When considering your next family vacation, a lot of emotions can come over you. Excitement, stress (lots of stress), and happiness at the thought of spending time with your family. It is important to pick a vacation spot that everyone in your family will enjoy, which can be difficult depending on your children’s ages and interests.
Many families are opting for vacations that have an education element to them, which has become a very popular option over the years. According to a CBS News article from 2007, 32% of travelers were planning to include educational activities into their vacation plans in 2008, which was up from 25% the year before. I can only imagine what the percentage is now.
Many parents feel that a vacation is another opportunity for learning. This fast growing travel option is gaining popularity as parents look for more ways to combine their love of travel with a chance to make teachable moments.
Parents have also let their kids become more involved in making vacation plans with 60% of parents letting the children have some say in where they go, according to Homeaway.com. They also reported that children in the U.S. want a vacation that includes adventure and the opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t get to do at home.
Children can learn anywhere, especially if it is an environment that is new to your child, and he is introduced to something he has not experienced or seen before. You can either choose a place like a museum or a zoo that will be filled with learning opportunities, or you can research specific sites to explore in a particular city or region giving yourself enough chance to enjoy learning experiences as well as relax while you are on your vacation. Living history sites may not seem as relaxing, but they will keep your children occupied and happy throughout your trip.
When you combine your vacation with educational elements, your family is not only getting a fun getaway, but you are broadening your children’s horizons and allowing them to learn something that won’t see at home or at school. There are several types of educational vacation formats:
• Museum or historic sites have an informal learning format where families can come and see artifacts and exhibits
• Camps or resorts that provide enrichment programs where participants get to try something new
• National Park offer visitors the change to learn about wildlife, geology, and the environment
• City visits can be eye openers for young children, and families can immerse themselves in art, culture, science, and history in a short period of time.
• Historic destinations and living history museums like Colonial Williamsburg can give families a fun way to get hands-on learning while being educated about life in another time
• Interest-based travel is used if there is a special interest like dinosaurs, horses, and outdoor sports
The methodology that I used to write this article was to search through educational vacation ideas that represented the six different formats listed above. Specifically, I wanted to include ideas in each format that could be found all around the country, so that they were spread out enough to interest as many people as possible.
I also wanted to choose a lot of different types of trips that would appeal to families with varied interests and economic backgrounds. Some families are very into camping, and national parks and I tried to include the most iconic of these as well as a few that I was surprised to find were a part of the national park system. I also wanted to make sure that the museums on the list were also varied and that they weren’t all focused on our Founding Fathers.
My favorite part was searching the interest-based travel ideas, and I was amazed at the many locations that had specifically designed camps for families like Space Camp and Dino-Dig. There were several destinations that appeal to outdoor loving families as well as many ideas that are easier for families with children with disabilities like children’s museums, zoos, and aquariums.
As I was doing my research, I found that the top destinations for educational vacations include:
• National Parks
• Children’s Museums
• Historical Monuments and Sites
• Theme Parks
The one destination I did not include is theme parks as I wanted to focus on some less obvious and out of the way spots that could get overlooked otherwise. Theme parks are really not your first thought for learning, but many theme parks do incorporate some educations aspects, and you can always learn about engineering and physics as you are roaring down the tracks of a roller coaster.
I also listed certain activities that I hoped might stimulate creativity in your travel plans and, even if that location may be nowhere near where you live or plan to travel, it might inspire you to see if there is something like it close by, or would get your creative juices flowing so you would be encouraged to look for other out of the box ideas. Good luck with your planning and I hope you have a somewhat restful, but fun-filled and educational vacation.
1. Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts
One of the best vacations you can take is to reinforce something your kids have already learned. Every child learns about the Mayflower and Plimoth Rock, so they will be super excited to go and see it for themselves. This is a great opportunity to show your kids how the pilgrims and the Native Americans lived, and you are even able to go on board the Mayflower II that is an exact replica of the 1620 Mayflower.
Kids can also visit the Wampanoag Indians that lived near the pilgrims and learn about their traditional arts and crafts. If you happen to visit on Thanksgiving, visitors are invited to join in the traditional Thanksgiving dinner the feature to celebrate the original meal.
You can learn more the Plimouth Plantation here.
2. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
All children learn the story of Harriet Tubman and runaway slaves. At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, children will hear other stories of fugitive slaves as they escaped slavery and headed north for freedom. The Freedom Center also presents the stories of those individuals that helped the fugitive slaves on their journey north and illustrates how dangerous and illegal it was to do this.
One fun family activity that is featured at the Freedom Center is the ability to research your family lineage onsite. Families can get a free copy of their family tree and get personalized help with their research. The Freedom Center also documents the continued work being done today to help people attain freedom in their exhibits “Everyday Freedom Heroes” and “Invisible Slavery Today.”
You can learn more about the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center here.
3. Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California
Over 35,000 animals and plants are found inside a sardine-cannery-like building in Monterey, California. Almost 200 exhibits fill up the aquarium using all of the kid-friendly features they could think of including light-up buttons, touchable, flip books, and slide-up panels. The signs are even interactive and written with rhythm and rhyme making them tons of fun to read aloud.
Kids especially love the 7,000 square foot Splash Zone that houses over 30 hands-on features for kids under 9 years old. Children of all ages will have fun using squirt toys to learn how to resist a crashing wave, crawl through tunnels with tropical fish, or use underwater video cameras to steer through wetlands and tidal pools. There are also four touch pools for exploratory fun, projects to make using scrapbooks and crayon rubbings, costumes to try on, small microscopes to examine specimens, and a special mirror that lets you see yourself as a hairy-nosed otter.
You can learn more about Monterey Bay Aquarium here.
4. Mount Vernon and Monticello, Charlottesville, VA
Visiting the homes of Presidents is a time-honored family vacation tradition. When you visit Charlottesville, VA, you have the opportunity to visit the homes of both President George Washington and President Thomas Jefferson. Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation on the Potomac River includes his mansion, reconstructed slave quarters, his burial tomb, a working blacksmith shop, a demonstration farm, plus eleven video presentations and an immersion theater where it will actually snow on you.
Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s beloved home and plantation where you can see the first floor of his home, tour several exhibits, walk the expansive gardens, and tour Mulberry Row where exhibits and reconstructed buildings tell the story of those that lived and worked at Monticello. Children will also enjoy the Mountaintop Hands-On Activity Center and the Griffin Discovery Room. And, if you haven’t gotten enough of our Founding Fathers, the home of James Madison is only thirty minutes away in Montpelier and James Monroe’s home, AshLawn Highland, is also close by.
You can learn more about Mount Vernon and Monticello here.
5. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Known as the largest children’s museum in the country, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis covers 472,900 square feet and features an exhibit of China’s Terra Cotta Warriors and of pirate Captain Kidd’s shipwreck. It is also home to the National Geographic Treasures of the Earth exhibit that allows children to inspect three major archaeology excavations.
Interactive tools let kids decipher hieroglyphics and dig for fragments of clay while the Dinosphere exhibit allows children to examine dinosaur fossils including a teenage Tyrannosaurus Rex and a baby dinosaur that is still curled in its nest. For older children, there is a moving exhibit that describes the lives of three different children, Ryan White, Anne Frank, and Ruby Bridges, who changed the world despite the prejudice that they all faced. Foreign cultures are also explored with an exhibit depicting the clothing, food, art, and traditions of cultures all over the world.
You can learn more about the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis here.
6. Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Omaha, Nebraska
Who knew that one of the county’s coolest zoos was in Omaha? It features the world’s largest indoor desert, replicas of the deserts in Australis, Africa, and the southwest U.S., that is housed under a 13-story geodesic dome that includes cobras, meerkats, and peccaries. In contrast, there is also a tropical rainforest replica of South America and Asia’s Lied Jungle where visitors will see macaws fly by, monkeys swinging in the trees and tapirs and pygmy hippos roaming the waterfalls and rope bridges.
Other incredible exhibits include the world’s largest nocturnal animal exhibit with bats and giant salamanders, a Madagascar exhibit with lemurs and giant jumping rats, and open air habitats where orangutans and gorillas prowl. A 14,000-square-foot Butterfly & Insect Pavilion also features 20 to 30 butterfly species for children of all ages to delight in.
You can learn more about the Henry Doorly Zoo here.
7. Washington, D.C.
When you can’t narrow down a few things to put on this list from one city, it’s just easier to include the whole city. Washington, D.C. is the perfect family vacation, especially for older children, where you can learn about history, politics, government, and tour many amazing museums. Not only can they visit the U.S. Capitol and see where bills and laws are made, but they can also visit the U.S. Supreme Court and see the justices hear and vote on important national cases.
Make sure to take a trip to the National Archives and Records Administration where you can see the original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. There are is also the National Mall, the White House, the National Monuments, and the Lincoln Memorial to name a few other stops that should be included on your list.
And then there are the Smithsonian Museums that include so many different topics, you may need several trips to see them all. There are nineteen museums including air and space, American history, arts and industries, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum, plus don’t miss the National Zoo.
You can learn more about the Washington, D.C. area here.
8. Grand Canyon National Park
Do you remember the Brady Bunch episode when they went to the Grand Canyon? That episode epitomized this vacation destination as the iconic trip that hundreds of thousands of families have made over the years. It is the first National Park entry on our list, and it is one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world as well. This geographic wonder will not only awe the kids, but it will give them an opportunity to learn about nature and geology.
The most accessible part of the Grand Canyon is the South Rim where you can easily bicycle or walk along the Desert View Drive, and you can learn about the canyon’s history and geology on a cell phone tour along the trail. There are also shuttles and private bus tours that will take you to scenic overlooks like the 75-foot-high Desert View Watchtower for fabulous panoramic views of the canyon.
