Time and budget are always big factors in determining where to go for a family vacation. Yet many families stay close to home or go to the same place every year, primarily because they are so overwhelmed with options and the logistics of planning that they just don’t know where to start. Recognizing this, I put together a list of my recommendations for the best kid vacations in the US.
Of course, we haven’t been everywhere, but I have visited 49 states (just missing Oklahoma) and these are a few of my favorite places that kids will love. In creating this list of best family vacations, I wanted to include a mix of experiences that will satisfy kids of all ages and interests.
Don’t let analysis paralysis stall your vacation planning and settle for a day trip to an amusement park or the local beach! If you need help planning a family vacation, just let me know and I will connect you with a family-centric travel advisor that is a good match for your travel wishes and budget.
Best KID Vacations in the US
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1. Maine Coast
A coastal Maine road trip is perfect for families that want to experience the magic of a New England summer. Scramble along Maine’s rocky coastline, stop for photo opportunities at quintessential New England lighthouses, enjoy Maine’s small coastal towns like Boothbay Harbor and Rockland, and experience the raw nature of Acadia National Park.
Between lunch stops at clam shacks to dinner at lobster pounds and plenty of blueberry ice cream and Whoopie pies in between, you can get a taste of New England with all your senses. And if you want to get off-the-beaten-path, head Downeast or up into the Maine Highlands to search for moose or relax at one of Maine’s scenic lake communities like Moosehead Lake.
2. White Mountains, New Hampshire
The White Mountains in New Hampshire offer an outdoor playground that is ideal for families that like outdoor adventure. Here you will find hiking, rock climbing, zip-lining, adventure courses, waterfalls, and scenic views. You can choose to drive up to the summit at the top of Mount Washington, or take the Cog Railway.
It is easy to fill your days with outings to Flume Gorge or Loon Mountain or spend the evening searching for moose on a nighttime moose safari. Little thrill-seekers will also love the Storyland theme park or the alpine slide at Attitash Mountain. In the fall, a scenic drive on the Kancamaugus Highway should be a bucket list experience for leaf-peeping.
3. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
If you are looking for a classic beach vacation, why not try the Cape Cod National Seashore? In addition to beautiful beaches, you will also find sand dunes and tidal flats to explore, as well as miles of bike trails to ride.
There are also kid-friendly activities like whale watching, a pirate museum in Provincetown, and Minor League baseball games. You can also take day trips by ferry to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket.
There are plenty of beach houses for rent throughout the Cape, but families that are looking for a hotel experience may prefer to stay at Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Falmouth, Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis, or the luxurious Wequassett Resort and Golf Club near Chatham. We also love the AutoCamp Cape Cod Resort for airstream glamping near Falmouth, located right off the Shining Sea Bikeway where you can bike down to Woods Hole for the day.
4. New York City
A perfect trip for tweens or teens, everyone should visit New York City at least once. Of course, the city that never sleeps can be a bit overwhelming so it is best to just bite off one or two neighborhoods of the Big Apple in one trip. For example, if you have a theater fan and want to see a Broadway show, focus on Times Square and the midtown area. A few highlights include ice skating or holiday markets in Bryant Park (in the winter), the Summit at One Vanderbilt Observation deck experience near Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Highline, Hudson Yards, and The Edge NYC.
If you prefer museums, focus on the Upper West Side (American Museum of Natural History) or Upper East Side (Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim) with downtime in Central Park. For 9/11 History, stay downtown and visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Battery Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, and take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.
Some off-the-beaten-path worthwhile attractions include the Tenement Museum, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, and the New York Public Library.
5. Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. is one of the best vacation spots for kids because while hotel rooms can get pricey, so many of the attractions are free. Little kids will love the Spy Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum, and running around on the National Mall.
Older kids, especially those that have learned a bit of U.S. history will get a lot out of the Newseum, Ford’s Theater, and bike tours around the National Monuments. To save money, you can always stay just outside of the city and include a visit to the National Harbor. I have put together a three-day itinerary if you are visiting Washington DC with tweens or teens.
Just make sure you leave time to just hang out on the National Mall and visit each of the main memorials including MLK Jr., Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial. Some of these are especially powerful at night. Just remember that if you want to visit the White House or Capitol Building you will need to reach out to your state representative and make reservations in advance. The Holocaust Museum and the National Museum of African American History also both require reservations and tickets to be made in advance.
6. Williamsburg, Virginia
School-aged kids will get a kick out of a visit to Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown. The costumed interpreters at these sites, along with hands-on interactive exhibits, make learning history fun. This is a great spot to kick off a USA history road trip and even teens will love some of the interactive apps that enhance a visit.
Hamilton fans will also appreciate a visit to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. The Kingsmill Resort and Williamsburg Inn both make a great home base for exploring the region. If you have a bit more time, add in a day at either Busch Gardens or Water Country USA, or the nearby towns of Hampton or Newport News.
