From shores to slopes, many top waterfront, mountaintop and urban destinations welcome families with special experiences, affordable lodging, and sophisticated dining and entertainment. These 25 top weekend getaways across the country guarantee enriching activities for all ages and will inspire your family to enjoy some quality time together.
(Note: Some of the following activities, attractions and locations may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, reservation requirements or mask mandates. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)
Sleep in a Pullman train car in Indianapolis
All ages will be wowed by the vintage trains inside the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis — Downtown Union Station. This Indianapolis hotel was built around 13 restored Pullman cars parked in the steel-girded rail shed, and those carriages have been converted into 26 guest rooms you can book for a unique weekend away in the Midwest. Rest up before heading to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to check out its Sports Legends Experience, an interactive athletics exhibit and seasonal fun park that will get everyone’s blood pumping. Alternatively, you can keep to the train theme by touring the museum’s 1890s steam locomotive. For something even faster, there’s the world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Even if there’s not a race taking place during your visit, the Speedway has an on-site museum that should get the whole family revved up.
Cruise to Alaska
With mild temperatures and longer days, late spring, summer and early fall are the best times to cruise Alaska’s Inside Passage and take in its unforgettable scenery and wildlife. This type of trip is probably best saved for a long weekend: Most cruises around the fjords and islands of the Passage last at least three days, although there are scenic day cruises that depart from Juneau and Ketchikan, or cities like Valdez and Whittier, which explore similarly gorgeous landscapes closer to Anchorage. If you’re looking for a multiday experience, consider a sailing with Princess Cruises, whose ship, train and helicopter tours let families experience almost every aspect of the 49th state. What’s more, crews cook seafood caught during onshore excursions, organize kids activities with rangers from Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve — one of the best places to visit in Alaska — and even bring cuddly sled dog puppies on board for cruisers to meet.
[Read: The Best Times to Cruise to Alaska.]
Enjoy live entertainment at Disney Springs in Orlando
Orlando boasts plenty of top attractions for kids. This Florida city also has hundreds of hotels to choose from, including affordable properties near fun destinations like Disney Springs. This themed outdoor mall, while part of the Walt Disney World Resort, is open to the public with no tickets required to access it. The Disney Springs entertainment complex hosts free performances ranging from nightly bands at the Stargazers patio lounge to events on the AdventHealth Waterside Stage. When it’s time for a meal, take the kids to Morimoto Asia for Pan-Asian street-style noodles and dumplings, or head to Wine Bar George, where adults can choose from more than 140 wines as everyone enjoys globally inspired fare — among many other dining options on-site.
Relax at a dude ranch in Montana
Expect western hospitality plus horseback riding and children’s programs on a dude ranch vacation. While many dude ranches focus on weeklong stays, Montana’s Lone Mountain Ranch offers stays as short as three nights, with a package that covers cabin lodging, meals, horseback rides, an outdoor youth adventure program and plenty more entertainment. If you’re not sure which ranch is right for your family weekend getaway, the Dude Ranchers’ Association offers an online database where travelers can filter ranches according to their interests, budget and ideal season for a visit; you’ll be able to see the top results from an inventory of more than 100 North American ranches.
[Read: The Top Things to Do in Montana.]
Delight in new attractions at California’s Disneyland
Regardless of whether you and your family are fairy-tale fans or mad about Marvel, there are new attractions at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, that’ll give you a taste of your favorite films. Head to the Avengers Campus, for example, to take part in thrilling missions with Spider-Man or the Guardians of the Galaxy — with more attractions on the way in coming years. If that’s a little too action-packed, consider Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, a Disney classic that just received a major overhaul: This magical, multisensory ride will introduce the whole family to the Seven Dwarves, taking you on a journey from gemstone mines through to the evil queen’s abode.
