Our 5 Favorite Family Vacations in Florida on a Budget

by | May 12, 2023 | Destinations, Family Adventures, South East, Travel Tips, USA

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It’s time to try a different kind of Sunshine state getaway. Believe it or not, Florida is a great place for affordable family vacations. To find Florida’s secret travel bargains, tourists must look beyond Universal Studios and escape the idea that Florida’s best vacations begin and end in theme parks. Here are our fav affordable family vacations in Florida.



Text: Family vacations in Florida on a budget. Four images of beaches, mangrove tunnel, NASA sign



Folks know how to have fun in Clearwater. The beach town serves up plenty of entertainment to keep families occupied when they need a break from the beach.


Clearwater Beach

Speaking of the beach, Clearwater Beach lines a barrier island just across the bay from the city proper, a lot like New Smyrna Beach. The calm water is perfect for paddleboarding and parasailing while the white sand makes for glorious sandcastles. Cafes and shops set back from the water make it easy to spend the day relaxing on the island. 


Sand Key Park

Sand Key Park is immediately south of Clearwater Beach by bridge and offers beach access and trails in addition to some natural, preserved swampland. Playgrounds and picnic facilities offer breaks from the water, and it’s a great alternative to Clearwater Beach for families looking for something a little less developed.


Clearwater Marine Adventures

Give them an eyepatch or a water pistol, children turn into pirates. Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise is always a hit with kids. Think treasure hunts, face-painting, and dance parties. Lucky travelers also see dolphins on their family-fun cruise.

If tourists miss the dolphins on their cruise, they can visit them in the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The research and rescue center disguises entertainment in the name of education. Kids learn more about the ocean when they play and meet stingrays, turtles, sharks, and – of course – dolphins that live there. 


Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens in Tampa provides a great day trip for families who love amusement parks. Staying in Clearwater keeps lodging prices down, and the beach town remains more affordable than Tampa’s big city prices. 


Busch Gardens roller coaster over blue sky - Florida family vacation, budget

A ride on the wild side. Photo by Densky Simon


Where To Stay In Clearwater

Tropical Inn and Suites has a pool, which is only half as exciting as the guest laundry facilities, the amenity families don’t realize they need until the two-year-old decides to soil every shirt in the suitcase. The aquarium is only three miles away, and the area boasts lots of coffee shops and restaurants. 


People walk on Clearwater beach - Florida family vacations, budget

Clear water at Clearwater Beach. Photo by Robert Linder



The Everglades are unlike any other place in the United States and stand as one of the most iconic national parks. The south Florida treasure covers over 2,000 square miles, and it bursts with opportunity for fans of the great outdoors hunting for a great deal.


Fun in the Park

Shark Valley may be the best place in the park to see a variety of wildlife. Tourists can walk, bike, or take a trolley, so there’s an age-appropriate option for children of all ages. The best time to visit is in the early morning, before the gators go into the water to hide from the sun and the other visitors fill the whole parking area.

The Anhinga Trail is one of the most family-friendly paths in the park. A combination of paved trails and wooden boardwalks, it takes kids over gator, turtle, and bird habitats. It’s hard to not see at least one interesting animal, and the route showcases the iconic wetlands – or river of grass – for which the park is best-known. 

Most of the Everglades isn’t accessible by trail, and to see the heart of this swampy jewel, nature lovers need boats. Kayaks and canoes make excellent choices for families with older children experienced with water sports, but airboats are regional icons for a reason. 


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Nearby Cities

Miami and Fort Lauderdale are immediately northeast of the Everglades, and families who want to balance hiking and urban adventures have their pick of fun. 


Where to Stay in the Everglades

Camping in wetlands isn’t for everyone, and Travelodge by Wyndham Florida City/Homestead/Everglades offers a clean, affordable hotel room near the main route into the park. It’s conveniently located by food and convenience shopping, so guests don’t waste energy better spent on hikes, boat rides, and exploration.


Mangrove tunnel in Everglades - Florida family vacations, budget

There’s no hiking this tunnel. Photo by Mark Jacquez


Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach is a sunny spot for the curious. Tourists who love museums have as much to love as those who come for the sun, and the Atlantic beach-town vibes compare to Daytona Beach. 


Beach Access Parks

Four area parks offer beach access. Alan Shepard Park covers five acres in the peak tourist zone. It offers picnic pavilions and tables, a bathhouse, and a playground in addition to fishing and swimming. It’s also close enough to tourist boutiques for families to walk. 

Sidney Fischer Park is twice as big with lots of picnic facilities and a playground. It also charges for parking instead of admittance, so it may be the cheaper option for families. 

Lori Wilson Park has over 32 acres and includes a boardwalk through a Maritime Hammock ecosystem, a playground, and picnic facilities with grills. 

Robert P. Murkshe Memorial Park is the smallest with only two acres, but it still offers restrooms, showers, and picnic facilities. 



Nature Break on Horseback

One of the best things besides the beach is horseback riding. A couple local stables take families on a trail riding experiences for guests with children as young as eight. It’s a unique way to get out in nature without the paved paths and crowds that sometimes sanitize state parks.


The Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is just north of Cocoa Beach. Packed with science demonstrations, historical exhibits, and real-life astronauts families can meet, greet, and snap a photo with, it’s one of Florida’s best attractions for the whole family. 


