Welcome to your ultimate guide to the best family vacations in the US! Our Rental Trader team has put months of hard work into developing this comprehensive travel resource featuring more than 700 amazing destinations for you to discover.
We encourage you to bookmark this page and refer back often for family vacation inspiration. From black-sand beaches to breathtaking natural wonders, charming villages, and thrilling theme parks, there’s something for everyone in this guide. Whether you’re planning a month-long road trip across the country or a simple weekend getaway, the travel experiences you’re looking for are right here at your fingertips.
Since this is such an extensive guide, we’ve broken it down into five regions of the USA: the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, and West (including Hawaii). We’d love for you to read the entire article, but you can jump straight to each region using the convenient index links below.
When it comes to finding the best family vacations in the US, you’re sure to be impressed by what the US has to offer! With its diverse array of cultures to experience and various beaches, canyons, historical monuments, museums, and epic attractions to explore, there’s no shortage of memorable stops awaiting you and your family.
Everyone has a different vision for their perfect vacation. Some travelers thrive on adventure and discovery, while others prefer peaceful beaches where they can spend hours with a good book. No matter what your family is looking for, you’ll find the travel inspiration you’re seeking here. What are you waiting for? It’s time to start planning unforgettable top family vacation spots!
Best Northeastern US Family Vacation Spots
The Northeast region of the United States makes for some of the best family vacations in the US. It’s easy to get to, regardless of whether you prefer to arrive by car, train, or plane. It also has tons of historical and cultural attractions–the Statue of Liberty and Plymouth Rock are just a couple of examples. Plus, there’s delicious food (Philly cheesesteak, anyone?) and beautiful sights all around, including multiple mountain ranges and Niagara Falls.
New York: Niagara Falls, New York City, and More!
As one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world, it’s no wonder that New York has plenty of family-friendly attractions. Visit a wide range of fish and animals at the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium, or hit the tourist hotspots like the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building, and Times Square. Bask in nature at Central Park or make the trip educational by stopping by the many museums available throughout the state. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Read on to discover a variety of the top family vacation spots in New York.
NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
Niagara Falls has much to offer for an action-packed family vacation and is among the world’s most impressive and well-known falls. It’s located in the extreme northwest region of New York State, along the US-Canada border, with three falls in total. The Bridal Veil Falls and American Falls are in the United States, and Horseshoe Falls, the widest of the three, is a quick trip across the bridge into Canada.
POINTS OF INTEREST IN AND AROUND NIAGARA FALLS
#1: Niagara Falls State Park – 332 Prospect Street, Niagara Falls, NY
New York’s oldest state park is home to magnificent waterfalls and five islands on the Niagara River. The park covers over 400 acres and includes nature and bike trails, picnic facilities, and a vintage-style trolley that escorts visitors to the park’s main attractions.
The visitor center offers several restaurants, shops, historical exhibits, and the Adventure Theater, where visitors can enjoy a 40-minute 4D presentation with film and sensory effects.
There are many sightseeing tours available, such as the well-known boat tour Maid of the Mist (#2), one of the park’s most popular attractions. Another must-see is the nightly Illumination presentation (#3), which is a stunning multi-colored illumination of all three falls.
Niagara Falls State Park’s spectacular fireworks show (#4) is also presented nightly from mid-May through mid-October. In addition, the park features an aquarium (#5) dedicated to education, conservation, and marine mammal rescue. Their Sea Lion Show, Shark and Ray Bay Touch Pool, and Penguin Encounter are sure to captivate people of all ages.
You can even jump into one of the park’s many interactive animal programs, such as Trainer for a Day, which allows participants to spend the day with a trainer learning and enjoying behind-the-scenes access to animals.
If you’re looking for the best spot to view the falls, head over to the Cave of the Winds Pavilion (#6) on Goat Island Road for an unforgettable up-close-and-personal experience of the falls! The experience begins with an elevator heading 175 feet deep into the Niagara Gorge, where you will deck yourself out with the provided yellow poncho and special footwear and follow your guide over several wooden walkways to the appropriately named Hurricane Deck. Truly a thrilling experience!
If you and your family are looking for something a bit more easygoing, the park also boasts many beautiful hiking trails (#7) for your whole family to enjoy.
#8: Niagara Amusement Park and Splash World – 2400 Grand Island Boulevard, Grand Island, NY
Family-owned and operated, this 85-acre amusement park features a wide variety of rides, water slides, coasters, and entertainment.
#9: Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours – 115 S Water Street, Lewiston, NY
To satisfy the thrill-seekers in your group, head out for this exciting tour! You will have the choice to either stay dry in the enclosed jet boat or get soaked by the famous wet-jet ride!
INSIDER TIP:If heading out to this grand location, be sure to pack suitable clothing for all falls-oriented adventures. The environment around Niagara Falls is very misty, and the humidity can feel much cooler than the air just one street away. Even on a warm, sunny day, you will find it to be much colder near the falls. So be sure to bring clothing that layers well! Waterproof shoes are a must, and in the summer months, moisture-wicking clothing layers are a great idea!
WHERE TO EAT
Best Casual Roadside Food Stands
#10: Sullivan’s Hot Dogs – 501 Cayuga Drive, Niagara Falls, NY
Sullivan’s boasts many choices, not just dogs!
#11: Misty Dog Grill – 18 Niagara Street, Niagara Falls, NY
Misty Dog Grill serves burgers, dogs, and chicken.
#12: Brownie’s Custard Stand – 186 Harbor Street, Wilson, NY
Here, you’ll find a wide variety of savory and sweet options at a great price!
#13: The Silo – 115 N Water Street, Lewiston, NY
The Silo was featured on the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food.
Best Family-Friendly Restaurants
#14: Michael’s Italian Restaurant – 3011 Pine Avenue, Niagara Falls, NY
Michael’s is a local favorite for authentic Italian fare.
#15: Power City Eatery – 444 3rd Street, Niagara Falls, NY
Power City Eatery serves up delicious breakfast and lunch fare seven days a week.
#16: Rainforest Café – 300 3rd Street, Niagara Falls, NY
This is the perfect stop for a fun atmosphere, great food, and a wide selection.
NEW YORK CITY: The Statue of Liberty, the Met, and More!
New York City hosts more than 50 million visitors each year, and it’s easy to see why! Aside from the classic tourist attractions, we recommend leaving Manhattan to explore some of the surrounding boroughs. They’re rich in culture and contain plenty of hidden gems. Brooklyn has a variety of hip shops and great places to eat, while Queens contains lovely, quaint neighborhoods and plenty of photo ops. The Bronx features delicious ethnic food to expand your palate, as well as fascinating street scenes.
#17: The Metropolitan Museum of Art – 1000 5th Avenue, New York, NY
“The Met” is the largest museum in the US and the fifth-largest in the world!
#18: The Met Cloisters – 99 Margaret Corbin Drive, Fort Tryon Park, New York, NY
Journey to the Middle Ages to enjoy a thoughtfully curated gallery and enchanting grounds encased within exquisite authentic Medieval architecture. Here is a glimpse of what you will find when visiting the Cloisters.
NOTE: Admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art will also provide free same-day entry to the Met Cloisters.
#19: The Museum of Modern Art – 11 W 53rd Street, New York, NY
Also known as MoMA, here you’ll find out-of-the-box works of art to inspire and discuss.
#20: The American Museum of Natural History – 200 Central Park West, New York, NY
While this acclaimed museum captures the hearts of all who visit, it is also a fantastic resource to stimulate and develop a child’s imagination. Guests are welcomed in by two massive dinosaur skeletons that were the inspiration for the famous Night At The Museum movie trilogy. Be sure to save time to catch the planetarium and butterfly exhibit!
#21: The Whitney Museum of American Art – 99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY
The Whitney Museum is a much-beloved NYC institution for modern and contemporary American art.
#22: The Museum of Ice Cream – 558 Broadway, New York, NY (Across the street from the Whitney Museum)
This is an over-the-top self-guided sensory experience where you’ll be tempted to Instagram every moment. There are themed rooms beyond the bounds of imagination, such as the helium room filled with balloons made out of sugar (yes, you can suck in the helium to speak chipmunk!) and the Sprinkle Room, with a pool filled with sprinkles made out of antimicrobial biodegradable material. Don’t miss the ice cream tastings throughout, as well as the beautiful art installations. Willy Wonka would definitely approve!
#23: Color Factory – 251 Spring Street, New York, NY
With 20,000 square feet of color, discovery, and play, and many participatory installations to experience, this is one for the memory books!
INSIDER TIP: If you’re looking for artistic pictures to share on your social media feeds, we suggest you dress in a monochromatic color scheme to make sure you stand out.
#24: The Broadway Theater District – Midtown Manhattan, New York, NY
The acclaimed Broadway theater experience is a must if you’re in town long enough to add it to your itinerary. With a plethora of shows to choose from, including off-Broadway productions, be sure to purchase tickets far in advance, or hope for the best by checking out the following same-day ticket options.
- TKTS: Line up at the big red steps in Duffy Square on Broadway at 47th Street for discount and same-day tickets. You can find a list of available shows here.
INSIDER TIP: Many begin lining up in the wee hours of the morning to ensure success.
- Today Tix: This site provides information on current shows and access to download the app, with a path to many Day-of Deals.
- NYTIX: A great resource for discount tickets.
- Playbill: Rush, cancellation, standing room, and student discount options
Often, shows offer special same-day rush, cancellation, and standing-room-only tickets, which can be the only way to get tickets at a highly discounted price for shows that are theoretically sold out.
NOTE: In addition to the links above, you can also go to a theater’s ticket office when it opens on the same day as the performance you wish to attend to obtain these options.
#25: American Ballet Theatre (ABT) – 890 Broadway, New York, NY
ABT, one of the most world-renowned dance companies of our time, presents captivating performances featuring a world-class live orchestra and breathtaking sets.
#26: New York Philharmonic – David Geffen Hall, 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY
The New York Philharmonic is regarded as one of the most significant symphonic ensembles in the United States and features world-acclaimed artists.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES WITH NOTEWORTHY VIEWS OF MANHATTAN
#27: The Empire State Building – 20 W 34th Street, New York, NY
This iconic 102-story art deco skyscraper and observation deck features 360-degree views. It’s a great destination for those who love history, architecture, and old Hollywood glamor.
#28: Edge Observation Deck – 30 Hudson Yards, New York, NY
Visit the highest sky deck in the Western Hemisphere, where you’ll be suspended in mid-air with glass walls and floors. This one is for the brave at heart! Also offered is the City Climb, where climbers can scale the outside of a skyscraper more than 1200 feet above the ground!
#29: Summit One Vanderbilt – 45 E 42nd Street, New York, NY
Travel 93 floors above New York’s concrete jungle and step into an immersive, multi-sensory art experience with stunning 360-degree views of the city. Enjoy an all-glass elevator and four unique art zones.
#30: One World Observatory – 117 West Street, New York, NY
One World Observatory features the World Trade Center Memorial, Horizon Multi-Media Grid, and 360-degree views. You’ll start at ground zero before riding the SkyPod elevator up 102 floors while viewing a historical video presentation.
#31: Top of the Rock Observation Deck – 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY
The site of the iconic Lewis Hine photo of ironworkers eating their lunch on a steel beam offers three observation decks to choose from, with an entry museum to start you off. You’ll be able to see beautiful views of Central Park and the Empire State Building here.
SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP!
There’s no shortage of places to shop in New York City. Some of the top areas for shopping include the Upper East Side, the Brooklyn Flea, SoHo, and Fifth Avenue. Be sure to prepare yourself for crowds and high prices, although it’s possible to find good deals at sample sales and discount stores. Many stores are open seven days a week, but if you prefer smaller shops, it’s smart to call ahead to double-check the hours of operation.
INSIDER TIP:While most people opt for credit cards rather than carrying cash, many small discount establishments in the New York area only operate with cash, so be sure to have plenty on hand.
#32: Bloomingdale’s – 1000 Third Avenue, 59th Street, and Lexington Ave, New York, NY
You can find just about everything at Bloomingdale’s!
#33: Macy’s – 151 W 34th Street, New York, NY
Similar to Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s is a huge department store that offers plenty of options.
INSIDER TIP: Specific Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s locations provide a 10% discount to all out-of-state visitors! Click on the links above for further information and access to each store’s Visitor’s Center.
#34: AuH20 – 84 E 7th Street, New York, NY
This is one of New York’s best vintage stores with excellent deals.
#35: Camp – 110 5th Avenue (at 16th St), New York, NY, with three additional locations
The brainchild of Disney, this immersive family-focused retail experience combines play, media, and merchandise to create a one-of-a-kind shopping extravaganza! You can experience crafts, story hour, theater performances, and more. Each location has a “Magic Door” built into one of the walls that transports the kids into an amazing interactive experience. This is a must if you are traveling with younger children!
#36: Kidding Around – 60 W 15th Street, New York, NY
Kidding Around is a toy boutique loaded with unique games, puzzles, and all things fun and educational.
#37: FAO Schwarz – 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY
FAO Schwarz is a celebrated interactive toy store with unique gifts for every age. The store provides various activities, including a classic Build-a-Bear workshop, a magician, a build-your-own car section, and an area dedicated to creating your own Sesame Street character. In addition, this flagship location offers a “Toy Soldier Tour,” which begins at 8:45 AM. The tour is led by a toy soldier who escorts ticket holders through a land of wonder and history, as well as offering the opportunity to raid the Candy Bar! Each tour participant will walk away with a plush souvenir and have the opportunity to take advantage of a personal shopper.
FREE THINGS TO DO!
#38: Grand Central Terminal – 89 E 42nd Street, New York, NY
Hailed as one of America’s greatest architectural achievements, this stunning building houses over 60 shops and many notable eateries, in addition to being a significant transportation hub. The Vanderbilt Tennis Club (#39) is on the fourth floor and open to the public for an hourly rental fee.
#40: Yoga in Prospect Park – Brooklyn, NY
This is a fun, active summer escape for families amid the hustle and bustle of the city. Yoga classes run from June through August. RSVP using the link above, and be sure to bring a mat or towel.
#41: Movie Nights in Bryant Park – Located between 40th and 42nd Streets, and Fifth and Sixth Avenues, New York, NY
Every summer, Bryant Park presents a new lineup of free movies for the whole family to enjoy. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own seating and snacks!
NOTE: There are often street vendors selling bites to eat in the general area as well.
#42: Central Park – From North 110th Street to Central Park South (59th Street), and from Central Park West (8th Avenue) to 5th Avenue, New York, NY
One of the most famous (and truly breathtaking) parks in the world, Central Park has many wonderful sites to discover within its 843 acres. You’ll find fountains, bridges, boat ponds, a vintage carousel, Strawberry Fields (#43, a John Lennon memorial), and Belvedere Castle (#44). There are also buskers playing and singing their hearts out, as well as jogging, biking, and roller-skating paths for plenty of family fun.
Central Park is host to many events throughout the year, including Shakespeare in the Park. Although this is a free event, you must have tickets to attend this fantastic experience, which can be hard to come by.
INSIDER TIP: We encourage you to use the provided link to obtain specific details and locations for Shakespeare in the Park tickets. If you’re interested in enjoying a romantic picnic for two, you can even order through the website to have a beautiful spread waiting for you.
While strolling through the park to people-watch and explore the many photo ops available, be sure to take advantage of the numerous tucked-away gems to be discovered.
Conservatory Water (#45) is a much-loved Central Park destination where children and hobbyists launch and race miniature sailboats and yachts. It is fun to observe, but if you wish to participate, you can rent your own model boat at Kerbs Boathouse.
Central Park also offers annual free summer concerts (#46), a free Met Opera Sunday Recital Series (#47), and the Good Morning America Summer Concert Series (#48) held Friday mornings from 7 AM to 9 AM.
A notable paid activity in Central Park is the Central Park Zoo and Wildlife Center (#49) at the East 64th Street entrance point, where visitors can experience wildlife in the heart of Manhattan. While on the smaller side, it still packs a punch with indoor and outdoor exhibits, a children’s petting zoo, and unique views of the park.
#50: Free Tours by Foot – Various locations
There are many free walking tours of New York’s iconic sights hosted by Free Tours by Foot. This company also offers online versions of their tours to whet your appetite for an in-person experience.
#51: Times Square – Located at the junction of Broadway, Seventh Avenue, and 42nd Street, New York, NY
With over 50 million visitors each year, Times Square is one of the world’s most-visited tourist attractions. Featured in numerous films, this iconic spot is chock-full of Broadway theaters, restaurants, shops, art installations, street performances, and flashing billboard displays. If people-watching is your thing, this is the place to be.
#52: The High Line – Begins at Gansevoort Street in the South or 34th Street in the North, New York, NY
This is a 1.46-mile-long elevated public park, greenway, and rail trail on the west side of Manhattan. It’s uniquely situated with sundecks, water features, botanical wonders, impromptu concerts, artists at work, people-watching from various overlooks, and beautiful gardens along the path.
#53: Staten Island Ferry – See the website for location options
The Staten Island Ferry is a free passenger ferry run by the New York City Department of Transportation. The ferry’s single 25-minute route runs 5.2 miles through New York Harbor between the boroughs of Manhattan and Staten Island, providing amazing views of the skyline and Statue of Liberty (#54).
INSIDER TIP: The best Statue of Liberty views are available when traveling to Staten Island, as the ferry is in the closest proximity to the statue on that route. Be sure to position yourself on the right side of the ferry for optimal viewing success! Most tourists board the ferry at the southern tip of Manhattan at Whitehall Terminal near Battery Park. Check the website (link above) for the current schedule.
#55: Rockaway Beach – Beach 3 Street to Beach 153 Street and Boardwalk to the Atlantic Ocean, Queens, NY
If you’re looking to hang out at the beach during your stay, head over to Rockaway for a truly local experience. Here you will find an expansive sandy beach and boardwalk where you can relax, swim, enjoy various water sports, and satisfy your cravings with a large selection of food vendors.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!
New York is among the greatest food cities in the world, and while it’s hard to go wrong in this magnificent food mecca, we have curated the following suggestions for you to consider. There’s street food, fine dining, New York-style pizza, ethnic cuisine, and everything in between! Remember, when visiting a city of this size and popularity, it’s always best to make a reservation whenever possible.
#56: The Chelsea Market – 75 9th Avenue, New York, NY
One of the largest and best indoor markets and eateries in the world, Chelsea Market is a foodie’s paradise! You can find nearly any food or obscure ingredient in this multi-level complex. There are also gift shops, fresh flowers, wine tastings, artisanal offerings, and over 50 first-class restaurants and food stalls representing cuisine from around the world. You might even spot a culinary celebrity or two, as The Food Network studios are on the upper level of the Chelsea Market.
INSIDER TIP: Attracting over six million visitors each year, the Chelsea Market can get quite congested. If you’d prefer to avoid the crowds, we suggest you go in the early morning or late afternoon. The Market is open from 8 AM to 9 PM.
#57: Urban Hawker – 135 W 50th Street, New York, NY
Urban Hawker is an authentic Asian food hall where you will be transported to the Southeast Asian food stalls of Singapore.
#58: Peasant – 194 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY
Settle in for a truly exquisite and memorable meal where diners will experience an authentic Italian meal cooked with an open fire and wood oven. This noteworthy experience is brought to you by well-known chef and owner Marc Forgione!
#59: The Loeb Boathouse – E 72nd Street and Park Drive North, New York, NY
This lakeside location does not disappoint! Rebuilt in the 1950s and featured in many notable movies, this tucked-away oasis is set on the east bank of Central Park’s picturesque lake. Your family will love sitting on the terrace, where you’ll be nestled among the fairytale-like greenery and quiet lake with ducks, paddle boats, and gondolas floating by. There’s even a dog-friendly patio area.
Note: The Loeb Boathouse is on the pricey side, so if you’re on a budget, perhaps appetizers or dessert and coffee will do. Enter via 72nd and Fifth Drive toward Park Drive North, make a right, and walk a quarter of a mile up the road. Alternatively, make your entrance by way of New York’s classic horse and buggy.
Visit Little Italy (#60) for a slice of pie at Lombardi’s (#61), a scoop of gelato at Figo Il Gelato Italiano (#62), and a cannoli at Ferrara Bakery (#63)!
The New York City Deli Experience
#64: Katz’s Delicatessen – 205 E Houston St, New York, NY
Featured in the movie When Harry Met Sally, this New York institution serves up some of the best corned beef and pastrami in the country. If you ask a New Yorker what their favorite deli is, they will probably say Katz’s!
#65: 2nd Ave Deli – Midtown and Uptown locations
2nd Ave Deli offers up kosher Jewish fare just like grandma used to make, and it was featured in one of Jerry Seinfeld’s episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza!
FUN FACT: The mineral composition of the water used for New York-style pizza crust is what gives it its distinctive (and delicious) flavor.
#66: Zero Otto Nove – 2357 Arthur Avenue, The Bronx, NY
Enjoy fantastic wood-fired pizza at Zero Otto Nove.
#67: Mama’s Too – 2750 Broadway, New York, NY
This is an excellent place to stop for next-level pizza.
#68: Artichoke Basille’s Pizza – 321 E 14th Street, New York, NY
This is the flagship location and the best of their pizza experiences.
#69: Patsy’s Pizzeria – 2287 1st Avenue, New York, NY
Here you’ll find the original location of Patsy’s Pizzeria, which is home to brick coal-fired oven delights.
#70: L’industrie Pizzeria – 254 S 2nd Street, Brooklyn, NY
This lovely restaurant is yet another option for delicious pizza.
Can’t get enough of New York? Discover even more of this state’s top family vacation spots in our article on New York Road Trip Destinations.
Massachusetts: Boston, Cambridge, and Cape Cod Vacation Spots
As one of the six New England states, Massachusetts is well-known for its rich history, but it has even more to offer. There’s Harvard University, the first higher education institution in the US, which was founded all the way back in 1636. There’s also the Boston Children’s Museum, the New England Aquarium, and plenty of destinations within the beautiful coastal town of Cape Cod.
When traveling to Massachusetts, you’ll be happy to know it’s easy to get around! There’s a great network of roads that makes for easy road-tripping (discover more MA road trip destinations here), plus plenty of public transportation options, including ferries, trains, and buses. No matter your budget, you’ll be able to find accommodations that fit–there’s a variety of choices available, from inexpensive motels to luxury lodging locations.
Something to keep in mind when traveling to Massachusetts is that the weather can vary widely, so come prepared for changing temps and conditions!
Looking to save money on your trip to Massachusetts? We’ve got you covered! Take a look at this article for plenty of ideas: Best Free & Cheap Things to Do in Massachusetts.
Boston is affectionately called “Beantown” because Native Americans taught the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony how to bake beans from seeds and sweeten the pot with maple syrup. This dish became a staple in every home. Another nickname for Boston is “The Cradle of History,” thanks to its integral role in the American Revolution.
Aside from its amazing history, Boston is also famous for its sports teams (and fans), its legendary universities, and its cuisine. Don’t skip the clam chowder!
HISTORICAL AND EDUCATIONAL SITES
#71: The Freedom Trail – 139 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
While you can walk this 2.5-mile path on your own, we think it’s more fun to be led by the tour guides in authentic historical garb! You’ll pass 16 significant historical locations and wind through downtown Boston to the North End of the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. The Freedom Trail Tour website (linked above) offers a handy map to help you plan your excursion, along with tour descriptions and ticket information. The following sites are often included in tours.
#72: Boston National Historical Park – Building 5, Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, MA
Among the various sites to experience at the Boston Historical Park is Bunker Hill Monument (#73), which commemorates the famous battle between American and British forces in 1775. Guests can climb the spiral staircase to the observatory and enjoy the many exhibits offered at the Bunker Hill Museum (#74).
Within walking distance is the USS Constitution Museum (#75), where your family can climb aboard the USS Constitution and explore the shipyard. Close by is the Old South Meeting House (#76), The Old State House (#77), The Paul Revere House (#78), and the Old North Church (#79). Also included on the tour is the Granary Burying Ground (#80), where some of America’s most notable citizens rest, including Benjamin Franklin’s family, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere, among others.
NOTABLE MUSEUMS, LIBRARIES, AND MORE
#81: Boston Museum of Fine Arts – 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts holds one of the most comprehensive art collections in America, containing more than 450,000 works of art.
#82: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – 25 Evans Way, Boston, MA
This exquisite museum is designed to look like a palace in the middle of a garden filled with European, Asian, and American art, with over 7,500 paintings and a wide variety of sculptures, furniture, textiles, and more. The architecture alone, as well as the breathtaking courtyard garden, is worth the visit and makes for many memorable photo ops.
