June 15, 2024

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22 Best Family Vacation Spots in the U.S.

8 min read

What people look for when traveling with kids is entirely different than for a girls trip, romantic getaway, or solo vacation. Sure, virtually any destination can be reasonably family-friendly — it just might require some extra planning and preparation, which comes with the territory anyway. On the flip side, some places are filled with kid-centric activities like parks, playgrounds, zoos, interactive museums, aquariums, riverfront walking paths, and hotels that cater to guests of all ages. 

Luckily, you don’t have to travel far to find one of these family-friendly vacation spots. Here are 22 of the best across the U.S., from big cities to small towns and national parks perfect for a camping or glamping getaway.

New York City

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New York City offers nonstop fun for families with museums, Broadway shows, and every type of restaurant imaginable. Stores like FAO Schwarz and Dylan’s Candy Bar dazzle younger shoppers with sweets and toys. Both Central Park and the Hudson River Greenway are great spots to let little ones burn off some energy. Plus, Arlo SoHo and Freehand hotels have bunk rooms, which will surely earn you brownie points with kiddos. 

Jackson, Wyoming 

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When kids get a little older, you might be inclined to seek out vacation spots with plenty of room to roam. With access to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks as well as three ski resorts (Jackson Hole, Snow King, and Grand Targhee), there are endless things to do in Jackson. And the Western-themed shops in the town square are great for stocking up on souvenirs, too.

San Diego

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The sun-splashed city of San Diego feels like a dream, with beautiful beaches and legendary waves. What adventurous kid wouldn’t want to take a surf lesson? Travelers who prefer to stay on dry land will find plenty to enjoy in the form of shopping, dining, and the San Diego Zoo. The high-end and expansive Fairmont Grand Del Mar and Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton are top picks for family-friendly lodgings. 

Philadelphia 

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Many major cities have kid-friendly attractions, but Philadelphia takes it to the next level. Tykes will love Sesame Place and the Legoland Discovery Center. The interactive exhibits at The Franklin Institute and the Please Touch Museum should keep the children busy, and then there’s plenty of animals to admire and learn about at the Philadelphia Zoo and Adventure Aquarium. Apartment hotels like Roost Rittenhouse mean you won’t have to cram everyone into one tiny room. 

Orlando, Florida 

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It wouldn’t be a list of best family vacation destinations in the U.S. without mention of “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Besides big-name theme parks — among them, Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida — Orlando also has some awesome hotels like the Four Seasons Resort Orlando and JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, both of which boast spacious rooms and lazy rivers. 

Park City, Utah

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Park City is family-friendly no matter the season. The warmer months are prime for hiking, mountain biking, and riding the town lift. Kids will delight in the crafts, face painting, and food at the weekly Park Silly Sunday Market. Come winter, it’s all about skiing and snowboarding. A dusting of snow makes Main Street look like a postcard, a scene that will enchant visitors of all ages.

Cape May, New Jersey 

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A Jersey Shore town with sandy beaches, year-round excitement, and wholesome fun, Cape May remains a longtime family favorite. It’s home to pretty Victorian houses, a historic lighthouse, and Congress Hall — a dream of a hotel for both kids and parents. There’s also a pedestrian shopping area called the Washington Street Mall with many shops and restaurants. 

Chicago

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Some of the best family-friendly attractions in the Windy City include the playgrounds and climbing wall at Maggie Daley Park, the 35-acre Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Centennial Wheel. If it gets too chilly to spend another moment outside, head indoors to the Chicago Children’s Museum or hit the Shedd Aquarium. 

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin 

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One of the best lake destinations in the Badger State, Wisconsin Dells is abundant in the family fun department. During the summer, Noah’s Ark Waterpark is the place to go for rides and games. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf has five courses and 91 holes to practice putting on, plus a playground and picnic area. After swimming and golfing, you can set kiddos loose in nature for some free-range (but still supervised) exploration at Mirror Lake State Park. 

Sedona, Arizona 

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The breathtaking beauty of Sedona is enough to elicit a smile from even the surliest of teens. Plus, it’s super Instagrammable. Hiking through the red rocks promises to be a bonding experience. If you need a little inspiration, Fay Canyon and the Sugarloaf Loop are considered to be relatively easy trails. Another exhilarating way to soak in the scenery that doesn’t necessitate hoofing it? Pink jeep tours. 

Washington, D.C.

