Bunk with friends or family
If you can, stay with family or friends even for a night or two. Suddenly, there might be a few hundred extra dollars in your pocket to spend on a nice night out or an extra-special attraction. Alternatively, book a hotel with family-friendly amenities, such as a kitchen to save on meals (stock up on staples for breakfast and lunch) or pull-out beds and bunk beds to maximize the space. It might even be possible to split the cost of the room with friends if there are enough beds.
Find a deal
Look for coupons, online savings at sites like Priceline or the HotelTonight app, and scan the deals listed on your targeted location's tourism site. Sign up for the email alerts from a resort or destination you're eyeballing, so you'll be the first to know when prices drop. You can also do this through various travel-planning sites. Opt for the cheapest room you can comfortably stay in within the best hotel you can afford, advises one of our travel-happy moms. Some of our editors even recommend stalking your favorite resorts or destinations on social media for special discounts. Once you select your destination, start looking for ticket deals to the main attractions within the town or area. Reserving tickets online usually knocks a few dollars off the admission price to theme parks and other attractions, and then there are also deals available through services such as Viator.
Lastly, if you’re not chasing the sun, you might get a deal in a more northern climate, such as Canada, New England, or the Midwest. And by spring break, the temperatures in these locales will likely be better than they'd be in the dead of winter!
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See the giant pandas at Smithsonian's National Zoo. Photo by Skip Brown for the zoo
Best Spring Break Destinations for Those on a Budget
Free world-class museums, the iconic monuments and memorials at the National Mall, and plenty of public space—not to mention the possibility of seeing those stunning annual cherry blossoms and more signs of spring—make DC a popular spring break destination for many families. Even Smithsonian's National Zoo offers FREE admission in DC. It’s also an easy drive or train ride from most Eastern cities, including the Boston area, New York City, Philadelphia, and points more south.
If you do choose to head to Washington, DC, you could expand the scope of your travels to include a visit to Baltimore, or you could plan a whole trip here—there's lots to see! Baltimore's Inner Harbor is the place to be. There you'll find the Port Discovery Children's Museum, the National Aquarium, and the Maryland Science Center all at your fingertips. While exploring the harbor, a must-see is the USS Constellation, the last sail-only warship designed and built by the US Navy in 1854.
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Myrtle Beach has beautiful beaches, a boardwalk with rides, and warm spring weather. Photo courtesy of the Myrtle Beach Visitors Bureau
3. South Carolina
Make your way to South Carolina to fully thaw out in fun cities such as Charleston or at beach-centric spots like Myrtle Beach and the chill Hilton Head. Easy-to-find Airbnbs and other home rentals abound in beachside condos, and there are plenty of family-friendly hotels with suites. Myrtle Beach has boardwalk rides and games, as well as a zoo and an aquarium.
Journey to Beantown for more than just a glimpse into America's past; a spring break trip here can be packed with fun, education, and adventure for the whole family. Whether you're in the mood for museums, such as the Museum of Science or the Museum of Fine Arts, or headed for a walk in the Public Garden to see the Make Way For Ducklings sculpture with the little ones, there's an abundance of springtime fun to be had in Boston. A Go City - Boston tourist pass will get you access to many of these top attractions, all for one ticket price. Also head to the Old North Church and the Old South Meeting House to step back in time and soak up the history of our nation.
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Enjoy a night or two at a balmy indoor water park, such as Great Wolf Lodge. Photo courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
5. Indoor Water Parks
Escape to a local-ish indoor water park resort, such as Great Wolf Lodge, where the air and water temperatures are balmy year-round. A night or two is long enough to feel like you’ve gotten away, and the kids will be in absolute heaven with a full day of water-park fun tacked onto a spring staycation.
Spring break is the perfect time to visit New Orleans with kids because the crowded and expensive Mardi Gras season is over, while the popular Jazz and Heritage Festival (which starts in late April) has yet to begin. Plus, spring temperatures in New Orleans are typically quite pleasant. In addition to strolling the famous French Quarter and enjoying beignets at the iconic Cafe Du Monde, families can enjoy a slew of kid-friendly museums and attractions, including the Louisiana Children's Museum, Mardi Gras World, Audubon Zoo, and many more. As far as accommodations go, you'll find several affordable hotels within walking distance of the French Quarter.
Visit the creatures at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly, the oldest natural history museum in the Americas. Photo by Jeff Fusco for the museum
Philly is a great walking city with tons of family-friendly sights, as well as a great transit system. Look into a Go City - Philadelphia tourist pass to gain entry to top attractions like the Franklin Institute, the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, the Philadelphia Zoo, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, and more—all for one ticket price. Our Philly editor says Airbnb is very popular, and that families could stay in the city or any of the pretty surrounding towns along the Main Line for good restaurants and microbreweries. Most towns have a direct train to Center City. Philly also puts you in good proximity to other road-trip-worthy stops, such as Dutch Wonderland and Hersheypark.
This Texas city is a popular summer travel destination for families due to its proximity to popular theme parks like SeaWorld San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and Schlitterbahn Water Park and Resort. But March and April bring lower hotel rates and comfortable temperatures that are perfect for exploring the city's famed River Walk. There's also a fabulous children's museum called the DoSeum, the San Antonio Zoo, LEGOLAND Discovery Center San Antonio, and plenty of other kid-friendly attractions. Don't forget to schedule a FREE visit to the Alamo! Stay at the affordable Menger Hotel, located next to the Alamo and only one block from the River Walk, or at one of several other cheap options for families.