#83: Boston Children’s Museum – 308 Congress Street, Boston, MA
With three floors of interactive activities for all ages, there’s a wide range of exhibits to awaken your inner child, no matter how old you are.
NOTE: Reservations are required for the morning or afternoon time slot.
#84: Museum of Science – 1 Museum of Science Driveway, Boston, MA
If you are drawn to science and history, you will love this museum’s many interactive exhibits. Highlights include the planetarium, featured scientific presentations, and 3D movies with effects one can feel and smell.
#85: Boston Public Library – 700 Boylston Street, Boston, MA
The Boston Public Library is a historic library with grand Renaissance-style architecture spanning three centuries. There are beautiful installations and murals throughout. Visit the library’s website for guided tour options.
#86: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library – Columbia Point, Boston, MA
This presidential library is located on a ten-acre park overlooking the sea JFK loved, in the state he called home.
#87: Franklin Park Zoo – 1 Franklin Park Road, Boston, MA
This 72-acre zoo comes alive in the summer as zebras, lions, kangaroos, and wildebeests move about to enjoy the sun.
#88: Fenway Park – 4 Jersey Street, Boston, MA
Fenway Park is the home of the Boston Red Sox, and it holds the title of the oldest major league ballpark.
OUTDOOR SIGHTSEEING TOURS
#89: Whale Watching Catamaran Cruise – 1 Long Wharf, Boston, MA
Spot whales and dolphins during this three-hour excursion.
#90: Historical Sightseeing Cruise – 1 Long Wharf, Boston, MA
This is a fully narrated one-hour cruise featuring historical milestones of Boston’s inner and outer harbors.
#91: Hop-On Hop-Off Old Town Trolley Tour – Multiple boarding locations
Tour around the city as you hop on and off at the 14 optional stops. This is an excellent way to see Boston if you’re only in town for a short stay.
#92: Boston Rowing Center – 88 Sleeper Street, Boston, MA
Join rowers from Cambridge University as you take advantage of Boston Rowing Center’s rentals, hidden under the bridge at Congress and Sleeper Street. If you are a beginner, you can take classes or join in on a group rowing tour.
While you don’t want to miss the best fresh-from-the-pier lobster rolls, fish and chips, and clam chowder Boston has to offer by visiting Pauli’s (#93), Neptune Oyster (#94), and Row 34 (#95), we have curated the following list of notable eateries you may also wish to consider.
#96: The Barking Crab – 88 Sleeper Street, Boston, MA
This is one of Boston’s landmark eateries, and it overlooks Fort Point Channel. The Barking Crab has a casual Pirates of the Caribbean feel with a great menu and incredible food.
#97: Dakzen – 195 Elm Street, Somerville, MA (10-15 minutes from downtown Boston)
Here you’ll feast on authentic Thai street food. This is a small, casual restaurant with big flavors, reasonable prices, and many awards.
#98: Tasty Burger – See the website for a list of locations
Tasty Burger is the locals’ favorite for the best fast-food burgers in the Boston area.
#99: Bred Gourmet – 2255 Dorchester Avenue, Boston, MA
This small burger joint packs a punch! You’ll find gluten-free options, kale drinks, smoothies, salads, and chicken selections.
#100: Casa Razdora – 115 Water Street, Boston, MA
Enjoy traditional Italian fare, just like Nonna used to make. Everything on the menu is homemade. Casa Razdora is a Food Network favorite!
#101: Sam Lagrassa’s – 44 Province Street, Boston, MA
Listed in Food Network’s top places to eat, this family-owned and operated establishment prepares its meats and fresh-baked bread in-house. Sam Lagrassa’s boasts huge portions that are worth the hype!
NOTE: Only open for lunch on weekdays.
#102: South Street Diner – 178 Kneeland Street, Boston, MA
South Street Diner is one of the few Massachusetts restaurants that is open 24/7. Featured on the Food Network, this award-winning diner does not disappoint! There are scrumptious breakfast selections, burgers, and more.
#103: 3 Little Figs – 278 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA
3 Little Figs serves up scratch-made sweet and savory pastries, as well as fresh biscuits and sandwiches.
#104: The Paramount – Two locations
Enjoy delicious brunch fare in an intimate bistro setting.
#105: Harvard University – Campuses in Cambridge, Allston, and Boston
Established in 1636, Harvard is America’s oldest university and an invigorating place to visit. While the university is a mere ten minutes from downtown Boston, your family will be transported into a cultured and curiosity-stimulating environment once on the grounds. The Colonial Revival architecture is truly something to behold.
#106: Longfellow House – 105 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA
This national historic site was named after the 19th-century poet Henry Longfellow and served as headquarters for General George Washington during the Siege of Boston. Today, this grand Georgian house displays 19th-century art, literature, and historical documents in its extensive library, along with preserved furnishings and artifacts of the time. There’s also a lovely Colonial Revival Garden (#107) that visitors are invited to enjoy at their leisure. You will find many folks painting or relaxing with a good book, and the garden often hosts various exhibits, discussions, and concerts. You’ll need to pre-register for the free tour for entry.
NOTE: Open late May through late November.
WHERE TO EAT
#108: Giulia – 1682 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA
Enjoy chef-owned regional Italian fare with a menu featuring traditional meals with exotic twists. Your family will love spending time in Giulia’s warm, hospitable dining area, which serves as a sophisticated palate’s haven for a memorable night out.
#109: Mamaleh’s Deli – 15 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, MA
This is a real-deal New York-style deli with a large menu selection.
#110: Area Four – 500 Technology Square, Cambridge, MA
Discover some of the best pizza around, featuring innovative combinations cooked in wood-burning ovens.
CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS
Cape Cod is rich in history, and it’s often cited as one of the top ten destinations in the world for whale watching and watersports. With its 560 miles of shoreline, it’s easy to understand why paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, and windsurfing are nonstop activities in these parts.
We recommend renting a cottage here for a lovely home-away-from-home experience. Family members of all ages will love the numerous restaurants serving meals featuring the catch of the day. If the kids are old enough to indulge, visiting some of Cape Cod’s vineyards for wine tastings is sure to be a fun activity.
Which of Cape Cod’s towns should you visit? Narrow it down with our helpful guide!
- If your family is all about the beach: Dennis, Mashpee, Bourne
- If you’d like a quiet destination: Truro, Eastham, Orleans
- If you’re looking for a fun area with lots to do: Chatham, Provincetown, Hyannis
- If you’re in search of small-town charm: Sandwich, Wellfleet, Brewster, Harwich, Yarmouth, Barnstable
Cape Cod is made up of 15 towns, the most populated being Provincetown, which is at Cape Cod’s northern tip. Provincetown, also known as P-town, is the site of the Mayflower’s landing in 1620 and home to many local artists and galleries. Here are several of the top family vacation spots to enjoy while in Provincetown.
#111: Pilgrim Monument & Museum – 1 High Pole Hill Road, Provincetown, MA
This monument was constructed to commemorate the true landing spot of the Pilgrims. It can be viewed from below or from the top–if you’re willing to climb up 117 steps! We argue that it’s worth the climb, considering the stunning 360-degree views.
#112: Art’s Dune Tours – 4 Standish Street, Provincetown, MA
Experience the history, culture, and ecology of the Provincetown Dunes in National Seashore Park (#113). Art’s Dune Tours offers day and sunset tours with an SUV escort to guide you through unique landscapes.
#114: Commercial Street – Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
Shop until you drop along this quaint stretch of local stores, where you’ll find unique gifts and specialty food shops, art galleries, eateries, and more. Be sure to check out Bob Gasoi Memorial Art Alley (#115), which features Gasoi’s unique and whimsical artwork. You may wish to peruse the murals online in advance to confirm the artwork is appropriate for any young children in your group.
#116: Province Lands Bike Trail – Starts at 171 Race Point Road, Provincetown, MA – An intermediate trail with tunnels, curves, and hills
This is a 5.25-mile loop around the Province Lands, where you will pass through beautiful pine forests, sandy dunes, and low-lying cranberry bogs. After enjoying this wonderful ride, you can cool off at nearby Herring Cove Beach (#117) or Race Point Beach (#118)! See the featured map in the above link for all access points to this trail.
#119: Beech Forest Trail – 36 Race Point Road, Provincetown, MA
Explore a beautiful one-mile loop into the heart of this picturesque beech forest.
WHERE TO EAT
NOTE: When eating on the Atlantic Coast, it is wise to check the restaurant’s website to confirm they are open, as most establishments close for the winter and re-open at the beginning of April (weather permitting).
#120: Fanizzi’s Restaurant – 539 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
Fanizzi’s is a local favorite, serving up delicious Italian and American fare with expansive bay views.
#121: The Lobster Pot – 321 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
The Lobster Pot is a laid-back landmark serving up scrumptious seafood classics.
#122: Far Land Provisions – 150 Bradford Street, Provincetown, MA
Here you’ll find a yummy bakery and deli with specialty grocery items in a quaint setting. Far Land Provisions is well-known to be a local favorite!
#123: Cabot’s Candy – 276 Commercial Street, Provincetown, MA
Every candy you can possibly think of is offered in this store. Willy Wonka would be proud!
Dennis is best known for its gorgeous beaches (including Mayflower Beach), charming downtown area, and opportunities for outdoor fun. Like all of Massachusetts, Dennis is steeped in history. Enjoy a night out by catching a play at the Cape Playhouse (#124), or take a stimulating visit to the Cape Cod Museum of Art (#125), which does not disappoint!
WHERE TO EAT
#126: The Summer Shanty – 140 Main Street, West Dennis, MA
The Summer Shanty is a casual spot located at the Bass River Marina, featuring lovely waterfront views and great sunsets. There’s even live music on Friday and Saturday evenings!
#127: The Oyster Company – 202 Depot Street, Dennis Port, MA
The Oyster Company serves fantastic fresh fare with half-priced oysters before 6:30 PM. This restaurant is always packed, so reservations are highly recommended.
NOTE: There is a wide range of fresh seafood options, along with steak and chicken entrees for those who don’t like fish.
#128: Sesuit Harbor Café – 357 Sesuit Neck Road, Dennis, MA
This famous seafood shack serves up award-winning lobster rolls and other fantastic bites. Don’t be fooled by their casual setting and picnic table seating; their seafood is top-notch!
#129: Kream ‘N Kone – 961 Main Street, West Dennis, MA
You’ll find Kream ‘N Kone to be a casual, family-friendly spot where you can order seafood, burgers, side dishes, and ice cream.
Considered the birthplace of Cape Cod, Sandwich has much to offer and is often considered one of the best places to travel in the US! A trip to Sandwich can include days at the beach, time spent shopping downtown or enjoying outdoor activities, and hours consumed by fascinating historical and educational attractions.
#130: Heritage Museums & Gardens – 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, MA
This destination is home to more than 100 acres of manicured gardens, along with an impressive American antique automobile collection and historic carousel. The gardens are truly magnificent and feature many art installations throughout.
#131: Rideaway Adventures – 449 Route 6A, East Sandwich, MA
Rent canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, and bikes, and choose from a variety of tours and adventures.
Check out these sites for a list of bike and hike trails to find the best fit: TrailLink, AllTrails, and SingleTracks.
#132: Meeting House Farm – 333 Quaker Meeting House Road, East Sandwich, MA
Meeting House Farm, a lovely property with a wonderful staff, offers a range of options to serve all levels of riders.
WHERE TO EAT
#133: The Brown Jug – 155 Main Street, Sandwich, MA
Located in a local gourmet grocery store, The Brown Jug has a small-town ambiance where you will find wood-fired pizza offerings.
#134: Café Chew – 4 Merchants Road, Sandwich, MA
With many accolades under its belt, this healthy, organic, and delicious eatery serves up a menu of breakfast and lunch selections to satisfy any palate. It even has fresh-baked goods! Dine inside or out on the garden patio.
#135: The Dunbar House – 1 Water Street, Sandwich, MA
Step back in time to an English environment where you can enjoy proper English tea service, as well as a full English menu. Choose between indoor and outdoor seating.
This history lover’s delight is nestled in a quaint New England setting and offers many family-friendly activities and sites to enjoy. It’s the home of Plymouth Rock, the historical symbol of America’s beginning, along with cranberry farms, nature walks, and much more.
#136: Plymouth Rock – 79 Water Street, Plymouth, MA
Located in Pilgrim Memorial State Park (#137) on the shore of Plymouth Harbor, this simple yet significant boulder has become the world-famous symbol of the Pilgrims’ stepping stone to the New World.
#138: The Richard Sparrow House Museum – 42 Summer Street, Plymouth, MA
This is one of the oldest wooden buildings in North America and the oldest house in Plymouth. Now operated as a museum, art gallery, and gift shop, the Richard Sparrow House Museum is part of the Plymouth Village Historic District (#139).
#140: Plimoth Patuxet Museums – 137 Warren Avenue, Plymouth, MA (Open from the beginning of April through Thanksgiving Day)
This living history museum is located one hour south of Boston in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
#141: National Monument to the Forefathers – 72 Allerton Street, Plymouth, MA
This 81-foot granite monument memorializes a Victorian-era interpretation of the pursuits that led the Pilgrims to leave England and start their own colony. It’s quite impressive, with powerful writings on each side of the monument.
#142: Myles Standish State Forest – 194 Cranberry Road, Carver, MA (Main entrance)
Whatever outdoor activity you and your family are looking for, you’re sure to find it in this beautiful state forest! Camping, swimming, horseback riding, biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and more can be enjoyed at Myles Standish State Forest.
WHERE TO EAT
#143: KKatie’s Burger Bar – 38 Main Street Extension, Plymouth, MA
This is a great little burger joint, beloved by locals, with a wide selection to choose from. It’s fresh and yummy!
#144: Wood’s Seafood – 15 Town Pier, Plymouth, MA
Wood’s is a fantastic fish shack with many wonderful fresh food options.
#145: Peaceful Meadows Ice Cream Inc. – 60 Bedford Street, Whitman, MA
This old-fashioned ice cream parlor with high-quality handmade ice cream is a favorite for all ages.
Visiting other states in the Northeast? Let us guide you to the best family vacation spots!
|Road Trip Destinations||Budget-Friendly Activities|
Best Southeastern US Family Vacation Spots
Although this region is best known for its beautiful beaches, there’s much more to the Southeast than just fun in the sun. With gorgeous mountains, valleys, swamps, and of course, the United States Capitol, the Southeastern region has it all, making it easy to plan the best family vacations ever!
When traveling to the Southeast with your family, keep the hot and humid climate in mind. Be sure to pack light, breathable clothing and stay hydrated throughout your trip.
Music lovers are sure to enjoy this region of the US, as it contains the “Music City” of Nashville, Tennessee, and plenty of jazz music in New Orleans. Foodies are also in luck, as the Southeast is home to delicious dishes like gumbo, key lime pie, and barbecue pork.
Plus, the locals are known to be particularly friendly and welcoming, so your family is sure to be met with classic Southern hospitality!
If you’re looking for a beautiful city full of epic history, make your way to Washington, DC, where you will find the White House (#146), the Lincoln Memorial (#147), and the United States Capitol Building (#148), just to name a few. It’s no surprise that DC is one of the best places to travel in the US! This area is chock-full of museums, so set aside as much time as possible to enjoy this rich educational experience with your family. Most DC museums are free of charge, making for many budget-friendly excursions.
MUSEUMS AND MEMORIALS
#149: National Air and Space Museum – 600 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC
This is part of the Smithsonian Institute, and it’s free to view all of the amazing exhibits and interactive experiences. The National Air and Space Museum is a must for the whole family!
#150: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History – 10th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC
Heighten your curiosity and awaken your inner scientist with a wide scope of exhibits for all to enjoy, from ancient Egypt to sea monsters, insects, and beyond. For a small charge, you can also feel the flutter in the Butterfly Pavilion (#151).
#152: International Spy Museum – 700 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC
Crack codes and uncover hidden drop sites in this stimulating museum. Try your hand at 17 digital and physical interactives spread throughout the museum to evaluate and strengthen your spy skills.
#153: National Children’s Museum – 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC
Enter the world of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. This museum is particularly suited to children under age 12, although there’s plenty for the whole family to enjoy.
#154: Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute – 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC
Home to over 1800 animals and 360 species, this 163-acre park is dedicated to conservation, education, and research on behalf of the global wildlife population. It takes two to three hours to walk through the park and see all the animals. Time your walk correctly, and you and your family will enjoy animal demonstrations throughout the day. Please find maps, animal demonstration schedules, and more on the website linked above.
NOTE: While entry is free, there is a charge for parking.
#155: National Gallery of Art – 6th Street & Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC (West Building)
The NGA features an outstanding collection of Europe’s Renaissance masters and American icons with an adjacent sculpture garden (#156). See the website above for collections and featured exhibits.
#157: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington, DC
Recommended for ages eight and older, this interactive museum provides powerful history lessons and opportunities for meaningful family conversation.
#158: National Museum of African American History and Culture – 1400 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC
Located on the National Mall, this Smithsonian institution provides a journey through American history, with three floors of exhibits, short films, and interactive activities to engage and entertain. This destination is recommended for ages seven and up.
#159: Museum of the Bible – 400 4th Street SW, Washington, DC
One of DC’s most popular attractions, there are tons of interactive exhibits to enjoy in this six-story building. The MOTB is an immersive experience for the whole family. Spanning 3500 years of history, thoughtfully curated content is enhanced by state-of-the-art technology to provide a memorable opportunity for visitors to step into the history, story, and impact of the Bible. While it would take many days to see everything this museum has to offer, some of the must-sees are as follows:
- Children’s Gallery: Located on the first floor; perfect for the young children in your group
- Washington Revelations: Located on the second floor, featuring an immersive simulation flight through DC
- Immersive Hebrew Walk Through the Bible Experience: Located on the third floor
- Historical Artifacts: Located on the fourth floor
- Daily Dramatic Presentations: Located on the fifth floor in the 472-seat theater
ADDITIONAL POINTS OF INTEREST
#160: The Flea Market at Eastern Market – 7th Street SE & C Street SE, Washington, DC
Locals love this unique flea market, which is open on the weekends. It features food, small gifts, and local art, and is the perfect place to find something unique to bring home.
#161: Rock Creek Park – 5200 Glover Road NW, Washington, DC
Often referred to as an oasis in the city, this vast 1754-acre urban park is a true gem! There are plenty of adventurous activities both indoors and out, such as Civil War fortifications, working mills, and colonial houses to explore. There’s also horseback riding, an 18-hole golf course, 25 tennis courts, spectacular hiking trails, and a boating center offering rentals for fun on the Potomac River.
INSIDER TIP: With a range of options to explore, we suggest checking out the Rock Creek Park website (linked above) to find a map of the park, hiking trails, parking options, and more. This will help you get the lay of the land before heading out for the day!
#162: El Sol Restaurant & Tequileria – 1227 11th Street NW, Washington, DC
Declared the best taqueria in town according to the Washington Post, El Sol has a great menu featuring fantastic authentic food. You can’t go wrong here!
#163: Mi Vida – 98 District Square SW, Washington, DC
Chef and owner Roberto Santibanez, a native of Mexico and respected authority on Mexican cuisine, offers a thoughtful and elevated take on traditional street food and Mexican home cooking. There’s also a location at 1901 14th Street NW, with a menu that features small bites.
#164: Agora DC -1527 17th Street NW, Washington, DC
This family-owned and operated authentic Mediterranean cuisine establishment offers fantastic food and a wonderful ambiance.
#165: Duke’s Counter – 3000 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC
This hip, East London-inspired eatery is located across the street from the National Zoo. It’s thought to have some of the best burgers in town!
#166: Taylor Gourmet – Multiple locations
Eat in or grab some fresh, hand-crafted subs to go. See the website above for a list of locations in the DC area.
#167: Comet Ping Pong – 5037 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC
Enjoy great pizza, delicious desserts, and free ping pong!
Georgetown is DC’s oldest neighborhood, and its cobblestone streets and quaint shops exude charm. As you stroll this picturesque town, feel free to head to the waterfront to cool off in the sprinkler-style fountain, watch the boats, feed the ducks, and enjoy the beautiful sights and sounds before you head out for more adventure.
For the full historical experience, book a stay in a historic bed and breakfast (there are many!). If that’s not quite your style, there are plenty of inexpensive motels and modern hotels available as well.
SHOP HISTORIC GEORGETOWN
Georgetown is known as the place to go for high-end retail therapy. Even so, you can still find a deal or two! One-of-a-kind shops are mixed with chain stores, with most of the shopping opportunities found on the two intersecting streets of Wisconsin and M Street NW. Keep your eye out for artisanal sweetgrass baskets and antique treasures!
Cady’s Alley (#168) is nestled into a hidden area in the midst of the hustle and bustle and is the anchor to Georgetown’s Design District. Just walk through the bricked archway off M Street and descend a flight of stairs to unearth an alcove of hidden boutiques and showrooms.
The historic French-London neighborhood of Book Hill (#169) is centered on Wisconsin Avenue from O Street to Reservoir Road. It’s filled with quaint boutiques, antique stores, and art galleries. Considered a designer’s dream, it’s just a short walk from the center of Georgetown and worth the effort if you have time to explore. If you’re driving rather than walking the area, you can access this link to the Cady’s Alley property map for parking options.
WHERE TO EAT
While shopping and eating in and around the Georgetown area is typically on the high end price-wise, there are still budget-friendly options to enjoy. As a coastal area, Georgetown is known for its ultra-fresh seafood, but you’ll also find classic Southern cuisine and international dishes.
#170: Chaia Tacos – 3207 Grace Street NW, Washington, DC
With a delicious healthy take on Mexican street food, this vegetarian taqueria does not disappoint! Here you’ll find homemade tortillas with vegan and gluten-free options.
#171: Falafel Inc – 1210 Potomac Street NW, Washington, DC
Falafel Inc is one of the hottest lunch spots in this upscale neighborhood, serving up award-winning deliciousness with low prices that are hard to beat!
#172: Stachowski Market – 1425 28th Street NW, Washington, DC
Here you’ll find charcuterie, huge butcher sandwiches that can easily feed two, and daily lunch and dinner specials, with an easy grab-and-go concept.
NOTE: There is very little seating availability at Stachowski Market.
#173: Pizzeria Paradiso – 3282 M Street NW, Washington, DC
Pizzeria Paradiso serves a memorable selection of wood-fired pizza with a classy game room downstairs.
#174: il Canale – 1065 31st Street NW, Washington, DC
Frequented by local journalists, heads of state, and film industry notables, this authentic scratch-made Italian eatery serves up excellent food at a reasonable price. Fresh pasta and wood-fired pizza are its mainstays.
#175: Good Stuff – 3291 M Street NW, Washington, DC
If it’s a burger you’re after, look no further. Owned by former Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn, Good Stuff’s decadent burgers and shakes are sure to satisfy your craving.
#176: Thomas Sweet – 3214 P Street NW, Washington, DC
This classic old-school ice cream shop, serving small-batch, high-quality ice cream, is sure to put a smile on your face!
#177: Baked & Wired – 1052 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Washington, DC
This is a great family bakery offering small batches of baked goods, gluten-free and vegan options, and craft coffee. There are even cupcake samples to try throughout the day!
Virginia, Maryland, and the Blue Ridge Mountains
Three of the best places for a family vacation on the East Coast are Williamsburg in Virginia, Ocean City in Maryland, and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Each offers a unique experience for your whole family to enjoy!
Both Virginia and Maryland are home to many historical attractions and cultural events (the Virginia Arts Festival (#178) and Maryland Renaissance Festival (#179) are two that your family may want to attend), as well as amazing scenery and opportunities for outdoor adventures. Virginia, in particular, boasts many wineries and breweries, so if the kids are over 21, you might spend a fun afternoon sampling various beverages!
Williamsburg, Virginia is a 2.5-hour drive from downtown DC, yet it feels like a whole new world unto itself, especially when setting foot in Colonial Williamsburg! As the capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was one of the first colonial outposts. It’s part of Virginia’s “Historic Triangle,” along with Jamestown and Yorktown.
Williamsburg is also known as one of the most haunted locations in the United States, so if your family loves spooky sights, it’s worth looking into the many legends and ghost stories connected to the area! With so many fun attractions to experience, you may want to plan for a three- or four-day visit in order to take it all in.
FAMILY FUN IN WILLIAMSBURG
#180: Water Country USA – 176 Water Country Parkway, Williamsburg, VA
Featuring water slides, pools, lazy rivers, and more, Water Country USA is a wonderful place to beat the summer heat and have a blast with the whole family.
