Remember what a typical day in your childhood looked like? Probably not. But we bet you can vividly recall a family trip that blew your young mind.
If you want your kids to experience the same magic on vacation, take them to any of these destinations. From glaciers to volcanoes, dinosaurs to Disney characters, there's something here for everyone.
1. Miami Beach
Best for ages: 8-12
Why go? Although it’s often associated with a party crowd or wealthy retirees, Miami Beach can also be kid-friendly. With its Latin American and European vibes, it’s a great spot to introduce younger kids to different cultures.
What to do: Miami Beach has the most tropical beaches in the continental United States. Its warm waters are calmer than North Atlantic counterparts and less salty than the Pacific. As you drive to Miami Beach from Miami, you hit your first two must-see attractions. Indoors, there’s the internationally recognized Children’s Museum that shares an island with Jungle Island — an interactive zoological theme park. Beloved by celebrities just as much as kids, The Sugar Factory on Ocean Drive is also a mustl. It's the most Instagram-worthy restaurant in the world!
Where to stay: At the north end of the island, Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbor has the best kids’ beach club and is worth the expense for that alone. At the south end, Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach has direct beach access and sits between two public parks.
More info: MiamiandTheBeaches.com
2. Millennium Park
Best for ages: 2-12
Why go? It's an amazing green gathering place within walking distance of many of Chicago’s top tourist attractions.
What to do? Strike a pose in the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (affectionately known as the Bean). It's like a giant fun house mirror. Splash around in the cheeky, animated Crown Fountain, which literally makes faces at you. Join one of the free activities (family yoga, anyone?) on the big lawn or rent bikes from Bike and Roll Chicago or Divvy Bikes Millennium Park to ride to nearby Navy Pier.
More info: ChooseChicago.com
3. Jackson Hole
Best for ages: 6-16
Why go? Jackson Hole is home to Grand Teton National Park and a world-class ski resort.
What to do? Between its proximity to both national parks and the ski resort, Jackson Hole boasts more outdoor activities than there are hours in the day. You can raft the scenic Snake River, tube down the runs at Snow King Resort in Jackson or explore the magical ice castle and ice skate in Teton Village.
Where to stay: Hotel Terra Jackson Hole and Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa, both Noble House Hotels, are conveniently located within walking distance of the chairlifts. For savings, both properties have ski packages in the winter and national parks packages in the summer.
More info: VisitJacksonHole.com
4. Riviera Maya
Best for ages: 4-14
Why go? There’s nowhere else on earth where you can you snorkel in freshwater cenotes (natural pools), swim with manatees and climb ancient Mayan ruins all before the sun sets at the beach.
What to do: Fly into Cancun and then immediately head to Playa del Carmen: the perfect launching point for all of Quintana Roo’s adventures. Float the underwater river at Xcaret Eco Theme Park and stay late for the cultural musical show, “Xcaret Mexico Espectacular.” Then, take a taxi or bus to Dolphin Discovery in Puertos Aventuras where the kids can splash and play with dolphins, manatees and even sea lions! Finally, lather on the sunscreen and explore the clifftop ruins in Tulum. They are some of the best preserved Ancient Mayan ruins along the coast. Further inland, you can take a day trip to Chichen Itza! And for beach time, check out Aloha Paddle Club's water sport rentals in Playa del Carmen or take the ferry to nearby Cozumel.
Where to stay: Panama Jacks Resort Playa del Carmen is located on prime beachfront real estate (steps away from the shop-lined Fifth Avenue) and home to the Camp Jack kids club, so it gets our vote. Outside of town, Barcelo is the brand to look for with everything from its impressive Barcelo Maya Grand Resort (five family-friendly hotels in one) to its more intimate Allegro Playacar where babysitting is always available. Finally, if you want to overnight in Cozumel, Allegro Cozumel has a Pirate’s-themed water park on site.
More info: VisitMexico.com
5. Dinosaur Valley State Park
Best for ages: 5-11
Why go? This state park just outside a tiny Texas town 75 miles southwest of Dallas boasts some of the best preserved dinosaur tracks in the world.
What to do: In addition to walking in the humongous footprints left in the Paluxy River, take a covered wagon tour, mountain bike the trails, borrow a fishing pole from the park’s Tackle Loaner Program and visit the museums in downtown Glen Rose, the Dinosaur Capital of Texas.
Where to stay: Pitch your tent or park your RV at Dinosaur Valley State Park. For more room, consider a suite at Glen Rose Inn Suites, Holiday Inn Express Suites or Best Western Dinosaur Valley Inn Suites.
