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Kids play at the new Tunnel Tops park in San Francisco
Photograph: Courtesy Golden Gate National Parks ConservancyTunnel Tops park in San Francisco

The best family vacations in the U.S. for a unique holidays

The best family vacations in the U.S. that will keep the whole family happy

Clara Hogan
Written by
Sally Webb
Clara Hogan

Ah, family vacations. A chance to escape your routine, connect and make memories. Because getting time off school and work to explore together can be a rarity, we understand the decision of where to go is important—and picking a destination that will be fun for the whole family will help make sure the adventure is as stress-free and enjoyable as possible.

To help you pick your next holiday away with children in tow, we have rounded up the absolute best family vacations in the U.S. that we guarantee both adults and kids will enjoy. Yes, we have the go-to Disney spots in Anaheim and Orlando on the list, but we also have more unique choices. From playing along the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background in San Francisco, to hiting up the (free!) Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., to exploring the desert in Tucson, Arizona, these destinations offer endless ways to play. 

RECOMMENDED: Cheap family vacations in the U.S. for 2024

Top family vacations in the USA

San Diego, CA
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock

1. San Diego, CA

With sunny beaches, fantastic theme parks, and the world’s largest comic book convention, there's no such thing as bored children in sunny San Diego. Plus, like a good Pixar flick, the best kid-friendly activities won’t leave adults gaping at their phones. We promise parents will love mingling with exotic animals, splashing through waterfront fountains and marveling at towering Lego sculptures right alongside the kids. Avoid rowdier crowds and embrace calm waves alongside other families at Mission Beach, Coronado Beach or La Jolla Shores.

Yellowstone, WY
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Yellowstone, WY

No other place on earth is like Yellowstone National Park. The massive, natural sanctuary (3,471 square miles of green) mesmerizes all visitors with its mountains, canyons, geysers and subalpine forests (and don’t be surprised if you spot buffalo). With challenging hikes into the backcountry as well as handicap-accessible wooden boardwalks, the wonders of Yellowstone are for everyone. Plan a trip to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center to see animals without hiking for it. Bring a tent and get here early to take advantage of the affordable campgrounds (seven are first-come, first-served and five require reservations). Pack the car with a cooler of campfire meals and snacks to get you through the weekend.

Grand Canyon, AZ
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Grand Canyon, AZ

One mile deep, 277 miles long and visible from space, the Grand Canyon is right up there on the cool chart for kids. Explore it from the rim on foot (the guided hikes are perfect for children six and older) or bike, or ride a mule to the bottom. When you get out of Wi-Fi range, the kiddos might complain, but they’ll remember hiking these trails forever. Don’t miss the spectacular Skywalk at Grand Canyon West, which juts out 70ft from the canyon rim—there’s nothing but glass between you and the Colorado River 4,000ft below.

San Francisco, CA
Photograph: Courtesy SF Travel

4. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco is a giant playground for adults and kids alike. There's plenty of room to roam and play, from stunning parks to exciting museums to picturesque beaches. Check out the city's newest playground, the Outpost at the Presidio Tunnel Tops. When it comes to indoor activities, the Children's Creativity Museum, the Aquarium by the Bay and the Exploratorium are all classic favorites. And, of course, you can't miss a ride on a cable car that will leave the kids giddy, with a stop at Ghiradelli Square for a sundae that will make them even giddier. 


Tucson, AZ
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Tucson, AZ

A dude ranch vacation is ideal for families and Tanque Verde in Tucson, Arizona, is one of the best, with spectacular trails that wind their way through desert and mountain scenery. This is a great place for kids with a horsey inclination to improve their riding skills, but novice equestrians can learn their stirrups from their saddles here, too. The daily kids’ club offers activities from horsemanship to arts and crafts, and there’s a spa to soothe aches and pains from too much time spent in the saddle. Venture into the city to discover museums, local coffee roasters and microbrewers and a gorgeous landscape of saguaros, barrel cactus and prickly pear. 

Orlando, FL
Photograph: Shutterstock

6. Orlando, FL

Resort complexes don’t come bigger than the 43-square-mile Disney World in Orlando, Florida, comprising four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), two water parks, golf courses and 36 hotels. For full theme-park immersion, add a day or two at Universal Orlando Resort, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Allow at least two days (multi-day tickets are the way to go) and stay on-site as it gives you extended hours in the parks and early access to Fast Pass reservations, essential for skipping the lines. For a non-traditional hotel experience, The Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort are nestled in the woods, frontier-style, and sleep up to six.

