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Best Family Vacations in the USA
Family vacations can supply lifelong memories, but to ensure that every member of the family is satisfied, it's important to travel to the perfect locale. U.S. News, with the help of reader votes and expert opinions, gathered a list of travel destinations that offer reasonable rates and activities the whole family can enjoy. We hope you find these family vacation ideas helpful when planning your next trip, and we invite you to cast your vote below for your favorite places. (Note: Some of the below destinations may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Check with the CDC and the U.S. Department of State before traveling.)
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Known for its timeless appeal, thrill rides and fun performances, Walt Disney World Resort is engineered specifically for families. But if you aren't up for donning mouse ears, this Florida city hosts a handful of other theme parks that are sure to excite youths, including Universal Orlando Resort, where you'll find The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as well as Discovery Cove, where you can swim with dolphins and snorkel around the park's coral reef. Because of this destination's immense popularity, you'll likely want to plan a visit for a less-crowded month like May or November.
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Kids will love watching Old Faithful erupt, and there's nothing like an afternoon hike to bring the clan together. Hit up the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for a light stroll to the falls of the Yellowstone River. For a longer trek, venture to Hayden Valley for opportunities to view the park's wildlife, including bison. Or, visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to see animals without breaking a sweat. Hotels within this Wyoming, Montana and Idaho national park can be expensive, so make this a BYOB (bring your own bed) vacation and take advantage of the park's well-equipped campsites.
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This Arizona national park is a universally admired family destination. With so much to see and do here, there's no chance anyone in your family will be bored. Enjoy one of the park's many light hikes, take a mule trip down the North Rim, admire the views from the Grand Canyon Skywalk, raft the Colorado River or go for a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. The Grand Canyon is pretty budget-friendly considering its low admission rate ($20 per individual or $35 per vehicle and its passengers), but know that accommodations book up quickly in the peak summer season.
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The key to Washington's family appeal is the National Mall, which features loads of free attractions, renowned monuments and kid-friendly museums, including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Beyond the mall, a stop at the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute is also a must (the zoo is home to approximately 2,700 animals). To cut down on vacation costs, consider booking a hotel in a nearby suburb, such as Arlington or Alexandria in Virginia, and relying on the easy-to-use and affordable public transportation system.
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Destin, Florida, is a hit with families thanks to its relaxing atmosphere and plethora of kid-pleasing things to do. Big Kahuna's Water & Adventure Park features waterslides and a lazy river, while the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is home to animals kids love, including dolphins and penguins. Families will also appreciate Destin's scenic and calm shorelines, such as Henderson Beach State Park and the Shores at Crystal Beach Park. And if you're looking for an adventure on the water, consider booking a boat tour. Destin offers everything from dolphin-spotting excursions to pirate-themed cruises.
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Travel to San Diego for 70 miles of sandy fun. Mission Beach, Coronado Beach and La Jolla Shores are the best beaches for families, offering calm surf and mellower crowds. After you've gotten your fill of the waves, head to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld San Diego or the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for up-close animal encounters. What's more, Balboa Park offers plenty of beautiful green spaces to explore, as well as educational museums like the San Diego Air & Space Museum and the Fleet Science Center.
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What makes Yosemite an excellent family destination? Its numerous outdoor offerings. In this California national park, families can hike, fish, ride horses and raft down the scenic Merced River. Plan to take the bus up to Glacier Point for sweeping park views, or venture down one of the many hiking trails accessible within Yosemite Valley. If you're a first-time visitor, you'll want to stay in Yosemite Valley, where you'll find most of Yosemite's accommodations. Summertime is the busiest time of year here, so you'll need to book accommodations almost a year in advance if you're planning a peak season visit.
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Like its Disney sister city Orlando, Anaheim, California, has enough mouse-themed attractions to keep families busy and smiling. In addition to Disneyland, Anaheim is home to Adventure City and sits close to Knott's Berry Farm. And if you're in town during baseball season, consider catching a game at Angel Stadium. Plus, Anaheim has the added benefit of sitting close to the beaches and sights of both Los Angeles and San Diego. It's important to note that Disneyland is busy year-round, but if you visit during the offseason (spring or fall) or on a weekday, you'll likely encounter fewer people.
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This Hawaiian island has plenty of sights for kids of all ages. Hit up family-friendly beaches like Wailea Beach and Napili Beach for fun in the sun, or admire the unique black sand shores at Waianapanapa State Park. Haleakala National Park offers chances to view the world's largest dormant volcano, while Iao Valley State Monument features a bevy of scenic tropical hikes. You can also enjoy a traditional luau at the Old Lahaina Luau and plenty of exciting snorkeling and boating opportunities. As one of Hawaii's most-visited islands, know that accommodations here won't be cheap.