#181: Busch Gardens – 1 Busch Gardens Boulevard, Williamsburg, VA
This amusement park features over 50 rides.
#182: Patriot Tours and Provisions – 321 Water Street, Yorktown, VA
Take a Segway or bike tour through history.
#183: Williamsburg Premium Outlets – 5715 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA
Discover great deals at these shopping outlets.
#184: Colonial Williamsburg Living Museum – 101 Visitor Center Drive, Williamsburg, VA
Colonial Williamsburg boasts the world’s largest living history museum, where visitors step back in time as actors in period garb live out daily colonial life. There are over 40 sites and two world-class museums to explore. Head over to the museum’s website for ticket information, as well as details for carriage rides and special event opportunities.
WHERE TO EAT
There are many scrumptious eateries in and beyond historic Colonial Williamsburg, and we have assembled a list of recommendations for your consideration. Williamsburg contains a wide variety of food options, and we highly encourage you to try some colonial-era dishes to go along with the area’s history! Of course, there’s also classic Southern cuisine, seafood, and fine dining options. You can also visit the Williamsburg Farmers Market (#185) for tons of fresh food.
#186: Christina Campbell’s – 101 S Waller Street, Williamsburg, VA
This is the crowning glory among Williamsburg taverns, and it just so happens to have been George Washington’s favorite place to eat. Visitors will experience great food, live music, and an in-character host explaining what tavern keeping was like in the 19th century. While the menu is fish-forward, chicken, beef, vegetarian, and gluten-free options are also available.
#187: Chowning’s Tavern – 109 E Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, VA
Visit Chowning’s Tavern for classic tavern fare that’s easy on the budget, with vegetarian and gluten-free options available. This establishment does not take reservations, so if there happens to be a little wait, rest assured there is plenty to see in the immediate area.
#188: Blue Talon Bistro – 420 Prince George Street, Williamsburg, VA
Located at Merchants Square, this cozy French brasserie comes with plenty of atmosphere and a delicious comfort food menu.
#189: Food For Thought – 1647 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA
Your family will enjoy this restaurant’s diverse menu with many vegetarian and gluten-free options to choose from. Bonus: You’ll find discussion cards on every table to stimulate thought-provoking family conversation!
#190: Captain George’s Seafood – 5363 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA
With a seafaring theme, this extensive buffet is a popular attraction and worth the price of admission. You will want to allow a decent amount of time to take in all Captain George’s Seafood has to offer, including crab legs, shrimp, oysters, and steak.
#191: Traditions – 310 S England Street, Williamsburg, VA
Located in the Williamsburg Lodge (#192), Traditions is a wonderful place to go for a scrumptious breakfast buffet for hungry morning visitors.
#193: Colonial Pancake House – 301 Page Street, Williamsburg, VA
Voted Best Breakfast in Williamsburg, Colonial Pancake House is a great place to start your day. Gluten-free options are available.
#194: Raleigh Tavern Bakery – 413 E Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg, VA
Raleigh Tavern Bakery is the perfect place to grab coffee and a sweet treat.
INSIDER TIP: Make sure to stop by around 10 AM to get fresh-from-the-oven ginger cakes made in an authentic wood-fired oven.
#195: Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que – 447 E Rochambeau Drive, Williamsburg, VA
This restaurant serves award-winning BBQ at a reasonable price. It’s located ten minutes outside of Colonial Williamsburg.
BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, VIRGINIA
If you’re itching to get out and enjoy the beauty of the region, consider taking the gorgeous three-hour drive through Shenandoah National Park (#196) on the famous Skyline Drive (#197).
The Blue Ridge Mountains have been around for more than a billion years, and they earned their name because of the blue haze that often surrounds the mountain peaks. They’re an excellent location for birdwatching, with over 200 bird species in the area, and you may also see animals like wild turkeys, bobcats, black bears, and white-tailed deer along the Appalachian Trail (#198).
If you’re interested in doing more than just driving through, the following are add-ons for your whole family to enjoy.
#199: Rapidan Camp – Syria, VA
A national historic landmark built by President Herbert Hoover to serve as a rustic summer retreat for his family, this hidden treasure is a two-mile hike from the Milam Gap parking lot. The hike follows the river for most of the journey, and there’s a lovely waterfall to behold as a bonus! While there are a few river crossings along the way, logs and rocks bridge the divide. You can head out on your own or take a history-packed ranger-led tour (#200) for a minimal price.
NOTE: The tour removes the hike experience and ensures minimal walking for those who are looking for an exercise-free experience.
#201: Hiking in Shenandoah National Park – Multiple locations
Shenandoah National Park offers some of the best hiking opportunities in the country. Check out the provided website to pull up maps, camping information, and more. Notable hikes include Doyles River Falls (#202), South River Falls (#203), Lewis Spring Falls (#204), and Rose River Falls (#205).
#206: Skyline Caverns – 10344 Stonewall Jackson Highway, Front Royal, VA
Located one mile from the northern entrance of Shenandoah National Park, these caverns are one of the few places on earth where you can find anthodite crystal formations. Excellent guides and award-winning lighting are your companions throughout the one-hour tour.
You can also try the ten-minute miniature train experience (#207), where you and your family can hop aboard the Skyline Arrow to travel around Horseshoe Curve across Apache Flats and through Boothill Tunnel.
Be sure to navigate through the Enchanted Dragon Mirror Maze (#208). You just might encounter a dragon family and a fairy or two along the way! There’s also a beautiful nature trail (#209) on the property where the family can enjoy a lovely one-mile hike at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Want to explore more of the beautiful state of Virginia? Check out our articles about Free and Cheap Things to Do in Virginia, Top Virginia Road Trip Destinations, and Williamsburg Nightlife.
OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND
Ocean City is an East Coast resort town all about fun in the sun! This playful destination features miles of beach to explore and swim, a wooden boardwalk lined with restaurants and shops, and many activities that will keep you going from early morning to late night.
Near Ocean City is Assateague Island (#210), home to a herd of wild ponies. Legend has it that these animals are the descendants of domesticated horses that survived a shipwreck near the island’s coast!
While you’re in Ocean City, be sure to try some world-famous fudge and saltwater taffy.
#211: The Boardwalk – 698 N Atlantic Ave, Ocean City, MD
Ocean City is famous for its boardwalk, which offers many exciting attractions like arcades (#212), the Kite Loft (#213), miniature golf (#214), Jolly Roger Amusement Park (#215), and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum (#216).
#217: Baja Amusement Park – 12639 Ocean Gateway, West Ocean City, Ocean City, MD
Baja Amusement Park has been family-owned and operated for over 30 years and has ten acres of action-packed fun! The park features eight go-kart tracks, two climbing walls, bumper boats, kiddie rides, miniature golf, a snack bar, arcade games, and much more!
For more to do in Maryland, take a look at our guides on Cheap Things to Do in Maryland and Top Maryland Road Trip Destinations.
North and South Carolina
From stunning mountain vistas and amazing hikes in the north to pristine beaches, quaint towns, and water sports in the east, there are many family adventures to discover and enjoy in the Carolinas. Whether you are day-tripping or able to stay for a while, these states are some of the best places for family vacation.
North Carolina is known as the “Barbecue Capital of the World,” with two notable styles of barbecue. There’s Lexington style, featuring a sweet tomato-based sauce, and Eastern style, featuring a spicy vinegar-based sauce. Meanwhile, South Carolina is known as the “Tastier Peach State” because of the massive quantities of peaches produced there–some sources report that it produces more than three times what Georgia does!
THE OUTER BANKS OF NORTH CAROLINA
The Outer Banks of North Carolina comprise a chain of barrier islands with open-sea beaches, state parks, and shipwreck diving sites for the extreme adventurer to explore. The Outer Banks are consistently ranked among the best US family beach vacations, and with plenty of things to do and places to see, this is the perfect spot to explore the great outdoors away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
If you are looking to enjoy an active water sports experience, there are a handful of equipment rental shops available to serve your skimboarding, boogie boarding, stand-up paddle boarding, and kayaking adventures.
Fascinatingly, the Outer Banks were home to Roanoke Colony, the very first English colony in America, which was established in 1585. Three years later, the entire colony disappeared, giving birth to the “Lost Colony” legend.
Not only was the first English colony in America lost in the Outer Banks, but there have also been many shipwrecks in the area–so many that the Outer Banks is nicknamed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
Recently, Netflix released a series called Outer Banks, which is (as you may have guessed) set in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. However, the series was actually filmed in Charleston, South Carolina!
To help you get the lay of the land, we’ve broken down the Outer Banks into three areas.
1) The Northern Beaches of Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head
NOTE: Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head are the more populated areas and therefore offer more local restaurants, shopping, and points of interest.
2) The Roanoke Island towns of Manteo and Wanchese
3) The Hatteras Island communities of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras, which offer a quainter, more relaxed experience
We have selected the following towns of interest to feature. Keep in mind that it’s possible to drive through the entire expanse of the Outer Banks in about four hours.
If you’re looking to take a road trip while visiting North Carolina, we recommend reading this article, entitled Top North Carolina Road Trip Destinations – Itinerary Of Best Places. And for fun, affordable activities in NC, click over to our North Carolina budget-friendly guide.
NORTHERN BEACHES REGION, NC
#218: Duck Town Park – 1200 Duck Road, Duck, NC
This park offers 11 acres of beautiful trails, play areas, picnic shelters, and more. Be sure to check out the one-mile-long wooden boardwalk (#219) located in the heart of town, which winds along the Currituck Sound, offering stunning views and entry points to the town’s art galleries, shops, and cafes.
Tucked between Duck and Kitty Hawk, the small coastal town of Southern Shores provides uncrowded beaches in a quiet residential community setting. Located near a full spectrum of great eateries and shopping, you’ll find you have everything you need within reach. If you’re looking for a neighborhood feel in a wonderful beach setting, look no further.
#220: First Light Charters – 4457 Mill Landing Road, Wanchese, NC
Check out family-friendly guided inshore fishing trips and duck hunts with local knowledge and Southern hospitality.
#221: Duck Woods Country Club – 50 S Dogwood Trail, Southern Shores, NC
Enjoy a semi-private golf course with spectacular views and meticulously maintained greens.
#222: Kitty Hawk Watersports – 6920 S Croatan Highway, Nags Head, NC
Here you can schedule private dolphin tours, kayak tours, jet ski tours, and more.
#223: Children at Play Museum – 3910 N Croatan Highway, Suite K, Kitty Hawk, NC
Explore hands-on exhibits where imagination is stimulated while learning new concepts in science, math, and language arts. This is lots of fun for young adventurers!
#224: H2OBX Waterpark – 8526 Caratoke Highway, Powells Point, NC
Take a short ride across 158 to access this over-the-top water park featuring more than 30 rides, slides, and a lazy river.
WHERE TO EAT
#225: Art’s Place – 4624 N Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, NC
Art’s Place is a burger joint with ocean views, live music, and great burgers.
#226: High Cotton BBQ – 5230 N Virginia Dare Trail, Kitty Hawk, NC
A local favorite, here you can feast on authentic North Carolina BBQ in a casual setting.
#227: Jockey’s Ridge State Park – 300 W Carolista Drive, Nags Head, NC
Head over to Jockey’s Ridge to enjoy the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. The park also features several self-guided trails that begin at the parking lot, and one corner of the park features shallow waters on the Roanoke Sound for a wonderful place to play in the water.
NOTE: There are designated launch areas for those who wish to windsurf.
#228: First Flight Adventure Park – 6716 S Croatan Highway, Nags Head, NC
Fifty thrill-seeker obstacles and 14 ziplines are available at various levels to make the experience accessible for everyone who wants to participate.
#229: Nags Head Woods Preserve – 701 W Ocean Acres Drive, Kill Devil Hills, NC
Enjoy a picturesque hike or two and discover the forested ridges, ponds, marshes, and wetlands of the region. Please use this link to find the trails that are best suited to you and your family.
#230: OBX Bowling Center – 200 W Satterfield Landing Road, Nags Head, NC
Have fun bowling and playing in the arcade while pigging out on pizza.
KILL DEVIL HILLS
#231: Wright Brothers National Memorial – 1000 N Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC
Learn about the history of aviation and view reproductions of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 flyer.
#232: Family-Friendly Beaches – Various locations
There are many beaches to choose from, each with various amenities to make your day at the beach a breeze! Known for stellar waves and water sports, be sure to check the provided link for a list of 37 beach access points to find the right spot for you and your family.
#233: Avalon Fishing Pier – 2111 N Va Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills, NC
At Avalon Fishing Pier, you’ll find everything you need to gear up and catch dinner for the whole family! Enjoy delicious eats at the Snack Shack (#234) as well.
#235: Outer Banks Arboretum – 300 S Mustian Street, Kill Devil Hills, NC
A visit to the arboretum and teaching garden will not disappoint! There’s an active butterfly garden, turtles, botanical gardens, and a pond.
HATTERAS ISLAND, NC
#236: Pea Island National Wildlife Preserve – 14500 North Carolina Highway 12, Rodanthe, NC
Part of Hatteras National Seashore, this beautiful wildlife refuge provides a habitat for endangered loggerhead sea turtles. It’s also the nesting, resting, and wintering spot for many migratory birds. You can hike along the North Pond Wildlife Trail (#237) to see waterbirds, turtles, and other wildlife. Across the way, you will find a lovely stretch of beach with a sandbar. Your family can collect shells, throw a frisbee, and enjoy an amazing sunset!
NOTE: Keep in mind that this marsh-like wetland terrain requires sturdy shoes and bug repellent to keep those annoying summer mosquitoes away.
#238: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – 46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC
This is a popular tourist stop where visitors can take 257 steps to the top to enjoy breathtaking views. The currents in this area have forced southbound ships into the dangerous 12-mile-long Diamond Shoals sandbar. Hundreds (maybe even thousands) of shipwrecks over the years have earned this area a reputation as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Many thrill-seeking scuba divers love this location as well!
#239: Museum of the Sea – 46377 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC
The Museum of the Sea is housed inside the historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Double Keepers’ Quarters, with two floors of exhibits on Outer Banks’ history.
#240: Buxton Village Books – 47918 North Carolina Highway 12, Buxton, NC
Located in a quaint pre-Civil War house in downtown Buxton, Buxton Village Books has an entry room sporting shipwreck timbers from its original construction. This charming bookstore is filled with local cookbooks, field guides, children’s books, and more. There’s a wonderful and unique selection of gifts as well.
WHERE TO EAT
#241: Orange Blossom Bakery – 47206 North Carolina Highway 12, Buxton, NC
This is a fantastic bakery that draws visitors from far and wide. Orange Blossom Bakery is famous for its freshly-made crisp and gooey apple fritters (“apple uglies”) and breakfast sandwiches.
#242: Sandbar & Grill – 49252 North Carolina Highway, Hatteras, NC
The Sandbar & Grill is a great spot for tasty seafood, steaks, and pasta, with the best sunset views around. You can enjoy pinball machines and the outdoor waterfront deck before or after your meal.
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Nicknamed “Land of the Sky” because of its 2000-foot elevation above sea level, Asheville has long been a prime destination for health, wellness, and therapeutic spa treatments. It also has a thriving craft beer scene and unique architecture that blends Beaux-Arts, Victorian, and Art Deco styles.
Asheville is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is hailed for its world-renowned art scene, notable restaurants, and fun shops. This is definitely the place to go for artists or lovers of art, as the town is filled with galleries, museums, and studios. Asheville is surrounded by many national and state forests and parks, and you will find many free outdoor activities for your family to enjoy, as well as a plethora of camping sites to choose from. There are also six mountain beaches near Asheville, complete with sandy shores and lifeguards.
#243:Biltmore Estate – 1 Lodge Street, Asheville, NC
America’s largest home, which most would consider a castle, is an amazing once-in-a-lifetime tour opportunity. The estate is truly magnificent, and the self-guided tour allows your family to take things at their own pace.
NOTE: There is a lot of required walking at Biltmore, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. Visit the Biltmore Estate website for a description of all the sights, activities, and must-see locations.
#244: Asheville Art Galleries – Multiple locations
Asheville’s art scene is the real deal, and visitors flock here from around the country to collect one-of-a-kind works, as well as take classes to enhance their artistic abilities. You will find a list of all art galleries in the area by accessing the link above.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS IN AND AROUND ASHEVILLE
#245: Lake James State Park – 7321 NC-126, Nebo, NC
This is a great destination to play at the beach, fish, enjoy boating sports, and hike. The beach area is located in the Paddy’s Creek section, and you can rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard on the beach for around $5 per hour.
#246: Lake Lure Beach – 2724 Memorial Highway, Lake Lure, NC
Hang out and play at this great beach location while enjoying the beautiful surrounding mountain peaks. With volleyball, water slides, and water games, Lake Lure Beach makes for the perfect family outing.
NOTE: Entrance fees are $10 for adults and $8 for kids aged four to 12. Lake Lure is adjacent to the small mountain village of Chimney Rock (#247), where you will find many eateries and shops.
#248: Chimney Rock Park – 431 Main St, Chimney Rock, NC
Chimney Rock Park offers trails, rock climbing, and the Animal Discovery Den (#249).
#250: Lake Powhatan – 75 Wesley Branch Road, Asheville, NC
Lake Powhatan is just 12 miles from downtown Asheville, and it’s surrounded by Bent Creek Mountain biking trails (#251). It offers a beautiful beach recreation area to enjoy. This popular camping site requires a $4 entrance fee if you are not a camper.
#252: Urban Trail – 11 Biltmore Avenue, Asheville, NC
The family will love this self-guided walking tour of the city’s most vibrant art and historic areas, where you’re sure to find many hidden eateries and shops. Here are links to the Urban Trail map and the self-guided architecture map for those interested. Asheville has an array of beautiful waterfalls (#253), and you may want to consider adding one or two of them to a family hike.
#254: Adventure Center of Asheville – 85 Expo Drive, Asheville, NC
This multi-sport adventure center located five minutes from downtown Asheville is truly a must for the whole family! There are epic zipline and treetop adventures, aerial obstacle courses with over 60 obstacles, and Kid Zip, which is designed for kids four to 10 years of age. There’s also a bike park with miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails designed for all levels of riders. It’s a fun place to bond as a family, and for some, conquer their fears with remarkable success.
#255: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad – 45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City, NC
Located one hour from Asheville is the opportunity to take a train ride through the beautiful Smoky Mountains! There are a variety of options to choose from, so check out the website linked above to find the best adventure for your family.
#256: Blue Ridge Parkway – 195 Hemphill Knob Rd, Asheville, NC (Visitor Center)
Blue Ridge Parkway is known as “America’s Favorite Drive,” where millions of visitors come each year to enjoy breathtaking mountain vistas, waterfalls, and activities in the great outdoors. This 469-mile ribbon of road weaves around many peaks and connects to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina.
Built as part of FDR’s New Deal program, construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935, during the Great Depression, and continued until 1987. It’s the longest linear park in the US!
INSIDER TIP: Visit the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center (#257) in person or online to get the big picture of all this region has to offer. There are plenty of maps and details to help you plan and prepare for your family adventure.
The most accessible and notable areas close to Asheville are as follows:
SCENIC DRIVES, HIKES, AND NOTABLE STOPS
You can hop on the parkway near the town of Asheville by accessing one of the following:
- US Highway 70 and Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 382.6
- US Highway 74A and Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 384.7
- US Highway 25 and Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 388.8
- NC Highway 191 and Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 393.6
NOTE: We suggest packing a picnic before heading out to find your perfect spot!
#258: Southern Highland Craft Guild Folk Art Center – 382 Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, NC
The Folk Art Center is recognized as the oldest craft shop in America. It provides daily craft exhibitions, historical displays, and handcrafted treasures. If you’re in the area, be sure to make time to explore their artisan jewelry, textiles, pottery, hand-blown glass, and more. It’s quite inspiring!
#259: Mount Mitchell State Park – 2388 N.C. 128, Burnsville, NC
Visit Mount Mitchell for the tallest mountain views east of the Mississippi River. Drive up close to the summit and take a half-mile walk to reach the observation deck. Mount Mitchell also has a museum, gift shop, and restaurant, which is open during the spring to fall months.
#260: Linville Caverns – 19929 US-221 N, Marion, NC
Linville Caverns provides a magnificent geological experience filled with beauty and wonder. Take a guided tour through this active limestone cavern at the affordable cost of $12 for adults and $10 for children five to 12. The tour is about 45 minutes long.
NOTE: Linville Caverns is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
#261: Emerald Hollow Mine – 484 Emerald Hollow Mine Drive, Hiddenite, NC
Emerald Hollow Mine is a unique and memorable family adventure offering gem-seeking experiences for all ages and levels.
INSIDER TIP: You will want to wear clothing and shoes suitable for standing in a moving creek, as you’ll be searching for creek bed gems, and be sure to bring a change of clothes as well. If your arm muscles are up for it, consider trying the optional digging method. Entrance fees include permits and tools for sluicing and digging for the entire day. There is also a selection of add-ons, so be sure to check out the website for further details.
NOTE: As a point of reference, this location is about one hour and 45 minutes from Asheville.
#262: Tiger World – 4400 Cook Road, Rockwell, NC
Tiger World is a nonprofit endangered wildlife preserve dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and preservation of exotic animals. It’s home to a large variety of animals, not just lions and tigers and bears!
INSIDER TIP: Hours are 9 AM to 5 PM, and we suggest you visit all the feline species before 11 AM, as the big cats often sleep for 16 hours a day!
#263: North Carolina Zoo – 4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, NC
This is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo, with a giraffe deck that allows visitors to get eye-to-eye with these amazing creatures! The zoo also offers a walk-through butterfly habitat, several special kid zones to enjoy, and wonderful hiking trails to explore if you have the energy left to do so after walking the vast expanse of the zoo grounds. This is a very special animal adventure!
#264: Carrigan Farms – 1261 Oakridge Farm Highway, Mooresville, NC
While Carrigan Farms offers year-round activities, during the summer months, it has “open swim,” which is set in an amazing granite stone quarry filled with crystal clear water from a natural spring. Jump off the rocks into the deep pool, enjoy a picnic, or relax on the white sandy beach area. If you happen to be passing through this area on your summer adventure, it is worth the stop to cool off and swim in this beautiful spot!
#265: Lake Jocassee – 238 Buckeye Drive, Salem, NC
Lake Jocassee is a beautiful 3700-acre lake known for its undeveloped shoreline and clean water. Surrounded by gorgeous forest trees, this is a wonderful place to swim, play on the sandy beach, and rent a pontoon to cruise around the lake, where you can see waterfalls and pull tubes for great family fun! You can also rent paddleboards, kayaks, and all the water gear you need here. The lake’s amazing visibility makes for a popular scuba diving area as well.
INSIDER TIP: Use the Asheville Hike Finder as a resource to find a diverse list of trails for your family explorations. You’ll find tons of information regarding each trail’s length and range of difficulty. Each one is sure to provide a stunning and memorable journey!
WHERE TO EAT
#266: Red Ginger Dimsum &Tapas – 82 Patton Avenue, Suite 100, Asheville, NC
Here you’ll find authentic Chinese dim sum with a wide selection of options.
#267: White Duck Taco Shop – Three locations in Asheville, NC
The White Duck Taco Shop is truly an unbeatable taco experience.
#268: Farm Burger – 10 Patton Avenue, Asheville, NC
Enjoy delicious grass-fed burgers with vegan and gluten-free options.
#269: Tupelo Honey Café – 12 College Street, Asheville, NC
Feast on scratch-made Southern favorites for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
#270: The Hop – Four locations in Asheville, NC
If you’re looking for dessert, this handcrafted ice cream with vegan and sorbet options is the perfect choice.
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
As the oldest and second-largest city in South Carolina, this historic port city is known for its deep Southern roots. It was originally known as Charles Town (after King Charles II of England) and was the original capital of South Carolina.
Because of its location, Charleston played a significant role in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars as a trade center. The city is also greatly influenced by Gullah culture. The Gullah people are descended from West Africans, and their unique food, language, and music have been infused into the culture of many of the Southern states.
Thanks to its charming architecture, pleasant weather, and excellent cuisine, Charleston is now one of the best family vacations in the US.
#271: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens – 3550 Ashley River Road, Charleston, SC
This is the most popular plantation experience. It has timeless Southern charm and historical roots and overlooks the banks of the Ashley River. Founded in 1679, this vintage Southern landmark provides an enchanting experience and historical insight.
Visitors come to enjoy the majestic gardens, tour the Plantation House, and ride the Nature Tram (especially recommended for first-time visitors). You can also go on the “From Slavery to Freedom” educational tour, enjoy the guided boat tour of Cypress Wetlands, check out the stunning Audubon Swamp Garden, visit the Wildlife Observation Tower, and connect with nature at the petting zoo and nature center.
