Top 10 Summer Travel Destinations for Families

By: Jessika Toothman

Where will you snap family vacation photos this summer? See more family vacation pictures.
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As summer begins and school gets out, vacationing families start hitting the road or snapping up plane tickets. But not all destinations are ideally suited for family travel.

You want lots of attractions and activities aimed at kids, along with sights that adults find interesting, and the comfort and convenience to make the whole trip a fun and worry-free experience for everyone.


Our first stop isn't technically one locale, but several, scattered all across the United States. Can you guess some of the places we'll be potentially vacationing?

10: National Parks

Old Faithful won't let you down; you can promise the kids they'll see a geyser blow.
Old Faithful won't let you down; you can promise the kids they'll see a geyser blow.
Bob Stefko/The Image Bank/Getty Images

National parks across the country can provide thrilling vacation opportunities for families. Take Yellowstone, for example. There's the excitement of waiting for Old Faithful to blow, and the thrill of exploring the park's other geothermal features. Families can travel around the grounds on horseback or take day hikes into the backcountry, where there are opportunities for wildlife sightings. In some instances, however, Yellowstone's bolder wildlife will come find you, and you'll have to be careful they don't wander too close.

At Yosemite, another of the great national parks, families can tour groves of giant sequoias, and if little legs get tired, a tram tour traverses the steeper terrain. (If anyone in your family has impaired mobility, arrangements can be made to drive your vehicle behind the tram.) In the rest of the park, stark rock formations and shimmering waterfalls are sure to have everyone reaching for a camera.


And that's just two of the close to 400 national parks across the United States; there are all sorts of opportunities out there -- many within easy driving distance.

9: Costa Rica

Costa Rica kills when it comes to ecotourist adventure. Up and down the coasts, there's swimming, sunning, surfing and snorkeling on some of the most picturesque beaches on the planet. Assuming you can drag your family away from the seashore, consider heading inland where you can trek through the shrouded forests of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and other rain forests. In many spots outdoor activities like canopy tours are available, and even zip lines for more daring family members. Volcanoes are another cool Costa Rican attraction, including the highly active Arenal Volcano. But whether your family hikes, snorkels or zips around the country, always keep an eye out for interesting exotic plant and animal species.

Next, we're going island hopping. First stop: magnificent Maui.


8: Maui, Hawaii

Give your family a great day at the beach they'll never forget.
Give your family a great day at the beach they'll never forget.
Thomas Northcut/Taxi/Getty Images

Like in Costa Rica, water-related recreation is very popular on Maui. Families can try out all sorts of fun aquatic activities such as parasailing, wind surfing, boogie boarding, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving. Maui even has its own national park, Haleakala National Park to be precise, and we already know those make great destinations for family travel. At Haleakala, visitors will see gurgling streams and cascading waterfalls, along with all manner of species native to Hawaii. And for families who can stay up a little later, the summit of Haleakala is a great place to see the glory of the Milky Way.

For our next summer stop, we'll be hitting up another destination renowned for family fun.


7: Orlando, Fla.

The first thing most families probably associate with Orlando is Walt Disney World, and for many, that's probably "enough said." But Orlando also has other attractions that help ensure it's a great summer destination for families. Besides the theme parks and water parks like SeaWorld and Universal Studios, families can race go-karts, ride hot air balloons, play miniature golf and get in a round of regular golf, too. And if you're into kitsch, Florida's specially styled souvenirs are cheap and plentiful in countless shops, and dinner shows are a great way to wrap up a day.


6: Boston, Mass.

Boston is loaded with kid-friendly attractions that adults will enjoy right alongside them. There's the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science and the Skywalk Observatory located at the Prudential Center. You can take a restfully scenic ride on the Swan Boats that float through the lagoon at the Boston Public Garden or go for a spin on the carousel at the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Throughout the summer months, families can also take a cruise to go whale watching -- maybe getting lucky enough to spot humpback, minke or finback whales.


5: San Francisco, Calif.

