Travel is a wonderful way to reconnect with family. It gives parents the chance to catch-up and touch base with the kids, and children can go on an awesome adventure and be reminded that their folks are actually pretty cool after all. While destinations like New York, Washington and Disneyland Park tend to get the lion’s share of attention as family focused spots, America is full of cities that offer ample opportunities to buddy-up to your brood. These are some of America’s best cities for family friendly travel.
Perhaps what makes Chicago so unique when it comes to family travel is that it’s possible to do an extraordinary number of things without needing more than five minutes walking time between each attraction. I’m talking about the kid-friendly trifecta: the Shedd Aquarium (home to beloved Nickel, a rescued sea turtle) the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. All world-class attractions, they will keep your children enthralled for hours on end. Less than a 15-minute drive away is the lovely Chicago Children’s Museum, which has kidtastic exhibits like a sound playground (parents bring your ear plugs), a dinosaur exhibit and an art studio. Walk off any remaining energy at the wonderful Lincoln Park Zoo where kids can spot bears, giraffes and even a pygmy hippopotamus.
Buffalo, New York
This under-appreciated, marvelous city is filled with unexpected surprises for the whole family—add to that its affordability and Buffalo can’t be beat for a family adventure. The new (just opened in May 2019) Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Explore & More Children’s Museum offers an endless array of kid-centric exploration. There’s an incredible moving water exhibit, a Good Neighbors display and an innovative farm to fork exhibit, just to name a few of the things you can do. The Buffalo Wing Trail, which was launched last year, is a unique circuit that covers more then ten of the city’s best pubs for wings; parents get a chance to sample local brews while kids get to see how many wings they can eat until a food coma sets in. And don’t miss stopping in at the Buffalo Zoo, which just opened a new amphibian and reptile center that comes complete with a real life Komodo dragon!
Portland’s laid-back, friendly vibe makes it perfect for family travel. From renting a bike along the waterfront, to the world-class Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (with its very own submarine open for tours), to the Portland Children’s Museum, there is a lot of ground to cover in this vibrant city. Nature lovers will want to check out Forest Park’s Lower Macleay Trail. The 5-mile trail offers lots of chances for small animal and bird sightings and ends at the historic Pittock Mansion (with stunning city views). Before you hit the trail, why not head to the Portland Farmers Market—which is considered one of the best in the world—to pick up some delicious picnic items. At the Oregon Zoo families can see over 2,000 animals from every corner of the world, including polar bears, Asian elephants and cuddly lemurs.
Families in the know call this fabulous city “KidsBURGH” for its bevy of family friendly attractions. Everyone will stand in awe of the giant T. rex at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which hosts one of the world’s finest dinosaur collections. The Carnegie Science Center, features over 250 hands-on exhibits, including the not-to-be-missed roboworld. Get the best views in the city with a ride aboard the Duquesne Incline, which takes guests to the top of Mount Washington. In the summer, Kennywood Amusement Park (a national historic landmark) gives you a chance to experience the century-old “roller coaster capital of the world.” The National Aviary features demonstrations and interactive programs where kids can mingle with their feathered friends. At the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh kids will enjoy climbing mazes, making flying machines and learning the art of silkscreening and more.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Can a city known for its wild mardi gras celebrations, jazz cafes and exotic allure provide a fabulous family getaway? You bet it can! What better city for kids then one that seems poised to erupt in song and dance at any moment? While parents may be more repulsed than pleased to hear that Audubon Zoo offers a reptile encounter, the zoo is a great spot for the whole family. Go on Saturday and see the gators feed! Did we mention there’s even an insectarium? The beloved Louisiana Children’s Museum is moving into a new, $48 million space in New Orleans City Park at the end of the summer. Choo, Choo! All aboard, OK, well maybe not quite a train but a streetcar ride is an exciting adventure for kids, and parents will enjoy a ride along St. Charles Avenue, which is a picturesque historic area lined with ancient trees. Don’t forget Storyland; it’s where youngsters get to see their favorite characters from books and fables come alive.
