50 Best Family Vacation Ideas That All Ages Will Love
You don’t need to wipe out your savings take an amazing trip with your kids. These surprisingly affordable destinations will make everyone happy.
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Get ready to make some memories
In a dream world, we would all be able to take our families to Paris, Tokyo, and Disney World every single year. Budget constraints and lingering travel restrictions, however, dictate that we will likely need to find more affordable family vacation ideas that are closer to home. Luckily, there’s no shortage of destinations within a road-trip drive or a short flight, whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly mini-vacation or a longer beach vacation, complete with your very own beach house rental.
And, of course, beaches are far from your only options with the kids, though you can’t ever go wrong with an all-inclusive, family-friendly resort, especially one in Hawaii. You can explore America’s rich history in every single state and take advantage of the wonderful things the locals love—from enjoying free museums and outdoor concerts to strolling through a destination’s cobblestone streets or national parks. You can also find similar options in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Canada, once the border reopens. In short, we’ve got just the vacation for you, no matter what you and your family would like to do.
One important note: Before you book, make sure to double-check that everything you’d like to visit will be open once you arrive. Some attractions and events may still be closed or restricted due to the pandemic. Also check the CDC’s website for safety guidelines, restrictions, or other considerations while traveling, as well as specific requirements for individual hotels.
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What makes the District one of the most affordable destinations to visit with your family? For starters, a slew of free museums (all those Smithsonian museums plus the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Gallery of Art, chiefly among them); the National Zoo, which doesn’t charge admission; and gorgeous cherry trees that blossom every spring. And let’s not forget about sites like the Washington Monument, the National Mall, and the White House, which you can spy from a distance.
For a stylish place to stay that’s close to everything you’ll want to see and do in D.C. but won’t break the bank, check into the Phoenix Park Hotel. The kids will love staying in a posh place that feels like a movie set, and you’ll love that they won’t complain about the walk to the museums along the National Mall because you’ll only be a few blocks away! Brush up on these facts about Washington, D.C., before you go and you’ll have tons to tell the kids as you explore the area.
This Midwest flyover state is far more than just the setting of Parks and Rec, and its capital is jam-packed with affordable family vacation ideas. There’s the chance to go back in time at Conner Prairie, a sprawling outdoor living history museum, and entertain little ones at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, arguably the most magnificent, robust children’s museum in the country. Plus, the Indy Zoo’s orangutan enclosure is sheer delight. At some point during your stay, make sure you get a doughnut (or a dozen) from Long’s Bakery across from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Indianapolis Downtown on the Canal for easy access to paddleboats and a short walk to nearly everything your family will love in the city. Here are more underrated American cities worth a visit.
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Crystal River, Florida
There are some superb family dining options in this sleepy, swampy stretch of West Florida, including Wallace’s at The Greenhouse in neighboring Homosassa, but the big, beautiful manatees filling the waterways here are the main reason to visit. The opportunity to swim with manatees in the wild starts as low as $65 per person for a three-hour boat tour, which includes a wet suit, equipment, and terrific tour guides. As far as tourist experiences go, especially those involving wild animal encounters, that’s the best deal in the country.
When you book a room at the Plantation on Crystal River, you’ll be right where hundreds of manatees are also staying! Plus, you’ll enjoy the use of beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels, and the chance to play a round on the nine-hole golf course. The kids will love to swim in the outdoor heated lagoon pool.
With little more than an America the Beautiful National Parks pass ($80 annually, but free for current military members as well as for fourth graders and their families), you can have a budget-friendly family vacation for the ages. With Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reed, Canyonlands, and Arches national parks all within a seven-hour drive starting from the Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, you can visit seven percent of all U.S. national parks in one vacation for one price. Now that’s good value!
Speaking of good values, they can be hard to find when it comes to hotels near the national parks of Southern Utah, but the Best Western Plus just to the west of the entrance to Zion has a pool and prices that are fair for the in-demand region.
Plan a vacation here and you’ll experience the rise, fall, and rebirth of a legendary American city. In Detroit, you can discover and play the unique blend of football and bowling that was invented at the Fowling Warehouse, gawk at the backyard oddity known as Hamtramck Disneyland, visit the birthplace of the Model-T at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, play on Belle Isle Park between Michigan and Ontario, and tour the Henry Ford Museum and GreenField Village in nearby Dearborn. You’ll also want to check out the Detroit River Conservancy, where you can walk, blade, or bike your way along the 3.5-mile RiverWalk while enjoying the city’s impressive skyline. It’s one of the best free tourist attractions in the country.