Los Angeles & Anaheim, CA
Photograph: Todd Wawrychuk/Disney Parks

7. Los Angeles & Anaheim, CA

You're going to need way more than a weekend for this SoCal vacation filled with attractions from Santa Monica to Anaheim. Want to spot celebs? Take the Starline Tours Movie Stars’ Homes Tour or book a backlot studio tour for behind-the-scenes moviemaking magic. Hire bikes in Santa Monica to explore the beach and the old-school Santa Monica Pier with its carnival games, vintage carousel and aquarium. Then head south to Anaheim for amusement park gold like Disneyland. Looking for a Disney alternative? Knott's Berry Farm is a great option for thrill-seekers (we're taking real roller coasters) and fans of Snoopy and Peanuts (the park's mascots). 

Oahu, HI
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Oahu, HI

There’s no better place to learn to surf than the long rolling breaks of Oahu’s Waikiki Beach, but other family-friendly activities include paddling an authentic outrigger canoe, or learning the graceful movements of hula. Explore the island’s most scenic and historic sights on a Waikiki Trolley tour, and swim with dolphins at Sea Life Park. The secret for families to get the best out of Hawaii is to try to split their time between busy, urban Honolulu and another more laid-back area, like Oahu's north shore or family-friendly Maui.

Chicago, IL
Photograph: Courtesy Visit Chicago

9. Chicago, IL

Chicago is fun to visit with kids year-round, but we'll be honest, it's more fun when it's not in the depths of winter. When the weather isn't frigid, let your kids run wild at the many urban parks and the beach, surrounded by skyscrapers that will wow them. Still, even when it's cold, there's plenty to do, including taking in the view at the top of Willis Tower, shopping along Michigan Ave, and museums like the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. No matter the season, you can't miss indulging in a famous deep-dish pizza.

Yosemite, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Yosemite, CA

Famed for its sweeping valleys, towering granite cliffs, giant sequoias, waterfalls and plethora of wildlife, Yosemite, in California’s Sierra Nevada, is simply awesome. Hiking, swimming, rafting and fishing are just some of the many family activities available in the 1,169-square-mile national park. Reservations for the 13 campgrounds are fiercely competitive and you need to book months in advance, but Curry Village (open April to October) gives you the camping experience without the hassle of set-up in cabins and tented cabins that sleep up to six. For the ultimate family-friendly hotel, check out Rush Creek Lodge which features kids programming, a playground, a heated year-round pool and more. 

Destin, FL
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Destin, FL

Known for its fishing spots and sprawling white sand beaches, Destin is full of family fun in the sun. Kids will love the calm shorelines, especially along Henderson Beach State Park and the shores at Crystal Beach Park and the amusement parks—head to Big Kahuna's for waterslides and a lazy river and Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park to see dolphins and penguins. A boat tour is a must. Destin offers everything from dolphin-spotting excursions and pirate-themed cruises to glass-bottom boats and high-speed racers.

Branson, MO
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Branson, MO

You'll find family-friendly fun without the crowds and the soaring price tag in Branson, MissouriEnjoy classic family fun in the great outdoors, from hiking and biking in Table Rock State Park to kayaking on Lake Taneycomo. Plan to spend some time at Silver Dollar City, too, which offers rides, attractions, shows, and food for families of all ages and interests. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Ozark Mountains and Table Rock Lake, Top of the Rock Ozarks Heritage Preserve features a cave and nature trail, a golf course, a natural history museum, four restaurants, a clifftop wedding chapel, and a Civil War-era cabin. It’s considered one of the best entertainment spots in the state.

Washington, D.C.
Photograph: Courtesy National Museum of Natural History

13. Washington, D.C.

The nation's capital is a perfect destination for a family trip. Let stops along the way bring history lessons to life, from touring the U.S. Capitol and White House to visiting George Washington's in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Best of all, a trip to D.C. won't break the bank: all Smithsonian museums are completely free and could fill up your itinerary alone, from the Air & Space Museum to the National Museum of Natural History

Gatlinburg, TN
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Gatlinburg, TN

Asheville gets a lot of credit for being the 'gateway city' to the Great Smoky Mountains, but Gatlinburg, a mountain town in eastern Tennessee, is actually the closest city to the national park—and it was practically made for families. When you're not exploring the national park, take a ride on the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway to reach the amusement park of the same name. Or, head to Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies to view various marine animals. The area has developed a reputation for vacation kitsch, and there’s a ton of it in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg’s neighbor to the north, where you'll find no shortage of old-time photo booths and believe-it-or-not attractions. 

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