stairs and uneven ground. If you're visiting Austin as well, Franklin Barbecue is worth the wait (we promise) and the landmark Allen's Boots has more than 4,000 pairs to chose from (along with hats, clothing and other accessories). 960 1280
St. Michaels, MarylandTo enjoy a quiet weekend on the water, head to Maryland's Eastern Shore. Wander through the charming, historic town of St. Michaels (which dates back to Colonial times) popping into boutiques, stopping for a scoop at Justine's Ice Cream Parlour or capping off the day at Carpenter Street Saloon. The real attraction here is the water: spend the day sailing, jet skiing, kayaking or even crabbing. We suggest checking into the Inn at Perry Cabin -- yes, the one from Wedding Crashers -- or at least stopping by the premises for an aperitif and to see the sunset over the water from an Adirondack chair. 960 1280
Washington, DCThe most obvious choice for a full-blown Fourth of July celebration, DC's A Capitol Fourth concert doesn't disappoint with the National Symphony Orchestra providing the soundtrack for a spectacular fireworks display. Locals know it's not the only thing to see at night: Skip the crowds (and sweltering humidity) by taking an evening walking tour of the National Mall -- the brightly lit monuments and memorials are just as beautiful after dark. 960 1280
Jersey Shore, New JerseyThe Jersey Shore, stretching from Sandy Hook to Cape May, has undergone major recovery efforts since Superstorm Sandy -- and the more recent Seaside Heights boardwalk fire. The shore welcomes visitors looking for an All-American summer vacation filled with beaches, lighthouses, ice cream shops, amusement rides, mini golf, fishing and more. While there is still work to be done, downtown Asbury Park has been revitalized, as have most of the region's tourist-heavy destinations. Spend a day in the kitschy town of Wildwood, home to the widest beach in the state and a boardwalk that lives up to its namesake, or stay in nearby Cape May, known for its Victorian houses, historic lighthouse and gourmet restaurants. 960 1280
Kiawah Island, South CarolinaJust 21 miles south of Charleston, Kiawah Island is a coastal island and world-class golf resort. While beautiful Beachwalker Park is open to the public (and provides lifeguards, picnic areas and parking), we recommend staying at the 5-star Sanctuary Hotel or renting one of the homes or villas to access the slew of amenities the resort has to offer (including its top-ranked spa). Play a round of golf at Ocean Course (1 of 5 award-winning golf courses on the island), enjoy tennis on clay or hard courts, canoe through marsh-lined creeks or simply spend a day at the beach enjoying more than 10 miles of pristine shoreline. 960 1280
Pacific Coast Highway, CaliforniaHop in a car, better yet make it a convertible, for a weekend road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway. Take a detour on the private 17-Mile Drive, which hugs the craggy coastline from Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach. The drive not only offers views of the picturesque 7th green, but also one of California's best known landmarks, the Lone Cyprus. Back on the PCH stop a few miles south of Monterey in the artsy town of Carmel-by-the-Sea -- once home to photographer Ansel Adams and writer Sinclair Lewis -- where you can spend the night at the romantic Highlands Inn, a Park Hyatt resort overlooking the Big Sur coast. Following brunch at Mission Ranch, snake along the 30-mile stretch from Carmel to Big Sur for cliff-top dining at the Nepenthe Restaurant. End the weekend 65 miles south in San Simeon at the eccentric Hearst Castle, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst's enormous estate. 960 1280
San Juan, Puerto RicoThough it's not located on the continental US, increasing direct flights from the East Coast are making Puerto Rico a viable long-weekend option. Puerto Rico is also becoming a popular year-round destination, but visit before July if you don't want to chance a hurricane. Once you land on the island, check into the luxurious St. Regis Bahia Beach resort for a secluded-island vacation or stay put in the town of San Juan. We recommend strolling Old San Juan's colorful, narrow streets, checking out the casino and nightclub inside the San Juan Hotel, and mingling with locals over live salsa at Nuyorican Cafe when not basking on the beach. 960 1280
Rocky Mountain National Park, ColoradoRoughly 80 miles northwest of Denver lies the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park. Families should make Estes Park -- at the east end of the park -- their base camp to experience unbelievable views from the Estes Park Aerial Tramway (which climbs over 1,000 feet in less than 5 minutes), kid-friendly hikes like the easily-accessible Alberta Falls and after-dinner ghost stories at the infamous Stanely Hotel. Those looking for solitude from the summer crowds -- and who are willing to brave a challenging hike (12.6 miles roundtrip) -- will find solace at nearby Lawn Lake, as well as 13,000-foot granite peaks, catch-and-release trout fishing and wildflowers ringing the western edge of the lake. 960 1280
