If you’re planning on hitting the road this summer with your family, you’re in good company. In the most recent US Family Travel Survey, half of the people who said they’ll be taking a vacation with their kids in the near future, were planning on making it a road trip.
You’ve got the wheels and the sense of adventure, now you just need to find a fun-filled destination that you can reach by car. Whether you’re traveling in the South, the Midwest, the Northeast, or the West Coast, we’ve rounded up the top 15 destinations in the U.S. that boast activities everyone in the family will enjoy. Read on and buckle up!
You may not think of an urban area when scoping out family-friendly vacation spots, but this historical city offers plenty of attractions to keep both young and old entertained. Hit the water on the USS Constitution, then, upon your return to the harbor, visit the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Foodies will revel in the options on tap at Quincy Market. After exploring the numerous cafes and kiosks, spend the afternoon with an ice cream catching the street performers outside Faneuil Hall. Come nightfall, catch an evening game at Fenway Park, then put on your walking shoes the next morning before heading to any number of kid-friendly museums.
Bar Harbor, ME
If exploring the great outdoors is more your thing, head further up the coast to Bar Harbor, your launching point for a visit to Acadia National Park. In addition to trekking along its rocky, wooded beaches and granite peaks, you can drive up Cadillac Mountain and experience some of the area’s most spectacular vistas. Into wildlife? Take advantage of the numerous whale- and seal-watching tours, before heading back to Bar Harbor for dinner, perhaps some shopping and a scoop of homemade ice cream.
Jersey Shore, NJ
Some of the best Tri-state beaches can be found “down the shore,” which is made up of Sandy Hook down to Cape May. Here, you’ll find miles of white sand coastline, boutique-dotted boardwalks, amusement parks and quaint cafes and restaurants. Public golf courses, parasailing, aquariums and whale watching tours round out the attractions available.
There is so much to do here you’ll wonder how to fit it all in. Start with a hop-on, hop-off bus tour which will take you through many of the city’s most important sights. Then spend a day visiting any number of appealing museums, including the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Natural History and the International Spy Museum. Up for a bit of exercise? Pick up a Capital Bikeshare two-wheeler at drop-off spots across the city and tool around the city’s well-kept bike paths before spending some time exploring the US Botanic Garden, which has been in operation since 1850.
Virginia Beach, VA
If spending time along the water is more your thing, head to this coastal city. You’ll find everything from vibrant boardwalks and gourmet restaurants to ocean activities like kayaking and stand-up paddling to fishing charters. Kids will love spending an afternoon at the Ocean Breeze Waterpark, or spotting dolphins on a boat tour along the coast. Rainy day? Hit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center for your fill of sharks, seals, sea turtles, otters and rays.
Gulf Shores, AL
If an ideal vacation includes a beach chair and your toes in the sand, this spot on Alabama’s Gulf Coast is your ticket. While you’re relaxing with a book, your kids can build sandcastles and hit the waves on their boogie boards. Head out on a charter boat to spot dolphins or catch any number of local fish, or stick to land and visit the lemurs, kangaroos, and sloths at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
San Antonio Texas
San Antonio, TX
Most people think of San Antonio as home to The Alamo, but the South-Central Texas city has loads more to keep your family entertained, including amusement parks like SeaWorld San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta and Splashtown San Antonio. Animal lovers can visit the bears, monkeys and giraffes at the San Antonio Zoo. Come dinnertime, head to the banks of the San Antonio River, and dine on a riverboat cruise or at any number of cafes dotting the famed Riverwalk.
Wisconsin Dells, WI
For those who want an on-the-go vacation, a visit to Wisconsin Dells is sure to tick all the boxes. In addition to world-class waterparks where kids of all ages can splash, swim and slide, the city boasts gourmet dining, brewery tours, horseback riding, and a chance to interact with lions, tigers and leopards at the Wisconsin Big Cat Rescue and Educational Center. Zip-lining tours will get the whole family’s hearts pumping. Come dinnertime, enjoy beautiful scenery, live entertainment and a delicious meal on the Dells Boat Tours Sunset Dinner Cruise.
