My original plan for this article was to list the great vacation destinations we have visited and share the gems we found & tips we learned through our travels. Then I found Frommer’s site Top 100 Vacations with Kids…. frommers.com/100placesforkids I tried to make my own article as ‘complete’ as theirs and it quickly became overwhelming….and entirely too long! That’s when I decided to go back to my original idea of personal experiences – By adding a link to the Frommer’s article THEY could be ‘complete’ and I could return to the idea of offering tips. That worked a LOT better! 🙂 Use them together. 🙂I have not put links to the locations as Frommers has done -with one exception: the National Parks website. Fortunately, that covers most of my entries here as we travel a LOT in National Parks. One Note: When searching for information for the other destinations, be certain you find the OFFICIAL SITES to avoid being pulled into packages sold by travel agencies/clubs, etc… I have nothing against those but they will NOT save you money!! Another Note: Our family is history and nature enthusiasts, so many of our vacations include those aspects in some form or another.
- The entire East coast is FULL of history (Colonial history, Revolutionary and Civil Wars, antebellum plantations) and beauty (beaches, National Parks, lush green vegetation/climates). Chose a state (area) and spend a week touring/visiting it to adequately SEE everything there.
- Virginia: With the variety of interests in our family, I was able to plan a Virginia vacation that had ‘something for everyone’. VA has everything from history to beaches to nature/beauty to a Naval Base to theme parks.
- Colonial Williamsburg/Yorktown/Jamestown Settlement: You can easily spend a week in this area (including Norfolk and Richmond if you wish) These are all National Parks/Historical Sites; Busch Gardens for the amusement park enthusiast; Virginia beaches; NOTE: In 2013, TEACHERS were given a 50% discount on admission to Colonial Williamsburg – I was not able to confirm that this program is still in effect, but it’s worth an inquiry. You must present proof – school ID, I would assume.
- Richmond/Norfolk – These two towns flank the Williamsburg ‘triangle’ and give some variety to the sights. Norfolk Naval Base gives tours;
- Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home) or Monticello (Thomas Jefferson’s home), both in Virginia and both National Parks/Historical Places
- Shenandoah National Park: This is a small park that can easily be driven in a day; hikes can lengthen your stay; very beautiful
- Washington DC: In addition to the obvious places to see: Capitol, Monuments, Smithsonian, etc… DON’T overlook the Library of Congress and Supreme Court Building. They are the most beautiful buildings in the area (imho).
- Southeast Coast – Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia (FL has its own category further further down this list).
- Lighthouse Tour on the GA and Carolinas coastlines (There are a few up in VA too – just less concentrated….)
- Kitty Hawk (N.C.)
- The history et. al. in Charleston, Savannah, Williamsburg/Jamestown/Yorktown, Appomatox, Petersburg is really more than can be seen in one trip….but we’ve tried. ha! 🙂
- Smokey Mountain Nat’l Park, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, TN; The Smokey’s is the only National Park (in the lower 48) that has no admittance fee. You can drive through in a day, but if you want to hike or explore, plan a couple of days. This is a YEAR ROUND destination. ALL seasons have something to offer. Our Christmas there was INCREDIBLE!! It snowed the day we were celebrating Christmas! 🙂 Autumn views can’t be rivaled anywhere. 🙂 Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge (gateways to the Park) offers shows, outlet shopping and many ‘touristy’ things to do. Combine this with a day trip to the Biltmore in Asheville, NC.
- Asheville, NC: Biltmore Mansion (home of railroad baron, George Vanderbilt) Tickets are pricey for this, but well worth it. Make a stop at the McDonalds in Asheville…even if just for an ice cream cone. It’s unlike any McD’s you’ve ever been to. 🙂 Seriously!