Sonoma County, CaliforniaEscape up US Highway 101 into Northern California's wine country for a weekend of good food and fine wine in Healdsburg, CA (just 70 miles north of San Francisco). Start the weekend off at the Healdsburg Farmers Market where you can pick up Pug's Leap goat cheeses, a variety of bottled olive oils, fresh butter and other produce -- all sustainably grown on farms within 10 miles of the town's Spanish-style plaza. Flying Goat Coffee and food trucks are also on site if you aren't full from the vendors' food samples. With more than 150 wineries dotting the Wine Road (made up of the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valleys) refrain from ending up Sideways by renting a bike from Wine Country Bikes or joining one of their guided tours. Afterwards, dine at Charlie Palmer's Dry Creek Kitchen inside the minimalist Hotel Healdsburg -- a stylish and convenient choice to stay as well. 960 1280
St. Louis, MissouriAh, baseball. Nothing epitomizes summer leisure more than taking in a game that involves a stretch somewhere into its third hour. Cheer on the St. Louis Cardinals -- beer in hand -- fittingly, at Busch Stadium. Afterwards, check out Three Sixty rooftop bar perched atop the nearby Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark -- one of the best rooftop bars in the country. You'll get a bird's-eye view of the ballpark, the soaring Gateway Arch and more -- all from 400 feet above downtown. If you haven't filled up on stadium fare, indulge in gourmet bites like mini lobster rolls or have a House Kit Kat Bar for dessert. We suggest making Moonrise Hotel -- a unique, boutique hotel property on the famous Delmar Loop -- your home base for the weekend. 960 1280
Chicago, IllinoisCap off the summer in Chi-town. Grab a grassy spot and picnic at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park for the annual (free) Chicago Jazz Festival, a favorite among Chicago's many Labor Day weekend festivals. Spend the day strolling along the glistening Lake Michigan shore, taking in the expansive skyline as you round the North Avenue Beach curve and taking a break at Oak Street Beach Food + Drink. If you have kids, treat them to one last fireworks show at the Navy Pier before school starts. 960 1280
15 Summer Weekend Getaways 15 Photos
Naadam (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)Naadam, also known as “the 3 games of men,” is the biggest traditional festival held in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital. Each July, men compete in Mongolian wrestling, horse racing and archery in the city’s multipurpose National Sports Stadium. Today, women also participate in the archery games and girls in the horse racing. 960 1280
Elvis Week (Memphis)If swinging your hips to Blue Suede Shoes this summer sounds good to you, then head to Memphis for Elvis Week, usually held in mid-August. Movies, special performances and the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest (to crown the best Elvis impersonator) are just a few activities to keep fans occupied. The week of scheduled events is held to mark the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. 960 1280
Tango Festival (Buenos Aires)Keep it hot during the dog days of summer and join half a million spectators as they watch tango dancers’ sexy moves at the annual Tango Dance World Championship in Buenos Aires. Some believe this sultry dance may have originated in the Argentine brothels in the 1800s. Today, UNESCO recognizes the tango on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. 960 1280
Burning Man Festival (Black Rock Desert, NV)Where can you find a bagpipe player and a belly dancer on stilts? Head to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada to witness the eccentric spectacle that is the Burning Man Festival. It has grown into one of the biggest festivals in the US, with the size doubling virtually every year, drawing people from as far away as Japan, Europe and Australia. 960 1280
Wife-Carrying World Championships (Sonkajarvi, Finland)In Sonkajarvi, Finland, male competitors throw their wives or female teammates over their backs to see who can make it through an arduous obstacle course and cross the finish line. The lucky winner of the Wife-Carrying World Championships gets a supply of beer equal to his wife’s weight. Cheers! 960 1280
World Bodypainting Festival (Seeboden, Austria)This festival is not for the very shy or bashful. Artists use scantily clad bodies as their canvases at the annual World Bodypainting Festival in Austria. Artists from as many as 40 countries compete using a variety of techniques, including brushes, sponges and airbrushes. Alex Barendregt organized the first festival in 1998, when he was tasked with organizing a new summer event in Seeboden, Austria. 960 1280
Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Edinburgh, Scotland)The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest performing-arts festival in the world, hosting more than 3,000 shows in nearly 300 venues across the city. 960 1280
