Family life. It can be wonderful and exhausting in equal measure. That’s why The Great Family Vacation is so important—a time to make memories and celebrate your loved ones away from the pressures of daily life. Whether you’ve got a family of ten or two, here are the best family vacation ideas your kids will love, where boredom is banned and fun is king.
Best Vacation Ideas For Families
With so many great family-friendly destinations in the USA, it’s hard to narrow down to the cream of the crop. While we’ve left 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.
An added benefit? These top family vacation spots boast plenty of local rentals from FlipKey. Choose an entire house or apartment where you can all be together (while still having your own space). Swap the hotel mini-bar for a fully stocked kitchen and the communal lobby for a family living area—and maybe even a garden. Imagine an evening barbecue on the outdoor patio, a family movie night in the theater room, or a morning swim in your own private pool.
Ready for a fun-fueled family trip? Pack your sunblock, swimwear, and those all-important traveling snacks. Here are 19 of the best family vacation ideas in America for happy kids and even happier grown-ups.
“This home was perfect for young and old. Very close to Disneyland and shopping. The pool was the favorite for relaxing and cooling off. Very friendly owners.” — FlipKey Reviewer
The most obvious pull for children in sunny Anaheim is the mighty Disneyland Park—and who could blame them for begging to come here? Rides for all ages, well-known characters to meet, and all the color and excitement you’d expect from a larger-than-life Disney experience. If you’re looking for something on a smaller scale, book a pass to Adventure City. With rides, shows, and a mini train, it’s especially suited to younger children.
“We came to Gettysburg to visit history and were not disappointed. The house just made things very simple for us. Everything we needed was there. Great literature to assist us on our history tour. The house was clean and well kept. It was located very conveniently for touring all of Gettysburg.” — FlipKey Reviewer
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.
“We regularly stay in rented accommodation rather than hotels when we go on holiday, and this is one of the best we’ve experienced. The house is very comfortable, and well furnished and equipped.” — FlipKey Reviewer
Boston has it all—the culture, the fantastic city parks, and a relaxed pace you might not expect in a city of its size. Baseball fanatics, young and not so young, will love Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. You can take a guided tour, watch a game, and soak up some sporting history. Also check out the giant ocean tank at the New England Aquarium and board a Boston Duck Tour to be transported around this beautiful city on land and water.
Florida Space Coast
The vibe on the Florida Space Coast is, overall, beachy and relaxed, but a vacationer’s experience depends largely on the activity you choose. Of course, they don’t call it the “Space Coast” for nothing. The thrill of watching rockets launch from Cape Canaveral, whether up close or miles away, never gets old. In fact, launches still occur (SpaceX rockets are on the launch calendar for 2017). Kennedy Space Center unpacks space-centric surprises, from the earliest days of space exploration to the exciting Shuttle Launch Experience and behind-the-gates tours.
As for terra firma, beautiful Atlantic beaches await, along with wildlife at the Canaveral National Seashore, a beautiful barrier island National Park. And even if you’re not shipping out for a cruise, you and your family can marvel at large luxurious ships from Grills Seafood Deck, a family-friendly and casual venue.
Over in Cocoa Beach, you can sink your toes into the sand—but if you have teens, be sure to pop in for a ubiquitous (free!) sticker at Ron Jon’s massive surf shop. You may want to pick up a bikini or t-shirt while you’re at it, too.
Satellite Beach is a lesser-known but equally lovely section of the Atlantic coast. If you’re planning on visiting in June or July, you can enjoy sea turtle nesting season. Check in with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society for a guided tour. Once booked, you’ll be led out by expert guides equipped with the knowledge (and turtle-friendly lighting) to find mama turtles as they venture onshore to lay their eggs. Truly amazing!
