From secret handshakes to favorite desserts, every family is different, and every family vacation should be, too. Because there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all trip, we found some of the best kid-friendly attractions and places to vacation in the U.S. There are many great places to go with kids in America’s cities, mountains, islands and small towns. Since the best family vacations are as unique as your kids are, some of these spots might even take you by surprise. Whether you’re looking for educational fun, wild roller coaster rides or just some laid-back beach time, all you need to do is pack your bags, hit the road and get ready to share the memories of a lifetime.
San Diego, California
Among the best family vacation spots in California, San Diego is packed with kid-friendly experiences and fun places to go with kids. Budding wildlife biologists can spot everything from pandas to polar bears at the San Diego Zoo or look beneath the waves at SeaWorld San Diego, an aquarium, theme park and oceanarium rolled into one. Legoland California is a quick drive up the coast, and your kids can catch their very first waves in the warm water and gentle breaks off pretty La Jolla.
With dozens of ways for children to learn, build and explore, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis makes this city one of America’s top kid-friendly vacations. But don’t stop there—Indianapolis is packed with other kid-friendly attractions. Older kids can test their wits against an escape room game, everyone can lay down beats at Rhythm! Discovery Center and the whole family will get in on the action while exploring Indianapolis on a self-guided scavenger hunt.
Introduce your kids to the Founding Fathers on a family vacation to Washington, mixing a dash of history with plenty of kid-friendly attractions and tours. Hop-on, hop-off bus tours are a flexible way to take in D.C. highlights at your family’s pace. All the Smithsonian Museums are free to visit, so you can get a taste of them all without breaking the bank. Raising a future James Bond or Mata Hari? The kid-friendly International Spy Museum is a favorite with would-be double agents.
Kids can go eyeball-to-eyeball with enormous whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium, an underwater wonderland that helps place Atlanta among the best family vacation spots in the South. Older kids will love a superhero- or zombie-themed tour of Atlanta’s film sites, and the World of Coca-Cola is packed with interactive and multimedia exhibits to keep kids engaged from beginning to end.
Los Angeles, California
Kid-friendly vacations in Los Angeles mean beach time, theme parks and even a few celebrity selfies (in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, that is). Kids can practice their wand work in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Anaheim’s just a quick trip away—from meeting Mickey to riding Magic Mountain, Disneyland is still one of the premier places to go with your kids in California.
Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii
With surfing, scenery and a laid-back pace, Maui is among the top kid-friendly vacations in Hawaii. Touch tanks at the Maui Ocean Center let kids get hands-on experience with the wonders of marine biology, and snorkeling trips from Wailuku are the chance to see sea turtles swimming in their natural habitats. Don’t miss the chance to sway your way through a traditional luau, an amazing cultural immersion for kids of all ages.
Boasting the World’s Largest Toy Museum, it’s no surprise that Branson is a favorite for kid-friendly vacations, but the children’s attractions go way beyond Lincoln Logs and toy trains. Some favorite family vacation ideas include visiting Branson’s water parks and amusement parks, taking in a family-friendly show or reeling in fish in one of the lakes and streams that cover the countryside.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Sun, sea and sandcastles make Virginia Beach a favorite for kid-friendly beach vacations, and a trip to the shore can be as active or relaxed as you want. Slip and slide through the Ocean Breeze Waterpark, or double up in a kayak for a dolphin-watching tour along the coast. For indoor activities, children will enjoy the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center or Military Aviation Museum, about which one TripAdvisor reviewer raved: “My grandson loved all the planes!”
At the doorstep of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire is among the best family vacation spots on Lake Michigan—especially for outdoor adventurers. While hiking through sand dunes and forests, you could spot Lake Michigan shipwrecks, swim in a vast lake, then introduce your kids to nights spent under the stars. And since Lake Michigan’s freshwater, kid-friendly waves are just the right size for beginning surfers, the entire family can paddle into their very first waves just off one of Empire’s sandy beaches.