While you’ll find a number of accommodations in Motor City, of course, we highly recommend a stay at the Courtyard Downtown. It also provides easy access to Detroit’s People Mover, which runs through the hotel and makes it easy to move about the city, from the baseball field to see a Tigers game to the waterfront.
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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
This South Carolina beach town is a water-sports playground for all ages and heaven for golf aficionados—whether they love playing a full 18 holes or prefer a friendly mini-golf competition. At most golf courses along the Grand Strand, kids under 16 golf for free with a paying adult, which will help you save a bundle. Need more convincing? Myrtle Beach consistently ranks as one of the top budget-friendly beach destinations in the country, and if you plan your trip right, you can also enjoy one of the many arts and music festivals it hosts throughout the year.
Where should you stay? Try Homewood Suites by Hilton at the Grand Mall. With five golf courses within a 15-minute drive, beaches just three miles away, and a cornucopia of restaurants and shopping a short walk from the lobby, it is ideally situated for anything you and your family want to do in Myrtle Beach. Plus, there’s an outdoor pool for the kiddos! If you love the ocean but you’ve already been to Myrtle Beach, try road-tripping to these gorgeous coastal towns that will leave you breathless.
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There’s one specific place you should be in Central Ohio: The Mohicans Treehouse Resort in Glenmont. The cabins, gorgeous farmhouses, and—you guessed it—epic treehouses, including an Airstream Trailer up high in the trees, are truly one of a kind. And the area is perfect for some unique family fun, whether you fancy a three-hour zip lining adventure, a nine-mile canoe trip down the Mohican River, a horseback ride through the countryside, a mountain biking jaunt, or a less strenuous visit to Amish Country for craft and furniture shopping and lots of baked goods. It’s all pretty darn perfect and Instagram-worthy if you ask us!
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New York City
It’s time to stop believing that the Big Apple is a big expense. Rush tickets for Broadway and off-Broadway shows will get you in the door for a fraction of the face-value cost once theaters open again in the fall of 2021, and there are plenty of affordable hotels all across the city, including The Moxy in the Easy Village. If you have teens in tow, Webster Hall is just across the street (it reopened in early August), and it plays host to some of the best touring bands in the world like Ashe, Waxahatchee, and more. Once the home of punks and poets, the East Village neighborhood is arguably the coolest in an already cool city.
What other affordable things you can do with the family you do while you’re there? Walking the High Line doesn’t cost a penny, and neither does visiting Central Park or Tompkins, Union Square, Madison, and Bryant parks. You’ll find a surprising number of lush and fun green spaces that feature farmers’ markets, free live music, and dog parks. In addition to all that, you’ll love exploring these hidden gems even locals don’t know about.
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Freedom from an expensive family vacation awaits in Philly. Once indoor concerts resume in late September, take your kids to see famous (or soon to be famous) bands at World Cafe Live‘s free Friday lunchtime concerts. Downtown is magical, too, thanks in part to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, the always-free-to-see Liberty Bell, the free-to-climb Rocky steps at the Art Museum, and the best Philly cheesesteaks in the city made fresh all day and night at Jim’s on South Street. One quick note: If you’re going to order a sandwich in Philadelphia, it’s important for your family to learn the difference between a sub and a hoagie.
You can’t go wrong with a stay near the Avenue of the Arts. Try the classy but down-to-earth Cambria Hotel and you’ll be central to everything worth seeing and doing in the City of Brotherly Love.
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Los Angeles, California
Southern California is not known for its affordability, but L.A. has a lot to offer families traveling on a budget. Really! There’s the mind-bending Broad Museum, a stroll along the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a hike up around the Hollywood sign—all free. And, of course, there are the beaches of Venice, Santa Monica, Malibu, and more. Stay at one of the fantastic, artful, and surprisingly wallet-friendly boutique hotels, like The Kinney in Marina Del Rey, which boasts playfully colorful rooms. You’ll be a short walk from the beach, and at the hotel, you can enjoy a dip in the outdoor pool and rent a bike to pedal your way up to Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier.