San Francisco, California
Four words: Walt Disney Family Museum. What family wouldn’t love a city with a major Disney site. You’ll discover the fascinating life story of Walt Disney, the man who brought animation to the world. There’s 40,000 square feet of fun, including, interactive galleries, art exhibits (narrated in Walt’s very own voice) and original drawings, cartoons and more. You can even see daily screenings of Disney classic movies. The California Academy of Sciences is an aquarium, natural history museum and planetarium all in one that is simply not to be missed. Ride a cable car for an iconic San Fran adventure, explore your family’s creative side at the Children’s Creativity Museum and stop by the Exploratoriumwhere kids of all ages can experience over 600 amazing exhibits.
Ithaca, New York
Ithaca is a small town that somehow manages to offer something for everyone—especially families. Though there are lots of indoor activities (like the Museum of The Earth), it’s outdoorsy families who will truly get the most from a visit to this charming town. The Ithaca Children’s Garden is a 3-acre public children’s garden with a mission to inspire the next generation to be guardians of the environment. In the garden, kids can get to know Gaia, a huge—and better yet—climbable turtle sculpture. There’s also a kitchen garden with honeybees and hens, a bird garden, a recycled bottle greenhouse and more. At the Cayuga Nature Center set on 120 (hikable) acres of verdant forestland overlooking Cayuga Lake, kids will love learning more about nature and exploring Tree Tops, a 6-story tree house. Not only is the region famous for its hikes and forests, it also has some of the most impressive waterfalls in the country. A good way to see as many falls as possible is to go on a tour like the Fabulous Falls Above Cayuga Tour.
What kid doesn’t love music, and Nashville—a.k.a. Music City—has got plenty of songs to share. Your little songbirds can visit the Musicians Hall of Fame or dance next to an incredibly lifelike Taylor Swift at Madame Tussauds Nashville. Both parents and children will enjoy getting behind the wheel of their favorite car model at the NCM Motorsports Park (an easy one hour drive out of town). One of the best ways for families to experience the city is to revel in free music along the Honky Tonk Highway before 7 p.m. on most nights. SoundWaves is Nasville’s newest attraction. The water attraction offers four acres of indoor rides and seasonal outdoor water thrills. It’s worth driving just an hour out of town to get to Lost River Cave to experience Kentucky’s only underground boat tour or fly through the trees on their Flying Squirrel zipline. No matter what you do, the songs, sites and electrifying energy of the city are bound to revitalize any family.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Perhaps an unexpected choice to some, you won’t doubt the city’s kid-friendly cred after you spend a few days here. ABQ Bio Park is a zoo, botanical garden and aquarium in one! Tingley Beach is right next door and features three fishing ponds that are free to the public. Looking for an experience that soars above the rest? Well, look no further than The Sandia Peak Tramway. This aerial tramway stretches from the northeast tip of the city to the crestline of the Sandia Mountains. It covers a distance of 2.7 miles and is one of the longest in the world. The New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science has fascinating dinosaur exhibits and also houses a planetarium. Explora is a highly rated science center that has many hands-on experiences for children to learn more about science, math and art in an engaging and creative way.
Boston is a city alive with history, a hot culinary scene and attractions galore so it’s no wonder it’s a fantastic family destination. Boston Children’s Museum is the second oldest children’s museums in the world. For over 100 years it has been working hard to hone children’s inquisitive natures, curious intellect and sense of exploration so you know they’re experts when it comes to capturing kids’ interests. There are extensive child-centered exhibits that cover a wide span of activities and interests like performing arts, science and math, cultures, health and wellness and more. On Boston Harbor Islands families can experience beaches, hiking, historic forts, kayaking and many more outdoor and indoor activities. Or take a cruise of the harbor to see whales and enjoy a thrilling (if wet) ride aboard the Codzilla.