You can find fees for general admission and featured tours on the provided website link.
NOTE: There is so much to see and discover here that you’ll be hard-pressed to experience it all in one day. Therefore, the general admission fee allows visitors to come back for free within a seven-day period!
#272: Shem Creek – Shem Creek Boardwalk, Mt Pleasant, SC (20-minute drive from downtown Charleston)
This is more of an estuary than a creek, where shrimpers, boaters, and seafood-seeking locals congregate. With frequent dolphin sightings, a lovely waterfront boardwalk, and delicious eateries, this is a great spot to grab a bite and enjoy the amazing Charleston wildlife. You’ll find many top-notch places to eat, such as Charleston Crab House (#273), Saltwater Cowboys (#274), and Water’s Edge (#275). While you’re in the area, consider taking an invigorating kayak tour of the creek and surroundings through one of the local tour companies.
#276: Fort Sumter – 340 Concord Street, Charleston, SC
Located in Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter is the site where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. You’ll arrive by ferry and attend an informative history lesson and tour for the whole family.
#277: Charleston City Market – 188 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC
One of the nation’s oldest public markets, CCM is home to over 300 entrepreneurial offerings where you can enjoy local art, crafts, gift items, fresh produce, and fantastic food. The market is located in downtown Charleston and spans four city blocks.
HISTORIC CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
This beautiful residential area filled with stately antebellum mansions and exquisite gardens is definitely all it’s cracked up to be! Some of the mansions offer public tours for all to experience, showcasing their magnificent interiors and gardens and sharing the history and unique stories that formed the very fabric of their rich heritage. Here is a list of the most notable mansion tours:
#278: Heyward-Washington House – 87 Church Street, Charleston, SC
#279: Nathaniel-Russell House – 51 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC
#280: Aiken-Rhett House – 48 Elizabeth Street, Charleston, SC
#281: Edmondston-Alston House – 21 E Battery, Charleston, SC
#282: Joseph Manigault House – 350 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC
#283: Calhoun Mansion – 16 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC
WHERE TO EAT
#284: Rodney Scott’s BBQ – 1011 King Street, Charleston, SC
Chef Rodney Scott cooks up the best BBQ in these parts! If you’re a BBQ enthusiast, you won’t want to miss his delectable delights.
#285: Home Team BBQ – 126 Williman Street, Charleston, SC
This is another notable BBQ spot in Charleston that offers tacos, nachos, and burgers in addition to its excellent BBQ fare.
#286: Brown Dog Deli – 40 Broad Street, Charleston, SC
Brown Dog Deli serves salads, sandwiches, wraps, hot dogs, and vegetarian options.
#287: Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit – 476 ½ King Street, Charleston, SC
This ever-popular counter-serve and grab-and-go eatery was made famous via the Food Network, Today Show, and Oprah Magazine. The menu includes piping hot breakfast and lunch, as well as over-the-top biscuit sandwiches. There are even gluten-free biscuits available!
#288: Acme Lowcountry Kitchen – 31 J.C. Long Boulevard, Island of Palms, SC
Bask in the ocean views as you dine on upscale Southern coastal fare. Acme Lowcountry Kitchen has a fantastic brunch and kid’s menu.
#289: Myrtle Beach – Myrtle Beach, SC
Named for the native myrtle bushes that thrive in the region, this popular site offers 60 miles of Grand Strand white beach with warm water all year round. There are also yummy eateries, arcades, tons of mini-golf options, and an amusement park. Be sure to enjoy a ride on the epic Myrtle Beach SkyWheel (#290), featuring air-conditioned pods to relax in as you take in the amazing views.
#291: Murrells Inlet – 3393-4123 Highway 17 South, Business, Murrells Inlet, SC
Travel a mere five minutes from Myrtle Beach to explore the fishing village of Murrells Inlet. Once the beloved hangout of the famous pirate Blackbeard, it is now the seafood capital of South Carolina and a vibrant boating community. A great spot for fishing, water sports, and echo tours, and home to Huntington Beach State Park (#292) and the illustrious Brookgreen Gardens (#293), a 9000-acre zoo and botanical and sculpture garden.
#294: Kiawah Beachwalker Park – 8 Beachwalker Drive, Kiawah Island, SC
Located 25 miles southwest of Charleston on the west end of Kiawah Island, Kiawah Beach offers the only public beach access to these pristine waters and miles of sandy shore. The park includes a boardwalk, lifeguards, beach chair and umbrella rentals, a snack bar, a picnic area with grills, and outdoor showers. At Freshfields Village (#295), just five minutes away from the park, you will find many unique shops and dining experiences, along with a variety of options to rent bikes, paddle boards, and kayaks. For great Mexican eats nearby, check out Nacho Hippo (#296)!
#297: Isle of Palms County Park – 1 14th Ave, Isle of Palms, SC
Situated 30 minutes west of Charleston, this county park offers a beautiful beach experience with lifeguards, a sand volleyball court, a picnic area with grills, outdoor showers, a playground, snacks, and beach chair and umbrella rentals. You can find absolutely everything you and your family will need for a memorable day at the beach!
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA
Hilton Head Island has been home to humans for more than 4000 years. The Yemassee and Creek Native American tribes both have a long history in the area. The island also contained indigo and cotton plantations throughout the 18th and 19th centuries before playing a large role in the Civil War as a base of operations for Union forces. Years later, it’s become a notable area for the best family beach vacations!
With some of the most pristine beaches in the country, this 12-mile stretch fits the bill for those looking to relax in the sun with a good book or tackle a variety of sand and surfing sports activities. With many tours, shops, restaurants, and more, this resort town is chock-full of things to do, including the destinations below.
#298: Adventure Hilton Head – 33 Broad Creek Marina Way, Hilton Head Island, SC
Get in touch with nature while soaring through the air and climbing high rope courses! There are seven zip lines and six rope courses to explore.
#299: Adventure Cove Miniature Golf and Arcade – 18 Folly Field Road, Hilton Head Island, SC
At Adventure Cove, there’s family fun for all ages, with two challenging 18-hole Caribbean-style golf courses.
#300: Sandbox Children’s Museum – 80 Nassau Street, Hilton Head Island, SC
This is the premier destination for early childhood hands-on play and learning.
#301: Lawton Stables – 190 Greenwood Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC
If there’s a horse lover in the family, you won’t want to skip Lawton Stables!
#302: Commander Zodiac Dolphin and Nature Tours – Broad Creek Marina, 18 Simmons Road, Hilton Head Island, SC
Here you’ll find private dolphin and nature-watching tours aboard zodiac rafts.
BEST FAMILY BEACHES
#303: Driessen Beach Park – 64 Bradley Beach Road, Hilton Head Island, SC
Sometimes referred to as Bradley Beach, you’ll find this park decked out with a great boardwalk area, playground, lifeguards, and all the amenities. Because this hidden gem is still relatively unknown to tourists, there are typically no crowds to navigate here!
#304: Coligny Beach Park – 1 Coligny Circle, Hilton Head Island, SC
Coligny Beach Park has the best parking and easiest access point to the beach, plus swings, gazebos with lounge chairs and umbrella rentals, bathrooms, and showers. There’s even a fun splash fountain for your kids to play in!
#305: Coligny Plaza – 1 N Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island, SC
Coligny Plaza is conveniently located just across from the beach. It offers many shops, restaurants, bike rentals, and more.
Discover even more of what South Carolina has to offer by reading our guides on Touring the Palmetto State on a Budget and the Best South Carolina Road Trip Destinations.
Florida is one of the few states offering summer activities all year round, thanks to its warm and sunny climate! With miles of Atlantic and Gulf coastline and legendary theme parks, Florida has something for everyone. At the top of the list for family fun is the city of Orlando. Home to what most consider to be the best theme parks in the world, your family will never be found lacking something to do. Here is a rundown of Orlando’s most visited family-fun treasures, along with tips to help you get the most out of your Orlando experience.
Something to know about Walt Disney World is that it’s enormous–double the size of Manhattan! It’s an innovative, tech-forward destination that uses the latest technology to make the experience even more magical. There are many annual events at Walt Disney World, as well as tons of places to eat. Many of the lodging options near Disney have fun themes that the kids are sure to love.
Comprising four themed amusement parks and two water parks, it’s hard to know where to begin at Disney! Each park comes with its own admission fee, so be sure to check out the websites (linked below) for discounts and park pass options.
#306: Magic Kingdom – 1180 Seven Seas Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL
Home to Cinderella’s Castle, Magic Kingdom is similar to Disneyland, but with close to double the rides and attractions.
#307: EPCOT – 200 Epcot Center Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL
If you love the thought of world travel, then this is the park for you! Epcot showcases 11 countries, and there’s also an area dedicated to space and underwater exploration. Various shows and rides throughout make the experience even more fun! Epcot is known to have the best restaurants of all the Disney parks, and it features a nightly narrated fireworks extravaganza and two daily parades.
#308: Disney’s Animal Kingdom – 2901 Osceola Parkway, Lake Buena Vista, FL
Animal Kingdom features an amazing exploration of exotic destinations and cultures. There are featured safari rides, various parades throughout the day, and, of course, animals! The nightly River of Lights show is also fun for families.
#309: Disney’s Hollywood Studios – 351 S Studio Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL
Hollywood Studios is home to many live entertainment performances, such as the notable Beauty and the Beast and Indiana Jones stage presentations. There are many rides and experiences to be had here as well, featuring Star Wars rides and exhibits and the legendary Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which has many twists and turns accompanied by Aerosmith tunes.
#310: Blizzard Beach – 1534 Blizzard Beach Drive, Orlando, FL
This world-class water park is not only the perfect place to cool off, but also boasts one of Disney’s best thrill rides, Summit Plummet. You’ll also find a unique variety of waterslides, a lazy river, a gentle wave pool area, and two deluxe play areas for young kids to release all their energy.
#311: Typhoon Lagoon – 1145 E Buena Vista Drive, Orlando, FL
Typhoon Lagoon has a surf pool pushing out six-foot-tall waves, epic water slides, a lazy river, a sandy beach with turquoise water, and a magical kid’s area where parents can either join in or lounge while kids play.
INSIDER TIP: Whether you’re visiting Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon, be sure to get to the park about 30 minutes before it opens so you have the opportunity to find a spot that will serve as your home base for the day. Trust us, this is a must! Also, if you arrive early enough, you can snag a free covered gazebo in addition to lounge chairs, which will provide a shady spot to retreat to when navigating a full day in the hot Florida sun. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
#312: Disney Springs – 1486 Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista, FL
Disney Springs is a premier outdoor shopping and dining experience where you can also take in a movie, enjoy a round or two of bowling, run through a water fountain to cool off, take in the fully stocked Lego shop and amazing Lego builds, and more! This is also the home of the NBA Experience, Art Walk, and Cirque Du Soleil stage show.
Disney Springs is a great spot for the entire family, whether you only have a few hours or are able to spend the whole day exploring. You can use the provided link to check out the website for more information on the 104 unique shops, 66 dining options, and 28 attractions, shows, and events.
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT
Like Disney World, the Universal Orlando Resort also comprises a cluster of parks, each with its own unique ambiance, attractions, and entrance fees. There are some truly thrilling rides for the daring members of your family, as well as movie-based rides and plenty of fun events to attend. Below, you’ll find an overview of each park, along with a few tips to help you have the best experience possible. Be sure to check the websites linked below for discounts and park passes.
#313: Universal Studios – 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL
Universal Studios features eight movie-themed areas positioned around a lagoon. There’s a good selection of rides, some for the adrenaline junkies in your bunch and plenty geared toward kids of all ages. Plus, there are several themed play areas for little ones, as well as shows and concerts for the whole family to enjoy. Last, but certainly not least, is a Harry Potter-focused site called Diagon Alley with themed rides and shops.
NOTE: You will find Universal’s CityWalk (#314), a premium shopping, dining, and entertainment complex, conveniently situated between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Use the CityWalk link for plenty of tips to enhance your Universal Studios experience.
#315: Islands of Adventure – Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL
Here you’ll find a huge selection of rides for the whole family to enjoy! Islands of Adventure is home to the second all-things-Harry-Potter location called Hogsmeade, featuring rides and shops. Each of Universal’s Harry Potter World offerings is detailed and completely different from the others. Those visiting Universal Orlando with their chief goal being the Harry Potter experience often visit both parks.
#316: Volcano Bay – 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, FL
Universal’s water theme park does not disappoint! At the center is Krakatau Volcano, which stands 200 feet above the park and is the highest peak in Florida. Volcano Bay features a signature coaster ride that takes visitors in and out of the volcano on a canoe. The park has a variety of water slides and rides to fit one’s adventure level. There’s also Waturi Beach, a multi-directional wave pool where guests can swim and relax in a beach setting, with a picturesque lazy river on site to enjoy. There really is something for everyone here!
- Arrive early at the park as it can reach maximum capacity quickly, and you will not be able to enter.
- Choose a locker away from the entrance to avoid intense crowds.
- If you really want to experience the day in style and luxury, we suggest you reserve a cabana ahead of time to claim a central location as your home base. Cabanas come with tons of perks: They’re private, come with a personal server, and include a complimentary fruit and snack basket, a small fridge, padded lounge chairs, and towel service. An extra bonus is that cabanas come with an express pass experience by allowing you to virtually book your place in line for each ride. This is a huge game changer if you can swing the additional expense.
ADDITIONAL ORLANDO AMUSEMENT PARKS AND EXPERIENCES
#317: SeaWorld – 7007 Sea World Drive, Orlando, FL
Did you know SeaWorld is home to some of the best thrill-seeking roller coasters in the US? In addition, there’s a wide selection of rides suited to every age group, as well as several aquatic and mammal-forward shows and opportunities to pet penguins. SeaWorld is both a fun and educational experience!
#318: Discovery Cove – 6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando, FL
Across the street from SeaWorld is an all-inclusive resort adventure where one has the opportunity to swim with dolphins at Discovery Cove. Your family can also enjoy Freshwater Oasis, where guests can swim with Asian small-clawed otters, swim with and feed cownose rays, and swim and snorkel with thousands of tropical fish in a coral reef habitat! Also worth the visit is Serenity Bay (#319), a scenic, tropical, beach-front paradise perfect for relaxation.
NOTE: When we say Discovery Cove is “all-inclusive,” we’re talking about food, gear (snorkels, masks, and floating devices), towels, lockers, and even fish-friendly sunscreen. Both SeaWorld and Discovery Cove are what family-vacation memories are made of!
#320: Kennedy Space Center – Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island, FL
Whether you are a space enthusiast or not, you won’t want to miss this fascinating and immersive adventure. The Kennedy Space Center features a well-thought-out visitors’ complex with over a dozen captivating attractions, as well as a walk through the history of space exploration as we know it.
For a deeper dive, consider the bus tour to view launch pads and the Apollo/Saturn V Center (#321) to see the largest rocket launched to date. There’s also the Shuttle Launch Experience (#322), a state-of-the-art simulator that enables one to experience what it feels like during an actual launch into space!
Among the many exhibits and hands-on simulations is the opportunity to meet an astronaut at Universe Theater (#323), so be sure to bring your questions. For a fun and unique treat, check out the Space Center’s space food! Be sure to visit the website linked above for full descriptions of each exhibit and experience available, as well as ticket information and add-ons you may want to consider.
INSIDER TIP: While there are many indoor sites, be sure to dress comfortably for the weather, as the Kennedy Space Center is mostly an outdoor park. We also recommend devoting a full day, if not two, in order to take in all that Kennedy Space Center has to offer.
#324: Orlando Science Center – 777 E Princeton Street, Orlando, FL
At the Orlando Science Center, you’ll find four floors of interactive exhibits, theaters, labs, workshops, and an observatory. The science center is a wonderful family destination where both young and old will walk away having learned new and exciting insights about the world around us.
#325: Tibet-Butler Preserve – 8777 Winter Garden Vineland Road, Orlando, FL
If you’re looking to break away from the crowds and get back to nature, you’ll want to head over to this beautiful reserve. You will find lovely trails, wooded landscapes, marshes, and interesting wildlife to greet you. Before heading out, check the website linked above for current weather conditions to ensure trails are open.
#326: Legoland – 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL (45 minutes south of Orlando)
If your children are Lego lovers, you’re going to want to make your way over to the Legoland amusement park. Although the target audience is two through 12 years of age, there’s definitely a little something for everyone! Visitors will step into a world of Lego-centric rides, Lego-building stations, and water attractions to make for a great day of family fun.
For more Florida fun, peruse our articles on budget-friendly destinations in Florida, Florida road trip attractions, and the best Florida nightlife in The Sunshine State.
Traveling to other states in the Southeast? We’ve got you covered with the best places for family vacation!
|Road Trip Destinations||Budget-Friendly Activities|
|● West Virginia||● West Virginia|
|● Kentucky||● Kentucky|
|● Tennessee||● Tennessee|
|● Mississippi||● Mississippi|
|● Alabama||● Alabama|
|● Delaware||● Delaware|
|● Louisiana||● Louisiana|
|● Arkansas||● Arkansas|
Best Midwestern US Family Vacation Spots
The midwestern region of the US offers much discovery and diversity. From the Great Lakes of Michigan to the plains of North Dakota and the Black Hills of South Dakota, you will find there are many family adventures to uncover.
The Midwest is home to multiple national parks, architectural landmarks like the Willis Tower (#327 – formerly known as the Sears Tower) and Gateway Arch (#328), and many museums. It’s also a hotspot for music lovers, with cities like Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit being home to many notable musicians and bands. Kansas City, Chicago, and St. Louis are all popular big-league sports destinations as well.
As far as food goes, the Midwest is known for its delicious comfort food, including cheese curds and deep-dish pizza. There are also tons of festivals to visit as a family. It’s easy to see why the Midwest is considered one of the best places to travel in the US!
Michigan: Mackinac Island, West Michigan’s Lakeshore, Traverse City, and More!
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, thrill-seeker, or foodie, the state of Michigan delivers! Nicknamed “The Wolverine State,” you might be surprised to discover that there are actually very few wolverines in the area. Also fascinating to note is that Michigan is the only state in the country that consists of two peninsulas connected by a bridge, and it’s framed by four out of the five Great Lakes. Michigan is home to the Fudge Festival (#329), and Traverse City is known as the “Cherry Capital of the World,” so if you’re in search of sweet treats, you’re sure to find them here!
MACKINAC ISLAND, MICHIGAN
Located at the northern tip of Michigan, this quaint resort-like town is full of history and family fun. We’re talking lawn games, ice cream socials, and carriage rides, as well as fascinating history and adventurous outdoor activities. Mackinac Island is a no-cars-allowed town, where visitors leave their cars at the ferry station in Mackinaw City for free. You can explore the island by foot, bike, horse-drawn taxi, or horse-drawn carriage sightseeing tour.
1) The island is eight miles around, and we suggest getting your bearings by starting with a beautiful walk or bike ride on the town’s Lake Shore Boulevard bike trail (#330), which leads around the island. The trail takes about 2.5-4 hours to complete on foot and one to three hours by bike, depending on how often you stop at points of interest.
2) If you are traveling to this storybook setting for the first time, we recommend you spend several days on the island in order to take in the full experience. However, if you are pressed for time, you can catch the first ferry in and the last ferry out to preview the whole island. There is much to do here, from exploring the many charming shops and eateries, to visiting the Forts, checking out museums, biking and hiking around the island, swimming, kayaking, and renting horses at local stables.
3) Make sure you get in the correct line when returning to Mackinaw City, as there are two ferry services, and each sails from various locations. Most hotels offer free shuttle service to and from the ferry line.
4) If you plan to swim in the coastal waters, be sure to bring water shoes, as the shoreline is covered in stones.
POINTS OF INTEREST
#331: Stroll and Shop – Various locations from Mission Point Resort to Surrey Hill
Strolling around downtown Mackinac Island’s beautiful Victorian-era buildings amongst the clippity-clop of horse feet is truly a magical experience. Be sure to walk through the legendary Grand Hotel (#332) for a “Somewhere in Time” movie moment.
#333: Fort Mackinac – 7127 Huron Road, Mackinac Island, MI
Fort Mackinac is rich in American history. Visitors will be immersed in reenactments and demonstrations featuring actors dressed in authentic garb, making history come to life! Included are many exhibits and 14 restored buildings available for the public to explore.
#334: Fort Holmes – 2234 Fort Holmes Road, Mackinac Island, MI
This small wooden fort was originally constructed by British soldiers in 1814 during the War of 1812. It’s close to Fort Mackinac and rests at the island’s highest elevation. Plus, it’s free of charge to visit.
#335: Mackinac Island State Park – 7029 Huron Road, Mackinac Island, MI
Whether by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage, be sure to see all the gorgeous lakeshore views, limestone outcrops, and beautiful hiking trails around this forested area. You won’t want to miss walking through the magnificent Arch Rock natural limestone formation (#336).
WHERE TO EAT
Mackinac Island has been crowned the fudge capital of the world, and its legendary confections do not disappoint. With over 13 fudge shops to choose from, visitors love to make their way through town to enjoy a sampling of each before they decide which shop will win their hearts.
As for savory bites, you really can’t go wrong on the island. If you are looking for something budget-friendly, you can pick up a sandwich at Doud’s Market (#337) and take it with you on your explorations for the day. The market is well-stocked with all sorts of breakfast, lunch, and dinner options if you’re looking to avoid restaurant prices. The Chuckwagon (#338) serves breakfast and lunch and has some of the best burgers in town in a casual and family-friendly setting.
MACKINAW CITY, MICHIGAN
You will most likely be traveling from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island, so we’ve provided notable attractions to add to your itinerary while in Mackinaw City, all of which are in the same general area.
FUN FACT: Many wonder why Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City have different spellings, even though they’re pronounced the same way. Here’s the lowdown: Both words originally come from the Native American word “Michilimackinac,” meaning “great turtle.” The Native Americans chose this word due to the shape of the island. The original spelling was eventually shortened to Mackinac and is still used for the island and several other geographical features in the area. However, when Mackinaw City was founded in the 1850s, the British changed the spelling from Mackinac to Mackinaw to reflect its pronunciation.
#339: Colonial Michilimackinac – 106 W Straits Avenue, Mackinaw City, MI
This historic state park features an 18th-century landmark fort and trading village. Here you’ll find live immersive reenactments, along with many exhibits to be explored.
#340: Headlands International Dark Sky Park – 15675 Headlands Road, Mackinaw City, MI
This 550-acre county park is designated as a rare dark-sky park. This is an amazing star-gazing opportunity for the whole family to enjoy, where staff will instruct you and provide telescopes to enhance the visitor experience. This makes for a late night, so be sure to bring along some snacks.
#341: Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse – 526 N Huron Avenue, Mackinaw City, MI
This lighthouse has been a guiding light since 1890, and it features many activities to intrigue your family. You can tour the Keeper’s Quarters for a better understanding of how they lived in the 1910s. The tour features a short film about the Straits of Mackinac, a tour of the lighthouse tower, and the lighthouse museum. The Fog Signal Whistle demonstration happens every two hours, beginning at 10 AM and ending at 4 PM.
#342: Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park – 9001 West, US-23, Mackinaw City, MI
Focusing on the 1700s way of life, this 600-acre state park offers many interactive demonstrations at its old sawmill, where you’ll enjoy a guided trek through the forest and so much more! An extra bonus is the zipline excursion through the trees, as well as a climbing rock wall and hiking trails for all levels. Be sure to check the website linked above for the dates of the park’s seasonal operations.
#343: Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum – 131 S Huron Ave, Mackinaw City, MI
The maritime museum is housed inside a 290-foot ice-breaking vessel, where maritime lovers can tour all the nooks and crannies of the ship.
#344: Mackinaw Old Time Trolley Company – 410 S Huron Avenue, Mackinaw City, MI
If you’re short on time and not sure how to experience the many historic sights Mackinaw City has to offer, consider taking the Mackinaw Trolley Tour, where knowledgeable guides will provide historic narration to give you the big picture of American history. Not only is it a highly informative tour, but it’s also an opportunity to relax and enjoy some downtime for the little ones in your group.
#345: Wawatam Park – 300 N Huron Avenue, Mackinaw City, MI
This is the perfect spot for a waterside picnic with a playground for the kids to enjoy. There are BBQ grills, telescopes, and an accessible beach area as well.
#346: Animal Tracks – 220 S Huron Avenue, Mackinaw City, MI
Have fun at an 18-hole minigolf course with a wildlife theme and beautiful lake views. The course takes about an hour, and it’s best to enjoy it during the day, as the course is not well-lit. A fun surprise awaits the adults on the 10th hole – you can take a little break with Starbucks coffee before moving on when you’re ready!