More info: Texas.gov
6. Glacier National Park
Best for ages: 8-18
Why go? Thanks to climate change, North America’s few remaining glaciers are slowly (or rapidly, depending on how you look at it) disappearing.
What to do? Hike! How else are you going to get close enough to touch an actual glacier? The Going-to-the-Sun Road (one of the most scenic in the world) is also fun to bike, but it's best ridden early or late in the season when car traffic is minimal. The popular, open-top Glacier Park red bus tours allow kids to see wildlife from a safe distance and you to photograph without worrying about pulling over and parking. If you want to get out on the park's many glacial lakes, rent canoes or kayaks or book a boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Co.
Where to stay: Spend a few nights in a cabin at the no-frills historic in-park lodging, Apgar Village Lodge. Then, splurge at the luxurious, all-inclusive and dog-friendly The Resort at Paws Up located on the edge of the scenic Flathead National Forest. Paws Up even offers helicopter tours of Glacier!
More info: NPS.gov/glac
7. The Mile High City
Best for ages: 8-16
Why go? Surprisingly, The Mile High City has tons of best-in-class experiences for the 48 inches and under crowd.
What to do? Don’t get out of town without visiting Denver’s top attraction, The Denver Zoo. It’s more than 100 years old! Today, kids can get hands-on in the 'Be a Zookeeper Zone' (open Spring through Fall), marvel at swimming elephants and sign up for more than a dozen different behind-the-scenes animal encounters. While in town, take the younger kids to the Children’s Museum of Denver where they can experiment in a test kitchen, cool off in an outdoor splash zone and live out their fantasy of being in a room dedicated to bubbles. Older kids will appreciate the interesting exhibits and the Phipps IMAX 3D Theater at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. When their feet get tired, take a ride in the free open-air Denver Trolley to learn about the city’s founding and its famous Gold Rush.
Where to stay: The new Kimpton Hotel Born is located in the heart of downtown (a stone’s throw from Union Station) and has a fleet of complimentary bikes reserved for guests. Another great option is the highly rated (it’s 13th out of 161 Denver hotels on TripAdvisor) Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center. It’s just one block from the 16th Street pedestrian-only mall and has an indoor pool.
More info: Denver.org
8. Disney World
Best for ages: 2-14
Why go? You'll never forget the first time your princess-loving little girl catches her first glimpse of the real Ariel or Belle (make sure that phone is charged!) or watches fireworks explode over Cinderella’s Castle. And let's face it: Disney is fun for Mom and Dad, too!
What to do? Check the Magic Kingdom classics off your list first. Then, head to Disney's Animal Kingdom, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018. If there are any fans of the galaxy in the family, make sure to swing by Disney Springs to experience the all new Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire. Finally, be among the first to check out the all new Toy Story Land, which opened summer 2018!
Where to stay: Good times at Disney’s properties — including Disney’s Beach Club Villas, Orlando’s highest rated property on TripAdvisor — are always a given. But if you don’t want to spend upwards of $300/night, try the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld where you can find rooms at half that price.
More info: DisneyWorld.disney.go
9. The Black Hills
Best for kids ages: 5-15
Why go? Mount Rushmore! Plus, these mountains and badlands are some of the most underrated destinations in the country.
What to do? The kids will love the hands-on American History lessons offered at Mount Rushmore. (Tip: stay for the evening flag ceremony.) There’s also buffalo to be seen, gold to be panned, ghost towns to be explored and the world’s largest collection of reptiles to meet.
Where to stay: Meet other families while staying at the KOA camping resorts in Rapid City, Mount Rushmore or Bad Lands/White River. The most modern rooms are found at the Hampton Inn Deadwood at Tin Lizzie Gaming Resort in historic Deadwood.
More info: TravelSouthDakota.com
10. Sesame Place
Best for ages: 2-5
Why go? It's the world's best park for toddlers and preschoolers. Everything in this manageable theme park is specially scaled to young fans of Elmo and the gang.
What to do? Spend half your time on water attractions like The Count's Splash Castle, Big Bird's Rambling River and the Teeny Tiny Tidal Wave pool. Then dry off and do the rest: Climb Cookie Mountain, ride Flyin' Fish and Peek-a-Bug (in Elmo's World) and explore Sesame Neighborhood (for character greetings and hands on fun) via the brand new Oscar’s Wacky Taxi. End the day by rocking out at the Neighborhood Street Party Parade.
Where to stay: The always pet-friendly Red Roof Inn Philadelphia Oxford Valley is an affordable option. Or get a little more space at Langhorne’s top-rated hotel, according to Trip Advisor, SpringHill Suites Philadelphia Langhorne.