Pride Week (New York)June is Gay Pride Month, but there are several celebrations held in different cities throughout the summer. Paradegoers show their pride by dressing up in colorful and festive outfits during the New York City Pride Parade. In addition to the parade, other NYC Pride events include a LGBT rights rally, a family movie night, a street fair and the Dance on the Pier, which has featured popular artists including Janet Jackson, Cher and Ariana Grande. 960 1280
Inti Raymi Festival (Cusco, Peru)Inti Raymi, or "Festival of the Sun," is an Andean festival in Cusco, Peru, during which more than 500 actors assemble to re-enact an ancient Inca ceremony in adoration of the sun god. The 9-day winter solstice celebration is held in the great square of the Sacsayhuaman fortress and includes large banquets, festive music and thousands of people dressed in colorful costumes. 960 1280
Dragon Boat Festival (Hong Kong)Are you a top dragon-boat athlete? Then grab an oar and start rowing! Dozens of athletes man their boats and paddle across the finish line for the annual Dragon Boat Festival, aka Duanwu Jie, which spans 3 days in June. Drummers and spectators cheer from the sidelines while watching the heart-stopping action in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. 960 1280
Glastonbury Festival (Somerset, England)Get your tickets before this popular music festival sells out. More than 175,000 people converge on a dairy farm in Somerset, England, every year for the Glastonbury Festival. Notable bands and singers who have appeared at the 4-day music celebration include Florence and the Machine, Mary J. Blige, Hozier and Pharrell Williams. Admission to the festival was $1.54 when the festival started in 1970, but today, full-weekend general admission tickets go for about $338. 960 1280
Haro Wine Festival (Haro, Spain)Get ready for a wine fight at the Batalla Del Vino (Battle of Wine) in Haro, Spain. Thousands of locals throw as much as 34,000 gallons of wine at one another on June 29, the day of the patron saint San Pedro. The festival also includes wine-drinking competitions, contests and “bullfights” for kids and heifers. 960 1280
Heiva i Tahiti (Pape'ete, Tahiti)Celebrate Polynesian traditions and culture during Heiva in Tahiti. This cultural festival showcases traditional Polynesian dance performances, sports, games and a singing competition. 960 1280
El Colacho (Burgos, Spain)El Colacho, also internationally known as the baby-jumping festival, is a traditional Spanish holiday that started in 1620 in Burgos, Spain. Men dressed as the devil — donning red and yellow jumpsuits — jump over babies born during the previous 12 months to cleanse them of original sin and to guard them against illnesses and evil spirits. 960 1280
Summer Festivals Around the World 14 Photos
Jazz Age Lawn Party (Governors Island, NY)
Live out your Gatsby fantasies — and dress the part in your finest flapper attire — at this Prohibition-style gathering. Where else could you do the Charleston to a live band with a cocktail in hand just 10 minutes (by ferry) from Manhattan?
Mark your calendar: June 13-14 and Aug. 15-16, 2015960 1280
Disneyland's 60th Anniversary (Anaheim, CA)
There’s never been a better time to say, “I’m going to Disneyland!” In celebration of its 60th anniversary, Disney has upped the ante with an all-new fireworks show featuring pyrotechnics you have to see to believe, an innovative glow-in-the-dark parade and more.
Mark your calendar: Starting May 22, 2015960 1280
Maine Lobster Festival (Rockland, ME)
It wouldn’t be summer in New England without a lot of lobster, and Rockland’s annual festival brings 20,000 pounds of it! Besides stuffing your face for 5 days, you can take in a parade, the “sea goddess” coronation and the annual crate race (where participants run across lobster crates floating in the water).
Mark your calendar: July 29-Aug. 2, 2015960 1280
Opera House Cup/Nantucket Race Week (Nantucket Island, MA)
Sailing enthusiasts will recognize the annual Opera House Cup as the first all-wooden, single-hulled classic boat regatta — and what made Nantucket a sailing hub on the East Coast — but it’s the awards party that’s considered the “event of the season.” Guests toss back a few oysters and Dark ’n’ Stormy cocktails before dancing to live music on the beach.
Mark your calendar: Aug. 13-16, 2015960 1280
US Open (University Place, WA)
All eyes will be on 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, who is fresh off his Masters victory, at this year’s US Open at Chambers Bay golf course. They’ll also be on the unpredictable coastal winds as the championship heads to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in its 120-year history.
Mark your calendar: June 18-21, 2015960 1280
Bonnaroo (Manchester, TN)
Of all the summer music festivals, why pick this one? Simply put, we don’t think Bonnaroo can be beat. The annual 4-day festival — whose eclectic lineup of headliners this year includes Billy Joel, Kendrick Lamar, Mumford & Sons, and Florence and the Machine — always draws the best fans, who camp out in “tent city” or pimped-out RVs on a 700-acre farm in Tennessee.