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This charming four-season small town, which is nestled in the mountains beneath that famous Montana Big Sky, is a sheer delight for families looking for something different from their next vacation. Main Street is littered with lovely boutiques, coffee shops, chocolatiers, a fantastic live music venue, independent ice cream shops, eateries, and fashionable renovated roadside motels like the RSVP and Lark, which will make you nostalgic for the roadside motels of your childhood road trips but are upscale enough to please modern families. Just south of Main is the marvelous Museum of the Rockies, with more dinosaur bones than you’ve ever seen in your life, and a short drive north is prime skiing at Bridger Bowl.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas only gets expensive when you’re losing money in the casinos. Otherwise, there are a ton of family vacation ideas to explore in the desert, as well as cheap hotels on both the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas, which boast their own memorable sights, like the iconic Fountains of Bellagio that don’t cost a penny. Vegas has many family-friendly things to do, too, like riding the VR Coaster at New York–New York, taking in a Golden Knights hockey game at the T-Mobile Arena (which happens to be right across the stunning Park MGM Hotel), and indulging in tasty eats at American Coney Island at the D Las Vegas and the Beerhaus, with its ping-pong tables, cornhole, and foosball. Bonus: You can flee the lights and craziness of the Strip by heading out to the Valley of Fire and/or the Hoover Dam, each just a short drive in either direction. You’ll also want to check out these must-see Vegas attractions for non-gamblers.
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For families who have dreams of seeing the tulips and windmills of the Netherlands but whose budget doesn’t permit such a grand getaway, there’s the other Holland—the one on the west coast of Michigan. Tiptoe through the tulips and take goats for walks at Nelis’ Dutch Village, and play in the sand on the shores of Lake Michigan. Holland is also just a short day trip away from Indiana Dunes National Park. Stay at the prettiest Holiday Inn you’ll ever see, and enjoy the indoor/outdoor pool all year long! Holland is just one of the charming small towns in the United States with a European vibe that you’ll adore.
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Gulf Coast, Florida
For baseball fans, it is hard to beat easy access to two handfuls of MLB spring training sites, but Florida’s Gulf Coast is about much more than just March baseball. The Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State is an affordable year-round destination for families where you can enjoy sandy beaches, easy access to Disney and Orlando just a couple of hours away, low-priced rental homes and hotels, the beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter, the famous dolphin.
Traveling off-season is a big money saver, but no matter when you visit the area, you can’t go wrong with a stay at the Lido Beach Resort. Here, you’ll have your choice of a beautiful pool or beautiful white sand beaches, and you’ll be within a short walk to Lido Key’s shopping and restaurant scene.
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New Orleans, Louisiana
Every family should experience the magic of the enchanting Crescent City at least once. From the affordable jazz on offer nightly at the legendary Preservation Hall to the famous Audubon Zoo (where “they all ask for you”), NOLA is a place unlike any other on Earth. Walk Bourbon Street, buy a purple and yellow Mardi Gras mask, eat too many beignets, wander around the spooky St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, and dance the night away in the real city that never sleeps. While you probably won’t want to visit with the family during Mardi Gras, you should still know why Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans.
To be close to the rowdy action but not too close, stay at the affordable Homewood Suites by Hilton on the edge of the French Quarter. You’ll have a pool, mini-golf, and plenty of washers and dryers for cleaning your sweaty clothes after you explore the sticky bayou together.
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Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia
Visiting Jefferson’s Monticello and learning about its complicated history is a must for any American who cares about our nation’s roots. Conveniently, the college town of Charlottesville and neighboring Richmond (about an hour east) offer so much more to round out a family vacation. In Richmond, there’s affordable sporting action in the form of the Kickers, a USL (second division) professional soccer team; a tremendous free fine art museum; and the funky Carytown neighborhood, where you’ll find cool shops and eateries. When you stay at the Hilton Downtown in the capital, you’ll be within walking distance to everything of interest in Richmond, and also have a pool to unwind in at the end of the day.
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West Yellowstone, Montana
Montana’s gateway to Yellowstone National Park is a destination in and of itself, thanks to shops, restaurants, rental cabins, and spacious and comfortable hotels like the Clubhouse Inn. From West Yellowstone, you can rent a snowmobile to travel all over the place in winter, including into an empty Yellowstone National Park to see Old Faithful erupt in the snow and bison grazing by steamy geysers. Visiting Yellowstone in the warmer months continues to be one of the greatest family vacation ideas, too, of course, and one of the best national park road trips you can take.
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Redwood Country, California
If you want an out-of-left-field family vacation idea that will wow every single member of your family, visit the wild Northern California coast. Set up camp at the handsome and hospitable Holiday Inn Express in Klamath. From here, it’s an easy day trip north to the otherworldly Crater Lake in Oregon and a short drive south to thousands of majestic redwood trees in national and state parks, the Trees of Mystery tourist attraction, the magical Fern Canyon (perfect for a family hike), and Gold Bluff Beach. Taking a tour of the California coast? Be sure to check out the strangest roadside attraction in the state if you do!
