7 Great Escapes for Under $500

See recent posts by Caroline Costello

Now that the kids are back in the classroom for the year, are family vacations still an option for budget-minded parents who don’t want to take their children out of school? Of course! A weekend getaway is the perfect way to take a trip without paying through the nose for airfare or leaving the kids to catch up on schoolwork when they return. The best part: It’s possible to plan an entire weekend vacation for a family of four –including lodging, food and activities — for $500 or less.

Check out our list of fun, affordable getaways from almost every corner of the country. And for more cheap vacation ideas, visit our family travel deals page.

1. California: Lake Tahoe
Near: San Francisco; Sacramento, California; Reno, Nevada; Northern California

The secret to keeping your Lake Tahoe getaway under $500? Cooking your own meals! At Lakeland Village Beach, a gorgeous retreat set on the banks of Lake Tahoe, your family can enjoy roomy accommodations while saving money by eating home cooking made in your room’s fully equipped kitchen (there’s free breakfast here, too). Nightly rates start at around $150 plus taxes and fees for a studio lodge that has two floors, an extra queen sofa bed, a balcony and a fireplace — it sleeps up to eight people. Your total cost for two night’s accommodations including taxes will be around $350.

This leaves $150 for groceries and activities. Fortunately, there are countless free things to do at Lakeland Village that cost absolutely nothing. Complimentary amenities include a kid’s camp for children ages 4 to teen, volley ball, tennis, shuttles to town, heated pools, a kids’ pool, a private beach, a fitness center and more. During winter, the resort offers a free shuttle to Heavenly Ski Resort, but lift tickets and ski rentals may price you out of the $500 range (a two-day lift ticket costs $64 per child and $110 per adult). Our advice? Split the studio lounge with another family and you can easily swing a ski weekend getaway for under $500.

2. New England: Cape Cod
Near: New York; Boston; Portland, Maine; Stamford, Connecticut

Stunning Cape Cod is no typical budget destination — there are plenty of pricy waterfront resorts in the area. But look a little closer and you can find smaller, less-traveled motels and affordable inns, many of which are fantastic choices for families traveling on a budget. Consider the Even’tide Resort Motel and Cottages, where two-bedroom apartments start at just $130 per night (yes, that’s for two bedrooms), and standard single-room digs start at merely $75 per night. Reserve a room with a kitchenette (from $100 per night), and save money on food by cooking your own meals. Large families are comfortably accommodated at Even’tide; the motel’s biggest cottage can fit up to 10 people! Even’tide isn’t set along the ocean, but it’s located less than a mile from the pristine Marconi National Seashore Beach.

Indian summers on the Cape are a prime time to visit — expect blue skies, wide-open beaches, and less crowds through the end of October. Book your accommodations for less than $300 and you’re left with a nice chunk of change for shopping, food and activities. At Even’tide, families can take advantage of a host of free on-site activities, including basketball, mini-golf, horseshoes, badminton, volley ball, billiards, shuffleboard, barbeque and ping pong. Plus, there’s an indoor pool! As winter approaches, the Cape starts to get a bit sleepy and local attractions and restaurants close up shop (Even’tide shuts its doors during winter), so plan to enjoy this weekend getaway soon!

3. Southwest: Wild Horse Pass
Near: Phoenix, Arizona; Tucson, Arizona; Las Vegas

Arizona’s Wild Horse Pass area is a stunning region surrounded by the Sierra Estrella Mountains where wild horses roam freely. Conveniently, the Wild Horse Pass is less than an hour’s drive from Phoenix. And plenty of family-friendly activities, from horseback riding to exploring a replica of a 19th-century frontier town, are available here.

We love the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa as a weekend getaway destination because of its affordable prices and complimentary amenities. Weekend nonrefundable rates for a standard room with a king-size bed or two double beds start at around $140 including taxes and fees (you can often save 30 percent on standard rates by booking a nonrefundable room and paying upfront). There’s an on-site pool that has a huge water slide (an adults-only pool is on site as well), and the resort hosts a busy calendar of seasonal — and free — children’s events.

The resort’s main restaurant, Ko’sin, serves affordable, tasty meals. Expect to pay around $15 for an adult’s entree and $6.50 for a child’s entree.

