If you mention a Florida vacation, most of the family will immediately love the idea. But then you look at the cost involved and remember that going to Florida can be really expensive!
The good news is that you don’t need to abandon the idea with the help of this list of best family vacations in Florida on a budget. Let’s take a look at some of the inexpensive ways to travel to the Sunshine State with the whole family.
How to Travel Cheaply in Florida
Before looking at some of the best places to stay for a budget-friendly Florida family vacation, let’s look at a few tips to help you in the planning stages.
Consider Avoiding the Big Cities
As with anywhere you can travel, big cities tend to be more expensive than smaller cities or towns. So if you can manage it, aim to stay somewhere a little smaller to maximize your vacation budget. You can find really reasonable places to stay in a similar way in tourist areas, such as around the coast if you aim for some of the less popular spots.
Make the Most of the Beach
Heading to the beach is one of the best activities you can do, and most of the time, the entire family will enjoy everything from splashing in the waves to building sand castles. And best of all, they are free which is a huge perk when planning family vacations in Florida on a budget. You only need a picnic and a few beach toys, and you have an instant free day out.
Be on the lookout for leftover toys that your fellow beach goers may have left behind at the beach’s entrance! Many beaches have a designated spot for people to donate and share beach toys that aren’t being used.
Check for Food Deals Before You Leave
There are some great websites such as Groupon and Local Flavor where you can download coupons and buy discounted gift cards to save money when you get to Florida, mainly on the cost of food and eating out. Add the zip code for where you’ll be staying and see what you can find to save money. Just watch for the expiration date of the coupons, so they are in-date when you travel.
As you research your destination for the best places to eat, many restaurants will offer a free appetizer or dessert when you join their mailing list! But it usually takes a day or two to get on the list and receive the offer via email. So plan to do this the week of your trip before you leave!
Don’t miss more money saving hacks on food in our Break All the Rules: Save Money Eating Out article.
The Best Budget Beach Vacations
The beach will definitely be the feature when you’re looking for the best family vacations in Florida on a budget. But where are the best locations across the state to visit that aren’t going to use the whole budget in a matter of a few days? Let’s dive in!
Cocoa Beach is known as a top family-friendly location in the state but also for being much more affordable than some of the more ‘popular’ spots. It has that retro Florida feel that adults will immediately enjoy, and there are tons to keep the kids occupied.
You can explore the historic Cocoa Village as well as take in the views from Port Canaveral. But one of the big draws to the area is surfing where it’s known to be one of the best spots for surfing, with World Champions calling it their home base for the waves. Plan to head out to the Cocoa Beach Pier to watch the surfing action and window shop some of the shops or grab a bite to eat at a restaurant. And be sure you pop into the iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop which holds the record as the world’s largest surf shop!
Top 5 things to do in Cocoa Beach:
- Lori Wilson Park
- Cocoa Beach Pier
- Ron Jon Surf Shop
- Florida Surf Museum
- Historic Cocoa Village
If you want a classic beach vacation, Jacksonville Beach will be an ideal place to visit. With roughly 22 miles of beach in the area, including Jax Beach, Neptune Beach, and Atlantic Beach, with the last two being quieter and less popular options with tourists.
There are a lot of kid-friendly museums in the area to visit, while the city has plenty of spots, culture, and history to explore. There are three national parks, seven state parks, and over 400 parks in the city itself, the largest urban park system in the USA.
You’ll find a good range of motels and hotels for vacation and beach rentals if you want somewhere with a sea view.
Top 5 things to do in Jacksonville Beach:
- Adventure Landing
- Beaches Museum & History Park
- Players by the Sea Theater
- Jacksonville Beach Fishing Pier
- Shipwreck Island Water Park
Sanibel Island is a classic beach location that is great for the kids to go seashell searching. Our kids love to bring along these Mesh Beach Bags when finding seashells because they’re small and easy to carry thanks to the the strap.
Additionally, there are over 200 different species of birds in the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling National Wildlife Refuge that is part of the island as well as alligators and other reptiles to spot, so the island is ideal for wildlife fans. You can even go on a dolphin-watching cruise.