Named one of the “Prettiest Towns” in America by Forbes, Holland is located midway between Chicago and Detroit. Holland is most known for its Dutch cultural experience, lovely beaches, miles of paved and off-road bike paths, hiking trails, and Lake Michigan dunes.
#347: Nelis’ Dutch Village – 12350 James Street, Holland, MI
This charming Dutch-themed park, open from April through September, does not disappoint! With old Netherlands village streets and shops exploring the area’s rich Dutch roots and ancestry, families can enjoy immersive activities, exhibits, dancing, and more. Visitors will learn about wooden shoe making, cheese making, and traditional dance. You can visit museums, as well as the petting zoo and Ferris wheel, amongst staff dressed in authentic Dutch apparel.
The streets are beautiful and pristine, with flowers everywhere. There are great photo ops for memorable family photos as well. This handy map of the village lays out activities, events, shops, and dining. For a bite to eat, consider the Hungry Dutchman Cafe (#348), serving up yummy Dutch cuisine.
NOTE: Nelis’ Dutch Village is a little over 2.5 hours southwest of Traverse City and 2.5 hours northeast of Chicago.
NEARBY POINTS OF INTEREST
#349: Windmill Island Gardens – 1 Lincoln Ave, Holland, MI
Nine minutes southeast of Nelis’ Dutch Village, Windmill Island Gardens features beautifully manicured gardens, a windmill tour, a gift shop, live music, and many engaging activities for children to enjoy. This destination is dog-friendly, too!
#350: Tulip Time Festival – 42 W 8th Street, Holland, MI
Enjoy over six million tulips in bloom at Holland’s Annual Tulip Festival offered every May, with national entertainment acts, events, and activities for all ages.
#351: Big Red Lighthouse – 2215 Ottawa Beach Road, Holland, MI
Located 17 minutes southwest of Nelis’ Dutch Village, this distinguished historic landmark is the most photographed American lighthouse. Please check the website linked above for availability and closures, as weather conditions can affect access.
A DAY AT THE BEACH AND DUNES
Michigan’s coastlines are really something to behold! Holland’s unique setting offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a day of basking in the sun, playing on the beach, swimming, and combing the sand for treasures.
#352: Laketown Beach – 6710 142nd Avenue, Holland, MI
Laketown Beach has spectacular views from the top of the cascading wooden stairs down to the secluded beach area, making for a unique day at the beach.
#353: Tunnel Park – 66 Lakeshore Drive, Holland, MI
This concrete tunnel cuts through a local sand dune and provides access to the glistening Lake Michigan beach. It’s a fantastic location to picnic, swim, play, and observe a beautiful sunset.
#354: Saugatuck Dunes State Park – 6575 138th Avenue, Holland, MI
Your family will love this 1000-acre recreation center with 200-foot-tall coastal dunes!
LOCAL HIKING TRAILS
#355: Holland State Park – 2215 Ottawa Beach Road, Holland, MI
There are many interesting trails to be found here, such as Saugatuck Dunes South Trail (#356), a moderately challenging 5.2-mile loop trail that takes about two hours to complete. There’s also Saugatuck Dunes North Trail (#357), a 2.2-mile trail, and Mount Pisgah Dune Boardwalk (#358), a popular 0.4-mile trail ideal for birding, running, and hiking.
NOTE: All park trail access requires the purchase of a day pass.
#359: Stu Visser Trails – 929 Ottawa Beach Road, Holland, MI
This is a flat, easy 1.5-mile out-and-back trail that’s perfect for birding and walking with young children.
#360: Riley Trails Loop – 16300 Riley Street, Holland, MI
The Riley Trails Loop is 3.4 miles long. It’s considered easy and takes about one hour to complete.
LOCAL BIKE TRAILS
Please access this link for everything you want to know about biking in the town of Holland. You’ll find trail descriptions, maps, safety culture, and local weekly bike rides to join. Treat this resource as your one-stop information destination!
#361: El Rancho – 770 E 16th Street, Holland, MI
Visit El Rancho for delicious Mexican fare.
#362: Goog’s Pub & Grub – 667 Hastings Avenue, Holland, MI
This is a local favorite, serving yummy burgers, sandwiches, and sides.
#363: DeBoer Bakery – 360 Douglas Avenue, Holland, MI
Here you’ll find scrumptious Dutch breakfast and lunch delights for a true taste of the old country.
Frankenmuth is best known for its Bavarian-style architecture, beautifully coiffed gardens, quaint shops and eateries, and many family-fun activities. Here you’ll find the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland (#364), which is open all year long. You can also time your visit to attend some of Frankenmuth’s legendary festivals, which celebrate its German heritage. Oktoberfest (#365) is generally the most well-known, but there’s also the Frankenmuth Auto Fest (#366) and the World Expo of Beer (#367)!
#368:Frankenmuth River Place Shops – 925 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, MI
Hailed as the best spot for serious retail therapy, this charming village on the Case River boasts over 40 shops. It’s decked out with restaurants and confections galore. Stroll around the village to enjoy Bavarian music, festive decorations no matter the time of year, and carriage rides where you can enjoy lovely water views. Be sure to visit the Enchanted Forest (#369) and make an appointment to forge your own blacksmith creations at the Bavarian Blacksmith Experience (#370). This noteworthy village has been featured in several Hallmark Christmas films and offers a genuine get-away-from-it-all experience.
#371: Frankenmuth Kayak Adventures – 445 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, MI
Rent kayaks for a fun and peaceful ride on the calm Case River.
#372: Bavarian Belle Riverboat – 925 S Main Street, Suite D-3, Frankenmuth, MI
Climb aboard the authentic paddlewheel to hear a narrated tour of Frankenmuth on this one-hour ride.
#373: Frankenmuth Aerial Park – 1375 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth, MI
Frankenmuth Aerial Park is located only two minutes from the Frankenmuth River Place shopping center. Here, you and your family can enjoy the thrill of rope courses, ziplines, and obstacle courses. Come have a blast as you swing through the trees and fly through the air!
WHERE TO EAT
#374: Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth – 730 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, MI
Zehnder’s is known for its traditional family-style meals and feasts, massive portions, authentic pastries, and over-the-top Sunday brunch.
#375: Honey B’s Eatery – 525 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, MI
Feast on scratch-made deliciousness with a farm-fresh breakfast and brunch menu.
#376: The Station 100 – 100 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, MI
The Station 100 serves up authentic rustic and sophisticated European fare. This restaurant offers a kid-friendly menu for simpler palates.
#377: Frankenmuth Fudge Kitchen – 606 S Main Street, Frankenmuth, MI
Don’t miss this mouth-watering confection shop where you can watch fudge makers at work.
TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN
Traverse City is a much-beloved destination for foodies, sand dune adventurers, beach lovers, and those who can’t get enough of the great outdoors! In fact, Sleeping Bear Dunes was once called “The Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America, beating out Lanikai Beach in Hawaii and Aspen in Colorado, among others. With much to see and experience, we suggest spending a good three to four days in Traverse City to take it all in. We’ve curated the following list of adventures for you to consider.
SLEEPING BEAR DUNES
#378: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – 9922 Front Street, Empire, MI
With beautiful beaches and sky-high dunes, Sleeping Bear Dunes offers many adventures! Surrounded by forests, inland lakes, and a quaint maritime village, this family-oriented destination makes for many memorable experiences.
#379: The Dune Climb – 6748 S Dune Highway, Glen Arbor, MI
While a dune climb can be strenuous, running back down is sheer joy and comes with the big payoff of cooling off with a delightful swim in the clear waters of Lake Michigan!
#380: Water Sports Near the Dunes – Multiple locations
There are many opportunities to kayak, canoe, or paddle in and around Sleeping Bear Dunes. Bring your own equipment or rent from several nearby outposts.
#381: Hiking Trails – 13 trail options
For those with energy to burn, take the three- to four-hour hike through the dunes to Lake Michigan. You’ll be walking up and down the dunes, so be sure to bring plenty of water!
INSIDER TIP: It is important to wear the right shoes for this type of adventure. Lightweight boots or shoes made of breathable material with plenty of ankle support are a couple of good options. You can pick up maps and great information from the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center (#382) before you launch out on your adventure.
#383: Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail – A 22-mile stretch between Empire and Bohemia Road
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a hard-surfaced, non-motorized, multi-use trail providing picturesque travel to many places within the lakeshore. The trail is handicap-accessible and intended for bicyclists, runners, walkers, and babies in strollers. See the website linked above for additional information and an interactive map.
ADDITIONAL POINTS OF INTEREST
#384: Cherry Festival – 521 S Union Street, Traverse City, MI
Traverse City is the “Cherry Capital of the World” and home to the yearly Traverse City National Cherry Festival held every July. It brings in over 500,000 visitors from far and wide and is an absolute must if you happen to be in town.
#385: Cherry Street Market – 303 West Mile, Kalkaska, MI
This is a unique open-air shopping experience where you will find everything from fresh produce and flowering plants to fruit trees, garden accessories, stepping stones, cherry preserves, raw honey, maple syrup, and fresh-baked goods. Located 30 minutes west of downtown Traverse City, Cherry Street Market is worth the drive if you have the time.
#386: Clinch Park – 161 E Grandview Parkway, Traverse City, MI
Minutes from downtown Traverse City, Clinch Park has beautiful lake views, a sandy beach area, picnic tables, and lifeguards, along with a snack bar and restrooms.
WHERE TO EAT
Traverse City is a farm-to-table destination and a true foodie community, so you really can’t go wrong! Bon Appetit has even listed Traverse City as one of its top five American foodie towns. Here are a few standouts for your consideration.
#387: Farm Club – 10051 S Lake Leelanau Drive, Traverse City, MI
This is a farm, restaurant, brewery, bakery, and marketplace with a fantastic atmosphere, menu, and staff in a beautiful setting. The whole experience is truly spectacular, and the thoughtful menu provides many options to please every palate.
#388: Green House Café – 115 E Front Street, Traverse City, MI
If you are in the downtown area, Green House Cafe is a great kid-friendly breakfast and lunch spot serving up many options.
#389: Mama Lu’s – 149 E Front Street, Traverse City, MI
Billed as a modern-day taco shop, this downtown establishment serves yummy food with fresh ingredients.
#390: Oakwood Proper Burgers – 1108 E Eighth Street, Traverse City, MI
Oakwood Proper Burgers serves amazing burgers and fries with locally baked buns. Many profess this to be the best burger they have ever had!
#391: Poppycocks – 128 E Front Street, Traverse City, MI
Enjoy delicious new American cuisine with fresh ingredients. The food at Poppycocks is over-the-top delectable, but it’s on the more expensive side. The menu is diverse, making it easy to find whatever you have a hankering for.
TRAVERSE CITY SHOPPING SCENE
Downtown Traverse City (#392) is the place to go for northern Michigan’s most diverse cuisine, best shopping, and great culture. There are many one-of-a-kind shops, art galleries, apparel and jewelry stores, and culinary-focused specialty shops. Check out the website linked above for a list of restaurants and shops to explore.
There’s more to discover in Michigan! Scroll through our articles on inexpensive activities in Michigan and top road trip destinations in Michigan to complete your itinerary.
North Dakota: Forts, Lewis & Clark, National Parks, and More!
With uncrowded wide-open spaces, amazing vistas that take your breath away, beautiful blooming prairies, and must-see national and state parks, North Dakota has all the makings to be one of the best family vacations in the US. The Dakota Zoo (#393), National Buffalo Museum (#394), and International Peace Garden (#395) are just a few standouts.
#396: Fort Union Trading Post – 15550 ND-1804, Williston, ND
This national historic site is the largest fort on the upper Missouri River and was the most significant fur trading location from 1829 to 1867. Enjoy self-guided tours, films, and living-history presentations.
#397: Scandinavian Heritage Park – 1020 S Broadway, Minot, ND
Visit this fascinating outdoor museum, featuring the craftsmanship and design of all five of the world’s Nordic countries. The park includes a 240-year-old log house from Norway (#398), a replica storehouse (#399), a 27-foot-tall Swedish Dala Horse (#400), a breathtaking replica of the Gol Stave Church Museum (#401), a Finnish Sauna (#402), a 1928 Danish Windmill (#403), statues, a map plaza (#404), a picnic shelter, a gift shop, a waterfall feature, and more. There is a lovely adjacent park as well.
#405: Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center – 2576 8th Street, Southwest Washburn, ND
Experience engaging exhibits, hundreds of period artifacts, world-class art collections, and friendly interpreters who tell the story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
#406: Theodore Roosevelt National Park – 315 2nd Avenue, Medora, ND
Named after the 26th president of the United States, who was both a naturalist and a rancher, Theodore Roosevelt National Park will definitely be a highlight of any trip to North Dakota. Visitors are encouraged to hike or drive through the park to bask in the natural beauty alongside free-roaming bison. Drop by the Painted Canyon Visitor Center (#407) for a walk through the gift shop and enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the North Dakota Badlands.
#408: Fort Ransom State Park – 5981 Walt Hjelle Parkway, Fort Ransom, ND
Fort Ransom State Park is located in the beautifully wooded Sheyenne River Valley, with canoeing, fishing, and hiking to enjoy. It has lovely, well-maintained trails and campsites.
#409: North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum – 612 E Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, ND
This destination features four museum galleries that tell the story of North Dakota through thousands of artifacts, high-tech displays, and interactive exhibits, including a spaceship, a life-size dinosaur, a treehouse for kids to play in, and much more!
#410: Dickinson Museum Center – 188 Museum Drive East, Dickinson, ND
Visit this 12-acre campus featuring Badlands Dinosaur Museum (#411), Joachim Regional History Museum (#412), Pioneer Machinery Hall (#413), and Prairie Outpost Park (#414).
#415: Medora Outdoor Musical – 3422 Chateau Road, Medora, ND
This high-energy country-western variety show features singing, dancing, live horses, and a reenactment of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous charge in the battle of San Juan Hill, along with a finale of fireworks. It is an ode to patriotism, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Great American West. See the website linked above for ticket information and add-ons, such as the famous Dinner and a Show buffet dinner with scrumptious Pitchfork Steak Fondue.
Complete your family vacation to North Dakota with these North Dakota road trip destinations and budget-friendly activities in North Dakota.
South Dakota: Mount Rushmore, Corn Palace, Cave Formations, and More!
South Dakota is a crown jewel of family travel destinations. Some folks picture the state as an expanse of flat land with nothing to do, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! South Dakota hosts the only underground research facility in the world, the Sanford Underground Research Facility (#416). It’s also home to the Crazy Horse Memorial (#417), the world’s largest mountain carving. This monument has been under construction since 1948 and is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World in progress.
For other great ideas, check out our articles entitled 10 Free Things to Do in South Dakota and Top South Dakota Road Trip Destinations. Undoubtedly, the top pick in this state is the most visited historic landmark in the US: Mount Rushmore.
#418: Mount Rushmore – 13000 SD-244, Keystone, SD
Truly a sculptor’s dream, Mount Rushmore needs no introduction. You will learn about American presidents and why these specific presidents were chosen, as well as discover the amazing planning, effort, and skill needed to carve this structure. Take a guided or self-guided audio tour to uncover more history and details of the making of this grand monument. The Presidential Trail (#419) will bring you up close and personal to the 60-foot-tall faces themselves.
INSIDER TIP: Crazy Horse Memorial is just a short 30 minutes southwest of Mount Rushmore, offering up a nightly multimedia laser-light show (#420) and multiple well-curated and thoughtful museums (#421) for your family to explore.
#422: Jewel Cave National Monument & Park – 11149 US-16 B-12, Custer, SD (45 minutes southwest of Mt. Rushmore)
Jewel Cave is the third-largest cave in the world, with 215 miles of mapped passageways containing spectacular cave formations, such as calcite crystals, strands of gypsum, and more. This is one for the memory books, with large rooms, tight crawlways, and dark fissures leading into the unknown!
NOTE: We suggest taking advantage of the guided tours, not only to help you navigate the mysterious cave structure, but also to learn about the science and history of this natural wonder. Tours are booked way in advance, so be sure to plan accordingly!
#423: Wind Cave National Park – Located in the southern corner of South Dakota
Wind Cave is one of the world’s longest and most complex caves made of boxwork, an unusual cave formation composed of calcite fins resembling honeycombs.
#424: Badlands National Park – Located 75 miles east of Rapid City, SD
Badlands National Park features dramatic landscapes spanning layered rock formations, steep canyons, and towering spires, where bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs can be found within its sprawling grasslands. Don’t miss the Badlands Loop Road (#425), which winds past many lookouts. There’s also a fascinating Fossil Exhibit Trailhead (#426) featuring a boardwalk with displays of fossils uncovered in the park.
#427: World’s Only Corn Palace – 604 N Main Street, Mitchell, SD
Located along the I-90 W just an hour west of Sioux Falls and 4.5 hours east of Mount Rushmore, the Corn Palace makes a great pit stop on your epic Midwest route. Built in 1921, the Corn Palace pays tribute to the agricultural economy of the prairies and the hardships and grit of US farmers. There’s a free guided tour highlighting all the effort, artistry, and design that goes into implementing the many corn murals gracing the palace’s interior and exterior walls.
If you decide to spend the night in Mitchell on your way to Mount Rushmore or Sioux Falls, you might want to consider checking out the Prehistoric Indian Village (#428) and enjoy outdoor adventures at Lake Mitchell (#429). You can check out the many biking and hiking trails or relax and swim at the sandy beach area, where you will find opportunities to kayak or take on other water sports.
INSIDER TIP: The best mountain bike trail in the area is Kiwanis Trail (#430), which runs along the south side of Lake Michell and weaves in and out of forested beauty. The nearby hiking trail is about two miles long and is considered a very doable hike for all ages.
Finally, if you want your children to learn about space, natural history, or reptiles, stop by the many museums in the area, such as Journey Museum (#431) for dinosaurs and early settlement exhibits. There’s also the South Dakota Air & Space Museum (#432), which features over 30 vintage aircraft and is located outside the main gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base, and the Reptile Gardens (#433), where you can see a 600-pound giant tortoise.
There’s so much more to the Midwest–and we did the research for you! You’ll find some of the best places to travel in the US by clicking the links below.
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Best Southwestern US Family Vacation Destinations
The Southwest is known for its unique climate and diverse culture, as well as its wide-open spaces and the breathtaking Grand Canyon. When traveling to the Southwest, planning is essential for the best family vacations possible! There’s often a lot of driving involved, so you’ll want to take time to determine your route so that you don’t have to backtrack. Consider the climate as well, since temperatures can get very high in the summertime. If you prefer more moderate weather, you might opt for a vacation in the spring or fall instead. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and comfortable walking shoes for all members of the family!
Something to remember as you travel across the Southwest is that it’s home to animals like scorpions and rattlesnakes, which often hide in rocky areas and tall grass. Keep an eye on the kiddos to make sure they don’t wander off into these creatures’ homes!
Arizona: Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff, and Benson
Arizona is truly everything the Southwest appears to be in the movies. With canyons, mountains, deserts, cacti, Indian tribes, and the baking hot sun, you’ll want to put on your cowboy (or cowgirl) hat, dig out your boots, and jump in to explore the full experience this wonderful state has to offer.
Discover more of Arizona with our guides, featuring Arizona road trip destinations, inexpensive activities in Arizona, and Arizona nightlife guide.
GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
As you move farther west on this epic family road trip, you will start to see majestic red rock formations all around, building your family’s excitement as you approach the natural wonder of the Grand Canyon National Park (#434). One of the top destinations on many bucket lists, the Grand Canyon measures one mile deep, 277 miles long, and 18 miles wide. This treasured national landmark, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, was formed as erosion from the Colorado River cut a deep channel through layers of rock. Its mile-high walls contain some of the oldest exposed rocks on Earth and are a wondrous sight to behold.
INSIDER TIPS: Before You Visit the Grand Canyon
- Confirm trail distances: It’s a good idea to research trail round-trip distances and depth realities before setting out with younger children to make sure the journey is doable for everyone in your group. Remember, going up is much more challenging than going down, so keep that in mind as you plan.
- Get in shape: If hiking up and down the canyon is the goal, you may want to plan a family physical training program to prepare your whole group before heading out on your family vacation.
- Supplies: You’ll want to bring lots of water, sunscreen, and protein-packed snacks with you as you set out for this “grand” adventure! We also encourage you to bring a whistle, signaling mirror, compass or GPS, maps, trekking poles if taking a challenging route, matches or a lighter, and a lead headlamp with fresh batteries.
- Clothing: Dress accordingly, as summer temperatures can fluctuate between 50 and 80 degrees at the South Rim, with warmer temperatures within the inner canyon. Sturdy closed-toe athletic or hiking boots are a must, regardless of your hiking goals. We suggest wearing quick-drying, sweat-wicking clothing layers, which will provide you with warm and cool weather options, a sun-shielding hat, sunglasses, gloves, a rain poncho, and watersport sandals if you plan to cross any streamed areas.
- Safety: Be careful when taking photos at the canyon’s edge, as there are fatalities every year due to photo ops gone wrong! Also, if traveling with young children, this may be the time to consider investing in a safety harness.
- Reservations: Be sure to make campground reservations at least one year in advance if you’re planning to camp in the canyon!
#435: Hopi House – Grand Canyon Village, AZ (Located next to the El Tovar on the Canyon rim)
Designed to represent a typical adobe pueblo used by the Hopi Indians, the Hopi House is a national historic landmark and living museum. Here, visitors can purchase and watch the making of authentic Native American arts and crafts and enjoy the museum’s plethora of fascinating artifacts. Keep your eyes out for Native American dance performances at various points throughout the day.
#436: Mule Trips – Multiple locations
This can be a fun way to experience some of the sights and trails. Keep in mind that this option can also be very strenuous, depending on the trail and tour selected. See the website linked above for more details and rider qualifications.
#437: White Water River Rafting – Multiple locations
Rafting along the Colorado River is one of the many adventures to be had while visiting the Grand Canyon. Many companies provide this experience, such as Wilderness River Adventures, Hualapai River Runners, and Grand Canyon Whitewater.
#438: Grand Canyon Skywalk – 808 Eagle Point Road, Peach Springs, AZ
Brave a walk across this glass-bottomed bridge extending 4000 feet above the Grand Canyon Rim to enjoy unparalleled views. Nothing compares to this experience, which is located at Grand Canyon West on the Hualapai Reservation property. This is four hours west of the Grand Canyon National Park entrance, and it’s a six-hour drive from the park entrance to Los Angeles, California. The Skywalk experience is on the pricey side, but it’s a one-of-a-kind way to experience this amazing natural wonder.
This beautiful town, surrounded by stunning red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls, and pine forests, offers many outdoor adventures to enjoy. Many visit Sedona for its legendary energy vortexes, and there are lots of yoga and meditation retreats held in the area as well. It’s also a popular stargazing destination, thanks to its beautifully clear desert skies!
#439: Slide Rock State Park – 6871 AZ-89A, Sedona, AZ
A day of family fun awaits you seven miles north of Sedona. Whoosh down Oak Creek’s 80-foot-long natural red rock waterslide, enjoy a picnic, and venture out for a hike in the surrounding area.
#440: Red Rock State Park – 4050 Red Rock Loop Road, Sedona, AZ
This is a beautiful, picturesque experience where you will find child-friendly hiking trails as well as more challenging paths to conquer. The park offers guided moonlight hikes, daily guided nature hikes, and an excellent Junior Ranger Program.
#441: Pink Jeep Adventure Tours – 204 N State Route 89A, Sedona, AZ
Sit back, relax, and take in the stunning views during this unique experience of Sedona.
#442: Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village – 336 AZ-179, Sedona, AZ
For a shop-till-you-drop cultural experience, head over to this internationally-recognized village to experience unique shops in an authentic Mexican village setting. You’ll see vine-covered stucco walls, fountains, galleries with over 50 specialty shops, and unique artisans to enjoy. There is always something special going on, and you’ll likely come across live music and authentic dancing. This is not your average shopping experience! It’s a great place to grab a bite and walk through the village to find a treat or two. And since we’re talking food, try to swing by the Cowboy Club (#443) for a bison burger and cactus fries.
#444: Cathedral Rock – Sedona, AZ (1.2 miles out and back, considered challenging due to the steep trail)
Cathedral Rock is an experience that can’t be missed while in Sedona! With gorgeous panoramic views, this short but sweet 1.2-mile round-trip hike offers a child-friendly path option as well! You will need to purchase a Red Rock pass for $5 in order to have access to this hike.
