Combining these Florida vacation destinations with an inexpensive, but quality hotel or campsite gives you the recipe for an affordable vacation that will excite the entire family without breaking the bank.
Weeki Wachee Springs
Depending on the time of year, stay at the Motel 6 Weeki Wachee directly across the street from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park for less than $50 a night (even less if you choose advance purchase or qualify for a senior discount). This convenient location may not be fancy, but it's clean and comes with lots of freebies — free hot breakfast and coffee, free wireless high-speed Internet access, free local calls, free newspaper (Monday through Saturday) and it's pet-friendly, too!
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, home of the famous Week Wachee mermaids, is a historic attraction that a family of four can visit for a total price of under $50 for the day. It's small, allowing you and your family to easily take in the current shows in one day. There is also a small seasonal water park — Buccaneer Bay that is included in the price of admission. Swimming in the spring is open year round, but the slides, kiddie pool, and lazy river are open daily June thru August and on weekends, August thru September.
Keep in mind, the spring stays at a cool 74° year round so if it's not really hot out, the water can feel pretty chilly.
Tip: Another day can be spent taking in Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park 30 minutes to the north.
Usually, staying right on the beach comes with a hefty price tag, but there is a budget-friendly alternative that can offer your family an affordable vacation. The St. Petersburg-Madeira Beach KOA has public access. You don't have to have a tent or RV to stay at the KOA. Their spacious camping cabins are clean and can sleep 4 to 8 people; and, depending on the season can run as little as just under $60 to just over $100 per night. While some beaches may come with a small parking charge (bring a roll of quarters), it's a small price to pay for some of the best beach experiences in Florida.
You don't have to worry about skipping all the fun just because you're on a tight budget. Just a short drive across the nearest bridge and you can enjoy unique shopping and activities at John's Pass Village and Boardwalk.
Tip: A must for one evening is a 40-minute drive north to visit Clearwater Beach's Pier 60 Sunset Celebration. The celebration is free, but arrive early to snag a parking spot for $1 an hour (bring those quarters again) or you'll pay $10 to park at the next closest lot. While there, take the time to walk across the street and shop at the newest Ron Jon Surf Shop.
St. Augustine Beach
St. Augustine is one of the most beautiful and culturally rich cities in Florida, so don't pass up the opportunity to visit this historic city just because you're on a budget. Whether you have camping gear or not, you can get away to St. Augustine with this less expensive option — the St. Augustine Beach KOA. Bring your tent, RV, trailer or rent a cabin and stay on nearby Anastasia Island. You'll be close enough to discover America's oldest city along with its historic landmarks — many of which are free.
Tip: Visit St. Augustine from mid-November through January 31 for the annual Nights of Lights celebration, when the city is aglow with millions of twinkling lights.
Sarasota is a great family-friendly destination. And, while some of the hotel choices in the area are in the moderate range, there are a few rooms available for under a $100 per night.
One affordable and fun day in the Sarasota can be spent at the famous Ringling Museum and Estate. Most of us have been to the circus at least once in our life and can agree that there's nothing like the sights and sounds of the big top. Florida has long been the winter home for the "Greatest Show on Earth," and Sarasota is forever linked to the name John Ringling. His love of the arts is evident in the great collection of paintings and sculptures in both the museum and residence, but the most interesting collection is the memorabilia and the world's largest miniature circus in the circus museum. You'll be spellbound by the wide array of colossal parade and baggage wagons, sequined costumes, circus posters and more that capture the excitement of the circus.
Tip: If you're staying more than a day or two, you will be close to some of Florida's best Gulf beaches and you won't want to miss a shopping trip (even if all you do is window shop and buy an ice cream) to the upscale St. Armand's Circle, a popular destination for visitors and residents alike.
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, White Springs
"Way down upon the Suwannee River"... there is a state park in North Central Florida that pays tribute to the author of those lyrics — Stephen Foster. Enjoy the carillon as it chimes at regular intervals and visit the museum that celebrates the life and talent of Florida's state song. This easy-on-the-budget getaway has an admission of just $5.00 per carload (up to 8) people.
If you want to stay in the area there is a full-facility campground ($20/night) and rental cabins ($100/night) available at the park.
Tip: Couples looking for a romantic budget getaway, may prefer to stay at the White Springs Bed 'n Breakfast at $85/night.