Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden (Photo Credit: Karon McCarthy)
Staycations are here to stay. While your family's budget may not allow for a big trip this summer, you can make the most of nearby entertainment to have fun and create memories. Here's how:
Make a plan. You may not even realize the attractions and activities available within an hour's drive. Visit the websites of local, regional and state tourism offices for ideas. Plan a mix of passive activities, like seeing a play or movie, and active adventures, like hiking or biking. Have some indoor activities in mind for rainy days, like bowling or glow-in-the-dark mini-golf.
Seek out savings. With little effort, you can cut costs for dining out, shopping and admission fees. Always check attraction websites for coupons, and find out if AAA or military discounts are offered. By "liking" their Facebook page or following them on Twitter, you may be offered special deals. Coupon and discount websites — like CBS Local Offers and Groupon — offer bargains on restaurants, spas and attractions. Find a cultural institution, like the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston or the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, with free or "pay what you like" days, or discounted days for residents. These are usually weekly or monthly, and often mid-week.
Find strength in numbers. Don't let the size of your family prevent you from having fun. Consider buying a family season pass for a nearby water park, or an annual membership at a local zoo. The per-visit admission costs become very affordable over a year's time. There are still many drive-in theaters, like the Silver Moon Drive-In in Lakeland, FL showing family movies. Ticket prices are generally half of indoor cinemas, and some even charge one price for a car load of people. Eat out at "family-style" restaurants to stretch your dining dollars.
(Photo Credit: Hawaiian Falls Waterpark, North Garland, TX)
Pretend you're somewhere else. Choose experiences which are nearby, but give you the feeling of being far away. Explore ethnic neighborhoods to find unique shops and distinctive foods. Spend a day at a regional theme or amusement park. Sunbathe on a beach; even if it's at a local lake. Being out on the water, on a sightseeing excursion, airboat ride, or even in a kayak, offers a relaxing departure from the everyday routine.
Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill, CT (Photo Credit: M. Suppa)
Don't overlook simple pleasures. Your kids love to swim, so why not buy a day pass at a local health club or country club and let them splash the day away? National, state and local parks can offer some surprising and atypical entertainment at little cost. For example, the Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, CT, is home to one of the largest dinosaur track sites in North America. Kids can make plaster casts of track prints and walk through a diorama of a Jurassic-period scene under a geodesic dome. At the Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, MN, you can travel through 12 miles of underground passages lined with stalactites and stalagmites.
Act like you're on vacation. Wake up late. Take a break from housework and cooking, and hold off on errands like supermarket shopping and oil changes. Send postcards to friends and family from the local sites you visit. Take pictures to post and brag about on social media channels, and to later display in a scrapbook.