More info: SesamePlace.com
11. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Best for ages: 8-13
Why go? Your Potter lovers will go Hog(warts) wild — and find it absolutely spell-binding — to see Hogsmeade and Hogwarts recreated in amazing detail, right down to the Butterbeer (don't worry, it's non-alcoholic).
What to do: Get there first thing in the morning because you’ll want to make the most of every second. Ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey first: Muggles meet Dumbledore, join a Quidditch match, and encounter a Whomping Willow. Next, conquer the ultra-fast Dragon Challenge coaster and the tamer Flight of the Hippogriff; then go wand shopping at Ollivanders (if you're lucky, the wand will choose you).
Where to stay: On-site properties like Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel offer guests FREE Universal Express Unlimited passes to skip lines. The catch? For about half of their nightly rate, you can stay at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes — the kids club has a new 500-acre scavenger hunt on-site!
More info: UniversalOrlando.com
12. Cedar Point Amusement Park
Best for ages: 6-18
Why go? It’s the roller coaster capital of the world with more than 10 miles of roller coaster track! The Midway alone is 3 miles long.
What to do? Ride the Blue Streak — a historic wooden roller coaster dating back to 1964. Or, opt for more modern thrills like the monstrous Millennium Force (rated one of the best steel coasters around), suspension coasters (your feet dangle from the floorless Raptor) and the maXair—one of the world’s biggest pendulum rides. Younger kids will find fun at Snoopie’s Space Race and the Kite Eating Tree.
Where to stay: Cedar Point’s Hotel Breakers, located on Lake Erie beach, is the top-rated Sandusky hotel on TripAdvisor and offers early entry into the park. Five miles inland, Great Wolf Lodge has an indoor water park the kids will love.
More info: CedarPoint.com
13. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Best for ages: 11-16
Why go? Two massive volcanoes are here, including Kilauea — one of the world's most active. Trails take you past smoking steam vents, black lava rock and enormous craters.
What to do? Stop at the Kilauea Visitor Center to pick up maps, check current conditions and learn how the volcano came to be. Ask if rangers are leading walks or set out on your own hike. The Earthquake Trail (Waldron Ledge) is an easy hike with great views of the Kilauea Caldera. Don't miss the Thurston Lava Tube, an underground tunnel where the hot stuff once flowed. (Drive there, then hike in, through a mossy fern forest.) Return to the park at night to see the gorgeous glow from the Halema'uma'u Crater. Best viewing spot: The Jaggar Museum overlook.
Where to stay: For a dramatic crater view from your room, stay across the street from the Visitor Center at the Volcano House. If you don’t mind staying 27 miles outside of the park and want to be closer to town, Hilo’s number one hotel is Arnott’s Lodge.
More info: NPS.gov/havo
14. Waikiki Beach
Best for ages: 11-16
Why go? Thanks to warm, shallow and relatively calm waters, there’s no better place to take your first surf lesson.
What to do: Sign up for a lesson at one of the Star Beach Boys stands, located on the sand in front of the statue of Duke Kahanamoku. (This Hawaiian hero is considered the father of modern surfing.) Or try one of the local surf schools, like Big Wave Dave and Surfer Girl Academy where instruction is pricier but more personalized. While you’re on the island of Oahu, visit the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites including the USS Arizona Memorial.
Where to stay: With its airport transportation, on-site pool and free breakfast, Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach could not be more convenient. Further inland, the Aqua Oasis offers boutique vibes, free breakfast and private balconies with city views.
More info: GoHawaii.com/oahu
15. Yosemite National Park
Why go? This national park is a scenic superstar: Think thundering waterfalls (best in spring and early summer) and seriously steep granite cliffs (world-class rock climbers scale these beauties).
What to do: Get your bearings on the free park shuttle around Yosemite Valley — home to famous sights like the Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls; hopping on and off as you please. Feeling adventurous? Set aside a half day to hike the Mist Trail alongside majestic Vernal Falls, climbing 600 granite steps to the top. (Pack a waterproof poncho because you will get wet!) To ride the whitewater, go tubing with Zephyr Whitewater.
Where to stay: The charming mountain town of Mammoth Lakes makes a great home base for exploring Yosemite. Check out the highly-rated Juniper Springs Resort or The Village Lodge for rates as low as $150/night. Both properties have a pool on site!
More info: TravelYosemite.com
16. 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Best for ages: 10-16
Why go? Our kids have probably learned about 9/11 in school. A visit to Ground Zero is your chance to help them really connect to what they've been told about that tragic day in American history.
