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. While many of us are contemplating our big travel plans for the next year, now might be an excellent time to let those long-dreamt-about family vacation ideas come to fruition.
If you want your child or teenager to experience the same magic on vacation, take them to any of these family vacation destinations. From glaciers to beachfronts, dinosaurs to Disney characters, there's something here for everyone — even the kid that's hard to please.
Best places to travel with kids
Best for ages: 8-12
Why go? Although it’s often associated with a party crowd or retirees, Miami Beach also has plenty of kid-friendly activities.
What to do: Miami Beach has the most tropical beaches in the continental United States. As you drive to Miami Beach from Miami, you hit your first two must-see attractions. Indoors, the Children’s Museum shares an island with Jungle Island.
Where to stay: At the north end of the island, Ritz-Carlton Bal Harbour has the best kids’ beach club. At the south end, Hilton Bentley Miami/South Beach has direct beach access and sits between two public parks.
More info: MiamiandBeaches.com
Best for ages: 2-12
Why go? It's an amazing green gathering place.
What to do: Strike a pose in the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (affectionately known as The Bean). Splash around in the 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
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: 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 within walking distance of the chairlifts. Both properties have ski packages in the winter and national park packages in the summer.
More info: VisitJacksonHole.com
Best for ages: 4-14
Why go? Snorkel in freshwater cenotes (natural pools), swim with manatees and climb ancient Mayan ruins all before the sun sets.
What to do: Fly into Cancun and then 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 musical show, “Xcaret Mexico Espectacular.” Then, taxi or bus to Dolphin Discovery in Puertos Aventuras where the kids can splash and play with dolphins, manatees and even sea lions! Finally, explore the clifftop ruins in Tulum. Further inland, take a day trip to Chichen Itza. 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 and home to the Camp Jack kids club. Outside of town, Barcelo has 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. In Cozumel, Allegro Cozumel has a pirate-themed water park on site.
More info: VisitMexico.com
Best for ages: 5-11
Why go? This state park just 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, or consider Best Western Dinosaur Valley Inn Suites.
More info: Texas.gov
Best for ages: 8-18
Why go? Thanks to climate change, North America’s few remaining glaciers are disappearing.
What to do: Hike! 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 open-top Glacier Park Red Bus Tours allow kids to see wildlife from a safe distance. To get out on the 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 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.
More info: NPS.gov/glac
Best for ages: 8-16
Why go? The Mile High City has tons of experiences for the 48-inches-and-under crowd.
What to do: Denver’s top attraction is The Denver Zoo. It’s more than 100 years old! At the Children’s Museum of Denver, younger kids can experiment in a test kitchen, cool off in an outdoor splash zone and dance in a room of bubbles. Older kids will appreciate the exhibits and the Phipps IMAX 3D Theater at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. When they get tired, ride in the free open-air Denver Trolley.
Where to stay: The Kimpton Hotel Born is in the heart of downtown (a stone’s throw from Union Station). The Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center is just one block from the 16th Street pedestrian mall and has an indoor pool.
More info: Denver.org
Best for ages: 2-14
Why go? You'll never forget the first time your princess-loving child catches their first glimpse of the real Ariel or Belle or watches fireworks explode over Cinderella’s Castle. Disney is fun for parents, too!
More info: DisneyWorld.Disney.go.com
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. (Stay for the evening flag ceremony during the summer.) There’s also buffalo to be seen, gold to be panned, ghost towns to be explored and the world’s largest collection of reptiles.
Where to stay: Stay at the KOA camping resorts in Rapid City, Mount Rushmore or Bad Lands/White River or find modern rooms at the Hampton Inn Deadwood at Tin Lizzie Gaming Resort in historic Deadwood.
More info: TravelSouthDakota.com
Best for ages: 2-5
Why go? The world's best park for toddlers and preschoolers is 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: Take a dizzying ride in Flying Cookie Jars, ride Flyin' Fish and Peek-A-Bug (in Elmo's World) and explore Sesame Neighborhood via Oscar’s Wacky Taxi.
Where to stay: The pet-friendly Red Roof Inn Philadelphia Oxford Valley is affordable, or get a little more space at Langhorne’s top-rated hotel, SpringHill Suites by Marriott Philadelphia Langhorne.
More info: SesamePlace.com
Best for ages: 8-13
Why go? Your Potter lovers will go Hog(warts) wild to see Hogsmeade and Hogwarts recreated in amazing detail.
What to do: Get there first thing in the morning. 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 Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure 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. Or, for about half, you can stay at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes — the kids' club has a 500-acre scavenger hunt.
More info: UniversalOrlando.com
Best for ages: 6-18
Why go? It’s the roller coaster capital of the world with more than 10 miles of track!
What to do: Ride the Blue Streak — a historic wooden roller coaster dating back to 1964. Or, opt for more modern thrills like the 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 Snoopy’s Space Race and the Kite Eating Tree.