Sante Fe, New Mexico
Much like New Orleans, Santa Fe presents families with a vacation destination unlike anything else on the planet. Spend your days wandering the walkable downtown old city, watching light dance around the orange of the adobe buildings as the sun sets, and having your mind blown at Meow Wolf. Your family will have vacation memories to cherish forever, all without blowing your budget. To find the best value in Sante Fe, consider a stay at the Lamplighter Inn. The location is great (near both Meow Wolf and the historic heart of the city), the pool is fun for kids and adults alike, and the price can’t be beat.
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Coeur D’Alene, Idaho
A family vacation in Coeur D’Alene means epic water sports on a lake, which native singer-songwriter Josh Ritter croons is like “a diamond in the valley’s hand.” Your kids will also go crazy for artisanal ice cream shops and a tremendous independent toy store tucked into a very walkable downtown. They might moan that it’s not Disneyland, but Coeur D’Alene is an idyllic staycation for anyone in the Pacific Northwest who can’t or doesn’t want to get on a plane this year. While in town, stay at the Best Western Plus. You’ll be treated to a gorgeous indoor pool and a delicious free breakfast to make your family vacation that much more affordable. Looking for more vacation options that don’t involve a plane? Check out our list of the 55 best road trips in America.
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Olympic Peninsula, Washington
Even though it’s situated just a stone’s throw from Seattle’s SeaTac Airport and Bainbridge Island, this peninsula somehow feels like it’s a world away. It’s home to the remote wilderness of a national park and a mecca for Twilight book and movie lovers. Whether you spend time taking too many selfies in Forks and La Push or head out to Cape Alava, the westernmost point in the lower 48 states, Olympic Peninsula will feel like a home away from home while you’re there. The Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles is positioned perfectly to be your picturesque home base for exploring this wild and wonderful edge of America. Plus, it has an amazing backdrop you have to see to believe.
Pennsylvania’s famed Amish Country is now a whole lot more colorful. The new Cartoon Network Hotel opened last year, and it’s right next to the kid-favorite Dutch Wonderland amusement park, meaning you can spend your family vacation with the casts of Adventure Time and Ben 10! If your kids ever let you leave those two spots, the area also offers plenty of outlet shopping, the chance to catch a show at the American Music Theater, and an independent movie at the funky Zeotropolis art house cinema. It’s easy to see why Lancaster is one of the quirkiest cities in America.
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Orange Beach/Gulf Shores, Alabama
Many now know this sandy stretch of Alabama as the home of the Hangout Festival, but even when the most famous bands in the world aren’t rocking out on the beach here, this secret gem counts one of the largest piers (nearly 2,500 feet long) on the Gulf of Mexico as a permanent resident. That spot is perfect for fishing with affordable rentals, which are available at the bait shop. The Wharf is also fun for families, with a Ferris wheel, zip line, and mini-golf, and the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s lemurs, sloths, and kangaroos are always ready for an encounter. The best affordable hotel in Orange Beach is the SpringHill Suites, thanks to simply stunning rooms, a remarkable outdoor pool and patio, and free breakfast the kids (and your wallet) will love!
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Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas
It’s easy to incorporate the charming small capital city of Little Rock (and its neighbor North Little Rock) with a visit to the only national park that’s got ancient thermal springs, mountain views, incredible geology, forest hiking trails, and babbling creeks all tucked into the middle of a town! And 2021 is the best to visit, as Hot Springs is celebrating its 100th anniversary with special programs and events in honor of this centennial party. But no matter when you visit, you’ll want to take a tour near Little Rock Central High School with a National Park Service ranger, have one of the greatest meals of your life at Brave New Restaurant, and spend an incredible hour at the incomparable ESSE Purse Museum.
Stay just outside the downtown area, on the water, at the glittering new Doubletree Hotel. The look of the hotel on the outside is cool, and the pool area jutting out on the Ouachita River is an absolute blast for kids. Plus, the nautical themes inside will make you feel like you’re at a quaint boutique hotel, not a chain.
The Smithsonian-grade National Museum of the Pacific War is a powerhouse of emotion and information that will help you and your kids fully understand World War II—from events leading up to it to the actual conflict fought in the Pacific—through unflinching displays and a wealth of artifacts. The museum is here, in Texas, instead of someplace near the Pacific Ocean because the general in command was a Fredericksburg native.
What else should you do in this cute little city that’s an easy day trip from both Austin and San Antonio? Eat outside at Tubby’s Ice House, gobble up too many peaches and peach-related products at Das Peach Haus (Fredericksburg peaches are considered the Cadillac of peaches in the U.S.), and lap up the German-immigrant history at the Pioneer Museum. When you stay at the Fredericksburg Inn and Suites, you’ll be a short, casual stroll to everything along the vibrant downtown’s extra-wide main street. Make Fredericksburg your main destination or incorporate it in a bigger Texas road trip.
