10 Great American Destinations for Family Vacations in 2018

Lincoln Memorial small file
Touring the memorials and museums in DC is especially great for families because nearly every attraction is free.

Kids learn best by doing, and travel is an ideal way to expand their horizons. Just ask them to tell you what they remember most, and it will likely be an adventure they had with their family. Depending on your preference—whether you love amusement parks, beaches, shows, museums, nature or sports—here’s a list of the top 10 family friendly destinations where you can still get a reservation. Go explore!

  1. Orlando, Florida
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The parades in Disney’s Animal Kingdom are not to be missed!

This is the year to visit one of the most popular destinations in the United States thanks to the addition of Toy Story Land featuring two themed attractions, the “Slinky Dog Dash” roller coaster and “Alien Swirling Saucers.” Kids will love the night event at Animal Kingdom called “Rivers of Light” and Universal Studios’ new lagoon show with animated characters, lighting and special effects. Other notable attractions include the Caribbean-themed Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, as well Disney’s Art of Animation, a resort with themed family suites and the largest resort pool in Walt Disney World.  Nona Adventure Park is a new water-sports park featuring an inflatable, floating obstacle course, wakeboarders pulled along by cables, and a 60-foot climbing tower with a ropes course. The park opened this summer in the Lake Nona area of Orlando.

2. Southern Utah

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Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Summer’s pretty awesome in Utah with mountain regions that offer scenic gondola rides and outdoor music concerts. The entire state is one big vacation with its incredibly stunning parks like Zion, Bryce and Canyonlands. For families who enjoying hiking and biking, book a visit to Bryce Canyon National Park where outfitters can help you arrange horseback tours, caving and rock climbing. In nearby Dixie National Forest, try cycling on the paved paths that snake through wild flowers and impressive rock scenery. Younger kids will adore the Wildlife Adventure Museum with its petting zoo and taxidermy exhibits

3. Atlanta, Georgia

The Coke Museum in Atlanta is so much fun!

Coke World is a feast for the eyes, ears, mouth and nose. It’s a fully interactive museum with lots of interesting history and even a little science. My kids’ favorite part was tasting Coke products from around the world. The Atlanta History Center is another great reason to visit. The museum displays rare and notable artifacts from Atlanta’s storied history, with items ranging from Atlanta-native Martin Luther King Jr.’s life to props from the TV show, The Walking Dead. Remember the Olympics of 1996 with a stroll through Centennial Park. After a hike in picturesque and massive Stone Mountain Park, settle in to watch the laser show that evening. Older kids will enjoy a tour of CNN headquarters. Consider buying an Atlanta CityPass which can save money and time when touring Atlanta’s important attractions.

4. Cleveland, Ohio

Rhianna’s costume at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland

Animal lovers should visit Cleveland. The city has four enlarged habitats at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo including the “Tiger Passage” which quadrupled in size to enhance the comfort of their tiger population. Nearby, the very kid-friendly Cleveland Museum of Natural History has the Perkins Wildlife Center & Woods Garden, with immersive, habitat that showcases species native to Ohio like the bald eagle, bobcat, groundhog and eastern screech-owl. Older kids will love the Rock and Roll History Hall of Fame. It’s filled with artifacts from musicians from their parents’ era and current ones too.

5. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains are mesmerizingly beautiful with fresh mountain breezes all summer.

The National Park Service introduced polar bears into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Polar Bear Relocation project is an effort to preserve a species that’s been direly effected by climate change. While visiting the National Park and helping to save the planet, you can play too, while staying at the new Dollywood DreamMore Resort, there you’ll have guest privileges in both the Dollywood theme park and Dollywood’s Splash Country.

6. Jamestown and Yorktown, Virginia

Museum of the American Revolution in Yorktown Battlefield
The Battle of Yorktown is part of the story at Historic Jamestown and the American Revolution Museum near Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jamestown is an expansive museum that recreates Jamestown Settlement and a Powhatan village where actors demonstrate their crafts and tools. Visitors can observe firing weapons, try donning armor, tour the chapel and imagine the difficult life of our first British Colonial settlement. The American Revolution Museum in Yorktown is the place to learn about life in America before and after the American Revolution, including conditions experienced by women, children, Native Americans and the large population of enslaved individuals. You’ll learn how each member of society played a role in helping to gain their liberty from the British Crown. Experience a 4-D movie showcasing the sounds, smells, and sights of this bloody war. Learn how Alexander Hamilton played an integral role in this battle using their interactive app. You can also visit Yorktown Battlefield to learn about this decisive victory that led to the British surrender.

7. Washington, D.C.

Washington DC National Mall
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC

The  Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture opened two years ago, and it’s still extremely popular. If you want to visit, be sure to book your tickets online in advance. This summer, the new Oprah exhibit opened, part of the many  meaningful exhibits on display here. While touring the other Smithsonian museums, which are all free and very kid-friendly, your kids love will riding the historic carousel and racing across the National Mall to see Abraham Lincoln in his big chair inside the Lincoln Memorial. Almost all the museums and attractions in Washington DC are free making it the perfect place for a family vacation.

8. Asheville, North Carolina

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina

The Biltmore Estate has always been a big draw for adults, but with the opening of the family friendly Village Inn on Biltmore Estate, now you can bring the kids. Besides touring America’s largest most lavish home, you and your kids can go tandem bike riding, take a carriage ride, visit the farm animals, and even drive a real Land Rover (junior size) on their tiny tot’s Adventure Course. While you’re there, tour the free Botanical Gardens of Asheville and ask for the Discovery Passport for kids, as well as take a dip in the path-side stream.

9. Newport Beach, California

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Crystal Cove State Park at Sunset near Newport Beach, California

Nature lovers, are you dreaming of quiet beaches without noisy boardwalks? The sunset at Crystal Cove State Park will leave you spellbound, while your kids frolic in the gentle surf, exploring the tide pools and climbing the chaparral canyons along the 3.2 miles of deserted coastline. They’ll also love the amusement park rides at the Balboa Pier, one of the last coastal amusement areas in the country. Don’t miss tasting one of their famous frozen chocolate-dipped bananas on a stick.

10. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh from Mount Washington
View from the Incline in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s nickname is “Kidsburgh” because there is so much for families to do. First stop should be the Smithsonian’s Heinz History Center, in the lively Strip District. See the exhibit on the birth of ketchup as well as “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” with artifacts from the iconic show.  Tour the Egyptian exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and dig for bones in Bone Hunters Quarry. Explore the Phipps Conservatory Children’s Garden, which his open year round, and has engaging interactive installations. Before you leave, take a ride up history, on Pittsburgh’s famous Duquesne Incline.

The Heinz History Museum in Pittsburgh covers the history of the region and is located inside the Heinz Ketchup Factory

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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.

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