Family life can be both wonderful and exhausting. That’s why The Great Family Vacation is so important—a time to make memories and celebrate your loved ones away from the daily grind. But with so many great family-friendly destinations in the USA, it’s hard to narrow it down. While our list leaves out a few of the obvious big-hitters like Orlando, Virginia Beach, San Diego, and Myrtle Beach, we’re featuring equally amazing spots, where the amenities for children are just as great and the welcome just as warm. With a little help from the local city experts at Apartment Guide, we’ve also highlighted some of the best kid-friendly attractions you won’t want to miss.
What to do: Get there first thing in the morning because you’ll want to make the most of every second. Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey first: Muggles meet Dumbledore, join a Quidditch match, and encounter a Whomping Willow. Next, conquer the ultra-fast Dragon Challenge coaster and the tamer Flight of the Hippogriff; then go wand shopping at Ollivanders (if you're lucky, the wand will choose you).
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.
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
Patras has its own stretch of beach, but this town offers plenty of history and culture as well. Hotels are affordable, and you can relax the day away near the water, roam the ancient Old City or visit the Medieval Castle, which was built during the second half of sixth century A.D. Travelers will find several other beaches nearby as well, including Kalogria and Rodini. (Getty Images)
Hotwire’s “Hot Deals.” Much like Priceline, Hotwire is able to offer discounts if you’re willing to book a hotel, flight, or car without knowing the brand name. Unlike Priceline, Hotwire publishes the prices up front instead of allowing you to name your own price. So, for example, you’ll know that you’re booking a three-star hotel in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles that costs $120 per night, but you won’t know the name of the hotel until after you book.
Alabama’s Coastal Birding Trail offers bird enthusiasts an opportunity to view and enjoy the high diversity of bird species represented in our region. The trail book guides visitors along six distinct birding loops which span Baldwin and Mobile counties. It includes parking and facilities information about each stop along the trail, and lists the species found there.
Why you’ll love it: For families who love to explore museums and cultural sites, Atlanta is ideal. Middle schoolers will love seeing the massive whale sharks at Georgia Aquarium (the largest in the country), visiting the Heisman Trophy at the College Football Hall of Fame, and sampling soda to their heart’s content at World of Coca-Cola. Teens will also appreciate the more mature tone of the Center for Civil and Human rights as well. (Atlanta CityPASS offers a reduced price package that includes all of these must-visit spots.)
There is another way that the practice of almost purchasing can pay off. You’ve probably already noticed that, after conducting a web search for a specific item, the advertisements on the Internet pages you visit are chock full of that very item. Those ads might annoy you, but they also might contain tailor-made discounts on the exact hotel, cruise, or vacation package you were looking for. It’s worth a second glance.
Why you should go: London is always a winner, but venture north to the Yorkshire Dales to experience the majestic, windswept hills of the Brontë sisters, or take a train south west to the Jurassic cliffs of seaside town West Bay, Dorset (you may recognize them from Broadchurch). Both of these options, much more budget friendly than the capital, offer England at its most beautiful. - Ruthie Darling, Thrillist contributor
Indus Travel via Dunhill Travel offers a 2019 Best of Peru 7-Night Flight, Hotel, and Sightseeing Small Group Escorted Vacation for Two with prices starting from $3,998. That's $620 off and the best price we could find. This price is based on departure from Miami, FL, (MIA) with arrival in Lima, Peru (LIM) on February 18, 2019; other departure cities and dates are available for an additional cost. Additional fees may apply. Book this travel deal by December 3 for travel from February 18, 2019, through November 18, 2019. Highlights include:
Tahiti: If you’re located on the West Coast, this year is one of the most affordable times to head to Tahiti. Why? This May, French budget airline Frenchbee launched non-stop service from San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti (PPT). Searches for summer airfare yield results well under $1,000 round-trip, which is unheard of for this exotic destination. Travel in August to take advantage of fares under $750 round-trip. Getty Images/iStockphoto
The East Coast has it all: beautiful beaches, stunning vistas, historical importance, and some of the most famous cities in the world. First stop on your Eastern Seaboard getaway: the “Big Apple.” A trip to New York City means you get to see the sights that are talked about all over the world, like Lady Liberty, Broadway, and Central Park. If you want to delve into U.S. history, a Washington D.C. vacation filled with monuments, museums, and galleries is for you. Speaking of history, the American Revolution got its start in a city a few hours to the north. Your Boston vacation will bring you to one of the most popular spots on the East Coast. Indulge in some of the best clam chowder in the world, then walk back in time on the Freedom Trail, which hosts 16 sites that played a huge role in the founding of the nation.