NASA sign at Kennedy Space Center - Florida family vacation, budget

It’s out of this world! Photo by AK


The Dinosaur Store

If kids are a little more down-to-earth, the Dinosaur Store and Museum of Dinosaurs and Ancient Cultures is right in Cocoa Beach. Life-size dinosaurs and authentic dinosaurs are just the start. The museum’s Adventure Zone includes live animal ambassadors, including American alligators, and kids can try their hand at panning for gemstones. There’s a lot happening in this little place.


Disney World

Cocoa Beach is also a short drive from Disney World. The parks are about an hour away, which is reasonable for a day trip. While Disney isn’t the most affordable family vacation destination, making the theme park a single-day event instead of a weekend-long commitment shaves off a big chunk of the price.


Disney Cinderella's Castle - Florida family vacation, budget

A dream is a wish. Photo by Brian Mcgowan


Where to Stay in Cocoa Beach

La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Cocoa Beach-Port Canaveral is one of the most affordable hotels within the bounds of Cocoa Beach. Travelers can walk from the hotel to Lori Wilson Park, and they have easy access to other parks, museums, and restaurants.



Pensacola sits at the end of the Florida Panhandle near the Alabama border on the Gulf of Mexico. The blend of beach fun and historic city charm give tourists a range of potential vacations. The range of family-fun attractions like miniature golf and escape rooms make it a bit like Myrtle Beach, a great fit for families who like keeping busy.


Gulf Islands National Seashore

While there are several water parks in the area, admission gets pricey quickly for large families. The best place to splash around is one of the area’s beautiful beaches. The Gulf Islands National Seashore is the country’s longest national seashore, and extensive efforts to keep the park clean and healthy makes for a literally uncluttered beach escape. The white sand beaches and expansive ocean views are perfect backdrops for family photos and Instagram moments. It’s a good place to go for a swim and enjoy an afternoon away from the crowds.


Sunrise over sand Gulf Coast National Seashore - Florida family vacation, budget

Sun, sea, sand. Photo by Lori Stevens


Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum

Like St. Augustine, Pensacola has a historic lighthouse, and it may be the town’s most popular attraction. Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum provides kids with education, extensive views, and plenty of exhibits to keep curious minds occupied. The lighthouse dates back to 1858, and today the lighthouse keeper’s quarters have transformed into a window into history. Although it’s worth the trip, potential visitors should know that children under seven aren’t allowed to climb the lighthouse. 

Also, because the museum is on military base grounds, guests must arrange visits in advance and bring appropriate identification.


Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park

Uncle Sandy’s Macaw Bird Park is a colorful break from the usual. The small rescue takes in abandoned or abused birds ranging from the titular macaws to peacocks, cockatoos, and emus. Guests get to feed, dance, and have pictures taken with the residents.


Where to Stay in Pensacola

The Gulf Coast Inn sits just across the bay from Downtown Pensacola and about five minutes from the beach. It’s essentially a boutique hotel for around ten bucks more than the cheapest hotel chains. A small pool and ample privacy may make it more attractive to families with small children who need to wind down after a long day exploring the city.


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The Florida Keys are expensive as a rule, but Marathon is the exception. It offers the sun, sand, and sea visitors expect from the Keys with the benefits of lower tourist density and unique natural attractions. As one of the Middle Keys, it’s also within easy day trip distance of Key lime pie in Key West


The Turtle Hospital and Dolphin Research Center

The Turtle Hospital and Dolphin Research Center give families with critter-curious kids the chance to learn about these respective animals and see them up close. Children can feed turtles at the Turtle Hospital, and the Dolphin Research Center drops families into the water with their rescued dolphins. 


Dolphin leaps - Florida family vacation, budget

Shake a flipper! Photo by Jametlene Reskp


Beaches and Parks

Sombrero Beach is one of the area’s most affordable attractions, and what’s a Florida Keys vacation without splashing in the blue waves? Further out, Sombrero Reef is a technicolor snorkeling and diving adventure as well. Just north of Marathon, Curry Hammock State Park has Atlantic-facing sites for campers with tents or RVs. Guests can walk and wade on the beach, slide kayaks into the ocean with the launch, kick around snorkeling and diving areas, and explore historic hiking and bike paths. It works as a day’s entertainment for the entire family or a base of operations.

The island also has its fair share of mangroves, and kayak tours are a great option for families with older kids. It’s like a taste of Sanibel Island without the price tag. 


Where to Stay in Marathon

Hotel accommodations at Captain Pip’s Marina and Hideaway strike a balance between value and adventure. The small resort offers low rates, plenty of amenities, a water-side pool, and their own range of tour and snorkeling experiences. Famous faces like Ernest Hemmingway and Elizabeth Taylor have visited Captain Pip’s, too, so travelers get an extra shine of celebrity to the stories they take home. 


Seven Mile Bridge stands in water - Florida family vacations, budget

The cool blue waters of Marathon – Photo by Thom Masat


Florida has options, and whether a family wants to experience ecotourism or play pirate, there’s a destination waiting. On a friendly note, while packing, be sure the bug spray goes in the same bag as the sunscreen, and keep the aloe handy. 




M. Leigh Hood is prone to spur-of-the-moment road trips with her gaggle of niblings, extended family, and friends. So far, she’s tackled four continents, and plans to see them all. A professional writer featured in Cincinnati Magazine, Mashed, and more, she’s always looking for the next thrill.