The 10 Best Family-Friendly Destinations in the USA

© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Heather Hamblin
26 October 2020

Planning a family vacation can be daunting. When considering little ones, it may be difficult to find vacation spots that accommodate the young and the young at heart. Culture Trip has scoured the USA and found 10 destinations that will make the entire family happy – from beaches and relaxation to the wilderness and high adventures.

Atlanta, Georgia

Architectural Landmark
Map View
`Downtown Atlanta in Georga USA  CNN logo in the reception of the CNN building The CNN Center is the world headquarters of CNN.
© Mark Waugh / Alamy Stock Photo
You may be surprised to see Atlanta, Georgia, on this list, but this Southern city has a lot to offer. For starters, it is home to the Georgia Aquarium – the largest aquarium in the country – where you can see 500 different species of marine life, including otters, dolphins, whales, sharks and even the behemoth whale shark and giant manta rays. From here, walk across the street to the World of Coca-Cola, where you can learn about the history of the famous beverage and even sample dozens of varieties. If your child is interested in journalism, plan to see the CNN Center, the media outlet’s headquarters where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the news gets to the world.

Central Florida

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA - March 30, 2018: Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex offers tours, exhibits, and historical displays.
© Thomas Kelley / Alamy Stock Photo
There is more to Central Florida than castles, fairies and human-size mice. Of course, the Disney parks are often seen as a rite of passage for American children, but there are dozens of other things to see and do in the area. Try igniting a spark of imagination and innovation in your child with a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, where you can learn all about NASA and the space program and even experience a simulated rocket launch. View some of Florida’s indigenous wildlife at Gatorland, where there is no shortage of reptiles, large and small. WonderWorks is a kind of hands-on museum for kids, allowing them to see science in action.

Grand Canyon

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Rafting downstream from Red Wall cavern along the Colorado River, Grand Canyon, Arizona.
© Scott Kemper / Alamy Stock Photo
This Unesco World Heritage site might just make you think of cliché family road trips and movies from the ’90s. However, the Grand Canyon really should be on everyone’s bucket list. Carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River, the massive canyon is truly a sight to behold. While there are various difficult and technical hikes, the Rim Trail is one of the most family-friendly – you can even explore parts of it via donkey. Alternatively, take the kids on the Grand Canyon Railway to view the majestic desert scenery from the comfort of a railcar, and stop by the Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute to take a tour and learn more about the local geography and wildlife that call the canyon home.

New York, New York

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The Mall in Central Park, New York City, USA
© Alex Segre / Alamy Stock Photo
Adults and kids alike can find something to do in the Big Apple. Beyond Central Park and the other well-known fun spots around New York, there are some family-friendly gems that are a little bit more hidden. The New York Hall of Science perfectly combines an atmosphere of learning and fun, with scientific processes and theories displayed and presented in engaging ways. Both the Children’s Museum of Manhattan and Brooklyn Children’s Museum offer creative learning in an interactive environment. The Bronx Zoo is a great place to feel worlds away from the crowded city while enjoying wildlife in a more relaxed setting.

Park City, Utah

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Miners Camp Lodge, Park City Side, Park City Mountain Resort, Park City, Utah.
© Dan Leeth / Alamy Stock Photo
Park City, Utah, is a veritable playground for both young and mature travelers, and as a bonus, the state’s climate makes for a unique experience during any season. Of course, a wintertime visit would lend itself to ski lessons, thereby shredding Park City’s famous powder. For the less adventurous soul, tubing is also a fun option. During warmer months, the ski resort closes down and makes way for zip lining, mountain biking and mountain luging. Venture off the beaten track and explore the mountains on a hike or horseback. All year-round, the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, called the Utah Olympic Park, is open for thrillseekers looking to try their hand at bobsledding or aerial skiing.

South Padre Island, Texas

Architectural Landmark
Map View
South Padre Island, Texas, USA - November 19, 2019: Small fishing boat navigating the Brazos Santiago Pass next to the breakwater
© roberto galan / Alamy Stock Photo
While the rest of the country may not have heard of South Padre Island, any Texan you meet will be very familiar with it. The Gulf Coast island is incredibly popular with young people looking for a bit of raucous fun over spring break, but there are plenty of things to do to make it a fun vacation for all ages. Hit the pristine beaches for some time in the water, boogie boarding, dolphin watching or fishing. If you’d prefer to stay out of the water, book a sandcastle lesson and have a contest to build an architectural masterpiece. Head to the north end of Padre Island and tear up some dirt on ATVs at the sand dunes. For some fun without the sand in your suit, take the family to Beach Park at Isla Blanca.

Southern California

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Entrance to the Old Town Market, Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, San Diego, California, United States.
© Maurice Savage / Alamy Stock Photo
Yes, Southern California is extremely popular with families, thanks to Disneyland. But there is so much more than just the uber-famous theme park. Visit Hollywood to find your favorite movie star’s mark on the Walk of Fame. Alternatively, drive an hour south to San Diego, where you can visit Old Town, and your kids can learn about the early European settlers of the West Coast. While you’re there, visit the beaches of La Jolla for some sun and an opportunity to watch the seals basking on the rocks.

Takilma, Oregon

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Adult woman walking a bridge at tree resort
© Cavan / Alamy Stock Photo
In Takilma, rekindle your childhood fantasies of living like Tarzan or the Swiss Family Robinson. Outside Cave Junction, Oregon, the Out’n’About Treehouse Treesort will bring out the kid in you, with its accommodations built high in the leafy treetops. The resort is an intricate system of cabins connected by bridges and even Tarzan swings, keeping you at a bird’s-eye view. When you’re ready to come down to the ground, get there on a zip line, right from your cabin. Once you’ve landed, you can enjoy the other outdoor activities that the “treesort” offers, such as horseback riding, tree-climbing lessons, hiking and rafting.

Washington DC

Architectural Landmark
Map View
The Smithsonian?s National Air and Space Museum, The Mall, Washington DC, USA
© Alan Novelli / Alamy Stock Photo
The nation’s capital isn’t just for bigwigs and politicians. Nearly every family can find something in this city that will provide a fun and memorable experience. Of course, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo is perfect for the animal enthusiast, and the National Mall is an excellent place to learn about the country’s history and take in the sights as you walk around the stunning reflection pool. If museums are more your style, check out the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History or the Air and Space Museum for some especially kid-friendly exhibits. At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, kids can learn about the process of printing money and watch the treasury in action. For a truly special experience, look into the Smithsonian Sleepover program, where kids and parents can spend a night in one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Yellowstone National Park

Map View
High angle view of sisters wearing hats while standing by wooden railing against hot spring at Yellowstone National Park
© Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, commissioned by Ulysses S Grant in 1872. But this park isn’t old news yet, as it continues to attract millions of visitors each year. The picturesque views of towering mountains and powerful waterfalls are certainly picture-worthy, and camping among them would be almost any child’s dream. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the natural inhabitants of the park, including deer, bison, elk and even bears. As Yellowstone sits on top of a volcanic hot spot, several sections of the park appear almost otherworldly, with various geothermic features. Pools of water take on vibrant hues of emerald, azure and even gold and orange, with natural minerals and algae. The granddaddy of all is Old Faithful, a geyser that spews a burst of water up to 180ft (55m) in the air, multiple times every day.
These recommendations were updated on October 26, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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