6 Family-Friendly Destinations That Aren’t Disney

See recent posts by Lara Grant

For some families, there's no better destination than Disneyland or Disney World. The costumed characters like Mickey and Snow White, abundance of rides like Space Mountain, and nightly shows mean boredom will not be a factor. But with long lines, expensive admission and dining options, and huge crowds, "The Happiest Place on Earth" definitely isn't for everyone -- especially considering the recent bad press. So for your next family getaway, pick from one of the following six destinations that will appeal to travelers of all ages, no cheesy Mickey ears necessary.

1. Washington, D.C.

Washington Monument, National Mall/Oyster

The capital of the United States has more to offer than just a trip to 1600 Penn. Washington, D.C. is essentially museum central, with over a dozen Smithsonian museums that are open 364 days a year and free. Other unique museums include the International Spy Museum and Newseum, which has a piece of the Berlin Wall. And of course, kids and adults alike will love getting to see some of the most iconic national monuments: the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Plus, though the Smithsonian Zoo has a live panda cam, getting an in-person look at Mei and Bei Bei is undoubtedly more fun.

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2. Flagstaff, Arizona

A hub of activity throughout the year, Flagstaff is a wonderful destination for nature-loving families. The city is located next to Mount Elden, providing excellent climbing and hiking opportunities. Other area activities include horseback riding, viewing Native American ruins at the Wupatki National Monument, and stargazing at the Lowell Observatory. One of the best perks is also the city’s close proximity to the Grand Canyon. Just an 80-minute drive away, families can make a day trip to the South Rim or use Flagstaff as an easy start point for a longer stay at the national park. 

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3. Paradise Island, Bahamas

There’s one word for why the Bahamas are on this list: Atlantis. The megaresort is about as family-friendly as it gets: several pools, dozens of restaurant and bars, a 141-acre Aquaventure with waterslides and river rides, and Dolphin Cay, where guests can swim with dolphins. Sure, it may seem like the Caribbean version of Disney, but there’s plenty more for adults to keep busy, and no characters running about. After a day of snorkeling, splashing, and playing in the sand, parents can hire an in-room babysitter while they enjoy the nightly entertainment and clubs. 

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4. Yellowstone National Park

America’s first national park, Yellowstone was founded in 1872 and has been a popular destination for families since. It’s most well-known feature is Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts around 17 times a day with great predictability. The nearly 3,500-square-mile park is home to a majority of the world’s geysers, and a host of other geological marvels: hot springs, mudpots, and travertine terraces. Also making up the park are 67 species of mammals, 330 species of birds, and a variety of plants; visitors should expect to see bison herds and moose, and possibly bobcats, black bears, and grizzly bears during their trip. There are campsites, cabins, and hotels in and around the park for families to stay. 

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5. Breckenridge, Colorado

If your family loves skiing, sledding, or making snow angels, then a trip to Breckenridge, Colorado is ideal. Situated in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, travelers during the colder months can expect feet of fresh powder on the slopes. During the summer, there’s ample hiking, fishing, and biking to be had. It’s a very walkable city, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and stores to interest visitors of all ages. Sure, it’s a very popular destination with huge crowds during peak seasons, but parents can take comfort in the fact that it’s well-liked for a reason. 

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6. San Diego, California

Two hours south of Disneyland, San Diego is a gorgeous coastal city with numerous attractions for children, teens, and adults. Boasting 70 miles of coastline, the white-sand beaches are lovely, particularly in Coronado. Then there’s the San Diego Zoo, Petco Park for baseball fans, and over a dozen museums in Balboa Park, like the San Diego Air & Space Museum. If anyone in the family is a lego fanatic, a trip to Legoland in Carlsbad is a must as well. Add in the delicious Mexican food, art galleries galore, and beautiful national parks for a must-visit destination. 

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