A trip to Europe is for families who enjoy exploring historic sites, sampling local cuisine and learning about a different culture. Visit Florence, Italy, which is an easy historic city to explore with children. Another great city to visit with kids is New York. Younger children can explore a huge variety of playgrounds, climb on giant statues representing characters from children's books, visit a zoo, ride on a carousel, visit a planetarium and watch a show at the Marionette Theater.
Families will find many ways to occupy their time while vacationing in the Catskills. In addition to offering farms with animals to feed, this spot in southeast New York features bumper boating in the summer and skiing and sledding in the winter. All-inclusive, family-oriented resorts are also available, but for extra savings, try roughing it at a local campground.
Where to stay: Book a room at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Rochester, which is a 5-minute drive or short walk to the museum. Other family favorite hotels include the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Rochester, which features a large, indoor pool in the hotel’s atrium (plus a complimentary cookie at check in!), and the Hilton Garden Inn Rochester University & Medical Center which is connected to the new College Town shopping complex.
What to do? Don’t get out of town without visiting Denver’s top attraction, The Denver Zoo. It’s more than 100 years old! Today, kids can get hands-on in the 'Be a Zookeeper Zone' (open Spring through Fall), marvel at swimming elephants and sign up for more than a dozen different behind-the-scenes animal encounters. While in town, take the younger kids to the Children’s Museum of Denver where they can experiment in a test kitchen, cool off in an outdoor splash zone and live out their fantasy of being in a room dedicated to bubbles. Older kids will appreciate the interesting exhibits and the Phipps IMAX 3D Theater at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. When their feet get tired, take a ride in the free open-air Denver Trolley to learn about the city’s founding and its famous Gold Rush.
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Why you’ll love it: Known as the base camp to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), Estes Park is only 90 minutes from Denver International Airport, but has an authentic Colorado mountain village feeling with plenty of outdoor activities to fit any member of the family. Families can try hiking in the national park on their own, booking a mountain bike ride, learn fly-fishing, or try rafting experiences—to name a few. There’s also a number of unique festivals throughout the summer.
Just how cheap is it? Dirtbag backpackers can get by on less than $30 per day, easy. Dorms in La Paz, the sprawling capital, are as low as $5 a night. Lunches cost $3, and including rice, a main (usually meat), and soup. Buy some llama print sweaters to take home at $10 each, and spend $20 to cram onto a bus to the next city. A three-day tour in the damn Amazon jungle will set you back just $200 (bring a headlamp and expect to lounge in hammocks next to baby tarantulas).
For example, a writer for The New York Times searched for a long weekend getaway in Washington, D.C. and found a vacation package that looked like a tremendous deal. However, the hotel was 22 miles away from Washington. In other scenarios, the hotel might be fantastic, but your flight might have two stops and a 12-hour layover in Topeka. The bottom line is that it’s worth exploring package options, but be sure to scrutinize the individual components of the package to make sure you’re not compromising too much.
Steeped in Civil War history, the picturesque town of Gettysburg makes a pleasant and educational base for families. Tour the Gettysburg Battlefield, the National Military Park, and the Shriver House Museum at your leisure, or hop on a guided bus tour of the town to get the expert lowdown on all the key sights. From historical re-enactments to ghostly tours, there’s so much here to keep the whole family entertained.
Our travel guides, which are curated by Travel + Leisure editors and a network of local correspondents, highlight the best hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, and things to do in the world's most exciting destinations. Browse our in-depth travel information for great ideas and insider finds, plus smart travel tips that will have you feeling like a local in no time.
Huatulco: A beach town located in Oaxaca to the southwest of Puerto Escondido, Huatalco offers tons of water activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving, some nearby surf spots, and tours of coffee farms to boot. While Huatulco itself is considered one of the safest places in Mexico, the State Department is restricting travel along Highway 200 in the area (except to and from the airport), so you may not want to wander too far. 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.