10 Destinations for a Family Vacation

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on October 19, 2016Written by Diana Wells on October 19, 2016
family vacation

When you’re planning a family holiday, it can be difficult to find a budget-friendly option that ensures every member of your family is being active, experiencing something new, and most importantly, having fun.

Fortunately, the United States is chock-full of destinations that feature fun and inexpensive outdoor activities that your entire family will enjoy without having to wait in endless theme park lines. To help you plan your next family vacation, here are the 10 most family-friendly destinations in the United States. They are filled with a variety of experiences that will allow every member of the family to have a truly memorable time.

And don’t tell the kids, but many of them come with an educational experience built-in to the fun!

Greenville, ME

Greenville sits on Moosehead Lake, and as the lake’s name suggests, you can expect to see plenty of moose there. Seeing animals up close and personal can be fun for adults and children alike. Taking one of the moose and wildlife tours is the best way to do so.

While in Greenville, be sure to visit the Moosehead Marine Museum, where you’ll learn all about the area’s history, from its logging camps to its steamboats. Speaking of steamboats: Be sure to take a ride on one! The Katahdin steamboat runs daily during the summer. The tour takes you to Mount Kineo, with its towering cliffs and amazing peregrine falcons.

With salmon, trout, and bass, Moosehead Lake also provides some great fishing opportunities and tours. Or for the more adventurous, it’s home to the starting point of some fantastic white water rafting.

Carlsbad, CA

Carlsbad, California boasts gorgeous weather pretty much all year around, making it an ideal destination for getting your family outside and experiencing some nature! The town is home to some of the best beaches in California, which means lots of opportunity to surf, swim, collect seashells, and build sandcastles.

Once you’ve had your fill of the beach, you can move slightly inland and visit some of Carlsbad’s unique museums, including the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum or the Green Dragon Tavern and Museum, which is home to documents from as far back as colonial times. While you’re there, you may as well take some time to explore Legoland, a unique spin on theme parks where interactive Lego building areas keep you entertained between the rides and shows.

Mount Rushmore, SD

Of course, the gigantic sculpture is the focal point of any trip to Mount Rushmore, but there are other things to do too! First, walk the Presidential Trail, which, while scarcely more than half a mile, gives you numerous incredible views of the sculpture for viewing and picture taking.

After your pictures are taken and you’ve walked the trail, stop for a scoop of TJ’s vanilla ice cream. It’s named after Thomas Jefferson, whom history credits with bringing the first ice cream recipe to the United States. Finally, the nightly lighting ceremony at the outdoor amphitheater is the perfect way to finish up your visit. You will see the flag-lowering ceremony, watch a video about how Mount Rushmore was made, and participate in a tribute to veterans.

Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head is a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. It is not very big, but it’s the perfect spot for a family beach vacation that’s equal parts fun and relaxing. At the Coastal Discovery Museum, you’ll get the opportunity to interact with the natural and the cultural history of the area while taking tours and exploring trails, like the amazing sea turtle walk in the evening along the beach.

The more adventurous members of the family can plan one of the popular helicopter tours. You are able to choose from options like exploring the area lighthouses, remote beaches, and more. If you and your kids love pirates, then you can’t miss the opportunity to join the pirate crew on board the Pirates of Hilton Head Island pirate ship! You will get your very own pirate name, fire water cannons, and hunt for treasure!

San Diego, CA

San Diego is home to almost endless water sports and beach activities, but there are other great things to do during your visit. One of their better-known attractions is the San Diego Zoo, which features thousands of animals in natural habits for you to see and learn about. Don’t forget to visit the Safari Park as well to see the free-roaming animals of Africa.

Once you have managed to see everything in the zoo, continue your exploration of the sprawling Balboa Park (which is larger than Manhattan’s Central Park), which is also home to multiple museums and gardens. Be sure to pick up passes that give you access to a number of the attractions within the park.

If you are ready to head to the water after exploring inland, San Diego offers several whale watching tours where you and your family can learn about these majestic creatures and catch a glimpse of them up close.

Naples, FL

While its Gulf of Mexico beaches are a major attraction, they are not the only option for outdoor family fun in Naples. The nearby Everglades National Park offers the chance to see a unique part of nature by airboat or canoe, including manatee and mangrove swamps. If you have kids (and maybe even if you don’t), be sure to visit.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida works to conserve the unique land, water, and animals of the area. Education is a big part of conservation, and your family can learn more about what they do and see some of the thousands of animals they protect and save daily. They offer electric boat tours, trails, and even a “touch tank” that you can reach into to touch live animals. Kids of all ages will enjoy the Golisano Children’s Museum. With all of its interactive exhibits, your kids will have so much fun they won’t realize they’re learning!

Yellowstone National Park

Visit the first ever national park and enjoy its endless number of activities, from camping to fishing to hiking, and more. No trip to Yellowstone would be complete without a trip to see Old Faithful in the Upper Geyser Basin area of the park. The Tower-Roosevelt Area contains a number of amazing sites and experiences, including the 132-foot Tower fall, Calcite Springs, and the Calcite Springs overlook, from which you can be sure to take some amazing photographs, or even have a cookout like they did in the days of the Old West.

If your kids like mud, then they will enjoy seeing the natural mudpots at the park. Despite the odor — the hydrogen sulfide gas they create smells a bit like rotten eggs — these are an amazing site to see, and your kids will learn about both science and a natural marvel as they learn how they were formed.

Rochester, NY

Rochester is a city with strong historical ties to both antislavery and the women’s rights movement. You can find the graves of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass in the picturesque Mount Hope Cemetery. Gather the family and climb aboard the Sam Patch, a replica packet boat, for a tour of the Erie Canal. You will go through one of the locks and experience firsthand how they work to move the boats through the different water levels.

A definite stop for any family vacation to Rochester is the Strong National Museum of Play. Along with its many interactive exhibits, it is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame as well as the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Learn where your camera phone got its start when you tour the George Eastman Museum, the oldest photography museum in the world which houses film archives from centuries past and is also home to expansive gardens.

North Shore, Oahu, HI

If you are in Hawaii, then you are going to hit the water. But there is more to the North Shore than just the amazing beaches. Be sure to take time to visit the Kualoa Nature Reserve to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Hawaii. You can learn about the wildlife and exotic plants on the reserve by horseback, ATV, or even a zip line.

Learn the history of the Pacific islands and its people at the Polynesian Cultural Center. You will be able to tour traditional island villages and see demonstrations of their craftsmanship and artwork. Then, find out where those delicious Dole pineapples come from at the Dole Plantation. You can walk through the gardens, or take the train tour while learning about how the various plants have been used. Before you leave the plantation, be sure to try your luck in the 3-acre maze created from native plants. You’ll get the chance to win a prize, too.

Colonial Williamsburg, VA

Take the Revolutionary War out of the pages of the history books and into reality as you walk the streets of Colonial Williamsburg. In Revolutionary City, step back into colonial times as our nation began its quest for independence. You can be a part of the scene as news is spread about the Declaration of Independence, and march with soldiers through the streets. You can enjoy all the activity from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage.

If you want to learn how they create the realistic life of colonial Williamsburg during modern times, then you will want to take the behind-the-scenes tour at Bruton Heights. And if you’re really brave, be sure to take the Official Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Walk. You will walk through the historic streets at night while guides share true stories from residents and employees about ghostly encounters. You will also be able to tour some believed-to-be haunted historic places that are not open to the public. 

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