Family vacations give us a chance to reconnect with our kids and build memories that last a lifetime. These six vacations ideas offer a variety of options that can be tailored to your family’s interests and budget — but we think you should try them all. Laid back beach getaways? Check. The great outdoors? Check. Cartoon characters and carnival rides? Check and check. So get packing! Your family has a lot of ground to cover.
No childhood would be complete without a trip to the ocean, and in the U.S., there are plenty of family-friendly options. What makes a beach family-friendly? Gentle surf, white sand for building castles and affordable accommodations, for starters. Here are a few favorites that offer families plenty to do:
Skip the theme parks and high-rise hotels and opt for Sanibel Island, Florida, with its warm gulf waters and 25 miles of paved bike trails. Sanibel Island also is known for its variety of shells, making shell collecting a favorite beach pastime.
The towns that make up North Carolina’s Outer Banks offer plenty of low-key beach spots. The area features vacation rentals of all sizes, making it a great option for vacations with your extended family.
The Great Lakes
Your family doesn’t have to head to the coast to experience a beach getaway. The Great Lakes offer quintessential vacation spots that stretch from Minnesota to New York State and include bucket list tourist destinations like Niagara Falls, Mackinac Island and Chicago.
For a lower-key family vacation, consider a trip to a lakeside town in the Midwest. Our favorites include Bayfield, Wisconsin on Lake Superior; Put-in-Bay, Ohio on Lake Erie, and St. Joseph, Michigan on Lake Michigan. These Great Lakes getaways offer sandy beaches, waterfront resorts, reasonably priced rental homes and small towns to explore.
Sleep Under the Stars
Taking young children on a camping trip might sound daunting, but with the right preparation, this vacation can be one of the easiest with kids. Not only does camping provide families with the opportunity for unstructured fun in the great outdoors, it’s an economical vacation with no costly hotel rooms, meals or tickets to attractions. Campgrounds can be found in every state and provide varying degrees of amenities — from parking and grills to bathrooms, picnic areas, hiking trails and even pools.
If packing supplies, setting up a tent and dealing with the uncertainty of weather isn’t your idea of a vacation, there are other ways to get a camping experience without roughing it. “Glamping” (or, glamorous camping) has become popular in recent years, with plenty of resorts catering to families who want a unique back-to-nature experience. You can find cabins, homes, trailers and even yurts available for your family’s glamping adventure.
There’s no question that Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, top most families’ must-do vacation lists, and with good reason. The various Disney parks are expansive and offer so many options that your family’s trip is bound to be one-of-a-kind.
Beyond Disney, there are hundreds of theme park options for every age, stage and interest — from roller coasters and water parks to classic cartoon characters and favorite toys. For toddlers and young children, Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania features your child’s favorite characters from Sesame Street as well as parades, a water park, rides and more. Legoland in Carlsbad, California is a must-do for your budding architect. And in Santa Claus, Indiana, it’s Christmas year round at Holiday World, an award-winning amusement park that caters to kids of all ages.
A Storied National Park
Since 1916, the National Park Service has been charged with maintaining and protecting America’s national parks, historical landmarks, monuments and trails — 84 million acres across the U.S. While there more than 50 national parks worth exploring, these three deserve top spots on your families’ vacation bucket list:
- Yellow Stone National Park, most famous for the geyser Old Faithful, is the world’s first national park and includes land in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. For families with school-aged children, the Yellowstone Association offers a four-day family program that will allow you to experience the best of what this park has to offer.
- With 1,200 square miles of land in California, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls and Giant Sequoia trees and is sure to wow kids of all ages with its majestic beauty. The park offers plenty of kid activities, including fireside stories, short hikes and star gazing.
- The namesake canyon at Grand Canyon National Park is 18 miles wide and 277 miles long. The South Rim of the canyon, located in Arizona, offers a Junior Ranger program for kids of all ages. For train-obsessed kiddos, give them the journey of a lifetime with a trip on the Grand Canyon Railway.
An Epic Road Trip
Make the journey your family’s destination with an epic road trip. Dreading long hours in the car with kids? A road trip with frequent stops can actually make a trip more enjoyable since a new and exciting stop will only be a few hours away.
With a little research, any car trip can become a road trip. Here’s what you’ll need: A starting point and an end point. Your job is to find the fun in between. Think quirky landmarks, natural wonders, historical monuments, tourist towns, state parks — the possibilities are endless.
If you’re not sure where to begin, start with famous roadways. Route 66 will take your family from Chicago all the way to California (if you want to go that far) with stops along the way at the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the Route 66 Museum in Oklahoma (only $1 for kids), Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas, and the Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades, California. Another option? Try the popular Pacific Coast Highway route in California, which stretches from San Francisco to Los Angeles along 400 miles of coastline.
Regardless of what you choose to do, the key to a successful vacation with kids is flexibility and a laid back attitude. Expect to deviate from any plan and embrace unforeseen adventures. The unexpected is often what makes a vacation most memorable.