San Francisco's cable cars help families tackle the city's steep hills.
San Francisco's cable cars help families tackle the city's steep hills.
Mitchell Funk/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

San Francisco is a great example of a city that has something for everyone. There's the mercantile bustle of Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39, the thrilling disquiet of visiting infamous Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay, and the novelty of traipsing through Chinatown and Japantown. Golden Gate Park offers all sorts of outdoor leisure opportunities, as well as museums and botanical gardens. A ride on the cable cars is, of course, a must for any family visiting San Fran, and the rest of the city's comprehensive public transportation network (while sometimes confusing for first-timers) is the way to go after a long day spent walking and sightseeing.


4: New York City, N.Y.

Ready to see the majestic Statue of Liberty up close and personal?
Ready to see the majestic Statue of Liberty up close and personal?
Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images

New York City can get a little steamy during the height of summer, but if you catch it on the outskirts of the season, the weather will be more cooperative and you can enjoy the Big Apple in comfort. It's a little hard to know where to start when it comes to recommending places to visit in New York City, because there's just so much to do there. But for a family's first visit, here are a few must-see-sights to consider.

For starters, schedule a stop-off in Central Park. Kids can frolic in some of the park's many playgrounds and water features, and ongoing activities, like plays, concerts and sports, should entertain the whole family throughout the summer months. There are the near-obligatory visits to places like Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and Times Square. Other great sights to add include the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (the Enterprise orbiter's official home after decommissioning).


Our next summer destination is similarly jam-packed with places to visit.

3: Washington, D.C.

When it comes to vacationing in Washington, D.C., a family's best option is to start at the National Mall. Centered on or near the Mall are the 13 Smithsonian museums, galleries and gardens -- all free of charge -- including the Air and Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, the American Indian Museum and the African Art Museum. The National Zoo is just a short distance away.

When it comes to the National Mall and Memorial Parks proper, you've got a whole bunch of historical sites to tour. There's the Washington Monument, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, to name a few. You can also tour a number of government buildings, including the White House.


2: Chicago, Ill.

Chicago gets mighty frosty during winter, making warm summer months the perfect time for families to pay a visit to the Windy City. A good first stop is Navy Pier, where you'll find the Chicago Children's Museum, a Ferris wheel, a carousel, a swing ride, a fun house, miniature golf and more. Some nights, you'll even see the lake lit up by a stunning fireworks display.

If you're looking for something to bring home, the Magnificent Mile has you covered. And while you shop, you'll stroll past famous landmarks and examples of Chicago's definitive architecture. The lower exterior walls of the Tribune Tower are even embedded with stones collected from more than 150 global architectural landmarks, including the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China. If all that walking starts to wear out little ones, hop on one of the numerous sightseeing tours.


1: Alaska

Marvel at mighty glaciers in comfort, from the bow of a cruise ship.
Marvel at mighty glaciers in comfort, from the bow of a cruise ship.
Driendl Group/The Image Bank/Getty Images

If Chicago gets too cold in the winter for ideal family travel, Alaska takes it to a whole other level. But during the summer, many parts of Alaska are quite temperate, making it much more accessible for families looking to explore the fantastic scenery of the Land of the Midnight Sun.

One great place to tour is Denali National Park, home of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. (We were serious about that national park recommendation!) Cruises, both large and small, are also a popular and relaxing way to experience the impressive Alaskan landscape. Massive glaciers and towering fjords will have everyone in the family snapping pictures like crazy.

So, are you ready to book your summer travel plans yet? Any one of these 10 (plus) family-friendly destinations has the potential to create lifetime memories for the young, the old, and everyone in between.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Brown, Derek. "Top 10 summer travel destinations for 2011." Orbitz. May 2, 2011.
  • Central Park Conservancy Web site.
  • Fodor's Web site.
  • Frommer's Web site.
  • Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site.
  • Kandel, Bethany. "Kid-friendly NYC." NYC & Company.
  • Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau Web site.
  • Lonely Planet Web site.
  • Magnificent Mile Web site.
  • National Parks Service Web site.
  • Navy Pier Web site.
  • Smithsonian Web site.
  • The Trust for the National Mall Web site.