Why you’ll love it: A dynamic city with Old West charm, Denver has a vast array of kid-friendly attractions here, including an aquarium, zoo, botanical garden, art museum with a fabulous hands-on projects space, and the fascinating History Colorado museum—all perfect for family vacations. Coors Field is right downtown, which makes it easy to catch a family-fun Rockies baseball game. And a free tramcar traverses 16th Street, so you can leave your car behind while you try out all the great dining and shopping that lines the long pedestrian-friendly zone.
Why you’ll love it: It’s a city with a sandy beach right downtown! How fun is that? Plus there are scenic riverboat rides, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of science, Lincoln Park and the zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, and a giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Oh, and pizza, lots and lots of cheesy, stringy, deep-dish pies perfect for family dining.
A family vacation creates memories that last a lifetime, and there's no better place to take the kids than to one of these "Family-Friendly" resorts. From children and teen clubs to waterparks and movies on the beach, each of these properties offer exceptional activities and amenities for families at an incredible value. Everyone will have a blast! Not to mention, the dining options are tremendous and offer a wide variety of cuisine - perfect for picky eaters! It's time to pack up the family and create some unforgettable memories at these beachfront retreats!
Ready for a fun-fueled family trip? Pack your sunblock, swimwear, and those all-important traveling snacks. Here are 20 of the best family vacation ideas in America for happy kids and even happier grown-ups. And once you decide on a destination, you can book all your tours, activities, and attractions right on TripAdvisor. Plus, our new 24-hour cancellation policy means you can pre-book before arriving, but still have the flexibility to cancel if your itinerary changes.
Denver: With mild weather and plenty of museums to explore, Denver is a family-friendly and affordable summer vacation this year. According to WalletHub’s Best Places to Visit in Summer, Denver ranks sixth, earning a spot for its low travel costs and minimal hassles. KAYAK’s 2018 Travel Hacker guide also lists median airfare to Denver under $250 round-trip from the U.S. and Canada for the summer months, and median hotel nightly rates around $150. Getty Images/iStockphoto
On an eight-day trip with Un-Cruise, adventures include touching anemones in tide pools and looking at plankton kids have collected under the microscope. Movie nights and dance parties keep the group camaraderie going on board. Book the Inner Reaches Eastern Coves itinerary for access to harbor seals in Endicott Arm, humpbacks in Stephens Passage, and lessons in Tlingit and Haida culture.
Why: With its East-meets-West charm, this remnant of the Ottoman Empire in the heart of Europe embodies a truly authentic experience. If you are looking to get away from all things commercial and eat some organic/non-GMO (and delicious) foods, you’ve come to the right place. The stunning old town is made of winding streets paved with cobblestones and is known for its medieval arched bridge (Star Most) that towers across the crystal cool waters of the Neretva River.
Todos Santos: This surf town in Baja California Sur features world-class waves and lots of natural beauty — and it’s just far enough north of touristy Cabo San Lucas to offer respite from the crowds. Todos Santos is slowly being discovered, but its stone streets and uncrowded beaches have earned it the official Pueblo Magico designation. Getty Images/iStockphoto
A Family Zion & Bryce Hiking adventure begins in Bryce Canyon National Park, where you’ll hike to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Staircase is actually a set of plateaus that lead to Lower Calf Creek Falls, where a green oasis has formed around the falling water. This is a great place to see Native American pictographs and granaries and learn about their culture. As you hike on to Zion National Park, you’ll see “hoodoos,” bright red, orange and white spires, some of which are over 200 feet tall. Legend says they were formed when ancient people behaved badly, drawing down a curse that turned them into stones. Take a refreshing dip in the Virgin River, and hike The Narrows, a stretch along the river considered one of the best hikes in the country.
Vacation rentals are becoming increasingly popular. Sites such as Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway permit homeowners to put their own properties up for rent whenever they won’t be using it. This is a good way to experience life as a local, because you’ll be staying in a residential area instead of one that caters to tourists. While some properties are tiny, cheap, and perfectly suitable for one person, vacation rentals are also a great way for a large group to get away together in a big house without having to pay for individual hotel rooms.
Washington, DC is a vibrant city with dozens of free attractions and events that make it an ideal destination for a family vacation. Once you’re near the Mall, major landmarks and iconic government buildings are everywhere you look: the Capitol, the White House, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and many more. Have your kids pull out their coins and dollar bills to see replicas of the very buildings they’re standing in front of. Book a line-skipping VIP tour and check them all off your list.