Typically, Sanibel Island is one of the most expensive places to stay, but there are some budget-friendly places around that your family can enjoy. Alternatively, you can stay in Fort Myers, which is more budget-friendly and a short trip on the island.
Top 5 things to do in Sanibel Island:
- J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge
- The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum
- Sanibel Island Lighthouse
- Bowman’s Beach
- Botanical Gardens at Sanibel Moorings Resort
New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach is popular for cheap Florida family vacations because it isn’t one of the main tourist spots. You can pick up budget-friendly accommodation for families of all sizes, and there are some gorgeous condos to rent.
The area has some stunning white sand beaches, and Smyrna Dunes Park is right at the end of the barrier island. It is an excellent spot for walking, birdwatching, and spotting the gopher tortoises that call it home.
The spot is also only around 15 miles south of Daytona Beach.
Top 5 things to do in New Smyrna Beach:
- Smyrna Dunes Park
- Cruger-dePeyster Plantation Sugar Mill Ruins
- Marine Discovery Center
- The Hub on Canal
- Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park
Fort Myers Beach
Fort Myers Beach is known for having good quality but inexpensive motels, making it a good option for a budget Florida family vacation. There are some stunning beaches to enjoy, and you can visit the Fort Myers Beach Pier, a popular spot for fishing if there are any fishing fans in the family.
The downtown area is worth visiting, and there are some great restaurants to try. Or just enjoy a walk along the beach while the kids collect seashells.
Top 5 things to do in Fort Myers Beach:
- Fort Meyers Fishing Pier
- Bowditch Point Park
- Lovers Key State Park
- Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf
- FastTrax Fort Myers
Clearwater Beach has a reputation as one of the most popular beach areas. And when you visit Florida and see it, you can see why. It is a great spot to relax on the beach while the kids build sand castles or to take a walk along the water’s edge, watching for the bottlenose dolphins that live in the area.
While being cost-effective for a vacation, there’s plenty to do, as well as the beach. One of the most popular things is the Marine Aquarium, where you can see everything from sea turtles to sharks and stingrays just a short trip from the beach. There are also plenty of places to eat with great entertainment all year round in the downtown area. Take a short trip to the Honeymoon Island State Park, which is just 25 minutes by car from the area.
Top 5 things to do in Clearwater Beach:
- Sunsets At Pier 60
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium
- Dunedin Downtown Market
- Sand Key Park
- Honeymoon Island State Park
Flagler Beach is slightly different from the classic white sand beaches you see across Florida. It is known for its cinnamon-colored sand that comes from crushed coquina shells. The beaches near the pier are dog-friendly if you plan to take your pet along on the family vacation.
The area is famous for surfing, and there are a lot of places where you can get expert instructions. Look out for cost-effective ocean-front accommodation in the area that’s still not a top tourist spot.
Top 5 things to do in Flagler Beach:
- Flagler Beach Fishing Pier
- Gamble Rogers
- Flagler Beach Historical Museum
- Veterans Park
- Halifax Plantation Golf Club
Pensacola Beach is to the west of the state on Florida’s Gulf Coast and is known for cheap getaways as well as a relaxed and old-fashioned feel that will appeal to many people. Many vacation homes in the area make for an affordable vacation and are often just a short walk from the beach.
There are many cheap things to do in the area, including the Gulf Breeze Zoo, Fort Pickens, and the Children’s Museum. There’s also the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the longest federally-protected shore in the country.
Top 5 things to do in Pensacola Beach:
- Pensacola Lighthouse & Maritime Museum
- Gulf Breeze Zoo
- National Naval Aviation Museum
- Fort Pickens
- Pensacola Beach Boardwalk
Ponce Inlet is home to some good vacation rental deals during the summer, especially when the large snowbird population that makes the area famous has moved north for the year. There are some beautiful beaches in the area and the Ponce de Leon Inlet lighthouse to check out.
The location is also close to New Smyrna Beach and Daytona Beach, so it is a great place to stay while exploring other nearby areas.