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Get ready for family fun with blocks and blocks of beachfront amusements at the Jersey Shore. Photo by Rose Gordon Sala
9. New Jersey Shore and Boardwalk
It might not be sunbathing (or swimming) season yet, but the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore open up for weekends and holidays come springtime, including spring break. Rides, Easter egg hunts, and breakfast with the Easter Bunny are available up and down the Shore. Hotels and home rentals are also much cheaper than in summer’s prime time. Opt for a stay in pretty Cape May for a quieter holiday. If your kids crave more traditional thrills, the locale is a great jumping-off point for a day trip to one of our favorite New Jersey amusement parks like Six Flags, Diggerland, and Storybook Land.
Though SoCal isn't exactly known for its affordability, spring break is the perfect time to visit San Diego—especially if you want to take a road trip from other parts of California. That's because May Gray and June Gloom haven't yet set in, nor has the peak summer travel season. There are tons of affordable hotels and motels all around the area. And while some can't-miss attractions, like the famous San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego, do cost money, there are so many FREE things to do with kids to balance things out. For one, you could spend hours exploring the area's beautiful beaches. While the water is too cold for swimming, your kids will delight in seeing the sea lions at La Jolla Cove, watching the planes fly over Coronado Beach to and from Naval Base Coronado, and splashing in the tide pools at Shell Beach. There are also gorgeous kid-friendly hikes and loads of great parks and playgrounds.
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Take a step back in time at Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum. Photo courtesy of The Vacation Channel
Enjoy the open-air historical attraction of Colonial Williamsburg during spring break and you’ll also get to bask in those warm springtime Virginia temperatures. Colonial Williamsburg is a fully immersive museum experience with street theater, costumed actors, and historical buildings and exhibits, but also events, shopping, and great eats. There are plenty of inexpensive hotels nearby, some of which run shuttles straight to the living history museum, as well as the other big attraction here: Busch Gardens. So yes, it’s a vacation that offers kids both a little education and plenty of playtime. If you’re feeling inspired, continue on to Virginia Beach for a night or two. Don’t expect beach weather, but there will be plenty of local attractions already open for family fun. Or, fill up on Americana by tacking on a couple of nights in DC to your Williamsburg trip.
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Portland, Maine is filled with history, culture, natural beauty, and truly great food. Photo courtesy of the Maine Office of Tourism
It's known as “vacationland” by many, and it’s not just in the summer months that Maine's rocky coasts, wooded forests, and charming New England towns inspire family travel. The seaside city of Portland has a terrific children’s museum, a train museum, award-winning restaurants, ferry rides, hikes, and more. Still hanging onto ski season? Head further north for one last run at Sugarloaf, the state's highest ski mountain and largest resort. Also, the hotels and B&Bs that remain open year-round in the Downeast region of the state will likely offer wicked-cheap rates and deals until Memorial Day weekend. (Hint: See Acadia National Park without the crowds!) Just pack the kids' long underwear for nighttime and remember that many seasonal attractions will be closed. The whole state is truly welcoming toward families, so if you're willing to put up with a little lingering winter, Maine might be the perfect spring-break getaway.
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Get breathtaking views hiking in Acadia National Park during the off-season. Photo courtesy The Maine Office of Tourism
13. National and State Parks
A camping trip to (or staying in a local lodge or hotel near) a national or state park—or even a staycation day-trip adventure—can make for a memorable spring break. We’ve already named one of our favorite national parks—Acadia—but there are so many from which to choose! Check our National Parks Guide for some great options. Plan out a few hikes with the kids, and then look for nearby attractions that offer a few more creature comforts, such as an indoor water park, an amusement park, or a great children’s museum or science center. Several national parks waive admission fees on April 22, 2023 (the first day of National Park Week), which falls at the tail end of spring break from some kids—making your visit even more budget-friendly!
OK, you might not think of Pittsburgh as your first spring break option, but if the Pearson family on This Is Us taught us anything, it’s that this city has heart... but also, a ton of things for kids to do! The city of Pittsburgh is loaded with museums, including a children’s museum, a science center, a natural history museum, a sports museum, a cartoon museum, and even the Andy Warhol Museum. There’s also the National Aviary to visit, as well as a zoo and aquarium. Plus, you’ll find plenty of affordable housing through Airbnb and at the local hotels.
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The magnificent Niagara Falls inspire all ages. Photo by Rosalba Tarazona
Though perhaps not the balmy beach weather one might think of when planning for spring break, Niagara Falls is a must-see bucket-list item for families. Why not beat the summer crowds and head there in the spring? With lots of family-friendly hotels and restaurant options, the challenge of booking here for spring break will be narrowing down the choices. Niagara Falls is on the US-Canada border in New York state, about 30 minutes from Buffalo. With all of the breathtaking nature and photo ops, make sure to reserve a ride on the Maid of the Mist. You'll have some memorable photos in one of the famous blue ponchos while getting a close-up experience of the falls—and getting pretty wet!
Check out our Mommy Poppins City Guides for more family-friendly locales that might appeal to your brood, from Houston to Chicago to San Francisco. And if travel isn't in the budget this year, I bet the kids will be just as wowed by a fantastic spring staycation fueled by awesome local events.
This post, originally published in 2017, has been updated.