Before we know it, our kids will be embarking on travel adventures of their own. Instead of waiting until it's too late (and suffering with some major regrets), take your kids on an adventure now across the U.S. to any of the following destinations that are sure to create amazing, lifelong memories. Get ready to add a few new entries to your family's bucket list.
Big Sur, California, is a picturesque wonder featuring daring cliffs, lush valleys and pristine beaches. Whether your family camps in the woods (and hikes to a gorgeous waterfall) or stays in a four-star resort, Big Sur has every amenity imaginable. Stick around to see the graceful condors navigating the sky, the vivid bloom of wild flowers beginning in spring and the playful sea otters who call this coastline their home.
The Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico feature limestone geoformations, thousands of bats and one of the deepest limestone caves in the entire United States—making it an awesome place to take kids who like adventure. The caverns take time to explore, so arrive early to hike (which takes about an hour). The best time to visit is in the summer, when cave temps hold steady at a refreshing 56 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yes, those are alligators, and yes, you should totally take your kids to see them and hundreds of other wildlife species that live and lurk in the Florida Everglades. The best time of the year to visit is winter, when temps are mild and low water levels cause amphibious animals to gather in easy-to-spot areas. In addition to water tours, there are ample hiking, kayaking and diving activities available.
A trip to Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is one you and your children won't soon forget. This 25-million-acre UNESCO world heritage site in the remote wilderness offers visitors a chance to see one of the largest protected areas in the world. Witness giant glaciers that are thousands of feet thick, rainforests and snowy mountain ranges along with harbor seals, moose, wily mountain goats and more.
Nestled on the southeastern coast of Oahu is an expanse of beach and coral reef known as Hanauma Bay, open to visitors who want to experience the beauty of tropical marine life up close. Children will love the chance to snorkel in the calm, clear waters, and parents will love having the chance to teach their children about marine ecosystems while hanging 10 in scenic Hawaii.
Hershey, Pennsylvania, offers a fun amusement park (Hersheypark), which boasts tons of different rides that accommodate every child from toddlers to teens. It also has Hershey's Chocolate World! Kids will love seeing how some of the most famous chocolates in the U.S. are made; plus, they can interact with chocolate fun (like tasting and making their own chocolate bars).
A trip to Washington, D.C., is cool, but nothing will amaze older kids more than a visit to D.C.'s International Spy Museum, where everyone can learn about intelligence operatives, undercover agents and spy tools used throughout history. For children ages 10 to 13, the museum even offers a summer Spy Camp that teaches young "agents" how to have fun with secret missions and cool activities.
Not far from Napa Valley is the Jelly Belly Candy Company in Fairfield, California, which offers free, self-guided tours to anyone interested in learning about the magic that goes into President Ronald Reagan's favorite sweet treat. For families of six or fewer who want an in-depth experience, the factory even offers Jelly Belly University tours (for a fee) that show patrons the inner workings of how Jelly Belly beans are made.
What could be cooler than taking your kids to see an actual volcano? Located on the Big Island of Hawaii is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, featuring three active volcanoes: Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Hualalai. The amazing park offers more than 150 miles of hiking trails, as well as walking, driving and biking tours, where families can get up close and personal (at a safe distance) with a living, lava-breathing volcano.
Los Angeles has plenty of charms, but one of its greatest treasures is its National History Museum. Kids can explore numerous exhibits going back as far as 4.5 billion years, including more than 35 million different artifacts. One of its coolest new features is the Dinosaur Hall, which has amazing skeletal displays and the world's only baby, juvenile and adult Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons!
Considered one of the top aquariums in the U.S., Monterey Bay Aquarium is a place families can fall in love with all things marine life. Located just a little over two hours from San Francisco in Monterey Bay, California, the more than 200 mesmerizing aquatic displays give patrons an in-depth look at how more than 35,000 different creatures live. Kids will love the Rocky Shore exhibit and seeing playful sea otters having fun.
Mount Rushmore is a popular tourist destination (3 million people visit each year) located in South Dakota. Featuring the carved busts of four presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, the mountain sculptures are a place of American pride. Once your family sees the spectacular view, take them to nearby Big Thunder Gold Mine to sift dirt in search of gold.
There are a lot of reasons to take your kids to Washington, D.C., but one should definitely be to see the National Museum of Natural History—one of the Smithsonian's 17 museums in the city. Admission is free and families can spend an entire day navigating the amazing displays, including the immense African elephant (seen here), the reconstructed neanderthals and a room full of mummies!
One of the coolest places for tweens and teens (especially kids who have an interest in human anatomy or becoming a doctor) is The Mütter Museum, located in Philadelphia. The museum houses some of the most unique displays in the country, including the famous "soap lady," the Hyrtl Skull Collection (which features 139 human skulls) and actual glass slides with specimens of Albert Einstein's brain.
There are so many things to see in New York City, we couldn't pick just one. Whether you take your kids to Ground Zero to pay homage to the victims of 9/11, to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, Times Square, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge or a Broadway show (or so much more), there are endless opportunities to explore, learn and bond while in the Big Apple.
Redwood National Park has three lush, forest-canopied state parks, including Prairie Creek Redwoods and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Parks, all of which provide a scenic experience for travelers young and old. At nearly 132,000 acres, the parks feature awe-inspiring trees and glimpses of nature with free-roaming elk, beautiful birds and the chance to view Pacific gray whales during their annual migration.
The State Fair of Texas in Dallas is one of the biggest and most exciting fairs in the nation. Operating since 1886, families can learn about livestock and agriculture, listen to live music, ride roller coasters and a giant Ferris wheel—all while having a day filled with fun. Along with having the iconic Big Tex statue, the fair is also proud of their fried food offerings, including their funnel cake bacon queso burger.
City families may want to think about taking a vacation to the gorgeous Toddy Pond Farm in Monroe, Maine. The micro-dairy farm features 100 percent grass-fed, free-range cows (and more animals), and it stays open year-round for family farm adventures where kids and parents alike can "work" on the farm and learn about life in the country, caring for animals and turning milk into artisanal dairy delights.
No childhood is complete without a trip to Walt Disney World, Florida. Composed of four main parks—Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom (as well as two awesome water parks)—the happiest place on earth is one of the most iconic family vacation destinations in the country. They even offer unique adventures based on the season, meaning there are reasons to go any time of the year.
Located in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States. Whether you're staring into colorful geoprism pools, watching geysers like Old Faithful or hiking through any of the 900 miles of established trails (where you might see roaming bison, elk, bighorn sheep and maybe even bears!), your family is guaranteed to have an amazing adventure.
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