The best summer vacations for families are the ones that elicit memories and laughs for years afterward. Here, we lay out the best spots for making those lifelong memories, whether you want the theme parks of Orlando, city fun in Los Angeles, New York City or Chicago, an historic adventure in Pennsylvania or Washington DC, hiking in Yellowstone National Park, or a leisurely beach vacation in the Caribbean.
1. Orlando, FL
For kid-friendly fun, Orlando theme parks are fantastic. Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort and LEGOLAND Resort (for the under-10 set) are excellent options, and these theme parks have activities for the whole family.
Visit our partners at Get Away Today to buy discounted tickets to all of the Florida theme parks.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Pack sunscreen (these are the best sunscreens for kids), a good sun hat for everyone and lots of bottled water because it will be hot, and plan to cool off with the water slides at the hotel or water park.
Recommended Hotels in Orlando
Consider splurging on a Club Level room at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando. The cost could make sense for many families, considering it comes with access to a club room with five daily culinary offerings and complimentary kids club programming.
For those seeking luxurious family travel, this resort has it all. It features exceptional dining, an award-winning spa, an 18-hole golf course and the new Grande Lakes Orlando Water Park.
2. Los Angeles, CA
With its warm weather, reliable sunshine and the chance for a celebrity sighting, Los Angeles is a West Coast gem. Southern California is filled with opportunities for outdoor adventures, with miles of biking and hiking trails, kayaking, horseback riding and some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.
Consider adding a day trip 100 miles south to San Diego. The San Diego Zoo and USS Midway Museum are worth it. A quick drive to the Santa Monica boardwalk is another great family-friendly activity. Including a day or two at Universal Studios Hollywood or Disneyland in nearby Anaheim would be fun for thrill-seekers.
Recommended Hotels in Los Angeles
The Garland welcomes families. This hotel is one mile from Universal Studios Hollywood and 2.5 miles from the Hollywood sign. It is a laid-back, locally-owned, kid-friendly hotel. It offers a shuttle service to the theme park and family-friendly rooms with a bunk bed nook or the option of connecting rooms. Be sure to check out the lawn games in the Courtyard, weekend live music and dive-in movies at the pool!
The Four Seasons Los Angeles is the place for families who want to up the posh factor. While luxury is overflowing at this urban escape, little ones are also welcome. Add a kids’ cupcake decorating or pizza-making class to make pint-sized foodies happy. And don’t miss movie nights by the pool on Sunday evenings. Complimentary kid-friendly amenities include:
- On-demand entertainment via iPad
- Children’s welcome gift at check-in, along with coloring books and crayons
- Child-size bathrobes and aby-bath amenities
- Children’s menus are in all restaurants and in-room dining
- Cribs and rollaway beds
Check out the list of all of our favorite family-friendly LA hotels.
3. Scottsdale, AZ
The dry heat of the Arizona desert is a surprisingly fantastic place for one of the best summer vacations for families. With remarkably low costs during summer’s low season for hotel rooms and activities, it is a fabulous opportunity to experience more of the southwest for less.
The Grand Canyon and the Mexican border are quick three-hour day trips from Scottsdale. Take advantage of the gorgeous hiking trails, mountain biking opportunities and other outdoor activities. However, experience them early in the day or close to sunset to avoid the high temperatures, which can soar past 110 degrees. Spend the middle of the day enjoying indoor activities away from the harsh summer sun.
Recommended Hotels in Scottsdale
The family-friendly 5-diamond Fairmont Scottsdale Princess can’t be beat for a luxury vacation at a Scottsdale-in-the-summer low price! The resort is made for families, with a kids club for the little ones conveniently located next door to the spa. The large rooms, welcoming atmosphere, 5 pools, including one with waterslides and another with a white sand beach, a salon that offers kid-parent services and kid-friendly menu options and mocktails make the Scottsdale Princess a must for families. Need more? Check out our full review of the Scottsdale Princess.
My extended family of 19 stayed at the Hilton Phoenix Resort at the Peak when my kids were younger, and the whole family had a fantastic time. This budget-friendly, kid-friendly, all-suite hotel boasts many family fun activities, including a lazy river, a four-acre water park and even mini-golf. Located close to Scottsdale and convenient to Sky Harbor Airport, this hotel also offers a Suite Family Hike Package with a two-hour family-friendly private hike through the Sonoran Desert hiking trails.