If you have older children, the classic mule ride deep into the canyon can either be done in a day or you can stay overnight at the Phantom Ranch. The western end of the canyon features the Skywalk where you can walk on a glass floor 4,000 feet above the canyon floor for an unforgettable experience. Teens will also enjoy the opportunity go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River through the Canyon.
You can learn more about the Grand Canyon National Park here.
9. Space Camp & Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama
For those families that enjoy rockets, space, and engineering, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is a must see. This is a world-renowned museum in Huntsville, Alabama that features exhibits with all kinds of ways that children can learn about NASA’s achievements in space. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is also home to the world’s largest space attraction, the Saturn V which hangs ten feet above the floor in the Davidson Center.
Dozens of interactive activities fill the museum including the Olympus Mons Climbing Wall, the Mission to Mars Simulator, and the Spacedome IMAX Theater. Outside exhibits offer an opportunity to ride on the Space Shot and the G-Force Accelerator which gives visitors an idea of the physical impact astronauts experience when they are in space. Most exhibits are geared for older children, but little ones will enjoy dedicated play spaces just for them. This is also home to Space Camp where kids and parents can enjoy a weekend or three- and four-day family camp experiences about space.
You can learn more about Rocket Center here.
10. Brooklyn Children’s Museum
The first museum to open just for children, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum opened its doors in 1899, and it includes an incredible collection of objects from around the world. Over 30,000 objects are on a rotating display that can also be searched online. Objects include an elephant skeleton, minerals, shark’s teeth, and Indonesian shadow puppets.
Children can also enjoy examples of New York’s multiculturalism by celebrating the Chinese New Year, dancing to Russian ballet, making a pizza, observing Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and creating their own Caribbean Carnival costume. There is also a nature exhibit that lets children explore the city’s different habitats including the beach and woodland areas while babies and toddlers enjoy a padded play space. One of the best features of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum is a special room for children with autism where they can explore their senses in a setting especially designed for them.
You can learn more about the Brooklyn Children’s Museum here.
11. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
The next national park on our list is the Carlsbad Caverns National Park that is home to a huge system of over 117 underground caves and tunnels. This park is all underground and features the Big Room that is a 14-acre chamber located 750 feet underground of pale limestone. Younger children will enjoy the elevator ride to the Big Room while older kids will delight in the one-mile path that takes you to even more underground rooms.
Here, kids will learn the meaning behind the words “stalagmites” and “stalactites”. If you visit in the summer, you will also see almost a half-million Mexican free-tail bats that fly out above the desert at sunset to search for insects. Evenings also bring an opportunity to enjoy a Star Party where kids and parents alike can view the beauty of the night sky.
You can learn more about Carlsbad Caverns National Park here.
12. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
If you are a family that enjoys history, the nation’s largest living history museum is must for your vacation list. Colonial Williamsburg is a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse of 18th-century life in Virginia during the time when the colonies in America were forming. Visitors can roam the streets of Colonial Williamsburg where they will see costumed characters working in their shops, walking through the streets, and reenacting day to day life as well as important battles.
This is a multiple-day destination with events taking place in both the day and night. This is an entire town that is dedicated to the history and depicting the life of those that lived in the colonies hundreds of years ago.
You can learn more about Colonial Williamsburg here.
13. San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo has long been known as one of the best zoos for kids. It was a pioneer for innovative exhibits that was the first to use open settings and moats for the over 4,000 animals that call the zoo home.
Exhibit features include the Elephant Odyssey that includes elephants, jaguars, and lions in marshy wetlands, the Lost Forest that features tigers, gorillas, and hippos in open meadows amid waterfalls, and the Australian Outback where they house the largest koala colony outside of Australia.
Kids and toddlers will enjoy weekend talks, and animal encounters with Sichuan takins and Galapagos tortoises. The 2,200-acre Safari Park lets families watch herds of gazelles, rhinos and zebras roam, and Discovery Station allows visitors the opportunity to pet deer and antelopes.
You can learn more about the San Diego Zoo here.
14. Soldier Field
Sports fans will enjoy a pilgrimage to one of the oldest football stadiums in the country. Since 1924, Soldier Field has been home to football, but it wasn’t until 1971 that it became home to the Chicago Bears. It is always fun to root for your favorite team from the stands, but it is also a lot of fun to get a behind the scenes look at the locker rooms and skyline suites.
Tours at Soldier Field will give you a glimpse of jerseys worn by famous players throughout the history of the NFL, the Doughboy Statue that was placed at Soldier Field to honor the World War I veterans, the South Courtyard, the grand concourse, and the impressive Colonnades event space. Most importantly, visitors are allowed out on the field to get a feeling of what it is like to play in the NFL.
You can learn more about Soldier Field here.
