Family Vacations In Texas On A Budget

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Family vacations can put a healthy-sized hole in your budget every year. And nobody wants to feel stressed over occasions you and your loved ones will cherish forever. So here’s the thing: you don’t need a hefty bank account to enjoy an unforgettable family vacation. 

Budget vacations aren’t about sacrificing food, fun, or experiences. Instead, they’re about finding the right opportunities and making intelligent decisions. Now, the Lone Star State certainly isn’t cheap. But we’re here to help. We’ve assembled a guide for family vacations in Texas on a budget. 

Family Vacations In Texas On A Budget - Texas View

Family Vacations In Texas On A Budget: Complete Guide

Texas is a big state, full of wonderful cities, boundless nature, and diverse cultures. While it’s easy to get carried away and spend a ton of money on fancy hotels, world-class restaurants, and fun adventures, you can cut costs dramatically with a bit of prior planning. 

Depending on where you are, you can do a lot for free. If you’re in a big city, strolling the streets can be a fun experience, taking in the sights, people-watching, and embracing the local culture. And many of the prominent museums in Texas are free on certain days. To boot, Texan museums are incredible. 

Another significant aspect of vacationing in Texas is the abundance of nature. There are over 640,000 acres of department-governed land, including 89 state parks, many historic sites (many important ones), and other natural areas that can be explored or visited.

The icing on the cake of vacationing in Texas is its coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. With 350 miles of glistening coastal road, the Texas coast is littered with sandy beaches, charming towns, and a few major cities filled with fun activities for all the family.

So, if your wanderlust bug is kicking in, but your funds aren’t quite where you’d like them to be, fear not. Below, we’ve listed several top vacation options that won’t break the bank. And we’ve divided them into categories so you can find some ideas that suit you and your family.

Austin Texas Skyline - Texas View

Mini Vacations In Texas

Mini vacations are the best way to take a budget holiday. In general, the most expensive part of the vacation is the accommodation, followed by the accumulation of food and activity costs. You can save a lot of cash by condensing your trip into a few days. 

But deciding what mini vacation is best for you can take time and effort. So, we’ve put together three fantastic ideas to help you with your plans. Everyone has different preferences, so our three vacation spots cater to other interests. 

Texas Style BBQ Smoked Beef Brisket - Texas View

1. BBQ And Music In Austin

Austin, the state capital, is, without doubt, one of the best cities in the country. While it’s by no means cheap, you can enjoy a mini vacation there without overspending. Some of the nation’s most famous BBQ joints are in Austin, and we recommend checking out one or two. 

Franklin Barbecue and Terry Black’s are the most well-known establishments, but most of the BBQ restaurants in Austin are excellent. The food can be expensive, but you eat a lot, so you don’t need to worry about being hungry. And you can always take leftovers with you. 

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Aside from BBQ, you can dine in cheaper establishments or take advantage of the amenities in your hotel. If you didn’t already know, Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” You’ll find world-class musicians playing on the streets, cafes, and bars all day. 

As long as you don’t do too much damage at the bar, you can enjoy a mini vacation filled with beautiful music without spending too much. 

San Antonio Texas USA downtown city skyline at dusk - Texas View
San Antonio, Texas, USA, downtown city skyline at dusk.

2. Enjoy Authentic Texan Culture In San Antonio

San Antonio is probably the most diverse city in Texas. It’s most famous for being the home of the Alamo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the most critical locations in Texas history. And you and your entire family can visit this iconic place for free. 

Compared to other major cities in the U.S., San Antonio is quite affordable. And it’s one of our favorite places in the state to walk around and people-watch. The legendary Riverwalk is among the prettiest places to stroll in any city in the U.S. But, avoid the restaurants on the riverfront if you want to save money. 

If you fancy a boat trip along the river, plenty of cheap cruises cost around $10 per person. Plus, there are generally good discounts for children and senior citizens. Check out what days museums are free to enter ahead of your trip. The Witte Museum is a must-visit. 

San Antonio has a strong Latin influence and is extremely culturally diverse. Check out El Mercado and feast on some delicious street food. San Antonio is the home of Tex-Mex, and you’ll struggle to find tastier Mexican food anywhere else in the state. 

Beach in South Padre Island Texas
Beach in South Padre Island Texas

3. Soak In Some Sun At South Padre Island

San Padre Island was once named among the top beaches in America by the Travel Channel. The island is a resort town in the south of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite its popularity among tourists, it’s an inexpensive vacation destination for the most part. 

While you can find luxury hotels and all-inclusive resorts, many low-cost rentals, hotels, RV camps, and regular campgrounds exist. If you don’t fancy catching your lunch off the pier with local anglers, South Padre is filled with excellent seafood restaurants. 

What tourists love about South Padre Island is the golden sand. Thousands of colorful shells wash ashore daily, so you and your kids can come home with a collection as a souvenir. The famous Laguna Madre Nature Trail is an adventure into the exotic, where you can see birds, alligators, and other wildlife. 

If you have a little more money left toward the end of your vacation, we recommend visiting the turtle sanctuary or taking a boat trip to see the local dolphins. 

Stone desert desert landscape in the mountains in Texas in Big Bend National Park cacti and desert plants. - Texas View

Cheap Weekend Getaways In Texas

When you’ve a family, weekend getaways are often the easiest to manage. They take less time to plan, generally cost a fraction of a regular holiday, and are easier to work around work and school. While you won’t see all of Texas in a weekend, you can explore plenty of places in just a few days. 

So, if you’re looking for a cheap weekend getaway with your family, here are three top picks. 

