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Family-friendly doesn’t mean it’s just for kids. When it comes to summer vacations, for a good time, it’s important to keep everyone in mind from the little ones to the parents and even the grandparents. With so many people looking forward to traveling again this season, the one must is to plan well in advance, booking accommodation, airfare if necessary, and especially car rentals, as soon as you know where you want to go. This list is sure to be the perfect start with everything from spectacular national parks to quintessential beach escapes.
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Located on the central coast of California, Monterey has plenty to offer, including beautiful beaches with tide pools to explore, opportunities for whale watching tours and guided kayaking excursions, scenic bike rides along the coast, and a world-class aquarium. You’ll be perfectly positioned for exploring some fabulous destinations nearby, including Point Lobos State Natural Reserve with coastal trails and marine life. The 25-mile drive to Big Sur is one of the most breathtaking in the country, and here you’ll find Pfeiffer Beach with its purple sands.
A classic family vacation, Yellowstone offers stunning scenery that includes geothermal attractions like rainbow-hued Grand Prismatic Spring, iconic Old Faithful, and the Dragon’s Mouth where it looks like a dragon living inside of a cave, all of which are sure to thrill kids and parents alike. There are endless opportunities for hiking, roaring waterfalls, and of course, abundant wildlife. The park is famously home to countless bison, along with elk, bighorn sheep, bears, and the elusive wolf.
A visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island in Hawaii offers the chance to see active lava flows. The volcanic landscape changes right before your very eyes, with Kilauea volcano one of the world’s most active. Witness the primal process of creation and destruction and hike some 150 miles of trails winding through the rainforest, desert terrain, and even volcanic craters. You can walk through a lava tube, view petroglyphs, and visit the Jaggar Museum which sits right at the edge of Kilauea. After dark, watch the lava lake light up the night’s sky. But that’s not all, you’ll find plenty of beaches nearby for sunbathing and fun in the water, including snorkeling.
Denver offers a ton of fun right in the city while the Rocky Mountains are only about an hour’s drive away. Enjoy a mix of outdoor adventure and attractions like the Denver Zoo, Elitch Gardens Theme Park with its thrill rides, and the fascinating Denver Museum of Nature and Science. In the summer, you can catch a Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Field and any time of the year, the 16th Street Mall is a great place to shop. In between, plan a day trip to the mountains where you can hike or bike among the magnificent scenery.
Williamsburg offers an ideal destination for learning about American history in a much more entertaining way than reading from a textbook. Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and the Yorktown Battlefield are like a living museum where you can step back in time and take part in hands-on activities from the 18th-century. There are over 40 different sites, two museums, and a wealth of activities at Colonial Williamsburg, with reenactors revealing what life was like during the period. Experience the start of the American Revolution and even join the troops while they march toward Yorktown. Mix things up by heading to Busch Gardens or Water Country USA in between historical exploits.
Cape Cod offers the quintessential New England beach vacation with beautiful stretches of sand, whale watching cruises, mouthwatering lobster rolls, and ice cream, and opportunities to catch a Cape Cod Baseball League game. Families who love Shark Week will want to head to the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Chatham with opportunities to learn about the great white shark through interactive exhibits and videos, or even shadow the experts as they research. Four-wheeling on the beach is a favorite pastime here and Nauset Beach in Orleans offers off-road adventures through the dunes.
San Diego may be the perfect place for enjoying city attractions and time at the beach, with 70 miles of dreamy coastline. There are tide pools and small, gentle waves at La Jolla Shores ideal for the little ones, while older kids and teens can take surfing lessons in the water that edges glistening Coronado Beach. Shell Beach is a great spot for watching sea lions and seals or hop on a whale-watching boat tour, while Balboa Park hosts nearly 20 museums and the world-famous San Diego Zoo.