What to do: Start at the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum — on Tuesday nights, starting at 5 p.m., admission is free. The museum’s exhibits are broken into three parts: before 9/11, during 9/11 and after 9/11. Because of the sensitive subject matter, the museum has a free downloadable guide for tips on visiting with children. Since the memorial is so close to Battery Park, ask the kids if they’d like to catch a ferry to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. It’s a good way to see New York City from the water while learning about how most of us got here.
Where to stay: The Millennium Hilton New York Downtown is as close as you can get to the World Trade Center site without being in it. There’s a pool, and the property offers several packages for saving money on longer stays and getting discounts on admission to area attractions. Another good value is The Wall Street Inn where Wi-Fi and breakfast is free (not common in NYC), and reviews are really good for a three-star hotel.
More info: 911Memorial.org
17. Plimoth Plantation
Best for ages: 8-12
Why go? It’s like stepping back in time to the 1620s, when the pilgrims arrived here from England on the Mayflower.
What to do? Get a look at Plymouth Rock, where colonists first set foot on American soil. You won’t believe how tiny it is. Costumed actors recreate what it was like on the crossing and in the settlement. As you roam through the 17th century village, you’ll encounter farmers, cooks, blacksmiths and other residents, and hear their stories about life in the New World. Meet actual Native Americans at the Wampanoag Homesite, and learn about their cooking, crafts and culture. Make sure to save time for a visit to the nearby Plimoth Grist Mill where you can see how they grind corn and even buy it to take home!
Where to stay: Book a room at Pilgrim Sands on Long Beach for views of Plimouth Plantation and a waterfront view of Warren Cove. Visiting during the colder months? Consider the Hilton Garden Inn Plymouth which has a great indoor pool.
More info: Plimoth.org
18. Buckingham Palace
Best for ages: 6-12
Why go? The kids might not care about the royal wedding, but when you tell them a real queen lives here, their ears will perk up!
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (For example, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is just as comfortable as major American airlines but often has round trip, nonstop London flights from several major U.S. cities for less than $500.) On your first full morning in London, check out the Changing of the Guard where the soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and fuzzy black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones have a spot they can see from. If the royal flag is flying, it means the Queen is in residence. While the kids can’t run wild in the palace itself, St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground. If you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings, swans and maybe even a pelican or two.
Where to stay: Located opposite the Royal Mews, The Rubens at The Palace could be to London what the Plaza Hotel was for Eloise. The property even has an official Director of Fun! The Nadler Victoria also gets points for its prime location just steps from Buckingham Palace. There’s a mini kitchen in every room, but the property also partners with local restaurants to offer guests exclusive dining discounts.
More info: Royal.uk
Best for ages: 6-16
Why go? If you’re across the pond anyway, hop on a direct, 4.5-hour British Airways flight or continue on Norwegian Air (its one-way fares from London to Tenerife can be as low as $62) to this Canary Island that’s home to Europe’s No. 1 water park, its most visited national park and world-class beaches featuring sand imported from the Sahara!
What to do? Immediately head to Siam Park — voted the best water park in Europe (it has nearly 25,000 reviews on TripAdvisor). Check out the water slide that travels through a shark tank or relax at the world’s biggest wave pool. Rent a car and drive across the island to paddle board, kayak and snorkel with Teno Activo at Los Gigantes (where coral reefs meet towering cliffs). Also, don’t forget to check out Loro Parque — voted best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor — and visit the volcano in Teide National Park. It’s Spain’s highest point and the third tallest volcano in the world!
Where to stay: Stay in between Siam Park and the beach at Iberostar Anthelia which has a free breakfast buffet and a highly rated kids club. Or, for more privacy, rent a poolside apartment from Apartamentos Casablanca. Regardless of where you stay, be prepared to meet plenty of British travelers. Tenerife is their go-to vacation destination!
More info: WebTenerife.com
20. St. Lucia
Best for ages: 10-18
Why go? If you’re going to take a family vacation to a Caribbean Island, head to the island with the world’s only “drive-in” volcano.
What to do: Rent a car and head for the crater! After hiking around La Soufriere Volcano’s hot springs, let the kids throw mud at each other in a mud bath. (You can relax in the mineral waters beneath a waterfall.) Of course, you can’t visit St. Lucia without spending time on the water. Joys Adventure Excursion & Coastal Cruises has a highly coveted 5-star TripAdvisor rating and offers kids the chance to swim at Lover’s Rock as seen in Disney’s "Pirates of the Caribbean."