15. National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y.
Another fun trip for the family that enjoys sports is a trip to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. This is a museum that celebrates America’s favorite pastime which has been around since the 1800’s, and this is a great opportunity to learn more about the history of the game as well as some of the baseball greats like Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth.
The Baseball Hall of Fame can tell the story of baseball with over 500,000 photographs and 40,000 artifacts that show how the game has evolved. Exhibits include the game-changing era of women’s baseball including uniforms that were worn by women in the 1940’s, relive memorable moments from World Series games, and see life-size photos of many of the famous players. Smaller children will enjoy the Sandlot Kids’ Clubhouse that includes baseball movies like “Curious George Plays Baseball,” and dress up area full of old fashioned baseball uniforms.
You can learn more about the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum here.
16. Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site, Atlanta, Georgia
The next national park on our list is the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site located in Atlanta, Georgia. This location is made up of several sites including The King Center, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, his Birth Home, and the Visitor Center. Families will enjoy seeing the many exhibits that document Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equal civil rights for all U.S. residents.
Children will enjoy the interactive exhibit “Children of Courage” in the Visitor Center which depicts the story of children during the Civil Rights Movement in a way that helps children relate to their struggle. There are also other exhibits that detail Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and career as well as the advancement of the Civil Rights Movement.
You can learn more about the Martin Luther King, JR. Historic Site here.
17. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Glen Arbor, Michigan
There are a ton of national parks out there that are off the beaten path and are totally worth a visit. Among them is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Glen Arbor, Michigan. The big draw at Sleep Bear Dunes is the huge sand dunes that give the park its name and encourage tons of families to stay every year. The one experience kids of all ages must try is the “dune climb” and the trip back down.
Besides hanging out in the water, other activities include fishing, camping, hiking, and biking. Nearby Glen Haven General Store will help you will any camping necessities that you forgot, and, if you visit in August, a trip to the Port Oneida Fair will take you back to life in the 1880’s with soap, butter, and candle making for kids to try.
You can learn more about the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore here.
18. Bristol Renaissance Faire, Kenosha, Wisconsin
Most children dream of being a princess or a knight and often play out these roles in dress up and play time. The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin allows children the opportunity to play these roles for a day in the recreated town of Bristol in the year 1574. The fair includes over 200 artisans and crafters, delicious food, rides, games, music, and dancing.
Children will enjoy participating in “Kids Quests” while allowing five to11-year-olds the opportunity play out a live-action fantasy game that includes quests to defeat evil villains. Other kid activities include magic shows, tea parties, toy ship sailing, storytelling, pike drills, and Bristol’s Kids Kingdom that is a playground that includes a giant sandbox, crafts, a pirate ship and its own theater. Queen Elizabeth even makes an appearance to hail all the children, ladies, and lords.
You can learn more about the Bristol Renaissance Faire here.
19. Caretta Research Project, Wassaw Island, Georgia
If you enjoy a beach vacation and also want to help out the local wildlife, head to Wassaw Island, GA where your family can work with the Caretta Research Project and help save the sea turtles. Caretta Research Projects gives families an opportunity to learn about the environment and spend time together while monitoring and protecting the nests of loggerhead sea turtles at the Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge.
An unforgettable hands-on experience for children of all ages, volunteers help collect data and watch over the turtles and their eggs while learning about this threatened species. Your family can also enjoy the beach and wonderful ocean views, and, if you are lucky, you might even get to see baby sea turtles hatch from their nest.
You can learn more about Caretta Research Project here.
20. Yosemite National Park
Our next iconic family vacation spot is the Yosemite National Park. For those families that love outdoor activities, Yosemite National Park is a year-round vacation spot where you can enjoy cross-country skiing and ice skating in the winter and camping and hiking the many granite cliffs and domes that grace the landscape.
Included in this national park is the world renowned El Cap that is a must visit for any rock climber, the beautiful wildflowers that saturate the Tuolumne Meadows, and the opportunity to see 200 foot high sequoias in the Mariposa Grove. Hiking up Upper Yosemite Falls is a great day trip, and your kids will have the opportunity to sign up to be a Junior Ranger or Little Cub.
You can learn more about Yosemite National Park here.
21. LEGOLAND, Carlsbad, California and Orlando, Florida
One of those ubiquitous toys that grace almost every child’s toy box is the Lego. With theme parks in both California and Florida, children have the opportunity to have fun with Legos in a way that inspires the budding architects and engineers inside them.
Lego-based rides, activities, and exhibits fill the theme park with endless fun for Lego enthusiasts. Each park has different themed areas including Dino Island, SEA LIFE Aquarium, Ninjago World, Castle Hill, and water parks at each theme park. This is a great theme park for the entire family, but has more activities for the younger visitors.
Activities that stimulate children’s creativity include building contests and building workshops. Other park features include a Duplo section for toddlers, a Lego Friends area, and a Star Wars exhibit.