“This adorable house was very comfortable and had every amenity needed for a family vacation. Everything was close by, from amazing restaurants to cute shops, and of course the beach. I was impressed at how quickly we were able to get to Disneyland and down the coast to Newport Beach.” — FlipKey Reviewer
Locals refer to Long Beach as one giant playground, so families are certainly welcome here. And there’s one place you really can’t miss. More than 11,000 creatures await you at the Aquarium of the Pacific—you can even touch and feed some of them. Learn about who lives in and around the oceans and the importance of conserving their environment. Long Beach also has lots of family-oriented places to eat and plenty of fun watery activities, including boat tours.
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.
The internationally-renowned collections of the Smithsonian range from a 65-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton to the original “Star-Spangled Banner” to the space shuttle Discovery. The Einstein Planetarium at the Air and Space Museum offers a constant flow of illuminating, family-friendly entertainment. The airplane buffs in your family will be happy they made the trek to Dulles Airport for the Udvar-Hazy Center, an annex of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. It’s so large that the actual planes dangling from its ceiling look like toys.
The riverfront Nationals Park is a wholesome itinerary option for families who like major league baseball. Its neighborhood goes by many names at this point—Navy Yard, Ballpark District and Capitol Riverfront—but is easy to reach from any area of the city.
Billed as the Waterpark Capital of the World, Wisconsin Dells is an obvious choice for fun-seeking families. It’s hard to experience all the great attractions and activities here. Take your pick of indoor and outdoor adventures, such as Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, Timber Falls Adventure Park, Circus World, Timbavati Wildlife Park…the list goes on and on.
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, try the Zoom Flume Water Park, where you can rent a cabana and spend the day crashing into the water via various high-speed slides.
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. This child-centric haven is practically overflowing with Lego bricks. What’s more, every ride in the elevator is a strobe-infused opportunity to do a happy dance, and every room is themed—from pirates to knights to adventurers.
Steps away are Legoland’s theme park and waterpark. The theme park’s coasters, rides and Lego-centric sites keep the entertainment going nonstop. The waterpark’s lazy rivers, wave pools, slides, and other cooling spots offer a fun respite from the Florida heat.
Parents should note that although the LEGOLAND attractions are decidedly for youngsters, the ease with which you’ll be able to move from one to the next make it appealing for parents looking for recreation that’s a little more self-contained. As a bonus, you can also enjoy a tropical cocktail by the pool while watching your kiddos.
Indy’s a pretty hospitable place. And if you’re visiting with children, there’s no better starting point than the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the largest of its kind in the world. We challenge anyone to be bored in this place, where kids are encouraged to explore arts and culture through exhibits, workshops, and live performances—there’s even a steam engine. You might also like to see the animals and plant life at Indianapolis Zoo.
This friendly place on the Atlantic Coast has a boardwalk packed with lively eateries. Families tend to favor Funland for its arcade games and vintage rides and Jungle Jim’s Water Park for water slides, go-karting and mini-golf. For a bit of calm before bedtime, you could head slightly north and take a Broadkill River cruise with Caper Water Tours and Taxi, taking in the peaceful views of the shoreline and its birdlife before the sun sets.
Colonial Williamsburg, the 301-acre, restored 18th-century capital city, is America’s largest interactive history museum. Its interpretive characters transport visiting families back in time, to the sound of beating drums and trilling fifes.
Virginia’s Historic Triangle extends to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, where innovative exhibits and educational experiences depict America’s first permanent English colony and guide visitors through the battlefield where American independence was won. Merchants Square, an 18th-century-style village, includes more than 40 shops and restaurants ranging from family-style to fine dining.
The family-friendly Williamsburg area is also home to Busch Gardens, an action-packed, European-themed adventure park; Water Country USA, Virginia’s largest water park; and the York and James Rivers, where you can enjoy beautiful scenery and outdoor activities such as fishing, boating and swimming.
Located on the southern edge of Lake Erie is chilled-out Sandusky. This place is home to the Cedar Point amusement park, which draws rollercoaster-crazy visitors each year. It’s mostly for the thrill-seekers, but there are also gentler options available for younger children. Alternatively, you can take jet skis out on the lake or enjoy a stroll with stunning views along the Sandusky Bay Pathway.
