The desire for exciting international travel beckons everyday. You see it on dreamy billboards and in glamorous magazines. But sometimes a lack of time or financial restrictions limit your family vacation options. So, in those moments, you can turn to destinations that are on your doorstep.
While the theme parks around Orlando, Florida might be the first place that comes to mind, the United States is home to hundreds of kid-friendly getaways that the whole family will love.
Here are the 20 best cities and towns in the USA that will satisfy your itchy feet and help you #WanderWisely.
1) Nashville, Tennessee
The home of country music and some of the best food in the U.S. So why would kids love it? They can record and mix their own music at the Country Music Hall of Fame or create beautiful art at the Frist Center For The Visual Arts. Then indulge in a handful of locally-made treats at the Goo Goo Clusters flagship store!
2) Tallahassee, Florida
Florida is known for Key Lime Pie, Key West and Central Florida’s theme parks, but did you know some of the most amazing wildlife and nature in the state can be found in the capital, Tallahassee? Zip line over swamps at the Tree-to-Tree Adventure or take a jungle cruise at Wakulla Springs (the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring) to see manatees, gators and more!
Manatees near Wakulla Springs
3) New York, New York
This isn’t just a big city for adults, but a wonderland for kids. From winter ice-skating in Central Park to eating $1 pizza slices on 7th Ave to the free Staten Island Ferry, there are plenty of low-cost attractions even in one of America’s more expensive cities. For a truly unique experience, try The Ride – part city tour, part comedy show, and part stage performance – all inside a talking bus.
4) Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Regularly rated as one of North America’s best ski slopes with top instructors to teach even the youngest kids. Also see wild bison and elk roaming the grasslands, or just build a snowman.
5) Fort Wayne, Indiana
With so many places to visit in Indiana, this is one of our favorites. Ride a giant slide at Science Central or maybe Mom just needs some retail therapy at the Vera Bradley factory. For something different, visit Genealogy Center for free and discover your family’s history.
6) Juneau, Alaska
Why would anyone head this far north? If pristine glaciers and wild black bears don’t convince you, then gold fever will! Pan for real gold at what used to be the world’s largest gold-producing mill within the city that birthed Alaska’s gold rush. That’s about as gold as it gets. This gorgeous port town also offers some of the best vistas in Alaska thanks to the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway.
7) Rapid City, South Dakota
Most people come here for a night so they can visit Mount Rushmore, but in the Rapid City region you can dig for mammoth bones, explore Wind Cave (one of the longest in the world), try to escape the begging burros at Custer State Park or just get awestruck by the world’s largest drugstore (and world’s #1 roadside attraction).
8) Bloomington, Minnesota
Has the winter weather got you down? Then take an entirely indoor vacation in America’s biggest mall. You can scream your way down a thrilling rollercoaster at Nickelodeon Universe, try your hand at surfing at the Water Park of America, visit the aquarium and eat your heart out.
9) Louisville, Kentucky
Take a thrilling ropes course, then an underground zip line over a dark chasm in Louisville’s Mega Cavern. Once you’ve caught your breath, race virtual horses at the Kentucky Derby Museum – an interactive, hands-on museum that every child is guaranteed to love. Baseball fans will rejoice at the Louisville Slugger Museum factory tour, where the Major League’s most popular bats are made. This city literally has something for everyone.
10) Chicago, Illinois
In the heart of the Windy City is the free Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the oldest in the nation. Your kids will enjoy Emerald City Theatre, combining arts and education into child-centric stage performances. Pig out on deep-dish pizza, take in a baseball game, and ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Stroll past Cloud Gate (AKA The Bean) in Millennium Park to Maggie Daley Park, where in summer younger kids will adore the the huge playground or in winter the whole family can ice skate for free.
11) Crescent City, California
It’s not so much what this little town has to offer, but the useful base it provides for road trips. Take a drive through the majestic world-renowned Redwoods, home to the world’s tallest trees. Take in stunning sunsets from secluded beaches in southern Oregon. And embark on a daytrip to remember to Crater Lake – one of the most beautiful places on earth.
12) Port Angeles, Washington
Port Angeles is a sweet little seaside town that gives you a convenient base for discovering the Olympic peninsula. Here you’ll find the freakiest beaches in the US, jaw-dropping mountain vistas, and the real-life backdrop to the popular novel and film series, Twilight.
13) New Orleans, Louisiana
From edible insects to visiting above-ground cemeteries to a never-ending stream of festivals, New Orleans offers something fun and exciting for every type of youngster. But the biggest draw card is the also the tastiest – mouthwatering cuisine like gumbo, crawfish etoufee and beignets.
14) Coos Bay, Oregon
A number of the most scenic beaches along the west coast can be found here. But add to that a thrilling dune buggy adventure and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.
15) Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas with kids? Am I insane? Yes. Vegas is much more than just gambling and clubs. There is so much to do in this city. Your kids will love the magic shows, the buffets and of course, it’s a handy base for a daytrip to the must-see Grand Canyon.
16) San Diego, California
Home to one of the most amazing zoos on the planet. Need I say more? Oh, and the weather is beautiful too.
17) Atlanta, Georgia
Plan your day in Atlanta and start off with a sugar high at Coca-Cola World before letting them loose at nearby Georgia Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world. Older children may be interested in a behind-the-scenes tour of CNN’s headquarters or a stroll through the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
18) Buffalo, New York (Niagara Falls)
Yes, you are going here to see Niagara Falls – to feel the mist, to see the fireworks, to witness this natural spectacle. But there is much more to the region. Check out Buffalo Science Museum, Pumpkinville, Hidden Valley Animal Adventure, and a plethora of indoor playgrounds for the rainy days.
19) Salt Lake City, Utah
Often perceived as world’s Mormon capital, Salt Lake City has more than just temples to visit. You can explore any number of free museums, ski nearby slopes or get high at wAIRhouse Trampoline Park. This city also makes a handy starting point for a road trip through Bryce Canon and Zion National Parks.
20) Houston, Texas
This city offers a diverse mix of family-friendly activities – cowboy rodeos, Space Center Houston (think, “Houston we have a problem”), and the world-renowned Children’s Museum of Houston. No matter what your child wants to be when they grow up, cowboy or astronaut, Houston will have it covered.
I’m sure this list will inspire a few ideas for planning your next family vacation. And chances are at least one or more of these destinations are within one day’s drive from you right now. So if an international trip is not on the cards, you can still enjoy quality family time knowing there’s more in your extended backyard than you expected.