The Outer Banks offers a peaceful beach vacation with lots to do. No matter where you stay here, with Highway 12 linking this stretch of barrier islands, you’ll never be far from a sandy beach. There are opportunities for surfing and kiteboarding, and you can learn about maritime history, including stories of shipwrecks and the infamous pirate Blackbeard, at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. In Kitty Hawk, walk up the hill to the spot where the Wright Brothers flew. There are multiple lighthouses along the coast where you can climb to the top and take in a fabulous view and plenty of family-friendly eateries throughout when hunger pangs hit.
Ocean City is jam-packed with attractions. The barrier island with the bay to the west and the ocean to the east offers sandy beaches and boardwalk amusements that stretch for three miles. It’s a focus for families who vacation here with rides like the original 1902 carousel, games, shops, and eateries. Enjoy mini-golf, go-karts, and restaurants that serve the state’s famous blue crabs.
Jackson makes an ideal base for exploring the Mount Washington region of New Hampshire. Nestled in the White Mountains, here you can take the Cog Railway to the summit of Mount Washington for jaw-dropping views from the highest peak in New England. There are endless opportunities for hiking, biking, and paddling, while the town of Jackson itself is one of the prettiest in the area with its streets lined with historic buildings and homes. Don’t miss a visit to Jackson Falls along the Wildcat River, and if you’re up for a horseback ride, head to Black Mountain.
Maui’s postcard-perfect beaches frequently rank among the best in the world, including stretches like Makena. It’s ideal for families who want to snorkel, with opportunities to take boat tours to Molokini Crater and Turtle Town for swimming with sea turtles. At Maui Ocean Center, the kids will be thrilled to feed sea turtles and sharks. You can even head 100 feet down underwater with an excursion on the Atlantis Submarine and rise early to watch a sunrise from the summit of Haleakala volcano. The Old Lahaina Luau is a must for delving into culture. It includes a Polynesian feast and a fire dancer performance.
Jackson Hole is renowned for its world-class skiing, but during the warmer months, families can enjoy rafting, horseback riding, hiking, biking, outdoor concerts, the Grand Adventure Park, and, nearby Grand Teton National Park with its dramatic mountain scenery and abundant wildlife. A float on the Snake River is sure to be a thrill and along the banks, you might spot moose and other wildlife. In the town of Jackson, stroll the wooden sidewalks, take in Wild West entertainment, shop, dine and more.
The town of Hershey, originally Derry Church but renamed in 1906 due to the popularity of its chocolate, is often referred to as the “Sweetest Place on Earth.” Anyone with a sweet tooth will love it here but there’s a lot more to do than eat chocolate. Of course, you’ll have to have a taste and you can do that at Hershey’s Chocolate World among many other venues, while the Hershey Story Museum reveals the history behind the famous brand. At Hershey Park, ride heart-pounding roller coasters and enjoy all sorts of other thrills, with 76 rides and water attractions.
“The Waterpark Capital of the World,” Wisconsin Dells is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the Midwest, especially ideal in the summer with the opportunity to cool off at countless water parks. Highlights include the Mt. Olympus Water plus Theme Park and Noah’s Ark Waterpark, which offers a practically overwhelming array of aquatic rides, with two wave pools, a surfing simulator, and 51 slides. Scorpion’s Tail is a favorite with those looking for big thrills in the water, propelling riders down a nearly vertical slide into an inclined loop. This area is also renowned for its steep, scenic bluffs that edge rivers ideal for cruising.
There are a ton of things for families to do in the Black Hills, from visiting Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument to historic steam train rides and exploring Custer State Park. Located in the heart of the hills, it covers 71,000 acres with forested hills, sparkling lakes, and lush meadows. Wildlife is abundant with the chance to spot bison, wild burros, eagles, pronghorn, deer, wild turkey, and prairie dogs. Sylvan Lake is the crown jewel, with a swimming beach and watercraft rentals, including canoes and paddle boats. Don’t miss a drive on scenic Needles Highway to view the remarkable needle-like rock formations.