- New Orleans, LA: Rich in history and French Creole culture; One of the oldest cities in the US; Tour antebellum mansions; enjoy some blues or jazz; Enjoy the French creole cuisine and architecture but be certain to try the beignets at Cafe du Monde;
- Boston: There are multiple ways to see Boston –
- History which includes The Freedom Trail (takes a VERY full day) with its many historical sites including Old North Church, Paul Revere’s home and the USS Constitution, Lexington and Concord, JFK Presidential Library and a little further south, Plymouth colony. There is a Johnny Tremain tour that is great for children – all the sites in Esther Forbes’ book
- Literature: Sleepy Hollow cemetery (where Nathanael Hawthorne is buried); Homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Henry James, Charles Dickens, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as Walden Pond with Thoreau’s cabin.
- While on the Cape, I HIGHLY recommend a whale watch tour if you can fit it into the budget (it’s not cheap). It’s PHENOMENAL!!! MANY whales swim around the boat!! Take motion sickness meds even it you aren’t prone to motion sickness. (I learned this the hard way…) The Bay waters can be QUITE choppy. I loved our da, but if I had it to do over, I’d take the Bonine and enjoy myself much more.
There is so much to do in Boston for the history or literature buff, that this was by far my favorite vacation!!!
- Cape Cod; Get a mile-by-mile guide online for information of things to do/see on the drive up the cape; Plimouth Plantation (living history museum) is north about 60 miles; Beaches (though don’t expect the sun-soaking beaches of South Florida…this is Massachusetts), Cape Cod Potato Chip factory (map on the back of the chip bag); lighthouses; Provincetown (Pilgrim Monument ) at the tip of cape NOTE: Families should do their research before visiting Provincetown;
- New Bedford Massachusetts: Whaling Museum; New Bedford is the setting of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This is an easy day trip from Boston or Cape Cod.
- Gettysburg National Battlefield: Battlefields are typically just roads/drives with narration or markers detailing what happened at each spot/pull out. The REAL gem in visiting any battlefield is the Visitor Centers… with their films, museums, etc… Don’t skip them! 🙂
- Philadelphia: History abounds here! Birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution; Liberty Bell; Everything “Benjamin Franklin” 🙂
- New York City: The list of things to do in NYC is endless. An internet search will help you make the right choices for your family. NOTE: The NY Gov. has recently said that ‘conservatives’ and ‘Christians’ are not welcome in the state. How serious was he? I don’t know…just always be informed when you travel.
- History: Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, Staten Island Museum and Ferry, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, Of course, the museums are too numerous to list.
- Arts: Metropolitan Mus of Art is a ‘must see’, Music spanning from Broadway to the Metropolitan Opera – or Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Search the internet for your specific tastes…
- Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, Bronx Zoo, Central Park, Empire State Building, Garment District :), Fifth Avenue shopping… Grand Central Station, Coney Island (amusement park) Just a few ideas….
- Sports: In addition to games, there’s the possibilities of tours of stadiums, etc… Now, Yankee Stadium tours are the only tours I personally know about, but check websites for additional information. 🙂
- Upstate New York:
- Niagara Falls One of only 2 Nat’l parks that are ‘shared’ between U.S. and Canada. You don’t need a passport to see the Canadian side as of the writing of this. (This can change at any time, so check before you go….)
- Mystic Seaport Connecticut (National Park) This is a full day of a living history museum on the whaling industry of the 1800’s
- Everglades: Bring mosquito repellant (with DEET) AND wear long pants and long sleeves. – no matter how wonderful your insect repellent is, it’s still no match for those insects in the Everglades!! Don’t avoid this area just because of this. It’s a great park… Just come prepared. Include a trip down to the Keys if you have time.
- Florida Keys:
- Best snorkeling: Bahia Honda!! It’s better than John Pennekamp State Park (imho)
- Hemingway’s home on Key West offers tours – and a chance to see his ‘six-toed cats’ 🙂
- Over-seas Highway – from the Mainland FL out to Key West. Seven Mile Bridge connects Knight’s Key (Middle Keys) to Little Duck Key (Lower Keys) It is CERTAINLY worth the drive! If you’re a bicyclist, ride the ‘old’ highway and railroad bridge. It’s quite the experience. The ‘old’ highway is also a great place to catch a sunset.