Get active in the Rocky Mountains in Breckenridge, Colorado
For an active and rewarding mountain getaway in Breckenridge, challenge the family to a weekend at the Breckenridge Ski Resort. In summer, visit the Epic Discovery course at this Colorado destination, and you’ll be treated to an array of high-altitude fun, including slides, zip lining, chairlifts with sky-high views, hiking trails, a rock climbing wall and other Alpine Camp offerings. The pass and its activities are offered from mid-June to early September. Otherwise, families can stop by in the winter and hit the slopes for skiing, snowboarding and the Gold Runner alpine coaster, or head over to Keystone Ski Resort for snow tubing.
Appreciate the performing arts in New York City
From free performances and $1 dance workshops at the Battery Dance Festival each August to two-for-one show tickets during Broadway Week in January, February and September, keeping kids entertained is easy in New York City (and surprisingly budget-friendly). Year-round, you can go underground to various subway stations to appreciate upcoming stars selected by Music Under New York, an audition-based system that supports buskers. Meanwhile, older kids will love attending free late-night comedy shows: You can find listings on the website Free Standup NYC or on event sites like Eventbrite.
Raft down the Lower Klamath River in northern California
Imagine taking a swimming break in cool, clear running water and you’ll appreciate why summer is the best season to go river rafting. Kids as young as 4 can safely conquer Class II rapids on an escorted trip with a professional outfitter such as OARS. The company’s guided, three-day Lower Klamath River trip in northern California departs twice weekly from June through mid-August. In addition to rafting, travelers will enjoy access to swimming holes, blackberry picking, camping under the stars, staff-prepared meals, wildlife-watching opportunities and more.
Go on an off-road adventure in New Hampshire
Explore the lush mountain scenery of New Hampshire’s Grand North region — only about three hours from Boston — in an all-terrain vehicle. Outfitter Bear Rock Adventures rents two- and four-seater vehicles so you can ride along one of the world’s best interconnected ATV trail networks, or head into nearby Vermont to visit a maple syrup farm. Take note: Kids must be at least 7 years old or 57 inches tall to ride as a passenger on the ATVs. Alternatively, families can stop by in winter and rent out a snowmobile for a spin through the snow-covered wilderness. If you’re looking for something a bit slower-paced, Bear Rock Adventures also rents out glamping tents perched around the majestic mountains and forests of northern New England.
Soak up the culture and cuisine in Albuquerque
In New Mexico’s capital of cool, visitors quickly learn the difference between red, green and Christmas chile at classic eateries like El Pinto. Pueblo-style jewelry; Hispanic art; and dozens of breweries, wineries and distilleries make Albuquerque a multicultural destination that families with young adults will especially love. For an authentic stay, bed down at Hotel Chaco, near Old Town, where an outdoor pool and library complement a Native American-inspired reception area.
Learn about Black culture in the District of Columbia
One of the most impactful places to revisit the U.S. civil rights movement and put it in context for children is at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Be sure to reserve timed-entry tickets for the museum starting 30 days before your visit: They’re required for entry. Like all the Smithsonian museums (many of which are concentrated on the National Mall), this attraction is free to enter and enjoy. Spring is the high season in D.C. — in large part due to the popular cherry blossom blooms — but hotel rates tend to fall in August and midwinter.
Be a revolutionary in Philadelphia
Philadelphia is an ideal city for history buffs. Independence National Historical Park can be found in the city’s downtown, encompassing the Liberty Bell Center and Independence Hall — where politicians debated the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — and sitting near the Betsy Ross House in the city’s Historic District. To take in all Philadelphia has to offer, book a guided walking tour through companies like Viator, or see the city’s myriad sights on your own. Bonus: Many of the historical sites, including the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, are free to enter. You also won’t want to miss the Museum of the American Revolution, which offers interactive experiences and engaging collections.
Laugh out loud at the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York
The National Comedy Center is the first nonprofit cultural institution focused on the art of comedy. You’ll find it in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, in the southwest corner of New York State, about 70 miles from Buffalo. Begin your visit by answering questions that will analyze your sense of humor, then explore more than 50 interactive exhibits or try taking a role in an iconic “Saturday Night Live” sketch. From hologram performances of classic routines to an adults-only Blue Room where more mature material is on display, there’s a wide range of humor to make all ages laugh out loud.