Family-friendly luxury makes Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North a destination for one of the best summer vacations for families. Take advantage of the complimentary Kids For All Seasons programming, enjoy a poolside experience built for kids, and check out the hiking trails on the property. Book a two or three-bedroom suite to have plenty of room for families of all sizes. Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North can be a terrific family base camp to experience all Arizona offers.
Here’s our full list of the best Arizona resorts for families.
4. Chicago, IL
Chicago is my favorite city in North America. It is urban and chic with a Midwest charm that is hard to beat. Two international airports – O’Hare and Midway – make it easy to get to Chicago from most places in the US. And summer is the best time to visit! The city comes alive with neighborhood festivals, free concerts in Millennium Park and a lakefront that simply sparkles in the sunshine.
Where else can you hang out on the beachfront, just steps from some of the best shopping in the world? Eat some Chicago-style deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs, creamy ice cream or frozen custard and some of the best authentic ethnic food in authentic ethnic neighborhoods, such as Greektown for Greek food, Pilsen for Mexican and Chinatown for – you guessed it – Chinese.
Recommended Hotels in Chicago
I recently visited the Windy City with one of my kids and stayed in the River North district at the Embassy Suites Downtown River North. It was perfect. The all-suite atmosphere provided room to spread out, an indoor pool and delicious buffet breakfast. I have found Embassy Suites one of the best hotel chains for families.
Take it up a notch at The Langham, Chicago, which offers connecting rooms and up to a two-bedroom suite (with a kitchenette!). Steps from Michigan Avenue, this elegant boutique hotel blends convenience and comfort. Reserve the Cinema Suite for a private movie night or upgrade to a Langham Club Level room for added amenities (like complimentary breakfast and other food offerings throughout the day).
Check out our full list of kid-friendly Chicago hotels.
5. The Caribbean
An oceanfront family resort almost always ranks among the best summer vacations for families. The Caribbean offers hundreds of excellent, unique family-friendly hotels and all-inclusive resorts which allow visitors to experience the islands’ beautiful cultural traditions, crafts and experiences.
There’s always tons to do at the resorts on this bucket-list-worthy family getaway, with water activities and the beach right on-site. Sleep late and relax by the pool or sip frozen drinks at the beach.
Recommended Hotels in the Caribbean
My family of six visited the ultra-all-inclusive Beaches Negril in Jamaica, and we were blown away by how much fun we had. It is the perfect place for the whole family, from the little ones to older kids. The resort includes everything at one price, making it manageable to budget for this family vacation. Beaches Resorts also offers supervised kids’ clubs and includes snorkeling and paddle board use as well.
Here’s our full list of the best all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean for family fun.
6. Atlanta, GA
I have lived in Atlanta for 17 years and I am still finding new things to see and do in this exciting city. Families should visit the Atlanta History Center which chronicles the city’s past from pre-Civil War through Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement.
The awe-inspiring Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is another must-see. This park includes a museum, surrounding park, and other sites dedicated to Dr. King’s life. It is connected to downtown via a new light rail system to make it super convenient for families.
While downtown, take in Centennial Olympic Park, built for the 1996 Olympics, the massive Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and College Football Hall of Fame and the Center for Civil and Human Rights. All are within walking distance of each other! Consider buying an Atlanta CityPASS to get discounted admission to several of the top Atlanta attractions.
Recommended Hotels in Atlanta
The Hyatt Regency Atlanta offers a skyline view room with a 52-square-foot balcony! This downtown hotel is close to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and College Football Hall of Fame and has a seasonal outdoor pool for added summer fun.
Check out our full list of family-friendly hotels in Atlanta.
7. New York City, NY
There are so many fabulous things to do with kids in New York City that it can be tough to pare down all the fantastic family fun during this getaway. Enjoy a play on Broadway, go window shopping on 5th Avenue, walk the High Line or spend the day meandering through Central Park. There’s no shortage of fun activities during the day or night in this city that never sleeps – there are even plenty of free things to do in NYC to make the trip more affordable for a family.
Families should include a visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to learn about the history of immigration in the US. Plus, the ferry ride is fun and scenic. The Children’s Museum of Manhattan is another destination great for families. It features interactive exhibits to learn about science, art and culture in a fun and engaging way.
