Personal Finance

10 Family Friendly Vacation Spots

Family on a tropical beach vacationThe family vacation. Is there anything more traditional, more enjoyable, more American, than packing up the whole family and heading out for a week-long vacation at one or more of the myriad destinations of fun and amusement throughout our great country?

With so many places to choose from, the only difficulty you may encounter will be selecting your itinerary for this year’s vacation. Whether it’s taking a road trip or you’re planning on flying cross-country, there are plenty of ideas for picking your next excursion.

We’ve come up with ten that are among the most interesting, exciting, unique, and even educational destinations to consider. The kids likely have their hearts set on checking out some of the big amusement parks while you and your significant other are probably eager to get in some relaxing down-time from the hectic pace of your daily schedule.

Well, you’re in luck, because many of these vacation spots offer plenty of fun and thrills for kids of all ages, while also affording the adults the opportunity to get away from it all without having to subject themselves to the harried chaos of kid-centric activities. However, if you would prefer to partake in such pursuits, then everyone will be happy no matter what.

So before you sit down for that family meeting to discuss where to go for next year’s big getaway, take a look at our ten suggestions for the best family friendly vacation spots that the whole gang will enjoy. Chances are everyone in the family will vote yes to each and every one of them.

1. Grand Canyon

This massive geologic marvel offers a wide array of activities for the whole family to enjoy.  You’ll all be amazed as you take in the majestic view of the canyon’s many rock formations, ridges, and gorges situated throughout its sprawling 277-mile expanse.

Located in Arizona, there is no shortage of things to do in and around the site as you can participate in hiking the canyon’s network of trails, try your hand at kayaking or river rafting along the Colorado River, or just sit back and relax as you take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway. The site is managed by the National Park Service and you’ll find there are a multitude of options for lodging and recreation that are not only a lot of fun but easy on the wallet as well.

Just be warned, however, the Grand Canyon is one of those destinations that everyone wants to try to see in person during their lifetime and so it can get extremely crowded during certain times of the year. The South Rim, where the Grand Canyon Village and the ever-popular Bright Angel Trail are both located, are the two most widely-visited areas of the site.

If you’re looking to stay a bit further from the fray, it can certainly be accomplished, you’ll just need to do a little research as to where you can find some seclusion from the teeming masses. Try the North Rim instead.  This is where the more challenging hiking trails are located and the outdoor camping sites are less populated by tourists and casual hikers out for a stroll through an enduring national landmark.

2. Yosemite National Park

Staying with the outdoorsy theme for the moment, if the Grand Canyon is too touristy for you or the family has already been there before, then you may just want to give Yosemite National Park a try. There you will find some of the most breath-taking vistas ever created as you navigate through 1,200 square miles of rock formations, craggy cliffs, majestic waterfalls, and you can even look out upon Sequoia trees that are hundreds of years old.

Yosemite Valley is the most popular location in the park, spanning just seven square miles and populated with hiking trails and the two most well-known landmarks that are located within, the Half Dome and El Capitan.  These two challenging and awe-inspiring mountainous regions attract hikers and extreme sports enthusiasts from all over the world.

Since these landmarks are so popular, you’re going to find that Yosemite Valley can get a bit crowded, much in the same way as the attractions and amenities located at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Don’t worry, there are still another 750 miles of trails winding through Yosemite so you can find your own little corner of the park to keep away from the throngs. T

here are an endless amount of camping areas to choose from, but if sleeping under the stars isn’t your family’s thing, there are plenty of accommodation options situated surrounding the park. Be advised, though, that lodging reservations fill up quickly.  The earlier you reserve a room (or rooms), the better. With an estimated four million visitors a year making their way to Yosemite, you’ll want to get a jump on next year’s rush now.

disney-world-978134_6403. Disney

No legitimate list of the best family friendly vacation spots would be complete without including Disneyland and/or Walt Disney World, so let’s get that out of the way right now. Your kids have wanted to go for years, chances are you went there when you were their age, and it’s very possible you haven’t been back since then.

Well, what you are you waiting for? This is the year to do it and if you’ve already been to one, then you should really make a plan to visit the other one too. The Disney Experience is unlike any amusement park vacation.  It’s an entire event filled with rides, shows, and attractions to see during the day, and a fun-filled cavalcade of restaurants and shopping after you’ve had your fill of the park at night.