Nothing is more majestic than the country’s national parks, which offer plenty to keep the whole family entertained. At Yellowstone, you can take a tour of the canyon, either by foot or, for the more steel-stomached, helicopter, or go see Old Faithful erupt. Once you step outside the car, you can take in any number of hikes. Those looking for an all-day adventure might opt for a trek to Hayden Valley, where wildlife, including bison, roam. For a shorter stint, walk to the falls of the Yellowstone River. Animal lovers will enjoy an afternoon spent at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, or a horseback ride over numerous trails.
Like Boston, the Windy City provides families with plenty of opportunities to create lasting memories. Visit the Lincoln Park Zoo to see animals like the bald eagle and African lion, the Chicago Children’s Museum for interactive exhibits, or the Shedd Aquarium if sharks or penguins are more your speed. If the Cubs are playing, make an afternoon of it and grab a deep dish pizza before heading to Wrigley Field. Looking for more bonding time? At Maggie Daley Park, you and your kids can go head-to-head playing mini-golf. Of course, no visit is complete without a photo taken in from of “The Bean” in the city’s famed Millennium Park.
While many think of Disneyland in nearby Anaheim as Southern California’s go-to family fun destination, many swear by San Diego instead. It's gentle and sandy coastline — which includes Mission Beach, Coronado Beach and La Jolla Shores — is perfect for those looking for a beach vacation. When you’re ready to explore the area, head to the San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld to get up-close with an array of animals, or visit Legoland California in Carlsbad to see awe-inspiring sculptures made from the iconic building blocks. Hungry? Pack a picnic and head to Balboa Park, which houses the San Diego Air and Space Museum and the Fleet Science Center, or stop into any number of the Gaslamp quarter’s cafes and bistros.
San Francisco, CA
Visit the “City by the Bay” and you’ll have a hard time choosing from the almost unlimited, family-friendly attractions and activities available to you. Spend a day cruising the area by bike, two-wheeling the pathways of seaside Chrissy Field before making your way over the Golden Gate Bridge for lunch in Sausalito. Spend a morning touring the prison on Alcatraz Island, or diving into the exhibits at the California Academy of Sciences, which wows visitors with a planetarium, aquarium, and indoor rainforest. A cable car ride up and over Hyde Street offers stunning views of the city, and North Beach is a must for authentic Italian dishes and mouth-watering pizza.
You can head to Tahoe for some of the country’s best skiing, but the area also offers plenty for families when the weather warms up. You'll find hikes for folks of all fitness levels and ages along trails boasting wildflowers, stunning views, and sandy beaches. Emerald Bay, features a reproduction of an 800 A.D. Norse castle. Water sports, of course, abound, offering visitors the option to kayak, cruise around in a pedal boat, or take a steamship cruise from Zephyr Cove. Standup paddling and fishing are also popular lake activities. Hungry? Head to South Lake Tahoe for plenty of outdoor restaurants with a view.
Known for its cool vibe and hip neighborhoods, Washington’s second-largest city also offers plenty of outdoor activities to keep the whole family entertained. Spend a day exploring Riverfront Park, where you’ll discover the mighty Spokane Falls, the historic Great Northern Clocktower, and the hand-carved Looff Carrousel. There’s plenty of hiking, zip-lining and biking, and, if the weather allows and you’re up for an overnight stay, at nearby Mt. Hood. If you choose to stay city-bound, indulge in any number of gourmet restaurants dotting the Spokane River.
Surrounded by the Cascade Mountains, picture-postcard Bend is a must for West Coast families who love the outdoors. The area is home to dozens of waterfalls, including Paulina Falls, Benham Falls and Tumalo Falls, all of which can be accessed by hiking and biking trails. Visit the 1.6-million acre Deschutes National Forest, and you’ll have a menu of activities to choose from, including ATV rides, mountain biking, whitewater boating, and canoeing and kayaking on the park’s many lakes. Adrenaline-driven kids will love a visit to Sun Mountain Fun Center, where they’ll find bumper cars, arcade games, go-karts, and batting cages.