4. Florida: The Gulf Coast
Near: Atlanta, Jacksonville, Florida; Tallahassee, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; Jackson, Mississippi

Escape to Destin, Florida, a charming Gulf Coast town that offers beautiful, uncrowded beaches, plus fishing, diving and golf. Our pick for accommodations in the region? The Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa, where families can snag a standard guest room with two double beds for as little as $167 per night plus taxes, which includes breakfast if you book the “Sunny Side Up” package (this package requires guests to reserve a nonrefundable room and pay in full at time of booking%29.

There’s so much to do at the Hilton Sandestin, you can get away with spending a weekend there while barely leaving the resort and taking advantage of on-site activities, many of which are free. Play volley ball on the hotel’s sandy beach, splash around in two outdoor pools, go snorkeling in the ocean, play tennis in one of 15 courts, or chow down in one of seven resort restaurants (including one food market that sells budget-friendly prepared items like sandwiches and cookies). If you want to get out and about without spending too much, rent bikes and explore the town on two wheels — you’ll save gas money while sightseeing.

5. Southeast: Colonial Williamsburg
Near: Washington D.C.; Richmond, Virginia; Raleigh, North Carolina; Baltimore

When visiting Colonial Williamsburg on a budget, it’s essential to choose affordable accommodations. After all, the costs of, shopping, meals and tickets for museums and attractions in Colonial Williamsburg can really add up. Stay at Governor’s Inn, where guestrooms start at about $65 per night, and keeping your weekend getaway costs under $500 is easy as pie.

Governer’s Inn is walking distance from Merchants’ Square and historic Colonial Williamsburg. The inn has on-site laundry and a pool, plus a Continental breakfast is included. Governer’s Inn offers budget accommodations, so don’t expect luxury bedding or 2,000-square-foot rooms. But when you consider the inn’s price and proximity to local attractions (plus that free breakfast!), it’s really quite a steal.

Paying less than $150 for accommodations leaves plenty of cash for passes to Colonial Williamsburg ($36 per adult and $16 for kids ages 6 to 17 for one day’s admission), dining and other attractions. For cheap eats, visit Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que or Retro’s, where meals are good and reasonably priced.

6. Mid-Atlantic: The Poconos
Near: New York, Philadelphia, Stamford, Connecticut; Central Pennsylvania

There are several all-inclusive family resorts in the Poconos that offer on-site meals and activities, but rates at these properties tend to range from $200 to $300 per person, per night — not an economical option for anyone planning a $500 weekend getaway. The Shawnee Inn is a comfortable alternative to those pricier Poconos mega-resorts. A family of four can book a room in the inn’s adjacent Delaware Lodge for as little as $184 per night on the weekend. Rooms in the Delaware Lodge come with one queen bed and one twin trundle bed, a bathroom with a Japanese soaking tub, and a mini-fridge.

Pay around $300 for two nights’ accommodations at Shawnee Inn and that leaves you roughly $200 for food and activities. Fortunately, dining at Shawnee Inn won’t break your budget. Kids’ entrees at onsite restaurants The Gem and Keystone cost $6 apiece, and there are numerous dinner entrees for adults that cost less than $20 (some are even under $10) at all three on-site restaurants. The breakfast buffet at the River Room costs $14.95 per person, and kids ages 4 and under eat free.

What’s to do around Shawnee? During Indian summer months, activities like fishing, kayaking, mountain biking and hiking are popular. During winter, the resort runs a free shuttle to the Shawnee Mountain ski area.

7. Midwest: Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks
Near: St. Louis; Kansas City; Springfield, Missouri

Tan-Tar-A Resort Golf Club, Marina and Indoor Waterpark is an affordable choice for Midwestern families looking to book a weekend getaway to the Lake of the Ozarks. To save money, reserve the “Run of the House” package and get discounted rates; the only catch is you won’t know where your room will be located until you check in. Run of the House rates for a non-lakeview room that sleeps up to five people start at around $237 for a two-night weekend stay.

Buy a bunch of Timber Falls Water Park passes, which cost $17 per person, per day for hotel guests. Spend a day splashing around the indoor park featuring three big water slides, a giant whirlpool, a lazy river and other fun attractions. Dining at the resort’s on-site restaurants is budget-friendly. The breakfast buffet at the Black Bear Lodge Restaurant costs $21.95 per adult and $5.95 for kids ages 4 to 11, and it’s free for kids ages 3 and under. For lunch and dinner, your options include the Black Bear Lodge Restaurant, where kids’ meals cost $6.95. Burger King and Sbarro are also nearby. Allow $90 a day for meals and the total cost of your trip, including accommodations, a day at the water park and all meals, comes to just under $500.

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