Top 5 things to do in Ponce Inlet:
- Marine Science Center
- Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum
- Lighthouse Point Park
- Ponce Inlet Historical Museum
- Ponce Inlet Park
Bradenton Beach is home to many inexpensive beach vacation rentals and family-run motels, making it a great place to stay on a budget. The area is known for its soft beaches and very clear waters that make it ideal for swimming, even if you are a beginner.
You can take a walk along the Bradenton Beach city pier or even do a spot of fishing if that’s something you enjoy, as it is a fishing pier. Or take a wildlife cruise on Sarasota Bay to see dolphins, stingrays, and even manatees.
Top 5 things to do in Bradenton Beach:
- YOLO Parasailing & Adventures
- Leffis Key Preserve
- Bridge Street Pier
- The Fish Hole Miniature Golf
- Paradise Boat Tours
How to Stay in Orlando on a Budget
There’s no doubt that if you make a list of inexpensive family activities, theme park tickets will not be on it! The Orlando, FL area is known for its theme parks but those attractions are not the only thing the area has to offer! You can most certainly stay in Orlando when looking for family vacations in Florida on a budget and still have a great time. The key is to think outside the traditional options, such as Disney World, Universal, and Sea World and make the most of what else the city has to offer.
For example, plan to visit Disney Springs, where you can enjoy world-class restaurants, shopping, and many fantastic street performers – all without paying the theme park fees. You can also visit the Disney Wilderness Preserve, which is free to enter and is a wonderful opportunity to see the wetlands that Florida is famous for. Don’t forget to visit downtown Orlando as well for great shopping and eating places.
Because Orlando is such a popular destination, there are always great deals to be found on hotels if you stay away from staying inside the famous theme parks. However, some hotels near Universal Studios are more cost-effective than those on amusement park property. And even affordable hotels won’t be too far from some great free and inexpensive things to do in Orlando.
If, however, you’re looking to book a Disney vacation, you don’t have a break the bank. Check out How to Save for Disney World: 20+ Lesser Known Ways for some amazing money saving tips!
Other Family Vacations in Florida on a Budget
Tampa is a popular spot to visit when you want to stay somewhere more urban. The city is known for being home to many celebrities and has been featured in loads of Hollywood movies, which means you’ll often walk around and spot places you recognize from the movies.
There are many things to do, ranging from Busch Gardens to the Glazer Children’s Museum. The Florida Aquarium is an excellent spot for everything from otters to alligators, while older kids will love the laser tag arcades. Plus, there is no shortage of pools, flume rides, and water shoots to cool down on a hot, sunny day.
Top 5 things to do in Tampa:
- The Florida Aquarium
- Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- ZooTampa at Lowry Park
- Manatee Viewing Center
- Adventure Island
Amelia Island is a barrier island off the northeast coast of Florida that is still just 40 minutes by car from the international airport at Jacksonville. It is a popular spot for those looking for the best family vacations in Florida on a budget because there are loads of places to go walking or biking, as well as for sports fans with activities such as horseback riding, golf, and tennis.
The main downtown area is called Fernandina Beach, and there are plenty of places to eat. There are also some historical spots, such as Fort Clinch State Park with its brick fort from the Civil War era. Watch out for the re-enactments that take place all the time there.
Top 5 things to do in Amelia Island:
- Fort Clinch State Park
- Amelia Island Lighthouse
- Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve
- Amelia Musical Playhouse
- Amelia Island Nature Center
St Augustine holds the record of being the oldest European settlement in the US where the Europeans first arrived on the continent. This means it is a great place to visit if you love history.
There are also plenty of things to do for the kids after the history part of the trip has been covered. A few other great places to consider are St Augustine Pirate Treasure Museum or the Ripley’s Red Trains town tours. St. Augustine is also an excellent spot for wildlife fans to catch views of dolphins, manatees, and loads of sea birds on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Top 5 things to do in St. Augustine:
- St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime
- Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine
- Lightner Museum
- Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Daytona Beach is known for a few different things. Top of the list is the Daytona International Speedway, where kids can try car racing for those aged between 6 and 13. There’s also the Daytona Beach Boardwalk with many rides, arcade games, and the Daytona Lagoon which is a fantastic waterpark.
