- I’ve visited dozens of the best family vacation spots in the U.S.A.
- These are my picks for where to go on a family vacation in every part of the country.
- I’ve organized them by region for easy browsing.
What makes a great family vacation? As a parent and a travel journalist, I’ve come to believe the best family vacation spots in the U.S. have loads of kid-pleasing activities, food options, and fun hotels. They’re also easy to get around and they can accommodate many different budgets. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that family vacations are better when everyone’s happy—and that’s most likely to be true when there’s lots to do, see, and eat wherever you choose to visit.
Family Vacation Spots in the Southeast USA
1. Theme Park Vacations (and More) in Orlando, Florida
If you’re dreaming of fun in the sun, Orlando is one of the best family travel spots in the U.S.A. for all ages. Disney’s Star Wars land and the Harry Potter theme park areas at Universal are among the best in the world, but don’t overlook SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove, and (for young kids) LEGOLAND Florida and the Peppa Pig theme park, among many others.
When you’ve had your fill of the theme parks in Orlando, take an airboat tour of the Florida Everglades, shop at Universal CityWalk or Disney Springs, go wakeboarding or tubing at the Orlando Watersports Complex, or splash in the Disney water parks. If you’re craving time on the sand or in the water, take a short drive to one of the best Florida beaches near Orlando for swimming and sunbathing.
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Orlando is also known for its kid-friendly restaurants, which include everything from dining with dinosaurs at the T-Rex Cafe to satisfying your sweet tooth at the steampunk-inspired Toothsome Chocolate Emporium (my personal favorite). And of course the Orlando water parks are some of the best in the whole country if you’re thinking of wet and wild spring getaways or summer vacations.
If you’re planning to make the Disney parks a major part of your vacation, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is my personal recommendation. Most kids will adore the in-room pirate décor, not to mention the water cannons and 82-foot slide at the swimming pool. There are plenty of other Disney World hotels, Universal Studios hotels, and affordable theme park hotels in Orlando that offer special perks like early admission too. Kids always enjoy staying at the Orlando hotels with swimming pools and there’s no shortage of those, either.
2. Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
The mountain town of Gatlinburg has three entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park right downtown, which puts miles of trails for hiking, walking, mountain biking, and horseback riding right at your fingertips. Beyond the national park, you can catch penguins, sting rays, and sharks at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, or browse the galleries and studios of the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community for local artisanal products and artwork to take home as souvenirs.
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Climb the Gatlinburg Space Needle or take a ride above the treetops on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway for the great views. At night, settle in to Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Water Park. It’s just minutes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, downtown Gatlinburg, and attractions such as Dollywood. Kids will love the resort’s large indoor/outdoor water park. For privacy and plenty of room for larger families, choose one of the three-bedroom units.
3. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
With 60 miles of South Carolina coastline, Myrtle Beach is a popular family vacation spot known for its sunny weather, family beach vacations, and golf courses. Myrtle Beach has resorts, entertainment, and eateries galore along the Grand Strand, not to mention more than 90 golf courses and some of the country’s most inventive mini-golf courses.
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Beyond the beach, activities include the upside-down world of WonderWorks, complete with laser-tag, a ropes course, and a discovery lab. Kids love blasting back to the past at the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament (cheesy but fun), or dining with seafaring scoundrels at the Pirate’s Voyage Dinner and Show. For more live entertainment, don’t miss the Carolina Opry or the Alabama Theater. The Broadway Grand Prix offers entertainment for racing enthusiasts, while Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach makes undersea exploration fun.
For a fun place to stay with the kids, consider Dunes Village Resort. When you’re not dining in one of the on-site restaurants, playing tennis or basketball on the resort’s courts, or swimming in the outdoor pools, you can enjoy the indoor water park. The Dunes Village Resort’s water park is 30,000 square feet of water slides, a lazy river, children’s swimming pools, and more.
Family Vacation Spots in the Southwest USA
4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park isn’t just one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire world. It’s packed with family-friendly activities like hiking and mule rides, and its true grandeur can only be fully appreciated in person. Your kids will never forget the moment they first peer over the edge into the awe-inspiring canyon below. Most families head to the South Rim, but I prefer the more secluded North Rim (open from mid-May to October). The views still spectacular and the crowds are a fraction of what you get at the other rim.
