Last week my family and I were able to spend the week vacationing in Florida to visit my husband’s parents. We don’t have a lot of excess cash flow, so our vacation needed to be pretty well planned out to include mostly free or cheap activities.
By going to historic sites, national parks, and doing free outdoor activities, we were able to have an amazing vacation without having to shell out a ton of money. We had a fantastic time, but the best part of our vacation was that we didn’t go over budget. It really helped that we were staying with family, and we were able to eat at home for about half of our meals.
North Florida tends to be overlooked by vacationers because of the big ticket attractions like Disney World, Universal Studios, and Downtown Disney etc. If you are willing to look beyond Orlando though, you can have an amazing, frugal Florida vacation.
Monday: Amelia Island, Fernandina, FL
We started our vacation with a trip to see Fort Clinch which is just a few miles down the road from where my husband’s family lives. It was $6.00 for our vehicle to enter the park and $2.00 per person to see the inside of the actual fort. After exploring the endless tunnels of the fort and walking along the top of the walls, we went wading in the water along the beach to look for shark teeth.
Fort Clinch State Park was a lot of fun. The tunnels and walls of the fort were really cool to explore, and the view was amazing. I would definitely recommend a trip to see it if you ever visit North Florida. If you add in the cost of 4 popsicles to cool down and a post card to send to friends, we spent a grand total of $22.00 for the day.
Tuesday: St. Augustine, Florida
I have been wanting to visit St. Augustine for years, and I am so excited that I was finally able to make the trip. We started out at the Castillo de San Marcos. Since my husband is in the military, we had free admission for our family to go into the monument. The history was haunting, the architecture was amazing, and the view from the top wall was breathtaking.
From there we went for a walk down St. George Street, adjacent to the Colonial Quarter, which is across the street a ways from the Castillo de San Marcos. We stopped inside of the Spanish Bakery for an empanada for lunch. We also stopped in Whetstone Chocolates for gelato and smoothies.
On our walk back to the car, we found a great playground called Park Project Swing for the kids to get out some energy before traveling again. This park was hands down one of the most fantastic parks I have ever taken my kids to.
From there we headed over to the Alligator Farm Zoological Park to get up close and personal with the alligators. The Alligator Farm was expensive, but my father in law treated us to the experience. The kids had a great time seeing all of the animals and feeding the alligators.
Although the Alligator Farm cost about $75 for the five of us, we personally only spent about $30 for the entire day in St. Augustine.
Wednesday: Fernandina Beach day and picnic lunch
We parked at Peter’s Point Park to have a day at the beach. Parking is free there, and you have access to bathrooms, showers, and picnic tables. You can even drive your vehicle down onto the beach if you want to. We brought a packed lunch and enjoyed a day playing in the sand and swimming in the ocean.
Total amount spent for the whole day was $8, because we stopped at a drive through to get drinks on the way home.
Thursday: Jacksonville, FL
Hands On Children’s Museum: Our kids seemed to have fun, but this was a waste of money. I wish we had read more reviews before going. It was in a not so nice part of town. We actually killed a cockroach while the kids were playing there, and the equipment felt run down and dirty. Some of the play equipment was actually falling apart. I would steer anyone away from visiting here.
Museum of Science and History (M.O.S.H.): This museum was fantastic. It had dinosaurs, science, natural history, the history of Florida, a native plants garden, and an indoor play area. Our kids loved it, and so did we.
Between the Hands on Children’s Museum which was $20 wasted, the M.O.S.H which was $24, and lunch while out, we spent about $60 for the whole day.
Friday: DeLeon Springs, Florida
Friday was one of my favorite days of our trip. We spent about half of the day at De Leon Springs State Park where we first ate breakfast at the converted Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant on site at the park. Each table has its own built-in griddle to cook your own pancakes made from stone-ground flours. After breakfast we went swimming in the natural spring on site. It was freezing but so much fun.
Our grand total for the outing was $6 for parking, and $5 per person for pancakes.
Saturday: St. Mary’s, GA and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
We started out our Saturday by going to the local farmer’s market in St. Mary’s, where we spent about $20 on local honey, fresh peaches, and a hand-made ninja turtle hat for our daughter.
From there we went to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge to go on a boat tour of the swamp. It was terrifying to be literally feet away from alligators in the wild. You don’t typically imagine swamps as being a beautiful place, but It was surprisingly breathtaking. There were endless “water prairies” covered in lily-pads and water lilies. The Spanish moss draped down over all of the trees, and big graceful water birds took flight over the water. It was quiet, serene, and beautiful. If you ever get a chance to visit, ask for Steve as your tour guide. He did a fantastic job of giving us an entertaining and informative tour.
The boat tour costs $19.95 per adult, but children 5 and under are free. This was another excursion that my in-laws wanted to foot the bill for. I am so grateful that they took us out to see the park, because we all had a lot of fun.
Our frugal Florida vacation grand total: $450
Our frugal Florida vacation grand total includes the cost of driving and all activities. $450 isn’t too bad for a week long vacation for a family of four. We had such a great time visiting all of the parks and seeing the sites. It goes to show that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to have a great time on vacation. The less hectic and more scenic options can be just as much fun as the big tourist sites.
Have you ever been to North Florida? What are your favorite inexpensive things to do while on vacation?