More info: CedarPoint.com
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.
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
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 Beachboys 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. While on Oahu, visit the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites including the USS Arizona Memorial.
More info: GoHawaii.com/Islands/Oahu
Why go? This national park is a scenic superstar: Think thundering waterfalls in spring and early summer and seriously steep granite cliffs.
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. 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!) Tube the whitewater with Zephyr Whitewater.
More info: TravelYosemite.com
Best for ages: 8-12
Why go? It’s like stepping back in time to the 17th century, when the pilgrims arrived here from England.
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. Learn about Native American cooking, crafts and culture at the Wampanoag Homesite. Visit the nearby Plimoth Grist Mill where you can see how they grind corn and even buy it to take home!
Where to stay: Pilgrim Sands on Long Beach has views of Plimouth Plantation and a waterfront view of Warren Cove. In colder months, consider the Hilton Garden Inn Plymouth, which has a great indoor pool.
More info: Plimoth.org
Best for ages: 6-12
Why go? When you tell kids a real king lives here, their ears will perk up!
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (Low-cost carrier Norwegian Air 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. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones can see. If the royal flag is flying, the Queen is in residence. St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground.
More info: Royal.uk
Best for ages: 6-16
Why go? This Canary Island is 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: Head to Siam Park, voted the best water park in Europe. Ride the water slide that travels through a shark tank or relax at the world’s biggest wave pool. Drive a rental car across the island to paddle board, kayak and snorkel with Teno Activo at Los Gigantes. Also check out Loro Parque — voted Best Zoo in the World by TripAdvisor — and visit the volcano in Teide National Park.
More info: WebTenerife.com
Best for ages: 10-18
Why go? This Caribbean Island has 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.)
More info: StLucia.org
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 the world’s smallest bear.
What to do: Don’t miss Elephant Odyssey, and Northern Frontier, to see polar bears and arctic foxes. Also noteworthy is the Africa Rocks exhibit (baboons, leopards, blue-eyed lemurs, etc.).
Where to stay: In October, “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: SanDiegoZooWildlifeAlliance.com
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? The California parks are home to the tallest, most majestic trees on earth.
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. On coastal trails, take guided tide pool walks. You may spot whales from December through April.
More info: NPS.gov/redw
Best for ages: 5-15
Why go? Where else do you get to be an astronaut for a day?
What to do: 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.
Where to stay: Both the Homewood Suites by Hilton Cape Canaveral and the waterfront Hampton Inn Cocoa Beach have pools and breakfast. The Radisson at the Port isn’t oceanfront, but there's a pool with a built-in playground!
More info: VisitSpaceCoast.com
Best for ages: 2-14
Why go? It's the water park capital of the world, year-round!
What to do: Get a day pass for Noah's Ark Waterpark (America's largest) and race down 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).
More info: WisDells.com
Best for ages: 5-17
Why go? It’s got beaches, boardwalks, American history and a military aviation museum.
What to do: First, take a ride in an open cockpit biplane at the Military Aviation Museum. Then, hit the beach and Neptune’s Park where the kids could compete in a sandcastle building contest if your timing is right. Finally, drive to Fredericksburg to walk in the footsteps of our first president at his boyhood home, Ferry Farm.
Where to stay: The top-rated hotel choice is the Comfort Inn & Suites Oceanfront, which is within walking distance of boardwalk attractions. Barclay Towers Resort Hotel is a bit farther, but every room is a suite.
More info: VisitVirginiaBeach.com
Best for ages: 6-12
Why go? North Dakota just may be the most underrated and understated state!
What to do: Sleep under the stars in the national park named for Theodore Roosevelt, who once lived here. These dramatic badlands are home to the Painted Canyon; see who can spot the most bison or elk. Prairie dog barking is audible and just outside of the park is Medora, a town where horses are still a form of transportation.
Where to stay: Lodging is pretty limited, but it’s got character! The Rough Riders Hotel in Medora has a pool and a 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
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? You'll never see sand dunes like these! Some are nearly 500 feet high, with views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands from the top.
What to do: Climb the dunes, of course! Run (or roll) down these majestic sand mountains. Cool off with a swim at Esch Road Beach where 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 a freshwater surf lesson from Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak.
More info: NPS.gov/slbe
Best for ages: 3-17
Why go? The Mardi Gras spirit lasts all year long in this family-friendly city.
What to do: There's lots of free PG-rated fun in Jackson Square, where magicians, jugglers, mimes and jazz bands make the street their stage. Grab an outside table at Café du Monde, famous for its sugar-covered beignets. A stroll along the Mississippi River leads to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Hop the St. Charles streetcar to the lovely Garden District and the Audubon Zoo where kids can feed giraffes.
More info: NewOrleansOnline.com
Best for ages: 8-13
Why go? 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! Bike along the South Rim (rent from Bright Angel at the visitor center) or hike into the canyon on free ranger-led tours. To explore by mule with Xanterra, reserve at least a year in advance.