Where to stay: Not many hotels can boast their own marina, but Marigot Bay Resort and Marina isn’t like most hotels. It also has a kid’s activity program, and a seven-night stay comes with four hours of free babysitting! At the other end of the price spectrum, Harmony Suites ranks pretty high with families who appreciate the boutique atmosphere with big hotel amenities like on-site dining.
More info: StLucia.org
21. San Diego Zoo
Best for ages: 1-11
Why go? It’s one of the world’s best zoos — and one of the few places in the U.S. to see giant pandas and the world’s smallest bear.
What to do: Visit Panda Trek first or last in the day, when crowds are lightest, to see the zoo’s black and white superstars, as well as red pandas. Don’t miss: Elephant Odyssey, where the pachyderms often have pool parties; and Northern Frontier, to watch polar bears swimming underwater and see playful arctic foxes. Also noteworthy is the Africa Rocks exhibit (baboons, leopards, blue-eyed lemurs, etc.) that opened in 2017.
Where to stay: Try to book during October when “Kids Free San Diego” features dozens of hotel deals. Year round, Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa has great water sports rentals and Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego is practically next door to The New Children’s Museum.
More info: SanDiegoZoo.com
22. Redwood National & State Parks
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? The parks are home to the tallest, most majestic trees on earth. Spoiler alert: You will feel small!
What to do: Stroll through the mile-long Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a mossy jungle of sky-high sequoias — some of them 2,000 years old (kids can crawl through the hollow ones). See if Roosevelt elk are grazing in Elk Meadow, then pick up the path to Trillium Falls and be on the lookout for yellow banana slugs along the way. There are coastal trails too: Take guided tide pool walks to discover anemones and sea stars. Note: your best chance of spotting whales is from December through April.
Where to stay: The Best Western Plus Northwoods Inn is located right off of Redwood Highway and includes breakfast. If a cozy cottage is more your style, check out View Crest Lodge where, for less than $200 per night, you can get your own fireplace and patio.
More info: NPS.gov/redw
23. The Space Coast
Best for ages: 5-15
Why go? Where else do you get to be an astronaut for a day?
What to do: Though the real space shuttles have flown their final missions, you can feel what it's like to rocket into the stratosphere on the Shuttle Launch Experience flight simulator. Take mission control tours, have lunch with an astronaut and even train with one in a family Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) program, preparing for g-forces and a mock journey to the International Space Station.
Where to stay: Both the Homewood Suites by Hilton Cape Canaveral and the waterfront Hampton Inn Cocoa Beach have pools and include breakfast in nightly rates. The Radisson at the Port isn’t oceanfront, but its pool designer went above and beyond, giving kids a pool with a built-in playground!
More info: VisitSpaceCoast.com
24. Wisconsin Dells
Best for ages: 2-14
Why go? It's the water park capital of the world! Your kids will get waterlogged long before they'll get bored.
What to do: Since they’re open year-round, the indoor water parks can be enjoyed any month. Get a day pass for Noah's Ark water park (America's largest) and race each other down 2018’s newest ride, the Raja, which ends in the mouth of a king cobra. Or book one of the wet and wild resorts, like the African-themed Kalahari (the Sahara Sidewinders looping slides literally drop you through the roof) or Mt. Olympus (the Lost City of Atlantis water fortress has slides, geysers and monster dump buckets).
Where to stay: In addition to the resorts with indoor water parks, there are plenty of quieter options like Day’s End Motel, Alakai Hotel and Suites and Hilton Garden Inn where you can get a nice room for less than $100 per night.
More info: WisDells.com
25. Virginia Beach
Best for ages: 5-17
Why go? It’s got beaches (complete with the classic boardwalk experience), American history and probably the world’s best military aviation museum.
What to do: First, get your bearings from a ride in an open cockpit biplane at the Military Aviation Museum — TripAdvisor’s top-rated attraction in all of Virginia Beach. Then, hit the beach and Neptune’s Castle where the kids can even compete in a sandcastle building contest if your timing is right. Finally, take a quick drive to Fredericksburg to walk in the footsteps of our country’s first president at his boyhood home, Ferry Farm. George Washington lived there from the age of 6 to 22, and it’s a true testament to what colonial life was like.
Where to stay: The top-rated hotel is the Comfort Inn & Suites Oceanfront which is within walking distance of most attractions along the boardwalk. Barclay Towers Resort Hotel is a bit farther from the action, although still on the beach, and all rooms are suites.
More info: VisitVirginiaBeach.com
26. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Best for ages: 6-12
Why go? North Dakota just may be the most underrated and understated state in the union! Your kids might not think to go on their own when they’re grown.