Older kids and teens will appreciate the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum located on a decommissioned aircraft carrier. The hands-on exhibits explore military history, space, and flight technology.
Recommended Hotels in NYC
The Margaritaville Resort Times Square has the same beachy feel of the other Margaritaville properties, but this one is within walking distance to Broadway theaters, Central Park and the Empire State Building. Even better, the soundproof windows give you a quiet space to sleep, accommodation options include king bed suites with a sofa bed and there’s a rooftop pool, a rarity among NYC hotels.
Here’s our full list of the best New York City hotels for families.
8. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Toronto is a beautiful destination to visit with kids because it offers activities and attractions that cater to all ages of kids (and adults). There are fun-filled tourist attractions like the CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Zoo.
Visitors can enjoy High Park, the city’s largest park, and many other ones filled with trails, playgrounds and outdoorsy things to do. The cultural diversity of Toronto, one of Canada’s most metropolitan cities, makes it one of the most exciting family vacation destinations.
Recommended Hotels in Toronto
The family-friendly Chelsea Hotel is a comfortable, laid-back hotel with many family amenities. Located downtown, it’s within walking distance of shops and restaurants and a short driving distance to major attractions. There’s a Family Fun Zone heated pool and waterslide, Kid Centre children’s program and Club 33 Teen Lounge. Four restaurants offer great dining options and there’s also a coffee and wine bar.
9. Yellowstone National Park, WY
Known for its natural wonders of waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, and mud pots plus wildlife – bison, bears, elk and wolves – Yellowstone is America’s first national park. Don’t miss a stop to watch Old Faithful erupt or to see the colorful pools of water at the Grand Prismatic Spring.
There are scores of hiking trails throughout the 3,471 square miles of Yellowstone, many of which are suitable for families with young kids.
Recommended Hotel at Yellowstone
There are nine Yellowstone lodges, five campgrounds with primitive as well as developed RV campsites, budget-friendly cabins and rustic camping options. But Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabin is our choice for family accommodations. It’s a block from the incredible melting Mammoth Hot Springs and chances are good you’ll see a few majestic elk hanging around the property.
It can be tough to get reservations inside the park, so try one of these great hotels near Yellowstone.
10. Washington, D.C.
The American capital city should be on every family’s travel bucket list. There is so much to do here and so much of it is free! Visit museums, tour government buildings, and explore the monuments to learn about history and democracy and have fun while doing it. City highlights include:
- The Smithsonian Institute’s 17 museums and galleries in Washington DC, all of which are free and open to the public. The most exciting ones for families are the National Zoo, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of American History.
- The National Mall, a park that stretches from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. Take a stroll around the iconic monuments and memorials, including the World War II Memorial, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and the Washington Monument.
- The White House Visitor Center, which is free and open to all visitors. It provides an interactive way to see the history and inner workings of the White House.
- The National Museum of African American History and Culture, open daily with timed-entry passes. This museum tells the complete story of African Americans and their contributions to the US. It can be a moving, emotional experience.
Recommended Hotels in Washington, D.C.
The Washington Marriott at Metro Center is an 11-minute walk from the White House and within a couple of miles of popular family attractions such as the National Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo. There’s a heated indoor pool, 24/7 fitness center and a casual family-friendly restaurant.
Here’s our full list of the best family hotels in Washington DC.
11. Wisconsin Dells, WI
This unique hamlet in south-central Wisconsin is the self-proclaimed Waterpark Capital of the World. This part of the country is known for erratic weather, but the Dells indoor water parks have solved that problem. Families can take a quick getaway about two hours north of Milwaukee and spend the weekend speeding down water slides, floating in a lazy river or eating the best homemade fudge ever.
The Dells features numerous theme parks and entertainment centers including Kalahari Indoor Water Park, Great Wolf Lodge and Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park. During the summer, head to the giant outdoor Noah’s Ark Water Park.
When you’re done having fun swimming indoors, head to Mirror Lake State Park to splash in its namesake lake or hike its nature trails.
Recommended Hotel in Wisconsin Dells
Any of the large indoor waterparks makes a great choice – staying there includes access to the waterparks. Here’s our look at the Wisconsin Dells waterparks.
12. Alaskan Cruise
For a truly once-in-a-lifetime family vacation, take an Alaskan cruise. July and August are traditionally the best time to visit Alaska, as they offer warm(er) sun, long days, and active, abundant wildlife.