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Sure, there’s a roller coaster in the Mall of America, but Minneapolis is a great affordable family vacation destination for more than its famed shopping mall. There’s delicious food and friendly people, an incredible sculpture park, brand-new stadiums for the local MLS and NFL teams, and a still-fresh ballpark for Twins baseball. For music lovers and vinyl collectors, Minneapolis is home to Electric Fetus, one of the best record stores in the country, and the place Prince used to buy all his vinyl. Of course, it’s also cool to traverse the city using the Skyway System, which keeps locals warm during frigid Minnesota winters. No matter when you visit the Twin Cities, stay at The Depot in the immaculate Renaissance to enjoy an indoor pool and EV charging stations for your electric road trip vehicle.
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Riviera Maya, Mexico
Ready for a quick jaunt out of the States? Riviera Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula is calling your name. You’ll find a string of stellar resorts like the Hard Rock Hotel that offer easy access to a bevy of water sports, waterparks, and pools, not to mention day trips to cenote swimming holes, Mayan sites like Tulum and Chichén Itzá, and miles of gorgeous sandy beaches. And let’s not forget the beverages with the cutesy umbrellas. Even better, many of the hotels here are both all-inclusive and family-friendly.
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Portland is the city of soccer and doughnuts, and it’s home to the biggest and best independent bookstore west of the Mississippi. Before or after cheering on the Thorns and Timbers soccer clubs with some of the most rabid fans in the country, devour tiny handcrafted Pip’s Original Donuts, and buy all the books you can inside Powell’s. At the end of the day, head back to the school your kids will actually be excited to spend lots of time inside. The McMenamins Kennedy School was once an actual school, but it’s now one of the coolest and most unique hotels in the country. The rooms in the main building include original chalkboards and cloakrooms, so your dreams of not getting in trouble for falling asleep in class can finally come true.
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Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Easy, affordable Southwest Airlines flights from many U.S. airports will have your family in San Juan in no time, and a taxi will carry you to Old San Juan from the airport in less than 20 minutes. From there, you have two 16th-century forts that share one inexpensive admission fee; Parque de las Palomas (aka Pigeon Park), which will either delight you or freak you out, depending on how you feel about hundreds of birds eating out of your hand; feral cats for miles; and more pastel-colored buildings than you could possibly photograph in a long weekend. The El Yunque rainforest and several pristine beaches are just a short rental car drive or Lyft ride away.
Old San Juan is always a popular summer destination and you’ll love it even more when you stay at the classy Decanter Hotel. It’s located just cobblestone steps away from everything that’s bright, colorful, and fun about this historic neighborhood. Bonus: Puerto Rico is one of the gorgeous U.S. islands you can visit without a passport.
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Denver’s neighbor deserves its own pick as a fun family vacation destination because of a pleasant, walkable downtown area packed with restaurants and local shops, and the free bicycle rental program perfect for exploring the wide trails running either side of Clear Creek. You’ll also get the opportunity to go whitewater rafting, kayaking, or swimming through the city on Clear Creek, and to see a band perform at nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater—arguably the best outdoor music venue in the country. While thirsty adults will enjoy the Coors Brewery Tour in Golden, the entire family will enjoy the surreal trip back in time at the Lakeside Amusement Park closer to Denver.
To be at the center of everything west of the Mile High City, pop into the Holiday Inn Express. It’s minutes away from Red Rocks, Golden, and the coolest parts of Denver itself, and you can enjoy a convenient breakfast and a great pool during your stay.
Bar Harbor, Maine
The gateway to Acadia National Park is a charming village filled with quaint shops, good restaurants, more ice cream parlors per square foot than just about anywhere (some serving Maine blueberry soft-serve!), and an improv comedy troupe suitable for all ages. You’ll also find a fair number of affordable accommodation options, including the Acadia Inn. While there, enjoy an outdoor pool, free breakfast, spacious rooms, and a hiking trail out back, which will lead you straight into the national park. You can’t get a better location than that! Here are more East Coast vacations you should take at least once.
Amelia Island, Florida
This slender, enchanting stretch of Floridian paradise sits just on the border of Georgia. Why is Amelia Island so perfect for an affordable family vacation? Let us count the ways. There’s a plethora of sunset cruises, fine fishing, and kayaking, a vibrant artists’ village, the chance to explore a real fort at Fort Clinch State Park, and the opportunity to learn and then actually play the French ball game of petanque. Plus, you have miles of sandy beaches and abundant Florida warmth to make this one of the most peaceful trips in the Sunshine State. For the ultimate in R&R, make the dreamy Omni Resort your home away from home. Alternate between soaking in the pools and wandering down to the beach, and dine at any (or all!) of the hotel’s 10 restaurants during your stay. If you’re spending time in the Sunshine State, don’t miss these beaches Florida locals want to keep secret.
