The 3 best budget-friendly vacations in Florida, according to readers

Palm trees on a sunny beach in Florida.

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By Stacy Rounds

May 31, 2024

Welcome, travel enthusiasts and budget-conscious adventurers! Florida, known for its sun-soaked beaches, laid-back culture, and endless attractions, is a prime vacation spot. But what if we told you that you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy all that the Sunshine State has to offer? We polled our readers and the results are in! Here are the top three best budget-friendly vacation destinations in Florida. From charming historic towns to laid-back coastal escapes, these spots promise fun, adventure, and relaxation without emptying your wallet.

An aerial view of the Spanish fort in St. Augustine.

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3. St. Augustine

Discover the Oldest City in the U.S. — St. Augustine. This charming city is rich in history and brimming with old-world charm. And as the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine offers a unique blend of historical landmarks, cultural attractions, and beautiful scenery, all at a budget-friendly price.

History buffs, break out your cameras and experience a treasure trove of historical sites. Start your journey at the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. With its impressive architecture and breathtaking views of the waterfront, it’s a must-visit. Admission is reasonably priced, and children under 15 get in for free.

St. George Street is the heart of St. Augustine’s historic district. This pedestrian-only street is lined with shops, cafes, and historic buildings. Enjoy a leisurely stroll, pop into unique boutiques, and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. Many attractions and shops offer free admission or low-cost entry, making it easy to stick to your budget.

Dive deeper into the city’s history with visits to its many museums and cultural sites. The Lightner Museum, housed in the former Alcazar Hotel, offers an eclectic collection of artifacts at an affordable price. For a small fee, you can also explore the Colonial Quarter, where interactive exhibits bring the city’s colonial past to life. Many historical sites and museums offer free or low-cost admission. Spend a day exploring the city’s beautiful parks and beaches.

Nature lovers will find plenty to do in St. Augustine without spending a fortune. Relax on the sandy white shores of St. Augustine Beach or head to Anastasia State Park for hiking, birdwatching, and kayaking. The park offers stunning natural beauty and a range of activities for a nominal entrance fee.

Dining in St. Augustine also doesn’t have to be expensive. You can slurp down some amazing fresh seafood at casual eateries like The Bunnery Bakery & Cafe or Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille. Many restaurants offer daily specials and affordable options, so you can indulge in delicious meals without overspending. For more savings, take advantage of lunch specials and happy hour deals. And it’s always fun to picnic in one of the city’s scenic parks.

For an affordable stay in this historic paradise, look for special deals at hotels, motels, or inns. Many offer deep discounts, especially if you book in advance.

A Treasure Island beach sign.

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2. Treasure Island

If a laid-back beach vacation is what you’re after, Treasure Island is the place to be. Located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, this charming beach town offers pristine beaches, stunning sunsets, and a relaxed atmosphere that’s perfect for unwinding (with or without the kids).

The main attraction in Treasure Island is, of course, the beach. With miles of soft, white sand and clear blue waters, it’s a paradise for sunbathers and swimmers. The beach is wide and welcoming, making it easy to find a spot to lay your beach blanket and cooler. Best of all, beach access is always free to enjoy!

Treasure Island isn’t just about soaking up the sun. The beachfront area is home to a variety of activities and entertainment options. Enjoy live music at one of the beach bars, or take a leisurely bike ride along the Treasure Island Beach Trail. For those looking for a bit more adventure, there are plenty of opportunities for water sports like paddleboarding, jet skiing, and parasailing.

Just a short drive away is John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk, a lively waterfront area filled with shops, restaurants, and attractions. Stroll along the boardwalk, watch the boats go by, and maybe even spot a friendly dolphin or two. The village offers a range of budget-conscious dining and shopping options, so you can enjoy the local flavors and souvenirs without overspending.

Treasure Island boasts a variety of dining options to suit every taste. From casual beachside cafes to family-friendly restaurants, you’ll find plenty of affordable places to eat. Don’t miss out on fresh seafood — head to Middle Grounds Grill or Sloppy Joe’s for delicious meals that won’t break the bank. If you like planning ahead, look for happy hour specials and early bird menus at local eateries. And don’t forget to enjoy a picnic on the beach with fresh deli items from a local grocery store, if you really want to save some bucks.

Finding budget-friendly accommodations in Treasure Island is also a breeze. Look for family-run motels, vacation rentals, or budget hotels that offer great value for money. Many places are within walking distance of the beach, so you can save on transportation costs. Pro tip: booking in advance can help you secure the best deals.

A boat docked at Tarpon Springs.

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1. Tarpon Springs

Your number one pick for budget-friendly vacation spots was Tarpon Springs, a little-known gem that brings a touch of Greece to Florida. Located along the Gulf of Mexico, this charming town is famous for its sponge docks, Greek culture, and delightful waterfront scenery. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or just looking to relax, Tarpon Springs offers something for everyone.

A visit to Tarpon Springs isn’t complete without a stroll along the historic sponge docks. This area is brimming with shops, cafes, and boat tours. Learn about the history of sponge diving at the Spongeorama Museum or hop on a sponge diving boat tour to see the divers in action.

Foodies, this town has your name written all over it because one of the best things about Tarpon Springs is its authentic Greek cuisine. With an abundance of Greek restaurants and bakeries, your taste buds are in for a treat. Try local favorites like gyros, moussaka, and baklava at Hellas Restaurant and Bakery or Costas Restaurant. Many spots offer budget-friendly menus, so you can indulge without worrying about the cost.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Tarpon Springs offers beautiful parks and nature trails. Head to Fred Howard Park for a day of sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking. The park’s causeway extends into the Gulf, providing stunning views and a perfect spot for fishing or kayaking.

Tarpon Springs isn’t just about the sponge docks and beaches. Dive into the town’s rich history at the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum, or explore the cultural exhibits at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art. With many attractions either free or inexpensive, it’s easy to stick to your budget.

Before you go, take a peek online for specials on hotels or charming bed-and-breakfasts. For a unique experience, consider staying at one of the many family-owned inns that offer comfort and affordability.

And don’t forget to get the best bang for your buck by taking advantage of free or low-cost activities like visiting parks, exploring the sponge docks, or attending one of the town’s many festivals.

 

Author

  • Stacy Rounds

    Stacy Rounds is a writer and growth producer for Floricua. Prior to joining the team, Stacy has worked as a writer, editor, and engagement specialist covering topics ranging from local history, disability advocacy, recreation, and food hotspots to relationships and mental health.

CATEGORIES: THINGS TO DO
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