8 Summer Getaways on a Budget (within a 3-hour drive!)

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Ready to trade in the day-to-day of home life for a much-deserved summer vacation with your family? Pack those bags and get ready to head out on 8 budget-friendly weekend getaways within three hours driving distance from almost anywhere in New Jersey! Whether the beach is your bag or hiking an amazing trail in the mountains is your speed, these are some of our favorite spots to plan a summer adventure without paying an arm and a leg. Although we didn’t include lodging because everyone’s preferences might be different, you can find plenty of affordable options on sites like HomeAway, HotelTonight, and Airbnb (our preferred M.O. as far as family travel goes). 

Washington, D.C., family getaway, budget getaway, family getaways New Jersey

No better place to teach the kiddos about our country’s rich history

Washington, D.C.

Just 3 hours by train from Newark or New York City, Washington, DC is sure to thrill American history lovers. Snag an Amtrak Northeast Regional Saver Fare to get 20% off the lowest available fares (kids travel for half the discounted adult fare!).

What to do
Don’t forget to bring your kids’ scooters from home – and you can join them by jumping on an Uber electric scooter to see the nation’s capital for as little as $0.15 per minute! My kids were like a tiny scooter gang zipping around the National Mall. Go see all the monuments, then take your pick of any of the Smithsonian museums around town – they’re all free, within steps of each other, and best of all, air-conditioned to get you through the sweltering DC summer heat.

What to eat
While pizza in Washington is weak compared to New York-style slices, the District is more known for Neapolitan pizzas that showcase imported ingredients and seasonal specialty toppings. Make your own pizza with the little at Stella Barra or make a visit to Comet Ping Pong – a hipster heavy, bathrooms behind secret panels, live band rocking Upper Northwest pizza parlor. The thin-crust Smoky (mushrooms, bacon, smoked mozzarella) is a must– and a round of ping pong while you wait, optional. 

Cape May, N.J., family getaway New Jersey, weekend getaway New Jersey, NJ weekend getaway, summer getaway New Jersey

Nothing like a walk on the beach with the fam after dinner

Cape May, NJ

Staking its claim as one of “the nation’s oldest seashore resorts”, Cape May has all the Victorian charm, pristine beaches and that Toto’s-definitely-not-in-Jersey anymore feel – pretty much the perfect summer getaway. 

What to do
Most zoos in the country cost a pretty penny, but for 365 days out of the year, you can take a walk on the wild side at the Cape May Zoo without shelling out any green. It’s totally free, easily walkable with the littles and has over 550 animals. Be sure to check out the flamingo exhibit – my kids get a kick out of imitating their one-legged stance. Beach Plum Farm is super family-friendly, with beautiful gardens, a small wooded hiking trail, and live animals roaming the grounds. Grab a delicious, farm-to-table bite to eat and explore the grounds for free. You can also check out 11 of our fave kid-friendly activities in Cape May.

What to eat
Nothing says summer quite like fresh lobster, so head to Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls. Indulge in classic lobster-everything and root soda at the tiny but famed fast-casual shack, followed by an ice cream sandwich at Peace Pie or a PB tasting at Cape May Peanut Butter Company, which offers amazing flavors like butterscotch peanut butter. Bring the whole family to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House for a great family breakfast, then head to the Blue Pig Tavern for a dinner, and be sure to request a table outside! Kids eat free there all night long on Wednesday nights. For every adult entrée ordered off the regular menu, one child age 12 or younger can order anything from the kid’s menu. The also offer a 15% military discount for your entire family, and if you stop by between 5-7PM, Blue the Pig will stop by to say hello!

Rockaway Beach, New York beach, family getaway, weekend getaway

Fun exploring the boardwalk via NYC Parks

Rockaway Beach, NY

Hop in the car and head a couple of hours north to Rockaway Beach, New York – a fun, family day trip to explore a new beach with tons of tasty food trucks and a variety of budget-friendly family activities all summer long. Added bonus? No money to get onto the beach!

What to do
After being ravaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Rockaway has rebuilt and resurged to become one of the best beachfront communities in our area. Check out fun (and free) activities like yoga on the beach and Zumba under the stars at Rockaway Boardwalk. There are also a number of great playgrounds for the kiddos and a free yearly Water Festival, with bounce houses, water slides, music games and more family fun.

What to eat
Every legit beach vacay needs tacos. Take in a view of the Manhattan skyline while you chow down on a budget-friendly meal at The Bungalow Bar or, tucked away in the Rockaway Beach Surf Club, is Tacoway Beach, a summer-only eatery that serves up delicious tacos for just $3.50. My kids love tacos, so this is a win-win! Pair your taco fix with a pineapple mint drink and you won’t be sorry you crossed the state border. Cash only, so make sure you’ve hit up the on-site ATM first.

Mystic, CT, Mystic, weekend getaway, family getaway, weekend getaway New Jersey

Watching the sunset over Mystic’s magical seaport via @ashleybrookex

Mystic, Connecticut

If you fancy dreamy New England charm, look no further than quintessential Mystic, once a shipbuilding seaport village in the 1600s. Its rich maritime history is still prevalent in this quaint town today – old sea captain’s homes dot the scenic roads along Mystic River, but you’ll also find colorful mom and pop shops and eateries on Main Street.  

What to do
Hike or bike all the town trails, visit the Mystic Seaport Museum (host to a variety of events, including Viking Days), and jam to the free Summer Sounds concert series at Mystic River Park.

What to eat
Summer isn’t summer unless you’ve eaten fried clams. Stop by Sea View Snack Bar, pull right up to the counter for a quick bite (they’re well known for the fried clams) and relax on the riverside picnic tables. If clams aren’t your thing, be sure to check out Kitchen Little for a meal with the fam on the river. For dessert, head over to Mystic Sweets for fun ice cream flavors and fudge samples galore, or Sift Bake Shop for the yummiest pastries that were recently featured on Best Bakers in America!