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St. Louis, Missouri
The City Museum, which is not a museum at all but rather a wild, epic upcycled play space for all ages, is the greatest place in America to be a child, and it’s just one of the things that makes St. Louis a must-visit destination for families looking for a unique vacation. Of course, there’s also the famed Gateway Arch and the engineering marvel that is the joyous elevator ride up to the top. Finish off your stay in St. Louis with lunch, root beer, and a massive milkshake at Fitz’s and a Cardinals baseball game. Stay at the beautiful Union Station Hilton to experience the glorious ceiling light show in the lobby.
Bucks County, Pennsylvania
This northern suburb of Philadelphia is bursting at the seams with family vacation ideas. While it’s most famous for being the home of Sesame Place, Bucks County also features cute little towns, family-friendly entertainment destinations, and stellar shopping. Make a plan to spend a day or two in Peddler’s Village, an idyllic nest of independent shops (handmade soaps, fine olive oil, and one of the best toy stores in the area), delicious restaurants like Buttonwood Grill, and fun festivals (peaches in the summer, Halloween and apples in the fall, and more). And now that Without a Cue productions has set up a massive performance tent on the lawn at Peddler’s Village, you can take your family to see murder-mystery and stand-up comedy shows in a socially distanced, outdoor setting all summer long.
For more proof that you can have nice things even with kids in tow, stay at the Golden Plough Inn, which is nestled into the 43 acres of Peddler’s Village. Little kids will love having their own four-poster queen beds in the Superior Village rooms decorated in a colonial style with gorgeous fabrics and furniture.
Salt Lake City, Utah
When visiting the greater Salt Lake City area, be sure to check the soccer calendars of both Real Salt Lake and the Utah Royals because seeing a match at the picturesque Rio Tinto Stadium is an affordable sporting treat. For other family-friendly treats, walk far out to the water at Great Salt Lake State Park and on Antelope Island, and wander around Temple Square. In neighboring Provo, see if Brigham Young University TV’s popular sketch-comedy show, Studio C, is having open dress rehearsals or live tapings (both of which offer free tickets). And if you stay at the Snowbird Resort, there is fun waiting for families on the mountain—in every season!
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
At the Hard Rock Hotel in Punta Cana, you’ll have your own in-room hot tub jacuzzi (every single room has one) and plenty of diverse restaurant options, including a fantastic Italian spot and a fast fresh Mediterranean bistro serving up outstanding hummus and falafel when you want a healthy quick bite. And that’s just the beginning. Tennis courts, several pools, a concert venue, the chance to learn how to make chocolate, and a massive stretch of perfect sandy beach make this resort a true rock star. While there, book the excursion to ride two-person ATVs through a mud course and get hilariously filthy together with your kids.
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Columbia River Gorge, Oregon and Washington
Of course, Portland is a superb city, but the many waterfalls, cascades, locks, trails, and the Columbia River Gorge nestled along this scenic highway are, in and of themselves, vacation destinations worth exploring. Splash, hike, and swim in Bridal Veil, Multnomah, Horsetail Falls, and the many other cascades lining this impressive stretch of America. While in the area, listen to the “Fantasy of Fashion” episode of the Articles of Interest podcast and then spend a few hours exploring the curious Maryhill Museum’s Théâtre de la Mode exhibit to see the miniature mannequins that saved the French fashion industry during World War II.
End your eventful day with a stay in the Klickitat Treehouse in White Salmon, Washington. This stunning home, which is situated between three massive Douglas firs and sits 20 feet above the ground, is like a forest fairy dream. It’s actually an Airbnb, and in case you were wondering, these are the differences between an Airbnb and a hotel.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
For families looking for a trip steeped in 17th-century history but who find Boston too bustling and expensive, look a bit farther up north to the charming city of Portsmouth. Wander the oldest New Hampshire neighborhood to be settled by Europeans at the Strawberry Banke outdoor museum, tour a real submarine named the USS Albacore (and make all the tuna jokes you want!), and casually stroll the vibrant downtown area teeming with independent eateries, toy stores, and shops selling local handmade goods. For a modern, affordable hotel right in the heart of the old British-style downtown, try the Hilton Garden Inn. It has an indoor pool for your kids to expel the rest of their energy before bed. If you’re interested in taking a longer vacation in the family truckster, check out this guide to a White Mountains road trip.
