12 Outstanding Low-Cost Family Vacations for 2012

The California coastline in San Simeon, home of Hearst Castle.

As the economy continues to drag, families will most likely be looking at more modest family vacations in 2012. Not every year can can be a Disney World year, after all, and North America offers a vast array of places that are easy to drive to and offer such a vast array of scenery and climates that there is something for everyone.

Best Western‘s family travel expert, Amy Graff, of On The Go With Amy, has put together a list of 12 destinations that will help you stay on a budget in 2012.

“Families are eager to trade in the interstate for one of North America’s iconic routes to create lasting family travel memories starting next year,” Graff said.  “Whether traveling along Route 66 or across the Trans-Canada Highway, expect families to become creative in the way they approach travel and visit cities and attractions that entice a sense of nostalgia for grownups and deliver new adventures for kids.”

  • Bainbridge Island, Washington 1 of 12
    Bainbridge Island, Washington
    Only 35 minutes from Seattle on the ferry, Bainbridge Island offers all the beauty and culture of the Pacific Northwest from it's quiet waterfront setting. Surrounded by state parks, there are lots of free options for biking and hiking. Photo Courtesy: ©Sue Elias via
  • Bloomington, Minnesota 2 of 12
    Bloomington, Minnesota
    The Midwest can be tough in the winter, but you can plan a Florida-style vacation in Bloomington thanks to the country's largest indoor amusement park located in the heart of the Mall of America. Combine that with a hotel featuring pools and you've got a great winter vacation without having to travel to Florida. Check Groupon and Living Social for deals to make your dollar go even further. Photo Courtesy: © Nickelodeon Universe
  • Clayton, New Mexico 3 of 12
    Clayton, New Mexico
    "As the first town on the Santa Fe Trail, Clayton has a variety of free outdoor recreational and learning activities. See more than 500 real dinosaur tracks and fossils along the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail and get a rare chance to walk inside an actual volcano crater at Capulin Volcano National Park." — Amy Graff Photo Courtesy: ©Jack Parrot via
  • Fort Walton Beach, Florida 4 of 12
    Fort Walton Beach, Florida
    Forgo the crowds and cost of Miami and find beach solace in family- and budget-friendly Fort Walton Beach. With sparkling sands and crystal blue water, Fort Walton Beach visitors can break from fun in the sun with visits to the Air Force Armament Museum and Indian Temple Mound Museum to see more than 6,000 ancient Native American artifacts. Photo Courtesy: ©Neepster via
  • Fredericksburg, Virginia 5 of 12
    Fredericksburg, Virginia
    "Cross off visiting America's most historic monuments from the family bucket list with a trip to Fredericksburg, located just an hour outside of Washington, D.C. Take the family on a spooky historical journey with a Ghosts of Fredericksburg walk and visit Ferry Farm, George Washington's boyhood home, which offers dozens of seasonal activities. Don't miss canoeing down the Rappahannock River or taking a horse-drawn carriage tour of historic sites." — Amy Graff Photo Courtesy: ©Ken Lund via
  • Helena, Montana 6 of 12
    Helena, Montana
    Surrounded by the natural beauty of Montana, Helena offers tons of nostalgic fun at a nostalgic price. Look for the Parrot Candy Store and old-fashioned soda shop, the famous Great Northern Carousel, and the kid-friendly Exploration Works science center. Photo Courtesy: ©Justin Brockie via
  • Houston, Texas 7 of 12
    Houston, Texas
    "They say everything is bigger in Texas, but the cost of some of Houston's best attractions is anything but. From the Downtown Landry's Aquarium to the Space Center Houston, where visitors can watch astronauts and engineers in training, Houston is the ideal setting for families looking to have big fun without a big price tag. Located in the heart of downtown and within walking distance to more than a dozen kid-centric attractions." —Amy Graff Photo Courtesy: ©Mike Fisher via
  • Manchester, New Hampshire 8 of 12
    Manchester, New Hampshire
    "The largest city in New Hampshire, Manchester is a bustling urban center in quiet New England. Children under 18-years-old can experience fine art by Pablo Picasso and Georgia O'Keefe for free at the famed Currier Museum of Art or enjoy tractor and pony rides at Charmingfare Farm. Close to the White Mountain Region ski area and Hampton Beach, [Manchester] is a picturesque and affordable New England winter or summer getaway for the entire family." — Amy Graff Photo Courtesy: ©PSNH via
  • Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada 9 of 12
    Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada
    "Beloved by thousands of visitors and inhabitants alike for the unparalleled variety of its climate and landscape, the Okanagan Valley has something for everyone. For a special wildlife-viewing experience Vaseux Lake Provincial Park, hit the ski trails at Silver Star, or step back into the Okanagan's history on the fully restored S.S. Sicamous Steam Paddlewheeeler." — Amy Graff Photo Courtesy: ©Iwona Erskine-Kellie via
  • Quebec City, Quebec, Canada 10 of 12
    Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
    "Quebec is one of the world's most beautiful cities with the district of Old Quebec City recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Treasure. Home to the world's largest winter carnival each February, the Quebec Winter Carnival, where $13 (CAD) buys you access to all 17 days of the event. Quebec also hosts the Quebec City Summer Festival in July." — Amy Graff Photo Courtesy: ©Simon le nippon via
  • Salt Lake City, Utah 11 of 12
    Salt Lake City, Utah
    A great place for families that love to hike, bike and ski, Salt Lake City also offers city fare like the new Utah Museum of National History and the Lagoon Amusement Park. Photo Courtesy: ©Ron Reiring via
  • San Simeon, California 12 of 12
    San Simeon, California
    Located on the stunning central Californian Coast, San Simeon is home to elephant seals at Piedras Beach and exhilarating outdoor activities. On the opposite side of the spectrum, it is home to the opulent Hearst Castle, one of the most famous homes in America. Hop on Highway 1 to head up or down the coast for breathtaking views of the Pacific. Photo Courtesy: ©Rie H via

In alphabetical order, the list includes:

1. Bainbridge Island, WA
2. Bloomington, MN
3. Claton, NM
4. Fort Walton Beach, FL
5. Fredericksburg, VA
6. Helena, MT
7. Houston, TX
9. Okanagan Valley, B.C., Canada
10. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
11. Salt Lake City, UT
12. San Simeon, CA

As you may suspect, all of the cities on the list are home to Best Western hotels.

Photo Credit: ©Brian A. Ridder via flickr

Read more of Amy Windsor’s writing at Bitchin’ Wives Club.
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