Brimming with history, diverse cultural offerings, and abundant natural resources, the Southeastern United States offers family vacationers a full spectrum of activities and sightseeing opportunities with fun and interesting educational value for all ages. Home to the nation's oldest mountain range and largest living history museum, six of the ten designated National Seashores, the world's largest aquarium and a multitude of other natural and man-made wonders, the options for family adventures are almost limitless in the Southeast U.S.
For families seeking a low-cost vacation, the Southeast offers an array of reasonably priced hotel and motel lodgings, campgrounds, and rental properties. On the other hand, families in search of luxury accommodations will find some of the nation's top family-friendly resorts with plenty of on-site year-round or seasonal programs for kids.
Discover more about some of the best destinations in the Southeast for family vacation experiences with exceptional educational value including the North Carolina mountains, George Washington's family home, the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, and the many historical sites of the American Revolution and Civil War.
The Mountains of North Carolina
Exploring the mountains of North Carolina is a wonderful way to spend family time together on vacation. Accommodations range from top luxury resorts to modest campsites and private homes, truly offering something for everyone.
Pre-teens and teens will be enthralled with a visit to America's largest house at Biltmore Estate in Asheville while younger family members will enjoy an array of seasonal activities such as storytelling, turn-of-the-century games, and crafts, and family wagon rides at various locations on the estate grounds.
The Tweetsie Railroad in Blowing Rock is especially fun for young children, where families may enjoy an exciting train ride, entertainment, and panning for gemstones. Nearby, brave family members can cross the mile-high swinging bridge at Grandfather Mountain (pictured above), and the whole family will enjoy the abundant amazing views and hiking trails. Boone, also nearby, is home to the popular summer outdoor drama, "Horn in the West."
In Cherokee, North Carolina, another popular outdoor drama, "Unto These Hills," portrays the history of the Cherokee Indian. Oconaluftee Indian Village, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and more offer interaction and insight into the rich Cherokee heritage and traditions. To cool off during the summer, all family members will enjoy swimming and tubing in the spring-fed river waters at Island Park.
For more outdoor adventure, the North Carolina mountains are home to several exciting canopy tours and zip lines. Also, fans of "The Hunger Games" may enjoy family-friendly "Hunger Games" themed tours of filming locations and places visited and activities enjoyed by the stars of the movie.
Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia
Callaway Gardens offers a unique vacation experience for families at this secluded all-season resort, located in Pine Mountain, Georgia and is a wonderful choice for exploring nature, enjoying wholesome outdoor activities, and spending some quality time with family.
A few highlights for family fun include swimming, boating, fishing, and biking. Special seasonal events and programs add to the fun and are scheduled throughout the year including Florida State University's "Flying High Circus," Christmas and Easter events, Summer Adventure, Autumn Fest and more.
Some of the most popular attractions include a lakeside beach, the Day Butterfly Center, Birds of Prey Demonstrations and eight spectacular nature trails. Three golf courses provide golf experiences for all levels of play and a spa offers rejuvenating treatments. Callaway Gardens offers several choices for on-site lodging with a variety of layouts.
Historic Alexandria in Northern Virginia
Alexandria, Virginia, located just outside of Washington, D.C., is a great family destination for exploring the history and culture of the United States. Old Town Alexandria offers several walking tours especially for children and hosts a number of fun festivals and special events scheduled throughout the year.
George Washington's home of Mount Vernon, also located in Alexandria, is an interesting and fun place to spend the day exploring the life of our first president. This estate and garden attraction not only offers beautiful views but guided tours of our nation's history.
Of course, Washington, D.C. is just a short train ride away, and there are plenty of things to do in the nation's capital, but be sure you've explored all that Alexandria and Mount Vernon have to offer before moving on to tour the monuments and government buildings of D.C.
The Outer Banks of North Carolina
The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a wonderful destination for a relaxing family getaway, especially if you're taking a driving tour. In addition to the miles of unspoiled beaches to enjoy, there are many historic sites and protected natural areas, and a must-see with children is the ever popular outdoor drama "The Lost Colony," which portrays the great mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island.
Other nearby interesting sites to visit include the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Jockey's Ridge State Park where you can climb the tallest sand dune on the east coast or take some hang gliding classes. A bit further south Pea Island Nature Preserve and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are fun and interesting to explore. Seasonal climbing tours of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are normally open from mid-April through Columbus Day in October.
At the southern end of the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island is a quieter area that is popular with families during the summer. Kids enjoy exploring the island's fascinating connection to the famous pirate Blackbeard and seeing the wild ponies for which Ocracoke is known. In 2007, Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach was selected by Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach) as America's Top Beach.
While the ocean can offer hours of family fun along the Outer Banks, it can also be very dangerous with powerful rip tides and strong currents. Young children should be accompanied and watched extremely carefully when playing at the edge of the ocean and even strong swimmers should always use the buddy system.
America's Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown
A visit to America's Historic Triangle including Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, offers families many opportunities to have fun while exploring the birthplace of American democracy. Interactive and hands-on activities for kids include interpretive presentations at the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia, living history exhibits at the recreated Powhatan Village, interactive exhibits, and interpretations at Historic Jamestown, and the Yorktown Battlefield and its fortifications.
When everyone has experienced enough living history, during the warmer months you can head to Busch Gardens Williamsburg European-themed adventure park (consistently voted "World's Most Beautiful Park") for a day of thrills and chills on more than 50 rides; or cool off at Virginia's largest water park, Water Country USA. During the holiday season, Busch Gardens transforms into Christmas Town.
Another popular Williamsburg family destination, Great Wolf Lodge is a full-service, year-round resort, which features a 79,000 square-foot indoor entertainment area including a grand scale water park, arcade and more.
For those who like to shop on vacation, the award-winning Premium Outlets offers great outlet shopping at many major brand name stores. There are also several good gift shops in and around Colonial Williamsburg, where you can find unique period replica items as well as regional arts and crafts., and you can even stay the night in some historic lodging if you're looking for even more educational relaxation!
State Fairs and County Fairs
Beginning in the summer and continuing throughout the fall, the bright lights of state and county fair midways attract visitors from near and far to celebrate the agricultural heritage of the Southeast with traditional fair fun, entertainment, and more. While kids of all ages have a great time enjoying the ever-present carnival rides and games, there are many family-oriented informative educational exhibits and activities to explore and enjoy as well.
Learn about state history and commerce, public education, health and wellness, regional artisans and crafters, cooking and regional food, and cultural performances, all through interactive activities for kids and adults alike!
You could have some old-fashioned family fun at state fairs, county fairs and other county fairs in the Southeast.
Outdoor Historical Dramas
The great success of "The Lost Colony," which debuted in Manteo, North Carolina in 1937 and continues today, set the stage for a new and distinctively American dramatic form, the outdoor historical drama or symphonic drama. These original plays are based on historical events and are performed in large, rustic amphitheaters, usually situated in scenic settings where the actual events portrayed in the drama originally unfolded.
Production elements frequently incorporated in the genre include period music and dance, elaborate sets and costumes, special effects, live animals and, in some of the plays, ambitious battle scenes. Providing entertainment with great educational value, several outdoor historical dramas in the Southeast offer summer vacationers an array of memorable experiences with an appeal for most ages.
More than 20 outdoor historical dramas are performed in various venues in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Due to extreme popularity, advance tickets are usually required and always recommended.