7. Little St. Simons Island, Georgia
Nature lovers will love the all-inclusive, eco-resort on Little St. Simons Island, part of Georgia’s Golden Isles. Where else can you find gourmet food, on-site naturalists, and seven miles of beach for the exclusive use of 32 overnight guests and a limited number of day visitors? This is unlike any other all-inclusive resort you might find in the United States and a nice change from the commercial craziness of places like Myrtle Beach.
This former hunting lodge is set amidst a nature preserve on an 11,000-acre private barrier island. The resort offers bird watching, hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, and a full schedule of daily activities. While there isn’t a kids club, you can rest assured that your kids won’t get bored, and they probably won’t even miss the TV or WiFi they rely on at home. Stay for a week or combine a visit with a stay on Jekyll Island.
8. Blue Ridge Mountains (NC, TN, and GA)
The South is warm and humid during the summer months, which is why Lesli from 365 Atlanta Traveler recommends sticking to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the weather is cooler and brings a welcome breeze.
Her favorite adventures in the area include exploring the waterfalls and trails of Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Gatlinburg, TN or Pigeon Forge; adventuring Chimney Rock and the grounds of America’s castle, Biltmore Estate, near Ashville, NC; or riding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Blue Ridge, GA, then taking a dip in a swimming hole in nearby Springer Mountain, where the famous Appalachian Trail begins.
In Gatlinburg, stay at DJ’s Station from Parkside Cabin Rentals. This rebuilt cabin rental home was dedicated to the firefighters who fought the fire dubbed the worst natural disaster in Tennessee. In North Carolina, stay at the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, located within Antler Hill Village. Finally, in Georgia, stay in the Blue Ridge Treehouse. Yes, it’s on a winery, but it is family-friendly, close to the hiking trails, and the perfect way to watch the sunset.
9. Orlando, Florida
There is so much to do in Orlando, including so many off-the-beaten-track attractions and waterparks, that it is easy to come back again and again. We all know that staying on property at theme parks can get pricey, but it is easy to find spacious vacation rentals or nearby value hotels such as B Resort or Margaritaville Orlando. Of course, you can also splurge for the Four Seasons Orlando and spend a day chilling out in its lazy river. Families also love the value of the Wyndham Resorts in Orlando.
From Orlando, you can also plan a day trip to the Space Coast and spend a day at Kennedy Space Center, or even head over to Tampa if you haven’t had your fill of amusement parks and visit Busch Gardens. If you need to balance out the busy days at Orlando with some beach time, head to Florida’s Gulf Coast for some time in Clearwater, Naples, or Marco Island, or head south to Miami and the Florida Keys.
10. Chicago, Illinois
If you are looking for a city break this vacation, there are so many great options to choose from. However, in the summer, I love Chicago for families. With easy access to the Lake, the Windy City stays cooler than Atlanta or New York, but there is so much to do.
Using a CityPASS, you can easily squeeze in many top attractions for kids, including Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, The Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Plus don’t miss checking out the view from the Skydeck Chicago, the Ferris wheel on Navy Pier, or lean out over the city at the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
11. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
If your kids are waterslide fans, then Bryanna from Crazy Family Adventure recommends that you plan a trip to Wisconsin Dells. It is the water park capital of the world. There are a variety of huge waterparks to pick from, and once you are done enjoying all the wave pools and waterslides, the city has a great collection of other activities you can do.
Kids will love the Duck Boats, which are amphibian boats that can drive on land and then float down the river. There are also a variety of miniature golf courses and go-kart locations to pick from and a bustling main street with tons of kid-friendly restaurants and fudge shops.
12. Rocky Mountains, Colorado
The Rocky Mountains in the summer offer not just jaw-dropping scenery, they are chock full of mountain ski resorts, gorgeous state parks, and of course the stunning Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether you make a home base in Estes Park, or one of the ski mountain resorts like Copper Mountain or Vail, outdoor families will not be bored.
You can stay busy hiking, mountain biking, zip-lining, horseback riding, and even doing some summer snowboarding. Many ski resorts offer disc golf, mountain coasters, and adventure courses. Just beware of altitude sickness and give your body time to adjust to the mountains before you go too hard!
13. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Many national parks offer beautiful scenery and the potential for wildlife sightings, but Yellowstone is truly unique with its many basins of bubbling hot pots, geysers, and hot springs. Plus there is so much to see and do within the park, that you need a week or more to see everything.
Just be sure to plan a year ahead if you want to stay within the park, and give yourself plenty of time when driving from section to section as you never know when you will run across a bison traffic jam. If you have a week or more, combine a trip to Yellowstone National Park with a day or two in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park.
If you need help planning your Yellowstone Itinerary, my friend Bryanna has a great Yellowstone Guide with 57 pages of stop-by-stop instructions, daily guides, dining recommendations, and insider tips.
14. Dude Ranch Vacation
If horseback riding is on your bucket list, then don’t hesitate to plan a family vacation to a dude ranch. A dude ranch vacation is an amazing experience for families that want to disconnect from technology and connect with each other and nature. We have visited two dude ranches and both were some of our favorite family vacations ever. It is a special experience for bonding and enjoying nature in an environment where everything is taken care of for you, from meals to activities, and there are no hassles or logistics to manage once you arrive.
