We searched from the top of skyscrapers to the lowest desert in the U.S. to put together this list of amazing family trips. Whether your kids are interested in history or baseball or chocolate, these spots are best visited when your kids are little. Print it out and make your to-do list for 2020. Your next family vacation awaits!
1. The Statue of Liberty—New York, NY
Don’t let your kids’ only sight of Lady Liberty be on TV or the movies. Let them experience a sense of freedom at Liberty Island, where they can climb the stairs through the statue’s pedestal, explore the crown or visit the Statue of Liberty Museum. Kids can participate in the Junior Ranger program and earn a badge when they complete the educational activities, inside the information center and around the island. Reservations are highly recommended.
Find out more: nps.gov/stli
2. The Bean—Chicago, IL
The Bean is the main attraction in Millennium Park that reflects Chicago’s famous skyline and the puffy clouds above. Originally called Cloud Gate, this public sculpture is the home of the selfies, where your kids can see themselves from all sides thanks to a stainless steel coating of the bean-shaped sculpture. While you’re in the hood, check out the Jay Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry where you can stand in awe of this revolutionary outdoor venue and attend a free summer concert.
Find out more: redtri.com/chicago/millennium-park
3. Mississippi Civil Rights Museum—Jackson, MS
Civil Rights history comes alive for your school-age children at this thought-provoking museum. Through eight galleries, you can explore interactive exhibits, engaging artifacts and hear stories from people who fought for civil rights in Mississippi. The galleries encircle a reflective space entitled, ““This Little Light of Mine” with a dramatic sculpture that glows brighter as visitors gather. Follow the rich history of civil rights together, and learn how it changed the nation.
Find out more: mcrm.mdah.ms.gov
4. Houston Space Center—Houston, TX
Your kiddos dream of going to the moon? The Space Center Houston is their ticket to ride! Inspire their curiosity at this exciting learning center that uses space exploration to create an interest in science and math. Check out the more than 400 space artifacts, exhibits and experiences related to America’s human space-flight program. Known as the home of NASA Mission Control and International Space Station, you’ll get to see a behind the scenes look at the U.S. space program. One of your most memorable experiences is sure to be the epic Apollo 17 Command Module. To the moon!
5. Muir Woods—Mill Valley, CA
Chances are, your kids have never seen trees as tall as the California Redwoods. Literally giants, these 31 National and State parks are home to the most majestic trees on earth. You’ll even find three trees you can drive through! For the easiest access, head to Muir Woods National Monument, near San Francisco. As a part of the National Park System, kids can join the Junior Rangers, letting them care for the national parks and learn new ways to experience the environment. Walk among old-growth coast redwoods, explore the interpretive displays and hike the numerous hiking trails.
Find out more: redtri.com/san-francisco-muir-woods
6. Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame—NY
Hit a home run when you visit this museum devoted to our Nation’s pastime. Head to the Hall of Fame gallery to see plaques devoted to baseball greats and then check out uniforms that date back to the inception of the sport.
Find out more: baseballhall.org
7. Four Corners Monument—AZ, CO, NM and UT
If you ever wanted to be in four places at once, then the Four Corners Monument is a place you need to visit. This unique spot where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah intersect is a kid and Instagram favorite. The surrounding area has hiking and a visitor center where you can learn all about the area’s Navajo history.
Find out more: visitarizona.com
8. Gettysburg, PA
The town of Gettysburg is full of history and a great spot for a family visit. You can view living history demonstrations, dine in a period tea parlor and even experience the area aboard a steam-powered replica train. Head to the Gettysburg History Center to view a diorama of the 6,000 acre Battle of Gettysburg.
Find out more: destinationgettysburg.com
9. The Hollywood Sign—Los Angeles, CA
Whether to drive or hike to see the sign up close or you find the perfect selfie spot from a distance, the Hollywood sign is a must-visit for families when they come to Los Angeles. Many families choose Griffith Park as their viewing location as you’ll get some epic views of downtown as well as train rides and hiking trails perfect for kids.
Find out more: visitcalifornia.com
10. Colonial Williamsburg—VA
Immerse yourself in history when you visit Colonial Williamsburg. Visit the blacksmith shop to learn what this important trade created for those fighting in the Revolutionary War. Kids will love taking a carriage ride down main street and dining on colonial-inspired favorites at the tavern.
