Top 12 Kid-Friendly Vacation Ideas in the U.S.
#1 Magic Kingdom Park, Orlando, FL
Our top theme park, and our top attraction overall, is quintessential Walt Disney World, from Cinderella Castle to Pirates of the Caribbean to that famous flying elephant — the perfect place for your kids to get face time with their favorite characters and thumb their noses at gravity on a world-class selection of rides.
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#2 Universal's Islands of Adventure, Orlando, FL
Families are drawn to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and six other "islands," each devoted to a favorite movie, character, or group of characters, and each offering enough shows, interactive attractions, and topflight rides to keep kids and adults entertained for the better part of a day.
#3 Orlando, FL
If you think "theme parks" when you hear "Orlando," who can blame you? But as one Florida family noted: "There are so many things to do!"
Explore the world's most famous sunken ship at Titanic The Experience; skydive indoors at iFLY Orlando; take a guided planetary tour at Orlando Science Center; and enjoy balloon rides, lakes, hiking trails, live theater, and art museums. Check out visitorlando.com to plan your trip.
#4 The Strong Museum, Rochester, NY
The Strong (which includes the National Museum of Play, the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, and the National Toy Hall of Fame) is all about having fun. On display: a life-size pop-up book; an interactive exhibit exploring the history of video games; 15 years' worth of its Hall of Fame inductees; and more than 400,000 other toys, games, dolls, and playthings.
#5 Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Keystone, SD
Pictures fail to communicate the heart-stirring experience of viewing Mount Rushmore face-to-face. You can also hike the Presidential Trail for amazing close-up views of the memorial, and at various times of the year, tour the studio of its creator (sculptor Gutzon Borglum), visit a Native American village, and take part in a ranger-led walk or talk.
#6 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, NC, TN
America's most-visited national park showcases the Southeast's most rugged mountains and offers hikers the highest vantage point in Tennessee (Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet). Visitors are drawn by its extraordinary variety: forested mountains, verdant valleys, streams and waterfalls, historic buildings, and abundant wildlife.
#7 Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha, NE
Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo thinks big: three of its exhibits — the indoor desert, indoor rain forest, and nocturnal animal hall — rate among the world's largest. Add to that an aquarium that invites you to walk on the ocean floor, and you can understand why families say there's too much to do here in a single day.
#8 Toledo Zoo, Toledo, OH
In the past 15 years, the 74-acre Toledo Zoo has added four substantial exhibits: Tembo Trail (which allows visitors to see elephants eye-to-eye), Nature's Neighborhood (an award-winning children's zoo), Africa! (featuring acres of animals, plus town, village, and bush areas), and Arctic Encounter (with polar bears and seals, in and out of the water).
#9 Yellowstone National Park, WY, MT, ID
In 1872 Yellowstone was established as a national park (the first in the country) to protect its 300 geysers, and they remain one of its major attractions, along with some 10,000 other spectacular hydrothermal features, dazzling waterfalls, petrified trees, striated canyons, and 423 species of native wildlife.
#10 National Mall and Memorial Parks, Washington, DC
The Mall and Memorial Parks encompass some of the country's most iconic attractions: the Washington Monument and its reflecting pool, the Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr., memorials, the World War II and Vietnam Veterans memorials, and nine Smithsonian museums.
#11 San Antonio, TX
This charming Southern city is renowned for its Spanish-style architecture, as well as its parks, the famous Hill Country, Spanish colonial missions, and, of course, the Alamo. Its inviting River Walk meanders through San Antonio's old downtown, past shops, museums, terrific restaurants, and great public spaces. Check out visitsanantonio.com to plan your trip.
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#12 Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago
At Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, families can experience a real World War II U-boat, a simulated tornado four stories high, a Boeing 727, a tour through a coal mine, and a giant hamster wheel, along with thousands of other hands-on exhibits, science demonstrations, and special events.
Originally published in FamilyFun magazine