Summer’s here! If you’re planning to hit the road or grab a flight with your family, you’re in luck: there’s still time to plan that quintessential family summer vacation. Whether you’re looking for summer vacation ideas to go big with an international trip or stay close to home with a weekend getaway, we’ve got you covered. Here are our top family vacation destination picks, for every category under the sun. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
Summer Vacation Ideas
Beach Summer Vacation Ideas
For the idyllic beach town experience, Nantucket can’t be beat. Families find a walkable town, calm, kid-friendly beaches, fine dining, and maybe some celeb spotting.
Lodging doesn’t come cheap during the summer months (look for a autumn stay if you want to snag a deal), but vacation rental homes are abundant on this bike-able, walk-able island.
Laguna Beach, California
My own stomping ground, Laguna Beach screams “beach vacation.” Warm weather, warm water, surfer dudes, palm trees — this beach town has it all.
Kids will love the beachside playground and boogie boarding, while parents will appreciate the California atmosphere and great dining.
Outer Banks, North Carolina
With indoor and outdoor activities galore, it won’t matter if it’s muggy and hot or rainy and cool at the Outer Banks. Explore Outer Banks beaches for kids, or eat on the piers.
This little beach town nestled on the Oregon coast is ideal for families who want to get away from it all and get off the beaten path.
Kids will love the wild, scenic beaches, nighttime bonfires, and kite flying. Parents will love the fresh seafood and peace and quiet.
Monterey is great for families because it’s not just a beach, it’s several — with a vibrant downtown, world-class aquarium, and historic significance thrown in. Parents will enjoy seeing Steinbeck’s stomping grounds, and kids will love spotting all the seals and sea otters along the piers.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A beach destination and an international destination rolled into one, Puerto Vallarta offers affordable luxury, miles of warm-water beaches, and a fun town with lots to see and do.
Less touristy than some Hawaiian Islands, Kauai offers families lush vegetation, warm beaches, and great hiking options. A stay at a working farm, such as North Country Farms, really gets families off the beaten path. It also offers a huge Kauai vacation rentals and its the best alternative for families and for everybody.
For a rugged beach vacation that still keeps families pampered, Acadia is both adventurous and relaxing. Families can hike and bike or beach-comb, or shop in the small town. Check out the national park while you’re there!
City Summer Vacation Ideas
New York, New York
With so much to see and do, families can’t go wrong with a New York City vacation. Plan to spend at least a full day in the cool sanctuary of Central Park, then devote some time to the traditional sights such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Empire State Building. For something unique, bike across the Brooklyn Bridge! You will enjoy eating your way through this diverse city.
A city tour and a history tour rolled into one, school-aged kids are the perfect age for the famed Freedom Trail. Families of all ages will love the Duck Tour, and everyone can enjoy Boston Common.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco has something for kids of all ages, from hands-on science museums to aquariums to famous prison tours. The city is visually stunning and fun to navigate via cable car, and best of all, families will beat the heat (you may even need a sweater!). You will love how easy it is to get around San Francisco with their public transportation.
San Diego, California
Looking for a city destination and a beach destination in one easy location? San Diego is tops for families who want to explore theme parks and city attractions and enjoy some beach downtime. Stay in the city center close to beaches, and take day trips to the zoo, Legoland California, and more. And visiting San Diego in the off season means you can avoid the crowds. And if you try camping there, you’ll enjoy even more family fun.
Families visiting Chicago have a little of everything close at hand: museums and exhibits, ball games, beaches, and theme parks. A Chicago stay is perfect mid-Midwest road trip, too.
If you stay in the Chicagoland suburbs, you can save money on your hotel and enjoy area attractions. Go northwest for Legoland Chicago (actually in Schaumburg) with a visit to Busse Woods and Woodfield Mall. You can go to to the western suburbs and enjoy the Brookfield Zoo, Morton Arboretum and DuPage Children’s Museum. Venture north and enjoy the Kohl Children’s Museum and the Chicago Botanic Gardens (actually in Glencoe).
An obvious choice, but one that can’t be omitted from the list! If you’re looking for a theme park stay, you can’t beat the mecca for Disney and Universal that is Orlando. Stay in a home rental to save money, or get the full theme park experience staying on-site at a theme park resort. You can also go to Florida to enjoy the beach and relax too.
Mountain and Lake Vacation Ideas
Big Sky, Montana
Perfectly situated beside Yellowstone National Park (but still away from the crowds), Big Sky offers hiking, extreme mountain fun like zip lines and ropes courses, and white water rafting. Take a day trip to Yellowstone, then retreat back to the sanctuary of the mountains!
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
You will be sure to love Wyoming and all there is to do. This cowboy town offers summer ski resort fun, mountain hikes, rodeos, and proximity to Grand Teton National Park. Take the kids horseback riding under the shadow of the Tetons! Authentic Cowboy Town Cody, Wyoming
Lake Tahoe, California
This breathtaking lake offers boating fun, swimming, and even scuba diving. When out of the water, families can hike, bike, or visit any one of the area ski resorts, which offer all kinds of summer offerings ranging from gondola rides to bungee trampoline jumping.
