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Best US Summer Family Vacation Destinations

Best summer vacations at the beach (Jennifer Miner)Once spring break is over, family travel planners naturally start thinking about ideas for their big summer vacations. The Best Family Travel Experts, a group of respected, award-winning and experienced travel bloggers, are happy to share their recommended kid-friendly vacation destinations. Reading their tips, you may notice something interesting: there’s nary an Anaheim or Orlando tip on the list. Makes sense: you don’t have to be an expert to know that Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando, and Disneyland are top summer vacation spots! This list takes you beyond the obvious, as any true expert’s list ought to do.  As you plan your family vacation for the summer, consider thinking outside the theme park box yourself — it’s a big country, and there are so many other great places to vacation with your children.

family kayak on Colorado River near Glenwood Springs

Time for a family kayak trip on the Colorado River near Glenwood Springs

My wonderful cowriter, Kara Williams (aka ColoradoGal) recommends a spot in the Colorado Rockies. Her pick for a top family-friendly summer travel destination, Glenwood Springs, is chock full of adventure and activities for families. Specifically, the Glenwood Hot Springs, home to the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool and two super-fun water slides, as well as Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which features not only fascinating cave tours but also thrilling rides; the country’s highest-altitude full-size roller coaster is coming here next summer. Families can ride bikes along the relatively flat recreation path near the Colorado River in gorgeous Glenwood Canyon (rent bikes in town). Kara’s family likes to take their own inflatable kayaks on the river rapids, and mild to wild whitewater rafting adventures are offered by a number of local outfitters. Finally, the Hanging Lake trail is a fabulous family hike in the canyon. Glenwood Springs is easily accessed right off Interstate 70, so it’s a wonderfully convenient stop on a summer road trip through Colorado. Her final tip? If you can steal away from your family for a couple of hours, book a massage at the Spa of the Rockies or go for a steam in the vapor caves at the Yampah Spa!

luxury family vacation at Coppola Estate, Sonoma (Dana Rebmann)

Luxury family vacation at Coppola Winery, Sonoma

Ciao Bambino is a leading luxury family travel site, so contributor Dana Rebmann’s recommendation is fitting! She writes that people are often surprised when she suggests Northern California Wine Country as a great family vacation destination. Just because kids don’t drink wine, doesn’t mean that parents don’t enjoy it. Luckily, many wineries have figured this out. For example, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery offers great family programs like tie-dying (with grape juice), and has a beautiful pool. Get the scoop on guaranteeing a ticket to the pool — it’s popular — in the Napa Valley with Kids series on Ciao Bambino.  In quiet Calistoga, families can tour Castello di Amorosa, an authentic Tuscan Castle and winery. While parents taste Italian style wines, kids enjoy the winery’s bottled Muscat of Alexandria…also known as California grape juice. If your family likes adventure, don’t miss zip lining through towering Sonoma County Redwoods. Just as with a hot air balloon ride in Napa, Sonoma Canopy Tours offers a whole new view of wine country.

Toddler beach playtime at Crystal Cove, San Diego (Debbie Dubrow)

Toddlers love summertime at the beach in San Diego

Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby recommends a week in sunny San Diego, California for a family looking to unwind together in the sunshine. With a wide variety if activities ranging from beaches, to amusement parks like SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and of course, one of the best zoos in the United States, you’ll find plenty to do — and all within an easy drive of your hotel. When you need a break from the sunshine, Balboa Park has several indoor activities including a Puppet Theatre, Train Museum, and Science Center. San Diego family travel activities are almost too much to consider for one trip: you can learn more about where to stay and what to do once you’re there from Delicious Baby’s San Diego with Kids Guide.

Family hike to waterfall in Portland Oregon (Jennifer Miner)

Fun family hike to waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge near Portland

This summer, I’m going to suggest parents plan a trip to Portland, Oregon with their kids. July and August are great months to visit, because the famously rainy city is a bit drier in the summer months. All that rain pays off in the summer: Portland and its surrounds are so green and lush that many summer travelers wonder why they don’t take up permanent residency. The Portland Children’s Museum and the Oregon Zoo are fun for younger children, and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is enormously entertaining for kids and adults alike. Portland is a small, mellow, friendly city, and right outside city lines are some of the gorgeous Pacific Northwest hikes that make for terrific family memories. There are many, many Columbia River Gorge waterfall hikes; Wahkeena Falls’ hike is pretty easy and accessible for young kids.

Gondola on Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont (Mara Gorman)

Kids enjoying an outdoors summer vacation in Stowe

Mara Gorman of The Mother of All Trips takes us to the eastern part of the US. If you prefer to avoid the crowds at the beaches and amusement parks (and like long, warm days followed by cool nights to boot), then, she says, Vermont is the ideal place for your summer vacation.  Visit Manchester where you can enjoy high-end outlet shopping and gourmet farm-to-table restaurants, all while cozying up to the cows, chickens, and goats at the Hill Farm Inn. Or head farther north into the heart of the Green Mountains for Stowe, which offers not only a five and a half mile paved recreation path but an alpine slide, too. Stay in family-friendly luxury at the Stowe Mountain Lodgeand both you and your children can relax at the spa. Even farther north, you can enjoy the amazing beauty and recreational opportunities both near and in Lake Champlain. No matter where you go in Vermont you can hike, bike, kayak and canoe, swim in lakes and rivers and shop in farmer’s markets that offer the best in local produce and maple syrup.