More info: NPS.gov/grca
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 multicolored hot springs within walking distance. Bison, elk, bears, wolves and Bighorn sheep all hang out here. In winter (when it’s easiest to spot wildlife), take the kids on their first snowcoach tour. In summer, fly high at West Yellowstone Zipline Adventure Park.
More info: NPS.gov/yell
Best for ages: 8-17
Why go? It’s home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.
What to do: After learning all about the game, take the younger kids to The Farmers’ Museum. Then, practice those swings at Barnyard Swing Miniature Golf. 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 an outdoor pool, an indoor pool and a video arcade room. Downtown, The Railroad Inn has lofts that comfortably sleep families of six.
More info: ThisIsCooperstown.com
Best for ages: 4-12
Why go? It’s devoted to every kid’s favorite thing to do!
What to do: Celebrate superheroes at the museum’s American Comic Book Heroes exhibit or walk through the world’s largest pop-up book in Reading Adventureland. Visit the Toy Halls of Fame and play your way through the history of video games at eGameRevolution.
Where to stay: Book a room at the Hyatt Regency Rochester, which is a five-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, and the Hilton Garden Inn Rochester University & Medical Center which is connected to the new College Town shopping complex.
More info: MuseumOfPlay.org
Best for ages: 7-13
Why go? Nestled at the base of America’s peak, this town showcases Colorado for kids.
What to do: 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 can 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.
Where to stay: Ride mules up to your cabin or fire tower accommodations at Cloud Camp, part of The Broadmoor Resort. Down in Colorado Springs, the Great Wolf Lodge boasts the state’s first indoor water park.
More info: VisitCOS.com
Best for ages: 4-18
Why go? Between its four different mountains, Aspen Snowmass has something for all skiers and snowboarders.
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 2-4-year-olds at The Treehouse Kids Adventure Center for their lessons and then head to Camp Aspen with the older kids and preteens. In the afternoon, meet up to ski together, go tubing or take a free naturalist tour. End the day with a Snowcat dinner or a family Chuckwagon Dinner at a remote cabin.
Where to stay: If you don’t want to rent a car, stay at Stonebridge Inn, a Destination Hotel where everything Snowmass-related is within walking distance. Or 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
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? If there’s ever a place to instill a sense of American pride in your young one, it’s here.
What to do: In spring during the famous Cherry Blossom festival, The National Mall is where most of the action and colors are. Hit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. There are also several art museums — ideal for older kids — and the International Spy Museum.
Where to stay: With a No. 2 ranking on TripAdvisor, The River Inn near Foggy Bottom metro station is a great affordable option. Closer to the National Mall, you a comfortable room at Sofitel Washington, D.C.
More info: Washington.org
Best for ages: 9-16
Why go? Besides heli-tours, cruising is the closest you can get to Alaska’s calving glaciers.
What to do: Crystal Cruises, the first cruise company to complete the entire Northwest Passage, has several options. 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 frontier town of Skagway or go dogsledding or take a floatplane to fish in a remote inlet.
Where to stay: Book a stateroom on the luxurious, all-inclusive Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony. If you extend your trip and check out Denali National Park where you can see Mt. McKinley, consider Motel Nord Haven/Aurora Denali Lodge.
More info: TravelAlaska.com
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? Six million cubic feet of water 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, 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). By day you'll see rainbows; at night, the falls are dramatically lit, and there are fireworks, too! Kids who aren’t afraid of heights will love the 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, and is attached to the Rainforest Café.
Best for ages: 12-17
Why go? Hailed as “the next Costa Rica,” this Central American country is enjoying a transformation.
What to do: 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. In Cerro Negro near Leon, 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.
Where to stay: With its private beach, private farm and resident monkeys and sloth, there’s no place on earth quite like Morgan’s Rock Hacienda and Ecolodge. At Jicaro Island Ecolodge Granada, you feel like you have the island to yourself — until the birds wake you up in the morning.
More info: VisitNicaragua.us
Best for ages: 5-12
Why go? 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 (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.
Where to stay: The pet-friendly boutique Laurel Inn is in San Francisco's Pacific Heights neighborhood. In Southern California, stay within walking distance of Disneyland at The Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim, which is pet-friendly and has a pool.
More info: CentralCoast-Tourism.com
Best for ages: 8-15
Why go? If your kids haven't outgrown their fascination with trains, you'll be parent of the year in their eyes.
What to do: Book Fresh Tracks Canada's Vancouver to Toronto train trip. It's an 11-day itinerary stretching across the Canadian Rockies. Begin in Vancouver 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 city of Toronto. Older kids will demand extra time to see the Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame and get their hearts rate up at the Stingray Experience at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.
Where to stay: 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, Rocky Mountaineer makes a great home away from home.
More info: CanadianTrainVacations.com