- NOTE: Families should do their research on the area before planning much time in Key West.
- Pensacola: white sand beaches; Naval Aviation Museum; Check to see if the Blue Angels are giving a show!
- Orlando – Obviously, Orlando is home to The Mouse, but while in the area, don’t forget to take a day trip over to Titusville to see the JFK Space Center. (This is the perfect break from theme parks if you need it) 🙂 I’ve written 2 posts on WDW: Walt DisneyWorld on a Budget: and More Walt Disney World Tips
NOTE: Teachers at accredited schools in Florida and Georgia can get complimentary admission to the Visitor Ctr and Educ. Resource Ctr with proof of employment – school ID I presume? I have heard this MIGHT apply to all teachers but can not confirm it. It’s worth an inquiry. 🙂
- St Augustine: boasts some beautiful pristine beaches! 🙂 It’s also the oldest settlement (fort) in the Continental US. It’s also not far from Daytona.
- Ft Lauderdale: beaches – though crowded; You may find Ft Lauderdale more ‘family friendly’ than Miami, not to mention cheaper to fly to.
- Sanibel Island: This area has the ‘to be expected’ beach vacation options with the added bonus of MILLIONS of sea shells!
- Tarpon Springs & Ybor City (Tampa area): Tarpon is the center of the sponge diving industry; There are tours/boats to give visitors a look at the diving/divers though they do NOT take you to the actual sponge beds (locations are ‘secret’) Go to the dock to see the boats come in with their day’s catch. Ybor City is a Cuban settlement; taste Cuban cuisine; cigar industry;
CENTRAL U.S. :
- Branson, MO: This is our weekend get-away of choice. The main attraction is country and folk music shows, but there is much more there. My post about all we’ve discovered there: Branson: Planning Your Trip and Branson: What To Do – Shows Shopping & More Branson is VERY Family-Friendly.
- St. Louis MO: The Arch, dinner cruises (or sightseeing cruises) on the Mississippi, museums galore (we really like the Charles Lindberg Museum) and of course, Six Flags. Hannibal with all the Mark Twain ‘stuff’ is just north of St. Louis – a nice day trip.
THE WILD WEST (Which really isn’t in the ‘west’ at all)
- Salt Lake City & Great Salt Lake: A dip in the Great Salt Lake is an experience you’ll not get anywhere else…but do NOT get in if you have any wounds or scratches! There’s a LOT of salt in it!!!
- Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park – Montana – at the Canadian border. This is one of only 2 Nat’l Parks ‘shared’ with Canada. … (Waterton is the Canadian side). There is a very limited visitor season due to climate/weather – busiest months are July and August and that’s the only time I would personally plan a vacation there. 🙂
- The Sierra Nevada’s are Incredible!!! This includes everything from Yosemite and Lake Tahoe in CA to the mining towns south of Reno in NV…
- Tahoe: The main attraction here is skiing in the winter and water sports/activities on the lake in the summer. All the casinos are across the stateline in NV. While in Tahoe, take day trips to Carson City (NV) Virginia City, (NV) and check to see if there are any local festivals in any of the surrounding towns. On our last trip, we took in the Chili Cook-off in Virginia City and Cowboy Days in Genoa NV (OUR FAVORITE!!!) I’ll write a blog post about it soon. 🙂
- Yosemite National Park is very beautiful but can be extremely crowded
during the summer season. If you can plan a trip in the late Spring, you can avoid some of that (Not too early as most of the roads don’t open until late April typically) One difference between Yosemite and other Nat’l parks is that they DO have lots of eateries/restaurants/snack bars. I”m not sure what that does to the whole “National Park experience”, but they’re there.
- Yellowstone and Teton Nat’l Parks This takes a minimum of 5-6 days to really see it…
These parks encompass everything from nature and wildlife to geothermal activity to hiking to beautiful vistas, sunrises, sunsets. There’s more hikes than you could take in multiple visits. Jackson, WY (gateway to the Tetons) is worth a visit/stay as well. My post – linked above – gives details of our vacations to this area along with some tips for planning, budgeting, etc..
