Family travel can be the perfect mix of learning and fun. We’ve rounded up a list of the best family vacations that are accessible by car or plane and have opportunities to learn about everything from dinosaurs to tech to art. And don’t worry, these destinations also have their fair share of beaches, water parks, and more.
Best U.S. Family Vacations
Washington, D.C., seems like the first, obvious place to mix fun and learning. Just walking through the Mall and popping in and out of the Smithsonian museums, you’ll get to learn about everything from Harriet Tubman (African American History Museum) to mega-toothed sharks (Natural History Museum). Then, fly a kite on the Mall, or go indoor skydiving at iFly Loudon.
Why we love it: D.C. is a great introduction to all things museums and U.S. history.
Learn more: Smithsonian museums
Chincoteague and Assateague
Chincoteague, Virginia, and Assateague, Maryland, are two islands off the Atlantic Coast that are famous for their ponies (Misty of Chincoteague from the famous Marguerite Henry book lived here). Learn about this unique habitat on a trip with Captain Barry, who loves to take visitors back behind the island, exploring the bay. Then, hit the beach on Assateague Island, where you’ll share the sand with wild ponies.
Why we love it: Chincoteague and Assateague are an island adventure kids will remember forever.
Learn more: Captain Barry’s Back Bay Tours
Grand Canyon, Arizona
There’s no one spot to see all of the Grand Canyon, but check out Grand Canyon West, one of the best family vacation spots, where you can take a walk out onto a lookout into the canyon. Grand Canyon West is part of the Hualapai tribal lands, and you’ll also learn about the tribe and its history. When you’re done, have fun whitewater rafting.
Why we love it: Grand Canyon West combines natural wonders with important historical and cultural context.
Learn more: Grand Canyon West
Redwood Forest, California
Kids can crawl through 2,000-year-old trees and walk the Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail of sky-high sequoia trees or along the path to Trillium Falls. After you’ve visited the redwoods, take a trip to nearby beaches or take a horseback ride through the redwood trails.
Why we love it: The Redwood Forest teaches us all about the wonders of nature.
Learn more: Redwood National Forest
The Space Coast of Florida
Located in Brevard County, Florida, the Space Coast is one of the best family vacations for those who love beaches and spaceships. Plan your trip around seeing a spaceship launch, or get the feeling by visiting the Kennedy Space Center and the American Space Museum. Then, learn to surf with Ron Jon Surf School or kayak off Cocoa Beach.
Why we love it: Learning about space and the technology that gets us there will inspire the next generation of astronauts and explorers.
Learn more: Visit Space Coast
Volcano National Park, Hawaii
Hawaii is off the beaten path for some, but it’s worth the flight to visit the huge volcanoes, including the active Kilauea. Walk trails through craters, steam vents, and black lava rock. The Earthquake Trail is an easy hike with great views of the Kilauea Caldera, and you can hike through the Thurston Lava Tube, a tunnel made by lava. After seeing the volcano, well, you’re in Hawaii! Take a tour of the island by helicopter or boat, or relax on the beach.
Why we love it: Volcanoes spark curiosity in everyone, and seeing them up close is the perfect way to answer some questions and spark others.
Learn more: Volcano National Park
Plymouth (of Plymouth Rock) is a historical hub with museums and living history from the 17th century. Start with the rock (it’s not that big) and engage with costumed actors who re-create the first landing. Then, learn about how people lived in the 17th century, including a Wampanoag homesite. Back in the 21st century, take a whale-watching tour or visit the trampoline park.
Why we love it: Sometimes the best way to get interested in history is to go back in time!
Learn more: SeePlymouth.com
San Antonio, Texas
Visit the Alamo UNESCO World Heritage site and learn about frontier life in early Texas. Go underground at the Natural Bridge cave. Then, splash at Sea World San Antonio and ride roller coasters at Six Flags.
Why we love it: There’s so much to learn along the river as well as belowground.
Learn more: San Antonio
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes sit right along the shores of Lake Michigan. Some are nearly 500 feet high with views of the lake and Manitou Islands from the top. Tour the area to learn about the natural history and fishing heritage. Then, after running and rolling down a few dunes, go boating on Lake Michigan and the connecting inland lakes.
Why we love it: It’s one of the best family vacations for fun and learning because you get to learn about an interesting ecosystem and then literally roll down it.
Learn more: Sleeping Bear Dunes
Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana)
Yellowstone is the first national park and one of the most diverse. See Old Faithful, then venture throughout the park for a tour of natural wonders—hot spots, bubbling mud pots, and fields with bison, elk, bighorn sheep, and perhaps a wolf. Near the park is West Yellowstone Zipline Adventures.
Why we love it: Kids will learn about geothermal features by seeing them pop and gurgle.
Learn more: Yellowstone National Park
Niagara Falls, New York
Take the Maid of the Mist boat to get below the huge Niagara Falls, and bring your passport so you can cross Rainbow Bridge and see the falls from both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. Another way to see the falls is by walking down into the Cave of the Winds. After you’ve learned about the falls, ride the Niagara Skywheel and Clifton Hill Amusements.
Why we love it: This learning opportunity borders two countries and has a perfect mix of natural wonder and man-made celebration.
Learn more: Niagara Falls
Glacier National Park, Montana
A real-time lesson in climate change, Glacier National Park is home to what’s left behind when glaciers melt. See the wildlife and landscape shaped by glaciers by hiking the Going-to-the-Sun Road or taking the Glacier Park Red Bus Tour to see wildlife at a distance. Book a tour or boat to get out onto the lakes. Glacier Park Boat Company has options for families. Then, visit the nearby town of West Glacier for a scoop of huckleberry ice cream.