An Alaskan cruise is a popular choice for families because they’re both thrilling and relaxing and feature unique experiences like whale watching. While taking in the awe-inspiring scenic views of snow-capped mountaintops, families can spot sea otters and humpback whales playing in the ocean, American eagles flying overhead, and glaciers thunderously shedding ice into the sea.
Cruises, in general, make the best summer vacations for families. They are great for family bonding, and there are plenty of activities on-board and off the ship to keep everyone busy. Once ashore, look to experience activities like dog sledding and bear spotting to keep everyone enthralled. The following cruise lines go to Alaska:
- Royal Caribbean Cruises
- Princess Cruises
- Celebrity Cruises
- Norwegian Cruise Line
- Holland America
- Viking Ocean Cruises
13. St. Augustine, FL
Visiting the oldest city in the United States is a must for families! St. Augustine is on the northeast coast of Florida and is over 450 years old. There are so many things to do in St. Augustine that it can be tough to choose.
The city is known for its Spanish colonial architecture and beautiful, less crowded beaches like St. Augustine Beach and tranquil Crescent Beach. History buffs (and those who love a good view) will enjoy the Castillo de San Marcos, a 17th-century Spanish stone fortress overlooking the St. Augustine Inlet. Families can experience nature while hiking, biking or camping at Anastasia State Park, a protected wildlife sanctuary.
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum is another fun adventure for families. Take the time to climb all the way to the top of this working lighthouse and see amazing views of the city and ocean — it can create memories that will rank this among the best summer vacations for your family.
Recommended Hotels in St. Augustine
Ocean Sands Beach Inn has the feature every family wants in a beach vacation: easy access to the beach. The hotel sits on a private beach and is just a short walk away from another great St. Augustine beach.
14. Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Prepare to spend at least one day exploring the historic district of Old Montreal. Take a horse-drawn carriage down cobblestone streets past unbelievably charming European architecture.
The Pointe-à-Callière Museum in this district is an interactive exploration of Montreal’s history. The Montreal Science Centre and the Biosphere are two more excellent museums, especially for budding scientists.
When the weather is nice, visit Mount Royal Park, which features stunning views of this beautiful city.
Recommended Hotel in Montreal
The Ritz-Carlton, Montréal is in Downtown Montreal, with easy access to the city’s best shopping, and close to the Montreal Science Centre and Six Flags La Ronde. The pet-friendly hotel has a pool, free wifi and soundproof rooms to help everyone get a good night’s sleep.
4 Questions To Ask to Determine Which is the Best Summer Vaction for Your Family
Finding the best summer vacations for families is not a one-size-fits-all experience. A water park in Florida can be the ultimate day of excitement, while a kayaking getaway at a national park in California makes for more laid back fun. The best summer vacation for your family is the one that fits your needs and interests.
Ask these four crucial questions before choosing your next family vacation spot.
1. What does everyone like to do?
My family loves sports and being active. So we included tickets to an NBA game in New Orleans and booked a bike tour through the streets of Paris on a European getaway. Think about what makes your family excited and include it when deciding the best family vacation destinations.
2. What is the budget (in time and money)?
Most people must consider how much money to spend when tossing around vacation ideas. It doesn’t have to be a limiting factor, though.
The best summer vacation for your family might be a day trip to an amusement park. With more planning, maybe the next family summer vacation could be a week at a beach resort in Mexico (with an on-site kids club)! Don’t be afraid to dream, plan and book far in advance!
And, remember, there are great deals to be had, such as booking the luxurious Fairmont Scottsdale Princess at very low summer rates.
3. Are there age, height or accessibility considerations to consider?
Parents can forget kids have limitations. No summer vacation will be good with tired, hungry, cranky kids. Families with kids under 10 must consider how much walking is involved, the kind of food available and the sleeping arrangements. Families with teens should consider how much freedom (or not) to give older kids and how many eye rolls to allow.
4. What is the intention for this trip?
I am an intention-setter. I ask myself what is the best summer vacation for my family and what I want from a family vacation. Is it bonding time? Is it to stretch and try new things? Or is it to experience a different culture or country? Maybe you simply want to relax. Family travel can be overwhelming. A getaway intention can make everything easier.