San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua: If you’re looking for an affordable but exotic beach getaway, check out Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast. Often overlooked by U.S. travelers, Nicaragua is only a three-hour flight from Atlanta and has a very favorable exchange rate ($1 USD to C$31 NIO). You’ll find San Juan del Sur about an hour-and-a-half drive from the main city of Managua. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Why: Made up of 15 islands and less than 100 square miles, the Cook Islands are everything you’d hope to find in the South Pacific — lush tropical beauty, vibrant reefs and a Polynesian vibe that is both traditional and modern. Its rich Maori culture is still very much intact and hospitality exudes through the friendly locals. Think: Hawaii half a century ago, but with 21st century conveniences like WiFi. Take your pick on where to stay — you’ll find reasonably-priced luxury alongside Airbnbs, beach shacks alongside boutiques, all with a rustic, island-chic appeal. The largest island, Rarotonga or “Raro,” is made up of rugged mountains, unspoiled beaches and the national capital of Avarua, where you’ll find boutique hotels, quaint shopping, rare pearls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, coffee shops, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot and even a Friday night party bus. The island is easily accessible by bus and being only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day. Note to Type A travelers: Bus timetables are on, well, island time. Aitutaki Island to the north, is home to what many refer to as the world’s most beautiful lagoon, thanks to its crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs and sandy islets that allow for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. When visiting the Cook Islands, it's not to be missed.
What to do: Crystal Cruises, the first cruise company to complete the entire Northwest Passage, has several options for experiencing Alaska’s glaciers. For example, its Glacier & Gold Cruise visits the Inside Passage where it parallels the tallest coastal mountains in the world. On port days, kids can learn about the historic Gold Rush in the once-booming frontier town of Skagway or do optional excursions like dogsledding or taking a floatplane to go fishing in a remote inlet. Of course, it’s also nice to just relax on the Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity and use their spotting scopes to look for humpback whales, get crafty in the Fantasia children’ playrooms or hit up the all-you-can-eat Scoops Ice Cream Bars.
Why you’ll love it: Bowling Green, located just an hour north of Nashville, is tucked in among the rolling green hills of South Central Kentucky’s Cave Country. It’s home to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest underground cave system, and the Lost River Cave, which offers Kentucky’s only underground boat tour, as well as Chaney’s Dairy Barn, a real working dairy farm that also happens to make the best ice cream in Kentucky. Don’t forget to check out the city’s National Corvette Museum where every single Corvette in the world is produced.
With its jaw-dropping landscapes (larger-than-life glaciers) and abundant sea and wildlife (humpback whales, sea lions and polar bears), Alaska is a must-see bucket-list destination for all ages. Opting for a cruise is a no-brainer: The mix of family-friendly onboard activities will keep all generations entertained, and water- and land-based tours make exploring the Final Frontier a cinch.
Why you’ll love it: Sometimes the kids only want to go to Disneyland; never fear, we’ve found a way to visit Mickey without breaking the bank. The Disney experts at UnderCover Tourist offer discounted tickets and additional money-saving tips at their site as well as calendars about when to visit when it’s least crowded. And of course Disney magic is always a hit with kids of all ages.
The beach's calm waters and ample room to sprawl out make this coastal South Carolina city a hit with adults and kids. There are plenty of other family-friendly attractions here, too, including amusement and water parks, mini-golf courses and an aquarium. Sports enthusiasts will especially love taking in a baseball game at Pelicans Ballpark. Read More »
What to do? Hike! How else are you going to get close enough to touch an actual glacier? The Going-to-the-Sun Road (one of the most scenic in the world) is also fun to bike, but it's best ridden early or late in the season when car traffic is minimal. The popular, open-top Glacier Park red bus tours allow kids to see wildlife from a safe distance and you to photograph without worrying about pulling over and parking. If you want to get out on the park's many glacial lakes, rent canoes or kayaks or book a boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Co.
What to do: See where Olympic dreams are born and watch athletes train for upcoming events at the Olympic Training Center. Then, hand feed the giraffes at the country’s only mountain-top zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Older kids will want to hike to the summit of Pikes Peak — the mountain that inspired the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” — and cross North America’s highest suspension bridge at The Royal Gorge. Finally, explore the geological wonders of Garden of the Gods, rated the No. 1 park in the U.S. by TripAdvisor users in 2014.