Launch a lifelong fascination with space at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, a kid-friendly vacation spot that’s perfect for aspiring astronauts. A series of interactive exhibits keeps kids engaged with the science and pure adventure of space: strap into the g-force simulator, try out space walking in a zero gravity chamber and watch space footage on a towering IMAX screen.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Planning a family vacation to the Wisconsin Dells is all about getting wet: this kid-friendly getaway is packed with award-winning destination-worthy water parks. Enjoy the outdoor water parks to cool off in the heat of the Midwestern summer or opt for an indoor water park when you need some mid-winter bathing suit time. If you would prefer to stay dry, there are other great things to do, too, like Mr. Marvel’s Wondertorium, the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater, and kid-friendly zip lining tours.
The Mall of America combines kid-friendly attractions, fabulous shopping and theme parks under one enormous roof, making it one of the easiest-to-plan family vacations in the U.S. Meet the fish at SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, get an eagle’s-eye view of the world in the multi-sensory Fly Over America or see if your family can work together to beat an escape room challenge, all without leaving the mall.
Orange Beach, Alabama
White-sand beaches shelter a maze of bays and bayous in Orange Beach, a relaxed family vacation spot on the scenic, sunny Gulf Coast. It’s one of the best places to go with kids who love to play in the sand and salt water, whether you’re spotting dolphins, teaching your children to bait a hook on a private fishing charter or just building sand castles on the picture-perfect beaches.
New Braunfels, Texas
Kid-friendly vacations in New Braunfels are all about keeping cool: the Comal River and the Guadelupe River slide right past the town at a pace that’s perfect for a day-long inner tube float. Once you dry off, though, the San Antonio area overflows with kid-friendly attractions, from feeding the animals at the San Antonio Zoo to picnics in the rolling landscape of Texas Hill Country. Right in New Braunfels is also the McKenna Children’s Museum and the always-a-kid-favorite Schlitterbahn Waterpark.
Rich with American history and heritage, Williamsburg is also packed with kid-friendly attractions that help the past come alive. Costumed actors and reenactments at Colonial Williamsburg invite kids to imagine life in early America. The “working” milliners, printers and blacksmiths are fascinating for visitors of all ages. Family vacation ideas don’t stop with the past, though, since Williamsburg has two exciting theme parks, from Busch Gardens’ rides to slides, pools, and lazy rivers at Water Country USA.
With more than 15,000 musical instruments, the Musical Instrument Museum is one of Phoenix’s best places to go with kids. Listen to instruments from around the world, then try playing a tune of your own in the museum’s experience gallery. For a different kind of noise altogether, take your kids on an off-roading adventure through the Sonoran Desert, learning about desert plants and animals as you roar through the sand.
San Francisco, California
Plenty of kid-friendly attractions make San Francisco a favorite spot for any type of family vacation. Don’t miss a trip to the infamous prison on Alcatraz Island, cruising across the Golden Gate Bridge or firing up your kids’ sense of wonder at the California Academy of Sciences, where you’ll find a planetarium, aquarium and a four-story indoor rainforest.
Boasting two fantastic kid-friendly attractions—the LEGOLAND Discovery Center and Sealife Aquarium—Grapevine is a family vacation spot with easy access to Dallas and Fort Worth. After your family explores the worlds of LEGO characters and undersea creatures, make a day trip into Dallas to see the sights, which include the enormous Dallas Zoo, an open-air collection of sculptures at the Nasher Culture Center and the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, a bucket-list experience for kids who love football. Grapevine is the perfect home base for a kid-friendly Texas getaway.
One of America’s most historic places, Boston boasts classic experiences you’re sure to enjoy. Catch the Red Sox at Fenway Park, cruise Boston Harbor aboard the USS Constitution, then head to Boston Public Garden for a ride on the iconic Swan Boats. The city overflows with history, and there are plenty of kid-friendly attractions that can introduce youngsters to America’s revolutionary past. They can even get in on the action by tossing bales of tea into Boston Harbor at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.
Packed with kid-friendly attractions and theme parks, Orlando is arguably the kid vacation mecca. Get soaked with a front-row seat for SeaWorld Orlando’s whale and dolphin show, buy some space-themed memorabilia at the Kennedy Space Center Shop, then get creative in the Crayola Experience Orlando, a colorful playground of art, fashion and fun.