8 cheap spring break trips that don’t skimp on fun

Cheap spring break trips are often top of mind for families looking to get away during the school year without overspending. While there may be some costly obstacles to visiting the most popular family vacation spots in the U.S. over the busy spring vacation period, there are also plenty of fun spring break ideas for families on a budget too.

From Nashville, Tennessee, to Nevada, the best spring break destinations for families are also some of the most affordable. Here’s where to go with the kids for cheap family vacations that don't skimp on the fun.

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1. Kissimmee, Florida

The Orlando theme parks help make Florida one of the best family vacation ideas any time of year, but spending spring break in Orlando won’t come cheap. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative in Central Florida, consider using neighboring Kissimmee as your base camp. It's convenient to all of the best things to do in Orlando and perfect for a cheap spring break trip with kids because hotel rates tend to be lower than in Orlando.

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There are a lot of fun spring break ideas for families on a budget in the greater Orlando area. One of my favorites is Old Town Kissimmee, a throwback re-creation of a Florida town with tree-lined streets and live entertainment, plus a parade of classic cars on weekends. Disney’s Wilderness Preserve offers acres of native habitat, including restored wetlands where bald eagles soar and the elusive Florida Scrub Jay sings a sweet song. Hike or bird-watch as you soak in the beauty of the ecosystem free of charge.

With a few days of free or low-cost activities under your belt, you can probably squeeze a visit to Disney’s Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios or the Harry Potter theme park areas at Universal into your spring break budget even if you're trying to keep costs down.

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The two-bedroom villas at Fantasy World Resort are a low-priced alternative to cramped motel rooms. A lazy river, game room, and tennis courts are kid-friendly perks. If you do want to stay in Orlando at a Disney property or Universal Orlando hotel, a few of the value-priced Disney World hotels in Orlando can actually accommodate large families quite comfortably. And for families looking for an all-in-one price, Kissimmee is also home to Encore Resort at Reunion, one of the best all-inclusive resorts in Florida.

2. San Luis Obispo, California

Surfer at Pismo Pier in San Luis Obispo.
Surfer at Pismo Pier in San Luis Obispo.

Midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, gorgeous San Luis Obispo County is an affordable spring break destination with a little bit of everything for families. In Pismo Beach, there's a long pier where surfers and sun lovers paint a quintessential California picture. Allow time for the kids to romp at Whale Surfing Playground at Pismo Pier Plaza, with a fun slide that leads straight down to the sandy beach. The free Montaña de Oro State Park is nearby. Scenic trails, tide pools, and secluded coves are accompanied by the scent of eucalyptus trees.

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In the small city of San Luis Obispo, the historic Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa offers free daily tours. Wandering among the pretty garden's grape arbor, fragrant roses, and citrus trees is a great way to keep little ones entertained and burn up some energy on spring break.

Every room at the adorable Apple Farm Inn comes with complimentary Wi-Fi and a cozy gas fireplace. The inn is centrally located for visiting the beaches and wineries of California's central coast.

3. Pittsburgh

T-Rex at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
T-Rex at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

You’ll find plenty of cheap spring break ideas for families in Pittsburgh. Once upon a time, Gilded Age millionaires built their industrial fortunes here, but today their legacy of wealth is what sustains numerous museums and cultural institutions. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History charges half-price admission on weekdays after 3:00 p.m., for example, and kids love browsing its sparkling gem collection and gawking at the enormous dinosaur skeletons.

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A visit to one of Pittsburgh’s verdant parks, including Highland Park’s landscaped gardens and Riverview Park’s wooded hiking trails, is always a good spring break idea for families on a budget too. You could spend a whole afternoon at either park and the price tag can’t be beat – the parks are always free. When hunger strikes, head to one of the city's many diners that serve homestyle meals for a low price. In the Strip District, the tall stack of fluffy pancakes at Pamela's Diner is reportedly a favorite of former President Barack Obama.

Hampton Inn and Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown is located in the Strip District, and a stay includes breakfast and parking – both big savers for families on a spring break budget. The hotel is a short stroll to Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop, a fantasy for anyone with a sweet tooth.

4. Nashville, Tennessee

Lane Motor Museum in Nashville.
Lane Motor Museum in Nashville.

Spirited Nashville welcomes visiting families with a range of free and low-cost experiences that can make spring break affordable. At the Frist Art Museum, guests under 18 are always free, and its Martin ArtQuest Gallery is a hands-on wonderland designed for multigenerational engagement. Visitors of all ages can try their hand at painting, drawing, printmaking, and animation at numerous art-making stations, with materials and guidance provided.

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Kids ages 6 to 17 pay only $3 to visit the Lane Motor Museum (and kids 5 and under are free). It's home to the largest collection of European cars and motorcycles in the United States – a great activity for all ages, but especially good for family vacations with teenagers because oddities such as the museum’s amphibious vehicles really boost the wow factor. And if the younger kids in your crew need a break from engines and hubcaps, there’s a large indoor play area with imaginative toys.

