Want to wow your big kid? From cities and swanky resorts to nature trails and national parks, these are the top family vacation destinations to hit while your children are still young.

By Jeff Bogle and Karen Cicero
Updated February 10, 2020
Advertisement

Once your child stops needing a nap and a stroller, a world of new vacation possibilities awaits. But you have only so many school breaks before your kid flees the nest. Here, travel experts share their top iconic places you’ve just got to visit as a family while your children are still young, plus planning tips to ensure your kid has the best time ever.

Yosemite National Park
Adobe Stock

#1 Paris

Book the earliest ticket you can (usually 9 or 9:30 a.m.) to ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Show up 90 minutes ahead of time to take pics at the base when it’s relatively uncrowded. (Grab breakfast at a nearby café before returning close to your assigned time.) When you’re done, walk along the Seine River to the Musée d’Orsay, an art museum in a former railway station. Kids who love ballet will delight in the paintings of Degas, while Dr. Who fans might recall the Van Gogh gallery that was featured in an episode. It may be a little mobbed, but it’s still worth going to the Musée du Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and so much more. “If you have time, spending a day at the Palace of Versailles, a quick train ride from Paris, is wonderful,” says Catherine McCord, author of Smoothie Project, who took her 8-year-old daughter to Paris. “Walk through the mazes before you go inside.”

Feel like a local: Book a walking tour with a local guide to explore off-the-beaten-path areas. Look at GetYourGuide.com for options that focus on neighborhoods (like the Latin Quarter) and themes (such as vintage shopping, chocolate tastings, or secret passages).

#2 New York City

Reserve a ticket to visit the Statue of Liberty’s crown—climb 377 steps to the top via a winding staircase—because same-date spots are rarely available. In Times Square, Broadway shows beckon—Wicked, The Lion King, and Aladdin are good picks for kids who haven’t reached double digits (ask for the free “My First Broadway Show” sticker sheet at the theaters), while Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls, Beetlejuice, and Hadestown will enthrall high-schoolers. And head over to Central Park to sail remote-controlled boats and climb on the Alice in Wonderland statue, suggests Beth Beckman, founder of LittleKidBigCity.com.

Feel like a local: Venture outside of Manhattan! Beckman, who has a 7-year-old, suggests Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for its catch-and-release fishing clinics and paddleboats.

#3 London

Take a goofy selfie squeezed into a red telephone booth with your kid, while explaining that once upon a time people actually stood inside those things to make calls. “My kids were also amused by the black taxis and how the seating arrangements inside were so different from everywhere else,” says Sajay Garcia, a travel blogger who posts YouTube travel videos at Growing Up Garcia. “The Changing of the Guard and the historic carriages near Buckingham Palace also kept my kids entertained.”

Feel like a local: Sit alongside Londoners at the open-air theater in The Regent’s Park. “Buy food from a neighborhood grocer and have a picnic at the park before the show,” suggests Emily Goldfischer, an American mom of two living in London. “And if you’re going to The British Museum, check out the adventure playground at nearby Coram’s Fields,” she says.

#4 St. Louis

Ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, then check out the renovated visitors’ center. It houses America’s largest terrazzo floor map, showing North America’s historic rivers and trails, so you can trace pioneers’ journeys to the West. (Sneak in that learning!) Burn off steam on the walking and biking trails along the banks of the Mississippi River. Nearby, the new St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station features 80-plus sharks and stingrays in an exhibit that extends overhead.

Feel like a local: Head to City Museum, a playspace with more than two dozen slides constructed from repurposed materials. Even tweens who think they’ve outgrown playgrounds will have a blast. “My 9-year-old loved zipping down a ten-story spiral slide into a cave,” says Brandon Billinger, who blogs at TheRookieDad.com.

#5 Turtle Bay Resort, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

Great for kids who: Love dogs

As if it weren’t already rad enough to learn how to stand-up paddleboard in Kawela Bay, where The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was filmed, Turtle Bay Resort gives kids a trained surf dog to keep them company on the board during their lesson. Afterward, they can make a TikTok with a centuries-old banyan tree in the background. Can you imagine the likes?

#6 Gaylord Opryland Resort, Nashville

Great for kids who: Are obsessed with water parks

The kids will deem the cool blue tones and 4,000-plus potted plants at Soundwaves Water Park to be the nicest they’ve ever seen. They’ll also be impressed by a huge wave pool with live music, a zen lazy river, and the Rapid Remix ride with LED lights and speakers.

#7 Hard Rock Hotel, Los Cabos, Mexico

Great for kids who: Want to be a rockstar

Adults and kids ages 12 and over can perform onstage in front of an audience and fulfill their rock-star dreams at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Music Lab. Whether they play an instrument or opt to sing, a Rock Specialist will help guide their performance. It would be so fun if you did it as a family!

#8 Club Med Cancun Resort, Yucatan, Mexico

Great for kids who: Were born to be daredevils

At the all-inclusive Club Med Cancun's trapeze school, a trained aerialist will guide your budding circus performers through moves on a legit trapeze. (Of course, they are safely harnessed.) The kids practice daily and will get to perform at least one time during your stay.

#9 Glacier National Park, near Columbia Falls, Montana

Great for kids who: Want to spy a glacier

You don’t have to head to Alaska: There are 26 active glaciers to see here. Look for a few easy ones first. You can get a great view of Jackson Glacier from an overlook on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Salamander Glacier is also visible from your car as you drive into the Many Glacier area. The next day, fuel up for a 7-mile round-trip hike to see Piegan Glacier. It starts at the Siyeh Bend Trailhead on Going-to-the-Sun Road and crosses a wildflower meadow.

#10 Grand Canyon National Park, near Fredonia, Arizona

Great for kids who: Want to ride a mule

Your family will relish the breathtaking 10-plus-mile trek down the Grand Canyon’s North Rim to Phantom Ranch, historic cabins near the Colorado River. “My 14-year-old is a little nervous about heights, but he was so overwhelmed by the beauty and charmed by his mule that he forgot all about his fears and the fact that we had no cell service,” says Amy Mayhue, an advisor at Magnolia Travel Group, in Madison, Mississippi. Kids must be at least 9 years old to ride, but Mayhue recommends waiting until they’re 10 or 11 because the ride takes more than five hours each way.

#11 Yosemite National Park, near Mariposa, California

Great for kids who: Love to rock climb

With slabs of granite surrounding lakes, forests, and lush meadows, this park is a wanna-be climber’s wonderland. Michael Moebes, who blogs at Dadcation.com, booked a private full-day lesson with the Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service for his family of five. (Kids need to be 10 years old for group lessons, but there are no age restrictions for private ones.) Even Moebes’s 9-year-old was able to climb Munginella, near Yosemite Falls, for a great view of Half Dome.

#12 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Great for kids who: Love to go glamping

Under Canvas glamping resorts have popped up at more than a half dozen national parks, but the one here is the dreamiest of all since it’s surrounded by a forest. The canvas tents have housekeeping services, a toilet, a shower, and a wood stove. You can book one with an “adjacent hive,” a separate area with twin beds for kids. “After hiking 10 miles to see so many of the park’s waterfalls, it felt great to come back here to sleep,” says Moebes.

Parents Magazine

Comments

Be the first to comment!