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13 Cheap Family Weekend Getaways 2021
Fun affordable Personal and Family get away that we all can afford in the USA
BY BETH LUBERECKI
February 18, 2021While it’s great to plan and save up for a big, weeklong family vacation, sometimes it’s just as good to get away for a long weekend with the kids. And weekend trips can often be cheaper—depending where you go, that is. Plan your next escape with one of these cheap family weekend getaways.
1. Oxford, Mississippi
Known as the “Cultural Mecca of the South,” Oxford, Mississippi, is a great alternative to pricier destinations like Charleston and Savannah. Average daily hotel rates can start as low as the $75-range, and it’s within a few hours by car from cities like Memphis (where you would fly to if traveling by plane); Jackson, Mississippi; and Birmingham, Alabama. Admission is free at the University of Mississippi Museum, whose collection includes everything from 19th-century scientific instruments to artwork by Georgia O’Keeffe and Man Ray and which offers a variety of kid-friendly events and programs. William Faulkner’s home Rowan Oak is also under the museum’s umbrella, where it’s free to roam the grounds and just $5 to tour the house. Head to the historic town square to find Neilson’s Department Store (the oldest continuously running department store in the South) and legendary Square Books, where the whole family can find good reads and attend free live tapings of the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour.
If you live close enough to either drive or take a train into Washington, D.C., you can have an affordable weekend getaway here. That’s because admission is free at the 17 DC-area Smithsonian museums, where the kids can check out everything from dinosaur fossils to an Apollo Lunar Landing Module, and the National Zoo, where you can find resident pandas Tian Tian and Mei Xiang. There’s also no cost to visit major city landmarks like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, or to take a tour of the U.S. Capitol. It’s easy and affordable to get around by foot or via the city’s Metro subway and bus system. And there are lots of good, cheap eats to be found, from the legendary half-smokes at local institution Ben’s Chili Bowl to the crab cake sandwiches at Market Lunch in Eastern Market. Tip: To potentially save even more money, check out hotels near Metro stops just across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, which can often be cheaper and are just a short subway ride away.
About two hours from both New York City and Philadelphia, Scranton is a cheap weekend getaway that ticks a lot of boxes—especially if you’ve got tweens and teens who’ve been binging The Office. There’s a free, self-guided walking tour that will take you to spots around the city made famous by the show. Little train lovers will want to visit the Steamtown National Historic Site (free admission, extra fees for train rides), while the whole family will enjoy spending time at Nay Aug Park, home to an oh-so-cool treehouse, two playgrounds, walking trails, and two pools plus a waterside complex ($5 for pools and waterslides, free for everything else). The park also sits along the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, a more than-70-mile stretch for hiking and biking that travels alongside its namesake river. Average daily hotel rates in the city can start as low as $75.
Less than two hours from Chicago and Milwaukee, Rockford is a city on the rise. This “Amateur Sports Capital of the Midwest” is home to spots like the new Atwood Park Silent Sports Trail System, whose first five miles are open for hiking and biking, and the site of free shows put on by the Ski Broncs water-skiing team during the summer. Go fishing, ice skating, hiking, or cross-country skiing at Rock Cut State Park (free admission) or try to spot some paranormal activity at the supposedly haunted Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum ($8 for adults, $5 for kids). The Burpee Museum of Natural History ($10 adults, $8 kids) features the world’s most-complete and best-preserved juvenile T. rex skeleton (named Jane), while the Rockford Art Museum offers free admission for kids ($7 adults), as well as free family-friendly programming. The kids can also burn off some energy at the Grove Nature Playscape, a playground made with materials like fallen logs and tree stumps at Severson Dells Nature Center (free).
This perennial family fave for a beach trip also makes for a cheap weekend getaway, with the average nightly hotel rate coming in at around $110. In addition to 60 miles of free beaches, the area also offers a slew of no- or low-cost activities for the whole family. There’s free admission at spots like the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum and Vereen Memorial Gardens, and free entertainment at locations like the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Broadway at the Beach during the summer months. Myrtle Beach is also home to more than 35 mini-golf courses and a state park ($8 adults, $4 kids) that’s great for surf fishing, bird watching, and shelling. Tickets to the Brookgreen Gardens complex aren’t super cheap ($18 adults, $10 kids), but they’re good for up to seven consecutive days, which means you can spend some time at its Botanical Gardens one day and then come back to visit its Lowcountry Zoo another.
An easy getaway from Los Angeles or San Diego, Murrieta offers activities for all kinds of interests. The city is home to more than 50 free parks including California Oaks Sports Park, which has tennis and basketball courts, a skateboard park, and a playground. It’s also a great place for hiking and biking at spots like the Sylvan Meadows Multi-Use Area, where you might see poppies and other wildflowers in bloom during the spring. Take the mile-plus trail to Tenaja Falls or bring a picnic to Lake Skinner Recreation Area ($6 adults, $3 kids), where there’s also a splash pad for the little ones. Kid hotspot Mulligan Family Fun Center has mini-golf, go-karts, arcade games, and rides. The Murrieta area is home to family-friendly breweries like 8 Bit Brewing Company and is also a jumping-off point for Temecula Wine Country. Average hotel rates are in the $75 to $115 a night range.
