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 opinion, gathered a list of travel destinations that offer reasonable rates and activities the whole family can enjoy. We hope you find these ideas helpful when planning your next trip, and we invite you to cast your vote for your favorite places below.
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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 in 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 March or November.
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Kids will get a kick out of watching Old Faithful erupt, and there's nothing quite 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, or for a longer trek, venture to Hayden Valley for opportunities to view the park's wildlife, including bison. If you'd rather see the animals without working up a sweat, visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Know that a hotel within Yellowstone 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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Destin, Florida, is a hit with families for its relaxing atmosphere and plethora of kid-pleasing things to do. Big Kahuna's Water and 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 Crystal Beach. 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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This national park is a universally admired family destination. You'll find so much to see and do here there's no chance anyone in your family will be bored. Enjoy one of the many light hikes offered in the park, take a mule trip down the North Rim, soak in the views from the Grand Canyon Skywalk, raft the Colorado River or take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. The Grand Canyon is pretty budget-friendly considering its low admission rate ($20 per individual to $35 per vehicle and its passengers), but know that accommodations book up quickly in the summer, the park's peak travel 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 National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History. Beyond the mall, a stop at the National Zoo is also a must (the zoo is home to more than 1,500 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.
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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 or SeaWorld for fun animal shows or the Safari Park for an unforgettable adventure that mimics a traditional African safari. What's more, Balboa Park offers plenty of beautiful green spaces to explore, as well as educational museums such as the San Diego Air and Space Museum and the Fleet Science Center.
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What makes Yosemite an excellent family destination? Its numerous outdoor offerings. In Yosemite, families can hike, fish, horseback ride and raft down the scenic Merced River. Plan to take the bus up to the Glacier Point overlook 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 the park's accommodations. If you plan a visit during the summer, you will need to book accommodations almost a year in advance – that's how busy that park gets.
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Similar to its Disney sister city Orlando, Anaheim has enough mouse-themed attractions to keep parents and kids busy and smiling. In addition to Disneyland, Anaheim is home to Knott's Berry Farm and Adventure City. And if you're in town during baseball season, consider catching a game at the Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Plus, Anaheim has the added benefit of its California location, 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 travel during the offseason (spring or fall) or visit the park on a weekday you'll likely encounter fewer crowds.
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This Hawaiian island has plenty of sights for kids of all ages. Hit up family-friendly beaches such as Wailea Beach or Napili Beach for fun in the sun or admire the unique black sand shores at Waianapanapa State Park. Haleakala National Park offers families the opportunity to view the world's largest dormant volcano, while Iao Valley State Park features a bevy of scenic tropical hikes. You'll find a traditional luau at the Old Lahaina Luau and plenty of exciting snorkeling and boating opportunities throughout the island. As one of Hawaii's most visited islands, know that accommodations here won't be cheap.
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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 up the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tram 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 life. Kids might also delight in the Arts & Crafts Loop, an 8-mile road filled with artisan shops where you can see craft makers creating everything from pottery to hand-blown glass.
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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 the sun and build sandcastles on iconic beaches such as Waikiki Beach, Lanikai Beach and Kailua Beach Park. Those with an interest in history will delight in exploring the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument and National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Families who like to stay active will enjoy the island's hiking options, including the Diamond Head State Monument and the Koko Crater Trail. For a fun introduction to Hawaiian culture, consider a luau.
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A chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, the Outer Banks is a great place to relax on the beach on a budget. Here, you can rent multibedroom vacation homes for a week for the same price, or much less, than you'd spend on a four-star hotel room (or rooms) for a family. That means you can vacation at your leisure, exploring the miles of beaches available. Be sure to stop by the scenic Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Jockey's Ridge State Park, where you'll find the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic Coast (yes, it's climbable). The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is another attraction the kids will love.
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Myrtle Beach is as close to the perfect family vacation as you can get. Not only does Myrtle Beach offer calm shores perfect for kids, but the city also features fun attractions including Ripley's Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, the Family Kingdom Amusement Park, the 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 consider a late spring or early fall trip here for the same excellent weather and activities but with fewer crowds. Should you visit during peak travel time, make sure to book your accommodations several months in advance.
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Sanibel Island, Florida, is the kind of place for families who love to do nothing but relax on vacation, where the beautiful beaches are the main draw. Bowman's Beach is known for being awash with unique shells, which will surely excite the little ones. Captiva Island, located north, also offers a stunning stretch of shore, perfect for long walks. At the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge you'll be able to spot crocodiles, alligators and numerous birds in their natural habitat. Meanwhile, parents will love the affordable prices that are synonymous with Sanibel Island.
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The miles of sandy beaches and activities surrounding the boardwalk draw 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 many vacation rentals instead of several hotel rooms. And if you're able to peel yourself away from all the fun of the beach and boardwalk, consider a trip to nearby Assateague Island National Park, where wild horses roam freely.
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The Windy City offers a wealth of activities for family fun. Visit Millennium Park to snap a photo with "The Bean," head to Shedd Aquarium or the Lincoln Park Zoo to get an eyeful of animals, or cheer for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Navy Pier, which is home to the Chicago Children's Museum, and Maggie Daley Park, where you'll find a mini-golf course and a playground, are two additional family-friendly attractions. Plus, Chicago's signature eats – hot dogs and pizza – are sure to satisfy even the pickiest eaters.
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It's easy for New York City to be considered more of an adult playground with all its nightlife and entertainment options, but there are plenty of activities and attractions for kids to enjoy here, too. Central Park is the perfect place for children to run around, featuring 20 playgrounds, the famous Loeb Boathouse and a seasonal ice skating rink and amusement park. A trip to the American Museum of Natural History will excite curious minds, while the little ones will no doubt get excited about all the animals at the Bronx Zoo. And if the weather's right, you should definitely make the trek to the iconic Coney Island.
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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 are both calm in surf and brimming with amenities, perfect for those traveling with kids. Coligny Beach is the most popular, while Driessen Beach comes in a close second, favored by locals for its less-crowded atmosphere. Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Coastal Discovery Museum offer chances to view wildlife and learn more about the low country's beautiful flora. Be sure to end your day winding down at Harbour Town, where you can grab a meal and enjoy sunset concerts and ice cream.
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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 the little ones. In between history lessons, take a break and let loose at one of the city's amusement parks, including Water Country USA and Busch Gardens. Because this is such a popular destination with families, summer is the busiest time of year, so you may want to consider a fall or spring trip.
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Family-friendly Branson offers so many things to do, you probably won't have a free minute to spare. Kids and adults can head to the Silver Dollar City theme park to ride roller coasters and peruse shops, and tackle waterslides or relax in the lazy river at the White Water Branson water park. The Sight & Sound Theatres, often referred to as the "Christian Broadway," put on numerous musicals throughout the year. Meanwhile, Table Rock Lake offers plenty of boating opportunities and the Branson Scenic Railway is popular with families who love trains: It takes passengers through the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.
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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 the little ones, as would the exhibits at the Witte Museum, which covers everything from dinosaurs to mummies. Animal lovers will appreciate the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium, which features more than 700 different species and year-round events. It's important to know that during the 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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