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Another fun thing to do at the Grand Canyon is whitewater rafting the Colorado River. Everything from quick trips to week-long (or longer) excursions are available, and many Grand Canyon rafting trips are tailored to families with kids. Or, splurge on a helicopter tour and see the Grand Canyon from the sky. And speaking of sky, you can walk over the edge on a glass-bottom bridge called the Grand Canyon Skywalk along the canyon’s West Rim.
If you plan ahead about a year ahead, you have a good chance of snagging an overnight spot at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There are plenty of campgrounds above the rim, too, along with one of the country’s best national park lodges, the historic El Tovar Hotel, which overlooks the majestic South Rim. On the other side of the national park, Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim also has canyon-edge accommodations in a rustic family-friendly setting.
5. Austin, Texas
Texas’ capital is famous for its delicious food and live music, making it a great destination for a family vacation in the U.S. A food tour is a smart idea to get a sampling of all the good eats in Austin. Once you’ve had your fill, hop on an Austin Duck Adventures tour for an overview of the city and explore Zilker Park, which is home to a botanical garden, a playground, and the famous Barton Springs Pool.
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If you’re visiting between late March and early fall, go to the Congress Avenue Bridge around sunset to watch the Mexican free-tailed bats that hang out underneath fly out for the night. Any time of year, catch a flick at Alamo Drafthouse, which has a kids menu for young moviegoers, and take a tour or see a show at ACL Live. Find vacation reads for the whole family at BookPeople, the largest independent bookstore in Texas.
Where to Stay in Austin, Texas
Located close to the Congress Avenue Bridge, Four Seasons Hotel Austin has tons of fun family-friendly amenities like a complimentary guitar lending program and lawn games and hammocks on its back lawn. Or hit up Embassy Suites by Hilton Austin Downtown South Congress for roomy accommodations and amenities like an indoor pool.
Family Vacation Spots in the Northeast USA
6. New York, New York
Big city family vacations don’t come any bigger than the Big Apple. The Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Empire State Building, and the Museum of Natural History are iconic landmarks, but there are many kid-centric attractions too. For the full New York family vacation experience, take a turn around Times Square or buy tickets for a Broadway performance.
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Don’t miss Rockefeller Center, where you can catch a TV show being filmed, explore the Channel Gardens, and (in the winter) glide around the famed ice skating rink. Visit in November for the chance to catch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. Central Park is a great place to spend the day in the warmer months, with its rolling lawns, walking trails, playgrounds, conservatory, and castle, not to mention the Central Park Zoo.
Brooklyn’s NU Hotel offers a number of kid-friendly perks. Not only can you grab free breakfast at this New York family hotel, the hotel offers loaner bikes upon request. If you’re traveling with very little ones, you can also request high chairs, a baby bathtub, and step stools from the front desk if you’ve left anything off your baby packing list. Several subway stops are within walking distance, making it easy to get around the city.
7. North Conway, New Hampshire
A kid-friendly family vacation spot that’s well-known to New England families, North Conway is close to two of the region’s most popular amusement parks for kids (the retro-chic classics Santa’s Village and Storyland) as well as many of the best family resorts in the Northeast. It’s also a perfect gateway to outdoor pursuits like hiking, kayaking, and canoeing during the warmer months and snowmobiling and skiing in the winter.
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That’s not to say you need to be an outdoorsy family to enjoy North Conway. The Conway Scenic Railroad has scenic train rides visiting a surrounding area that’s particularly spectacular in the fall. And there are plenty of easy hikes with big rewards, too. One of my family’s favorites is the half-mile trail to Diana’s Baths, where a series of cascading falls makes for a memorable family picnic spot.
For something truly memorable, book a one-of-a-kind overnight stay at Adventure Suites, a hotel with some of the coolest themed family suites anywhere in the country (think jungles, caves, and even Ancient Rome, just for starters).
8. Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine
The only national park in the Northeast, Acadia is everything you dream about when you imagine a family vacation along Maine’s rocky coast. It’s one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. because of its many beaches, islands, rocky shorelines, and scenic walking trails and hiking trails—not to mention a historic carriage road system and the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast, Cadillac Mountain.
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Acadia makes for a memorable East Coast vacation for active families who love hiking, cycling, horseback riding or carriage rides, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and rock climbing. Hardy souls who visit in the winter months can enjoy snowshoeing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and even ice fishing in and around the park.
The oceanfront Harborside Hotel, Spa, and Marina overlooking Frenchman Bay in downtown Bar Harbor is everything you could want in a kid-friendly family resort close to a national park. This four-star hotel is near everything in town and easily accessible to the national park (you’ll need to drive or rent a car no matter where you stay near Acadia), and it boasts two pools, a spa, onsite dining, and postcard-perfect marina views.
9. Niagara Falls, New York
Niagara Falls isn’t just one of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world, it’s also one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. or Canada—and a surprisingly accessible bucket-list family vacation destination as well. The world-famous falls are actually three distinct waterfalls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls) and they’re incredible to see in person.
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Start at Niagara Falls State Park before getting up close to the rushing waters of Bridal Veil Falls via a year-round viewing area called the Cave of the Winds. Follow a trail of slick wooden walkways to the Hurricane Deck, where you can get intentionally soaked in the thundering mist. And for a real family adventure, board a Maid of the Mist boat tour to the roaring spray zone just past Horseshoe and American Falls. Walking distance to Niagara Falls State Park and adjacent to Old Falls Street USA, Sheraton Niagara Falls USA is centrally located close to all of the action. The on-site Rainforest Café restaurant is always a hit with the kids.
Beyond Niagara Falls, there are plenty of things to do in Buffalo just 20 miles from the falls. The city’s revitalized downtown area, Canalside, is prime kid-friendly spot for families to gather. The Buffalo Zoo, Delaware Park, and the Buffalo RiverWorks (a massive dining and entertainment complex) are all popular family attractions to take in.
Family Vacation Spots in the Mid-Atlantic
10. Williamsburg, Virginia
Carefully renovated historical areas bring the past to life in Colonial Williamsburg and nearby Yorktown and Jamestown. Climb into a horse-drawn carriage and tour streets lined with restored buildings from the era of the American Revolution. Spend a day in these living history museums and you’ll see what life was like in the days of the Framers of the Constitution at sites like the Yorktown Battlefield.
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I love ghost tours, and the famous Williamsburg Ghosts Tour is one of the best. The Jamestown Glasshouse offers a glimpse into the area’s artisanal glass industry; here, you’ll see artists at work and have the chance to buy your own hand-blown pieces. Take a break from learning about the nation’s past and ride the roller coasters at Busch Gardens Williamsburg or careen down the water slides at Water Country USA.
Stay at the Kingsmill Resort, situated on a protected reserve along the banks of the James River. It has indoor and outdoor pools, several on-site restaurants, a golf course, and a spa. Request a one-, two-, or three-bedroom condo for a fully equipped kitchen and more space to spread out.
11. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Yes, you can walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers at sites like Independence Hall, snap a family photo in front of the Liberty Bell, and see the homes where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and Betsy Ross stitched the first U.S. flag when you visit Philadelphia. But even if your family isn’t interested in history, Philly still has a lot to recommend it as one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S.A.
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Walk through the giant heart and explore the other science-focused exhibits at The Franklin Institute, then make like Rocky and run up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum before checking out the pieces on display inside. Head to Franklin Square for some mini-golf and carousel rides, or catch a Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, or Flyers game if your family is into sports.
The kid- and pet-friendly Kimpton Hotel Monaco Philadelphia is situated in the heart of Old City, with many of the city’s attractions just steps away. The Rittenhouse Hotel has family amenities like kid-sized bathrobes at turndown time and complimentary in-room movies and popcorn for tweens and teens, while the Ritz Kids program at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia helps young guests learn about the city’s history.
