Planning a family getaway can be a daunting task, especially when there are so many places to visit. We've picked out some great vacation ideas for 16 regions around the United States to make the planning process a bit easier.
Families flock year-round to outdoors recreation in New England on the Northeast US. After the summer fun is over, fall in New England offers colorful foliage, apple-picking, pumpkin patches, and corn mazes. During winter, take the gang to family-friendly ski resorts. Maple sugar season in spring-time is another good time for getaways.
Several family resorts in New England go all out with kids programs, family activities, and weekend celebration packages at Thanksgiving and other holidays. Tyler Place in Vermont, for example, has multiple kids programs for different ages. Smugglers Notch family resort likewise has programs for all ages including two teen centers, and ski school is a specialty. Or try an outdoors center lodge in New Hampshire that offers affordable packages with great activities and "loaner" gear.
New England also has theme parks that draw families during the summer months and that open the gates again for scary fun at Halloween and in December for the holiday season.
New York State
Lake George and the Catskills are two outstanding areas in New York State for getaways: families can find excellent resorts with kids programs, from classic properties on huge grounds, to an all-inclusive guest ranch, to resorts with indoor waterparks. Read about Catskills family-friendly resorts and hotels including the classic Mohonk Mountain House and the all-inclusive Rocking Horse Resort Ranch. Other ideas in New York state include the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Waterpark and a lakeside resort hotel in Cooperstown, which is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
And of course New York City is terrific to visit with kids.
Many spots in Pennsylvania are an easy drive from NYC and Washington DC. For families, top draws include:
- Hershey PA, which has a major theme park and other attractions
- Sesame Place theme park, which is a popular spot with the younger set
- Classic lodges with huge recreational properties, such as the 2800-acre Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, which has an adventure center, equestrian center, multiple pools and lodgings options, kids clubs, and more
- A Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park resort in the Poconos
Washington DC, Virginia, West Virginia
Popular destinations in the Mid-Atlantic area outside of New York and Pennsylvania include Virginia Beach (with miles of beaches, amusement park, water park, and other attractions) and Colonial Williamsburg (where history comes to life thanks to actors and volunteers who dress in period costumes and evoke the days of the Revolutionary period in America). Families visiting Colonial Williamsburg can also have fun at the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park nearby.
West Virginia, meanwhile, is a great place for white-water rafting. And Washington DC, of course, is a top spot for sightseeing including the free Smithsonian museums.
Spring and fall are the prime times for pleasant temperatures in the Southeast US, but most families vacation during the summer months and, hot as it is, summer is high season here. Many vacationers live in the region and head to the mountains or the seaside to find cooler temperatures.
South Carolina is the #2 state for tourism after Florida and Myrtle Beach is the top destination, with a 60-mile stretch of beaches (the "Grand Strand") and several amusement park attractions. Other areas for seaside getaways include Outer Banks, North Carolina; Hilton Head, South Carolina; and Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Stone Mountain, Georgia is another big draw in the Southeast US, with woods and lakes, a giant granite outcrop (famously sculpted), and attractions such as a sky ride and a laser light show. Louisiana, is another favorite. Combine New Orleans (which has some great family attractions) with a side trip to "Acadiana" or Cajun Country, home to fascinating history, great music, delicious eats, and family-friendly festivals.
Other ideas include waterpark resorts, Earthshine Mountain Lodge (near Asheville, with all-included pioneer activities, high ropes, and a zip line), and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Florida is a popular family-friendly destination. Let's start with the top spot on the globe for family vacations, thanks to its multiple theme parks: Orlando. Read about Disney World, the Universal Orlando theme parks (including Harry Potter) other attractions, top Orlando resorts, and Orlando during Spring Break and at Christmas.
It's extra fun to visit the theme parks at special times of the year: check out Disney Christmas, and also Star Wars Weekends at Disney World in May, and Mardi Gras Weekends at Universal Orlando, late February to April.
Beyond Orlando, there's much, much more to visit in the Sunshine State. Families can choose from the Space Coast, the Treasure Coast, the Emerald Coast, the Florida Keys, Sanibel Island, and the unique Everglades National Park, to name a few.
Families are spoiled for choices. There's even a Caribbean-style all-inclusive resort in Florida.
In Wisconsin, the town of Wisconsin Dells is a leader in the family travel trend of resorts with indoor and outdoor water parks. Sandusky, Ohio also has several water park resorts that add year-round fun to a city that's a hot vacation spot in summer months due to Cedar Point Amusement Park (aka roller coaster paradise.) Chicago has some great places to visit with kids, Ohio has a set of affordable state park resorts that offer activities and amenities.