- Mount Rushmore/Black Hills: This is easily seen in a day including the hike/museum/Visitor Ctr. Plan to return to the park at sunset for the lighting of the mountain. (be prepared for congested traffic). Catch one of the Cowboy/Folk Music dinner shows in the area if you have time.
- Colorado: Vacation destinations ABOUND in CO…here are a few things we really like
- Denver: Museum of Natural History is a ‘must see’; U.S. Mint offers tours, but requires security clearance which takes significant time and effort. Research this (WAY) ahead of time. Rocky Mountain National Park is approx.1 hr west of Denver
- Rocky Mountain National Park (Include some time in Denver too) This can be covered in a day, but with a few days, you can hike, attend a Ranger Talk and explore the park like it ‘deserves’ to be explored. 🙂
- Durango/Silverton – and the Narrow Gauge Railroad between the two; This affords views you cannot see anywhere else as the track goes where the road does not. Views are spectacular and I highly recommend it!! (great for kids – especially if they are ‘train’ fanatics) For those who don’t really want to ride the train all day long, (think of kids here….) they offer a one way train – with bus the other way. My suggestion is to take the train TO Silverton and the bus back to Durango (thinking especially of kids here). To get that option (and not be stuck doing it the opposite way) you must make reservations early. Those tickets go fast! If you prefer to drive between these two towns, you can take the “Million Dollar Highway” built back when a million dollars was a LOT of money!! 🙂
- Mesa Verde Nat’l Park: Mesa Verde is cliff dwelling Indian ruins; combine this with a visit to Durango/Silverton.
- Jeep Trails: South/Southwest part of CO. Reserve jeeps ahead of time in tourist season. BEST TIP: Rent the jeep 2 days in a row so you don’t have to return it by 5 pm…you can stay on the trails later the first night. I would say though, 3 days in a row is too much. You’ll need a day to rest in between before heading out again. (imho) There are enough jeep trails in the area to keep visitors busy for WEEKS. Depending on where you go/stay, this could be combined with Durango/Silverton/Mesa Verde.
- Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak (drive or take the cog rail); Focus on the Family; Garden of the Gods
- Utah National Parks: Utah is a GREAT place for the outdoor enthusiast. A family of children – young boys especially – will be thrilled with the climbing and exploring options. There are FIVE National Parks in SW Utah…all having their own special niche – and all fabulous! Note: I do NOT recommend going during the hottest part of the summer!!! (just my personal opinion…)
- Zion Nat’l Park:
The main road of Zion is only accessible by shuttle. Arrive early in the day to be able to park inside the park. After the lots fill, you’ll have to park in Springdale and take a shuttle from there, then transfer to the Zion shuttle.
- Bryce Canyon: Bryce is quite possibly the most unique park I’ve ever seen. The valley is full of pinnacles formed from erosion. There is a shuttle here too, but it’s optional. Arrive early to avoid the masses…
- Zion Nat’l Park:
- Arches National Park: All the canyons of SW Utah have arches, but Arches National park is a greatest concentration of them. – another very unique park and worth the time!
- Grande Escalante: This is a drive through SW Utah – en route from one National Park to another. – very scenic
- Canyonlands National Park
- Dallas Metroplex: Ft Worth Zoo (Our preference of zoos in the area) Six Flags/Hurricane Harbor; Dallas Art Museum; Sixth Floor Museum (the JFK assassination story) Arboretum; George W Bush Presidential Library; Ft Worth Stockyards, Our favorite DFW metroplex zoo is the Ft Worth Zoo. There are MANY things to do in the metroplex…search online for activities that fit your family.
