Why you should go: Not only is it arguably the greatest swinging-around-a-stage-in-purple-sequined-zebra-print-pants anthem of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen, it’s a slinky, skinny swatch of land with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. Smaller than South Carolina, it boasts 1,800 miles of ocean coastline and 5 million acres of national parks on the inside. For those who enjoy stylishly restored ruins, Panama City’s old quarter, Casco Viejo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1600s and is now filled with hipstery shit, because of course it is. This cobblestoned city center is surrounded by the ultra-sleek, modern, quasi-futuristic skyscrapers of Panama City, which kind of looks like Rio without the smog and soon-to-be decaying Olympic infrastructure. - Nicole Rupersburg, Thrillist contributor
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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
Package vacations are a great choice for effortless traveling, as they are quick and easy to book and ensure that everything will be taken care of for you. For example, if your flight is canceled, it’s the travel provider’s job to find a new flight for you. You can rest easy knowing that your vacation will be stress-free and you are protected in case of changes to your itinerary.
What to do? Strike a pose in the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (affectionately known as the Bean). It's like a giant fun house mirror. Splash around in the cheeky, animated Crown Fountain, which literally makes faces at you. Join one of the free activities (family yoga, anyone?) on the big lawn or rent bikes from Bike and Roll Chicago or Divvy Bikes Millennium Park to ride to nearby Navy Pier.
Your child may be on his or her way to being a master builder—or not—but either way, few Florida destinations are as child-friendly as Winter Haven. That’s because of the incredible LEGOLAND, where single- or multi-day passes are available to purchase. This child-centric haven is practically overflowing with Lego bricks. What’s more, every room is themed—from pirates to knights to adventurers.
What to do: Bring your passport, so you can view them from the Canadian and American sides; to visit both, just cross Rainbow Bridge. Board the Maid of the Mist boat from either shore to get right up to the raging water (they give you ponchos so you don't get drenched). By day you'll see rainbows; at night, the falls are dramatically lit, and there are fireworks too! If your kids aren’t afraid of heights, they’ll also love the bird’s eye view from Skylon Tower.
Why you’ll love it: Devastated by a double hit of Mother Nature in 2017, Puerto Rico is recovering from the storms and is focused on welcoming families for summer vacation. From Miami, flights to the historical city of San Juan start at just $99 round trip on Frontier Air. Since you don’t need a passport to visit the Spanish-speaking island (it’s a U.S. commonwealth), it’s a great easy first cultural trip for elementary school-aged kids.
Yellowstone is a massive, nearly 4,000-square-mile park that hosts more geothermal features, including hot springs, mud spots and geysers, than anywhere else on Earth. Here you can be mesmerized by most famous, Old Faithful, which shoots steam as high as 185 feet into the sky every 90 minutes, along with many other lesser-known geysers, mud pots and brilliant multi-colored hot springs like Grand Prismatic Spring, named for its striking array of colors that match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism of orange, yellow, red, green and blue. The park is also famous for its wildlife, with an abundance of bison, elk and Bighorn sheep, along with wolves and bears. By staying just outside the park, you’ll find multiple budget-friendly options, like Kelly Inn West Yellowstone.
What to do: There's lots of free PG-rated fun in festive Jackson Square, where magicians, jugglers, mimes and jazz bands make the street their stage. Take in the lively scene from an outside table at Café du Monde, famous for its yummy beignets (warm French doughnuts smothered with powdered sugar). A quick stroll along the Mississippi River leads to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (little ones will love the touch pools) and the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (creepy crawly thrills include bug tasting). Hop the St. Charles streetcar to the lovely Garden District and the Audubon Zoo where the kids can check feeding giraffes off their bucket lists.
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