12. Outer Banks, North Carolina
When it comes to cheap family vacations, the Outer Banks is one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. that won’t break the bank. This chain of towns and beaches lies off the coast on a series of barrier islands that offer miles of stunning beaches. Kids can learn about the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, explore shipwrecks at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum (temporarily closed for renovations), walk the African American History Trail through Roanoke and Hatteras Islands, and ponder the mystery of the Lost Colony at Roanoke.
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With more than 100 miles of coastline to explore, you can spend the day taking sailing lessons or climbing to the top of the East Coast’s highest sand dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Rent a stand-up paddle board, learn to surf at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, windsurf in Pamlico Sound, or go fishing off Jennette’s Pier. The outdoor activities in the Outer Banks are endless.
For family-friendly lodging, look to the Sanderling Resort. Grown-ups will appreciate stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Sound. Kids will love the resort’s huge pool. Everyone will like the big rooms and convenient on-site restaurants.
13. Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
With its pristine beaches and bustling boardwalks, it’s no secret that Ocean City is one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. But the cherry on top is that it’s also a super affordable destination with something to offer everyone in the family, and just a short drive away is Assateague Island National Seashore with its famous wild horse population, an absolute must if you have a horse-crazy kid like I do.
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Take a leisurely stroll along the Ocean City Boardwalk, where you’ll find amusement park rides for all ages, shopping, and eateries featuring fresh local seafood. You’ll find quite a few tackle shops, too—you can go fishing off the pier or cast into the surf, or take a marlin fishing charter out to sea. Other family-friendly attractions include Ripley’s Believe it or Not, the NASA Wallops Visitor Center, and taking in a show at the Ocean City Performing Arts Center.
Aloft Ocean City is a stylish-yet-family-friendly place to stay in Ocean City. The hotel is conveniently close to Ocean City’s boardwalk, restaurants, and shopping. Kids can play on the beach and swim in the indoor and outdoor pools.
14. Washington, D.C.
I visited Washington, D.C., on a family vacation back when I was a kid, and then again as a dad with my son’s whole Boy Scout troop. It’s easily one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. thanks in large part to the many landmarks on the National Mall. Other essential attractions include the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture, and the International Spy Museum, dedicated to the history and tradecraft of espionage.
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Plan to go in spring (March is especially nice) to see the iconic cherry trees in bloom. This is also the perfect time to take a stroll around the Tidal Basin and see the monuments to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson along the way. Consider renting a paddle boat to explore the pond at the heart of this lovely area.
Book a family room at Hotel Madera for your accommodations. Located near Dupont Circle, this boutique hotel is elegant enough for adults, but also offers comfy kid-friendly amenities. Ask for a room with bunk beds, where kids can wrap up in mini bathrobes and play a massive Connect Four game.
Family Vacation Spots in the Midwest USA
15. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
The waterpark capital of the world, Wisconsin Dells has nearly two dozen indoor and outdoor water parks to choose from, including some of the nation’s largest. Favorites include the 70-acre Noah’s Ark Waterpark, the biggest in the Dells with more than 50 slides; Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park, with its 100-foot geyser and nine-foot-tall wave pool; and Wilderness Resort, which offers go-karting, rope courses, and bumper boats along with water slides.
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When you’ve had your fill of splashy fun, explore the non-watery attractions in Wisconsin Dells like Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and the Ghost Outpost Haunted House. You can also rent kayaks and explore the Wisconsin River, or marvel at the remarkable architecture and awe-inspiring views at the House on the Rock.
Stay at the Wilderness Resort to experience one of the largest water park resorts in the United States. This family-friendly lodge offers four indoor and four outdoor water parks, so kids can stay occupied no matter the weather. Choose a wilderness-themed room or spread out in a villa or cabin.
16. Branson, Missouri
If your family loves music and live performances, Branson is the place go for one of the best family vacations in the U.S. This Missouri city is famous for its live musical entertainment, with venues such as Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater, and many more. It’s the perfect place to take in a show or to enjoy dinner theater. Kids of all ages should enjoy the Aquarium at the Boardwalk, as well as the rides at Silver Dollar City, Shepherd of the Hills Adventure Park, Bigfoot Fun Park, and Fritz’s Adventure.