#445: Bell Rock Pathway – Sedona, AZ (2.8-miles out and back, considered moderately challenging)
This trail begins at the Bell Rock Vista Trailhead and leads to the top of Bell Rock, where you will enjoy views of many Sedona landmarks.
Also known as the Valley of the Sun, Flagstaff is home to three national monuments: Walnut Canyon National Monument (#446), Wupatki National Monument (#447), and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (#448). Plus, Route 66 winds through Flagstaff, and the city is also home to Northern Arizona University, the Museum of Northern Arizona (#449), and a lively downtown area.
#450: Lava River Cave – 171B Forest Road, Flagstaff, AZ
Thought to have been formed by a river of lava that cut out a mile-long cave, some refer to Lava River Cave as a tube. One must leave the beaten path to find this gem, but it is well worth the effort! Be prepared with flashlights or headlamps for each person in your party, plus closed-toe hiking or sports shoes, long pants, and warmer clothes, as temperatures can get down to 40 degrees. This is not the best idea for little ones, as there is much opportunity for them to slip and get scratched and bumped up. You and your family are sure to get a good workout during this hike, so pack some snacks and water. Band-Aids or a small first-aid kit are also a good idea.
#451: Lowell Observatory – 1400 W Mars Hill Road, Flagstaff, AZ
You’ll want to grab a day pass, which provides access to walk through the exhibits and sights during the day, and head back over after dinner to enjoy a stargazing experience that is out of this world!
#452: Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course – Fort Tuthill County Park, 2446 Fort Tuthill Loop, Flagstaff, AZ
Enjoy hours of tree-to-tree adventures filled with obstacles, action elements, and ziplines as you take on the Adventure Course in a beautiful setting. There are both adult and kids’ course options.
#453: Shopping – Downtown Flagstaff, AZ
Check out the quaint and very walkable town of Flagstaff to find one-of-a-kind treasures and eateries.
#454: Kartchner Caverns State Park – 2980 AZ-90, Benson, AZ
Located four hours northeast of Sedona, Kartchner Caverns is home to one of the world’s longest soda straw stalactites, the tallest natural column in Arizona, and the world’s most extensive formation of brushite moonmilk. A true natural wonder, this cave offers 2.4 miles of passageways within its mysterious underground world. There are no self-guided tours allowed, so you’ll want to sign up for one of the many tour options.
NOTE: Tours may be difficult for those with mobility challenges or claustrophobia, as the caves are dimly lit, and some of the passageways are narrow.
#455: Horseback Riding at Double R Guest Ranch – 440 W Cimmaron Lane, Benson, AZ
With many options and durations to choose from in a beautiful natural setting, the Double R Guest Ranch riding experience is at the top of the list of things to do in Benson.
#456: San Pedro Golf Course – 926 N Madison Avenue, Benson, AZ
Enjoy a round of golf at San Pedro Golf Course, which features 18 holes at various levels of difficulty for an affordable price. It is worth the mention for all you avid golfers who may want to put a check on your bucket list for a round of golf in an unusual setting.
#457: Forever Home Donkey Rescue & Sanctuary – 360 W Rockspring Lane, Benson, AZ
For the animal lovers in your family, consider visiting this reserve, where kids can pet and admire horses, donkeys, and mules in their natural habitat, and adults can help groom the animals.
Traveling to other states in the Southwest? These resources will ensure you hit all of the best family vacation spots!
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Best Western Family Travel Destinations
This region is about as diverse as they come! It has epic mountain ranges, rolling plains, fertile valleys, volcanoes, stunning beaches, and deserts. Not only that, but the Western region is home to “The Entertainment Capital of the World,” making it the perfect destination for a memorable family vacation!
Because there’s so much diversity in this region of the United States, make sure to research the climate of the areas you’ll be traveling to so that you can pack accordingly. The West is a great area for road-tripping and camping, and there are many state parks as well as national parks, so if your family loves spending time in nature, this may be the ideal spot for the best family vacations in the US.
Wyoming: Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, and More!
Wyoming has gorgeous and diverse landscapes, vast wide-open stretches of highway where you’ll go miles without seeing a soul, and a plethora of wildlife to encounter. Although it’s the least populated state in the country, there’s more than enough to see and do. This unique US State is one for the memory books and can be one of the best places for family vacation.
Complete your Wyoming itinerary with our articles on Pocket-Friendly Trips Yellowstone and the Best Wyoming Road Trip Destinations.
#458: Yellowstone National Park – 2 Officers Row, Yellowstone National Park, WY (Headquarters)
As Mount Rushmore is to South Dakota, Yellowstone National Park is to Wyoming. Although the entire state offers many family travel destinations, Yellowstone is at the top of the list as the world’s first national park. With over 200 wildlife creatures, breathtaking landscapes, nearly 300 waterfalls, and 500 geysers, there is never a dull moment at this bucket-list vacation adventure spot. The park offers a self-guided Junior Ranger program that takes about two days to complete and is a wonderful way for the whole family to experience Yellowstone!
INSIDER TIP: Plan your visit by taking advantage of the Albright Visitor Center website for further details, maps, current weather conditions, and road closures. Here’s a link to Yellowstone’s digital map app.
Many of Yellowstone’s beautiful falls can be accessed from the park’s western Yellowstone entrance. These waterfalls were created due to a combination of volcanic activity and erosion from the Yellowstone River. You might see many types of animals around the falls, including bighorn sheep, wolves, grizzly bears, and black bears–so be sure to keep your distance and be careful!
#459: Firehole Falls – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Firehole Falls is one of the most accessible and stunning waterfalls in the park. The nearby Firehole Canyon Swimming Area (#460) is available to enjoy as well.
#461: Tower Fall – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Visitors can watch as Tower Creek drops a dramatic 132 feet down before joining the Yellowstone River.
#462: Kepler Cascades – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Kepler Cascades is located just south of Old Faithful, where you can enjoy a moment of peace as you take in the view from this beautiful overlook.
#463: Gibbon Falls – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Take just a few steps into the woods from the parking area to enjoy this 84-foot drop of powerful water that cascades into a small, clear pool.
#464: Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Both the upper and lower falls are magnificent and can be experienced from a variety of overlooks.
GEYSERS AND HOT SPRINGS
Yellowstone is the site of the world’s largest active geyser field, an amazing natural wonder. In fact, with more than 500 geysers, Yellowstone contains more than half of the world’s geysers! We have highlighted the most notable geysers for your reference below. For more information, you can access this interactive geyser map created by Montana State University, which features all of Yellowstone’s geysers and hot springs. Please remember that the water coming from the geysers can be extremely hot, so don’t get too close!
#465: Norris Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Norris Geyser Basin is Yellowstone’s hottest hydrothermal basin, with most visitors finding it to be the most exciting and unpredictable area. It’s made up of Porcelain Basin (#466) and Black Sand Basin (#467), both of which offer up many geysers, hot springs, vents, and pools. Be sure to walk across the dramatic Porcelain Basin Overlook (#468) and head over to Mammoth Hot Springs (#469). The views of travertine limestone terraces and cascading frothy white water make for an epic experience. Last but not least, here you will find Steamboat Geyser (#470), the tallest geyser Yellowstone has to offer.
#471: Lower Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park, WY
Many of the thermal features of this basin are accessible by way of the one-way Firehole Lake Drive (#472), a three-mile road off the Grand Loop. Geysers and hot springs are visible from the road.
#473: Midway Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park, WY
This small basin is home to the largest single hot springs in the world. The most notable to visit are the Grand Prismatic Spring, Excelsior Geyser Crater, Turquoise Pool, Opal Pool, Flood Geyser, Spray Geyser, and Imperial Geyser. They are truly breathtaking!
#474: Upper Geyser Basin – Yellowstone National Park, WY
The Upper Geyser Basin is home to the most famous geyser, Old Faithful (#475), named for its frequent eruptions. Also located in the Upper Basin is Castle Geyser (#476). It erupts from one of the largest cones, with a unique distinction occurring 15 minutes into its erupting cycle as it transitions into a steam phase that sounds like the roar of a train.
The Grand Geyser (#477) has one of the highest jets, sometimes lasting for ten minutes at a time, and is quite something to behold. Some of the smaller geysers in this area are notable because they erupt more frequently. Anemone Geyser (#478) erupts every 7-10 minutes, and Plume Geyser (#479) erupts every hour.
There are also several turquoise and rainbow-colored thermal pools in this basin. The most notable include Beauty Pool (#480), Chromatic Pool (#481), Doublet Pool (#482), and Morning Glory Pool (#483).
BEST FAMILY HIKES
Yellowstone National Park is one of the largest volcanic systems on Earth. Naturally, it makes for some of the most unique hikes in the US, with nearly 1000 miles of trails to explore! Our recommendation is to choose a trail suited to your group’s overall experience level. Always bring plenty of water, maps, sunscreen, and bear spray to be safe. It’s also best to wear layers, as temperatures can fluctuate quite a bit. Please note that many of these trails are located in Montana, north of Wyoming.
#484:North Rim Trail – N Rim Drive, WY (7.6-mile out-and-back trail with 250-foot elevations)
Known as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone National Park, this hike provides incredible views and is doable for most.
#485: Fairy Falls Trail – West Yellowstone, MT (4.5 miles in and out; an easy trail that takes 1.5 hours to complete)
Beautiful greens and blues shine brightly on this trail. You’ll start off at the Fairy Trails trailhead parking lot near Midway Geyser Basin. This trail provides the opportunity to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook for glorious views of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
#486: Midway Geyser Basin Trail – West Yellowstone, MT (An easy, 15-minute 0.7-mile loop)
This short and sweet hike is also known as the Boardwalk Trail. It’s under a mile long and brings you close to the Grand Prismatic Spring. There are purple, blue, and pink hues to be found here as you get closer to the spring. This is another easy and memorable hike for the whole family!
#487: Specimen Ridge Trail – West Yellowstone, MT (A challenging 16-mile point-to-point trail that takes 8.5 hours to complete)
At Specimen Ridge Trail, the hills are alive! This hike is considered difficult, as it is a 16-mile trail with an elevation gain of 3800 feet. However, if your crew is fit and ready for this challenge, it is worth the effort. Once you get to the top, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of Yellowstone. Bring plenty of water, bear spray, and a map to ensure you don’t get lost!
#488: Observation Point Trail – West Yellowstone, MT (A moderate 1.5-mile trail that takes 45 minutes to complete)
This trail is considered moderate in terms of incline difficulty. Once you reach the top, you’ll enjoy Old Faithful from a completely different vantage point.
INSIDER TIP: If you can make plans to reach the top early or late in the day, you’ll most likely have the place all to yourself!
#489: Lamar Valley Trail – West Yellowstone, MT (A moderate seven-mile out-and-back trail that takes 2.5 hours to complete)
The skill level is easy to moderate on this flat trail. You will find notable wildlife along the way, such as elk, bison, wolves, and birds.
#490: Point Sublime Trail – West Yellowstone, MT (A moderate 2.5-mile out-and-back trail that takes one hour to complete)
Point Sublime Trail is considered a moderate hike due to its 341-foot elevation gain. This trail will lead you to lovely forest-edged lookouts.
#491: Mammoth Hot Springs – Yellowstone National Park, WY (An easy to moderate 3.5-mile hike)
This beautiful hike will take you over boardwalks and lead you around a large area of geothermal hot springs. There is a 500-foot incline, and this hike takes less than an hour to complete.
#492: Yellowstone Lake Overlook Trail – West Yellowstone, MT (A moderate 1.7-mile loop trail that takes 42 minutes to complete)
This trail offers spectacular views and terrain with an elevation change of only 200 feet. You might spot some bears on this one, and there are sulfur pools at the top.
CROOK COUNTY, WYOMING
Crook County received its name from Major General George Crook of the US Army, who was a hero in the Snake Indian Wars. This county is located in Wyoming’s geographic center and is home to Keyhole State Park (#493).
#494: Devils Tower National Monument – WY-110, Devils Tower, WY (Located two hours northwest of Mount Rushmore)
Devils Tower is a fascinating geological tower, protruding 1267 feet from the prairie floor that surrounds the Black Hills. It is one of the best crack-climbing areas in North America due to its many parallel cracks.
There are great hiking trails in the area to explore, such as Valley View Trail (#495), South Side Trail (#496), Joyner Ridge Trail (#497), Red Beds Loop Trail (#498), and Tower Trail Loop (#499), which take visitors around the entire structure. Your family canenjoy a stop-and-watch moment to look for wildlife such as prairie dogs, foxes, and deer at one of the three pullouts when coming in. You can also spend some downtime at the park and picnic area, where restrooms are available.
JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING
Located about two hours south of Yellowstone National Park, the beautiful micropolitan area of Jackson Hole offers a vast selection of memorable family-fun activities to enjoy on your getaway! From ski resorts to various parks and the National Elk Refuge (#500), this region has more outdoor activities to conquer than most will have time to take in.
Jackson Hole is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise, and no matter what your interests may be, you will find this area full of much discovery and fun!
INSIDER TIP: If you and your family are first-timers to some of these outdoor adventures, we highly recommend venturing out with the assistance of an outfitter and guide who have the ability to provide the appropriate gear needed, as well as the training and experience necessary to help you and your family confidently enjoy Wyoming’s great outdoors.
#501:Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris – 1400 US-89, Jackson, WY
This is an amazing way to see, experience, and learn about local wildlife and history from a professional guide. Half-day, full-day, and multiple-day tours are available.
#502: Snow King Mountain – 402 E Snow King Avenue, Jackson, WY
Known as Jackson Hole’s premier in-town playground for both kids and adults, this ski resort transforms in the summer to become a thrill-seeker’s paradise for all ages. Daily activities include scenic gondola rides, an alpine slide, a “Cowboy Coaster,” the Treetop Adventure ropes course with ziplines, a miniature golf course, paragliding, hiking, biking, bungee trampolines, an interactive maze, and a bouldering park. There are also excellent food options on-site. This one-stop experience offers various price-point packages to choose from.
#503: Snake River Rapids
Whitewater rafting on Jackson Hole’s Snake River is a popular summer experience for the whole family. Enjoy spectacular views, learn about Wyoming’s flora and fauna, and maybe even spot a moose or two! Be prepared with a change of clothing, as you will get wet on this eight-mile rafting trip. There are many companies in the area that offer experienced guided excursions, such as Dave Hansen Whitewater, Mad River Boat Trips, and Jackson Hole Whitewater. If you and your family are experienced rapid riders and have your own equipment, you can access this map to find safety instructions and the perfect spot for your adventure.
#504: Grand Teton National Park – 103 Headquarters Loop Moose, WY (Headquarters)
If rock climbing is on your family bucket list, head over to Grand Teton National Park for an amazing rock canvas to work with. We suggest getting in touch with a mountain guide service that provides family programs, seasoned instructors, and supplies to make your climbing and rappelling adventure a safe and enjoyable experience. Exum Mountain Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides are among the best options in the area.
#505: Jackson Hole Rodeo – 447 W Snow King Avenue, Jackson, WY
If you are looking for down-home fun and ready to yell “yee-haw” in the proper setting, check out this 100-year-strong interactive event, which is part of Jackson Hole’s true-blue cowboy culture. Seat cushions of some sort are recommended.
#506: Chuck Wagon Dinner – 812 Cache Creek Drive, Jackson, WY
In keeping with the Old West theme, we recommend this covered wagon cookout and show. Offering more than just a bite to eat, you’ll start with a horse-drawn covered wagon ride into Cache Creek Canyon, with an experienced wrangler serving as your guide into camp. There, you’ll be greeted by the smell of a home-cooked Dutch oven dinner. After dinner, you’ll experience a country band with hand-clapping music to entertain the whole family.
#507: Horseback Riding in Jackson Hole
If there was ever a beautiful wilderness landscape to explore on horseback, Jackson Hole is it! Whether your family prefers a short ride or a day trip with an experienced guide, there are plenty of resources to make this dream come true. A few options to check out are Willow Creek Horseback Rides and Teton Village Trail Rides.
#508: Jackson Hole Bike Park – 3395 Cody Ln, Teton Village, WY
This excellent bike park offers many trail options for bikers of all levels. You’ll sail over tabletops, lean around corners, and enjoy the added bonus of catching the Teewinot Lift or Sweetwater Gondola for a five-minute ride back up to the top in order to ride right back down again! Tickets include access to the ride up, along with other add-on options. Adaptive off-road and ramp courses are available as well. Check the website linked above for ticket information and days and times of operation.
FREE OUTINGS TO ENJOY IN THE JACKSON HOLE AREA
Jackson Hole can be a rather pricey vacation spot, so we’ve put together a list of free, family-friendly activities to enjoy while you’re there.
#509: Jackson Hole Disc Golf – 3395 Cody Lane, Teton Village, WY
A free 18-hole disc golf course awaits your family at the base of Teton Village. Hole number one begins near the ropes course and Sweetwater Gondola.
#510: Bouldering at Snow King – 100 E Snow King Avenue, Jackson, WY
Located at the base of Snow King Mountain in Phil Baux Park, this free boulder park features three large boulder walls for all ages and skill levels. Other amenities include horseshoe pits, a playground, and sheltered picnic tables. You can also hike to the top and take the gondola down!
#511: Jackson Town Square – 10 E Broadway Avenue, Jackson, WY
Stand under the grand elk antler arch and snap a family picture, enjoy an Old-West style carriage ride along the boardwalk lined with boutiques and galleries, and grab a bite to eat. During the summer months, the town square hosts Jackson Hole Shootout reenactments (#512) and demonstrations with talented local actors.
#513: WildWalls – Jackson, WY
Jackson Hole Public Art and Artists created 11 beautiful large-scale murals that are displayed throughout town. Each year, there are newly curated murals to enjoy. You can download this map and head out to take your family on a fun scavenger hunt to find their favorite mural.
Hiking the Grand Teton National Park (#514) and Bridger-Teton National Forest (#515) trails is not for the faint of heart, as wildlife share these trails and can sometimes be challenging to navigate if you are not experienced and prepared. You may encounter marmots, mountain lions, elk, bison, and grizzly bears! It is therefore recommended you take on this amazing experience with a professional guide.
Prior to your hike, visit the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center (#516) in Moose, which provides a comprehensive overview of the park’s ecology. Then, make your way over to visit Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve Center (#517), which serves as the starting point for some of Grand Teton National Park’s best hiking trails.
For more doable (and perhaps less daunting) hiking options, consider the following.
#518: Black Canyon Overlook – Teton Pass, WY (Four miles out and back, with a moderate rating)
This trail begins with a moderate climb, and the altitude can make the hike challenging for some. Hikers will enjoy outstanding views of Jackson Hole and the Gros Ventre Mountain Range (#519).
#520: Hagen’s Trail – Jackson, WY (5.3 miles out and back)
There are many smaller trails connected to this one, so it’s best to have a map so you don’t get off-course. Some of the smaller trails will take you along the river and under shady trees.
#521: Cirque Trail – Teton Village, WY (3.9 miles out and back, considered moderately challenging)
This beautiful trail begins with a 10,450-foot tram ride up Rendezvous Mountain at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski area, enabling you to reach the summit in 12 short minutes. The aerial tram price is $30, so depending on your budget, you may want to consider the free Bridger Gondola, which takes visitors up 9,000 feet, although not quite to the top. The views are still amazing from the lower vantage point! Another option is to hike to the top and ride the gondola down for free.
#522: Wildflower Trail – Teton Village, WY (Eight miles out and back, moderate to challenging with an elevation gain of 2742 feet)
This moderately challenging trail begins at the tram trailhead and leads to the top of Bridger Gondola, where you will find the Piste Mountain Bistro (#523), making for a convenient opportunity to enjoy a meal and rest up. This hike is a bit steep at times, but it has shaded rest areas that are often laced with beautiful wildflowers.
NOTE: Once you’ve reached the top, you can choose to take the gondola down for free. It’s about a 2700-foot hike up and equals around 3.8 miles in total if you choose to take this route.
#524: Nelson Knoll – 205-280 Nelson Drive, Jackson, WY (0.6-mile loop, considered easy)
You’ll want to give this one a try for the younger kids in your group. This enjoyable 0.6-mile trail leads to a grassy knoll with fantastic views. The wildlife you’re most likely to encounter on this trail includes bighorn sheep and ground squirrels, with the trail providing lovely picnic opportunities.
California: Hollywood, SoCal, Santa Barbara, Catalina, and San Diego!
With beautiful mountains, valleys, deserts, and coastal beauty to explore, along with top-notch entertainment, it is no wonder California has long been at the head of the class for the top family vacation spots! There is never a dull moment to be had here, and with more to do than you will have time to partake in, we have narrowed things down in this curated list of experiences we think you should consider.
For other great ideas, check out our articles entitled Top 7 California Road Trip Destinations to Explore & Enjoy and 10 Amazing but Cheap Things to Do in California.
A couple of things to know about California are that it’s crucial to make reservations in advance, especially for popular lodging locations and attractions, and that many tourist hotspots offer great discounts for families. Be on the lookout for these, as they can save you quite a bit and open up your budget to enjoy even more activities in the area!
HOLLYWOOD AND LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Hollywood is known as the Entertainment Capital of the World due to the area’s thriving radio, television, music, and filmmaking industry, as well as its many amusement parks, such as Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Six Flags Magic Mountain. In fact, the entertainment culture and offerings extend beyond Hollywood and into the Los Angeles city limits, as well as other surrounding areas. The food and nightlife in this area are excellent, but be prepared for very heavy traffic that can increase travel time. Bringing along plenty of snacks can prevent family members from getting too hungry when stopped in traffic!
#525: Disneyland – 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim, CA
Made up of two main parks, the original Disneyland and the newer Disney California Adventure, you’ll be sure to find all your favorite rides and characters here, along with nightly fireworks and daily parades!
#526: Six Flags Magic Mountain – 26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia, CA
If you’re looking for screams and thrills, you’ll want to head over to this popular amusement park, where you’ll find roller coasters, water rides, and more. While there are a few gentler rides for your little ones to enjoy, this park is best known for its extreme thrill-seeker rides. Located about 25 miles north of the Universal Studios area, you’ll want to plan on taking a full day to enjoy this family adventure.
#527: Knott’s Berry Farm – 8039 Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, CA
It is one of the best family vacations with teens. With rides appealing to both teens and adults, Knott’s Berry Farm is also home to the much beloved Camp Snoopy (#528), featuring over 15 kid-friendly rides and seasonal performances for the younger kiddos in your group. If you’re looking to cool off, check out Soak City Water Park (#529), a separately gated 15-acre water park adjacent to Knott’s Berry Farm. From tube and body slides to thrilling raft rides, a tidal wave pool, and more, this is an adventurous way to cool off during Southern California’s warm summer weather.
#530: Pacific Park – 380 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, CA
Located on the Santa Monica Beach Pier, Pacific Park is stocked with a traditional fair setup, including a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, aquarium, and fairground games, all with a glorious oceanfront view! It’s definitely an exciting addition to a day at the beach.
#531: Universal Studios and Universal CityWalk – 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA
This destination is both a film studio and an amusement park. You’ll discover Harry Potter and Jurassic World lands to explore, plus a studio tour featuring all things silver-screen and Hollywood glamor, as well as a stunt show, several 3D movies and stage shows, and more.
#532: Hollywood Walk of Fame – 6901 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
For those who consider themselves movie buffs or are interested in taking a look at some of the most well-known Hollywood sights, the Walk of Fame is sure to be your cup of tea. There are over 15 city blocks to explore, each lined with brass stars honoring past and current celebrities.
INSIDER TIP: Several of these streets are not in the safest area of Hollywood, so keep that in mind if you are traveling with young children.
FILM BUFF-ORIENTED TOURS
#533: Warner Brothers Studio Tour – 3400 Warner Boulevard, Burbank, CA
Take a behind-the-curtain look at the film industry, both then and now.
#534: Paramount Pictures Studios – 5515 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
This two-hour tour is a movie buff’s dream come true! Immerse yourself in history, behind-the-scenes stories, and more.
#535: The Chinese Theatre – 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA
Take a tour of this iconic theater to uncover insider stories, catch a movie in the IMAX theater, and check out celebrity handprints in front of the building.
#536: Theatre West’s Storybook Theatre – 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard W, Los Angeles, CA
The Storybook Theatre of Los Angeles at Theatre West presents child-friendly, interactive musicals with a message for children three to nine years of age. LA Parent Magazine’s recent parent survey ranked Storybook Theatre as the No. 1 Children’s Theatre in Southern California.