You can learn more about LegoLand here.
22. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana border
The nation’s first national park is located on the Wyoming-Montana border. Yellowstone National Park is home to Old Faithful, one of the many geysers you will find throughout the park. Take a spin with the family on the popular loop road and get up close to elk, moose, and buffalo, or hike out on your own in Hayden Valley where you can see wildlife in their natural habitat way off the beaten path.
Fishing is another favorite pastime with trout swimming in some of the clearest water you will ever see. Kids will enjoy becoming a Young Scientists that comes with an interactive, hands-on activity booklet. It is available in the visitors’ center for $5 and when the kids have finished the booklet, they get an awesome souvenir.
You can learn more about Yellowstone National Park here.
23. Philadelphia – The City of Brotherly Love
Philadelphia is another city on our list that has so many places to visit; the entire city just needs to be listed. The City of Philadelphia plays host to many of our country’s firsts including Carpenters’ Hall where the First Continental Congress met and Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed. Pennsylvania Hospital, the country’s first hospital founded by Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. Mint, and the Liberty Bell Center are also all found in Philadelphia.
Your first stop should be a visit to Independence Visitor Center to pick up information on all the city’s history and culture. You can also pick up the AudioWalk and Tour which is a 74-minute walking tour that narrates the historic sites of the city as well as parts of Society Hill.
You can learn more about the City of Philadelphia here.
24. Old World Wisconsin
For a different take on a living history museum, Old World Wisconsin tells the story of the European immigrants that made their way to the Midwest to start their farms. At the Crossroads Village, families can visit the general store and see blacksmiths at work. Kids can also visit the one-room schoolhouse, try out old-fashioned games, and see what chores were like for kids way back when.
Visitors also visit farmsteads that feature German, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Polish farming techniques and food preparations. These immigrants brought their Old World food, crafts, and traditions with them to America, and they are all demonstrated here at the different farmsteads. Each farm will give you a sense of what it was truly like to be a farmer in the 1800’s and starting out a new life in a new world.
You can learn more about Old World Wisconsin here.
25. Space Needle/City of Seattle
An iconic city symbol, the Space Needle is 605 feet high, and it was the symbol of the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. The futuristic design of the space needle was part of the fair’s theme of “Century 21.”
The Space Needle is now the top tourist destination in Seattle, and it is a well-known emblem of Seattle. Visiting the Space Needle is a great way to learn about architecture, engineering, and the history of the area, plus it’s not often you get to see an existing piece of World Fair memorabilia.
Tickets are required to reach the observation deck, but a 43-second elevator ride will take you quickly up the 520 feet where you will get a 360-degree view of Seattle. You can also eat at the SkyCity Restaurant that revolves around the Space Needle 500 feet in the air.
You can learn more about the Space Needle here.
26. Wisconsin State Fair
Who doesn’t have fond memories of fairs when they were a kid? State Fairs are extra special as they are large centers of food, fun, animals, and music. The Wisconsin State Fairs is an affordable option for families to have fun with a non-stop schedule of musical acts that is included with admission featuring rock, pop, country, and contemporary Christian music. Other entertainment includes comedians, magicians, and acrobats.
Families will enjoy the Sky Glider, the Giant Slide, and the Ag Oasis that features musical and drama performances with 4H style revues. In the Fair’s amusement ride area, over fifty rides are featured with tons of games to play.
There are opportunities to learn about agriculture and farming at every turn. The many barns feature hundreds of animals including cows, horses, rabbits, pigs, and chickens. Children will learn about the many different breeds for each type of animal and see how they are judged on stage.
You can learn more about the Wisconsin State Fair here.
27. Austin City Limits Music Festival – Austin, Texas
Music festivals are not only fun for adults, but they can be fun for kids too. The Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, Texas not only includes music, markets, and food, but they also feature an area just for kids. Held in September and early October, this annual festival is held on two different weekends and features The Austin Kiddie Limits for children 10 and under that helps children learn the fundamentals of music.
Kid’s activities include karaoke, a hip hop workshop, fake tattoos, and rock star hairdos. Children are able to build basic music skills as they learn songs from different genres and develop their own singing talents.
You can learn more about the Austin City Limits Music Festival here.
28. Cape Hatteras National Seashore – Outer Banks, North Carolina
One popular vacation spot that families go back to each year is the Outer Bank of North Carolina. Not only is it a great beach spot, but families can also spend time at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Families will enjoy over 70 miles of shoreline with pristine beaches, boat tours, and water sports.
There are several towns and beaches along the seashore to add some extra fun to your vacation. Plus, the kids will love a visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial and The Lost Colony which is a show that reenacts the events of the first English settlement in the U.S.
You can learn more about the Cape Hatteras National Seashore here.