Mark your calendar: June 11-14, 2015960 1280
Spoleto Festival (Charleston, SC)
For 17 glorious days and nights, music reverberates from the city of Charleston’s theaters, churches and green spaces, making this one of the largest performing-arts festivals in the US. Modeled after an event in Spoleto, Italy, that was founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Gian Carlo Menotti, the festivities will include a brand-new production of Romeo and Juliet and close with a beer garden, a fireworks display and a performance by the 7-piece soul band St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
Mark your calendar: May 22-June 7, 2015960 1280
Wanderlust in Squaw Valley (North Lake Tahoe, CA)
If a music festival with a side of “mindful living” is more your speed than constant partying, Wanderlust brings a wonderful combination of daily yoga practice, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding and farm-to-table eats. If you’re unable to make it to Squaw Valley, there are also festivals this summer in, among other places, Snowshoe, WV, and Whistler, British Columbia, each tailored to its unique host location.
Mark your calendar: July 16-19, 2015960 1280
Cheyenne Frontier Days (Cheyenne, WY)
If you’re looking for a family affair, look no further than the slice of Americana known as Cheyenne Frontier Days. The world’s largest outdoor rodeo also plays host to musical acts such as country superstars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, parades, the US Air Force Thunderbirds, a carnival and more.
Mark your calendar: July 17-26, 2015960 1280
Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (Sonoma, CA)
Cap off your summer with a Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, a Labor Day tradition. Kick things off Friday night poolside at the iconic Francis Ford Coppola Winery, dining and dancing under the stars. Then get a Taste of Sonoma thanks to 60 local chefs and over 200 wineries at the historic MacMurray Estate Vineyards where wine tours, expert pairings and a blind tasting are on offer.
Mark your calendar: Sept. 4-6, 2015960 1280
10 Can't-Miss Events This Summer 10 Photos
Mom and Dad join in the pranks and games with a nostalgic week at family sleepaway camp. A flat tuition fee for Medomak Camp covers activities and all meals in a gourmet mess hall, including a lobster feast. Morning activities for the kids might include archery or arts and crafts while adults practice yoga, get a massage or even join the kids for some craft time. In the afternoon, everyone heads to the lake for swimming, kayaking, sculling or sailing. Come nightfall, the whole family can set off on a scavenger hunt or play softball or ultimate Frisbee. Bring your own musical instrument for the evening campfire. Just leave your hair dryer at home -- the accommodations are comfy, but rustic, and there’s no need for primping anyway.
Sea Mist Oceanfront Resort
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The beauty of a Myrtle Beach vacation is that a week at a budget-friendly hotel can be had for under $1,000. Family deals at the Myrtle Beach Sea Mist include admission to the resort’s own water park as well as the Family Kingdom Amusement and Water Park just 6 blocks north of the resort. There, you’ll find 10 pools on the property, including 6 pools just for kids; the beach is just a short walk away. There’s a large playground, arcade room, mini golf and a free movie theater. What’s more, pets are permitted with advance notice and there’s a fenced-in dog run where your pup can get some exercise.
Ace Adventure Center
Oak Hill, West Virginia
Carve some family bonding time into summer with wild outdoor adventures for one set price at Ace Adventure Center. Ace boasts a prime location on the New River Gorge National River, known as the East Coast’s Grand Canyon. Children as young as 6 can join the family for a daylong white-water adventure along some easy class II and III rapids. Zip-line tours, horseback-riding, kayaking and rock-climbing are available for an extra fee. Back at base camp, there’s wild water-park fun with inflatables on the lake for no extra charge; hiking on any of the resort’s trails is free as well. Lodging ranges from rustic camping to cozy log cabins and lakeside chalets.
Maho Bay Camps
St John, US Virgin Islands
As the temperature rises in the Caribbean during the summer, airfare and hotel rates take a dip. Between May and December, Maho Bay Camps on St. John is a summer bargain for families -- kids under 16 stay free with paying adults. Embark on a modern Swiss Family Robinson adventure at this eco-resort camp with platform tents connected by a series of wooden walkways. The beach alone offers enough fun to keep the kids busy with swimming, sailing and snorkeling in the waters protected by the US Virgin Islands National Park. At the Trash to Treasures Art Center, budding artists create “green” masterpieces from recycled goods and natural elements like seashell wind chimes.
Shake up the summer routine with an urban getaway to Boston. Summer in the city is the perfect time to enjoy the harbor and outdoor parks. With no slush and snow underfoot, it’s a great time for a picnic on the Boston Commons or a stroll along the Freedom Trail. The Landmark Orchestra plays free concerts on Wednesday nights at Hatch Memorial Shell. A Go Boston card is a money-saving essential with free and discounted admission to over 70 attractions, museums and tours in the area. Take a cruise on Boston Harbor, catch a baseball game at Fenway Park or head out of town to nearby Six Flags New England and Hurricane Harbor and attractions at nearby Cape Cod.