When planning a family vacation for five, it is sometimes hard to get good ideas on unique places to visit. It can be hard trying to please everyone, especially when you are bringing people of different ages and preferences along on the same ride.
But whether you’re wanting to adventure outdoors, spend a week at museums, or check out some of the most iconic bucket list cities in the United States, there are plenty of places for a family of five to get the most out of a good old-fashioned American vacation.
1. Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Pigeon Forge
Located in Tennessee’s sprawling Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg’s greatest attraction is Dollywood. It is one of the Southeast’s most family-friendly theme parks and is also the home of the famous Grand Ole Opry, so check schedules to see what live events are playing.
From this bustling mountain town, you can also visit a nearby amusement park at The Island in Pigeon Forge, go go-kart racing in style at The Track, check out Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, or visit the Crave Golf Club, which is like a mini golf course set in Candyland.
For more outdoorsy families, the Smoky Mountain National Park nearby offers plenty of opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, and skiing. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see a black bear, which are commonly spotted in the area.
2. Savannah, Georgia and Tybee Island
Savannah, Georgia is an artist’s mecca thanks to the nearby Savannah School of Art and Design, and despite the small college town atmosphere, has tons of family-friendly activities along with an inviting, relaxed, quirky personality.
Kids will enjoy visiting famous Leopold’s Ice Cream on Broughton Street or visiting one of the candy shops on scenic River Street. There are also live performers and live music along with some of the best shopping and restaurants in the coastal South.
From nearby Tybee island, visitors to Savannah can roll a beach vacation into their stay that includes dolphin sightseeing tours, off-shore charter fishing, or an exploration of Georgia’s beautiful salt marshes and barrier islands at Skidaway Island State Park.
3. Yellowstone National Park
Whether you take the kids to visit Old Faithful or just tour through the park in hopes of seeing some of America’s most iconic wildlife, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Yellowstone. This is a bucket list destination, so it’s well worth the ride.
Yellowstone National Park is a great vacation spot for families that like to spend time outdoors, as there are plenty of options for rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
For those who would rather take a cruise, you can drive the Grand Loop of Yellowstone, a 140 mile stretch of road that leads you through some of the most postcard-gorgeous locales in the park. You should also swing by Mammoth Hot Springs to check out the park’s famous geysers.
4. Destin, Florida and The Emerald Coast
Known as the famous “luckiest little fishing village in the world,” Destin is truly the place to go for anyone interested in a family beach vacation.
Visit the famous Destin Boardwalk to watch all the fishermen bring in their catch at sunset and book a charter fishing boat of your own–there are restaurants on the boardwalk that will cook whatever you catch and serve it to you. You can also book speedboat and dolphin tours.
If relaxing is more your style, can also just hang out on the Emerald Coast, which features some of the prettiest white sand beaches of any location on the Gulf of Mexico.
5. Hershey, Pennsylvania and Lancaster County
The birthplace of Hershey’s candies, Hersey boasts not only impressive, family-friendly factory tours that show you exactly how their iconic candies are made in best Willy Wonka fashion, but also a full-sized amusement park called HersheyPark.
For a relaxing breather, you can always check out nearby Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster County.
Here you can visit one of the oldest Amish communities in the world, catch a glimpse of horse-and-buggy, or shop with the Amish to bring home some of the finest homemade crafts you’ll ever come across.
6. Basecamp Hotel, Boulder, Colorado
Visit the great indoors by staying at Basecamp Hotel, a unique experience for family travelers. If you stay in their Great Indoors Room, you can effectively go camping while still inside a hotel with unique themed decor that makes you feel as if you’re in a mountain campground.
Don’t be mistaken though—Basecamp has plenty to do in the great outdoors as well to take advantage of Boulder’s beautiful scenery. From half-day fly-fishing expeditions to whitewater rafting, hiking, and rock climbing, there are custom packages perfect for every family.
7. Anaheim, California
No family vacation bucket list would be complete without a trip to Disneyland. The brainchild of the iconic Walt Disney, Disneyland is the ultimate family-friendly theme park that is still inviting for all. Thanks to advances in technology, it is also easier to avoid long lines than in past decades.
Disneyland can be a week-long family vacation in and of itself. If you want to try something different in Anaheim though, you also check out Knott’s Berry Farm, an old school amusement park or–if you feel like getting wet–you can get your water slide on in Knott’s Soak City.
8. Orlando, Florida
Speaking of iconic theme parks, it doesn’t get much better than Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Walt Disney World Resort, and Universal Studios. On those fronts Orlando has you covered.