Vacationers can come out to Orlando, Florida or Anaheim, California and buy park tickets while finding lodging in the area.  You can also purchase one of the multitude of Disney resort packages that provide you with lodging situated mere steps from the park itself and plenty to see and do off-site as well. Many of the resort hotels have additional attractions like waterslides and a pool for the kids as well as world-class dining and spas for Mom and Dad.

The Orlando property is the original and offers fun and excitement for the whole family.  The Anaheim park gives you Disneyland and the adjacent California Adventure, both of which have been updated with new Star Wars and Marvel Comics themed rides and attractions. You also get special perks if you book a resort stay with Disney, giving you an extra hour in the park that typical pass-holders can’t access and discounts on shopping and dining in and around the resort and park. If you really like Disney you may want to consider joining the Disney Vacation Club.

4. Washington D.C.

Our nation’s capital may not sound like the first choice for families that are eager to take that long-awaited break from the norm, but it’s a great place to visit that offers lots of fun and educational value to boot. Museums probably aren’t at the top of the younger kids’ lists for vacation destinations and it can be tough to cater to the older kids’ wishes as well, and that’s what makes D.C. such a perfect vacation destination.

The Smithsonian has something for everyone while the Air and Space Museum lets you view aircraft and space vehicles that have actually been to far away places. There’s also the Natural History Museum and other attractions like the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial to help provide your family with a primer on this nation’s rich, storied history.

If the memorials and museums start to feel a little staid, you can jet over to Georgetown or some of the other cool and eclectic neighborhoods in and around the area to check out hip new restaurants, art galleries, and independent boutique shops.

When you’re done there, head back around to see the White House and the Jefferson Memorial. There are even tours available that will bring you through the city on a sightseeing excursion. Driving is a real pain in the neck in D.C., so we urge you to go with public transportation to get from one place to the next. It’s well-organized and widely situated to ensure that you can reach anything and everything on your to-do list while you’re here.

5. San Diego

Maybe you’ve done all of the amusement parks in Southern California. Disneyland is like an old hat and you’ve already conquered Universal Studios and Magic Mountain.

If this is the case, then just hop on the 405 and head south to San Diego, a city that has everything for every member of the family. Once you arrive, the first thing you’ll see is the beautiful Pacific Ocean where you can enjoy some 70 miles of beaches to work on your tan.

If sun and sand aren’t your thing, then you can head over to the world famous San Diego Zoo, one of the biggest and most comprehensive of its kind in the United States. There you’ll find nearly 4,000 animals with over 650 species and subspecies, from lions to tigers to bears and even giraffes and monkeys. They usually have special exhibits and promotions year round as well, so you could find yourself face to face with exotic creatures you’ve never seen before or even roam the park at night.

After the zoo, you can head over to SeaWorld for some wet and wild amusement park fun and interact with aquatic animals and species before hitting one of the park’s exciting rollercoasters. The Gaslamp district is filled with restaurants and shopping and it’s located directly next to Petco Park where you can catch a Padres game. If the NFL is more your speed, hit up Qualcomm Stadium and watch the Chargers play if you happen to be there in the Fall.

If you’re making plans to go to San Diego, it’s nice year round but the summer months attract the biggest crowds.

6. The Strong Museum

What’s that, you’ve never heard of the Strong Museum? It’s only the first of its kind anywhere in the world and a mecca for children both young and old to learn about play. That’s right, it’s a museum devoted to “the history and exploration of play” as the museum’s own site explains.

So what does that all mean exactly? The Strong is a showcase of materials chronicling the history of how we play. Here you’ll find International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, the Woodbury School, and the headquarters of the American Journal of Play, the leading publication celebrating all things related to play.

With a lineup like that including the World Video Game and National Toy halls of fame, you’re bound to keep the kids wowed for hours. Adults like to play games too and walking through the Strong will no doubt evoke memories of your own childhood and the wondrous games and toys that held your imagination when you were the same age as your kids are right now.

At the Strong Museum, they believe that you’re never too old to play. Celebrate your inner child while your own kids see, touch, and of course, play with all of the many exhibits and collections in this exciting look at our history through a prism of fun located in Rochester, N.Y.

7. Out n’ About Treehouse Treesort

Have you ever seen the movie Swiss Family Robinson and thought about how cool it would be to live in a treehouse? If this sounds like you, then you need to head out to Takilma, Oregon and spend a few nights at the Out n’ About Treehouse Treesort. Here you’ll find a collection of eighteen beautiful and elaborate treehouses where you can play and relax for as long as you wish, each one located some 40 feet high in the boughs of trees.