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Boat, kayak, swim, or just relax by the calm waters of this stunning lake. A summer tradition with many East Coast families, Lake Winnipesaukee lodging can be difficult to come by; for last minute deals, check out home vacation rental listings or look at nearby camping.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
To a West Coaster, the Berkshires more resemble hills than mountains, but they still offer the same level of outdoor opportunities for active families. We love the river rafting along the Deerfield river, and the hiking and extreme sport offerings at resorts like Bousquet Mountain.
The Keystone Resort in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado makes for the perfect summer (or early fall) escape for families. The hiking is gorgeous, and the rivers are clear and beautiful.
Families can stay for cheap at ski resort properties like Keystone. Just be sure to get used to the high elevation change in Denver, first.
Gacier National Park, Montana
For some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, head to Glacier. Stay at one of the national park’s breathtaking national park lodges (rates are more affordable than you might think), and spend your days hiking or taking one of the park’s many guided tours, which include boating and hiking.
International Vacation Ideas
While nearby London will be busy with the Olympic Games, Dublin and the surrounding areas of the Emerald Isle make for a great international vacation spot. Tour the museums and the famed Kilmainham Jail with school-aged kids. Just save the pub crawl for an adults-only trip!
Filled with history, art and crowds, families often think Rome is beyond them, but in fact, this city is family-friendly. With pizza and gelato on every corner, kids will be well-fed and with advanced planning (and preparation for what they’ll see), tours of the Colosseum and Vatican are wonderfully enriching for children.
Can Paris really be beat? In summer, it’s warm without being uncomfortably hot, and families can choose to be active or leisurely. Rent an apartment for a week or more to see the sights and sample plenty of corner Parisian cafes and public parks at a nice pace.
Cultural, exciting, elegant, and accessible, Barcelona is the ideal destination to please both kids and adults. The food is fantastic, parks and kid-oriented activities are abundant, and beach day trips are within reach.
One of the cleanest and prettiest cities I’ve ever seen, Vancouver offers a lot. You can tour the city, learn about when they hosted the Olympics, have fun in the parks, including some amazing indoor water parks, and have fun exploring outdoors in this scenic city. It’s the perfect destination for families who want to do it all.
National Parks Vacation Destinations
Zion National Park, Utah
Enjoy hiking and rock climbing? Zion is heaven. If you are a geology buff or awed by nature, you will love Zion. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy seeing who makes their home in Zion.
Stay just outside the park boundary and take the free shuttle buses in to hike and explore each day. Plan to spend afternoons by the pool.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon had to be included, didn’t it? What many families don’t realize is how much there is to do here away from the park rim (where the crowds gather). Plan an excursion with older kids down to the canyon floor, either by Colorado River rafting or donkey-back. (While you are in the area checkout Prescott, Arizona.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
With so much for young families to do (trails are very accessible and easy to navigate in the main touring areas), the Great Smokies provide a nice introduction to wilderness travel.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, Michigan:
This national park is in easy reach of low-key, fun beach towns, scenic beaches, and family recreation while still give visitors an outdoor, wilderness experience.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
Though technically in the high desert, Mesa Verde is at a surprisingly high elevation, so heat isn’t a big issue. Families with kids of all ages will love exploring the ancient Pueblean villages carved into the cliff-sides.
Channel Islands National Park, California:
Less visited than most national parks — likely because you have to schedule a boat — the Channel Islands are a great place to spend a day (stay in Ventura, CA) or camp out (book a site at Santa Cruz Island).
Historic (and Educational) Vacation Ideas
A history buff’s dream, Williamsburg engages kids and adults alike with its famed historical reenactments and tours. Stay right in the village for an authentic experience.
Yes, it’s a city destination, but a historic and educational one at heart. Best saved for when your kids are school-aged and able to comprehend the American history and government associated with the city, families will love the Smithsonian museums and Capital Hill sights.
Gold Country, California
Revive the California Gold Rush in the California foothills, with visits to the gold mining museums and sites in the small town of Grass Valley, and Sutter’s Fort State Park in Sacramento. Head north toward Tahoe to see the Donner Party Memorial, too.
The site of the Battle of Little Bighorn, this section of Montana offers rich Native American history and the chance to learn about Custer’s Last Stand.
De Smet, South Dakota
For Little House on the Prairie fans, South Dakota offers a network of sites mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Kids too young to understand the novel references will still have fun visiting the small midwest towns and outdoor spaces.
Kids will learn all about this turning point of the Civil War at Gettysburg, plus have fun at the interactive exhibits, museums, and tour of the battlefield.
Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts
Stroll around a pilgrim village, learn all about the Mayflower, and see how the Wampanoag people helped the earliest settlers to America.