But there’s so much more to experience in Branson. Hop on the Showboat Branson Belle for a sail around Table Rock Lake. Bike, hike, or horseback ride through miles of trails in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Take a ride through the Ozarks on the Branson Scenic Railway, a historic train with cars dating from the mid-20th century. For more indoor fun, venture to Beyond the Lens to try cutting edge gaming systems, or experience the world’s most infamous boat at the Titanic Museum.
The Cabins at Green Mountain are great for families because you can rent two- or three-bedroom villas near all the action in Branson. This family-friendly resort is tucked into the trees and offers serene views of the Ozarks. You’ll enjoy your own cabin with a washer/dryer, kitchen and fireplace, and use of the resort’s pool and clubhouse, while Branson is just a short drive away.
17. Sandusky, Ohio
One of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., Sandusky is packed with kid-friendly activities like the Castaway Bay Waterpark, a 38,000-foot indoor attraction with an aquatic roller coaster, water slides, and pools for little ones. Even more watery fun can be found at Kalahari Waterpark and the Cedar Point amusement park, where you can shoot the rapids, take a plunge down Snake River Falls, and brave the waters of Thunder Canyon.
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At Cedar Park you’ll also find classic amusement park rides like a Ferris Wheel and other staples of the county fair, rides for older kids, and a challenge park with bumper cars and mini-golf. For outdoor adventure, take a ferry to Kelleys Island for pristine beaches and shallow swimming areas; or keep going to South Bass Island, home of beautiful Put-In Bay. Closer to town, you can feed the deer at Lagoon Deer Park or visit the Sandusky Maritime Museum, which brings the town’s rich Lake Erie history to life.
If you can’t get enough of water parks, stay at one of the top Great Wolf Lodge locations in the U.S., Great Wolf Lodge Sandusky. Designed for family fun, this resort offers an on-site indoor park with wave pools, lazy river, water slides, and spray areas.
18. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Horse-drawn carriages, car-free roads, and stately Victorian homes are just the tip of the iceberg on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, one of the most popular Midwest family vacation destinations for generations. Pronounced “Mackinaw,” the tiny and thickly forested Mackinac Island is surrounded by Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac, making it one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. for an all-ages-appropriate outdoorsy vacation filled with gentle hiking, all-day cycling opportunities, and no shortage of kayaking and canoeing.
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Better yet, you can top off any day here with some freshly made fudge from any one of a dozen fudge shops right on the island. Mackinac is also brimming with boutique shops, bookstores, and kid-friendly restaurants and ice cream shops. And did I mention Mackinac Island is home to one of the very best family resorts in the U.S., the historic and beloved Grand Hotel? The charming rooms and family programming here are legendary, as is the front porch, which holds the record as the world’s largest.
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19. Oahu and Maui, Hawaii
It’s easy to see why the Hawaiian islands top so many lists of the best family vacations in the U.S. From the bustling shores of Waikiki and the gentle waves of family-friendly Lanikai Beach to the black sands of Maui’s Wai’anapanapa State Park, these beautiful Pacific islands offer can’t-miss beach fun for your whole crew.
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If you have older kids, it’s fun to spend the day enjoying water sports like snorkeling with sea turtles in Oahu’s Hanuama Bay Nature Preserve or taking surfing lessons in Kihei, Maui. For a break from the sand, head to the Honolulu Zoo, hike to Manoa Falls, ride horses at Kualoa Ranch, or explore the rich history and culture of Oahu and its sister islands at the Bishop Museum, where the interactive displays are designed just for kids.
On Maui, where tourism is reopening after the devastating wildfire in August 2023, Haleakala National Park gives you the chance to peek inside a volcanic crater, then take a looooong bike ride all the way down from nearly the top of the volcano. If your kids love to snorkel or even if you’re just getting your feet wet, hop on a boat and head out to Molokini, a volcanic atoll where the snorkeling is world-class.