Camp and canoe in Minnesota
There’s no shortage of beauty in the Land of 10,000 Lakes — one great tip is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a pristine natural wonder that was carved by glaciers thousands of years ago. Visitors of all skill levels can explore more than 1,200 miles of canoe routes crossing the thousands of lakes and streams within the 1 million acres of land. For overnight stays, you’ll need a paid permit; these should be reserved in advance if you’re visiting from May to September (for daytrips, permits are free). If you don’t have canoes or equipment, don’t worry: Numerous outfitters in nearby Minnesota towns like Ely and Grand Marais can set your family up for multiday paddle trips, with campsites or cabins to stay the night in.
Stroll San Francisco’s happening waterfront
The San Francisco waterfront — most notably around the Embarcadero and Fisherman’s Wharf areas — is a hive of activity packed with kid-friendly fun. If you’re not sure where to start, go for a walk along the tree-lined promenade, from the Ferry Building Marketplace north and west around to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. You can stop for a break at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market (only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) or Pier 39 to watch sea lions lounging on the docks. Along the way, you’ll encounter the Exploratorium, a science museum with plenty of hands-on activities, and the Aquarium of the Bay, ready to offer a peek at creatures like jellyfish, sharks and otters. From this part of the city, you can also catch ferries out to destinations such as the waterfront town of Sausalito or the infamous Alcatraz prison — but be sure to reserve tickets in advance.
Soak in healing waters in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
Teens can develop lifelong healthy habits on a budget wellness getaway in Truth or Consequences, a New Age spa town in New Mexico. Imagine deep soaks in the town’s famed healing waters paired with health-conscious dining. The rustic-chic Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa is one great option, with a daily hot spring soak included in your stay; the four-star hotel also offers trips out to nearby natural areas. A slightly more affordable option is the stylish Blackstone Hotsprings resort, with an array of rooms themed after classic American TV shows; it has multiple hot spring baths on-site for use by guests aged 16 or older.
[Read: The Top Things to Do in New Mexico.]
Chill at a resort in Scottsdale, Arizona
At top resorts like the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a family vacation by the water will make you forget about Arizona’s heat. The resort’s facilities include posh rooms, six outdoor pools (some with waterslides), a white sand beach, golf courses and a spa. You’ll eat well, too, with five resort restaurants plus in-room dining options. The resort regularly offers special packages, including options for families, to sweeten the deal. And the Fairmont isn’t the only kid-friendly destination in Scottsdale: Others include the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, which offers a day camp for kids, and the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, with a kids club and family cabanas by the pool.
[Read: The Top Things to Do in Arizona.]
Feed hummingbirds in Ohio
Partake in the unique experience of hand-feeding ruby-throated hummingbirds at Ohio’s Lake Hope State Park. Naturalists will teach visitors to draw the tiny birds by holding a nectar-filled tube. The hummingbirds may descend and drink from a hand that is kept perfectly still — a rewarding lesson in patience for little ones. The park also boasts other offerings from bike rides with its naturalists to sunset kayaking; activities including the hummingbird feeding happen at scheduled times (typically only in summer), so be sure to check the park’s website in advance.
[Read: The Top Things to Do in Ohio.]
Have a fun-filled mountain getaway in Lake Placid, New York
For a woodsy, breezy getaway, consider beautiful Lake Placid, a 290-mile drive from New York City. Since Lake Placid is a two-time host of the Winter Olympics, you can visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum to learn about all manner of athletic feats on the snow and ice. (Note: The museum was undergoing renovations at the time of publication and was offering a limited, free exhibition until its full reopening in late 2022). But with no shortage of mountains and lakes in the area, you’ll definitely want to spend some time outside: Families can take to Mirror Lake on a kayak or paddleboard rented through companies like SUP Lake Placid, or trek past waterfalls at High Falls Gorge, with its elaborate network of bridges and walkways.