If you don’t want to hit the same old theme park circuit, there are plenty of other things to do in Orlando with a family. You can play mini golf, take a tour through the Everglades in an airboat, have a zombie-fighting experience at Zombie Outbreak, or do some indoor skydiving at iFly.
9. Washington, D.C.
For a family vacation with some substance, you can’t do much better than the capital of the United States. Between its breathtaking landmarks and the Smithsonian Institution, you can teach your kids more about America in a week here than in two months of summer school.
The Smithsonian Institute is a great choice for families because every one of its seventeen museums are free to the public, including the National Zoo. An intrepid group could easily spend two weeks just visiting museums at the Smithsonian without seeing any other part of Washington.
10. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
This is another family vacation for history buffs and those who are interested in having their kids learn a little something alongside their fun. Gettysburg National Military Park is one of the most famous military parks in the world and easily the most famous one in the United States.
Here you can take a tour of one of America’s most notorious battlefields, go on a carriage tour, indulge in some period dining experiences and living history re-enactments, or go ghost-hunting–Gettysburg is reputably one of the most active paranormal hot spots in the world.
11. Huntsville, Alabama
Tourists might not readily think Alabama when they think fun family vacation, but they should think again. Huntsville, aka “Rocket City USA,” is one of Alabama’s most beautiful and technologically progressive cities and is home to the famous U.S Space and Rocket Center.
Once you’ve got your fill of space history, there’s plenty of other things to see. Visit the family-friendly Lowe Mill art commune, where you can visit three floors of artisan workshops, painter’s studios, breweries, or craft booths.
You can also visit Huntsville’s Botanical Gardens to check out their picture-perfect aquatic garden and the Purdy Butterfly House.
12. Winter Haven, Florida
Perfect for families with small children and older children alike, it’s hard to find a more popular vacation destination for kids than LegoLand Florida, which is a theme park home to fifty rides, a water park, and a botanical garden.
For a wilder tour, check out nearby Circle B Bar Reserve, one of the most ecologically diverse wildlife reserves in the United States. The reserve is a staggering 1,267 acres and is home to a variety of wildlife including herons, bobcats, snakes, and alligators.
And who wants to visit Florida without visiting the beach? Winter Haven and its associated Chain of Lakes is also a water skier’s mecca and is the perfect place for kids to get their feet wet and learn everything from traditional water skiing to jet-propelled flyboarding.
13. Indianapolis, Indiana
For families with younger children, Indianapolis is a perfect travel locale. The Indianapolis Children’s Museum isn’t just the largest children’s museum in America – it’s the largest children’s museum in the world.
Visitors to Indianapolis can also take in a variety of other sites such as the Indianapolis Zoo, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Whitewater Memorial State Park.
Those who want a more learning-oriented tour for all ages can check out The Eiteljorg Museum or the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Suite.
14. New York, New York
From Broadway to the Statue of Liberty to the Empire State Building observation deck, there is something for everyone in the sprawling metropolis of NYC.
Visit Times Square for some of the best shopping in the world, check out the American Museum of Natural History, or just walk around and try not to gawp skyward at the towering skyscrapers. There are activities for every single preference in New York City somewhere.
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If you bring your family here, be sure to take a day off to stroll leisurely around Central Park, grab some of New York City’s famous street hot dogs, and visit the Central Park Zoo. It’s a good way to take a break and escape the fast pace of the rest of the city.
15. Tanque Verde Ranch, Arizona
Tanque Verde Ranch is for the cowboy in all of us. Known as the best dude ranch in all of Arizona, Tanque Verde is the place to be for all your rough-riding fantasies.
Not only do they feature plenty of activities for adults, Tanque Verde has a special selection of activities geared just towards kids, which means when it comes to things to do, nobody on this trip is getting left out.
One special feature of this ranch is that everyone gets the same horse each day they attend, so you become more familiar and friendly with your chosen mount every time you get on. This is a great confidence-builder for kids.
By the end of a trip to Tanque Verde, everyone in the family will be just another cowpoke.
16. Honolulu, Hawaii
No family beach vacation is quite as legendary as a trip to Hawaii, and staying in fabulous Honolulu will give you access to it all.
From here you can visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, get up close and personal with sea turtles on a snorkel cruise, take an adventure on a one-man submarine, or get your fill of delicious roasted pork and pineapple at Diamond Head Luau.
Visit Manoa Falls, scope out a volcano, or go parasailing–when it comes to Hawaii, the only limits of your vacation are the limits of your imagination.