That’s not all you get when you come to this tree sort.  In fact, there is a whole array of fun and exciting things to see and experience, like zip lines, rope swings, swinging bridges, and a huge swimming pool. Take some arts and crafts classes while you’re here, go horseback riding, feed chickens, and you can even have a barbecue at one of the many picnic locations in the area.

If you love the experience so much that you must absolutely build a treehouse in your own backyard when you get home, they offer vocational courses in the engineering, design, and construction methods for building one of your very own. Every class or program, from the treehouse building to horseback riding, is designed to incorporate every member of the family equally.  This way, no matter how old you are, you can still be part of the fun. There’s also a library that holds a wide range of books on, what else, treehouses and the history of the Out n’ About Treesort itself.

8. Hawaii

This range of islands offers a wide variety of activities for the entire family to enjoy.  Each island holds its own unique interest, but for the most fun in the sun for all ages you’ll want to check out Oahu and Honolulu.

The former offers gorgeous landscapes and scenery that have to be seen at least once in your life, while the capital city of Honolulu is the larger urban environment to find the best in shopping and dining.

If anyone in the family surfs, then you won’t find better waves anywhere else in the United States.  If you would rather just sit back, relax and work on your tan, then the beaches throughout the state are beautiful and spacious, punctuated by deep blue water and white sand.

When you’re not catching some rays on the sand, you can go visit the USS Arizona Naval Museum or head on over to ‘Iolani Place, a 10-room historic landmark chronicling the life and times of King Kalakaua and his sister Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last rulers. Keep in mind, however, that while this museum caters to everyone, kids under the age of five are relegated to the basement level of the facility and taking pictures inside the walls is strictly forbidden.

If you’re a foodie, then you’ll want to add Oahu to your must-visit list. While there, be sure to try out the local restaurants for authentic Hawaiian cuisine from some of the world’s most decorated chefs, including Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi.

horses-65610_6409. Williamsburg

This vacation destination has it all, from the colonial to the modern and everything else in between. Walk through the very same streets and buildings that our Founding Fathers once strolled as they were laying the groundwork for this great country of ours.

History buffs in the family will love Colonial Williamsburg where you can mingle with actors re-enacting life from a bygone era as you learn how things were made and people survived in a time long before the age of smartphones and Facebook.

Admittedly, going on vacation shouldn’t feel like being back in school so maybe you spend a day in the Colonial era, then you make your way over to Busch Gardens and conquer their battery of high-tech rollercoasters and thrill rides. Mom and Dad can even check out the spa at some of the local resorts and even get in a round of golf if they so choose.

If you’ve never ridden a ferry before, be sure to check out the Jamestown Ferry which provides a great view of the shoreline along the James River as you move from Jamestown to Scotland located at the southern-most point of the riverbank. Williamsburg truly has something for everyone to enjoy. However, as with most family-friendly destinations, if you visit in the summer months then you can expect to be up against bigger crowds. To avoid the crush, try planning your trip in the Spring or the Fall instead.

10. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Kids love to explore and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has plenty for them to investigate and examine in its range of sand dunes, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers, oak savannas, and woodland forests. The site is run by the National Park Wildlife Service and is located along 15 miles of shoreline along the southern end of Lake Michigan.

This outdoor wonderland provides visitors with ample opportunities for camping, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and even cross country skiing and bird watching. The expanse of trails throughout the site offer varying degrees of challenging terrain for walking and cycling. You’ll want to note, however, that feeding or interacting with wildlife is strictly prohibited as is the use of metal detectors or the collecting of fossils or other items that you may find along your travels.

Depending on what time of year to decide to visit, there are many different educational and recreational programs to teach kids and parents alike about Lake Michigan and the lands and wildlife surrounding it. If spending your entire vacation in the outdoors is a bit too rural for the family and you want to add a little taste of the big city, then you can visit Chicago which is only a short drive away.

Our Final Thoughts

Family vacations can be a challenge to plan effectively. Everyone wants to do and see something different and finding that perfect balance might feel like an impossible dream. These destinations all have many possibilities that can help you achieve the harmony that you want in order to make everyone happy.

There are some other factors to consider when you’re planning your trip. Costs can balloon and quickly get out of control if you’re not careful.  To avoid sticker shock, try to look for the best deals on hotels and airfare by searching travel sites to combine your travel accommodations in one package. Many of these destinations will also require you to make reservations in advance so plan accordingly.

If you’re too late to get the reservations you want for this year, maybe put off this trip to next year so you can do and see the things you really want. Just like any big excursion, planning ahead will definitely save you time and money.

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