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Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
This happening beach town sits way down at the bottom of Baja California in Mexico and provides the perfect place for some much-needed family fun in the sun. Stay at the all-inclusive Hard Rock in Cabo and you’ll be in a prime place to go whale watching, ride horses on the beach, swim with dolphins, and experience incredible snorkeling. And you can even squeeze in a little grown-up time while you’re here, too: Sip fruity drinks and have some romantic moments while the kids explore the hotel’s Roxity and Cavern clubs, go bowling, and become rock stars at the Music Lab. Cheers to that!
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San Diego, California
You could build an entire trip to San Diego around the Zoo and Wild Animal Park and no one would question it at all. But those two wildlife hot spots are just the beginning of what makes the city one of the best family vacation ideas. Baseball lovers will adore the downtown ballpark, while history buffs will enjoy exploring the USS Midway aircraft carrier and learning about Liberty Station’s military past as a naval training center in the 1920s. Plus, the natural beauty of Balboa Park and the sandy beaches lining the Pacific Ocean will surely make everyone in your family happy! Pro tip: Don’t miss the joy of watching airplanes come in for a landing right over the city skyline. It’s one of the most spectacular sights in the country and it doesn’t cost a penny!
To add a little rock-and-roll edge to your sunny SoCal stay, book a rad room at the Hard Rock Hotel. It’s located within sight of the Padres’ Petco Park and a short walk to the Gaslamp Quarter.
Hudson Valley, New York
New York’s Hudson Valley has no shortage of fun in store during an affordable family vacation. You can walk, run, or bike across the Walkway over the Hudson, go to the Renaissance Faire, and pretend for a minute that you are in the highlands of Scotland while touring Lyndhurst, a jaw-droppingly beautiful Gothic revival mansion in Tarrytown. But you’re in this part of the Northeast with the kids, you’ll definitely want to head to the town of Goshen, which is located at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Why? That’s where LEGOLAND is, of course!
After many delays due to the pandemic, the hotel and each of the LEGOLAND Resort’s seven themed lands—LEGO Pirates, Brick Street, Bricktopia, LEGO City, LEGO Castle, LEGO Ninjago World and MiniLand—are now open! In addition to getting their driver’s licenses at Driving School, kids can patrol the wharf as members of the Coast Guard Academy and be among the first to experience the LEGO Factory Adventure Ride. During this journey through a fantastical LEGO factory, families will be shrunk down to mini-fig size, witness the colorful creation process of a LEGO brick, and might even see themselves transformed into LEGO figures!
Door County, Wisconsin
One of the great things about travel is the chance to discover a brand-new place, taste different food, and have experiences not available at home. On this gorgeous peninsula surrounded by Green Bay and Lake Michigan, you can do all that and more. Door County is famous for a Scandanavian fish boil where flames rise 30 feet into the air, and you can see all the fuss is about at the Old Post Office Restaurant. While in this part of the Midwest, be sure to have at least one slice of local cherry pie, find a jellybean in the bottom of a Wilson’s ice cream cone, and kayak into sea caves. Door Country offers old-fashioned fun and will make you nostalgic for a bygone era of simple summer family vacations.
Make the family-run O’Malley’s Inn your charming base for your Door Country family vacation. From there, you can enjoy an easy walk to downtown and access to a great hiking trail in the backyard.
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Grand Canyon, South Rim, Arizona
Even a contrarian has to admit that this is one of the most remarkable places on Earth. The Grand Canyon is an epic, timeless, and classic family vacation destination. Whether it’s the focus of your travels or just one part of an Arizona road trip, every member of your family will be awestruck by the canyon’s depth, color, and scope, which no photograph can do justice in expressing. Thankfully, visiting the South Rim requires little more than a National Parks Pass and a well-placed hotel stay. The best value is found just a handful of miles outside the park, at the Yavapai Lodge in the Grand Canyon Village. There, you’ll enjoy free parking and shuttle service to reach the nearby canyon rim.
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One of the great underrated American cities, Pittsburgh sits at the confluence of three rivers, has a bevy of bright yellow bridges, an amazing ballpark (with a street party before every home game), the Andy Warhol Museum (he’s the Steel City’s most famous native son), and a stellar zoo. Plus, they put French fries on their sandwiches here! What’s not to like? And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the incline trains. Every kid will love riding up the creaky wooden trains to get sweeping views of the city from on high. Stay in a spacious room at the conveniently located Residence Inn North Shore, and spend your days walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to reach downtown.