Find out more: colonialwilliamsburg.com
11. Zion National Park, Utah
The fourth most visited National Park in the United States, Zion National Park is now part of Greater Zion, which also includes St. George, Springdale, Hurricane, Washington and other towns. Take in the breathtaking scenery and surrounding red rock canyons as you head up to the mountains. Bring the kids for year-round outdoor recreation like mountain biking, hiking, kayaking and more. Show them the open road and historic petroglyphs with exhilarating ATV and Jeep Adventure Tours, or a view from an aerial tour. Enjoy a musical performance at the magnificent Tuacahn Center for the Arts with its 2,000 seat amphitheater. Looking ahead, Zion will also host the 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships.
Find out more: greaterzion.com
12. Hoover Dam—NV
This historic dam just outside of Las Vegas is a road trip must-see when visiting this area of the country. Built in the 1930s to produce hydroelectric power, kids will be awed by its massive size. Make sure you stop at the visitor center to learn all about how it was built. A small number of tickets are available on site to take an elevator down to see the inner workings of the dam.
Find out more: usbr.gov
13. National Civil Rights Museum—Memphis, TN
The National Civil Rights Museum seeks to open a dialogue about the story of African Americans who experienced and resisted discrimination—a history that spans slavery through the modern Civil Rights Movement, nonviolent protests to armed self-defense. The museum offers 260 artifacts, more than 40 new films, oral histories, interactive media and external listening posts that guide visitors through five centuries of history.
Find out more: civilrightsmuseum.org
14. Willis Tower—Chicago, IL
Formerly known as the Sears Tower, this Chicago skyline landmark offers an epic view from its Skydeck that you won’t want to miss. Daredevils can walk out on The Ledge, a glass-enclosed platform where you are full suspended above the street from 103 floors above.
Find out more: theskydeck.com
15. The Smithsonian Museums—Washington, DC
The thing about a visit to the Smithsonian Museums in D.C. is that there is literally something for everyone. From historical aircraft to exhibits about narwhals, the kids will definitely have their curiosity engaged on a visit to our nation’s capital.
Read about some of our favorite kid-friendly exhibits here.
16. Hershey’s Chocolate World—Hershey, PA
This sweet stop on the road trip circuit is one that is certain to please even the grumpiest of toddlers. Learn how chocolate is made and sample the wares as you go.
Find out more: hersheypa.com
17. Bandelier National Monument—Los Alamos, NM
This rugged and beautiful canyon and mesa country was home to humans as far back as 11,000 years ago. Check out cave dwellings, petroglyphs and other evidence about how people once lived.
Find out more: nps.gov
18. Monticello—Charlottesville, VA
Once home to Thomas Jefferson, this property stands as a legacy to the work that this president did for our country.
Find out more: home.monticello.org
19. Cadillac Mountain—Acadia National Park, ME
From October to March, this is the very first place in the country to see the sunrise, so visiting in winter is well worth it, weather withstanding. In summer, summiting Cadillac Mountain is guaranteed to be as easy as the drive to the top, where kids can explore the granite rocks (a result of volcanic activity over 350 million years ago!), paved paths and the overall majesty of Acadia National Park.
Find out more: acadiamagic.com/CadillacMountain
20. Niagara Falls State Park—Niagara, NY
It’s not every day you can see another country from where you stand! There are several ways to experience the famous falls up close. From the poncho get-up to venturing close enough to get soaked, Cave of the Winds’ 175-foot descent into Niagara Gorge is a child’s delight. If your little captain would prefer a boat-deck view, Maid of the Mist also promises powerful proximity to the thunder of the falls.
Find out more: check out our insider’s guide here.
21. Glenwood Hot Springs Resort—Glenwood, CO
Mountain-bound water lovers will definitely want to visit the world’s largest hot springs pool at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. Day or night and throughout the year, you can check out one of 15 mineral springs. If the kids want even more pool time, plan a summer dip to check out the kiddie pool and not one, but two 300-foot waterslides.
Find out more: hotspringspool.com
22. Royal Gorge Bridge & Park—Canon City, CO
If thrill seekers are curious to know what it feels like to be suspended 1,200 feet above ground, one of Royal Gorge’s six aerial gondolas offers an exhilarating way to find out. If anyone prefers to walk, its suspension bridge also straddles the 2,200-foot span of the Arkansas River.