What to do: Sleep under the stars in the national park named for Theodore Roosevelt who once lived here. Let the kids’ imaginations run wild amidst these dramatic badlands (home to the Painted Canyon) and have a contest to see who can spot the most bison or elk. Laugh out loud at the prairie dog towns where the barking is audible and the little critters are as entertaining as they are mischievous. Just outside of the park, explore downtown Medora — an Old West cow town where horses are still a form of transportation.
Where to stay: Lodging is pretty limited, but it’s certainly not lacking in character! The Rough Riders Hotel in Medora has a pool and a cool two-story rock fireplace. The Badlands Hotel, also in Medora, is further from downtown but the rooms are slightly bigger and it’s only two blocks from the Medora Children’s Park.
More info: NDTourism.com
27. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? You'll never see sand dunes like these! Some are nearly 500 feet high, with jaw-dropping views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands from the top.
What to do: Climb the dunes, of course! But, don't expect kids to walk. Running (or rolling) down these majestic sand mountains is part of the fun. Cool off with a swim at Esch Road Beach where you'll find the pristine Lake Michigan water is brisk but refreshing. There's great kayaking and tubing on the warmer Platte River (gear up with Riverside Canoe Trips). Or, sign the kids up for their first freshwater surf lesson. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak hosts daily lessons by the lighthouse.
Where to stay: Duneswood Resort is a short walk to the famous Dune Climb, and they rent out bikes, buggies and even strollers. If you choose to be based in Traverse City, you can’t go wrong (with the kids) if you stay at Great Wolf Lodge and take advantage of its indoor water park.
More info: NPS.gov/slbe
28. The French Quarter
Best for ages: 3-17
Why go? The Mardi Gras spirit lasts all year long in this surprisingly family-friendly city.
What to do: There's lots of free PG-rated fun in festive Jackson Square, where magicians, jugglers, mimes and jazz bands make the street their stage. Take in the lively scene from an outside table at Café du Monde, famous for its yummy beignets (warm French doughnuts smothered with powdered sugar). A quick stroll along the Mississippi River leads to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (little ones will love the touch pools) and the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (creepy crawly thrills include bug tasting). Hop the St. Charles streetcar to the lovely Garden District and the Audubon Zoo where the kids can check feeding giraffes off their bucket lists.
Where to stay: The Homewood Suites by Hilton is in the heart of the French Quarter and boasts a free buffet breakfast. The pet-friendly Quarter House Resort is also within walking distance of most attractions and it rents suites with fully equipped kitchens.
More info: NewOrleansOnline.com
29. Grand Canyon National Park
Best for ages: 8-13
Why go? Do we really need to convince you? It's only one of the most spectacular, iconic sites in America! This great gorge is 277 miles long and 6,000 feet deep in some spots, with rocks that are millions of years old.
What to do: Don't just stand there and stare! Bike along the South Rim (rent wheels from Bright Angel at the visitor center) or hike into the canyon on free ranger-led tours to spot fossils, lizards and California condors. For the ride of lifetime, explore by mule with Xanterra, but reserve your 3-hour excursion at least a year in advance.
Where to stay: The Grand Hotel at the Grand Canyon is only one mile from the popular South Rim entrance. You’ll love the luxury (it’s quite nice for a national park accommodation) and the kids will love the indoor pool. If staying at the bottom of the canyon is on your bucket list, or you want the kids to experience a time machine, check into a cabin at the historic Phantom Ranch.
More info: NPS.gov/grca
30. Yellowstone National Park
Best for ages: 6-16
Why go? It's America's very first national park and has the highest concentration of geysers in the world!
What to do: See Old Faithful, which shoots steam sky-high every 90 minutes, and then move on to the other geysers, stinky mud pots and multi-colored hot springs within walking distance (check out the flower-shaped Morning Glory Pool). Yellowstone is also a great place to spot wildlife: Bison, elk, bears, wolves and Bighorn sheep all hang out here. If you visit in the winter (when it’s easiest to spot wildlife) take the kids on their very first snowcoach tour. For summer fun, fly high at West Yellowstone’s Zipline Adventure Park.
Where to stay: A room at The Summit at Big Sky puts you just outside the park and on top of the mountain home to America’s fourth largest ski resort. A more rustic option is Chico Hot Springs, a 118-year-old hotel with two pools fed by local hot springs.
More info: NPS.gov/yell
Best for ages: 8-17
Why go? It’s home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. This shrine to our national pastime scores big with any sports-loving family.