Snorkel in Maui, Hawaii
With unusual snorkeling venues ranging from a volcanic crater islet to crystal-clear Honolua Bay to the protected Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve, Maui is a great learn-to-snorkel destination. Companies like Pride of Maui specialize in snorkeling trips for families and can even cater to infants; these tours give you the chance to snorkel alongside turtles or to the spectacular Molokini Crater. Kids aged 8 or older can even try their hands at SNUBA diving, a hybrid of scuba diving and snorkeling.
Build sandcastles on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama
Anyone who wants to refine their sand sculpting skills should enroll at Sand Castle University on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Sand Castle University professors will meet you on the beach in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach or Fort Morgan, Alabama. Groups can participate in the Sand Castle 101 class (each session can include up to 15 students) and get plenty of tips and tools to use. For a bigger challenge, try the Sand Castle 201 class to make more elaborate creations; there’s also a class dedicated to crafting sea creatures out of sand. The company offers its classes year-round.
Hit the water parks in Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg, about 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., is a great escape for splashy family fun, with three large water parks close by. Water Country USA is the largest in Virginia, with a lazy river, wave pool and waterslides for serious thrill-seekers. There’s also a Great Wolf Lodge, offering an indoor park for rainy days, and Busch Gardens, which is part theme park and part water park. Once you’ve had your fill of aquatic activities, spend a day at Colonial Williamsburg, where you can stay in a Colonial-era home and watch costumed interpreters bring 18th-century events to life.
Chill out by the pool in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Sun, sand and splashy resorts are the name of the game on this stretch of South Carolina’s coast. Family-friendly resorts abound here: Consider The Breakers Resort, with its on-site water park, games and one- to four-bedroom condos for any size of family. Another top option is Myrtle Beach‘s newest resort, the Hilton-owned South Bay Inn & Suites, with an indoor water park and a location right by the boardwalk. For those on a budget, there’s Captain’s Quarters Resort, which still offers numerous pools and hot tubs. It’s easy to get to this South Carolina locale — despite Myrtle Beach being a small city, its airport offers direct flights to a large number of destinations across the country.
Make a splash at a Great Wolf Lodge resort
With more than 15 locations around the country, Great Wolf Lodge is an accessible family getaway. This resort chain centers around indoor water parks with slides and wave pools; you’ll also find other kid-friendly activities like mini golf and ropes courses (the exact activities vary between resorts). Many Great Wolf locations are in urban areas, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Anaheim, California, though there are a couple in more off-the-beaten-path spots such as Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, or Grand Mound, Washington, for those looking to get away from it all. The resorts have on-site accommodations with regular and themed suites that can sleep the whole family, but day passes are also an option for a shorter visit.
Hit the lake in the Poconos
It might be relatively close to New York City, but you’ll still feel at one with nature here, thanks to the swaths of forest and 150 lakes in the Pocono Mountains. The family-run Woodloch Resort is a top-notch accommodation option: It’s been ranked among the best hotels and resorts for families in the U.S. You can choose between hotel-style rooms or a full holiday rental house with a grill for barbecues, full kitchen and more. The resort is stacked with activities from bumper boats to archery, as well as daily fun like scavenger hunts and live entertainment. You won’t even need to worry about food, since a stay at Woodloch is all-inclusive.
Commune with exotic animals in San Diego
San Diego is home to what’s arguably the best-known zoo in the country, and for good reason: This institution has 12,000 rare and endangered animals from more than 650 species within its 100-acre premises. Monkeys, lions, birds, kangaroos — you name it, and the San Diego Zoo probably has it. But it’s not the only source of fun in town for your family weekend getaway. SeaWorld San Diego boasts plenty of rides and interactive attractions, or you can hop aboard a whale watching tour off the city’s coast, especially if you visit around December to April or June to September. Otherwise, head less than 15 miles northwest of the city to La Jolla Cove to see seals and sea lions in their natural habitat — and to enjoy the coastal village’s many restaurants and cafes.
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Update 08/17/22: This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.