Sometimes you don’t have to look too far from home to find the best family vacation ideas. From sea to shining sea, the U.S. is packed with amazing places to see and things to do—and many of them are ideal for family getaways. Whether you dream of a relaxing family beach vacation, an exciting outdoor adventure in the Midwest, or a theme park getaway with thrill rides for kids and adults, you’ll find some of the world’s best family vacation spots in the U.S.
- 1 The Best Family Vacation Spots in the U.S.
- 2 1. Family Vacations in Orlando, Florida
- 3 2. Anaheim, California
- 4 3. Oahu and Maui, Hawaii
- 5 4. Outer Banks, North Carolina
- 6 5. Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
- 7 6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- 8 7. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
- 9 8. Branson, Missouri
- 10 9. New York City, New York
- 11 10. Glacier National Park, Montana
- 12 11. Williamsburg, Virginia
- 13 12. Ocean City and Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland
- 14 13. Sandusky, Ohio
- 15 14. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
- 16 15. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
- 17 16. San Diego, California
- 18 17. Acadia National Park, Maine
- 19 18. Washington, D.C.
- 20 19. Yosemite National Park, California
- 21 20. Niagara Falls, New York
- 22 More from FamilyVacationist:
The Best Family Vacation Spots in the U.S.
If there’s one thing a family vacation is perfect for, it’s making memories that’ll last forever. The key to your dream trip is finding attractions and activities to keep every member of the family happy. Luckily, the best family vacation spots in the U.S. have it all. From beach towns to winter hot spots, amusement parks to art and culture, the hardest part may be choosing just one destination for your family trip.
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1. Family Vacations in Orlando, Florida
If you’re dreaming of fun in the sun—and a few thrills to boot—Orlando is one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. for people of all ages. There’s a good reason this Florida city is known as the world capital of theme parks. Disney’s Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios and the Harry Potter theme park areas at Universal are among the best in the world in many people’s minds, but don’t overlook SeaWorld Orlando, Discovery Cove, LEGOLAND Florida, and the new Peppa Pig theme park for younger kids, among many others.
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When you’ve had your fill of theme parks, there are always more things to do in Orlando. Take an air boat tour of the Florida Everglades, shop at Universal CityWalk or Disney Springs, or go wakeboarding or tubing at the Orlando Watersports Complex or Disney water parks. If you’re craving time on the sand, take a short drive to one of the many beaches near Orlando for swimming and sunbathing.
Orlando is also known for its family-friendly eateries, from dining with dinosaurs at the T-Rex Cafe to satisfying your sweet tooth at the steampunk-inspired Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. 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.
Where to Stay in Orlando
If you’re planning to make the Disney parks a major part of your vacation, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort is a perennial favorite. Your kids will adore your room’s pirate décor, complete with ship-shaped beds. They’ll also love the water cannons and 82-foot slide at a main swimming pool that’s designed to look like an ancient Spanish citadel. Shop and dine at the Old Port Royale before climbing into the Disney Skyliner, a gondola that whisks your family between the Caribbean Beach Resort, EPCOT, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
There are plenty of other Disney World hotels, Universal Studios hotels, and affordable theme park hotels in Orlando that offer magical theme park perks like early admission as well. There’s even a fully immersive Star Wars hotel that offers two-night themed vacations.
2. Anaheim, California
If your family can’t get enough of that famous mouse, plan a Disney trip in Anaheim, California, 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, families 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. Your family will also love the rides at Knott’s Berry Farm, including the world’s largest wooden rollercoaster. CtrCity Anaheim offers shopping and dining galore. The Anaheim Packing House is a foodie destination, with breweries for the grown-ups and delicious treats for the kids. Take in live music at the Anaheim Garden Walk, or watch an Angels baseball game or Anaheim Ducks hockey game while you’re in town.
Where to Stay in Anaheim
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.