Getty: Two locations
The Getty Villa Museum in Malibu (#537) features a breathtaking recreated Roman villa-like country house, which is home to an outstanding collection of Greek and Roman antiques, artifacts, and paintings. Meanwhile, the Getty Center (#538) in Los Angeles is one of the most impressive architectural sites in the United States, boasting some of the finest works of art in the world. Even the grounds are something to behold, with modern circular architecture, beautiful gardens, and amazing views, all for free!
#539: Los Angeles County Museum of Art – 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
Here you’ll discover an eclectic offering of art from around the world. There are also striking outdoor features and artistic displays, making for a memorable photo-op destination.
#540: California Science Center – 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA
The California Science Center offers a variety of stellar exhibits, films, interactive displays, and more!
#541: Griffith Observatory – 2800 E Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA
Overlooking the Los Angeles basin, Griffith Observatory hosts fascinating exhibits and offers a top-notch planetarium with state-of-the-art lighting, visuals, and sound!
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!
There are so many amazing places to eat in this foodie metropolis, you’d need to be on an extended stay to make a dent in the deliciousness! You can enjoy Mexican and Asian food, seafood and fusion cuisine, tons of vegan and plant-based options, and gourmet burgers, among plenty of other selections. Here are a few iconic standouts that are considered a must during your stay.
#542: Pink’s Hot Dogs – 709 N La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, CA
No matter where you hail from, you have most likely heard of this famous eatery, where locals, Hollywood stars, and tourists stand in line to devour what are arguably the best hot dogs in the world. Trust us when we say it is worth the wait in line!
#543: Farmers Market – 6333 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA
This sprawling market is where the locals have been coming since it opened in 1934. Over the decades, this market has grown into a thriving foodie and gift center. With authentic international food stalls offering up gems from every country imaginable, be sure to come with an empty stomach to make room for these delectable eats. You may just run into a star or two trying to shop incognito, or perhaps you’ll stumble upon the Food Network or local movie studio shooting a scene in the midst of this notorious LA destination. It’s easy to find; just look for the tall Farmers Market clock tower!
#544: Art’s Deli – 12224 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City, CA
When looking for the best deli in town, you can’t go wrong with Art’s!
SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA
Santa Barbara is often referred to as America’s Riviera because of its near-perfect weather, Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, and world-renowned food and wine scene. It’s located less than two hours from Los Angeles, making it a doable day trip. However, you may want to stay longer to enjoy all the activities, beaches, shopping, food, and history. Here are a few Santa Barbara staples awaiting your discovery.
#545: Old Mission Santa Barbara – 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA
Beautiful grounds, architecture, and California missions history are available to explore here. Both self-guided and guided tours come at a nominal fee. The provided QR code connects to an audio tour as you walk the grounds and indoor spaces.
#546: Santa Barbara Zoo – 500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Barbara Zoo is small but beautiful, with over 500 animals in natural habitats. There’s even an immersive Australian walkabout where you can see kangaroos, emus, and wallabies up close.
#547: Downtown State Street Shopping – State Street, Santa Barbara, CA
Enjoy an outdoor open-air shopping and dining experience with galleries and one-of-a-kind specialty stores.
#548: Santa Barbara Harbor Beach – 132-A Harbor Way, Santa Barbara, CA
Affectionately known as Sandspit Beach amongst local surfers, this small beach is located at the end of Santa Barbara Harbor (#549) and is within walking distance of Stearns Wharf (#550). This is a delightful location to pick up shells when the tide is low, or to simply play, relax, and watch the surfers in action!
#551: Hendry’s Beach – Western Santa Barbara near the Mesa District
Also known as Arroyo Burro Beach, Hendry’s is one of the area’s most picturesque beaches and is just a ten-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara. Surrounded by beautiful towering cliffs and the curvy coastline, this is the spot where locals and surfers meet up to enjoy the waves and views. Amenities include restrooms and showers, picnic tables, a lifeguard, a grass park, and trails.
#552: Douglas Family Preserve – 2551 Medcliff Rd, Santa Barbara, CA
Seated above Hendry’s Beach, this preserve offers stunning views of the valley, mountains, and ocean. It’s a great picnic spot and photo op. Your family can walk or bike along the promenade and enjoy the peaceful setting. The oceanfront positioning of the park is a great spot to view dolphins and whales passing through! Douglas Family Preserve is located near the intersection of Cliff Drive and Las Positas Road in Santa Barbara’s Mesa neighborhood.
#553: Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club – 3300 Via Real, Carpinteria, CA
Established in 1911, this beautiful polo club is the third-oldest polo facility in the United States and is world-renowned! Each Friday and Sunday afternoon, the general public can attend a game. Fans can even get involved at half-time by stomping out divots in the course field. This is an exciting sport that the entire family will enjoy watching!
#554: Lil’ Toot Water Taxi – Departs from the Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf
This water taxi provides a 25-minute narrated tour between the Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf, offering an informative and scenic view of Santa Barbara’s waterfront.
#555: Kids World Park – 1400 Santa Barbara Street, Santa Barbara, CA
Kids World Park is one of the best family vacations with kids. Your kids will be entertained for hours at Kids World Park! With 8000 square feet of playground activity, there is never a dull moment here. There’s even an enclosed section for toddlers to keep them safe from the energetic older kids! Grab a bite to go and let your kids run wild as you take a little breather.
As is the case with most beach resort locations, there are a plethora of tours available for you to consider. From whale watching (#556) to kayaking (#557) to beach or canyon trail horseback riding (#558) and more, there are endless possibilities to explore and enjoy!
CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA
As you head south toward San Diego, consider spending a fun-filled day or two on Catalina Island! Just a one-hour ferry ride from the San Pedro and Long Beach ports, you will be transported to a pristine island retreat with beautiful white sand beaches and crystal-clear blue waters. Catalina Island is a fantastic place to go snorkeling, paddle boating, island off-roading, or riding on a glass-bottomed boat (#559)!
Your family can explore the historic town of Avalon (#560) by foot, electric bike, or golf cart. Since visitors aren’t allowed to bring their cars onto the island, you can discover miles of unspoiled land and hidden coves by taking advantage of one of the many tour options available on the island, such as the Ridgetop Eco-Tour (#561).
If time permits and hiking is a family pastime, consider the beautiful 38-mile Trans-Catalina Trail (#562), or portions of it if you’re on a tight schedule. Catalina is also home to several epic zipline excursions, such as the Eco Zipline Tour (#563). And for something less extreme but still challenging, you may want to tackle what is considered to be among the most difficult miniature golf courses (#564) in the world! Catalina is truly a wonderful family experience with endless fun and beauty to explore, and once you step foot on the island, you may never want to leave!
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
What’s not to like about San Diego? With picture-perfect weather, miles of gorgeous beach and soothing ocean breeze, laid-back vibes, and amazing eateries and attractions, San Diego has all the makings for a wonderful family getaway. Although one of the ten largest cities in the US, the feel is intimate and community-centric. There is no shortage of things to do in and around San Diego! The Gaslamp Quarter (#565), La Jolla Cove (#566), and the Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (#567) are just a few examples.
#568: SeaWorld – 500 Sea World Drive, San Diego, CA
With epic thrill-seeker rides, shows, and animal encounters, such as the Dolphin In-Water Interaction (#569) and Penguin Up-Close Tour (#570), Sea World does not disappoint!
#571: Legoland – One Legoland Drive, Carlsbad, CA
Just 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego, this Lego-centric experience is chock-full of tyke-sized rides, shows, and fun activities. There’s also a Sea Life Aquarium (#572) and Legoland Water Park (#573), so be sure to bring your swim gear, and be ready to have a blast!
#574: USS Midway Aircraft Carrier and Museum – 910 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA
You’ll be welcomed aboard the US’s longest-serving aircraft carrier, where you can take self-guided, audio-guided, or docent-guided tours to understand the history of this ship and experience what life is like at sea. You’ll also have the opportunity to sit in an aircraft cockpit, experience full-motion simulators, and enjoy various exhibits.
#575: San Diego Zoo – 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego, CA
Wildlife conservation is the top priority here, and you’ll find lush natural habitats and fun animal encounters for the family.
INSIDER TIPS: Try to arrive early, when the animals are most active and there are fewer visitors to navigate. Take the 35-minute bus tour first to get the lay of the land and avoid the lines that form later in the day. Plan your visit on a weekday to avoid crowds if possible.
#576: San Diego Safari Park – 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, CA
With over ten safaris to choose from, as well as play areas, Petting Kraal, wildlife encounters, and an Air Balloon Safari, this zoo visit is sure to be a memorable event.
NOTE: If you are wondering what the difference is between the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Safari Park, wonder no longer! The Safari Park is an 1800-acre wildlife sanctuary with a focus on African and Asian animals, and the San Diego Zoo is a 100-acre property with over 560 species and about 3500 animals in residence. Both are spectacular in their own right! Check out each of their websites for details.
#577: Balboa Park – 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA (Visitors Center)
This is definitely not your average park! It’s 1200 acres in size and serves as home to the San Diego Zoo. Balboa Park also boasts many walking gardens and fountains, museums, gift shops, a 1910 original hand-carved European carousel, a miniature train ride tour, and plenty of eateries.
#578: Birch Aquarium – 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA
This noteworthy aquarium features many interactive exhibits, including over 60 fish species and invertebrate habitats. It also houses the research and findings of the world-renowned Scripps Institute of Oceanography and is one of the largest centers for ocean and Earth science research in the world.
INSIDER TIPS: Advance reservations are required before visiting, and plan for a two- to three-hour visit to take in all there is to explore. When capturing photos, be sure to turn off your flash, as the glass enclosures will reflect the light and ruin your pictures. Dress accordingly, as the outdoor Tide Pool Plaza (#579) may offer the opportunity for little feet to get wet.
A DAY AT THE BEACH
California beaches are among the best in the world! You’re sure to love the variety between different beaches, the surfing culture, and the wide range of activities to enjoy. We have created the following list of family-friendly destinations in the area to help you plan the best family beach vacations.
#580: Cardiff State Beach – One mile south of Cardiff on Old Highway 101, Encinitas, CA
This destination is a long, sandy strip of beach with plenty of room to run and play. There’s even easy parking access right next to the beach, which is not common. Cardiff is a surfer’s mecca in these parts, as it provides some of the best surf spots in the area.
#581: Mission Bay – 2688 E Mission Bay Drive, San Diego, CA
Part of Mission Bay Park, the largest aquatic park of its kind, Mission Bay has many points jetting out into the bay, as well as coves and islands to explore. You can take a ride on paved bike paths, picnic at Ski Beach (#582), and enjoy the playgrounds and grassy areas at Playa Pacifica Park (#583).
#584: Moonlight State Beach – 400 B Street, Encinitas, CA
This is a beach with a grass park, a children’s play area, and a significant lifeguard presence. The slope of the beach is graduated, making playing in the water a safe scenario for younger children. The downside is that Moonlight Beach becomes quite crowded in the thick of summer, so be sure to come early to establish your spot on the sand!
#585: Del Mar City Beach – 1700 Coast Boulevard. Del Mar, CA
The northern half of Del Mar City Beach, from 15th Street to The River Mouth, is arguably San Diego’s finest, with good swimming, intermediate waves, and easy access at every block. Two coastal parks, Powerhouse (#586) and Seagrove (#587), are located here, providing excellent spots for a picnic.
#588: Coronado Beach – Ocean Boulevard and Isabella Avenue, Coronado, CA
Coronado Beach is a 1.5-mile-long sandy beach set against the backdrop of the grand Hotel del Coronado. The beach is very flat, making it a perfect location for skimboarding and walking. Families arrive in the morning toting umbrellas, beach towels, and picnic coolers for an all-day stay.
WHERE TO EAT
In San Diego, you can find international cuisine, Mexican food, farm-to-table dishes, seafood, and tasty craft beer. Here’s a list of family-friendly standouts for you to check out.
#589: Campfire – 2725 State Street, Carlsbad, CA
At Campfire, waiters can serve food to your table, or you can take advantage of the optional fire pit dining. Did we mention there are s’mores on the menu? This restaurant features wood-fired American fare with camping décor and a chic-rustic vibe.
#590: The Crack Shack – 2266 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego, CA
Here, you’ll enjoy fantastic farm-fresh chicken meals with all the fixings. If you’re serious about chicken, this is the place to go! It features a fun play area geared toward preschool and grade-school kids.
#591: Corvette Diner – 2965 Historic Decatur Road, San Diego, CA
This is a fun spot with great burgers and shakes. An added bonus is the Gamers Garage, which is a 5000-square-foot game area filled with pinball and arcade games the whole family will enjoy.
#592: Flap Your Jacks – 3020 University Avenue, San Diego, CA
In addition to an extensive menu, each table at Flap Your Jacks is outfitted with its own pancake griddle, allowing guests to create their own unique flavors and “Flip Your Own” pancakes.
Kids Eat Free
#593: Barra Barra Saloon – 4016 Wallace Street, San Diego, CA
Kids ten and under eat free (one child per paying adult).
#594: DiCicco’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria – 515 W 13th Avenue, Escondido, CA
Kids ten and under eat free on Mondays.
#595: Del’s Hideout – 5351 Adobe Falls Road, San Diego, CA
Kids 12 and under eat free on Wednesdays.
#596: Dickey’s Barbecue Pit – 5604 Balboa Avenue Ste 105-106, San Diego, CA
Kids 12 and under eat free every Sunday.
Hawaii: Best Family Beach Vacations in Honolulu, Oahu, Maui, and More!
There is no other US state quite like Hawaii! It’s ranked high on the list of best family beach vacations in the USA, and with so many options, it can be hard to decide which island to visit! While each is special and unique in its own right, deciding which island is best for your family really depends on what you and your tribe like to do.
Hawaii is made up of six major islands, and the most visited are Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and The Big Island of Hawaii. Oahu tends to be the most popular and contains the state capital of Honolulu. Meanwhile, Maui is best known for its breathtaking beaches, Kauai is the most laidback island, and the Big Island of Hawaii offers the most landscape diversity.
Since Hawaii is one of the top family vacation spots in the US, it’s crucial to book your trip and activities as far ahead of time as possible. Be sure to pack plenty of hats and sunscreen, and don’t forget to be respectful of Hawaii’s delicate ecosystem.
For more fun in Hawaii, see our articles on wallet-friendly activities in Hawaii and Hawaii road trip destinations. They make it easy to put together one of the best family vacations in the US!
THE ISLAND OF OAHU
The third-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Oahu is home to the state capital, Honolulu. Also known as the “Heart of Hawaii,” Oahu encompasses the majority of Hawaii’s population. This means it is also one of the most crowded islands, so if you and your family are looking for a more secluded and relaxed island experience, this may not be the island for you. We are talking Los Angeles and New York-type traffic realities here! However, it is home to Pearl Harbor, and this in and of itself may be a reason to take your family to this island destination.
#597: Pearl Harbor National Memorial – 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu, HI
Learn about one of the most pivotal moments in US history, which ultimately caused the US to enter World War II. With a handful of interactive historical sites (#598) to experience, Pearl Harbor is best appreciated by children ten years of age and older. Younger kiddos might enjoy seeing the various aircraft at the Aviation Museum (#599). However, the overall Pearl Harbor experience may go over the heads of younger children.
#600: Zip Line Climb Works – 1 Enos Road, Kahuku, HI
Located on Oahu’s north shore, this is a thrilling three-hour tour ranging from 500 feet to a half-mile long, with eight world-class lines, two rappels, three sky bridges, and more! What a way to explore the beautiful island of Oahu! The age restriction is seven years and up.
#601: Kualoa Ranch – 49-560 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe, HI
Kualoa Ranch is a private nature reserve and working cattle ranch located on the windward side of the island, 30 minutes north of Honolulu. It’s home to several thrilling tour opportunities. If you’re a Jurassic Park fan, you’ll love the Jurassic Adventure Tour (#602), where you can explore the many film locations of the movie on an off-road vehicle. This is definitely an adventure story you will be sharing for years to come.
Kualoa Ranch is also home to Jurassic Valley Zipline (#603), which is situated above the Jurassic Valley. Your family can enjoy treetop canopy ziplining, zooming across seven exciting lines, two suspension bridges, and five mini hikes. This is a three-hour tour that includes training and safety briefings. Guests must meet age, height, and weight requirements; see this webpage for more information.
#604: Hike to Diamond Head – Honolulu, HI
Take a rewarding hike to one of Hawaii’s most recognized landmarks and feast your eyes on stunning coastal views. The Diamond Head State Monument (#605) encompasses over 475 acres, including the inner and outer slopes of the crater. Situated near the eastern edge of Waikiki’s coastline on the south shore of Honolulu, you will find the entrance to the parking lot off Diamond Head Road between Makapuu Avenue and 18th Avenue. The trail is open from 6 AM to 4 PM, and gates close at 6 PM. Entry and parking reservations are required.
INSIDER TIPS: The 0.8-mile hike from the trailhead to the summit is short but steep and strenuous, with an elevation gain of 560 feet as it ascends from the crater floor near the parking lot. On the bright side, the way down is a breeze! The best time to visit is in the morning, when you’ll enjoy optimal temperatures and avoid crowds. Once you make your way down, keep your eyes open for a food truck selling delicious shaved ice for a much-earned treat!
#606: Koko Crater Trail – 7604 Koko Head Park Road #7602, Honolulu, HI
This is a difficult hike, but worth the effort to enjoy the rewarding panoramic views at the top. Although a short 1.4 miles, the hike goes straight up, gaining about 1000 feet in less than a mile. Koko Crater Trail is made of old WWII railway planks and is a popular workout route for locals!
INSIDER TIP: If desired, there is an easier alternative route to the right of the planks. The trailhead is located in Kato Head District Park, 423 Kaumakani Street, Honolulu.
#607: Wiliwilinui Trail – 2390 Okoa St, Honolulu, HI (4.5 miles out and back with steep inclines, considered moderately challenging)
While this can be a challenging hike for beginners and young children, the payoff offers spectacular views of the entire windward side of the island once you reach the top. The trailhead is in the gated community of Waialae Iki. There is a guard house where the guard will record your license plate number in exchange for a parking pass.
NOTE: A limited number of parking passes are available.
#608: Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail – Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail, Waimanalo, HI (Two miles out and back, considered an easy route)
Enjoy this mellow, paved climb to the Makapu’u Lighthouse and overlook. On a clear day, you can see the islands of Molokai, Lanai, and Maui.
#609: Lanikai Pillbox Trail – 265 Kaelepulu Drive, Kailua, HI (1.8 miles out and back, considered challenging, with steep sections and no guardrails)
This is a popular area for hiking, running, and walking that offers beautiful views of Lanikai and Kailua.
#610: Manoa Falls Trail – Na Ala Hele, Honolulu, HI (1.7 miles out and back, considered moderately challenging)
This is a lush trail with shaded trees for most of the journey. Enjoy the smells of eucalyptus trees, tropical flowers, and a bamboo grove along the way. Breathtaking panoramic views await you at the top!
One of the many reasons visitors flock to the island of Oahu is for its famous surf spots and ideal conditions. Regardless of your skill level, the North Shore is the place to catch the best waves! There are many companies offering beginner, intermediate, and advanced surf lessons, such as North Shore Oahu Surf School (#611), which provides all the gear you’ll need!
#612: Hanauma Bay – 7455 Kalanianaole Highway, Honolulu, HI
A mere 30 miles from downtown Honolulu, this beautiful bay will transport you from the city’s hustle and bustle into a serene retreat. Formed within a volcanic cone, this preserve offers a pristine ecosystem that green turtles call home. You can see hundreds of tropical fish and marine species swimming beneath the waves, making for one of the best snorkeling spots on the island. With calm, shallow waters and lifeguards on duty, this family spot is a must! There is a $25 entry fee, with bay access open from 6:45 AM to 4 PM, and the bay is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
THE ISLAND OF KAUAI
Referred to as “The Garden Island” since it’s the greenest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai typically caters to nature lovers looking for tropical landscapes and pristine natural environments. From green valleys and jagged cliffs to cascading waterfalls and picture-perfect views, you will have the opportunity to capture many memorable photos and videos every step of the way!
Kauai is also a frequently-used location for Hollywood’s remote tropical locales, and it’s provided backdrops for movies like King Kong, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park. While Kauai is one of the more laidback and isolated islands, there is much to enjoy and explore, especially if your family loves nature and outdoor activities!
#613: Kauai Backcountry Adventures Mountain Float Tubing – 3-4131 Kuhio Highway, Lihue, HI
This mountain tubing adventure is a one-of-a-kind experience for the whole family to enjoy! With access to 17,000 acres of former plantation land, you will enjoy gorgeous views as you gently flow down the long, lazy river. Kids will love the gentle spins and drops as you travel through several tunnels where your provided headlamps are sure to come in handy.
NOTE: Dress appropriately by wearing waterproof shoes (no flip-flops allowed), clothing that can get wet, sunscreen, and bug repellent. Helmets, headlamps, tubes, and a nice lunch will be provided. You’ll also have the opportunity to jump into the water for a swim. Please see the website linked above for a list of physical restrictions.
#614: Ziplining – 3-4131 Kuhio Highway, Lihue, HI
Fly across seven ziplines while enjoying views of Wailua Falls, lush tropical forests, and beautiful valleys, with the lines growing progressively longer as you sail along. You will end your trip with lunch and a dip in the natural pool. This is a wonderful way to enjoy some of Kawai’s epic scenery! Please see the website above for age and weight requirements.
#615: Kayak to the Fern Grotto – Kapaa, Kawai, HI
This lava cave is decked out with ferns and other plant life, and it has a waterfall that pours over the entrance from the cliffs above. If you are an avid outdoors family, you can rent kayaks at Kayak Kauai (#616) near the mouth of the river and make your way up while enjoying waterfalls and stunning scenery. You can also join Smith’s Fern Grotto Tours (#617) for an opportunity to experience the Grotto.
#618: Waimea Canyon Drive to Na Pali – From Waimea Canyon State Park, Waimea Canyon Drive, Waimea, HI to Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Kapaa, HI
This is an epic day trip you will not want to miss! Waimea Canyon, often referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is amazing in and of itself, but the addition of the Na Pali coastline brings this adventure to another level! The trip begins in the town of Waimea (#619), where you will take the Waimea Canyon route and wind your way up 36 miles of beauty, reaching an elevation of 4000 feet.
You will travel through Waimea Canyon State Park (#620), Kuia Natural Area Reserve (#621), and Koke’e State Park (#622). Finally, you’ll reach the Pu’u O Kila Lookout (#623) over the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park (#624), providing majestic views. You will find countless breathtaking places to stop along the drive–so many, in fact, that you will have to be selective to avoid making your way back in the dark.
This drive will treat you to a variety of glorious canyon vistas, waterfalls, and the breathtaking Na Pali coastline, which is among the most beautiful in the world! You may want to consider adding a boat tour of the Na Pali coast to explore the amazing open-ceiling sea caves that can be found there.
SNORKELING THE CORAL REEFS
Kauai offers the perfect spot for young or first-time snorkelers! You’ll have the opportunity to see a wide variety of marine life, including dolphins, rays, tropical fish, eels, and sea turtles. Be sure to remain aware of currents and tides, and stay safe by never snorkeling alone. Here is a list of the best spots for gentle snorkeling.
#625: Salt Pond Beach – Salt Pond Road, Eleele, HI
Salt Pond Beach is popular with the locals, and it has many species of fish and rock formations to explore.
#626: Anini Beach – Located on the north shore of Kauai, HI
During the summer months, these waters are some of the calmest on the island! As the longest reef in the Hawaiian Islands and one of the best places to see sea turtles, this spot makes for a great family experience.
#627: Lydgate Beach Park – Leho Drive, Lihue, HI
Lydgate Beach Park features calm waters within man-made, rock-enclosed pools, creating a safe haven from the open ocean waves while allowing small reef fish to make their way through the crevices into the pond. This is a great first-time snorkeling experience for your little ones!
#628: Poipu Beach Park – 2179 Hoone Road, Koloa, HI
The peaceful and shallow lagoon at this location offers many species of fish for your snorkeling pleasure. Poipu Beach is ranked among the top ten best beaches nationwide, offering visitors excellent swimming, surfing, and snorkeling in a beautiful environment.
#629: Kalalau Trail – Starts at Ke’e Beach, Haena State Park, Kapaa, HI (22 miles out and back, considered moderate with a few difficult patches)
This epic hike is listed as one of the top hikes to take in Kauai. If you are in shape and up for a full-day adventure, you are going to love this amazing trail along the Na Pali coast!