1. Camping In Big Bend National Park

Located along the Rio Grande River, Big Bend is among the most scenic locations in all of Texas. The land spans 100 miles and is home to around 1,200 plant species, over 400 bird species, approximately 75 mammal species, and more than 50 types of reptiles. 

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So, if your family members are nature lovers, Big Bend is the perfect spot. You can drive, walk, or hike through the entire park. Curious kids will be thrilled to check out the Fossil Discovery Exhibit, and after a long afternoon of exploring, parents will be happy to wind down in the hot springs.

One of the best things about Big Bend is its accessibility. Its trails are well-kept and safe. There are even wheelchair-accessible trails so everyone can marvel at the jaw-dropping sunsets. Regarding accommodation, there’s no better way to enjoy Big Bend than at a campsite. 

There are many campsites to choose from, catering to all comers. Experienced campers can take their equipment and pick a spot under the stars. Less experienced visitors can rent an allotment on a campsite. Or, you could consider renting an RV for the weekend. 

The Gazebo on Otstott Park in Jefferson Texas. - Texas View

2. Enjoy A Spooky Weekend In Jefferson 

Jefferson is a small city in Marion County in the northwest of Texas. It’s not necessarily known for tourism. However, Jefferson is somewhat of a hidden gem, and with small cities like this, you can always save a few dollars. You can find quaint old homes on Airbnb that are perfect for families. 

The biggest draw to Jefferson is that it’s a ghost town. As legend has it, the city is haunted, and there are several paranormal locations to visit. Ghost tours are cheap and a great way to learn about the city. Plus, you can hear tales about the ghosts that have haunted the town for centuries. 

Jefferson is also a hotspot for antiques and vintage goods. So, if you need a new piece for your home or office, you can get great value there. 

Picnic basket with wine cheese and bread in a Texas Hill Country - Texas View

3. Visit The Beautiful Texas Hill Country 

The Texas Hill Country is one of the most enchanting regions in Texas. Its rolling hills are covered in wildflowers, and the winding rivers are the perfect backdrop for your family portrait. You can even check out some world-class vineyards if your kids are old enough. 

There are also several essential landmarks in the Hill Country. Hike and explore the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site trails. Be sure to pack a picnic and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. You may even catch sight of some white-tailed deer, American bison, or Texas longhorn. 

And you can take a low-cost tour of the LBJ Ranch. It’s the Johnson family estate that the former president’s predecessors owned. Although this vacation is an excellent option for everyone, it’s particularly suited to families with older kids or nature-loving children. 

girls looking and pointing at park lake in Texas after a walk. - Texas View
Portrait of a Three Happy Kids Having Fun in the Pool. Big Family Enjoying Summer Holidays on the Beach Resort in the Water Park

Kid-Friendly Weekend Getaways In Texas

So far, we’ve discussed several great budget-friendly options that suit families, couples, and solo travelers. However, depending on how old your kids are and their interests, some of our suggestions may not suit everyone. So, we’ve created three kid-friendly spots that everyone can enjoy. 

You’ll find something your kids will love with one beach option, city break, and nature escape. 

The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier in Galveston TX - Texas View

1. Galveston Island

Galveston Island is one of the most popular family vacation destinations in Texas. It’s known for its beautiful sandy beach that runs 32 miles long. If you don’t fancy getting sand on your toes, the beach is bordered by a parallel sidewalk, the longest continuous sidewalk in the country. 

Seawall Beach is easier to access at specific points, and these areas are busier than others. You can bask in the fun atmosphere, build sandcastles, tan, swim, and even surf. Galveston’s architecture is Victorian-inspired, and strolls around the island are fantastic. 

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The best part about a family vacation in Galveston is that it’s relatively inexpensive compared to other big Texan cities. You can eat out and pick up snacks by the beach without spending big. Several local museums are free to enter or have low admission prices. 

Houston is the most populated city in Texas and an important place for job creation 1 - Texas View

2. Houston: City Break

Houston is the biggest city in Texas, so one would imagine it gets a lot of tourists. But, compared to Austin and San Antonio, it doesn’t have near the footfall of visitors. Yet, it’s a fascinating city, bursting with culture and things to do for all the family. 

Another bonus with Houston is that it’s known to be very safe, which is a consideration for kids. One of our favorite things to do in Houston is museum hop. It has some of the best museums in the country. And you can visit most of them for free on certain days. Many of them offer free admission for kids at any time. 

Our top picks are:

  • Children’s Museum Houston
  • Houston Museum of Natural Science
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
  • Holocaust Museum Houston

But, above all, you must visit The Johnson Space Center. It’s the number one space museum in the U.S., if not the world. NASA owns the center and contains a broad selection of fascinating exhibits and actual spacecraft, and it even has several moon rocks. It’s perfect for kids to learn and have fun.

3. Glamping At Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Last but most certainly not least, we recommend glamping at Palo Duro Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Texas. It’s the second-biggest canyon in the U.S., and the views are unmatched. Trust us, even the most spectacular photos on Google don’t do it justice. 

You can hike, take walks in the desert, and go horseback riding if you’re up to it. There’s no better way to soak in the surroundings. The Palo Duro also has a famous lighthouse that you must see and get a photo of with your kids. But we’ll tell you a little secret: it’s not a lighthouse.

Glamping or luxury camping sites are scattered around the area, so research and find a place that suits your needs. The campsites can be expensive, so search for cheap family vacation packages. 

References

Author Profile

Christian Linden is a seasoned writer and contributor at Texas View, specializing in topics that resonate with the Texan community. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Christian brings a wealth of knowledge in local politics, culture, and lifestyle. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Texas. When he's not writing, Christian enjoys spending weekends traveling across Texas with his family, exploring everything from bustling cities to serene landscapes.

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