3. Oahu and Maui, Hawaii
It’s easy to see why Hawaii tops 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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Families with older kids can 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, the volcanic Haleakala National Park offers the chance to peek inside a crater, then take a looooong bike ride all the way down from nearly the top of the volcano. For kids who love to snorkel, hop on a boat and head out to Molokini, a volcanic atoll where the snorkeling is world-class.
Where to Stay in Hawaii
For family-friendly accommodations on Oahu, stay at the Sheraton Waikiki. The hotel’s Helumoa Playground Pool offers fountains and water slides to keep the little ones busy for hours. And when parents need a break, the kids camp offers outings to various destinations around town.
For Maui vacations, book one of the best Hawaii all-inclusive experiences at the Royal Lahaina Resort. This beachfront destination offers multiple pools, private garden cottages, and tennis courts.
4. Outer Banks, North Carolina
When it comes to cheap family vacations, the Outer Banks in North Carolina is one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. that won’t break the bank. This chain of towns lies off the coast on a series of barrier islands that offer miles of stunning beaches. The area is well known for its rich maritime history, and the Outer Banks’ museums and historic sites bring the past to life.
Kids can learn about the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, explore shipwrecks at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, 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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And with more than 100 miles of coastline to explore, your family can spend the day taking sailing lessons or climbing to the top of the East Coast’s highest sand dune at Jockey Ridge. 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.
Where to Stay in the Outer Banks
For family-friendly lodging in the Outer Banks, look to the Sanderling Resort. While grown-ups will appreciate stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Sound—offering both sunrise and sunset viewing—kids will love the resort’s huge pool. With large rooms and on-site restaurants, Sanderling Resort offers a home base from which you can easily explore the beauty of the Outer Banks.
5. Gatlinburg and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Got a family full of nature lovers? Head to Gatlinburg, a mountain town known as the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park (three park entrances are conveniently located right downtown). Here, you’ll find all the outdoor activities your family could want, with miles of trails perfect for hiking, walking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, as well as whitewater rafting and kayaking. Keep your cameras at the ready for shots of local wildlife like elk, deer, and even the occasional black bear.
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Closer to town, you’ll find a plethora of kid-friendly activities. Take in a live performance at the Sweet Fanny Adams Theater, or marvel at the penguins, sting rays, and sharks at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Browse the galleries and studios of the Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community for local artisanal products and artwork to take home as souvenirs. For the best views in town, climb to the top of the 407-foot Gatlinburg Space Needle, or take a ride above the treetops on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway.
Where to Stay in Gatlinburg
When visiting Gatlinburg with the family, Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Water Park is a destination in its own right. Located 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. Choose one of the three-bedroom units for privacy and plenty of room for larger families.
6. 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—and for good reason. Though it’s packed with family-friendly activities like hiking and mule rides, the true grandeur of this natural wonder can only be fully appreciated in person. Talk about making memories: Your kids will never forget the moment they first peer over the edge into the awe-inspiring canyon below.
Most families head to the Grand Canyon South Rim for the clearest and most spectacular views all the way down to the Colorado River. But you can have an equally enjoyable family vacation at the more secluded and less-visited Grand Canyon North Rim. If the views aren’t quite as spectacular, the lighter crowds more than make up for it. (The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is generally open from mid-May to October, weather permitting.)
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Another fun thing to do at the Grand Canyon is whitewater rafting the Colorado River. Everything from day trips to week-long 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.
Where to Stay at Grand Canyon National Park
Plan ahead—we’re talking months to years ahead—and you can snag an overnight spot at Phantom Ranch, situated along the shores of the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and most easily accessible for hikers or mule riders from the South Rim.
There are plenty of campgrounds above the rim, too, and one of the country’s best national park lodges, the historic El Tovar Hotel, overlooks the majestic South Rim. On the other side of the national park, Grand Canyon Lodge North Rim also offers canyon-edge accommodations in a rustic family-friendly setting.
7. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
If you dream of white sand beaches lapped by calm ocean waves, book a family vacation to Myrtle Beach. With 60 miles of South Carolina coastline, this popular family vacation spot is known for its sunny weather, clean beaches, delicious food, and great golfing. (With more than 90 golf courses, as well as some of the most creative mini-golf courses in the country, there are plenty of places to hit the links.)
