Courtesy Rapid City CVB
If you should go on any vacation, it should be during the upcoming Labor Day weekend from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. The holiday is, after all, dedicated to American workers and their contributions to the country. For all of your industriousness throughout the entire year, the federal government has gifted you with one day off work. So, leave town early on Friday, pat yourself on the back and take the family on a long weekend away -- you deserve it.
U.S. News scoured the country (and our nearby neighbors) to find some of the best long weekend trips. We picked destinations that are just a short plane ride away, so you won't spend most of your precious vacation traveling or suffering from jet lag. Plus, after we factored in hotel data from Kayak, we found that many of the lodging options in these locales are reasonably priced for the long weekend. Without further ado, here are nine fun (and affordable) Labor Day getaways for families.
In Pictures: 9 Family-Friendly Labor Day Getaways You Can Afford
A free-for-all in Washington, D.C.
Say sayonara to summer with a short trip to Washington, D.C. Not only does the nation's capital have handfuls of free family-friendly attractions -- everything from a zoo to museums -- the city is also hosting a variety of free events over the long weekend. On Saturday, you'll have to pick between your love of books or music since there are two competing daylong events: the Library of Congress National Book Festival and the DC Blues Festival. On Sunday, you can relax on the West Lawn of the Capitol and listen to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Labor Day Capitol Concert. At the end of your long weekend, you'll be pleased to sign your hotel bill: room rates are down about 16 percent (versus flanking weekends) for an average of $142 a night, according to Kayak.
The Wild, Wild West in Rapid City, South Dakota
Before the kids are herded back to their school desks, they might want to "go west, young man [or woman]," as the American writer Horace Greely once encouraged. Moms, dads and kids can conjure their inner cowboys and cowgirls in Rapid City. Nestled beside Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota, Rapid City is a gateway to a Wild West adventure. You can "ooh" and "ahh" at baby bears in Bear Country USA, check out the mustangs at the Wild Horse Sanctuary or spy on elk, bison and prairie dogs at Custer State Park. You might also start the kids' history lessons early with a 30-minute drive south to Keystone, South Dakota, for a peek at Mount Rushmore. Although there are all sorts of hotels in Rapid City that offer nightly rates starting around $100, you'll also find a host of campsites in Custer State Park and the Black Hills National Forest.
The lap of luxury in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
If you never made it to the beach this summer, perhaps a trip to Cabo San Lucas is in order? The sandy shore is the main attraction here: Spread out towels, catch up on those summer reads, make elaborate sandcastles or simply cool off in the sparkling waters. Plus, many of Cabo's resorts offer all-inclusive packages, taking the pressure off the parents to map out every detail. Because let's be honest: Enough planning looms with PTA meetings, lunch boxes, sports practices and more. Places like the Hacienda Beach Club & Residences make relaxing easy for families, with packages that start around $650 a night and include snorkeling, kayaking, kiddie yoga and more. Solmar is another all-inclusive option, which offers rates that start around $250 a night.
Sneak away to Block Island, Rhode Island
Block Island sits about 13 miles off shore from the smallest state in the union and enjoys some of its loveliest weather in September. In fact, fall in Block Island is one of the best times to visit: Average highs are in the low 70s, and the ocean temperature averages around 68 degrees. The humidity has all but vanished, clearing the way for brighter stars, which means you can prime the kids for their astronomy lessons early. Stack your Block Island schedule with bike rides from the North Light lighthouse to the Southeast Lighthouse, body surfing the Atlantic waves, hiking through Rodman's Hollow and fishing for striped bass. Cozy bed and breakfasts (with rates hovering around $300 a night) and tasty seafood joints round out the quaint family getaway.
A Southern-style Labor Day in Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston regularly tops lists for tastiest towns, and it's also just a hop, skip and a jump from the shore, which means that it's perfect for a combination gastronomic-beach getaway. Families can play all day on the shores of Isle of Palms or Kiawah Island and then drive less than 20 minutes west for a divine meal in just about any of the downtown restaurants. Check out FIG for a fancy night out, and Jestine's Kitchen for a more casual bite. To burn off some of that delectable food, families can take a walk across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and let the kiddos play at the Memorial Waterfront Park in neighboring Mount Pleasant. Other activities include viewing marine life at the South Carolina Aquarium or climbing aboard the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier at Patriots Point. If you want to stay downtown, you'll find that the historic accommodations start around $300 a night.
Amusements for miles in Orlando, Florida
Thanksgiving break is a long way off, so why not take advantage of the long Labor Day weekend and surprise the kids with a trip to Orlando? For the most part, the summer mobs have deserted Mickey and Minnie, and the high temperatures have started to abate, too. Plus, Orlando hotel rooms are cheaper this time of year: Kayak finds that the average room rate across the Labor Day weekend is $127. And just imagine the looks on the kids' faces, when they're toasting you with butterbeer in Hogsmeade, not to mention dining with their favorite Disney princess or high-fiving their hero Spiderman.
Shop till you drop in New York City
Score brownie points with fashionista kids by taking them shopping for back-to-school clothes in New York. Soho, Nolita and the West Village are great places to start. If you want to venture down to Brooklyn, you must stop in the edgy boutiques and vintage shops of Williamsburg. And since many New Yorkers will desert their city over Labor Day weekend, you can swoop in and find a steal on Airbnb. What's more, you'll see that even hotels are marked down over the holiday weekend. Kayak finds that nightly room rates are down about 9 percent (versus neighboring weekends) with an average room costing $260.
Get carried away in Colorado Springs, Colorado
The end of summer is particularly beautiful in Colorado Springs. Average high temperatures in the 70s complement the view of Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods. Plus, Labor Day weekend boasts a fabulous (and free) hot air balloon fest. And if you want to inspire your kids onto athletic greatness at the outset of their school year, you might want to visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Here, the entire family can walk through the Hall of Fame and learn all about Olympic legends of yore. You might also make some time for a roam around nearby Manitou Springs (located less than 7 miles west) for a drink from its mineral springs, which are reputed to have healing powers. Accommodations like the Cheyenne Mountain Resort start around $200 a night, but nearby campsites are much cheaper and start around $30 a night.
Explore the urban outdoors in Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver is a cocktail of citified attractions and outdoor diversions. With the North Shore Mountains as its backdrop, Vancouver spreads out along Coal Harbour and English Bay, offering its visitors everything from hiking to kayaking. Stanley Park is a must for families with young children. Not only does it boast the nearly 14-mile-long Seawall footpath (perfect for pushing a stroller), but it also has a handful of playgrounds, a miniature train and the Vancouver Aquarium. When you work up an appetite, you'll find an array of restaurants at your disposal: In fact, now may be the right time to introduce the little ones to Japanese tapas, Chinese dim sum or just about any other culinary style since it's all within reach. Kayak adds that hotel prices are a bit lower over the holiday weekend (compared to bordering weekends) for an average rate of about $215 a night.
In Pictures: 9 Family-Friendly Labor Day Getaways You Can Afford
Emily H. Bratcher is a freelance writer living in Iowa City, Iowa. She has also written for the Washingtonian and Outside Online, among other publications.