What to do: After learning all about the game America loves, take the younger kids to The Farmers’ Museum and Tractor Land at Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard. Then, practice those swings at Barnyard Swing Miniature Golf. For some relaxing sightseeing, climb aboard the Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad or cruise Otsego Lake on the Glimmerglass Queen.
Where to stay: Stay on the water at Lake ‘N Pines Motel where guests have access to an outdoor pool, an indoor pool and a video arcade room. Downtown, The Railroad Inn was recently remodeled and boasts lofts that can comfortably sleep families of six.
More info: ThisisCooperstown.com
32. The Strong National Museum of Play
Best for ages: 4-12
Why go? It’s an institution entirely devoted to every kid’s favorite thing to do!
What to do: Watch your kids awaken their inner superheroes at the museum’s American Comic Book Heroes exhibit or walk their way through the world’s largest pop-up book in Reading Adventureland. For nostalgia, visit the Toy Halls of Fame and play your way through the history of video games at eGameRevolution. Expect to spend at least four hours at The Strong National Museum of Play.
Where to stay: Book a room at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Rochester, which is a 5-minute drive or short walk to the museum. Other family favorite hotels include the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Rochester, which features a large, indoor pool in the hotel’s atrium (plus a complimentary cookie at check in!), and the Hilton Garden Inn Rochester University & Medical Center which is connected to the new College Town shopping complex.
More info: MuseumOfPlay.org
33. Colorado Springs
Best for ages: 7-13
Why go? Nestled at the base of America’s peak, Pikes Peak, this scenic mountain town showcases the best Colorado has to offer in the kids department.
What to do: See where Olympic dreams are born and watch athletes train for upcoming events at the Olympic Training Center. Then, hand feed the giraffes at the country’s only mountain-top zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Older kids will want to hike to the summit of Pikes Peak — the mountain that inspired the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” — and cross North America’s highest suspension bridge at The Royal Gorge. Finally, explore the geological wonders of Garden of the Gods, rated the No. 1 park in the U.S. by TripAdvisor users in 2014.
Where to stay: Ride mules up to your cabin or fire tower accommodations at Cloud Camp, part of The Broadmoor Resort. You can’t top the views at this mountaintop all-inclusive escape. Down in Colorado Springs, the Great Wolf Lodge boasts the state’s first indoor water park.
More info: VisitCOS.com
34. Aspen Snowmass
Best for ages: 4-18
Why go? Start ‘em when they’re young! Skiing and snowboarding is a lot easier to learn as a kid. Plus, between its four different mountains, Aspen Snowmass has something for all levels.
What to do: First, sign up for the Very Important Kids Snowmass program to see the resort’s daily child-friendly programming and packages. Then, drop the younger ones (2-4) off at The Treehouse Kids Adventure Center for their lessons and then head to Camp Aspen with the older kids and pre-teens for their programs. In the afternoon, meet up to ski together, go tubing or take a free naturalist tour. End the day by enjoying a Snowcat dinner or a family Chuckwagon Dinner hosted at a remote cabin showcasing a quieter side of the mountain.
Where to stay: If you don’t want to bother with a rental car, stay at Stonebridge Inn, A Destination Hotel where everything Snowmass-related is within walking distance and you have a heated pool to look forward to returning to in the evenings. If you prefer to stay where Aspen’s action is, reserve a room at the town’s only ski-in, ski-out property, The Little Nell. Sometimes you can get two complimentary ski passes for each night you stay!
More info: AspenSnowmass.com
35. The National Mall
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? It’s the U.S. capitol’s front yard! If there’s ever a place to instill a sense of American pride in your young one, it’s here.
What to do: First, try to visit during the spring (usually mid-March through mid-April) for the city’s famous Cherry Blossom festival. The National Mall is where most of the action and colors are. Depending on your kids’ ages and interests, spend hours everywhere from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. There are also several art museums — ideal for older kids — and just a few blocks away, kids of all ages will have a blast at the International Spy Museum. Don’t forget to visit all the memorials too.
Where to stay: With its 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor, The River Inn near Foggy Bottom metro station is a great affordable (as in, less than $250 per night) option. Closer to the National Mall, around $300 per night can get you a comfortable room at Sofitel Washington, D.C. ranked the eighth best family hotel in the city according to TripAdvisor.
More info: Washington.org
36. An Alaskan Cruise
Best for ages: 9-16
Why go? Besides heli-tours, cruising is the closest you can get to Alaska’s calving glaciers. We can’t guarantee these natural wonders will still be around when the kids are adults!