29. The Freedom Trail, Boston, Massachusetts
If your family loves history and actually wants to walk in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers, the Freedom Trail in Boston will do just that. This is a 2.5-mile route that leads you to 16 different historical sites and guides you through the city’s rich history. Included on the route is Boston Common, home to the site of the Boston Massacre, Bunker Hill, the USS Constitution, and Paul Revere’s House.
Around fourth grade, all children learn about taxation without representation, the Boston Tea Party, and the first shots that were fired at Lexington and Concord. This is a great opportunity to reinforce what they have been taught by picking up the route map at the Boston Common Visitor Information Center. The map lists individual sites that are open year round, but it is always a good idea to double check on their fees and hours of operation when you plan your excursion.
You can learn more about The Freedom Trail here.
30. Golden Gardens Park – Seattle, Washington
As we have included several national parks, it is only fair to offer a few state parks that might not be your first thought to visit. Although most people think it rains all the time, Seattle summers can be quite fabulous, and the Golden Gardens Park can offer you a vacation like you have never experienced before.
It is a little bit hidden in Puget Sound, but Golden Gardens Park can be found on a very quiet stretch of beach with calm waters, shaded picnic tables with grills, restrooms, and a playground. You can spend the day hiking through the woods and then finish it off around a fire pit enjoying a gorgeous sunset.
You can learn more about Golden Gardens Park here.
31. Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park features the Avenue of the Giants which is a 32-mile section of road that takes you through 17,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest. Don’t forget you don’t have to stay in your car; you are encouraged to get out and take a hike. There are several trails along the Avenue of Giants to get out and walk to give you a closer look at these gargantuan trees.
Redwoods are covered in a shaggy bark, and their trunks are the size of a truck. It is nearly impossible to see the tops of these trees, but at the Drury-Chaney Grove you can climb up on top of a fallen redwood and walk at least 100 yards along that tree while standing 15 feet in the air. Their massive size is just mind-blowing, and at Myers Flat you can also drive your car right through the roots of one redwood called the Drive-Thru Tree where many visitors have stopped to take to an iconic redwood photo.
You can learn more about Redwood National Park here.
32. San Francisco River Outfitters
For adventurous families, traveling the half-million acre Gila Wilderness on horseback and sleeping out under the stars is a fabulous vacation idea. The Gila Wilderness is close to the border of Arizona in the southwestern part of New Mexico. San Francisco River Outfitters lead pack trips across the desolate country where campers will see 10,000-foot peaks towers, vastly eroded canyons, and miles and miles of lonely river.
This is the territory where Geronimo led Apache raids against the early settlers and large herds of elk and sheep, black bear, and mountain lions once roamed. Riding along the trail on a quarter horse, you’ll see vast sections of tall saguaros and ponderosa pines and an immense amount of stars at night. Included in the trip are camping equipment, horses, and hardy steak dinners all for an affordable price.
You can learn more about the San Francisco River area here.
33. Lake George, The Adirondacks
More adventure is waiting at Lake George in the Adirondacks. Here you will find a 31-mile long that is similar to a river that is narrow and edged in by the Adirondack peaks. There you will see the landscape that was painted by Georgia O’Keeffe and the best way to see it all is from the water.
The Sagamore, a classic Adirondack resort, has been around for over a century has sea kayaks and paddleboards for rent. When you paddle out past the open waters, you will find Dome Island, a round wooded area, in the middle of the lake with a fabulous view of pristine forest creating a beautiful mountain silhouette against the sky.
You can learn more about the Lake George area here.
34. Emandal, a Farm on a River, Willits, California
Have you ever thought about going to summer camp with your kids? Family camp is a great way to spend time with your kids in a unique setting. The Emandal Farm is an educational camp experience that teaches kids where their food comes from. Located on the Eel River, all the produce that the campers eat is grown locally, and campers are encouraged to join in with the farm work collecting eggs, harvesting vegetables, and milking cows.
When the work is all finished for the day, you can relax on the river in an inner tube, count the night stars, or sleep away the afternoon in a hammock. Guest lodgings are all private cabins with running water and private bathrooms.
You can learn more about the Emandal Farm here.
35. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia
The world’s largest aquarium is found in Atlanta, Georgia and is home to 8 million gallons of water and tons of habitats and sea life. Found across the street from Centennial Olympic Park, this 550,000-square-foot complex has a food court, two gift shops, several touch pools, including one with rays, sea urchins, and bonnethead sharks.
The largest exhibit, Ocean Voyager, has over 60,000 animals that include the only whale sharks in the country. A 100-foot-long tunnel allows families to view sea life while they surround visitors on three sides and contain a floor-to-ceiling window. Kids will also enjoy a touch-screen wall where they can learn more about the digital fish that are swimming by and pop-up windows where children of all ages can get a closer look at piranhas and penguins. And, of course, don’t forget the playground with the whale slide, rubber floor, and many crawl tubes.
You can learn more about the Georgia Aquarium here.