Rocky Mountain States
Skiing, of course, is a top draw in the Rocky Mountains, especially in Colorado and Utah (other states in this area include Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming). The Rockies are also terrific destinations in summer months as well.
Vacation ideas include dude ranches, whitewater rafting, Yellowstone National Park, summer fun at ski mountains (such as human mazes, climbing walls, and alpine slides). Be sure to check out the YMCA of the Rockies in Colorado, a popular and affordable family camp with many activities and huge acreage in the Great Outdoors. Also in Colorado, visitors in summer can try river kayaking, zipline across a rushing river, swim in a giant hot springs pool, visit a huge cave system, and take a seriously scary Giant Canyon Swing.
Big tourist draws in Arizona in the Southwest include the Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu (with the original London Bridge), and Lake Mead, for houseboating. Arizona is also good for dude ranches. New Mexico, meanwhile, has a unique mix of Native American, hispanic, and anglo cultures; take an "education vacation" here (and learn while you vacation). New Mexico also has fun like whitewater rafting, skiing, and hot-air balloons.
For family resorts, check one in Arizona, near Phoenix, that has its own waterpark; a 4000 acre resort, near Austin TX; and in New Mexico, a Hyatt Regency resort on native land that highlights Native American culture in its kids programs, and also offers horse-riding, golf, and more.
Starting in Northern California, check out San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and sightsee in an antique fire truck, by helicopter, or as part of a movie tour. Meanwhile, forty minutes south of San Francisco, families can find luxury in a stunning setting at the Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay. Or head inland for a day trip to the Napa Valley with Kids: this favorite destination for wine-lovers is also good for family trips.
Further south, the popular tourist spot Monterey Bay is home to Cannery Row, Fisherman's Wharf, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, with sea lions, sea otters, and gray whales. The legendary Big Sur Coast is nearby. San Luis Obispo is an affordable destination halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with some low-cost attractions plus free fun at beaches that have tide pools, piers, or sand dunes. Also in the area is Hearst Castle.
Another top destination in the Golden State is Yosemite, one of the country's best-loved National Parks.
Southern California is prime family vacation land, thanks to theme parks such as Disneyland in Anaheim and Universal Studios Hollywood. Families with young kids may also want to visit LEGOLAND California, south of Anaheim and north of San Diego. Other ideas in Southern California include Huntington Beach ("Surf City U.S.A.",) a popular spot for surfing lessons, and the Santa Barbara Family Vacation Center, which offers all-inclusive family holidays with kids programs on the beach-side campus of the University of California.
"Ohana" in Hawaiian means "family", and "ohana" has a central importance in Hawaiian life. For visitors, this translates as "families welcome" pretty much everywhere, even at luxury resorts. Below are some family vacation ideas.
- Hawaii Resorts: Many Hawaii resorts have kids' clubs, and lavish pools with slides, waterfalls, and other features. You won't find all-inclusive pricing, but you can find some partly all-inclusive Hawaii getaways.
- Top Things to Do on Oahu: Oahu is Hawaii's most-visited island, and home to the most famous of beaches, Waikiki. Busy Waikiki Beach is still a lovely place even with concrete and high-rises, and has lots of fun for kids, including surfing lessons. Oahu has quieter places too, and many fun things to do including nature tours, Pearl Harbor, luaus, and "soaring" over the island in a glider.
- Fun Things to Do on Maui: a visit to Haleakala Volcano is not to be missed. Families can also watch for whales, snorkel, visit a 20,000 acre ranch, eat local ice-cream in the town of Lahaina, and more.
- Top Things to Do on Kauai: families will find some great activities on the "Garden Isle". Tour the stunning Napali Coast, take a helicopter ride, or try surfing, tubing, and ziplining.
- Top Big Island Activities
- Multi- Island Fun with Kids and Teens
Families love Caribbean getaways, mainly for the beach resorts which typically offer watersports, extravagant pools, family activities, kids clubs, evening entertainment, fine dining, spa, and, often, all-inclusive pricing.
Every Caribbean island has its unique flavor, and hopefully, you'll get out and explore during your Caribbean vacation. Some islands have colonial towns (like Willemstad in Curacao, a World Heritage Site) or other sightseeing and some are known for beautiful tropical underseas. If you're staying in a resort, it's easy to arrange for tours, scuba, snorkeling trips, and more. On some islands, it's practical to rent a car and explore on your own.
Hurricanes are a fact of life in the Caribbean, and even if you're far from its direct path, a hurricane still spreads bad weather around. Read about hurricane season and about strategies for protecting your Caribbean vacation if you choose to travel, taking advantage of off-season bargains, during affected months.
