Ah, summer. Summer, summer, summer. That magical time of year when the kids can play hooky for three months and you get a few weeks away from the office. A number of days to go where you want and do whatever you please. It’s around the corner so you better start planning an epic trip immediately—with the family, of course.
That’s right. You, the spouse, and the kids are going to pack into a comfortable rental car and set off like the Griswolds across the great American landscape in search of our best family-friendly destinations. To help you narrow down the top options, we are here to provide a list of the best destinations. We chose places near national parks, locations on the shores of lakes, and even a town in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Happy travels!
Located on the north shore of “The Garden Island,” Hanalei Town is everything you could ask for in a family vacation destination. There’s white-sand beaches lined with coconut palms and gentle, rolling waves just off shore. Load up the car with the kids and go for an unforgettable drive along Kuhio Highway, then head back to town for a meal at the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co. The lunch plate of kalua pork might change your life.
If you’re looking for a town that’s a throwback to the days when lawmen and outlaws shared drinks at the saloon, the town of Williams, Arizona, is the place for you and the whole family. Make your way to the Wild West Junction and let the kids live like cowboys for a day or two. And when you’re ready to experience one of the greatest natural wonders on earth, take the car for a scenic drive up Arizona State Route 64 until you get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Be sure to bring your camera.
Just a hop, skip, and ferry ride away from the groovy streets of downtown San Francisco is the charming town of Sausalito, CA. This family-friendly spot will dazzle you with its quaint streets, epic views, and friendly locals. Shuffle the kiddos through the exhibits at the Bay Area Discovery Museum and teach them how to ease the ropes with a sailing lesson with Captain Kirk’s San Francisco Sailing. Close out the day with a waterfront meal at The Spinnaker and enjoy the views across the bay. Not only will the little ones rest easy, but we bet you and the spouse will enjoy a fabulous night’s sleep.
The brilliant waters of the Atlantic Ocean sparkle in the distance as you weave your way in and out of the cute shops along Grand Avenue. Welcome to Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Teach the family a thing or two about lobster rolls by ordering a round of the finest at The Shack. After you and the family have gorged yourselves silly on juicy crustaceans, going for a ride around Saco Bay along Maine State Highway 9 is the perfect way to handle a food coma.
The shores of Seneca Lake are home to beautiful state parks, cozy lodges, and the charming village of Watkins Glen. As you cruise down Main Street through the Historical District, you might feel the need for speed. That’s because this Upstate New York hamlet is home to Watkins Glen International. “The Glen,” as it’s commonly known, is a world-famous raceway still in use today. Check the schedule of events and catch a race. Be a hero with your little ones when you surprise them with a model of one of the classic cars whipping around the track.
The Eastern Shore region of the “Old Line State” is loaded with nooks and crannies. And in one of those nooks and crannies is the summer resort town of Cambridge, Maryland. Head to the Harriet Tubman Museum & Education Center and educate the family about one of the most important abolitionists in history. Then head to the Richardson Maritime Museum, where you can learn more about the region’s history with wooden vessels. And of course, no trip to Maryland is complete without stuffing yourself silly with crab cakes. Stop into Ocean Odyssey Seafood and Beer Garden, where they serve crab six ways from Sunday.
What are some things to do in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee? Where do we start? Get a lay of the land by taking a lovely drive through the twisting mountain roads of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The views from some of the lookout points will allow you to see all the way to Kentucky! Head back to town and take selfies with fake celebrities at the Hollywood Wax Museum. But the real treat for visiting Pigeon Forge is spending the day at Dollywood. Country music legend Dolly Parton owns it so you know it’s good.
Here’s a cool fact we bet you didn’t know: The first store that would eventually become the Walmart Corporation was started in Arkansas. Located on N. Main Street, Bentonville, Walton’s 5-10 store is now the Walmart Museum. There are all sorts of exhibits detailing the rich history of one of America’s biggest companies. And please don’t forget to show the kiddos wonderful works of art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It was actually founded by one of the famed Walmart kids. It’s a spot the whole family will love.
Whether you live in the state of Alabama or are just visiting, you have a choice to make: Crimson Tide or Tigers? And when you visit the great city of Auburn, it better be tigers. Roam the grounds of nearby Auburn University—their mascot is the tiger—and see if your young lads or lasses may want to become striped cats during their undergrad. And while you’re cruising through campus, make a stop at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. Oh, by the way, The Donald E. Davis Arboretum is definitely worth a visit, too.
The shores of Lake Michigan are perfect for summer getaways and the town of Ephraim, Wisconsin, just happens to be on those splendid shores. Set sail through the tranquil waters of Green Bay with Bella Sailing Cruises and then take a Segway tour through town. People with think you and the family are from the future.
Walking through the streets of downtown Pella, Iowa, might make you believe you’re in a countryside Dutch village. That’s because this place was founded by a bunch of Dutch immigrants and they brought as much old world flavor to America that they could carry. Don’t believe us? A day trip to the Vermeer Windmill (the largest windmill in the U.S.), Historical Village, and the Scholte House will have you taking our side in no time.
Located an hour’s drive south of Indianapolis, Nashville, Indiana, is about as cozy and artsy a town you’ll come across this summer. Take a drive down Main Street and pull over at one or many of the awesome shops to pick up souvenirs for the kiddos. Then head over to the Pioneer Village and get a look at what life was like in the olden days.
What more could you ask for? These are the best destinations in each region we think the family will love. Whether you’re headed to a spot along the Pacific Coast of California, in the middle of the ocean itself, or high up in the mountains of Arkansas, you won’t regret hitting the road this summer.