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Family vacation ideas in the USA

Family vacation ideas
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Finding family vacation ideas to cater to your toddlers, teens, and everyone in between can be tricky. Luckily, the USA is home to a huge selection of kid-friendly destinations that offer everything from adrenaline-fueled fun to lazy days at the beach. Many locations like Orlando, Florida provide activities and attractions that kids will love, while other spots are better for those who prefer to set their own itinerary, like the coastal gem of Cape Cod.

When choosing a family vacation, it’s also important to consider the ages of your kids and their interests, as well as your budget for the trip. Beaches offer affordable days out for families who want to keep costs down, while searching around can help you find a great deal on theme park entry. For an educational element to your trip, look for a location that has interesting wildlife or geographical wonders, like a National Park, or seek out spots with great museums. 

Whichever one you choose, these ten family vacation ideas will make it a trip to remember.

Family vacation ideas

1. Grand Canyon, AZ

What the expert says…

Loes Daniels, co-founder of Experience Gift (opens in new tab), says, “The USA is huge and there’s so much choice. So, start by deciding what’s the most important part of your trip (for you and your family). Is it the weather, activities, or the hotel? Plan around that, anything else for your trip is just an added bonus.”

Want to check off one of the world’s great natural wonders? Make the Grand Canyon top of your list. Welcoming more than 5 million tourists each year, Grand Canyon National Park is a perfect place for families looking for adventure. 

The South Rim is the most visited spot, with family-friendly amenities and a visitor center. Here you’ll find the panoramic views that the Grand Canyon is synonymous with. For those who want to hike some of the canyon, the Bright Angel trail is kid-friendly and well-maintained, with shady spots and water stations.

Visit between April and June when temperatures are more bearable or arrive early in the morning if visiting during the summer vacation.

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2. The Outer Banks, NC

With no cities and more than 100 miles of shoreline, the Outer Banks (commonly known as OBX) is a string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. A peaceful, serene spot for the beach-loving family, the area is filled with charming seaside villages and oceanfront vacation rentals where the sand is your playground. 

For a different perspective on the coastline, climb the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which at 208 feet is the tallest in the United States. Back on the ground, unpack your beachwear and bucket and spade for a seaside vacation to remember.

Visit between March and May or September and November to avoid the crowds and the summer humidity.

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3. Orlando, FL

For adrenaline-seeking families, it has to be a trip to the theme park capital of the world, Orlando. From Walt Disney World Resort to Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando to LEGOLAND Florida Resort, there is a park for kids of all ages – even the grown-up ones.

After a long day of high-octane fun, you’ll be spoilt for choice when picking a spot for dinner, with the opportunity to dine with your favorite Disney characters too. Blessed with year-round sunshine, Florida is also the perfect spot for some beach-based downtime, however visiting between March and May will let you enjoy the most pleasant weather.

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4. Yellowstone, WY, MT & ID

With hot springs, geysers, and wondrous wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is ideal for nature-loving families. The Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the biggest hot springs in Yellowstone, while the Upper Geyser Basin contains almost 25% of the geysers on earth – this is a destination that brings geography lessons to life.

There are plenty of short family-friendly hikes to enjoy, or alternatively you can drive the Grand Loop Road to visit the top landmarks in just one day. Be on the lookout for resident bison and prepare to stop and grab your camera when they cause a traffic jam.

Off season visits in April, September, or October are best for avoiding the crowds and seeing more of the local wildlife.

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5. Lake Tahoe, CA & NV

A year-round destination that offers everything from watersports and hiking to skiing and snowboarding, Lake Tahoe is a family favorite. North Lake Tahoe is a quieter spot, while South Lake Tahoe has more nightlife to enjoy after hours. 

In the North, spend a day relaxing at Kings Beach, which has a large expanse of sand, plenty of picnic spots, and boat rental. In the winter, hit the slopes at Palisades Tahoe, where kids can take skiing lessons. Meanwhile, in South Lake Tahoe, enjoy an easy hike along Rainbow Trail or saddle up for a horseback trail ride.

Located a day’s drive from Los Angeles, Lake Tahoe has something to enjoy in every season. 