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A barrier island chain off of North Carolina's coast, the Outer Banks is a great place to relax on a budget. Here, you can rent multibedroom vacation homes for a week for the same price (or less) you'd spend on one or more four-star hotel rooms for a family. That means you can vacation at your leisure, exploring the miles of beaches available. Be sure to stop by scenic Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Jockey's Ridge State Park, where you can climb the Atlantic coast's tallest living sand dune. Kids will also love the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
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Honolulu offers a seemingly endless stream of things to do that families with varying interests can enjoy. Beach bums can soak up some sun and build sandcastles on iconic stretches of sand, such as Waikiki Beach, Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach. Those with an interest in history will delight in exploring the Pearl Harbor National Memorial and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Families who like to stay active will enjoy the island's hiking options, including Diamond Head State Monument and the Koko Crater Trail. And for a fun introduction to Hawaiian culture, groups can attend a luau.
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This mountain town in eastern Tennessee was practically made for families. When you're not exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park (for free), take a ride on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway to reach the amusement park of the same name. Or, head to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies to view a wide variety of marine animals. Kids might also delight in the Arts & Crafts Community, a group of artisan shops on an 8-mile loop road where you can see craft makers creating everything from pottery to hand-blown glass.
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Myrtle Beach is as close to the perfect family vacation as you can get. Not only does this South Carolina town offer calm shores perfect for kids, but it also features fun attractions, including Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, Family Kingdom Amusement Park, Broadway Grand Prix and numerous mini-golf courses. Keep in mind that because of Myrtle Beach's popularity with families, summer is extremely crowded, so you may want to reserve your accommodations several months in advance. Or, consider a late spring or early fall trip for the same excellent weather and activities but with fewer people.
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Sanibel Island, Florida, draws families who love to do nothing but relax on a beach while on vacation. Bowman's Beach is known for its abundance of unique shells, which will surely excite younger travelers as they look for cool ones to take home. Captiva Island, located northwest of Sanibel, also offers a stunning shoreline that's perfect for long walks. At the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, visitors will likely spot turtles, alligators and numerous birds in their natural habitat. Meanwhile, parents will appreciate the island's affordable prices.
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The miles of sandy beaches and activities surrounding the boardwalk attract families to Ocean City, Maryland, every summer – and the affordable dining and lodging options keep them coming back year after year. If you've got a big crew, save some coin by opting for one of the town's many vacation rentals instead of reserving several hotel rooms. And if you're able to peel yourself away from all of the fun of the beach and boardwalk, take a trip to nearby Assateague Island National Seashore, where wild horses roam freely.
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The Windy City offers a wealth of activities made for families. Visit Millennium Park to take a group photo in front of "The Bean," cheer for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field or head to Shedd Aquarium or the Lincoln Park Zoo to get an eyeful of animals. Navy Pier, which is home to the Chicago Children's Museum, and Maggie Daley Park, a public green space with a mini-golf course and a playground, are two additional family-friendly attractions. Plus, Chicago's signature eats – hot dogs and deep-dish pizza – are sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
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Hilton Head, South Carolina, is a great option for families looking for that easy, breezy vacation. Hilton Head features numerous beaches that offer both calm waters and ample amenities, making the destination perfect for those traveling with kids. Coligny Beach Park is the island's most popular stretch of sand, while Driessen Beach Park is favored by locals for its less-crowded atmosphere. Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Coastal Discovery Museum provide chances to learn more about the low country's flora and fauna. There's also Harbour Town, where groups can dine and enjoy sunset concerts.
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It's easy for New York City to be considered more of an adult playground with all of its nightlife and entertainment options, but there's plenty for kids to enjoy here, too. Central Park is the perfect place for children to run around, featuring 21 playgrounds, the famous Loeb Boathouse and seasonal amenities like an ice skating rink and an amusement park. The American Museum of Natural History will excite curious minds, while little ones will no doubt love seeing the Bronx Zoo's animals. And if the weather's right, families should definitely make the trek to iconic Coney Island.
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Best known for its bloody battle and former President Abraham Lincoln's famous speech, Gettysburg features a number of historical attractions and interesting museums that make learning fun. Gettysburg National Military Park brings Civil War history to life with its seasonal living history demonstrations, while the Gettysburg Diorama & History Center dramatizes Gettysburg's three-day battle during a light and sound show that showcases a diorama of the 6,000-acre battlefield. When children need a break from the Pennsylvania town's rich history, drive to eye-catching Sachs Covered Bridge.
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If you're looking for the type of family vacation that aims to educate, Williamsburg, Virginia, is your place. Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown offer an in-depth look at what life was like during the Revolutionary War, yielding plenty of educational opportunities for younger travelers. In between history lessons, take a break and let loose at one of the town's amusement parks, such as Water Country USA or Busch Gardens. Because Williamsburg is such a popular destination for families, summer is the busiest time of year, so you may want to consider a fall or spring trip.
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San Antonio's attractions offer a mix of history and fun to keep kids entertained. The stories behind the Alamo will fascinate little ones, as will the exhibits at the Witte Museum, which covers everything from dinosaurs to the human body. Meanwhile, animal lovers will appreciate seeing the San Antonio Zoo's more than 700 species and exploring the San Antonio Aquarium, where visitors can feed sharks and stingrays. It's important to know that in summer, San Antonio can get uncomfortably hot, with temperatures reaching close to 100 degrees. For a cooler trip, plan a visit in early spring or late fall.
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