2013 Winners: Top 10 Tourist Towns
Monterey, CA photograph by Katrine Naleid
1. Mackinaw City, MI (Score: 89)
This charming resort town is the gateway to Michigan's rugged upper Peninsula (via the world's third-longest suspension bridge), to historic Mackinaw Island with its famous Grand Hotel (by ferry), and to the area's many museums, lighthouses, forts, and campgrounds (by car, bicycle, and foot). During summer months, the village (population: 806) welcomes some 1.2 million visitors. Families say they love this spot on the Straits of Mackinac, between Lakes Huron and Michigan, for its combination of history and nature. They also come for Mackinac fudge, a treat so popular it's celebrated with an annual festival.
2. Monterey, CA (Score: 88)
Nestled along a crescent of pristine Monterey Bay, this unimaginably scenic spot is as rich in family activities as it is in aquatic life. Seafaring sorts strike out on whale watches, kayak expeditions, and glass-bottom boat tours of one of the world's most important marine preserves. More lubberly types opt for hikes along breathtaking coastal trails and the land-ho! enticements of Cannery Row -- a once scruffy, seafood-packing district turned shop-lined tourist attraction. Everybody loves the beaches and the celebrated Monterey Bay aquarium. "We had gone on our honeymoon," said one mom, capturing the city's broad appeal, "and it was just as nice taking our child twelve years later."
3. Lake Tahoe Region, CA & NV (Score: 87)
North America's largest alpine lake sparkles throughout the seasons. "Absolutely beautiful, with so much to do," wrote a California family. Winter months bring a nonstop carnival of skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sled tours, and ice-sculpture contests set amid the frosted peaks of the Sierra Nevada. In summer, outdoor enthusiasts indulge in such pursuits as mountain biking, water sports, and hot-air balloon rides above the rugged scenery. all year round, wall-to-wall festivals -- music, theater, yoga, food -- keep things lively.
4. Gulf Shores, AL (Score: 85)
5. St. Augustine, FL (Score: 85)
6. Duluth, MN (Score: 84)
7. Wildwood And Cape May, NJ (Score: 84)
8. Traverse City, MI (Score: 83)
9. Myrtle Beach, SC (Score: 83)
10. Bar Harbor, ME (Score: 83) & Wilmington, NC (Score: 83)
2013 Winners: Top 10 Museums, Zoos, & Aquariums
1. Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History: Washington, DC (Score: 92)
Home to the famous Hope Diamond, among countless other amazing objects (actually, some dedicated civil servant did count them: there are more than 127 million), this branch of the Smithsonian Institution is the ultimate discovery center. Some families can't get enough of the dinosaur hall and the immersive live butterfly pavilion. Others make a beeline for the entomology collections -- more than 35 million creepy-crawly specimens -- and the live tarantula feedings at the insect zoo. Whatever you're drawn to, you're bound to spend many enthralling hours here.
2. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: Omaha, NE (Score: 92)
"The most amazing zoo I've ever seen!" gushed a North Dakota mom about this crowd-pleaser on the Plains. The 130-acre zoo houses thousands of animals in extravagantly re-created habitats. Guests can wend their way through the world's largest indoor desert, gaze upon a tropical rain forest populated by macaws and gibbons, and traverse a window-lined tunnel through a valley where gorillas roam -- and be amazed every step of the way.
3. Saint Louis Zoo: St. Louis, MO (Score: 92)
Did you know the snow leopard, native to the mountains of central Asia, is able to leap 30 feet in a single bound? You can bet your 6-year-old does -- or will after a visit to the Saint Louis Zoo. Divided into seven beautifully realized zones, the park features everything from petting-zoo bunnies to the rarest of big cats, all presented with a message of conservation and good stewardship. The best part, parents told us: admission is free, so you don't feel pressured to see it all in one day.
4. Museum of Science and Industry: Chicago, IL (Score: 92)
5. Museum of Science: Boston, MA (Score: 91)
6. Steinhart Aquarium: San Francisco, CA (Score: 91)
7. Smithsonian's National Museum of American History: Washington, DC (Score: 91)
8. The Field Museum: Chicago, IL (Score: 91)
9. Shedd Aquarium: Chicago, IL (Score: 91)
10. Tennessee Aquarium: Chattanooga, TN (Score: 91)