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6. Cape Cod, MA

A popular place for a summertime escape, Cape Cod has beaches, villages, and family-friendly activities aplenty. Search the shoreline for seashells, cycle through Nickerson State Park, or enjoy a round of mini golf – and that’s just the first day of your vacation. 

Dining at a local seafood spot is a must when visiting Cape Cod (or you can try your hand at catching your own lunch). Then plan a visit to one of the country’s last remaining drive-in movie theaters, where you’ll find family-friendly showings throughout the week.

The shoulder season is the best time to visit Cape Cod, so plan your trip for May, June, September, or October to enjoy more pleasant temperatures and fewer fellow tourists. 

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7. Hershey, PA

Families with a sweet tooth will love a trip to Hershey, home of America’s favorite candy. Ride the coasters at Hersheypark, where there’s also a water park and zoo, or explore Hershey’s Chocolate World to learn how their world-famous treats are made. 

You can also say hello to more than 500 butterflies at the Butterfly Atrium in Hershey Gardens, or enjoy a falconry experience to get hands-on with hawks, falcons, and a golden eagle. 

Visit between March and November to enjoy the best weather. Just remember to pick up some sweet souvenirs before you head home.

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8. Chicago, IL

A playground for everyone from toddlers to teens, Chicago is packed with kid-friendly attractions and activities. 

Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the nation’s oldest, while Navy Pier has a Ferris wheel, carousel, and sightseeing cruises to enjoy. For a cultural day out, try the Art Institute of Chicago or the Chicago Children’s Museum. For fresh air, try a bike tour or take a trip on Chicago’s waterways via kayak.

With so much to explore, there are plenty of free things to do with kids, as well as lots of indoor options for when the weather turns. This makes Chicago great at any time of year, although between April and May and September and October you’ll find warm temperatures and festivals in full swing. 

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9. Myrtle Beach, SC

Offering 60 miles of beaches along South Carolina’s Atlantic coast, Myrtle Beach has a great selection of hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals to choose from. On the Grand Strand, you’ll find award-winning restaurants and entertainment, while the boardwalk is home to the 187 feet tall Skywheel – perfect for getting a bird’s eye view of the coastline.

With three waterparks, an aquarium, and plenty of sand to share, this is a family-friendly destination for those whose vacation isn’t complete without a trip to the beach. Plan your trip between June and August to enjoy a summer of fun beside the sea.

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What to look out for in a vacation spot for family

Keeping everyone happy is one of the trickiest parts of a family vacation, but planning ahead will ensure you all have a trip to remember. While the grown-ups might be satisfied with good food and drink and a spot by the pool, kids tend to require a little more entertainment, which is why child-friendly activities are a must-have.

Loes Daniels from Experience Gift (opens in new tab) recommends SeaWorld Orlando for a fun-packed family vacation, where she says you can enjoy, “The wind in your hair, the sound of animals all around, the scent of adventure in the air. You plunge, you plummet, you splash, you scream. Lose yourself on incredible wildlife-inspired thrill rides, enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime animal encounter or choose to simply float the day away.” 

Loes also rates taking a guided tour of the Grand Canyon, as she explains: “Along the way, your onboard guide will share stories and facts about the canyon. Once there, you will be dropped at the Welcome Center. Here, you can catch the free hop-on hop-off shuttle that will transport you to the famous glass Skywalk Bridge.”

These kid-friendly days out don’t have to be expensive, though, as many of the destinations highlighted here have attractions that can be enjoyed free of charge, like hiking, museums, or a picnic at the beach.

Plan your visit carefully to avoid hot weather or heavy crowds, as both will result in grouchy kids. Arrive at popular locations early to beat the hordes or book your trip for the shoulder season when the local weather is more comfortable. As always, make sure you are well stocked up with snacks, water, and sunblock during your vacation, plus any toys that will make long car or plane journeys less stressful. 

Most importantly, remember that not everything will go to plan on a family vacation, but that’s part of the fun. Embrace the unexpected weather, the opportunity to explore off the beaten track, or the new cuisine your kids haven’t tried before – this is where your best memories will be made, whichever destination you choose.

Hayley Francis is a freelance writer based in the UK with an interest in travel, culture, and the great outdoors. When not busy writing for a variety of clients, she can be found planning her next trip or hiking a new trail.

With contributions from