For family-friendly accommodations on Oahu, stay at the Sheraton Waikiki. The hotel’s Helumoa Playground Pool has fountains and water slides to keep the little ones busy for hours. And when you need a break as parents, the kids camp here offers outings to various destinations around town. For Maui vacations, book one of the best Hawaii all-inclusive resorts at the Royal Lahaina Resort. This beachfront destination has multiple pools, private garden cottages, and tennis courts.
20. Anaheim, California
If your family can’t get enough of that famous mouse, plan a Disney trip to Anaheim to experience the amusement park that started it all: Disneyland. Since the 1950s, this American institution has delighted families with classic attractions like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and It’s a Small World. Today, you can explore more than 500 acres of fun at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, which are packed with rides and attractions such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Haunted Mansion.
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But Anaheim isn’t known as one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. just because of Disney. The rides at nearby Knott’s Berry Farm include the world’s largest wooden roller coaster, while the Anaheim Packing District is a foodie destination with breweries for the grown-ups and treats for the kids. Take in live music at the Anaheim Garden Walk or catch an Angels baseball game or Anaheim Ducks hockey game while you’re in town.
For the perfect mix of luxury and convenience, it’s hard to beat Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, one of the most kid-friendly hotels near Disneyland. Located in the heart of the Downtown Disney District, this resort offers suites with up to three bedrooms, so there’s always plenty of room for the family to spread out. With more than 60 restaurants within walking distance and pools for guests of all ages, this hotel completes the Disney experience.
21. Glacier National Park, Montana
I didn’t think we had anything like the Swiss Alps here in North America until my first trip to Glacier. You’ll get all the hidden lakes, wildflowers, and sun-drenched alpine scenery of Switzerland at Montana’s Glacier National Park, a true wilderness playground with mountain peaks and glacier-carved valleys for miles. This photogenic park offers endless opportunities for day hiking (more than 700 square miles of trails), camping, cycling, wildlife viewing, and of course driving its famed Going-to-the-Sun Road.
You can also experience European-style hut-to-hut hiking inside Glacier National Park. There are two backcountry lodges, Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet, that offer hot meals and comfy beds at the end of a long day of backpacking. If your kids are 10 or older, try hut-to-hut hiking through Glacier National Park with licensed backcountry guides. You can also book accommodations directly with the chalets.
Stay inside Glacier National Park at the iconic Swiss chalet-style Lake McDonald Lodge, constructed in 1913 on the shores of Lake McDonald about 10 miles inside the national park. There are guestrooms inside the three-story main lodge. You can also rent cabin rooms or stay at either of the lodge’s two annexes, the hostel-style Snyder Hall or the more upscale suites of Cobb House.
22. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Not just the first national park in the world, Yellowstone might also be the most famous. Everyone’s heard of Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring, but Yellowstone’s 3,500 square miles of protected nature are also home to an abundance of wildlife (wolves, bison, black bears, grizzlies, elk, antelope, bald eagles, and trumpeter swans, among many others), giant roaring waterfalls, dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, and the largest concentration of active geysers anywhere in the world.
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Yellowstone is easily one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. for spotting animals in a protected area (and is an especially great national park to visit in winter for wildlife viewing). And because it’s not a controlled habitat like a zoo, your animal encounters could happen anywhere and spark delight at unexpected moments. Rafting, camping, fishing, and of course viewing the exploding geysers offer more fun family at Yellowstone.
A glorious example of turn-of-the-century national park lodge architecture, the log-style Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone is open from early-May to mid-October each year and has more than 300 family-friendly guest rooms that put you right at the heart of Yellowstone for your national park family vacation. Take a tour of the historic lodge to get the full story on the iconic “parkitecture” that make national park lodges unique.
23. San Diego, California
Sunny San Diego has the perfect blend of indoor attractions and outdoor fun. From the La Jolla Cove to the warm sands of Coronado Beach to the waves and people-watching at Mission Beach, you’ll find miles of gorgeous Pacific Ocean beaches on a California family vacation in this coastal oasis.