Our whole family fell in love with the family-run Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in Montana. Even though we aren’t equestrians, we enjoyed daily rides, trying our hand at fly fishing, catching tadpoles, and socializing with the other guests. We also took a late winter/spring break trip to Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. More luxurious than the Nine Quarter Circle, Vista Verde has spacious and comfortable cabins and the most delicious food.
There are also some ranches, like Flathead Lake Lodge, that offer more than horseback riding and hiking/fishing, including boating, water sports, or even ziplining. Plus, it is close enough to Glacier National Park to extend your stay to include one of the most popular parks (just make sure you get a park reservation and recreate responsibly.)
15. Grand Canyon, Arizona
There are some places in America that you can see in movies, videos, and pictures, yet they still don’t do them justice. Visiting the Grand Canyon is sure to wow even jaded teens, just make them be careful when taking selfies!
If you want to avoid crowds, try a visit to the North Rim, where it is also a little cooler in the summer. Just keep in mind that you need to book accommodation well in advance if you are staying in the park. And even if your teens like hiking, remember that what goes down, must also go back up, so plan accordingly. You can combine a trip to the Grand Canyon with a full Grand Circle Southwest road trip or a visit to the Phoenix area and hiking in Sedona.
16. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
White Sands National Park is better than the best beach. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous, but a day also spent playing on the dunes is something not easily forgotten. While we loved sandboarding on the dunes in Morocco, sledding in White Sands was equally fun.
Make sure you avoid visiting during the middle of the day during the summer, but pack a picnic (because there aren’t any facilities in the park) and spend the day wandering the dunes and rent a sled at the visitor center to slide down the soft sand. Just don’t get lost in the dunes — drop a pin so you can find your way back to the car.
17. California Coast Road Trip
There is no more classic family road trip than the California Coast. I recommend a one-way trip starting in San Francisco and traveling down to Southern California. Kids will love watching the sea lions, otters, and elephant seals, as well as watching the waves crash against the rocky coast.
Take a day to visit Monterey and its fabulous aquarium before stopping in the quaint Bavarian town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and continuing down to Big Sur. Take your time on the Central Coast before ending your journey in either Los Angeles or San Diego. There you can enjoy Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knotts Berry Farm, the San Diego Zoo, and other SoCal attractions. Just give yourselves plenty of extra time to stop for photos and enjoy some of the small coastal towns. And check the traffic before you go as Highway 1 / the Pacific Coast Highway can sometimes be closed due to mudslides or other weather erosion.
18. Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake is still one of the most beautiful national parks that we have explored. No photo can capture the size or true color of this lake in a collapsed volcano caldera. It is easy to spend two days exploring the hikes and scenic overlooks around the lake.
After visiting Crater Lake, there is much more to see and do in Central Oregon from white water rafting on the Deschutes River, caving in the lava tubes around Bend, and rock climbing at Smith Rock. I’d recommend staying in a vacation rental at Sunriver near Bend.
The Big Island of Hawaii is the only place where you are going to see an active volcano in the United States. There are black sand beaches and lava fields to explore, as well as waterfalls, bamboo forests, and the rainiest town in Hawaii. Be sure to get off the resort though because a highlight of a visit to Hawaii is a day trip to Volcanoes National Park or maybe taking a helicopter ride over the lava fields.
If you are looking for a more lush experience with more resorts, split your time in Hawaii between the Big Island and either Maui, Oahu, or Kauai (although I think Oahu or Maui with kids would be preferred.)
20. Alaska Cruise
The easiest way to see Alaska is on an Alaskan Cruise. And although you will have less time on land, sailings from Seattle are also very affordable. No longer is Alaska a destination for retirees.
Last summer we took a family cruise on the new Norwegian Bliss cruise ship, which had so much to do for kids including laser tag, go-karts, and if the weather cooperates, even water slides. In Alaska, you get the experience of wide-open spaces, wildlife, and local culture. If you can afford it and take the time, book a land and sea package so that you can visit Denali National Park and really get a sense of the raw beauty and vastness of Alaska.
21. Utah Big 5 National Parks
Even if you don’t have time to do the full Grand Circle road trip starting and ending in Las Vegas and wrapping Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon, another classic family vacation includes at least two or three of the Utah Big 5 National Parks (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.)
There are also plenty of state parks and national monuments for hiking and off-road adventures. This is also a great opportunity to try camping or glamping (maybe even in a Conestoga-covered wagon at Capitol Reef Resort.) You can either start and end your trip in Las Vegas or fly into Salt Lake City and out of Las Vegas. Just keep in mind that some parks require advance reservations and others require permits for specific hikes.
Now that you have ideas, it is time to start planning! Keep in mind that some of these destinations require advance planning and popular hotels and destinations can book up fast.
Need more ideas? Try one of these articles:
- East Coast Family Vacations
- Best Vacations for Teens
- Best Graduation Trips Ideas for the USA and International Travel