36. New York City
New York City has way too many places to list individually. How can you include some but not others? It was much easier to list the whole city and mention certain locations as don’t miss features like Central Park, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and the Empire State Building.
If your family is into museums, you won’t be bored in New York where you can visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. When you are tired from all the cultural, you can grab a slice of pizza or have a sundae at Serendipity.
And, nothing says amazing family vacation than taking in a Broadway Show. Not only do your children get to experience the excitement of New York City and theater life, but they can see the indescribable “The Lion King” on Broadway. The visual effects will amaze both children and parents alike and everyone will enjoy the incredible retelling of one of their favorite Disney movies.
You can learn more about NYC Tourisim here.
37. Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, Arco, Idaho
If you family is into things that may be a little weird, the National Park Service calls the Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve “the only officially weird park” in the country. The landscape was formed almost 15,000 years ago by volcanic eruptions forming a jagged, black landscape. The surface is very moonlike, so much so that the astronauts from the Apollo 14 mission used it to train on in 1969.
One of the best features of the park is its lava tubes which are passageways found underground that were by hardened molten rock. If you are brave enough, you can take a flashlight and head on down into Indian Tunnel that is 50 feet wide and 30 feet high, but, only if you are really adventurous will you want to attempt exiting the cave at the far end. You will need to climb over a large rock pile and then squeeze through a small opening to finally exit.
You can learn more about the Craters of Moon National Monument here.
38. City of New Orleans
New Orleans has a little something for everyone. Adults will enjoy the romance of the city and the various architectural influences from Spain, France, and the Caribbean. Kids will enjoy riding in an old-fashioned steamboat along the Mississippi River or taking an airboat ride in the swamp.
Jazz music pours out over the city in Jackson Square and the color of Mardi Gras at Mardi Gras World will delight the senses. Don’t miss the Audubon Insectariums where kids will discover bugs they never dreamed existed.
You can learn more about the City of New Orleans here.
39. The Biltmore, Asheville, NC
At first thought, you may not think of the Biltmore as a family vacation destination. But, when you think about it, it is one of the few castles that you can tour in America. This 250 room home built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 is a historical and architectural wonder. It is a wonderful opportunity to teach children about the Guilded Age and there are many features children will be enthralled by including the ice cream parlor, confectionary, and toymaker’s shop.
There is also a village that houses historical exhibits as well as dining and shopping. The Pisgah Playground allows children to engage their imagination by climbing logs and rock formations. Younger children will enjoy the sand area and water pump. The Antler Hill Village farm also provides various farmyard animals to pet and plenty of antique wagons and tractors to climb on and explore.
You can learn more about The Biltmore here.
40. Museum of Western Colorado, Cortez, Colorado
Anyone that has seen Jurassic Park knows how exciting dinosaurs can be, but did you ever imagine you could spend your vacation digging for them? Dinosaur digs are available through the Museum of Western Colorado in Cortez, Colorado. They offer Half-day, full day, and three-day digs in western Colorado, and even a five-day dig in Utah.
For families, they also offer a weeklong family camp in Cortez, Colorado. Camps are designed for children ages 5 and up with their families at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry. This is the perfect summer vacation for any family with a budding paleontologist.
You can learn more about the Museum of Western Colorado here.
41. Gettysburg National Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
For a military or history based family vacation, a journey to Gettysburg National Park is a must. Visitors can enjoy ranger walks and tours that tell the history of the battlefield and the background of the Civil War as it was fought in Pennsylvania.
Gettysburg itself is home to several museums, but during the anniversary of the battle at the beginning of July, there is a living history encampment where kids can see reenactors that represent both sides of the battle. There are also full battle reenactments of the three days of the battle placing the blue against the gray once again on the very fields that they fought on over 150 years ago. Throughout the rest of the year, visitors can learn more about the battle and the soldiers that fought there through living history exhibits and nearby attractions.
You can learn more about Gettysburg National Park here.
42. Niagara Falls, New York
Most people think of Niagara Falls as the go to honeymoon spot for couples in the mid-20th Century. Despite its iconic reputation, Niagara Falls remains a majestic waterfall that is still a must-see if you are in New York near the U.S.-Canada border.
Children will enjoy riding an elevator 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge and feel what it is like to be sprayed with tropical-storm force spray as they stand on the Hurricane Deck by the 181-foot Bridal Veil Falls. Complimentary yellow ponchos and sandals are provided to guests as they stand near this massive natural wonder.
You can learn more about the Niagara Falls area here.
43. High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon
Another living history spot where children can see and reinforce what they have learned in school is the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. The Oregon Trail is a fixture of American History that is taught in school and the High Desert Museum can bring the true challenges of the Oregon Trail to light.
Activities that include dipping candles, splitting wood, and churning butter will give kids an idea of what life was like along the trail. And you’ll see exhibits of rescue animals that were native to the Northwest area like bobcats, lynx, rattlesnakes, falcons, and Gila monsters. Kids will leave the museum understanding all the hardships that pioneers experienced as they made their way westward.