Another reason Music City is one of the best spring break ideas for families on a budget? Kids are welcome to listen to live music along the city’s famed Honky Tonk Highway before 6:00 p.m. most nights free of charge. Nashville’s culinary scene is a hit with kids, too, and hot chicken is one of its stars. This delectable fried favorite is both filling and inexpensive. At family-owned Hattie B’s, chicken can be served with no spice for those who enjoy their food mild. And scratch-made sides like creamy mac-and-cheese should tempt even finicky appetites.

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The centrally located Drury Plaza Hotel Nashville Downtown is a budget-friendly spring break choice with a complimentary hot breakfast plus snacks and beverages at 5:30 p.m. daily. Or go big (and more expensive) at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, an impressively self-contained resort and convention center in Nashville with kid-friendly dining, entertainment, and one of the best indoor water parks in the country.

5. Virginia City, Nevada

Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City
Bucket of Blood Saloon in Virginia City

When gold and silver were discovered here in the mid-19th century, Virginia City blossomed into a frontier boomtown. It has been perfectly preserved ever since, making it a fine spring break destination for budget-conscious 21st-century families who want an immersive living history experience only 35 miles from Reno.

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A stroll down the historic main drag, C Street, is free, and Victorian-era saloons, shops, and attractions line the pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare. People dressed in cowboy attire and frilly frocks with bonnets strut as casually as if they were wearing jeans. Virginia City’s Bucket of Blood Saloon is a family-friendly establishment (despite the name) with free live daytime music on weekends. Wood floors and period chandeliers add authenticity. Adults may enjoy a potent potable while kids cool off with a soft drink and free popcorn.

For a comprehensive narrated tour of this once-prosperous mining town, hop on the Virginia City Trolley for just $6.

At Silverland Inn and Suites, you’ll find modern kid-friendly amenities like a pool and free Wi-Fi at yesteryear prices.

6. Hocking Hills, Ohio

Flush with state parks and nature preserves, Hocking Hills makes an ideal spring break destination for families who appreciate fresh air and wide-open spaces. Miles of spectacular hiking trails are punctuated with caves and waterfalls, with ziplining, rock climbing, and kayaking adding active options.

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For low-key fun, play a round of miniature golf, ride the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, or watch a movie at the Skyview Drive-In. Warmer weather brings a host of parades, festivals, and old-fashioned fairs.

Hocking Hills Tiny Houses are compact cabins with kitchenettes that sleep four, starting at only $115 per night.

7. New Smyrna Beach, Florida

Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach.
Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach.

Soak in the Florida sunshine minus the hefty price tag when you visit the charming Florida beach town of New Smyrna Beach, home to 17 miles of soft sandy beaches perfect for families on spring break. You can also enjoy sand dunes and Atlantic waves at pet-friendly Smyrna Dunes Park, where you’ll pay just a $10 per car admission fee for the whole family.

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Beyond the beach, the Marine Discovery Center aims to impart a deeper understanding of the importance of maintaining the rich plant and marine life of the Indian River Lagoon. Naturalists present a robust program of learning opportunities with free admission. There’s a butterfly garden, a wildflower garden, and a nature playscape where kids can romp surrounded by native plants.

With an oceanfront pool, spacious suites, and complimentary breakfast, SpringHill Suites by Marriott New Smyrna Beach is just what you’re looking for on a cheap spring break trip with the kids.

8. Boston

Boston's greenway carousel.
Boston's greenway carousel.

After a long cold winter, the spring months are a fine time to explore free outdoor attractions, and kid-friendly Boston is a perfect spring break destination for outdoor family activities that won’t cost you a dime.

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Follow the footsteps of our nation’s founders with a stroll on the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile red brick path that traverses 16 historically significant sites and sheds light on Boston’s pivotal position during the American Revolution. Then head to Boston Public Garden, America’s oldest botanical garden, with acres of plantings providing a shady respite from city life. The Make Way for the Ducklings statue is a must-see for fans of this children’s literary classic by Robert McCloskey.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway is a ribbon of urban park winding through Boston's cityscape, with art installations, fountains, and food trucks aplenty during spring break season. Take a spin on the carousel that features animals native to the region, including lobster, cod, and harbor seals. Free programming includes movies and concerts.

Convenient to public transportation, Doubletree by Hilton Boston Bayside wins the award for best check-in amenity with warm chocolate chip cookies for every guest.

8 cheap spring break trips that don’t skimp on fun originally appeared on FamilyVacationist.com.

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The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

FamilyVacationist.com and TourScoop.com are owned and operated by Vacationist Media LLC. Using the FamilyVacationist travel recommendation methodology, we review and select family vacation ideas, family vacation spots, all-inclusive family resorts, and classic family vacations for all ages. TourScoop covers guided group tours and tour operators, tour operator reviews, tour itinerary reviews and travel gear recommendations.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 8 spring break destinations that won't break the bank