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Vacations offer time for families to bond, create memories, and have exciting adventures together. When planning a vacation with kids or for kids, choosing destinations and activities that cater to their interests yet still provide an enjoyable, positive experience for everyone is important.
There’s the phrase, “You can’t please everyone.” Still, vacations are supposed to be fun, and parents planning trips with their kids work hard to ensure everyone has a good time. Here are some ideas and info that will make that planning process easier.
Get ready to pack your bags, embark on a family adventure, and enjoy seeing new experiences through the eyes of a child. And no, it won’t be perfect, and things will undoubtedly go wrong, but that’s OK. The bumps in the road are all part of the adventure.
Types of Vacations for Kids
Do you love a good roller coaster? Whether it’s the magic of Disneyland or Walt Disney World, the thrill of Universal Orlando Resort, the whimsy of LEGOLAND, or the charm of a local amusement park, theme parks offer endless entertainment options for kids.
Thrill rides, family-friendly rides, interactive entertainment, and character meet, and greets all provide an immersive experience that leaves everyone with excellent core memories. If you’re a theme park-loving family, consider Orlando, Florida, for a theme park vacation; however, don’t limit yourself. Fun parks with great rides and shows are everywhere.
Beach adventures are a classic choice for family vacations. Since it’s free or cheap to use the beach, beach vacations are a budget-friendly way to enjoy family time. Building sandcastles, playing beach games, and splashing in the surf doesn’t require fancy equipment and offer fun, screen-free options.
Adults, older kids, and the adventurous set can snorkel, surf, and paddleboard. If you have your own equipment, bring it along and keep costs down, but beach equipment rentals are generally reasonably priced. Bonus: a family beach vacation is excellent for getting holiday card-worthy photos. Go for the golden hour (one hour before sunset) and be treated to epic natural lighting that is universally flattering.
Cultural and Educational Vacations
If you want your kids to learn something and absorb local culture while on vacation, a little planning goes a long way. It’s usually easy to make something so fun that the kids won’t know your objectives.
Families can dig into the history and culture of a new location with guided city tours – Trip Advisor and Viator are great places to shop for tours that are just right for your family – or dig into a local children’s museum or gallery. Food is another great way to immerse your kids in a new culture, especially if you have youngsters with adventurous taste buds.
Whether your family craves thrill-seeking adventures like scaling rocks or backcountry camping or enjoys savoring time together outdoors, camping, hiking, national parks and state parks, kayaking, zip lining, or paddleboarding in scenic waterways are great, kid-friendly vacation activities.
Outdoor activities promote physical fitness and instill an appreciation for nature and outdoor spaces. If you’re vacationing in winter, skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing, fat tire biking, and more are great outdoor vacation activities.
Where To Vacation With Kids
Time and budget will be your biggest deciding factors in choosing vacations for kids. If you’ve got limited time and a small budget, a trip to a state park near your house is a great option that’s easy on the wallet. If you’ve got a larger budget and more time to spend, flying to Europe or taking an African safari is a memory-making option.
Here are some fun vacation spots for kids, broken up by region.
Southeast Vacations for Kids
Gulf Shores/Orange Beach
Alabama’s beaches are some of the best beaches in the country for the whole family. Whether you’re planning a spring break getaway or looking for the best beaches to hang out on during the summer, Alabama’s gulf coast beaches have clear, clean turquoise water and pristine sugar-white sand.
There are plenty of other things to do in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach that make this area a great choice for one of the best family vacations. There’s historic Fort Morgan that will help your family learn the military history and the role the fort has played in the protection of Mobile Bay over the years, and The Wharf, a boardwalk style entertainment district that has no shortage of restaurants, and family fun, such as an escape room and a Ferris wheel. There are also excellent golf courses in the area.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
Adventurous families will enjoy a trip to the US’s newest National Park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Explore the Canyon Rim Visitor’s Center to learn about the history of the park and the area
Stay at Adventures on the Gorge, an outdoor recreation resort located inside the park near the small town of Fayetteville, West Virginia. The resort offers cabins, restaurants, and a ton of on-site activities, such as rafting in the New and Gauley Rivers, rock climbing, a treetops canopy zipline tour, and more. There’s also a swimming pool with a bar and a deck with gorgeous views.