INSIDER TIP: Hikers without camping permits for Kalalau Valley, which are required 30 days in advance, will be prohibited from attempting the entire hike. While you do not need a permit to hike the first two miles of the trail to the beach from Hāʻena State Park to Hanakapi’ai, or for the additional two miles to the first waterfall, you will need to reserve a shuttle, as you can’t park your car at the trailhead. Please view this video for more information on visitor safety.
#630: Queen’s Bath Trail – Located at the north shore of Kauai, HI (0.8 miles out and back, considered easy to moderately challenging)
This is a stunning short hike with fun challenges along the way to make for an adventurous experience. You will find maps and safety information at the start of the trailhead. After walking for five to seven minutes, you will reach a small waterfall and photo-op moment. Continue on for several more minutes to reach the bottom of the trail, providing the perfect opportunity to stop and enjoy the lovely scenery.
Then, you will want to turn left toward the lava rock and hike for another three to five minutes to reach Queen’s Bath, where the hike can be a bit dangerous due to cliffs and drops, as well as crashing waves, depending on the time of year and weather. If this is the case, simply walk as far from the ocean as possible as you continue on in your descent. If the tide is low, you will be able to enjoy a swim in a natural pool amidst the gorgeous scenery!
Attending a luau on the island of Kauai is our choice for the best luau experience because they tend to be less commercial! You’ll get to witness fun cultural activities, traditional dances like the hula, and buffet-style dining.
#631: Smith Family Garden Luau – 3-5971 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, HI
This is one of the most affordable luaus, and it includes a traditional imu ceremony, separate locations for dining and performances, and the option to book the show without dinner. Seating is first-come-first-served, so you’ll want to arrive early.
#632: Aulii Luau – 2440 Hoonani Road, Koloa, HI
This family destination is located at the Sheraton in a beautiful oceanfront setting. Luaus take place each Saturday. Aulii is on the expensive side, but the views are priceless!
#633: Luau Kalamaku – 3-2087 Kaumualii Highway, Lihue, HI
This luau is located in the beautiful 60-acre orchard and park on Kilohana Plantation, with a magnificent show and scrumptious four-course dinner. You can enjoy a train ride around the property for an extra fee.
THE ISLAND OF MAUI
Known as “The Valley Isle,” Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands and encompasses a wide spectrum of landscapes and experiences. There are lush rainforests and beautiful mountaintops, as well as rustic cowboy ranches and world-class beaches. With its farm-to-table cuisine, five-star restaurants, authentic Hawaiian eateries, and farm stand gems on the famous Hana Highway, it’s easy to understand why Maui has been voted “Best Island in the U.S.” by Conde Nast Traveler readers for more than 20 years. Maui is the perfect combination of the solitude of Kauai and the vibrancy of Oahu, with many kid-friendly options.
#634: Maui Ocean Center – 192 Maalaea Road, Wailuku, HI
For a delightful and educational family experience, head over to the Maui Ocean Center to encounter the largest living reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, which also serves as an oasis for a variety of Hawaiian fish, mammals, and sea creatures. The ocean center is beautifully curated from top to bottom and includes a powerful 14-minute humpback whale 3D film experience. The center aims to promote education and understanding of Hawaii’s delicate marine environment and the animals that inhabit it. It’s a favorite destination for both adults and children!
#635: Kapalua Bay Beach – 5900 Lower Honoapiilani Highway, Kapalua, HI
Found a short distance north of Lahaina, this tranquil beach is a protected cove, making Kapalua Bay one of the best snorkel spots on Maui. The bay is surrounded by two reefs forming a C-shape with calm water, making it an ideal snorkeling spot!
INSIDER TIP: The center of the bay is on the sandier side, making for cloudy waters, so make your way to the north end of the beach to snorkel along the rocky edge. Beach parking is located next to the public showers and restrooms. The lot is small, so be sure to head over in the morning to guarantee a spot.
#636: Kaanapali Beach Black Rock – Located at the north end of Kaanapali Beach, HI
While Kaanapali Beach is fantastic for sunning and swimming, Black Rock is where a wide variety of tropical fish hang out. The snorkeling here is breathtaking!
NOTE: The water starts at around eight feet deep and progresses to 25 feet in depth, so it’s not suited for those who aren’t advanced swimmers. Visibility is excellent around the point, and you will want to keep watch for the sea turtles that frequent the overhangs along the ledge. You can find this spot at the north end of Kaanapali Beach, just steps from the Sheraton Hotel.
#637: Turtle Town, Maui – Maluaka Beach, Kihei, HI
While many go to Makena Landing to spot the turtles, the best and least touristy location is Maluaka Beach, about 20 minutes south of Kihei. This is the best spot to see the turtles and avoid the crowds. There are no signs for the beach, but it can be easily located next to the former Makena Beach & Golf Resort at 5400 Makena Alanui, Kihei. The shallow, sandy-bottomed area of the beach is a popular local swimming spot for families with young children, as you can find shaded areas, umbrellas, and chairs just steps from the water.
INSIDER TIP: Early mornings are the best time to observe the turtles and other marine life in this area.
#638: Molokini Crater – Located off the southern coast of Maui, HI
This is an amazing local area for snorkeling and diving. However, the only way to get there is by boat. It’s best to grab one of the many tour options to fulfill this wonderful adventure.
EXPLORING THE ROAD TO HANA
One of the most scenic road trips in the world, the 65-mile Road to Hana (#639) is lined with lush scenery consisting of waterfalls, rainforests, lava tubes, and history, with winding roads and one-lane bridges to make for a few exciting, white-knuckle moments.
The road officially begins in the town of Kahului (#640). From there, it winds along the northeastern edge of Maui, concluding in the village of Hana. Plan to leave first thing in the morning if you want to cram this adventure into one day! You will want to divide your time wisely, maybe even forgoing a location or two, in order to spend more time at your favorite locations on this epic road trip adventure.
You can easily pick up Road to Hana maps to guide you along the path, or, for a nominal fee, you may consider purchasing a self-guided audio app to escort you along, with stories and historical information you may miss along the way. Many companies provide this service, including Action Tour Guide.
MEMORABLE STOPS ALONG THE ROAD TO HANA
#641: Ho’okipa Beach Park – 179 Hana Highway, Paia, HI
This is a surfer’s dream: A beautiful white sand beach with some of the best waves on the island!
#642: Twin Falls – 6300 Hana Highway, Haiku, HI
Twin Falls is the first easily accessible group of waterfalls and pools on the Road to Hana. It’s beautiful – straight out of a movie!
#643: Huelo Lookout – 7600 Hana Highway, Haiku, HI
Huelo Lookout is located between Mile Markers 4 and 5 on the Road to Hana. Stop at the quaint farmstand marker and locate the steps that take you to the Huelo Lookout viewing point to enjoy panoramic East Maui island views.
INSIDER TIP: While you’re at the charming fruit stand (#644), grab one of the amazing smoothies, such as the Banana Bliss, made of fresh papaya, coconut, and banana!
#645: Maui Garden of Eden – 10600 Hana Hwy, Haiku, HI
This aptly-named destination is a stunning botanical garden and arboretum laced with waterfalls and coastal views. The natural grounds are beautifully coiffed! There is a required entrance fee.
#646: Wailua Valley State Wayside – Kula, HI
Here you’ll find a lovely scenic stop offering wonderful views of the ocean, mountains, the sprawling taro fields of Wailea Village, and nearby waterfalls.
#647: Pua’a Ka’a Falls – Hana Highway, Haiku, HI
With a beautiful waterfall spilling into a natural spring waterhole, this is a wonderful place to stop for an invigorating swim under and around the falls. In addition, there are walking trails to the falls, picnic benches, grills, and restrooms, which makes for a highly prized pit stop on the Road to Hana.
#648: Hanawi Falls – Hana Highway, Haiku, HI
Located right after Mile Marker 24 on the Road to Hana, these falls spill into the pool below. Surrounded by lush rainforest displays, this is a great spot to explore!
#649: Hana Farms Roadside Stand – 2910 Hana Highway, Hana, HI
Found at the entrance of the town of Hana, Mile Marker 31, this little gem is a wonderful marketplace to shop for exotic and locally made products. Your family will love the fresh pizza and baked goods.
#650: Wai’anapanapa State Park – Waianapanapa Road, Hana, HI
Here, you’ll get the most bang for your buck when it comes to epic road trip scenery. This state park is graced with a black sand beach, sea arches, a blowhole, hiking and walking trails, lava tubes, and movie-worthy panoramic views of the East Maui coastline. You’ll want to save time to explore, swim, and relax.
Full of Hawaiian history, kind people, organic farms, and beautiful beaches, Hana is thought to be one of the best small towns in Hawaii. Among the locals, Hana and the surrounding areas are known as the “Real Hawaii” because they’ve remained unchanged in relation to the other islands. Take some time to explore here and perhaps go for a swim at Hana Beach Park (#652).
#653: Hamoa Beach – Mile Marker 51 on the Road to Hana, HI
One of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite spots, this crescent-shaped beach is lined with sea cliffs and surrounded by lush vegetation.
#654: Wailua Falls – Just past Mile Marker 45 on the Road to Hana, HI
Here you’ll find one of the most beautiful and frequently photographed waterfalls in Hawaii, with an 80-foot cascading fall and plunge pool.
#655: ‘O’he’o Gulch – Near Mile Marker 42 on the Road to Hana, HI
This breathtaking setting, known as Seven Sacred Pools and Pipiwai Trail, is set in the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park, with many waterfalls and outstanding ocean views.
#656: Haleakala National Park – 30,000 Haleakalā Highway, Kula, HI
From lush rainforests to rocky coastlines and epic overlooks of volcanic landscapes above the clouds, Haleakala has much to offer! While you can try to visit this park at the end of the Road to Hana trip by continuing on another 12 miles to the entry point, we do not recommend trying to tackle this all in one day, as you will miss out on so much along the journey in order to include Haleakala National Park. One could easily spend hours at Haleakala alone.
THE ISLAND OF HAWAII
Hawaii is also known as “The Big Island,” measuring over 4000 square miles. It’s about the size of the state of Connecticut and is the largest island in the United States. Due to its size, you will need to allocate a generous amount of time if you want to explore Hawaii in its entirety. However, if pressed for time, most choose to focus their activities on the Kona or Hilo side of the island for the duration of their stay.
Hawaii Island is also the youngest in the Hawaiian chain and continues to grow to this day due to the Kilauea Volcano! The island has four out of the five major climate zones in the world and eight of the world’s 13 subzones.
The Big Island is also home to Mauna Kea (#657), the world’s tallest mountain, which is even taller than Mount Everest when measured from its base below sea level and houses multiple observatories. While Kona is usually the area visitors frequent most due to the location of large resorts, consistently lovely dry weather, and swimmable beaches, Hilo is best if you and your family are looking for a more laidback experience. Plus, it’s closer to volcano access points.
BY LAND AND BY SEA ADVENTURES
There is a vast array of island adventure tours to choose from to match whatever is on your family bucket list! While we encourage you to further research the many options out there, here are a few ideas to get you started.
#658: Kona Atlantis Submarine Tour – 75-5660 Palani Road #304, Kailua-Kona, HI
Enter a new world on this 45-minute journey under the sea on the state-of-the-art submarine Atlantis. You’ll explore 24 acres of natural coral reefs and observe their marine inhabitants.
#659: Big Island Manta Ray Snorkel Tour – 74-5583 Luhia Street A12, Kailua-Kona, HI
If your children are old enough to be comfortable snorkeling at night, you may want to consider an excursion to swim with the local manta rays! Several feeding spots near Kailua-Kona provide access to this unique experience. With the aid of scuba divers who dive to the bottom to shine lights up toward snorkelers, attracting the plankton the manta rays feed on, you and your family will have a truly memorable adventure!
#660: Snorkel & Dolphin Watch Tour – 75-5629 Kuakini Highway, Kailua-Kona, HI
For something truly memorable, consider this 4.5-hour deluxe 65-foot catamaran cruise. It includes a continental breakfast, BBQ burger lunch, cushioned seating, restrooms and changing rooms, showers, a high-jump platform, and a 20-foot waterslide. Also included are two hours of water time, pristine snorkeling, snorkel gear, RX dive masks, snorkel instruction, life vests, inner tubes, a flotation station island, water toys, sea-view boards, stand-up paddle boards, noodles, and reef-safe sunscreen. This is the way to go if this is your first time on the island and your first true snorkeling experience!
#661: Kealakekua Dinner Cruise – 75-5629 Kuakini Highway, Kailua-Kona, HI
Travel 12 miles down the Kona Coast to the Captain Cook Monument (#662) while learning the secrets of the big island from local historians. Enjoy a Hawaiian buffet dinner, live entertainment, and a beautiful sunset.
#663: Horseback Riding – Departs from the Hamakua Coast, HI
Enjoy a family horseback ride on the scenic Hamakua Coast.
There are several zipline tour companies on the north and east sides of the island. Ziplining can be an amazing way to get a different perspective on the island’s landscape! The largest operators include the following.
#664:Kohala Zipline – 55-515 Hawi Road, Hawi, HI
#665: Umauma Falls Zipline – 31-313 Old Mamalahoa Highway, Hakalau, HI
#666: Botanical World Adventures – 31-240 Old Mamalahoa Highway, Hakalau, HI
Botanical World Adventures is stationed in a beautiful location, offering zipline, Segway, and self-guided garden tours, with waterfalls, gardens, and a maze.
DAY-AT-THE-BEACH SPOTS TO EXPLORE
Hawaii’s beaches have sand in various colors, making them even more memorable. Many beaches also feature beach parks that allow for fun picnics and other outdoor activities. However, not all the beaches on the island are swimmable! Here are a few of the best family-friendly options.
#667: Hapuna Beach – Old Puako Road, Waimea, HI
Hapuna Beach offers plenty of sprawling soft white sand, good swimming conditions, and easily accessible parking.
#668: Spencer Beach Park – 62-3461 Kawaihae Road, Waimea, HI
This is a popular family-friendly beach, as it is well-protected by an offshore reef, making for calm swimming conditions. In addition, the many amenities provide a low-cost outing, which is a welcome reprieve from the expensive realities of Hawaii travel. With picnic pavilions, tables, barbecue grills, full-service restrooms and showers, and lifeguards on duty, you can spend the whole day here with minimal cost and effort. Plus, Pu’ukohola National Historic Site (#669) is right next door.
#670: Manini’owali Beach at Kua Bay – Kua Bay Access Road, Kailua-Kona, HI
Located in Kekaha Kai State Park (#671), this west coast paradise is a small, secluded park with picnic tables, showers, full-service restrooms, and a lifeguard!
#672: Kukio Keiki Beach at Kikaua Point Park – 72-3055 Kakapa Place, Kailua-Kona, HI
This beach has a protected cove thanks to the man-made rock wall, making swimming easy for kids and those who aren’t experienced swimmers. However, please note that parking is limited.
#673: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach – Ninole Loop Road, Naalehu, HI
Although this beach is not easily accessible, it is a must-see black-sand beach!
BEST BIG ISLAND SNORKEL SPOTS
#674: Richardson Beach Park – 2355 Kalanianaole Street, Hilo, HI
Here you’ll find one of the best shallow and calm beach areas for family-friendly snorkeling. It’s an easily accessible black-sand beach with abundant marine life, and it’s fully equipped with a lifeguard, picnic tables, and full-service restrooms and showers.
#675: Two Step – 84-5571 Honaunau Beach Road, Captain Cook, HI
This natural preserve in Honaunau-Napoopoo is 45 minutes south of Kona. Many consider this to be their favorite snorkeling spot among all the Hawaiian islands! With world-class snorkeling in a turquoise bay filled with abundant sea life, healthy coral reefs, and amazing topography to explore, it is hard to beat! This is a protected bay with lava rock shoreline paths.
Two Step is also a renowned scuba diving spot for beginners and seasoned divers. Named “Two Step” due to the two-step approach over lava rock to gain access, visitors will often find dolphins swimming in the deeper waters.
NOTE: If the wind or swell is rough, it’s better to come back another time to avoid the challenge and danger of getting in and out of the water. There are no lifeguards on duty and no full-service restrooms, although there are portable toilets available.
INSIDER TIP: The National Historic Park (#676), where Two Step is located, can be a day trip in and of itself if you want to learn about the history and culture of this area. If you access Two Step through the park, you will find it right around the corner from the seashore area of the beach. If you are setting out to go snorkeling rather than visit the park, you’ll want to make a right turn on the small one-way street a block before you reach the park gate, and head toward the ocean. Parking is challenging, so it is best to plan for an early arrival!
#677: Kealakekua Bay – Located on the Kona Coast, Kona District, HI
This small, rocky beach in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park (#678) is an underwater marine sanctuary where you can find sea turtles, exotic tropical fish, and Hawaiian spinner dolphins, depending on the time of year. It is a beginner to intermediate snorkel spot. Please note that there are no lifeguards or bathrooms here.
INSIDER TIP: The best snorkeling spot is close to the Captain Cook Monument on the opposite side of the bay from the parking area. You’ll take a 1.9-mile hike to that location, adding to the adventure, or you can reach it with one of the many available kayak or boat tours available on the island. Another important tip is that you will not only want to bring snorkeling gear, but will also need booties or water shoes to avoid the sea urchins scouring the entry points to the bay.
#679: Kahalu’u Beach Park – Ali‘i Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI
This is a great snorkel spot for beginners due to the sheltered cove, calm conditions, shallow waters, and excellent visibility. With the additional bonus of a lifeguard always at the post, this is an extremely popular spot! It’s complete with picnic tables, full-service bathrooms, and showers.
#680: Waialea Bay – Beach 69, Old Puako Road, Waimea, HI
Known as Beach 69 by the locals, this is a favorite beach and snorkel spot if you are looking to avoid crowds. It’s located just south of Hapuna Beach and is a small beach in a rugged location.
BEST BIG ISLAND HIKES
We have curated this list of the most notable hikes on Hawaii Island. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and remain aware of any potential hazards, especially when hiking with kids. Please note that some of these locations are also featured in our list of recommended snorkel spots.
#681: Kealakekua Bay – Located on the Kona Coast, Kona District, HI
This hike measures 3.8 miles in and out and is considered a moderately strenuous hike. It’s also the only way down to Captain Cook Beach. While this trail leads to a fantastic snorkeling spot, you will want to wear sturdy hiking boots to get you there!
#682: Kekaha Kai State Park – HI-19, Kailua-Kona, HI
For a map and details of the five best trails in this park, please see this AllTrails guide.
#683: Akaka Falls – 875 Akaka Falls Road, Honomu, HI
Akaka Falls State Park features two separate falls: 100-foot Kahuna Falls and 442-foot Akaka Falls. The hike is easy, short, and paved, so it’s great for families and kids of all ages.
#684: Waimea Canyon State Park – Waimea Canyon Drive, Waimea, HI
Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, this park consists of a scenic drive, lookouts of the canyon, a viewpoint of Niihau Island, wildland picnicking, and trails. There are adjacent forest reserves with long, strenuous hikes into and out of the canyon, as well as a few short and easy hikes to consider. See this AllTrails page for a list of the trails to consider based on the amount of time and skill available.
POINTS OF INTEREST
#685: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – National Park, 1 Crater Rim Drive, Volcano, HI
Within the park are the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Join a small group tour to hear about the history and legends, or head out on a self-guided tour. You will want to begin your visit at the Kilauea Visitor Center (#686) for a great introduction to the park, as well as the latest information on trails, ranger-led activities, and more.
INSIDER TIP: Check the website linked above for closures and information related to potential volcanic activity before visiting the park. Additionally, you can download the free NPS app, which they say is like “having a ranger in your pocket.” To get the most out of this experience, we suggest downloading an audible guide to lead you and your family through the park. We recommend the Shaka Guide.
#687: Ka’awaloa Village – Located at the northern portion of Kealakekua Bay, HI
This ancient, overgrown site contains several temples and ruins to explore. Locals ask visitors to please tread lightly and stay off the walls of any ancient sites you come across.
#688: Pali Kapu o Keoua Pali Keoua – Located behind Kealakekua Bay on the South Kona Coast, HI
Known as the forbidden or sacred cliffs of Keoua, these scenic sea cliffs are the site of the remains of more than 22 ancient chiefs laid to rest at Hale o Keawe. Several high and inaccessible caves on these cliffs served as burial sites for past royal leaders, and this is speculated to be where Captain Cook’s bones lay as well.
#689: Kona Sea Salt Farm – 73-907 Makako Bay Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI
Kona Sea Salt Farm provides a fantastic tour of its facility, process, marine conservation, history, culture, and more. One can also purchase many of the healthy products offered in the on-site shop. This destination is so noteworthy, Guy Fieri chose to feature it on his Food Network show!
#690: Chain of Craters Road – Chain of Craters Road, HI
Head toward the ocean on this extraordinary scenic road to see lava fields and the Holei Sea Arch (#691).
NOTE: Hiking on these razor-sharp lava flow fields can be hazardous due to the deep cracks and uneven, unstable terrain. Proceed with great caution, care, and appropriate footwear.
#692: Kailua-Kona Village – 75-5744 Ali‘i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI
If you’re looking to shop until you drop, then you will enjoy a stroll through this vibrant seaside town to check out its many stores, grab a bite, walk along the pier and seawall, and visit the oceanside Hulihe’e Palace (#693).
WHERE TO EAT
Here are a few suggestions for you to consider among the many wonderful eateries on the Big Island of Hawaii. Some local delicacies include fresh fruit, shaved ice, spam, poke, and plate lunches (macaroni salad, two scoops of white rice, and your choice of seafood or meat).
#694: Punalu’u Bake Shop – 95-5642 Mamalahoa Highway, Naalehu, HI
Feast on a delicious assortment of Hawaiian baked goods fresh out of the oven.
#695: Tin Shack Bakery – 15-1500 Akeakamai Loop, Pāhoa, HI
Enjoy this bakery’s rustic vibe and beach shack aesthetic. The food is fresh, organic, and locally sourced. This gem is a favorite among the locals! It comes with good prices and great ambiance, and you’ll often find a local musician playing a few tunes here.
#696: Hawaiian Style Café – Hilo and Waimea locations
Try some traditional Hawaiian fare at the Hawaiian Style Cafe, where they serve large quantities at a very reasonable price. This spot is on the repeat list for many island locals.
#697: Ken’s House of Pancakes – 1730 Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo, HI
Your family is sure to love this 24-hour diner with a Hawaiian twist, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You’ll find something to satisfy everyone here!
#698: The Coffee Shack – 83-5799 Mamalahoa Hwy, Captain Cook, HI
Take in stunning mountain and ocean views as you grab a bite before or after snorkeling at nearby Two Step!
#699: TEX Drive In – 45-690 Pakalana St #19, Honokaa, HI
Check out this local pit stop known for deep-fried dough balls called malasadas, as well as burgers and Hawaiian favorites. This restaurant features an open-air patio and ocean views.
#700: Broke Da Mouth Grindz – 74-5565 Luhia Street, Kailua-Kona, HI
This carry-out-only eatery is a favorite among the locals. It serves Filipino and Hawaiian food, such as pork adobo, garlic shrimp, kimchi fried rice, and Hawaiian lau lau.
#701: Kaaloa’s Super J’s – 83-5409 Mamalahoa Highway, Captain Cook, HI
This small, family-run eatery has received recognition from the Food Network. Your family will enjoy the authentic local island dishes served here.
#702: Lava Lava Beach Club – 420 Papaloa Road, Kapaʻa, HI
With stunning views of the Anaeho’omalu Bay (#703) and outdoor seating directly on the sand, along with scrumptious food, you can’t go wrong!
#704: Pineapple’s Island Fresh Cuisine – 332 Keawe Street, Hilo, HI
Sit back and relax in this open-air setting as you choose from classic burgers, wraps, pasta, fish and chips, and Kalua pork.
#705: Foster’s Kitchen – 75-5805 Ali‘i Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI
Try a few dishes from this made-from-scratch, locally sourced menu. Foster’s Kitchen has been featured on Food Network’s Drivers, Diners, and Dives.
Can’t get enough of the West? Check out our guides to the other states in this region to put together the best family vacations in the US.
|Road Trip Destinations||Budget-Friendly Activities|
|● Colorado||● Colorado|
|● Nevada||● Nevada|
|● Alaska||● Alaska|
|● Idaho||● Idaho|
|● Oregon||● Oregon|
|● Washington||● Washington|
|● Montana||● Montana|
Wrapping Up The 705 Best Family Vacation Spots Across The USA
The USA offers limitless family travel opportunities, each with its own charm, beauty, and history. Traveling together is a fantastic way to build family bonds and create lifelong memories that will be remembered fondly for decades to come.
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