Book a comfortable family rental as your base for exploring the child-friendly delights of Bloomington. We recommend starting with Nickelodeon Universe, a fun-packed indoor park in the Mall of America, with everything from the tamest of rides to zip-lining adventures. If your children are on the younger side, this is a great place to spend a day. The Mall of America also provides all the shopping and eating opportunities you could hope for, plus an aquarium and adventure golf.
Affordable and wholesome Pigeon Forge is adjacent to American’s favorite national park, Great Smoky Mountains. Most known for the Dollywood theme park, Pigeon Forge now also gets rave reviews for its Titanic Museum, an interactive walk through the doomed cruise ship. Teens will like assuming the persona of a historic passenger, only to find out their fate after visiting the eye-popping captain’s bridge.
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.
Your most difficult task will be choosing which of the dozens of family attractions to try, from a wax museum to a world records hall to dinner theaters, roller coasters and even “Goats on the Roof.” Nature will also be luring you to Smoky Mountain trails and overlooks, so no matter how many days you can spend in Pigeon Forge, they will all be full.
Carolina Beach offers an old-style boardwalk, a laid-back atmosphere and absolutely tons of activities for families to enjoy together. Take advantage of the water sports and seaside amusement rides (and grab some donuts from Britt’s). A few minutes down the coastline is Kure Beach, where you’ll find Ocean Front Park, with its boardwalk, gardens and beach—there’s even a giant pirate ship to play on. Continue down to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which has some interactive exhibits and even an albino alligator.
St. Augustine’s picturesque and historic center appeals to all sorts of visitors. Many families come here for the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum, a fabulous swashbuckling resource offering interactive exhibits, treasure hunting, and more. For some outdoor fun, you could see the town on one of Ripley’s Red Trains, hit the play areas at Davenport Park or Project Swing Park, or turn towards the beach for a kids’ surf session.
Charlotte’s Carowinds, a combination amusement park and waterpark, is a big hit with families. Weekdays offer shorter lines than weekends, and themed events are scheduled near year’s end. Young park-goers will discover mini-rides just for them, while teens will be thrilled with the likes of Intimidator and Fury 325. The park offers free water at multiple stations, but parents consistently recommend purchasing cups with free refills for the day. Count on $20 for parking, and budget extra for food, or consider at least one combo ticket, which includes food throughout the day.
Does your family thrive on challenges? Multiple escape rooms now pepper Charlotte, and near the intersection of the city’s two interstates, you’ll find Escape Kings. This family-friendly attraction lets those over 10 years of age test their collective wits by escaping from Aztec Ruins and Kings Quest rooms. The puzzle clues are for all ages, and escape is neither too hard for kids nor too easy for adults.
DefyGravity trampoline park is an appealing setting for energy-filled kids. Depending on their age, they can bounce their way through the KidJump, Ninja Obstacle Course, extreme dodgeball, foam pits, and even a trapeze.
Teens who like golf will love hanging out at Topgolf. Fun music adds to the excitement of golfing with a variety of provided clubs on a three-level driving range. Servers keep the food and drinks coming, while you rack up the points and have a few laughs. Charlotte—a major metroplex—has no shortage of other family-friendly restaurants at all price points.
“We wanted to spend time at the Grand Canyon so I looked for a place that could accommodate all 9 of us (this included some children). Rather than rent numerous hotel rooms I decided it might be fun to all stay together in a house. The description of this house made it sound interesting and close to town so we chose it. Best decision ever!” — FlipKey Reviewer
Williams has all sorts of activities to make your vacation a memorable one. Watch a thrilling rodeo show, drive through graceful pine forests to spy on cute bear cubs and other fauna at Bearizona Wildlife Park, or take to the railroad and spend a day on the Grand Canyon Railway Adventure Package.
This post was originally published on the TripAdvisor rentals blog. FlipKey is a TripAdvisor company.