You can also walk under the New River Gorge Bridge. This is a one-mile trek across a catwalk that runs 25 feet under the 800-foot tall New River Bridge. Daring guests step along a 24-inch wide catwalk. Safety harnesses are used so the activity is safe, although it might still feel slightly terrifying.
This charming city along the Tennessee River is easy to navigate and has lots of activity options. Fun things to do include visiting Rock City Gardens atop Lookout Mountain, riding the incline railway, which is the world’s steepest train track, and checking out Ruby Falls, a waterfall located deep inside Lookout Mountain.
The Tennessee Aquarium in downtown Chattanooga is also a must-do. Divided into two separate riverfront buildings, Ocean Adventure, and River Adventure, this is a fantastic place for kids to learn about marine life and river wildlife in a fun, interactive way.
Midwest Vacations for Kids
If you think of Milwaukee as the home of the Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley gangs and all things beer and bottling, then consider that a sign that you probably need to plan a visit to Milwaukee and see what’s new and fresh.
Milwaukee is home to Harley Davidson motorcycles, and a visit to the Harley Davidson Museum is a treat for anyone, motorcycle enthusiast or not. Other museums not to skip are the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World, which are located next door to each other for an epic museum day.
If you want something more active, Milwaukee has an indoor climbing gym, Adventure Rock, that has a variety of tethered and untethered climbing walls, perfect for climbers of any level. For digital golf enthusiasts, there are a couple of options: Third Street Market Hall has a Top Golf Swing Suite, and Luxe Golf Bays in nearby Franklin offers a fun indoor/outdoor driving range. And, if you really need your 70’s TV touchpoint, there’s a life-sized statue of Henry Winkler downtown, known as the “Bronze Fonz.”
St Louis is a growing midwest city with an ever-growing list of fun, family-friendly things to do. Visit the smallest U.S. National Park, Gateway Arch National Park. If you don’t mind hites, go up to the top of the city’s landmark Gateway Arch and when you’re done, explore the Museum of Westward Expansion at the arch’s base.
Kid-friendly activities include City Museum, the zoo in Forest Park, and the St Louis Aquarium at Union Station. If you’re looking for a truly unique activity, an aquarium located in an iconic building that used to be a train station just might be it.
Sports fans will also love St Louis. Home to Cardinals baseball, Blues Hockey, and the brand-new soccer team, St Louis City SC, there’s usually an opportunity to catch a live sporting event in town.
Known as the water park capital of the world, the Wisconsin Dells are home to the largest concentration of waterparks on the planet – over 20 different parks. Whether you’re looking for and indoor water park with a gentle lazy river or outdoor water park with thrilling water attractions, one of the water parks here will have just what you need.
If waterslides are what checks the box on your family getaway, check out what the Wisconsin Dells has to offer.
Southwest Vacations for Kids
Although Santa Fe has a reputation of being a city with a more adult vibe, there are plenty of fun, educational things to do with kids in town. Kid-friendly museums include the Museum of International Folk Art and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, which are colocated.
For older kids and teens, don’t miss a visit to Meow Wolfe. If you are looking forrugged outdoor fun, Santa Fe Mountain Adventures has several tours, including hikes, Jeep tours, and bike adventures.
Located just minutes from the Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Arizona, the city of Tempe has lots of family-friendly fun. Visit during the fall or winter and take advantage of the great weather for hiking the area’s many trails. For older kids or the more adventurous, go mountain biking or take an ATV tour.
Younger kids will delight in the experiences at the colocated SEALIFE Aquarium and LEGOLAND Discovery Center. Baseball fans will enjoy taking in a Cactus League spring training game at Diablo Stadium. See the Los Angeles Angeles play the Chicago Cubs, the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Colorado Rockies.
One of the most iconic things to do in Albuquerque, is to ride in a hot air balloon. You can take a balloon tour just about any time in Albuquerque, but the most popular time to visit is during the city’s nine-day October balloon festival, which has the designation of being the world’s largest.
Other popular activities include the Albuquerque Biopark and Zoo and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. There are also a ton of city parks and other outdoor spaces that make the city a great, budget-concious destination. There’s a robust list of free activity options that help travelers save money and still enjoy the city’s vibe.