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A trip to the nation’s capital presents an opportunity to see democracy in action and visit landmarks that bring history to life for kids (and parents). After clocking countless steps between the myriad monuments, museums, parks, and botanic gardens, hang your hat at the Fairmont Washington, D.C., Georgetown, a family-friendly hotel with connecting rooms, an indoor swimming pool, and a canine ambassador named Georgie. 

Maui

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Maui is the place to dive into a good book while your kids build sandcastles and frolick in the waves together. The island exudes tropical charm with its golden sand, clear water, and swaying palms. The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea caters to guests of all ages, thanks to multiple pools, kids’ programming, and babysitting services. 

Mystic, Connecticut 

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This 19th-century whaling village brims with coastal New England charm, and it’s a great place to explore with the kiddos. Don’t miss the Mystic Seaport Museum, which is one of the most well-known maritime museums in the U.S., and go see beluga whales at the Mystic Aquarium. Afterward, grab a pie at Mystic Pizza. Even if the little ones are too young to remember the 1988 film based on it, the pizza will still taste delicious. 

Branson, Missouri 

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Many people call Branson the epicenter of family fun in Missouri. It’s also officially the Live Entertainment Capital of the World, with dozens of shows. Nab tickets to Dolly Parton’s Stampede or the “Thank You for the Music” Abba tribute. With luck, you’ll have time to squeeze in some local performers, too. There’s hardly a chance for kids (or parents) to be bored for even a minute in this small-but-mighty Midwestern town.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

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With proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, endless outdoor recreation, and scenic attractions, Gatlinburg ranks as a top destination for a family getaway. Trying to get the kids off their iPads and interested in the natural world? Bring them to the 407-foot panoramic observation deck, aka Gatlinburg’s Space Needle, or for a ride on the aerial cable car that goes from the slopeside amusement park Ober Mountain to downtown. 

Bar Harbor, Maine 

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The gateway to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor attracts outdoorsy families keen on trading screen time for fresh air, hiking trails, and mountain-ringed beaches. Keep the kids distracted by booking a whale-watching cruise or renting kayaks, and buy a few more hours of good behavior at the many shops and eateries in the village. Follow the Shore Path for an easy, accessible, and scenic walk.

Niagara Falls, New York 

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Best known for the majestic natural wonder and sheer power of Niagara Falls, the New York town on its rim offers families thrilling, water-logged voyages on the Maid of the Mist, stellar views from the Prospect Point Observation Tower, guided tours of Cave of the Winds, and hiking into the Niagara Gorge. Bonus: you don’t need to pack a passport. 

Truckee, California

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Nestled in the foothills of the High Sierra Nevadas, Truckee is the perfect home base for a family vacation in the Lake Tahoe area. Travelers can soak in all the Old West charm of the shops, restaurants, and festive events downtown while still staying within a short drive of hiking and boating. When the temperature drops and the snow falls, it’s time to hit the slopes at Northstar California Resort. 

Yellowstone National Park  

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Visiting Yellowstone National Park as a family? Kids can become junior rangers and even receive a badge of honor to make it official. Activity booklets (available for purchase at one of the visitor centers) outline the requirements, which include participating in a ranger-led program and going on a hike. It’s a great way to get the youngest parkgoers excited — as if seeing Old Faithful blow isn’t compelling enough. 

Williamsburg, Virginia 

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Most of the notable attractions in Williamsburg — basically one giant outdoor living museum — are family-friendly. You could probably get the kids to approve of the trip by just showing them photos of horse-drawn carriages or the 55,000-square-foot indoor water park at Great Wolf Lodge. If they still need convincing, sweeten the deal by promising a scoop from Bubba’s Ice Cream Shack.

Outer Banks, North Carolina 

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Planning an epic family escape to the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina is pretty foolproof. That’s because the area overflows with kid-friendly offerings, from water parks and pirate-themed mini golf to surfing, parasailing, and sprawling cabin rentals that don’t demand anyone to share a room. If you have a kid who’s interested in planes or aviation, then visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, where Wilbur and Orville completed the world’s first controlled flight. In case you need another reason, the Outer Banks are among the most affordable vacation destinations in the U.S.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina 

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Hilton Head Island has all the makings of an unforgettable family vacation with Atlantic Ocean beaches, wildlife viewing, and Lowcountry cuisine. Consider signing the kids up for a supervised recreation program or sports camp (if that’s something they’re into, of course) and go hit the links. Then, reunite for a pirate cruise, zodiac ride, visit to one of the interactive children’s museums, or dolphin watching.

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