Top 7 Affordable Vacation Spots in Florida

by | Jan 24, 2020

Looking for a little sun and fun in Florida without spending a fortune? It’s easier than you think to have an affordable vacation in the Sunshine State – just look beyond the all-inclusive resorts and package vacations. The truth is, Florida is full of gorgeous scenery, cultural attractions, and pristine beaches in lesser-known and lower-priced locales.  

Enjoy beautiful beaches, accommodations that won’t break the bank, and access to great dining and nightlife. Whether you’re planning a spring break trip with friends, a couples’ weekend getaway, or a family-friendly experience with kids, check out the incredible destinations below. And be sure to check each location’s official tourism website for deals on hotels, attractions, and more! 

Cheap Florida Vacations

 

1. New Smyrna Beach

This lovely beach town on Florida’s Atlantic coast offers the essential pleasures of Florida with smaller crowds and price tags than many better-known beach cities. New Smyrna Beach boasts 17 miles of white sand beaches and is frequently named a top surfing destination. Many artists have studios here and their work is featured in local galleries. Charming sidewalk cafes and restaurants offer laid-back dining options, and there is plenty of boutique shopping available as well. 

About an hour’s drive from Orlando, less than 20 miles south of busier Daytona Beach, and a two-hour drive from Jacksonville, international airport access to New Smyrna Beach is great, meaning you’re sure to find a good deal on flights with so many options. Just comparison shop for the best deals on tickets. 

Aside from sand and sun on the beaches, New Smyrna Beach area attractions include the Indian River Lagoon, which features incredible biological diversity in its mangrove wetlands and salt marshes. The Indian River Lagoon Preserve State Park offers free admission. Adjacent to New Smyrna Beach is Canaveral National Seashore, part of the National Parks, a barrier island with sea turtle nesting sites, and wooded trails for more great natural experiences along Florida’s Atlantic coastline. The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is a National Historic Landmark, with a museum highlighting state maritime history. Climb the lighthouse’s 203 steps and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the coastline from 175 feet up!  

2. Weeki Wachee Spring

For an affordable family vacation with a dash of retro kitsch, Weeki Wachee Springs is hard to beat. This natural spring hosts a beloved long-running tourist attraction, a mermaid show in which costumed women entertain visitors underwater with the aid of air hoses for breathing. Other water park attractions include riverboat rides, water slides, and kayaking. 

Weeki Wachee Springs has been a state park since 2008, with the Buccaneer Bay Waterpark located within it. Park rangers offer regular presentations detailing the natural ecology found in the park, which includes the deepest freshwater cave system in the country. This was only confirmed recently in 2007 when divers found new passages in the cave system connected to the famous spring!

Admission to Weeki Wachee Springs is a highly affordable $13 for adults and $8 for kids ages 6 to 12. Younger children enter free. The park offers camping and nearby hotel prices are reasonable. 

3. Marathon

For a more affordable destination in the Florida Keys, look to Marathon, a great destination for budget-minded families. Situated in the middle of the Keys and encompassing thirteen islands, travel to Marathon and you’ll avoid the crowds of Key Largo to the north, often choked with visitors from Miami, and the high prices associated with tony Key West at the southernmost tip of the Keys. 

Marathon offers plenty of fantastic, low-cost experiences. The Sea Turtle Hospital is a popular destination, as Loggerhead turtles nest on several nearby beaches. Snorkeling at Sombrero Beach gives you an up-close view of colorful fish. The historic Pigeon Key island is accessible via a scenic boat ride from Marathon and provides gorgeous, remote views and historical tours at affordable prices, plus more snorkeling opportunities. 

The Dolphin Research Center is another great option for a family outing, as is Crane Point, which includes a natural history museum, bird rescue facility, and forest. Nearby Curry Hammock State Park and Bahia Honda State Park offer more natural beauty and relaxation. 

4. Amelia Island

This barrier island just south of the Georgia border on Florida’s Atlantic coast is a great destination for those looking to unplug, unwind, and explore nature and local history. Amelia Island includes thirteen miles of sandy beaches and the charming small towns of Fernandina Beach, Amelia City, and American Beach.

Nearby Fort Clinch State Park is a great place for nature walks, cycling, birdwatching, and beachcombing. History buffs will appreciate the fort itself, which dates back to the Civil War era. 

Stroll along Fernandina Beach’s historic downtown to enjoy local dining and shopping and visit “Old Town,” the Original Town of Fernandina Historic Site, on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, to learn about the town’s Native American and European history. Then finish the evening with a drink at The Palace Saloon, the longest-operating bar in the state of Florida.

The Amelia Island Museum of History, located in the former Nassau County Jail, is an oral-history institution, offering storytelling tours of the area, including ghost tours and pub crawls. 

5. Everglades National Park

For more memorable experiences than a resort can usually offer, get an immersive look at what makes Florida famous: its natural beauty. 

Everglades National Park offers incredible opportunities for budget-minded travelers, including tours via boat or kayak, hiking trails, boardwalks, and wildlife spotting along the way. Ranger-led tours by canoe, bicycle, and on foot provide an insider view of the Everglades ecology. Many are free, with boats and bikes provided, offering a great adventurous and educational option for visitors. 

Some more extensive Everglades backcountry experiences with rangers are offered for a moderate fee but are well worth the cost for the insider look at this distinctive landscape. For campsite accommodations, plan well in advance. 

6. Sarasota

About an hour’s drive south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast, you’ll find an underappreciated and therefore budget-friendly vacation destination in Sarasota. The city includes Lido Key, a barrier island with a beach that’s considered among Florida’s most pristine, with fabulous eco-tourism offerings and famous sunset cruises. 

Cultural attractions within Sarasota include the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, a 15-acre  “living museum” and research center, and the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, featuring educational programs including shark encounters, ecologically-oriented boat, kayak, and walking tours, and more. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art includes a remarkable collection amassed by the famed circus family and now owned and run by Florida State University. 

7. St. Petersburg / Clearwater

Clearwater Beach is a popular destination located 30 to 45 minutes’ drive from Tampa on the state’s Gulf Coast. The larger St. Petersburg-Clearwater area offers a plethora of options for travelers to suit many budgets. Don’t miss the regular sunset celebrations on Clearwater Beach, which are free but do draw crowds, so plan ahead for parking!

Area attractions beyond Clearwater Beach include the Dali Museum, the largest repository for the famous surrealist’s artwork in the U.S. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium focuses on the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured marine life and provides wonderful family educational experiences. Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park are must-see destinations for nature lovers. And the Florida Botanical Gardens are also worth a visit for gorgeous flowers and plant life. 

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