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Kids who love movies and TV shows will likely recognize many of the sites in Atlanta because the city has grown to become the de facto Hollywood. The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, many of Marvel’s recent superhero films, The Vampire Diaries, and Stranger Things have all been filmed here. History buffs can go deep into the civil rights movement through world-class museums like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, as well as several must-see Dr. King landmarks. Meanwhile, sports fans have shiny new stadiums to enjoy football, soccer, and baseball, as well as Olympic Park, which is now a 22-acre green space with events, fountains, and those famous Olympic rings. There’s also the Center for Puppetry Arts, which boasts artifacts from Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, and The Muppets.
Access all of that and more from the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown. This budget-friendly hotel puts you within walking distance from everything Atlanta has to offer—and offers up both indoor and outdoor heated pools.
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Cañon City, Colorado
Nothing against Denver, it’s a lovely city, but Cañon City is the place to be for an affordable family destination in Colorado. About two hours from Mile High City, it is home to a plethora of outdoor adventures and stunning sights. Check out the gorgeous Royal Gorge railway, go skydiving, and take a horseback ride through the orange rocks of Garden of the Gods. What will make this Colorado destination even more special is booking an impeccable Royal Gorge Cabin as your palatial retreat instead of roughing it while in the Wild West. Not only will you enjoy all the creature comforts of home, but the location is also central to everything in this rugged outdoor paradise, including whitewater-rafting trips that depart from right across the street.
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Assuming the border reopens sometime soon, a visit to the capital of our friendly northern neighbor ranks as one of the better family vacation ideas for those looking to experience something new and different. After taking free tours of the impressive capitol building, walking through the colorful Byward Market, visiting the Royal Canadian Mint, and checking out the cool hockey exhibits inside the Canadian Museum of History, you and your kids will probably start adding a “u” to words like favourite just like a real Canadian!
When in Ottawa, splurge on a stay at the glamorous Fairmount Chateau Laurier. It’s one of the prettiest hotels in North America, and it will make your kids feel like princes and princesses. They may even be inspired to learn a little French while they’re playing royalty!
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Burlington, Vermont, and Montreal, Quebec
These two charming cities are so close and yet so far from each other. Paddleboat on Lake Champlain in the former, and practice your French as you order pain au chocolats in the latter. Separated by one (currently closed) border and only 95 short miles, these destinations will let you enjoy the best of both worlds as you explore the natural mecca of Vermont and the cosmopolitan charm of Montreal. While in Burlington, take a tour of the Vermont Teddy Bear Company and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and visit with the animals at Shelburne Farms. Green Mountain Suites is a luxurious yet affordable home base for exploring this region, and the ski lodge aesthetic inside and fire pits outside will make you feel warm and welcome. If skiing’s your thing, you’ll want to bookmark this list of the best places to ski this winter.
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Boston is full of history on land and in the harbor where a lot of tea was once spilled as America began to fight for its independence from Britain. During a long weekend in this old city, take a historic ghost tour to learn about the supernatural side of things in Beantown, visit the fantastic New England Aquarium, catch a Red Sox game at legendary Fenway Park, and then finish off your day with a drink on the rooftop bar of the Cambria Hotel. This affordable, beautifully designed, and literary-inspired hotel is an easy walk to the famous ducklings in Boston Common and the even more famous Cheers bar, but for a quicker path into downtown, the “T” at the Broadway MBTA Station is right outside. If you’re a bookworm, spend a few hours inside the stunning Boston Athenæum, one of the oldest independent libraries in the United States that has a darling children’s and YA section!
Is a trip to Lubbock a left-field selection as far as family vacation ideas go? It sure is, but this west Texas town is thriving thanks to one of the most spectacular public art collections found anywhere on Earth—massive sculptures scattered all over Texas Tech University’s campus. Tours are free and involve riding around in a cute trolley, so even your little ones will be in heaven. Downtown is on the rise and full of mid-century architecture, so you’ll love wandering around and looking up, as well as popping into stellar restaurants like The Nicolette to sample the local wine scene, as there are some great wineries to visit. And if you can, enjoy a show at the glittering new Buddy Holly Performing Arts Center. (Lubbock was his home, FYI.)
To get the kids on board with this grown-up plan, promise them an hour at Prairie Dog Town. This public park is every bit as fun (and as literal) as the name suggests. Bring some bread or carrots and feed the little cuties for free! Families will also love the brand-new Cotton Court Hotel on Broadway. The grassy courtyard is abuzz with activity every night—multiple fire pits, rocking chairs, live music, a bar, and a pool. Now that you have your family vacation planned, check out these romantic couples getaways for a little grown-up time, too.