Our Favorite Family Vacation Destinations in the U.S.

Disney -- have you heard of it? Of course you have. When it comes to planning a family vacation in the U.S., your mind will most likely wander to the Florida favorite. And why shouldn’t it? After all, it has all the ingredients -- amusement parks, water parks, character-themed resorts, and loads of other kid-friendly amenities -- to entertain your little ones (and keep them off their phones). Well, no offense to Disney, but there are plenty of other domestic destinations that ensure every member of the crew is satisfied, too. To help, our editors shared their favorite multi-generational holiday locations that will not only win the kids over, but also offer a little something special for downtime-deprived grown-ups, too.

Los Angeles

Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles/Oyster

Santa Monica Beach, Los Angeles/Oyster

Los Angeles is an excellent choice for a family vacation with lots of activity options at a range of price points. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood is magical for all ages. There’s also the pier (with a Ferris wheel) and public beach at Santa Monica for swimming, bike rentals, and stand up paddleboarding. Griffith Park has a professional zoo and cute pony rides. Downtown, the Grand Central Market vendors sell everything from egg sandwiches to oysters in a historical landmark building. I’d suggest skipping the touristy Hollywood Walk of Fame, but the celebrity sighting bus tours can be cheesy fun (and less walking for little legs).” — Megan Wood, Editor

Where to Stay:

Cape May

Beach at Sea Crest Inn/Oyster

Beach at Sea Crest Inn/Oyster

“Forget all your preconceived notions of the Jersey Shore because they have no business in Cape May. It’s the antithesis of the debaucherous shore points farther north. Located at the southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May is a family-friendly, Victorian-era seaside town filled with historic homes, quaint B&Bs, and plenty of hotels and summer rentals that are big enough to fit the whole family. The beaches are clean and beautiful, there’s a harbor nearby that’s perfect for water sports, and the pedestrian-only Washington Street is lined with boutiques, antique shops, and both fine and casual dining. When you need a break from the surf, take the kids to one of the many candy shops or ice cream parlors in town (my personal favorite is Uncle Charley’s) as well as the mini-golf courses. Just a short drive west is Cape May Point, where families can explore the lighthouse, a WWII bunker on the beach, and nature trails through the Cape May Wetlands State Natural Area. Adults can sneak in a little grown-up time at a day spa (Congress Hall has a great one) or one of the laid-back bars. If you do want to partake in a quintessential Jersey Shore boardwalk experience, the famous Wildwood boardwalk is less than a 20-minute drive away. It has 38 blocks of (rather divey) shops, eateries, and arcades -- not to mention, three piers filled with amusement park rides. It’s sure to be a fun time, but there’s no better feeling than returning to the calmness of Cape May!” — Stefanie Waldek, Editor

Where to Stay:

Hawaii

Beach at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel/Oyster

Beach at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel/Oyster

Hawaii is a fantastic family destination, with a mix of active pursuits, historical sites, and gorgeous stretches of coastline. From luxury resorts to apartment-style condos, there’s a range of accommodations to suit all tastes and budgets. Plus, there’s essentially no low season, so for the most part, you can always bet on warm temps and sunny days at the beach. For those traveling with toddlers or young children, Kauai or Maui are smart picks. These islands are ideal if your goals are to chill out on the beach and let the little ones play, have some great meals, watch the sun set, and go to bed early. Maui is also a good choice for families with school-age kids or teenagers, although the Big Island and Oahu offer more to entertain the troops.” – Rachel Klein, Editor  

Where to Stay:

Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico/Oyster

Santa Fe, New Mexico/Oyster

“For those seeking culture and food rather than sand and sea for their next family trip, Santa Fe is a terrific choice -- especially for families with older children or teens. The town feels like stepping back in time, thanks to the adobe architecture and rich history. A number buildings in town -- such as the Palace of the Governors, built in 1610 -- date to Spanish Colonial days. A stay here provides a great opportunity for a history lesson for your kids. In addition, Santa Fe has some truly world-class food, a vibrant arts scene, amazing shopping (especially for hand-crafted silver items), and great weather -- plenty of sunshine and mild summers are to be expected. There are also incredible historic Indian sites, like Taos Pueblo and the Puye Cliff Dwellings, close enough for a day trip, and the nearby Sangre de Cristo Mountains provide an opportunity for outdoor pursuits such as hiking. Families who want to be able to walk out the door and experience the best that Santa Fe has to offer should consider a hotel in the town center. The Inn and Spa at Loretto is right on Santa Fe Plaza, and has several room types with two double beds, as well as one- and two-bedroom suites available.” — Kelsey Blodget, Senior Executive Editor 