For shallow and calm waters, head to Mission Bay Park for stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking. When you’ve had enough sand and sun, Balboa Park offers 1,200 acres of urban green space, dotted with 16 museums, gardens, art centers, a mini-railroad, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
Other don’t-miss San Diego destinations include SeaWorld and the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. For shopping and dining, head to the historic Gaslamp Quarter or cross the bridge for upscale shopping and dining in Coronado Island, just a short drive from downtown. Kids who love all things train-related will enjoy the Old Town Model Train Depot, while The New Children’s Museum downtown has plenty of interactive things to do for kids of all ages.
The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa is perfectly situated between Pacific Beach and Mission Beach. Families can enjoy a private beach and lushly landscaped grounds that resemble a Polynesian paradise. Walk to the many shops and eateries in the surrounding neighborhood, including the Boardwalk and Crystal Pier. Rent bikes and water sport gear from the hotel. Choose a roomy suite and enjoy the ocean views from your private balcony.
24. Yosemite National Park, California
Sierra Nevada splendor is on full display in Yosemite National Park. With its sheer granite formations, graceful seasonal waterfalls, and ancient forests, this land has been wowing people for thousands of years. And whether you’re visiting for the first or fiftieth time, you’re sure to find new vistas and plenty of outdoor adventures for your family vacation.
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Many of the most iconic hikes can be customized for different ages and physical abilities. Not ready for the hike to the top of Yosemite Falls? Take the short, mostly paved walk to the bottom of the falls, where you can feel the mist on your face and score a great family selfie. If Vernal Falls is too big of a trek, take the trail part way for the reward of the Vernal Falls footbridge. Never going to be ready for the harrowing Half Dome hike? Enjoy views from the valley on the Mirror Lake trail.
Remember that Yosemite is more than the Yosemite Valley, too. It’s also the peaceful beauty of Hetch Hetchy; the towering Giant Sequoias of Mariposa, Tuolumne, and Merced groves; and the quiet lakes and hidden waterfalls that dot the park’s 1,200 square miles.
Want to camp under the stars, cozy up in a tent cabin, or sleep at an iconic national park lodge? Yosemite has it all, but advance planning is vital. Things book up far in advance, especially during the busy late spring, summer, and early fall vacation months.
The Yosemite Valley is home to the Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark built in 1927 in the shadow of Half Dome. Curry Village, also in the valley, offers a family-friendly mix of hotel rooms, cabins, and heated and unheated tent cabins. Other hotels, rustic lodging, and camping options pepper the park as well.
There are also lots of great hotels near Yosemite that aren’t in the park itself. In fact, some of the most family-friendly accommodations are the resorts, hotels, family glamping and camping sites, and vacation rentals in the towns that cluster near the three main entrances to Yosemite.
25. Sonoma County, California
Sonoma may be best known as a wine destination and neighbor of Napa, but what many people don’t realize is that it’s also a downright magical place for kids. Not only is the county massive (at 1,500 square miles, it’s bigger than Rhode Island), it’s also packed with enough variety to keep even multi-generational families delighted. There’s rugged Pacific coastline with its wild beaches, the picturesque Russian River, dense redwood forests, rolling countryside dotted with vineyards, and both farm towns and hip small cities.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY WINE COUNTRY: 9 Napa Valley Hotels That Welcome Kids
Some of the most kid-friendly things to do in this family vacation spot include zip-lining through the redwoods at Sonoma Zipline Adventures, flying kites or going horseback riding in Bodega Bay, going on safari (and even sleeping in a luxury tent if you want to stay overnight) at Safari West, and, for the littles, heading to TrainTown in downtown Sonoma. And even with kids, going to wineries can be fun, since many wineries have outdoor games, farm animals, food, and sometimes grape juice tastings.
Sonoma is close to the San Francisco Bay Area, so flying into either Oakland International Airport or San Francisco International puts you about an hour away by car. There’s also the smaller Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, which has service from Alaska Airlines and American Airlines.
There are hundreds of options of places to stay in Sonoma County, and dozens stand out as great places for families. Among my favorites are the remodeled 1960s motor lodge The Astro in Santa Rosa, the ocean-view Timber Cove Resort (it’s gorgeous but also a bit of a drive from most of the rest of Sonoma County), and the chic H2Hotel in Healdsburg. There’s also Safari West’s luxury campground, which is good but pricey.
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