- San Antonio: Alamo, Riverwalk; Sea World; Fiesta Texas; Short drive north is Schlitterbaun;
- Austin: the bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge come out every evening at sunset – there are tours, boats, etc..to make a full evening of this; LBJ Presidential Library; of course, the TX capital if you like to see different state capitals (we kind of like to at least drive by these for a quick look…)
- Galveston/Corpus Christi….and the entire Gulf Coast has all the beach activities you would expect not to mention a lot of really interesting History – The “Wall Street” of the 1800’s and the story of the Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the rebuilding and raising of the city by 17 ft – an incredible engineering feat for the day. Galveston, Texas
- Houston has the museums and activities you would expect in a metro area – and just a little way to the southeast is Kemah and the NASA Johnson Space Center in Webster.
- Padre Island: This is a nice place to visit but be aware that in March/April, it becomes a College Spring Break destination.
- Brownsville: Walk across the Rio Grande into Matamoras Mexico (10 yrs ago, it cost .25 pp each way….) At that time, a passport was not required but that’s been a while back. Personally, I probably wouldn’t cross the border now, with the recent events and warnings from the State Dept, but it’s a matter of personal preference….
THE REAL WEST
- California: Cali has SO much to offer the vacationer. Choose a region (south, central, north) to keep from being overwhelmed with the options. 🙂
- Redwoods National Park
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
- Yosemite National Park (I detailed this above in the section on Sierra Nevadas)
- Death Valley:
This is actually quite interesting, but do NOT go during the Summer. Their tourist season is WINTER. We went in Sept and it was fine, though getting hot, even then. It’s possible to hike this park during milder seasons (spring/fall) but only before 10 am each day
- San Diego: San Diego Zoo has pandas!!
- Disney Land: This is the first Disney park but it has many of the same attractions as it’s partner in Florida
- Golden Gate Bridge
- San Diego
- Grand Canyon National Park: Those who tour this park in a day don’t really ‘see’ it! You really need 2-3 days…..MINIMUM!! Each rim (North and South) is different. The South rim is the most ‘popular’ and the most ‘populated’. If your time is limited, see the “South” rim, but if you can make the long drive around the canyon to see the North Rim, you should. We planned it a little differently than some might – Enroute to California, we visited the South Rim on the way ‘west’ and the North rim as we headed east (home). That eliminated the LONG drive around the canyon – and perhaps enhanced our enjoyment by splitting it into two visits. (no burnout)
- Sedona: Beautiful vistas, sunrises and sunsets over the red sandstone formations, shopping; This can be combined with a trip to the Grand Canyon;
- Hoover Dam: This is 20 min. from Las Vegas; It could also easily be combined with a trip to the National parks of Southern Utah OR the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Flights to Las Vegas are often very economical I’ve written Hoover Dam with more detailed information.
- Crater Lake National Park: Beautiful and easily seen in a day unless you want to camp or hike. There are ALWAYS numerous hikes in any National Park.
- N. & S. Carolina: not only the beaches, but numerous lighthouses (some open for tours, others only for ‘seeing’ from the outside; Kitty Hawk and the Wright Bros museum/area is quite interesting; Lost Colony of Roanoke;
- Georgia: beaches, Civil War history
- The entire Gulf coast Shore from Galveston-Corpus Christie -New Orleans-Mobile, Alabama Pensacola…. and of course, down the west (Gulf) coast of FL
- Pensacola: White Sand Beaches; Naval Aviation Museum; Blue Angels if they’re in town
- Mobile: In addition to beaches in the area (I like Orange Beach) there’s the U.S.S. Alabama WWII battleship in Mobile Bay.
- California beaches – Expect crowds
- Northern California/Oregon shorelines are not for sunbathing, but are absolutely breathtaking with their rocky shores
Oahu: Pearl Harbor Memorial; Waikiki, The North Shore and Banzai Pipeline; the Banyan trees are a ‘must see’ in Honolulu
Hawaii/The Big Island: Volcano National Park; Coffee plantations; Orchid plantation; Akaka Falls
Kauai: Coffee plantations here too; NaPali coastline can ONLY be seen by boat or by air – no roads! It’s incredible!
This is certainly not a comprehensive list – that’s what the Frommer’s site is for. My purpose was to give ideas, tips and my idea of the ‘Must See/Do’s’.