17. Bresada Ranch, Oregon
Bresada Ranch is a more northwestern take on the traditional dude ranch and features a wide variety of activities for both adults and children.
Children’s programs feature a kids-only clubhouse, cowboy cookouts where kids get to hang out with real cowboys, and horseback riding. Adults can enjoy activities geared more towards them, such as golf, an adults-only pool, and the Bresada day spa.
18. Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is one of the busiest cities in the South, and there are plenty of things to do on a family vacation here. Watch a jousting tournament at Medieval Times over roast capon and cheer on your favorite knight, visit Zoo Atlanta, or the World of Coca-Cola Museum.
Visitors can also take in the Georgia Aquarium to check out their famous pod of beluga whales or visit the High Museum of Art, the Southeast’s leading art museum featuring more than 13,000 pieces of modern art.
19. Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is the place to go if you want to see all kinds of wildlife up close and personal, from mountain goats to grizzly bears. Glacier National Park is a 1,583 square mile wilderness in the Rocky Mountains featuring over 700 miles of hiking trails.
Other family-friendly activities at Glacier National Park include camping, mountain biking, and backpacking. No matter what age or activity levels you need to cater to, you can find something to keep the whole crew occupied.
Don’t leave this gorgeous park without checking out Going-to-the-Sun Road and the selfie-worthy Hidden Lake.
20. Williamsburg, Virginia
Another good choice for educational vacations, Colonial Williamsburg is like stepping back in time. You can check out an apothecary, watch a blacksmith at work, and learn everything about what life was like back during the American colonial period.
Once you’ve got your history lessons out of the way, there’s plenty of other things to see in Williamsburg too. Visit local art galleries featuring some of the most brilliant artists in America or check out Busch Gardens Williamsburg to get your roller coaster on.
Along with art galleries, there are also a variety of art museums in Williamsburg, from the Dewatt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum to the Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. Tourists can also take a trip through the Jamestown Glasshouse and the Williamsburg Winery.
21. Vail, Colorado
This is the family destination for all things snow. The massive Vail Ski Resort has some of the best snow skiing in the world, as well as some of the top skiing and snowboarding schools, so if your family wants to learn how to take on the slopes, this is the place to do it.
Vail is also a popular fly-fishing destination, and Gore Creek (one of the world’s most famous fly-fishing spots) runs right through the town. Other outdoor attractions include golfing, hiking, and a variety of cultural festivals.
22. San Francisco, California
For a family-friendly city destination, it’s hard to find something better than San Francisco. The people are friendly, the weather is beautiful, and the Golden Gate Bridge is a sight to see.
The city has a ton of action-packed day trips to choose from–for educational yet thrilling choices, check out the Aquarium of the Bay, the California Academy of Sciences, the Exploratorium, or the San Francisco Zoo.
Other fun activities include Magowan’s Infinite Mirror Maze, a tour of the USS Pampanito submarine, or a scenic sunset cruise around San Francisco Bay.
23. Atlantis—Paradise Island, Bahamas
While it might be one of the pricier choices on this list, Atlantis at Paradise Island truly is a five-star paradise. Sporting one of the world’s coolest hotels, Atlantis features the world’s largest open-air marine habitat, eleven pools, an oceanfront golf course, and a 141-acre water park.
Go on a powerboat excursion, take a Bahamian cooking course, get up-close-and-personal with dolphins, free dive with sharks, or feed the Exuma swimming pigs. One thing’s for certain–when you’re in Atlantis, you and your family will never get bored.
24. Cedar Point—Sandusky, Ohio
Cedar Point is also known as the roller coaster capital of the world and features a staggering eighteen roller coasters for all levels of adventurous souls.
There are kid-friendly coasters such as the Woodstock Express, but older and braver individuals can take on monsters like the Steel Vengeance, which has the honor of being the fastest, tallest, and longest hybrid roller coaster on the planet.
Along with some truly terrifying roller coasters for the adults and the big kids, Cedar Point also offers up more kid-friendly fare in the form of dozens of children’s rides. This way, nobody gets left out.
25. New Orleans, Louisiana
When people think of New Orleans, they typically think of the French Quarter, which is not known to be particularly family friendly. However, there is a lot more to NOLA than a few streets of bars (and the French Quarter is becoming increasingly family-friendly in and of its own right).
Families can relax at Cafe du Monde for their world-famous beignets and chicory coffee, check out the Audubon Zoo or the Louisiana Children’s Museum, and even get to see the Mardi Gras parade floats all year-round while they’re still under construction at Mardi Gras World.