You may be surprised to see Atlanta, Georgia on our list, but this Southern city has a lot to offer. For starters, it is home to the largest aquarium in the country. Indeed, the Georgia Aquarium was the largest in the entire world when it opened in 2005. 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 there, walk across the street to the World of Coca-Cola, where you can learn the history of the iconic beverage and even sample dozens of varieties. For the child that is interested in a journalism future, plan to see the CNN Center, the headquarters for the media outlet where you can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the news gets to the world.
There is more to Central Florida than castles, fairies, and six feet tall 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. Here, 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 that gives the opportunity to see science in action.
The Grand Canyon
This destination might just make you think of cliche family road trips and movies from the ’90s. But, the Grand Canyon really should be on everyone’s bucket list. The massive canyon, carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River, is something truly awesome to behold. It even earned UNESCO-site status for its importance to the story of our earth. There are, of course, difficult and technical hikes you could take, but the Rim Trail is one of the most family-friendly. There are parts of the hike that you can even take via the back of a donkey if you don’t want to do the walking yourself. Or, take the kids on the Grand Canyon Railway to view the majestic desert scenery from the comfort of a railcar. Stop by the Canyon Field Institute to learn more about the local geography and wildlife that call the canyon home.
Adults and kids alike can find something to do in the city that never sleeps. (Though, we hope your kids aren’t included in that never-sleeping business.) Beyond the fun that can be had at Central Park and other well-known spots around the city, 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. The Children’s Museums of Manhattan and Brooklyn both 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
Park City, Utah is a veritable playground for both young travelers and mature travelers alike. And as a bonus, the climate in Utah makes for a unique experience during any season. Obviously, 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 Olympic Park, is open for thrill-seekers looking to try their hand at bobsledding or aerial skiing.
South Padre Island
The rest of the country may not have heard of South Padre Island, but 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 four-wheelers at the sand dunes. For some fun without the sand in your suit, take the family to Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort.
Yes, Southern California is extremely popular for families with children who flock to Disneyland. But there is so much more than just the uber-famous theme park. Visit Hollywood and find your favorite movie star’s mark on the Walk of Fame. Or, 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 seals bask on the rocks.
Treehouses. Need we say more? Rekindle your own childhood fantasies of living like Tarzan or the Swiss Family Robinson. In Takilma, outside of 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, to keep 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.
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 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 National History Museum or the Air & 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
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park, commissioned by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. But this park isn’t old news yet. 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, deer, bison, elk, and even bears. Being that Yellowstone sits on top of a volcanic hot spot, several sections of the park appear almost other-worldly, with various geothermic features. Pools of water take on vibrant hues of emerald, azure, and even gold and orange, with natural minerals and algae. And the granddaddy of all, Old Faithful, a geyser that spews a burst of water up to 180 feet in the air, multiple times every day.