8 Best East Coast Vacation Spots for Any Time of Year

These kid-friendly East Coast vacation spots offer something for everyone in the family.
Family hiking in Shenandoah Valley (Photo: Virginia Tourism)
Photo: Virginia Tourism

Brimming with some of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., the East Coast is a great choice for family trips built around kid-friendly activities, outdoor attractions, and the natural splendor of mountains and coastline. Whether you’re coming from near or far, the best East Coast vacations offer something to love for everyone in the family.

The Top East Coast Vacations for Families

For history buffs, baseball fans, and everyone in between, here are the top East Coast vacation spots you can enjoy any time of year.

The Adirondacks, New York

Spectacular fall foliage in the Adirondack Mountains of New York (Photo: ROOST)
Spectacular fall foliage in the Adirondack Mountains of New York (Photo: ROOST)

A region of towering mountains, old-growth forest, and pristine lakes just four hours from New York City or Boston, the Adirondacks is a four-season destination for families.

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The summer months were built for fishing, swimming, biking, hiking, and paddling. In winter, snowshoeing, downhill skiing, and ice skating on frozen lakes (or on Olympic ice in Lake Placid) take center stage. Fall is a family favorite thanks to a spectacular display of crimson, amber, and orange leaves igniting the landscape. Spring brings beautiful blooms to meadows of wildflowers.

Small towns like Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Bolton Landing dot the region. There’s a yesteryear quality to these resort areas, with lakefront dining and old-fashioned mom-and-pop shops around every corner. In Tupper Lake, The Wild Center connects guests to the Adirondacks in a thoughtful way with multimedia exhibits and 31 acres of marked trails, plus a network of treetop bridges called the Wild Walk that’s a hit with kids and parents alike.

Where to Stay in the Adirondacks 

For families, it doesn’t get any better than Saranac Waterfront Lodge in scenic Lake Saranac. Situated right on the water, this kid-friendly hotel is centrally located for activities like hiking (easy to moderate trails abound), biking (rentals are available on site), and water sports including fishing, kayaking, and chartered boat rides (boats depart from the hotel’s private dock). Dine inside or al fresco at the lodge’s in-house restaurant, The Boathouse, then take a s’mores pack outside to roast marshmallows at one of the many fire pits for guests.

Boston, Massachusetts

Swan boats at the Boston Public Garden (Photo: Kyle Klein/Boston USA)
Swan boats at the Boston Public Garden (Photo: Kyle Klein/Boston USA)

With historic attractions, interactive museums, and ample green space, Boston is catnip for any family seeking East Coast vacations with an urban feel. Compact and walkable, the city is easy to explore without a car, yet close enough to all corners of the region to serve as a launching point for other New England getaways, seaside villages, and fall foliage vacations.

There are hundreds of interactive exhibits at the Museum of Science and more than 800 different sea species at the New England Aquarium. The Boston Children’s Museum is a great place for hands-on discovery and play, and it celebrates diversity with exhibits like “Boston Black,” which aims to encourage a dialogue around race and identity. A visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum is an interactive way to examine this seminal event, and the Freedom Trail is a walkable path through notable destinations in America’s fight for independence.

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For fresh-air fun, ride a swan boat at the Boston Public Garden in warmer weather or go for a spin on the ice at the Frog Pond on Boston Common in winter. 

Where to Stay in Boston 

With sweeping views of Boston Harbor and personalized service, the swanky Boston Harbor Hotel is always a hit with families. 

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Authentically costumed re-enactors make Colonial Williamsburg come to life (Photo: Virginia Tourism)
Authentically costumed re-enactors make Colonial Williamsburg come to life (Photo: Virginia Tourism)

Unplug from the 21st century for a while with an East Coast family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, the largest living history museum in the United States. Roam cobblestone streets filled with horse-drawn carriages while surrounded by well-preserved 18th century buildings that capture the spirit of the times.

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Kids love meeting the authentically costumed re-enactors as they go about daily chores, demonstrating crafts such as bookbinding, blacksmithing, wig-making, open-hearth cooking and more. Questions are encouraged. For foodie families, historic taverns serve menus inspired by Colonial-era recipes. 

Where to Stay in Colonial Williamsburg 

With a giant indoor waterpark and themed-rooms, Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg isn’t just a kid-pleaser, it’s also one of the best Great Wolf Lodge locations in the country.

The Poconos, Pennsylvania

Boats on the water at Woodloch Resort in the Poconos (Photo: Woodloch)
Boats on the water at Woodloch Resort in the Poconos (Photo: Woodloch)

Situated in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, the Poconos feels like a remote East Coast vacation spot, yet it’s only a two-hour drive from both New York City and Philadelphia. Natural beauty and a wealth of outdoor activities have made these mountains a time-tested panacea for the hectic pace of urban life. Charming villages, freshwater lakes, and mighty mountains are all found here. 

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In summer, hiking, fishing, swimming, and boating are popular pastimes. In winter, there’s downhill skiing at Camelback, Shawnee, and Jack Frost, as well as opportunities to snowshoe and ice-skate on frozen lakes. Spring brings high waters on the Delaware River for paddling a canoe or kayak. Late in the year, fall vacation ideas abound when apple picking, pumpkin patches, and vibrant foliage weave a patchwork of color. And if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there are numerous indoor water parks, such as Kalahari and Aquatopia

Where to Stay in the Poconos

One of the best all-inclusive family resorts in the U.S., homespun Woodloch has been owned and operated by the same family since 1958. With scores of kid-favorite activities on the sparkling lake, plus swimming pools, ice skating, go-carts, and bedtime-friendly evening entertainment, a stay at Woodloch is a recipe for smiles.

