Nighttime is perfect for The Island in Pigeon Forge, an entertainment hub with lighted water shows. Pleasant evenings also draw families to the area’s multiple mini-golf courses, including one in nearby Gatlinburg. Gatlinburg is also home to a surprisingly wonderful aquarium given its mountain location; penguins typically steal the show at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.
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.
Couchsurfing connects would-be travelers with hosts around the world who are willing to offer up a modest amount of space in their homes (not always an actual couch, though that is certainly common). As a matter of policy, Couchsurfing does not allow hosts to charge visitors money. However, it is common for visitors to thank their hosts by reimbursing the cost of groceries, or perhaps buying a gift equivalent to the extent to which they cleaned out their hosts’s wine cabinet.
Budget tips: There’s plenty to do for free in Rapid City: Visitors can participate in a free, interactive walking guide of the City of Presidents, a series of life-size bronze statues of our nation’s past presidents along the city’s streets and sidewalks. A slight detour leads into Art Alley, a stunning expression of Rapid City’s creative community. After a day of exploring, cap off the day with a stroll through Main Street Square, a community hub featuring year-round free events for travelers to enjoy, as well as public art such as The Sculpture Project.
What to do: Start at the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum — on Tuesday nights, starting at 5 p.m., admission is free. The museum’s exhibits are broken into three parts: before 9/11, during 9/11 and after 9/11. Because of the sensitive subject matter, the museum has a free downloadable guide for tips on visiting with children. Since the memorial is so close to Battery Park, ask the kids if they’d like to catch a ferry to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. It’s a good way to see New York City from the water while learning about how most of us got here.
The 22-acre Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort complex, set on the widest strip of beach in Waikiki, is a family-entertainment mecca. You can swim, surf, snorkel and paddleboard right from the hotel. Ideal for little ones is its beachfront lagoon, which lets them experience salt water without the big waves. Four nights of the week, the hotel stages Waikiki's only outdoor luau, with traditional food, Polynesian dancing and music, and fire dancers. The resort's Spirit of Aloha snorkel tours include a visit to Turtle Canyon. Sea turtles come to a spot where fish "clean" them before the turtles push off, making way for the next ones in line. If you don't want to get wet while experiencing the ocean, descend 100 feet in an Atlantis Submarine to see reefs, sunken boats and planes, along with fish, sharks and turtles. — Todd Pitock

Set in the Northern Catskills, where there’s lots of fresh air and space to run around, Durham makes a top family vacation base. Show your brood the best of the rural life on a tour with Farmer Frank of Hull-O Farms, where you’ll meet all sorts of friendly animals, including bunnies, piglets, and chicks. For something completely different, book day tickets for the Zoom Flume Water Park, where you can rent a cabana and spend the day crashing into the water via various high-speed slides.
Where to stay: Stay in comfort and convenience under the canopy of the Carolinian Forest in a Parks Canada oTENTik. An oTENIK is a cross between an A-frame cabin and prospector tent on a raised wooden floor for families or groups of up to six. It’s like the luxury “glamping” options springing up across the country, but you bring your own food and bedding, and prices start at just a little over U.S $100. These are the most popular travel destinations in Canada.
No. 3. Ka'anapali Beach – Lahaina, Hawaii. Among the most visited beach in West Maui, this area is a popular spot for quiet relaxation or water sports. It’s also famous for the daily cliff diving ceremony off of the beach’s northernmost cliffs known as “Puu Kekaa” or Black Rock. According to a TripAdvisor reviewer, “Amazing this time of year. Right from the beach we saw amazing whale breaches. The sand is amazing and the beach is well kept up!” • Beachfront bargain hotel nearby: Lahaina Shores Beach Resort, from $289 per night on TripAdvisor • Great airfare found on TripAdvisor: As low as $382 round-trip from SFO (San Francisco) to OGG (Kahului) TripAdvisor

What to do: Take it slow and make lots of stops — whether you conquer the whole thing (should take about four days) or just tackle small portions. Kids will be wowed by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (ride the wooden coaster!); Monterey (go kayaking and see the Aquarium); Carmel's Pt. Lobos State Natural Reserve (otters, seal lions and whales hang here); Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (great hiking and camping); Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, and the elephant seals on the beach just north of it.
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.
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