Theme Park Vacation Destinations
Disney World, Florida
Well, of course, right? But where to stay? And for how long? Staying on-site at Disney has many perks, but doesn’t have to break the bank: consider a moderate resort such as Port Orleans, or camping at Fort Wilderness. Stay a week to do it right! (Then move over to Universal for at least two days there!)
Legoland is located only miles from San Diego in Carlsbad, CA. On-site and near-on-site lodging does exist, but be on the lookout for a new Legoland resort to open soon! Plan to spend two days at Legoland since they’ve added water features section to this already large park. There is also an awesome Legoland in Chicago we’ve visited over 12 times
Disneyland Resort, California
With CarsLand and two full parks to explore, Disneyland is a wonderful option for West Coast families. No need to travel all the way to Florida! Stay on-site at the newly renovated Disneyland Hotel.
Hersheypark, similar in style to California’s Knott’s Berry Farm, offers fun for the youngest kids up to family thrill-seekers. Time to get your roller coaster riding done!
Note: Something great about visiting Hershey is you can also have a wonderful time just visiting Hershey’s Chocolate World attraction and not the amusement park. We were there in the off-season when the amusement park was closed and had a wonderful visit learning all about Hershey. We rode the (free) “ride” in the Hershey center.
We booked a trolley tour around Hershey grounds… kids loved the free candy samples! We also paid to make our own Hershey candy bars. Their souvenir shop is amazing too!
Great Wolf Lodge:
Great Wolf Lodge (with locations across the US) isn’t strictly a theme park, but it falls in the same category. One part water park, one part interactive play zone, and one part lodge, get tips on planning a Great Wolf Lodge stay that promise good old fashioned family fun for a fraction of the usual theme park price.
My kids have traveled the country, and still always ask to go back to Great Wolf Lodge. You can also make a wonderful vacation out of going to Wisconsin Dells. There is a Great Wolf Lodge there along with so many other amazing water parks, inside and outside.
Camping Vacation Ideas
White River Campground, Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
This campground, voted one of the west’s best by Sunset Magazine, has it all: stunning scenery, nice amenities, and no advanced reservations. First come, first served!
Sunset Bay State Park, Oregon
Sunset Bay offers RV and tent camping, as well as our favorite, yurt camping! Located right next to a wonderful beach, clamming and hiking is also on offer.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
This beach-side campground is perfect for Midwest vacationers looking to get away from the daily grind. Kids love camping right next to the sand and playing on the dunes! It’s incredible that this unique oasis exists here.
Lake of the Woods, Oregon
This campground-lodge hybrid sits on southern Oregon’s Lake of the Woods, tucked away below Crater Lake National Park. Opt to stay in a cabin or tent, but make sure you bring the insect spray — the mosquitoes love to snack on vacationers!
Tuolumne Meadows, California
Located above the busy, crowded Yosemite Valley floor, Tuolumne Meadows offers several camping and lodging options, ranging from backpacking routes to car camping to cabin or canvas tent stays. Just be sure to book early!
Apache Trail, Arizona (Honorable Mentions)
Today the Apache Trail remains one of Arizona’s most scenic drives. Twisting over jagged ridges and plunging into sheer-walled canyons, it steers its wild course along the northern flanks of the Superstition Mountains, linking the Valley of the Sun and Theodore Roosevelt Lake.
Rocky Mountain Park Inn
The beauty and serenity of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado have awed many visitors for years. Visitors to the area can enjoy a modern hotel or bed and breakfast stay and then step outdoors and be surrounded by natural beauty.
We loved our time at the Rocky Mountain Park Inn. Located in Estes Park, Colorado, it’s in the heart of the mountain range. It’s a simple, two mile drive to get to the Rocky Mountain National Park or just a short half-mile walk to get to the center of this charming town.
Forever Earth Environmental rooms and meetings offer a unique view on the environmental ethics of the hotel.
They can instruct visitors on life changing ways of environmental responsibility.
This includes a comprehensive environmental health and safety management program that is available to guests.
Choosing a green hotel
Needless to say, the hotel is committed to protecting the earth by using recycled products, reducing waste, conserving energy, and giving preference to vendors and suppliers that have the same environmental or green philosophies of Rocky Mountain Park Inn.
Other ways to appreciate the environment we preserve are taking in some of the outdoor activities that can be found in the area. Guests can enjoy hiking, fly fishing, rock climbing, and mountain biking.
That’s not to say, you can’t just make the two mile trek to the park for a relaxing picnic–that works too and what better way to spend an afternoon; relaxing and surrounded by beauty. The inn offers various specials throughout the year, especially during off peak seasons.
Regardless of specials being offered, the Rocky Mountain Park Inn is a great place to stay for a weekend getaway or for a week long family trip. Visitors won’t be disappointed with the many things to see and do.
Besides the national park nearby, the town of Estes Park has things to do and see as well. Of course, the ladies will want to check out Trendz At The Park for some boutique shopping.
I have to give an honorable mention for How to Take a Family Vacation to Cuba. With this long list of family-friendly places to visit, you will have the time of your life.