Woodstock, NY, Woodstock, weekend getaway New Jersey, weekend getaway

The Ottauquechee River is a fun and refreshing way to explore nature at Woodstock this summer via Boston Mamas

Woodstock, NY (Catskills Region)

This hoppin,’ family-friendly retreat may conjure up images of hippies, tie dye, and free love, but its ever-changing Main Street has a ton of new shops, budget-friendly restaurants, and lodging, making it a contender for the coolest family-friendly destination in the Catskills. 

What to do
If hiking the 3-miles uphill to Overlook Mountain or splashing in the Ottauquechee River isn’t your speed, then kick back at the village green – Woodstock’s town center which is a prime perch for hippie-watching and a free summer concert series every Saturday. Kids will love the weekly drum circle here, too! You won’t want to miss the Mower’s Flea Market (rated one of the top 10 flea markets in the US by FODOR’s travel guide), where you can find old records, crystals, and antiques – and probably lots of tie-dye. 

What to eat
Begin the day by grabbing an organic breakfast with the kids, and be sure to treat yourself to a delicious artisanal coffee, at Mont Vert Cafe. Want to round out the retro vibe for the weekend? A visit to the very famous Phoenicia Diner, just 15 minutes outside of Woodstock, is a must. A staple in the Catskills since the early 80s, you can get old school and new school dishes that range between $8 and $15.

Solomons Island, MD, Solomons Island, weekend getaway, family getaway

Exploring unique aquatic creatures and fossils at the Calvert Marine Museum via coolprogeny.com

Solomons Island, MD

Looking for a picturesque island town to help you detox from the hustle and bustle of life? A popular weekend destination amongst the Washington crowd, Solomons Island is nestled where the Patuxent River and the Chesapeake Bay meet.

What to do
From Calvert Marine Museum & Drum Point Lighthouse to Annmarie Garden, there are a variety of budget-friendly attractions in Solomons and in nearby cities. If you’re feeling adventuresome, take the kids to discover some primeval shark’s teeth at the nearby Calvert Cliffs. The Cliffs can be accessed through Calvert Cliffs State Park and Flag Ponds Nature Park.

What to eat
You can’t leave the Chesapeake Bay area without tasting the region’s famous crabs. Head to Lighthouse Restaurant & Dock Bar for the signature crab dip with homemade crab chips and bourbon glazed bacon wrapped scallops. To. Die. For! Then top it off with the yummiest soft-serve ice-cream at Cone Island and a quick trip to the playground next door to burn off that sugar rush.

Hudson, NY, family getaway, weekend getaway New Jersey

Scenes from Hudson: Architecture, vintage motorcycles, vinyl and boozy slushies. Picked up Beatles’ White, Margot Price, Beach Boys Pet Sounds and ELO via @rolloninn

Hudson, NY

The secret’s out on hip little Hudson in upstate New York. Just an Amtrak train ride away from NYC, Hudson is kind of like the “Brooklyn north,” with tons of hipster food and drink digs and antique shops. This charming riverside city was once an industrial center and now it’s an affordable home to New York City creatives and entrepreneurs.

What to do
The activity of choice in small-town Hudson is strolling along its main artery, Warren Street, for awesome arts and antiquing. Kids will love the FASNY Museum of Firefighting (just $25 for a family of four!) where you can get hands-on with the Jr. Firefighter Challenge Course, complete with poles to slide down and ladders to climb. Then ride the summer ferry on Friday and Saturday evenings from Hudson to historic Athens for a scenic view of the Hudson River for just $15 round trip.

What to eat
For a mom-and-pop breakfast just like your granny used to make, we like Tanzy’s – its affordable prices and delicious, homestyle eggs and French toast are just what we expect in a small town like Hudson. For lunch or dinner, head over to Gigi’s Trattoria for delicious one-of-a-kind pizza and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 4:30-6:30 p.m., pay $10 per pizza instead of $16!

New Hope, PA, family getaway, New Jersey getaway, weekend getaway

Beautiful old building and cobblestone sidewalks via @blaqqrow

New Hope, PA

Dubbed as one of “America’s Favorite Towns” by Travel + Leisure, New Hope has all the small-town makings with a big city vibe.

What to do
Start your morning with a walk or bike ride down the Delaware Canal. My kids enjoy hopping on the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, a 1925 steam locomotive that takes you on a 9-mile ride through the Bucks County countryside. And don’t forget to enjoy First Friday Fireworks all summer long.

What to eat
Ferry Market has something for everyone, with your choice of culinary delights from a variety of vendors ranging from Indian to Latin American – there’s sure to be something to please the whole fam (even picky eaters). Make sure to pick up some homemade cinnamon buns to satisfy your sweet tooth! And don’t forget to stop into Moo Hope Ice Cream for home-made ice cream made on premises, with an outdoor seating area right on the Delaware River.

Psst! Don’t forget to hashtag #NJMOM and tag @njmom on your next weekend getaway and your little cuties could be featured in our next photo round-up.


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About Author

Mom to three boys under age six, Jamie is a creative spirit who prefers wildflowers to roses, and is a self-proclaimed Chinese food snob (because nothing is as good as Mom and Dad’s). When she and her husband are not throwing darts on a map to pick their next family destination (hence how they’ve landed in Russia, Iceland and Malta), she enjoys wandering around at home on Princeton’s ivy-covered campus. She’s obsessed with things that have a good story and is a sucker for good packaging (read: hoarder for pretty candles).

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