Summer vacation rafting in the Berkshires (Amy Whitley)

Summer vacation in the Berkshires

Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids recommends a stay in New England’s Berkshires, a pocket of leafy-green outdoor paradise in Western Massachusetts. What makes the Berkshires an ideal summer vacation destination is the appeal it holds for every type of family, from parents with small children to grandparents and everyone (awkward) in between. Yes, even moody teens have a great time in the Berkshires! Nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will love rafting on the Deerfield River; she recommends Zoar Outdoor Outfitters to gear up for this activity. Mountain biking though lush forest and zip lining at Bousquet Mountain are two other top things to do for adventurous families. Shoppers will love all the antiquing possibilities in Lenox and Great Barrington. Kids will enjoy the many museums and the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory. Stay in one of the many B&Bs dotting the countryside, in a family-friendly condo at Jiminy Peak, or, as her family does, in picturesque Northampton (where, according to her kids, you’ll find the best breakfast east of the Mississippi at Sylvester’s).

In short, it doesn’t take a genius to recommend what are already the top US travel destinations (NYC, Orlando, Los Angeles, etc) for family vacations. This summer, the Best Family Travel Experts group suggests thinking outside the box. You never know what adventure awaits.

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23 Responses to “Best US Summer Family Vacation Destinations”

  1. 1
    TwinCitiesGal says:

    I love all of the photos of your kids! Every destination looks like a fun time!

  2. 2
    Cheryl D. says:

    Those all look like great places to visit, my grandfather has always talked about how beautiful the Berkshires are.

  3. 3
    Tisha| Biz Mommy says:

    What wonderful vacation suggestions! Since we moved to California 6 years ago, our list of places we want to visit keeps growing, but when it comes time to actually go on vacation, the usual suspects (disney, legoland,etc.) always win out thanks to the kids’ whining. But it’s definitely time for some variety now that they’re a little older.

    Thanks for the inspiration and list of things to do in each location, so we have some good stuff to sell it to the kids! :-)

  4. 4
    Adam Sommer says:

    Great destinations…love that they are not the usual (i.e. WDW, Grand Canyon, and so on).

    Another good one is Gulf Shores, Alabama – I went here every summer as a kid. Its drivable from most of the midwest, and is much chpeaer than its nearby Florida counterparts. They also have a great waterpark, and plenty of family-focused places to dine, shop, and play.

    • 4.1
      SoCalGal says:

      Adam, thank you! There really are a lot of great family destinations outside of the biggies we always hear about, and I appreciate input from Mr. VisitFlyOverCountry. :)

  5. 5
    Jen says:

    These are great suggestions and I can’t believe I have only been to two of the suggested spots! I love Adam Sommer’s comment as well. We live about 30m from Gulf Shores and plan on exploring the city more this summer.

  6. 6

    Great vacation suggestions! What fun photos!

  7. 7
    Sharlene says:

    Those are all great destinations. I recommend Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The weather is cool and topography is diverse. Beaches, rain forests, mountain peaks, and a a spot to feed bison from the comfort of your car. What’s not to love?

  8. 8

    I love traveling with my kids and we are always looking for exciting new places to visit. This post is great! So many wonderful ideas!

  9. 9
    Alexandra says:

    Wow, great suggestions! I’m so lazy when it comes to travel these days, and I actually want to do some of these things, especially the Napa Trip with kids!

  10. 10
    Desiree Eaglin says:

    I love traveling, I can’t wait until my kids are a little older and we can travel more! These are great suggestions of places to go!

  11. 11

    These are some fantastic tips! Thanks for sharing. :)

  12. 12
    Jamie says:

    Great post! I grew up in Northern California and we always spend Napa when we go visit my parents. It is a great place for kids.

    Whenever we stay in the US on vacation we just end up in Hawaii. It is kind of pathetic. Hawaii is lovely, but I forget that our home country has so many different things to offer. Plus, the travel is way easier on the kids.

  13. 13

    Northern California and Portland are two summer destinations. Thank you! The kids and I are planning a big book of Adventure that we will put together of our summer.

  14. 14

    great tips, we’re planning our summer vacations!

  15. 15

    Love the wine country option. That is so nice to hear.

  16. 16
    Amandah says:

    Thanks for sharing the information about Francis Ford Coppola Winery. I’d like to try tie-dying with grape juice. I’m sure my niece and nephew would have fun too.

    Northern California is a fun family vacation destination. Zip lining through the Sonoma County Redwoods would be an adventure of a lifetime. Also, families can drive to one of the many beaches and enjoy the sun and surf. There’s a lot do and see in Northern California. Families may have to visit more than once.

  17. 17

    I love these ideas! I would much rather bike in the Rockies than fight the crowds at Disney World. I can’t wait until my little guy is old enough to enjoy some of these activities.

  18. 18
    Caryn B says:

    Awesome list! We’ve actually done a lot of West Coast trips but haven’t spent nearly as much time on the East Coast. One day we dream of traveling up the East Coast through Boston and such….

  19. 19
    Kristina says:

    The kids looks very happy, so it mean that is really good place for the family vacation :)

  20. 20
    Karon says:

    These are great destinations, but I would add the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge/Sevierville, TN area. There are TONS of family-friendly attractions (Titanic museum, Dollywood, live shows, water parks, etc.) plus you have the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just minutes away with hiking, fishing, auto tours and more! Love this area especially because there is always something to do for everyone regardless of your kids’ ages.

    • 20.1
      Jennifer Miner says:

      Definitely, Karon: Any place that can satisfy the vacation wants and needs of all kids’ ages is a winner. :)

  21. 21
    malinda says:

    SAN DIEGO :)

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