What’s your fond, offbeat family vacation story? Maybe yours was completely normal and didn’t include that time your mother dropped the car keys in a pond and waited hours for the resort staff to “fish” it out. What about an incident that left your bestie falling into the same pond because you nervously stood up in the canoe?
Perhaps you remember flying domestically and eating a hearty, complimentary in-flight lunch because dining on commercial flights was standard back then. Whatever it was, get ready to create new family adventures this summer with wallet-friendly domestic trips that are entertaining and relaxing. From an urban escape in New York to a beach vacation in Florida, these getaways are perfect for great times without the high costs.
Brooklyn, New York
Fuggedabout what you heard in terms of expenses—visiting and living in this city of over 2.6 million people are two different things. During the summer, tons of activities are free or cheap.
Do: Looking for free concerts featuring top performers? Head to Prospect Park for the annual BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. This year’s schedule will be released in May, but past performers included Janelle Monae, Andra Day, Chaka Khan, Digable Planets and Femi Kuti. Families with younger kids can enjoy an old-fashioned spin at Jane’s Carousel, a glass-encased restored carousel in DUMBO. Each ride is $2 and free for kids three years old and younger.
Brooklyn Bridge Park is in the neighborhood and offers free basketball clinics all summer, live performances of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, outdoor movies and an abundance of space to picnic and watch the sunset over Manhattan, which is right across the East River. Feel free to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to Manhattan while there since it’s also in DUMBO.
Plan to spend a few hours in the southern part of the city while visiting Coney Island for roller coaster rides, bumper car driving, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs eating and boardwalk strolling. Basically, plan to spend a few days in Brooklyn.
Eat: Locals love Shane’s Brooklyn in Prospect Park. This non frou frou spot offers a variety of crepes, wraps, burgers and sandwiches under $10. Ditto for a breakfast plate of eggs, bacon, toast and scrumptious home fries. The latter is sure to keep patrons full for hours. For paper placemats, crayons and comfort food like a grilled cheese sandwich; sausage, egg and cheese sandwich; and buttermilk pancakes, head to Dizzy’s Diner.
Lodge: Try Airbnb.com, which lists budget-friendly apartments, including an entire brownstone studio that can accommodate four for $87.
“Chattanooga’s diverse range of travel offerings paired with the city’s affordability makes it the ultimate family vacation destination,” says Candace Davis, marketing and public relations manager for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Families of all ages can enjoy outdoor adventures at Lookout Mountain, farm-fresh, foodie favorites at the Bluffview Art District, attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium and Creative Discovery Museum plus countless festivals and live-music events.”
Do: Hop aboard the Missionary Ridge Local train at Tennessee Railroad Valley and travel through time over four bridges and the pre-Civil War Missionary Ridge Tunnel. The train pulls into a depot filled with old-timey trains and spins around, literally, on a turntable. Tickets are $11 – $17. Head to Coolidge Park for family picnics, rock climbing, a walk across the Walnut Street Bridge or let your kids whip through the water fountains to cool off.
Eat: Dine al fresco at Feed Table and Tavern, a casual restaurant with entrée faves including a half rack of ribs ($15) plus several burgers and sandwiches under $10. All items on the kids’ menu, from penne pasta to chicken tenders, are $5 and most are served with a side. Be sure to bring quarters; the adult and kid-friendly arcade features pinball machines and race car driving. Before leaving town, satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth with over 30 cupcakes plus ice cream and chocolate at Cupcake Kitchen.
Lodge: Inexpensive chain hotels abound; Staybridge Suites Chattanooga-Hamilton Place has high guest ratings with rooms that feature a kitchen with a stove, microwave and dishwasher. Complimentary breakfast is available daily. Rates currently start at $139.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
With more than 23 miles of beautiful beaches, it’s easy to think this city is all about sun, sand and surf. Well, in part, it is, but it’s also an emerging vacation hotspot for families.
Do: Spend a day lounging and building sand castles at the beach. When it’s time to see more than water, boats and sand, hop on one of the free Sun Trolleys, which can take visitors to the Museum of Science and Discovery stop for exhibits such as Go Green where guests can discover where garbage goes and Runaways to Rockets, which is all about space. Admission is $13 – $16.
Eat: When comfort food calls, head to Peter Pan Diner, which offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts. It’s also open 24-7. Daily specials like a fried fish sandwich with fries and lasagna, as well as early bird dinners, including half-roast chicken and spaghetti with meatballs are under $10.
Lodge: Fortunately, The Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort, which literally sits across from the beach and Atlantic Ocean, has a heated outdoor infinity pool with lots of lounge chairs plus a skywalk that leads directly to the beach. Pre-paid rooms with two double beds currently start at $136.
Carolyn Desalu is an essayist and travel and lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in Ebony, Essence, Catapult and The Globe and Mail. Aside from writing a book of essays, she enjoys finding the best doughnut shops in every city she visits. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @bycarolyndee