Fun fact: Season Four of Stranger Things was filmed in Albuquerque, so fans of the series can take a tour of filming locations. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are also set in Albuquerque, although families with younger kids probably won’t find those tour particularly relevant.
West Coast Vacation Ideas
Home to SeaWorld and many other family-friendly activities, this California city is perennially popular with family travelers. Fun things to do include visiting the San Diego Zoo and exploring Balboa Park.
San Diego also has beautiful beaches and has several options for beach resort stays, including Loews Coronado Bay Resort, Bahia Beach Resort, and more.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park might sound like a desolate and barren place, but it’s actually very scenic and fun to explore. Most of Death Valley is easy to explore by car, with stops along the way as you make your way through the park. Save room and daylight at the end of your trip to fully explore Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. Pro tip: bring a sled or large pieces of cardboard to slide down the dunes.
There are hiking trails available, but use extreme caution and make sure you’re prepared with adequate gear and water supply, and heed the rangers’ warnings for what season not to hike in. Hint: it’s summer and even driving trips in the summer months aren’t recommended due to extreme heat.
There’s a lodge in the park – make reservations far in advance – if you want to stay overnight and experience more of the park without camping. This is also a doable day trip length from Las Vegas.
Denali National Park
Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve is remote and takes some planning and preparation to get to but the stunning views and plentiful list of things to do make the trip worth the extra effort. A fun way to get to Denali is to take Alaska Railroad from Anchorage or Fairbanks. These comfortable, well-appointed trains are a fantastic way to see Alaska and there’s a train station right inside the park.
Activities in Denali include camping, hiking, wildlife observation, fishing, and taking part in one of the many ranger-led programs the park has available. Checking out the sled dog area and demonstration is a must for summer visitors. These working animals are a big part of getting work done in the park and getting a peek behind the scenes of these incredible beats and talking to their trainers is not to be missed.
Due to the remote location of Denali, trips need to be planned to the tee. Make sure to have your lodging and all necessary reservations taken care of and have a plan for how you’re going to eat before you set out. There are lots of vacations for kids where you can opt for a more go with the flow approach but this is not one of those places.
Outside the US Family Vacation Destinations
Mexico is a laid-back and budget-friendly destination with excellent beaches, a fun food scene, and a variety of scenic and archeological sites to explore year-round. There are opportunities to laze in the sun, participate in water sports, and take in various cultural attractions. The locals are friendly and welcoming and eager to share experiences with visitors, making Mexico a destination that checks all the boxes.
Mexico also has a great many of oceanfront all-inclusive resorts. While an all-inclusive resort may or may not be something that is within your family’s vacation budget, the advantage may be knowing exactly what your costs are upfront and potentially being able to limit extras.
If you can’t decide between beaches and rainforests, choose Costa Rica and you don’t have to choose. This Central American island nation is an easy jaunt from the United States and has lots to offer, from adventure activities to enjoying the white sand beaches.
Favorite activities include wildlife watching in one of Costa Rica’s rainforests, exploring Palo Verde National Park, and diving into the local food scene. Available organized tours include coffee tours, chocolate tasting tours, horseback riding tours, mangrove boat tours, and more.
There are a lot of family resorts to choose from, depending on your group size and what your desired amenities are.
Taking a Disney Cruise is a bucket list trip for many families a great introduction to international travel for families. Disney Cruise Line has tons of itineraries worldwide, with popular ports being in Texas, Florida, California, and in New Orleans. Disney Cruise Line has kid-friendly activities galore, both on board and at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.
From on board kids club to character meet and greets to watching a movie on Funnel Vision from the outdoor pool on deck, taking a Disney Cruise is a great way to explore the world and leave most of the travel specifics and the task of getting there to someone else. Disney Cruises have most of the same amenities as other cruise lines, and they’re set up to allow parents to have adult time if they choose to.
Other included activities include arts and crafts, organized games, mini-golf, and more.
While Puerto Rico is not technically outside the United States – it is a U.S. Territory, and no passport is required – this Caribbean island destination feels like an international trip without the hassle of currency change or an updated cell phone plan.