Just how cheap is it? The food and accommodation aren’t fabulous bargains -- but, oh, the shopping is. In the tourist town of Victoria Falls, a hostel bed or a hired tent will cost you $15 to $20 per night, but I scored a carved stone necklace from a street vendor for the sandals I was wearing. Bartering is common at flea markets and on the streets, where second-hand clothes -- shoes, baseball caps, and sportswear (think basketball or soccer shirts) -- have real buying power. Fill your suitcase with gently used gear and exchange it for jewelry, handmade crafts, and souvenirs like devalued trillion dollar notes.
With daily flights from many cities across North America, affordable hotels and resorts, and activities that range from scuba diving to horseback riding and caving, Belize has become a popular destination for tourists from around the world. You can find Belize accommodations for less than $100 per night, and fill your days with cheap food and outdoor fun. (Getty Images)
What to do: Sleep under the stars in the national park named for Theodore Roosevelt who once lived here. Let the kids’ imaginations run wild amidst these dramatic badlands (home to the Painted Canyon) and have a contest to see who can spot the most bison or elk. Laugh out loud at the prairie dog towns where the barking is audible and the little critters are as entertaining as they are mischievous. Just outside of the park, explore downtown Medora — an Old West cow town where horses are still a form of transportation.
What to do: First, get your bearings from a ride in an open cockpit biplane at the Military Aviation Museum — TripAdvisor’s top-rated attraction in all of Virginia Beach. Then, hit the beach and Neptune’s Castle where the kids can even compete in a sandcastle building contest if your timing is right. Finally, take a quick drive to Fredericksburg to walk in the footsteps of our country’s first president at his boyhood home, Ferry Farm. George Washington lived there from the age of 6 to 22, and it’s a true testament to what colonial life was like.
What to do: Get your bearings on the free park shuttle around Yosemite Valley — home to famous sights like the Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls; hopping on and off as you please. Feeling adventurous? Set aside a half day to hike the Mist Trail alongside majestic Vernal Falls, climbing 600 granite steps to the top. (Pack a waterproof poncho because you will get wet!) To ride the whitewater, go tubing with Zephyr Whitewater.
Why you’ll love it: Known for its natural beauty, sustainability, and outdoor activities, Portland is a favorite option for affordable family vacations. It’s a great destination for teens who will enjoy biking around the city like a local or taking in the sites on the great public transportation system, including a cool funicular (and a pass is only $5). There are hip vintage spots and multiple food truck parks where they can try food from around the globe without high restaurant prices. Take in the views of the city and the 500 plant varieties at the International Rose Test Garden.
Why you’ll love it: You can explore more than 300 miles of shoreline jetting out into Lake Michigan and Green Bay in Door County all dotted by charming communities and a Midwestern friendliness that will make you feel like you stepped back in time. Younger kids will enjoy peering through the periscope at Door County Maritime Museum with views of Sturgeon Bay and active shipyards; teens will enjoy hiking, biking, and kayaking along the Mink River Estuary. Everyone will love the classic Skyway Drive-In and the creamy treats served up at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Wilson ice Cream Parlor.
Climb a sand dune to watch a fiery sunset on a Family Adventure in Southern Africa. And Botswana, in southern Africa. Tours leave from Windhoek, once a German colonial city and now the capital of Namibia. The land looks other-worldly, with its shimmering sand dunes and dried lakebeds, but this is a great place for kids (and adults) to learn about desert ecology and the region’s history. Guides lead interactive walks into the bush and explain the tracking skills and survival methods used by the San tribe, inhabitants of this area for over 30,000 years. You’ll pass hippos and elephants as you paddle canoes through the Okavango Delta, one of the best places in the country to spot animals and birds. The journey ends at Victoria Falls, known as the world’s largest waterfall, in Zimbabwe.
Take your vacation to the next level at Universal Orlando Resort™. Explore three amazing theme parks: Universal’s Volcano Bay™, Universal’s Islands of Adventure™ and Universal Studios Florida™, featuring the new ride Fast & Furious – Supercharged™, plus spectacular on-site hotels and more. It’s days and nights of endless, high-octane fun for every member of the family.
What to do: Though the real space shuttles have flown their final missions, you can feel what it's like to rocket into the stratosphere on the Shuttle Launch Experience flight simulator. Take mission control tours, have lunch with an astronaut and even train with one in a family Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) program, preparing for g-forces and a mock journey to the International Space Station.
Chosen By: Patricia Stone, founder of Global Adventuress. She's traveled to 157 countries and seeks out unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations for solo travelers, girlfriends, couples and families. Her site has been featured in the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and was nominated by USA Today as a Top 20 Travel Destination site.