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With so many interesting states and attractions to see, the South is a great place to take a budget-friendly family vacation. From the thrills of the Disney parks in Florida and the historic charm of Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia to the cultural attractions in New Orleans, there’s truly something to do for every kind of family, no matter what their taste or travel budget allows. Whether you want an outdoor adventure, a relaxing beach vacation, or an educational trip, the South has it all.
One of the best places for a fun family vacation is, of course, Orlando. It’s home to the Walt Disney World Resort, which includes six different amusement parks in itself – the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios), Animal Kingdom and two water parks – Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. But, that’s just the start. During your visit, you and the kids can also feel like you’re in the middle of your favorite movies at Universal Studios, watch a dolphin or whale show at SeaWorld and take a drive to Winter Haven to wander through life-size LEGO displays at LEGOLAND Florida – the largest LEGOLAND theme park in the country.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
If your family is into history, Colonial Williamsburg is the perfect spot for your next vacation. As the world’s largest living history museum, it’s home to more than 40 different sites to explore including historic buildings, churches, gardens and art museums. You can watch tradespeople use authentic 18th-century trades and tools like blacksmithing, carpentry, gunsmithing and silversmithing, and interact with a “Nation Builder” – a group of costumed interpreters that portray real historic figures from the 18th century. Plus, you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of town and enjoy an authentic meal like Brunswick Stew or Shepherd’s Pie at a candlelit historic tavern.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
For a fun-filled beach vacation, not many places compare to Myrtle Beach. In addition to sixty miles of sandy beaches for sunbathing and swimming, the popular town is also packed with kid-friendly attractions and beachfront resorts with water parks. All up and down the Grand Strand, there are shops, miniature golf courses, live shows, museums and restaurants to explore. Plus, a few “mega” attractions like the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and Broadway at the Beach – a massive boardwalk and village of more than 350 shops, restaurants, attractions and nightlife. Plus, there are several hotels on-site, so you can stay right in the middle of all the action!
Tybee Island, Georgia
For a more relaxed and laid-back beach vacation, there’s Tybee Island, located just outside of Savannah in Georgia. With three miles of uninterrupted beaches to explore, there’s plenty of opportunities for sunbathing, collecting seashells, swimming in the ocean or just taking a walk along the shoreline. The Tybee Light Station and Museum offers panoramic views of the whole beach from the top of the lighthouse, while the Tybee Island Marine Science Center offers guests the chance to visit with the sea turtles that live there. Plus, you and the family can learn to surf, go fishing, explore the island by bicycle or even take an exciting airboat ride through the marshes. And, since Savannah is less than 30 minutes away, you can also easily enjoy all the downtown district has to offer, including shops, historic sites, quaint city squares and first-class dining.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Families will find a ton of things to do in Virginia Beach, with lots of action on and around the three-mile-long boardwalk, the city’s oceanfront district. Take a stroll to enjoy the food vendors and all sorts of souvenirs, handcrafted items and works of art for sale. Live music and street performers can be enjoyed here too. Of course, there’s a long stretch of soft sand for fun on the beach, including dips in the ocean on a hot summer’s day. You’ll find a wide range of museums, an aquarium, state parks with trails for hiking and biking, and much more.
Chattanooga is a highly walkable city that’s long been a favorite with families because of its numerous kid-friendly attractions. It has a lively riverfront with the Riverwalk alongside it that’s ideal for strolling, while the river itself is great for kayaking and paddleboarding. One of the country’s top aquariums is here, hosting lots of animals from the area like turtles, river otters and frogs as well as more exotic creatures like penguins and lemurs. You can check out Ruby Falls, the world’s highest underground waterfall, located 1,120 feet under Lookout Mountain, hike the trails at Rocky City with rock formations and jaw-dropping views, and take a ride on the Incline Railway up Lookout Mountain.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi is home to many beautiful beaches, including North Beach, which has soft white sands, an aquarium, and a Ferris wheel. Hurricane Alley Waterpark is sure to please all, with a six-story, more than 65-foot-high water slide, a massive wave pool, and a Flowrider Double surf simulator for testing your surfing skills. The Museum of Science and History features thousands of artifacts and many interactive exhibits with lots for little ones, teens, and adults. The USS Lexington is an aircraft carrier and a museum ideal for history enthusiasts that includes a flight simulator and a 3D documentary.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores is renowned for its stunning white sandy beaches that sparkle under the sun, framing brilliant turquoise water. Enjoy everything from swimming and fishing to sailing along with countless trails for nature walks. You can visit the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, the Waterville USA water park, and golf on two gorgeous courses. There’s history to explore at Historic Fort Morgan which includes a museum, and a wealth of family-friendly restaurants, including plenty of fresh seafood.
Gatlinburg offers one of the most popular budget-friendly vacations for families in the country, with a ton of attractions hosted here, including lots of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Enjoying hiking and picnicking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park while keeping an eye out for its many black bear residents, or check out the exotic animals at the e Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo in nearby Sevierville. Dollywood offers rollercoasters and all sorts of entertaining shows, while Splash Country in Pigeon Forge features a wave pool, water slides, a splash pad for tiny tots, and more.
Tampa has become increasingly popular in recent years for family getaways, home to Busch Gardens, a 335-acre animal theme park with over 12,000 animals, live entertainment, and world-class thrill rides. There are 30 acres of water rides at Adventure Island, and the city is also home to Legoland, Dinosaur World and the Florida Aquarium for watching alligators, sharks, and otters. The options are practically endless, with just a few of the other options including pirate cruises, opportunities to cheer on the NFL Buccaneers or the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning, and countless beautiful beaches to enjoy nearby.
Corolla, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Bordering the Atlantic and Currituck Sound for access to both the waves and more tranquil sound waters for paddling, the small town of Corolla in North Carolina’s Outer Banks offers lots for families. Enjoy all the usual beach activities, including great beachcombing and fishing, visiting the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, and watching the famous wild horses. Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs were stranded on the Outer Banks centuries ago and still enjoy their laid-back beach lifestyle today.
New Orleans, Lousiana
There’s a lot more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras. This city has lots for all ages, including tours through French Quarter Kids that caters to families with little ones and teens like a Creole Kids tour focused on 19th-century life in in the city where little ones can dress up and treasure hunt. Teens can explore French Creole history and the city’s trade and military past. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas on the riverfront is always a big hit with a stingray touch-pool, sea turtles, penguins, and otters. Plus, there are thousands of acres of swampland nearby for swamp tours that include gator spotting and fantastic bird watching.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs is both a city and a national park that’s been attracting visitors for over three centuries who come to take advantage of the soothing geothermal waters known for their healing benefits. Located along the Grand Promenade, Bathhouse Row includes eight bathhouses with spas with opportunities to soak. In between, there are shops and galleries to explore. There are many hiking trails, including a scenic trek that will bring you to the top of Hot Springs Mountain Tower. Exploring the area’s gangster history is possible at the Gangster Museum of America with quite a few notorious names ruling the town here at various points from the 1920s to ’40s, including Al Capone. Baseball fans can follow the Historic Baseball Trail and there is a wide range of quality restaurants sure to please kids and adults alike too.