Broken Clouds 44° Good Afternoon
Broken Clouds 44° Good Afternoon

Cheap — or free — summer vacation ideas in the U.S.

Big fun awaits with giant panda Mei Xiang

Big fun awaits with giant panda Mei Xiang at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: AP / Jacquelyn Martin

Summer outings don’t have to break the family piggy bank. Here are four budget-friendly concepts to consider.


You’ll have a long list of no- or low-cost options when you visit our nation’s capital, from kid-friendly theater performances at the Kennedy Center to observing the famous panda family at the National Zoo. Future pilots can sit in a mock cockpit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum before checking out the bird’s-eye view from the top of the Washington Monument. Later, learn how money is made during a free 40-minute tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.



With 45,000 works of art from virtually every period and genre, the Cleveland Museum of Art has something to engage every member of your family as it celebrates its centennial. Kids are often drawn to the armor court, featuring medieval suits of armor and period weapons. Take to the hiking trails in the Shaker Heights Nature Center or consider a drive and picnic near one of 17 covered bridges in the area. Discover that maybe money really does grow on trees when you ponder the 23-foot-tall “money tree” at the Federal Reserve Bank Money Museum.



Access the services of tour guides in cities such as New Orleans; Philadelphia; New York; Charleston, South Carolina; Chicago; Berlin; and London. The creative outings, some designed especially for kids, are offered at no charge. If you learned something, were entertained or found the tour memorable, gratuities are encouraged and welcome. Bike and food tours are also available.



The city’s Golden Gate Park beckons outdoor lovers with rose gardens, meadows, lakes, playgrounds, a carousel and an arboretum. Museums of interest to families, including the Cartoon Art Museum and the Exploratorium, are free at least one day each month, offering storytelling, films and performances. Many offer free admission for children 12 and younger. As always, the sweeping views, often accompanied by street performances, are free.


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