You can learn more about the High Desert Museum here.
44. Mystic Seaport: Museum of America and the Sea, Mystic, Connecticut
Once the shipbuilding capital of New England, Mystic Seaport is now home to the largest maritime museum in the country. An authentic 19th-century village is available for exploration featuring a drugstore, lighthouse, and bank.
Ship restorations are ongoing in the Preservation Yard and you can even visit inside the Benjamin F. Packard, an 1883 sailing ship that is on exhibit. Children can also learn about life and activities in the late 18th century like old-fashioned card games and the how captains used flags to communicate with each other when they were out at sea.
You can learn more about the Mystic, Connecticut area here.
45. Camp Denali, Denali National Park, Alaska
If you are looking for a camping trip that is also a once in a lifetime experience, Camp Denali guarantees to be the family vacation you will never forget. Camp Denali is located in a remarkable location and has been around for over 60 years.
Wilderness lodges are available for families that are interested in learning more about the beauty and wildlife in the Alaskan wilderness. There are two unique, full-service lodges that focus on active and adventurous vacations that also have an educational emphasis for those families that want to get the most out of their visit. Activities include naturalist-guided outings, views of the Alaska Range, and a better understanding of the local wildlife.
You can learn more about Denali National Park here.
46. Kennedy Space Center
If you are looking for a vacation spot where science and history are out of this world, the Kennedy Space Center will provide you family with tons of interactives and real artifacts from space. The Kennedy Space Center is the premier institution in the country where visitors will learn about America’s history of flight by touring the Space Shuttle Complex. The 90,000 square foot Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit includes a full-scale, 184-foot space shuttle stack plus two solid rocket boosters and an external tank.
This has also been a launch site since 1968, but the site has changed dramatically since then. The Visitor Center resembles something of an amusement park with its Rocket Garden, children’s playspace, an Early Space Exploration exhibit, the very popular Angry Birds hands-on exhibit, 2 IMAX shows, an Astronaut Memorial, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. You can also take a bus tour where you will be driven up to the Apollo/Saturn V center and out to the legendary launch pads.
You can learn more about the Kennedy Space Center here.
47. Boston Children’s Museum
Another century-old children’s museum is the Boston Children’s Museum. A pioneer in groundbreaking children’s programming, the Boston Children’s Museum removed all of their no-touch signs in the 1960’s. In the 1970’s, they furthered their innovative techniques by creating a young children’s play area where babies and toddlers can now use the PlaySpace’s Messy Sensory area to develop fine motor skills with bubbles, shaving cream, and Play-Doh.
Children are encouraged to perform fairy tales on KidStage, and concerts, storytelling, and dance are also part of the daily fun. Older children are encouraged to learn about other cultures when they examine the over 50,000 historic and natural history objects or tour the century-old silk merchant’s home from Kyoto, Japan.
You can learn more about the Boston Children’s Museum here.
48. Memphis Zoo
The Memphis Zoo features 3,500 animals on 70 acres, and it is one of four zoos in the country to house giant pandas. A three-acre exhibit featuring Chinese architecture, native flowers and fauna, and a 50-foot pagoda is the backdrop for these adorable pandas. An underwater exhibit also features sea lions and polar bears in giant tanks with a 500 seat amphitheater where visitors can see sea lions perform in the Northwest Passage exhibit.
Cat Country features tigers, lions, and cougars wandering grass savannas and rocky outcroppings. A five acre, open-air Primate Canyon houses ten monkey species and the Dragon’s Lair exhibit features three Komodo dragons.
You can learn more about the Memphis Zoo here.
49. Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Chincoteague Island, Virginia
If your family is environmentally conscious, children of all ages will enjoy the Chincoteague Bay Field Station family camp where the education is based around ecology. A campus-like environment with a full dining hall and suite-like sleeping quarters are provided for all families that stay at the camp. Besides educational tours of the protected Wallops Island, families can also enjoy campfires, camp games, seafood boils, and water sports.
You can learn more about the Chincoteague Bay Field Station here.
50. Wilderness Inquiry
If you are looking for a wild vacation, Wilderness Inquiry can help you find it. They have scheduled trips throughout the year to satisfy any wild heart. They are a non-profit adventure travel organization that connects people to adventures in places like Glacier National Park, the Mississippi River, and the Hawaii’s Big Island. Activities include rafting, hiking, dogsledding, safaris, hiking, and sea kayaking.
The great thing about Wilderness Inquiry is that they have accommodated people with disabilities since 1978. They have designed integrated adventures for both people with and without disabilities, so that they are treated as equals and peers. Their mission is to bring outdoor adventures to everyone, and they have great adaptive gear that they have found or created along the way to make sure that everyone feels included.
You can learn more about the Wilderness Inquiry here.