Why we love it: The park is a conversation starter about important climate and weather topics.
Learn more: Glacier National Park
Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas
Walk among the dinosaur footprints left behind millions of years ago in the Paluxy River. Learn about dinosaurs in Glen Rose, the Dinosaur Capital of Texas. Then, for fun, check out what real dinosaurs might have looked like at Dinosaur World.
Why we love it: The chance to walk where dinosaurs once did and look at life-sized dinosaur statues puts it all into perspective.
Learn more: Texas State Parks
A visit to the Mile High City combines learning and fun in the best ways. Learn about animals from the great hornbill to the Humboldt penguin at the Denver Zoo. Dance in bubbles or check out an IMAX movie at the Children’s Museum of Denver. Older kids can learn archery at Archery Games while younger kids will love the Denver Firefighters Museum.
Why we love it: From firefighting know-how to animal facts, everyone in the family will learn something new.
Learn more: Travel Denver
Black Hills, South Dakota
After you see Mount Rushmore and the built-in American history lesson, you have the entire Badlands to explore, making it one of the best family vacations for learning. There is gold panning, ghost towns, and reptile collections to visit. One way to kick back is to check out the cowboy entertainment in Fort Hays in Rapid City.
Why we love it: Come away with tons of fun facts about Mount Rushmore and the Wild West.
Learn more: BlackhillsBadlands.com
Philadelphia is a great place for toddlers and younger kids to learn at the Please Touch Museum and Sesame Place. Older kids will be interested in the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Then, ride a carousel at Franklin Square, and explore the ropes course at Treetop Quest.
Why we love it: The costumed guides in historic downtown Philly engage kids in thinking about America’s founding principles.
Learn more: Visit Philly
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Learn about the great underground in Kentucky in caves like Hidden River and Mammoth Cave. Nearby, Adventures of Mammoth Cave has aboveground fun—canopy zip tours and sky bridges.
Why we love it: You’ll learn about thousands of years of history in the world’s longest known cave system.
Learn more: Grand Rapids Kids
San Jose, California
The Tech Interactive teaches you all about science and technology with hands-on activities, labs, and design challenges. You can keep the innovation going at Legoland Discovery in nearby Milpitas, California. And when you just want to relax, play a huge game of Monopoly in the park in downtown San Jose.
Why we love it: See what creative thinking your kids are capable of as they design and innovate.
Learn more: sanjose.org
Best International Family Vacations
Costa Rica is literally teeming with wildlife and eco-adventure. Near the Arenal Volcano, hike a trail through hanging bridges and learn about everything from tarantulas to spider monkeys (while seeing the real thing in the wild). Then, zipline through the treetops or swim in pools that are fed by nearby hot springs.
Why we love it: Costa Rican tour guides have so much to teach you about animals and will spot the animals you’d miss if you didn’t know what to look for.
Learn more: Visit Costa Rica
Learn about U.K. history, including battles and executions, at the Tower of London, built by William the Conqueror more than 1,000 years ago. The Tower also exhibits the Crown Jewels, the ravens, and the Royal Armories. You’ll find more history at the British Museum, which has a collection of Egyptian mummies and the Rosetta Stone. When you’ve had your fill of history, ride the London Eye and take a bike tour around the city.
Why we love it: The Tower of London is intriguing for older kids who love a little suspense with their history.
Learn more: Trips with Tykes
Tenerife is one of the Canary Islands, so beach days are a given. Learn about geography and volcanic rock formations around Mount Teide, an active volcano in Teide National Park. Siam Park has a water slide that goes through a shark tank, and a huge wave pool.
Why we love it: There’s something to learn at every turn—like the sand for some beaches is brought in from the Sahara Desert.
Learn more: Hello Canary Islands
Mérida is in the Yucatán Peninsula, home of Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza and Uxmal. Uxmal in particular is a great place to learn about Mayan life. After visiting the ruins, learn more about chocolate at Choco-Story. For fun, head to the cenotes, underground swimming holes, many with rope swings or jumping platforms.
Why we love it: It’s a chance to learn about a civilization that thrived thousands of years ago.
Learn more: 5 Lost Together
St. Lucia is one of the best family vacations because it’s a one-stop shop for learning in the Caribbean. Sulpher Springs Park has the world’s only “drive-in volcano.” It’s not active now, but there are boiling springs and volcanic mud baths among lots of geology. Morne Coubaril plantation has a re-created historical village and demonstrations. Finally, a Sea Trek tour takes you underwater without the scuba certification.
Why we love it: It’s a chance to learn about geology at your own pace.
Learn more: StLucia.org
Learn about architecture at some of the more interesting convents and monasteries in Lisbon, the monasterios de Alcobaca and Batalha. Then, Pena Palace in Sintra is the most colorful castle in the world. For fun, check out Portugal’s Atlantic Ocean beaches with coastal sea cliffs and caves.
Why we love it: The diversity of architecture makes learning about proportion, shape, and color fun.
Learn more: Visit Portugal
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It’s a longer trek to get there, for sure, but the art education alone makes it one of the best family vacations. Amsterdam is home to the Van Gogh Museum, where you can see the progression of Van Gogh’s works. The Rijksmuseum displays old Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer. (Book a Family Quest tour to get the most out of your visit). And the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art offers modern art and interactive workshops. For fun, Vondelpark is a great place to relax at a cafe and for kids to play on a playground.
Why we love it: So much art in one place!
Learn more: Destination Amsterdam
What are your favorite family vacations for fun and learning? Share in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE on Facebook.
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