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It’s no wonder Myrtle Beach is one of the best family vacations in the U.S. Here, you’ll find resorts, entertainment, and eateries galore along the Grand Strand. When you’re not engaged in water sports, kids will love exploring the upside-down world of WonderWorks, complete with laser-tag, a ropes course, and a discovery lab. Blast back to the past at the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, or dine 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.
Where to Stay in Myrtle Beach
For a fun family vacation, the Dunes Village Resort has it all. 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.
8. Branson, Missouri
If your family loves music and live performances, Branson offers 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 will love 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.
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But there’s so much more to experience in Branson. Hop on the Spirit of America—a 148-foot catamaran—or 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 forest 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 (in)famous boat at the Titanic Museum.
Where to Stay in Branson
The Cabins at Green Mountain offer 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. The restaurants, music venues, shopping, and golf of Branson are all just a short drive away.
9. New York City, New York
Big city family vacations don’t come any bigger than the Big Apple. This vibrant city is one of the most amazing family vacation spots in the U.S. Of course, you’ll want to hit all the iconic landmarks—the Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Empire State Building, and the Museum of Natural History—but there are many kid-centric destinations, too. Central Park is a great place to spend the day, with its rolling lawns, walking trails, playgrounds, conservatory, castle, and the Central Park Zoo.
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Don’t miss Rockefeller Center, where you can see a popular TV show being filmed, explore the Channel Gardens, and (in the winter) glide around the famed ice skating rink. For upscale shopping, browse the luxury shops on Fifth Avenue, or take it easy and explore the quirky boutiques and eateries of Brooklyn and the East Village. For the full New York family vacation experience, take a turn around Times Square or buy tickets for a Broadway performance; if your kids are younger, consider taking in an age-appropriate show at the New York City Children’s Theater.
Where to Stay in New York City
Brooklyn’s NU Hotel offers a number of kid-friendly perks. Not only can you grab free breakfast, 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. Book the Bunk-Bed Suite, which offers a queen bed, twin bunk beds, an eat-in space, and a chalkboard. Several subway stops are within walking distance, making it easy to get around the city.
10. Glacier National Park, Montana
Can’t make it to the Swiss Alps? 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 for outdoors-loving families—and there’s no passport required. Here, it’s 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.
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Speaking of the Switzerland, you can experience European-style hut-to-hut hiking inside Glacier National Park, too. Two backcountry lodges, Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet, 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.
Where to Stay at Glacier National Park
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 elegant suites of Cobb House.
11. Williamsburg, Virginia
For a family trip that combines fun with education, Williamsburg can’t be beat. 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 the streets lined with restored buildings from the era of the American Revolution. Spend a day in these living history museums, where 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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For some creepy fun, take the Williamsburg Ghosts Tour or the Williamsburg Witches and Pirates Tour. 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.
Where to Stay in Williamsburg
After a day spent exploring the nation’s history, enjoy modern amenities at the Kingsmill Resort. Situated on a protected reserve along the banks of the James River, this resort offers 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.
12. 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.
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. Of course, 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. Just a short drive away is the Assateague Island National Seashore with its famous wild horse population.
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After a day spent enjoying the soft sand, head into town to experience local culture. Take in a show at the Performing Arts Center or browse local art at the Ocean City Center for the Arts. Learn about the region’s rich past at the Harriet Tubman Park and Visitor Center, the OC Life-Saving Station Museum, and the Delmarva Discovery House and Museum. Other family-friendly attractions at this vacation destination include Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the NASA Wallops Visitor Center.
Where to Stay in Ocean City
Aloft Ocean City offers a stylish-yet-family-friendly place to stay in Ocean City. Rent kayaks or paddle boards on the beach, or take a Light-N-Up LED Paddleboard tour. 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.
13. 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.