Take a walk around the area and enjoy the free street performances, and you may even catch a fireworks show going on! To get the best hotel deals, book early, and you can get some great rates with affordable accomodations.
Top 5 things to do in Daytona Beach:
- Daytona Boardwalk Amusements
- Daytona International Speedway
- Sun Splash Park
- Daytona International Speedway
- Ormond Memorial Art Museum & Gardens
The Florida Keys are one of the most famous parts of the state, but anyone who has priced up family vacations in Florida on a budget will tell you they aren’t on the list of budget-friendly spots! However, Marathon, FL is close to the Keys and is a cheaper option if you want to experience the vibe that the Florida Keys offer without the price tag.
There’s plenty to do to enjoy the natural beauty of this wonderful destination. Grab a mask and snorkel, and you can see the tropical fish near Sombrero Beach. Or you can rent bikes to explore areas such as Old Seven Mile Bridge.
Top 5 things to do in Marathon:
- Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters
- Dolphin Research Center
- Seven Mile Bridge
- Turtle Hospital
- Sombrero Beach
Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs is home to several affordable hotels that are clean, modern, and offer other great amenities for families.
While the area might not be as well known as other locations in the state, there’s plenty to do! You can visit Buccaneer Bay, a seasonal water park with slides, a lazy river, and plenty of pool area for the kids. If you like national parks, you can also visit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, which is just half an hour’s drive to the north.
Top 5 things to do in Weeki Wachee Springs:
- Alfred A McKethan Pine Island Park
- Cabot Citrus Farms
- Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
- Nature Coast Botanical Garden & Nursery
- Weeki Wachee Spring
Sunshine in Florida isn’t usually an issue, but St Petersburg holds the record for the most consecutive days with sunshine worldwide at 768 days. There are lots of great beaches, but if you want to break up the beach days, the Great Exploration Museum and Sunken Gardens are perfect for a budget-friendly day out.
For older kids and adults, the town is also home to the most extensive collection of artworks by Salvador Dali outside of Spain.
Top 5 things to do in St. Petersburg:
- St. Pete Pier
- Salvador Dalí Museum
- St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market
- Fort De Soto Park
- Sunken Gardens
If you don’t want to be at the coast, then Gainesville is worth adding to your list of places to consider. The town is home to the University of Florida, and there are a lot of free or budget-friendly activities to do with the kids, including the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum or the Bat House.
There are also a lot of freshwater springs within a short travel from the town. So the kids can enjoy playing with their inner tubes while the adults can relax and de-stress – a crucial part of any family vacation!
Top 5 things to do in Gainesville:
- Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History
- Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
- Florida Museum of Natural History
- Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
- Gainesville Raceway
Sarasota is known for having some of the most gorgeous beaches on the Gulf Coast of the state, with soft, white sand and stunning blue water. There is a good range of budget friendly places to stay if you book early.
Attractions such as the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are worth visiting when you are there. The modern circus at the Ringling Circus Museum is great for some family fun. The state has long been known as the winter home for the ‘Greatest Show on Earth,’ and John Ringling’s collection of paintings and sculptures can also be seen at the museum. There’s also an opera and ballet company if you have older kids who want something a little more cultural.
Top 5 things to do in Sarasota:
- Ca’ d’Zan (House of John Ringling)
- Sarasota Jungle Gardens
- Siesta Beach
- Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
- The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Final Thoughts on Family Vacations in Florida on a Budget
Florida vacations have a reputation for being expensive, and there are indeed parts of the state that aren’t cheap. But there are also many places where you can have fantastic family-friendly fun, stay somewhere nice, and make the most of this wonderful sunshine state!
Have you taken a trip to Florida that has been memorable and fun without being crazy expensive? Share your best tips, tricks, and advice for family vacations in Florida on a budget in the comments below! We’d love to feature your feedback!