7. Dublin, Ohio
Get a taste of Ireland without having to travel across the Atlantic in Dublin, Ohio. An easy drive from cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis (and not far from Columbus, Ohio), Dublin offers authentic Irish pubs and Celtic kid-friendly treats like the Shamrock Sundae at Graeter’s Ice Cream. The whole family can search for the 11 magical spots on the free Irish Fairy Door Trail and check out the sculptures that are part of the Dublin Art in Public Places program, which include the striking Field of Corn honoring the area’s farming history. Dublin offers more than 100 miles of bike trails and 60 parks; don’t miss Ballantrae Community Park and its free splash pad, located behind a statue of dancing hares, or the waterfalls located around the city at spots like Indian Run Falls Park. Hotels in Dublin average around $125 a night.
Home to award-winning, sugar-sand beaches, the Pensacola Bay area makes it easy to watch your budget and still have a great weekend getaway. Hotel rates can start as low as $69 a night in the off-season and there’s a range of options for every price point. In addition to spending time on the sand, families can look for winged creatures of all kinds at spots along the Pensacola Birding Trail; the area is a major stopping point for birds migrating north in the spring. The free Pensacola Beach Eco-Trail features 29 stops offering info about the plants and animals in the area, while Bay Bluffs Park lets visitors travel by boardwalk along its namesake geologic feature. Set the teens and their phones loose on the Pensacola Photo Trail and take the whole fam back to the past at Historic Pensacola, where tickets ($8 adults, $4 kids) are good for seven days and offer admission to several different sites.
For a budget-friendly weekend getaway in a bigger city, try San Antonio, where average hotel rates are under $200 a night (and sometimes way under). It’s free to visit San Antonio’s most famous landmark, the Alamo, along with the city’s four other missions. You can stroll along the San Antonio River Walk for no charge, or hike or bike along the River Walk Mission Reach trail. Other admission-free spots to explore include the tranquil Japanese Tea Garden and San Pedro Creek Culture Park, where the kids can splash around in the water while also learning a little about the city’s history and culture. Head to Historic Market Square for shopping and good eats, or stop by Yanaguana Garden, an uber-cool free kids’ play space at the Hemisfair site that features a splash pad, climbing structures, sand play area, and giant chess and checker boards. End the day by attending a free showing of “San Antonio – The Saga,” a video art projection displayed several nights a week on the façade of the city’s San Fernando Cathedral.
Visit this middle of America city known for barbecue and jazz for some wallet-friendly family fun. It’s totally free to ride the KC Streetcar around the city’s downtown area; the route travels between River Market, home to the City Market farmers’ market and all kinds of food vendors, and historic Union Station, where you’ll find a planetarium and the Science City museum. Admission is free at the Peace Pavilion, which features 25 interactive exhibits to help teach kids about concepts like self-acceptance and cooperation, and the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, where you can learn all about how currency is made. Look for the more than 200 watery wonders in the City of Fountains and check out the Hallmark Visitors Center (free), where you can learn about the history of the greeting card company and even make a star-shaped bow to take home as a souvenir.
11. Clear Lake, IA
For a great selection of family-friendly activities and events, book a cheap family weekend getaway in Clear Lake, Iowa, says Sara Broers of Travel with Sara. “Located two hours south of Minneapolis and two hours north of Des Moines, right off of Interstate 35 in North Iowa, this town of nearly 8,000 people is filled with affordable family experiences,” she says. These include a family-friendly beach, boat tours on the historic Lady of the Lake, water sports galore, holiday events and even a kite festival on the lake in the middle of winter.
12. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
National and state parks are wonderful, budget-friendly destinations that every family should explore, with a wealth of free or low-cost activities ranging from hiking and boating to wildlife classes and ranger-led talks. A great example is Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, which is within a half-day’s drive of approximately half the nation’s population. Admission is free, and there are numerous campgrounds throughout the park. Not a camping family? Head to nearby Gatlinburg, which overflows with family-friendly accommodations for all budgets and styles.
Just an hour and half north of Atlanta in the North Georgia Mountains, Helen, Georgia, welcomes families to experience all this German town has to offer. “There is cheap river tubing, hiking, biking, golf and a fun, walkable downtown in Helen,” says Becky Beall of The Travel Voice by Becky. In fact, floating down the Chattahoochee through the heart of downtown Helen is one of the town’s most popular summer activities. Visitors also love shopping in the eclectic stores, sampling sweet treats at the Hansel & Gretal Candy Company, and touring the area’s wineries.