Find out more: royalgorgebridge.com
23. Independence Hall—Philadelphia, PA
Teach the kids more about America’s fight for independence from Britain in Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty. In 1776, it was here that the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention created and signed an enduring framework of government—the United States Constitution. A visit to Independence Hall (don’t forget to check out the Liberty Bell!) will allow you to share a historic moment. Tickets are free, but you must join one of their tours.
24. Walt Disney World—Orlando, FL
While Disney definitely has lifelong super fans, the magic of the Happiest Place on Earth is strongest in childhood. Even if you do it once, it will be worth the look on their faces when they meet their favorite character, take that first ride down Splash Mountain, or otherwise delight in the fairy tales and fireworks. Grab the best Disney money-saving tips and tricks by clicking here.
25. Mt. Denali—Denali National Park & Preserve, AK
Whether you’re heading in the heart of winter or the full glory of a wildflower spring, there is something to be said for seeing the tallest mountain in North America with your own eyes. And clocking in at 20,000 feet and change, Mt. Denali has the honors. This is an ideal spot to teach little explorers just how mighty our planet is.
26. Empire State Building—New York City, NY
A first trip to the Big Apple is one to remember, as is that ride to the top of the Empire State Building. Nothing beats its 360-degree view of our largest U.S. city—you can see for 80 miles. The grandeur won’t be lost on kids—they’ll feel on top of the world from the 86th-floor observation deck—the highest open-air observatory in the city.
Find out more: esbnyc.com
27. Kīlauea Volcano—Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, HI
If you find yourself on the Big Island, you’ll absolutely want to visit the most active volcano in the world! Because of that, be sure to check conditions before you summit Kīlauea, but when the coast is clear, you’ll have a choice of hiking trails. You can also stay close to the action at Volcano House, camp nearby, or easily reach the park during a day trip from wherever you’re staying (it’s less than an hour from Hilo and two-three hours from Kailua-Kona). Aloha!
28. Old Faithful—Yellowstone National Park, WY
While several of our national parks made this list, Yellowstone is arguably our country’s most storied (and it’s first), thanks in no small part to the legendary status of Old Faithful, a geyser so cool it has its own webcam. And did you know you can see it under the stars (Visibility is best around a full moon.)?
29. Homestead Crater—Midway, UT
A true wonder of Mother Nature, Homestead Crater and its geothermal spring can be found 55 feet down a limestone rock that’s shaped like a beehive and only took 10,000 years to form. And while you have to be at least 10 to learn to scuba dive, this is the only place in the U.S. where you can do so in warm water—it’s 90-96 degrees year-round.
Find out more: homesteadresort.com
30. The Northern Lights—North Shore, MN
You don’t have to travel to Iceland or even Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis. Head to Minnesota’s North Shore for breathtaking views, lighthouses, scenic gondola rides and spotting the northern lights.
31. LEGOLAND Resort—Carlsbad, CA and Winter Haven, FL
If you really want epic fun, consider going big with a VIP Experience—you’ll get priority access to all attractions, a VIP Host who will let you in on some LEGOLAND secrets, an exclusive tour of the Model Shop along with a personalized building activity, as well as parent perks like valet parking and a photo package. Get all the tips and tricks you’ll need for a perfect trip here.
Find out more: legoland.com
32. Hoh Rain Forest—Olympic National Park, WA
No need to venture down to the Amazon in order to experience a rainforest. While Hoh’s major hiking trail doesn’t mess around at 17 miles, your kids may prefer two shorter loops, the Hall of Mosses Trail and Spruce Nature Trail that both clock in at right around a mile. You can camp by the river in the old-growth forest or stay in the town of Forks, which is only an hour away.
33. Valley Forge National Historical Park, Philadelphia
Imagine what George Washington and his Continental Army had to endure in the freezing cold winter of 1777. March on over to Valley Forge, where you can tour the park from your car, which features nine audio stops easily accessible from your phone. See Washington’s headquarters, encampments and barracks that will shed light on important colonial history in this beautiful park setting. When it’s warmer, take a hike or bike through the rolling hills.
34. Grand Canyon—Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
When we talk epic, it’s the Grand Canyon, or go home, baby. Jaw-dropping views, impressive hiking and camping and riding a mule to the canyon floor are all must-do activities. Check out some of our tips here.