Another way to have a Caribbean beach getaway is to rent a villa or condo, complete with kitchen, laundry, and other conveniences. Often, in the Caribbean, your rental will include maid services.
Mexican getaways are hugely popular with families, who usually head to one of the country's many beautiful beaches. Some areas of Mexico offer a great chance to combine a beach vacation with cultural interests, such as Mayan history.
Many families choose to stay in all-inclusive resorts, with the convenience of all-included meals, drinks, snacks, kids' programs, watersports, and other activities. Check out Mexico All-inclusive Resorts in Cancun, Riviera Maya, Los Cabos, the Riviera Nayarit (north of Puerto Vallarta), and more popular areas. Note, however, that kids clubs in Mexico tend to be the "small friendly club-house" type, rather than the mega-type with differentiated age groups.
The Mayan Riviera in particular offers a great combination of all-inclusive resorts plus much to explore in the region. Highlights include Mayan ruins, the second-largest barrier coral reef in the world, the"eco-archeological" theme park Xcaret, snorkeling lagoons full of colorful fish, and "cenotes" (natural pools of clear water that are lovely to swim in). If you're looking for busy shopping areas, you'll find that too. Head to Mayan Riviera Highlights.
To start with skiing, Whistler-Blackcomb Ski Resort, near Vancouver BC, was the site of the 2010 Olympics, and has two giant mountains, special family zones, kids' programs, a unique Peak-2-Peak gondola between the two mountains, and skiing through through May. Whistler is also popular in summer.
British Columbia has other great areas for skiing, including several ski resorts that are a five-hour drive from Vancouver, in the Okanagan area known for great "champagne powder" snow. Canada also offers skiing in the Canadian Rockies, and, thousands of miles to the east, several popular ski resorts in Quebec. Read more about family ski resorts in Canada.
Speaking of snow and eastern Canada, the Quebec City Winter Carnival, in late January and early February, is all about family fun. Quebec City, with its historic old town, is a charming place to visit in summer and fall but arguably the best time is in winter when the town celebrates the world's largest winter carnival. Visitors can also take a short drive from Quebec City to the Ice Hotel for a day tour, or even an overnight stay.
Also in the province of Quebec, Montreal is a terrific city to visit: families may feel like they've been transported to Europe. English is widely spoken and the city has some fun attractions to visit with kids. Time your visit in late June and early July for the family-friendly Montreal Jazz Festival.
Other ideas for family vacations in Canada include Vancouver Island whale-watching andBanff in summer.
A trip to Europe with kids is highly recommended. When kids are small, they draw smiles and chat especially in the southern countries, and generally make travel a friendly experience. Older kids, meanwhile, can soak up culture, art, architecture, and it's all great fun.
Visiting top destinations, such as London, Paris, and Italy, is terrific with kids. But give some thought, too, to ideas outside the box like our Europe trip ideas such as barging (piloting your own barge or cruising along in catered luxury), biking, castle-stays, horse-drawn "caravans" (with bed and kitchenette), German Christmas Markets, Mediterranean cruises, and more.
Consider staying at places where families in Europe take holidays, below.
- Eurocamp: Forget your ideas about camping: Eurocamp provides the lodgings for you, plus resort-like facilities, and kids' programs.
- Center Parcs Family Resorts: In northern Europe, each with a huge domed area that houses a tropical pool (slides, waves, etc.), restaurants, shops, etc. Large cottages in country settings with many outdoors activities.
- Familotel - Holiday Hotels for Families: Family holiday hotels in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland, with kids' activities, childcare and babycare (with your holiday package), play zones, and baby gear (even strollers.) Good for ski holidays, summer holidays with pools and slides, and outdoor activities.
On another note, many companies offer family adventures to Europe: escorted tours, all details handled.
More Family Travel Ideas Around the World
Australia: Gold Coast and Brisbane: The Gold Coast, Australia's eastern coastline, is a popular vacation spot for Australian families. International visitors can fly into Brisbane and have a varied trip that combines beach and surfing at the Gold Coast with a daytrip to an island on the Great Barrier Reef, a side-trip inland to the hinterland rainforest, and even some theme park fun. Nearby Brisbane offers sightseeing, great whale-watching, and a place to visit koalas and kangaroos.
More Ideas Around the Globe: Check out ideas in Taiwan (which has some beautiful natural wonders in addition to urban fun), Costa Rica, Africa, Fiji (home to some beautiful resorts that welcome families), and more.