Where to Stay:

Honolulu, Hawaii

Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village/Oyster

Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village/Oyster

“It may be a favorite among honeymooners, but Honolulu is an excellent family vacation destination for those with little ones that can handle a long plane ride. I went with my parents when I was 13 and the gorgeous water, virgin piña coladas, and hike up Diamond Head remain wonderful and vivid memories. The Aloha spirit and sunny weather will keep parents relaxed, while kids can play in the sand and swim in the calm waters of Waikiki. Plus, a plethora of restaurant and store chains mean mainland conveniences are never far. Day trips to Manoa Falls, the surfer-packed North Shore, and historic Pearl Harbor provide enough activity for those looking to do more than sunbathe and boogie board. Families should cap off the trip with a traditional luau featuring hula dancing and fire performances, which will delight both kids and adults.” — Lara Grant, Associate Editor

Where to Stay:

Finger Lakes

Watkins Glen State Park, Andy Arthur/Flickr

Watkins Glen State Park, Andy Arthur/Flickr

“While the Finger Lakes region isn’t packed with water parks, amusement parks, or big-ticket kid-friendly destinations, it’s a great option for active families. What’s more? It’s the kind of all-American summer destination that actually forces families to enjoy one another’s company. Go for an inner-tube ride behind boats that dock in surprisingly cosmopolitan Ithaca, hike the many waterfalls in the region, splash in shallow coves, and hit up historic sites in cities like Auburn and Watkins Glen. Plus, nearly all of the small towns in the area have some sort of regional carnival or fair during the summer. If the kids are being a bit much, this part of New York is packed with excellent wineries, so parents can take a little edge off -- if you get my drift.” — Kyle Valenta, Editor

Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina

The Omni Grove Park Inn/Oyster

The Omni Grove Park Inn/Oyster

“Without any hesitation, the North Carolina mountains get my vote. Covered with hiking trails, campgrounds, waterfalls, and natural landmarks, the western part of the state has enough attractions to fill an entire summer. You can mine for gem stones, raft easy rapids or whitewater on the French Broad River, and climb to the top of Chimney Rock for miles of unreal mountain views. You can also hike Linville Gorge, shoot down Sliding Rock (a natural waterslide that dumps into a freezing cold water hole -- consider yourself warned!), and drive the spectacular Blue Ridge Parkway. And everyone in your family will be thrilled by something at Biltmore Estate, whether it’s the free wine tastings and grand Chateauesque architecture (you’ll swear you’re seeing a castle in Europe) or the farm animals and horseback rides through the mansion’s surrounding meadows and woods. For a major culture fix, head to the free-spirited, arts-centric city of Asheville. The mountain enclave has more breweries, down-home eateries, live-music venues, and historic sites than you can shake a stick at -- plus a pinball museum, where you can actually play vintage pinball and arcade games like Pac-Man and Asteroids.” — Anne Olivia Bauso, Associate Editor

Where to Stay:

Washington, D.C.

Lincoln Memorial, National Mall, Washington, D.C./Oyster

Lincoln Memorial, National Mall, Washington, D.C./Oyster

Washington, D.C. is like an amusement park for history and culture. The nation’s capital swaps roller coasters and cartoon characters with world-class museums and iconic monuments, disguising an educational experience in a fun and memorable way. With more than a dozen free Smithsonian museums, you’ll have plenty to fill your days with. Kids will especially love The National Air and Space Museum (astronaut ice cream, anyone?), the National Museum of Natural History (giant T. Rex fossils will wow), and the International Spy Museum (think Bond, James Bond). Families will also enjoy visiting the zoo, relaxing in outdoor parks, and snapping pics of legendary landmarks like the White House, Lincoln Memorial, and Washington Monument. What’s in it for the adults, you ask? There are top-notch hotels and lively neighborhoods -- Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Georgetown -- with scores of great shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants that turn breaks from school into a vacation for the whole brood.” — Alisha Prakash, Editor

Where to Stay:

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