35. Kennedy Space Center – Merritt Island, FL
Rocket fans literally can’t get any closer than this without applying to NASA. At a few miles away, spectators can see and feel the rumble of the spacecraft as it reaches for Earth’s orbit. But it’s well worth noting that Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has more to offer than rockets and launch pads. As part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you may just spot otters and dolphins swimming around and bald eagles sharing the skies with those rockets.
36. La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, CA
Did you know that the world’s most famous ice age fossil excavation site is in the middle of Los Angeles? Yup! Long before the Hollywood sign went up (some 11,000 years before), greater L.A. was home to a mecca of mammals. After checking out the observation pit that’s filled with fossils and watching paleontologists in action, the family can walk over to LACMA, another cultural gem in the heart of L.A.
Find out more: tarpits.org
37. The Gateway Arch—St. Louis, MO
Standing 630 feet tall, this catenary arch is the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. Head to the top and spy riverboats cruising along the Mississippi River below, or at night to see the city lights.
Find out more: gatewayarch.com
38. The Alamo—San Antonio, TX
The story of the Alamo dates back to 1700, but much of its history is tied to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. Known as one of the most pivotal battles in world history, it signifies Texan identity, the fight for liberty and bravery in the face of impossible odds.
Find out more: thealamo.org
39. Death Valley National Park—Death Valley, CA
The hottest, driest and lowest of our National Parks, Death Valley is like visiting another planet. Summer temps reach well above 100 degrees and winter often see snow-dusted mountain peaks. Kids will be amazed to visit the vast salt flats and see all the stars that this dark sky park brings to the naked eye.
Find out more: nps.gov
40. The Freedom Trail—Boston, MA
Follow the red line on the pavement around Boston, and you’ll get a 2.5-mile walking tour of 16 historical sites. The Freedom Trail is a unique collection of museums, churches, meeting houses, burying grounds, parks, a ship and historic markers that tell the story of the American Revolution and beyond.
Find out more: thefreedomtrail.org
41. The Mall of America—Bloomington, MN
So much more than a shopping mall, the Mall of America houses an aquarium, roller coaster, flight simulation ride and loads of other family entertainment favorites under one massive roof.
Find out more: mallofamerica.com
42. Glacier National Park—MT
For a peek at one of the most pristine and beautiful national parks, head to Glacier National Park. Huge glaciers in the last ice age carved out the valleys and lakes there today.
Find out more: nps.gov
43. The Space Needle—Seattle, WA
This recently-renovated beacon in the Seattle skyline is a favorite of tourists and locals alike. At the 500-foot level, you can get a moving 360-degree view of the city below.
Learn more in our Space Needle guide here.
44. Angel Island State Park—San Francisco, CA
For a trip to Angel Island, the adventure begins with a ferry ride from San Francisco, the East Bay or Tiburon. While you take in stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco skyline and that other famous bay island, Alcatraz, the kids can run wild where the Coast Miwok roamed 2,000 years ago. Get more tips about Angel Island here.
45. Manatee Swim—Crystal River, FL
Year-round water temps of 72 degrees? Check. Swim, snorkel or kayak with manatees in their home river? Check again (as long as little splashers are three and up). Learn all about the peaceful, grazing “sea cow” of Florida’s nature coast? Check once more. River Ventures offers the perfect way to introduce younger kids to the thrill of water life without contending with ocean swells or surprise sea creatures.
46. Art Institute of Chicago—Chicago, IL
Expose your kids to classic, world-renowned art like Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”, Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and Wood’s “American Gothic.” Then find their inner child in the Art Institute’s family-friendly programming. With free admission for kids under 14 and Chicago teens under 18, you can make your own work of art in the Family Room or create your own a customized family museum tour with JourneyMaker. Check their website for art projects, storytelling and other activities.
Find out more: artic.edu
47. Yosemite Falls & Yosemite National Park, CA
At over 2,500 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest in the country. Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is a paved trail accessible to all ages and takes all of about 30 minutes to stroll so even the newest walkers can hear the power of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. For more ideas check out our insider’s guide to Yosemite here.
—Mira Temkin, Kate Loweth & Jennifer Massoni Pardini
featured photo: Kate Loweth