For even more watery fun, head over to Cedar Point, an amusement park where you can shoot the rapids, take a plunge down Snake River Falls, and brave the waters of Thunder Canyon. Also at Cedar Point, you’ll find classic amusement park rides like a Ferris Wheel and other staples of the county fair, thrilling rides for older kids, and a challenge park with bumper cars and mini-golf. Even more watery fun in Sandusky can be found at Kalahari Waterpark.
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For outdoor adventure, take a day trip to Kelleys Island. Hop on the ferry to reach its lovely 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.
Where to Stay in Sandusky
If you can’t get enough of water parks, stay at one of the best Great Wolf Lodge water park resorts 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. You’ll enjoy multiple dining options and activities like glow-in-the-dark golf. Choose a themed family suite such as the KidCabin, with log cabin walls and multiple twin beds; or the Wolf Den Suite, with an in-suite “cave” sleeping area that’s sure to please the kids.
14. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Not just the first national park in the world, Yellowstone is also among the most famous. Everyone’s heard of Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring, but Yellowstone’s 3,500 square miles of protected nature is 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.
Where to Stay at Yellowstone National Park
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 offers 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.
15. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Dells has long drawn vacationing families thanks to its blend of activities and adventure. But this destination is perhaps best known as the Waterpark Capital of the Midwest, with 20 (that’s right, 20!) indoor and outdoor 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. Marvel at the oddities at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum, or brave 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 House on the Rock.
Where to Stay in Wisconsin Dells
Stay at the Wilderness Resort and experience one of the largest water park resorts in the U.S.! This family-friendly lodge offers four indoor and four outdoor water parks, so kids can stay occupied no matter the weather. Other features include a black light mini-golf course, go carts, laser tag, and zip lining. Choose a wilderness themed room, or spread out in a villa or cabin.
16. San Diego, California
Sunny San Diego offers 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.
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.
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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 Coronado Island, just a short drive from downtown. Kids who love scenic train rides and all things train-related will love the Old Town Model Train Depot, while The New Children’s Museum downtown offers fun for kids of all ages.
Where to Stay in San Diego
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.
17. Acadia National Park, 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. Located southwest of famous Bar Harbor (“Bah Habbah”), Acadia is one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. because of its many beaches, islands, rocky shorelines, and scenic hiking and walking trails, not to mention a historic carriage road system and the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast, Cadillac Mountain.
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Best visited in spring, summer, and early fall, 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 cross snowshoeing, snowmobiling, Nordic skiing, and ice fishing off their family vacation ideas bucket list.
Where to Stay at Acadia National 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 close to 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.
18. Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., is one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. thanks in large part to the many landmarks on the National Mall. Of course, you’ll want to see the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the U.S. Capitol. Other essential attractions include the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, packed with exhibits that bring the natural world to life; and the International Spy Museum, dedicated to the history and tradecraft of espionage.
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Plan to go in spring (March is an especially nice time to visit) to see the iconic cherry trees in bloom. It’s 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.
Spend time absorbing local culture, too: Book a show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, explore the National Gallery of Art, and don’t miss the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture.
Where to Stay in Washington, D.C.
When staying in Washington, D.C., book a family room at Hotel Madera. Conveniently located near Dupont Circle, this boutique hotel is elegant enough for adults, but also offers comfy kid-friendly amenities. Book a room with bunk beds, where kids can wrap up in mini bathrobes and play a massive Connect Four game. The on-site restaurant, Firefly, features a giant tree growing through the center of the dining room for an added touch of whimsy. Kids can even “borrow” a goldfish to keep during their stay.
19. 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.
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
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 great hotels near Yosemite.
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.
20. Niagara Falls, New York
One of the most spectacular natural wonders in the world is also one of the best family vacation spots in the U.S. and Canada—and a surprisingly accessible bucket-list family vacation destination. World-famous Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls—Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls—and they’re incredible to see in person.
Start at Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest in the U.S. (established in 1885), 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 beyond Horseshoe and American Falls.
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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.
Where to Stay near Niagara 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.
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Updated: October 13, 2022