What to do: Crystal Cruises, the first cruise company to complete the entire Northwest Passage, has several options for experiencing Alaska’s glaciers. For example, its Glacier & Gold Cruise visits the Inside Passage where it parallels the tallest coastal mountains in the world. On port days, kids can learn about the historic Gold Rush in the once-booming frontier town of Skagway or do optional excursions like dogsledding or taking a floatplane to go fishing in a remote inlet. Of course, it’s also nice to just relax on the Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity and use their spotting scopes to look for humpback whales, get crafty in the Fantasia children’ playrooms or hit up the all-you-can-eat Scoops Ice Cream Bars.
Where to stay: Book a stateroom on the luxurious, all-inclusive Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony, depending on your voyage. If you decide to extend your trip and check out Denali National Park where you can see Mt. McKinley, consider Motel Nord Haven/Aurora Denali Lodge. It’s the highest-rated Denali-area property on TripAdvisor and the staff have been known to help guests spot the Northern Lights!
More info: TravelAlaska.com
37. Niagara Falls
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? This American landmark has a seriously jaw-dropping view, thanks to the six million cubic feet of water that thunders over the massive falls every minute.
What to do: Bring your passport, so you can view them from the Canadian and American sides; to visit both, just cross Rainbow Bridge. Board the Maid of the Mist boat from either shore to get right up to the raging water (they give you ponchos so you don't get drenched). By day you'll see rainbows; at night, the falls are dramatically lit, and there are fireworks too! If your kids aren’t afraid of heights, they’ll also love the bird’s eye view from Skylon Tower.
Where to stay: The most exciting option is the Sheraton Niagara Falls with its family suites complete with bunk beds! Its Reef Beach Club has a shark tank and a coral reef lagoon, plus the hotel is attached to the Rainforest Café so even eating meals is a memorable experience.
Best for ages: 12-17
Why go? Hailed as “the next Costa Rica,” this Central American country is enjoying a transformation into a (still relatively undiscovered) adventure travel destination.
What to do: It’s all about being outdoors in this country nicknamed “The Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” Fly into Managua, and from there, head to the Spanish colonial town of Granada on the shores of Lake Nicaragua — the 19th largest lake in the world and home to two island volcanoes you can hike. Speaking of volcanoes, visit Cerro Negro near Leon where the kids can sandboard (basically snowboard) down the volcanic ash sides. End your trip at One Love Surf School in the Pacific coastal town of San Juan Del Sur or head to the Caribbean side to explore the Corn Islands. While in the rainforest, keep your eyes peeled for a three-toed sloth!
Where to stay: With its private beach, private farm (where the kids can learn how to milk cows and make corn tortillas) and resident monkeys and sloth, there’s no place on earth quite like Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge. Jicaro Island Ecolodge Granada is another unique property where you feel like you have the island to yourself — until the birds wake you up in the morning.
More info: VisitNicaragua.us
39. Pacific Coast Highway Drive
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? It's the mother of all road trips, with beyond-gorgeous scenery at every point along the way. Curvy Highway 1 winds along California's craggy coastal cliffs, high above the ocean.
What to do: Take it slow and make lots of stops — whether you conquer the whole thing (should take about four days) or just tackle small portions. Kids will be wowed by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (ride the wooden coaster!); Monterey (go kayaking and see the Aquarium); Carmel's Pt. Lobos State Natural Reserve (otters, seal lions and whales hang here); Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (great hiking and camping); Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, and the elephant seals on the beach just north of it.
Where to stay: If your pup is coming along on this iconic road trip, consider a pet-friendly boutique property like The Laurel Inn in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood. Breakfast is free, and so is afternoon lemonade and cookies! In Southern California, opt to stay within walking distance of Disneyland. The Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim is pet-friendly and has a pool.
More info: CentralCoast-Tourism.com
40. The Rockies by Rail
Best for ages: 8-15
Why go? We may share a border with Canada, but this enormous country is the perfect entry-level foreign experience. And if your kids haven't outgrown their fascination with trains, you'll be parent of the year for letting them travel on the tracks!
What to do: Book Trafalgar Tours' Contrasts of Canada trip. It's a two-week itinerary stretching across the Canadian Rockies from coast to coast. Begin in Vancouver where the kids will be wowed on a drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Then, travel by rail across the country, watching the glaciers turn into cowboy country, wheat fields and finally, the cosmopolitan city of Toronto. Here, the older kids will demand extra time to see the Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame and get their hearts rate up at Sharks After Dark at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.
Where to stay: You'll spend all 14 nights in a Prestige cabin on VIA Rail's flagship transcontinental train, The Canadian. If you just want to explore Western Canada and/or prefer traveling by train but staying in hotels, Rocky Mountaineer makes a great home away from home.
More info: Trafalgar.com