Cooperstown, New York

Cooperstown is one of the top East Coast vacation spots for families (Photo: Chip Henderson)
Cooperstown is one of the top East Coast vacation spots for families (Photo: Chip Henderson)

While Cooperstown is best known as the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, this all-American village on the shores of pretty Otsego Lake is so much more than just a shrine to America’s favorite pastime.

With costumed guides demonstrating venerable traditions, Cooperstown’s Farmers’ Museum offers a window into rural 19th century life. Ramble about the cottages and watch a newspaper being printed or horseshoes being made. Top it off with a ride on the museum’s Empire State Carousel (open April through October), with its 24 carved animals indigenous to New York State. The Fenimore Art Museum is another worthy stop. Built on the grounds of James Fenimore Cooper’s former estate, the approach here is please-touch and family-focused.

Where to Stay in Cooperstown

Claim a rocking chair on the verandah and soak in the lake view and small-town scenery at The Otesaga Resort, a family-friendly hotel filled with history and charm.

Washington, D.C.

Cherry blossoms in Washington, DC (Photo: @singh via Twenty20)
Cherry blossoms in Washington, DC (Photo: @singh via Twenty20)

Of all the East Coast vacation spots, our nation’s capital tops the bucket list of many families. You’ll find some of the most famous museums and monuments in the U.S. here, and many of them (like the Smithsonian museums) don’t cost a dime to visit. From watching the pandas romp at the National Zoo to listening to the rhythmic beat of drums at the Sunday Drum Circle at Meridian Hill Park (also called Malcolm X Park in honor of the famed activist), free options abound. 

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Don’t skip the sparkling Hope Diamond at the National Museum of Natural History, Dorothy’s ruby slippers at the National Museum of American History, and the life-size tipi at the National Museum of the American Indian. The absorbing collection at the National Museum of African American History and Culture is another must-see.

When the hunger pangs set in, iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl offers hot dogs slathered in savory homemade chili sauce. Grab extra napkins and enjoy.

Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.

Swimming in history, the Willard InterContinental Washington is the spot where Abraham Lincoln took up residence for 10 days prior to his inauguration, and Martin Luther King Jr. edited his “I Have a Dream” speech in the lobby. The Children’s Library highlights various individuals and events that shaped the nation’s history and played a role in the hotel’s past. 

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

Shenandoah Caverns is the only Virginia cavern with an elevator (Photo: Virginia Tourism)
Shenandoah Caverns is the only Virginia cavern with an elevator (Photo: Virginia Tourism)

The scenic Shenandoah Valley has many family attractions. It’s home to Shenandoah National Park, a natural wonderland with miles of hiking trails, wildlife, and stunning views along the 105-mile, two-lane Skyline Drive that’s widely considered one of the best family road trip ideas in the entire country.

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For some serious subterranean fun, head down into one of the valley’s numerous caverns filled with otherworldly stalagmites. Shenandoah Caverns is the only Virginia cavern with an elevator, allowing for an easy descent for families with travel strollers in tow. And dino-lovers will enjoy a stop at Dinosaur Land, a roadside attraction in White Post with 50 giant fiberglass dinosaur statues that the kids are encouraged to climb on. 

Where to Stay in the Shenandoah Valley 

Situated on more 6,000 acres in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Massanutten Resort is a huge property featuring an indoor-outdoor waterpark, golf, skiing, dining, and much more. 

Clearwater Beach, Florida

The old-fashioned pier and palm-lined promenade make Clearwater Beach one of the best East Coast vacations in the U.S. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The old-fashioned pier and palm-lined promenade make Clearwater Beach one of the best East Coast vacations in the U.S. (Photo: Shutterstock)

At Clearwater Beach, the sand is as soft as a cloud and the Gulf waters as deep a shade of blue as you’ll find on any East Coast vacation. The old-fashioned pier and palm-lined Beach Walk Promenade beg for a breezy stroll too.

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After some quality beach time, shake off the sand and explore the community’s other attractions. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a working marine hospital that rehabilitates rescued animals from sickness or injury with the goal of releasing them back into their natural habitat as soon as they’re ready. Animals who cannot be released remain for visitors to see and enjoy. The aquarium’s most illustrious resident is Winter, the dolphin without a tail who stars in the popular Dolphin Tale movie. Many have been inspired by Winter’s story and come from around the globe to meet their aquatic hero. 

Active families should head to the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, a multi-use paved urban trail linking parks, coastal landscapes, and residential areas. The 37-mile trail spans St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs and cuts right through Clearwater. It attracts bikers, skateboarders, joggers, and walkers of all ages. 

Where to Stay in Clearwater Beach 

Enjoying a picture-perfect spot on the beach, Sandpearl Resort‘s rooms and suites put their location to good effect with sweeping views of the Gulf, Bay, and coast. Décor is attuned to the natural elements, so expect soothing earth tones. The gorgeous lagoon-style swimming pool is just right for a family plunge. 

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Allison Tibaldi
Allison Tibaldi is a travel and food writer based in New York City. She has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Australia, Toronto and Los Angeles. She writes for numerous publications including CNN, Business Insider, Travel Channel, HGTV, am New York, Emirates Open Skies Magazine, USA TODAY 10 Best, USA Today Go Escape, Shermans Travel, Family Traveller, Travel Squire and Travel Weekly. She is also a contributing editor at Family Travel Forum. She focuses on family, culinary and eco-friendly travel. A former early childhood educator, she studied child development in graduate school and believes that travel is the best education.

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