The 10 Best Family Vacation Spots, Ranked, According to Travel Experts

Including dozens of affordable Airbnbs

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best family vacation spots collage of family destinations
Airbnb, Getty Images, Travelocity

My most poignant memories of family life come via travel: My husband angling for the biggest halibut in Alaska while deep-sea fishing with another family, our elementary school son hunting Easter eggs across a Maui resort lawn and even the mishaps, like when teenage me mistakenly walked my embarrassed mom down bawdy Bourbon Street on the way back to our New Orleans hotel. Family travel is a rare state of grace: We are out of our comfort zone, the Gameboy is not at hand, so we remember to face each other, listen and we may even learn new stuff like methods of spiking a volleyball, how settlers turned sand into fortresses or how a yesterday’s volcanic eruption is today’s beachy island. So when I came across the study of the most family-friendly cities for vacation in America, I wanted to share it, along with actionable places to stay.

How I Chose The Best Family Vacation Spots

For best family vacation spots in the U.S., I started with a recent study from Rustic Pathways, an educational student travel outfitter. These are the people you go to if you want your sophisticated 14-year-old who is going to be bored another year at day camp to go on an all-expenses paid trip to say Costa Rica to save sea turtles while working on their Spanish fluency. Along with such lofty trips, Rustic Pathways encourages travel overall as a way to achieve personal transformation, increase curiosity and build a stronger worldview. To that end, the group analyzed relevant data points in 323 American cities, ranking them according to affordability, safety and kid-friendly activities. For example, the study weighted family activities per 100,000 people, median booking prices, public transport costs and crimes per 100,000 residents. The cities were then given a score out of 100 and ranked to reveal America's most family-friendly cities. Then, after further researching the cities and pulling out top points of interest, I pored over highly rated Airbnbs and hotel rooms that I could actually see a family booking and enjoying. As a result, there are affordable, educational and action-packed destinations waiting for you and your fam.

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Best family vacation spots: Charleston South Carollina beach with lighthouse
Dana Dickey

1. Charleston, SC

What We Like

  • historic sites
  • natural beauty
  • fine dining

What We Don't Like

  • pricey meals
  • traffic snarls

Charleston’s many beaches with bathtub-warm water are enough in themselves to attract families, but combined with a rich historic tradition, beautiful architecture and children-focused museums and water parks, this southern coastal city is a slam dunk for a fun holiday. Since it was founded in 1670, the city has lots of charm you’ll soak up walking the cobblestone streets by the pastel row houses dotting downtown, eating an ice cream as you poke into shops on King Street and finally wind up walking through the French Quarter to take in the harbor at Waterfront Park.

best family vacation spots: Clearwater Beach shoreline
John Coletti/Getty

2. Clearwater, FL

What We Like

  • casual atmosphere
  • welcoming residents
  • 35 miles of beaches

What We Don't Like

  • parking can be hard-to-find
  • humidity

During elementary school summers, I spent long days collecting sand dollars along the Gulf Coast Florida beaches of Clearwater. I’m happy to say the little white disks are still findable treasures there, though this barrier island city has grown to have more traffic and tourism than us native Floridians care for. No matter—there’s always room for more visitors to this friendly city that’s got sugar sand beaches and a big heart—the Clearwater Marine Aquarium rehabs sea life and the hats of the street performers on Pier 60 are filled with donations during sunset performances. There’s fried seafood a-plenty, washed down with sweet tea…just remember to pick up some aloe lotion for that little post-beach sunburn you’re sure to earn.

  • Getting There: St Pete Clearwater International Airport, Tampa International Airport (30 minutes)
  • Rates: $152 median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: Pier 60, Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise, Sand Key Park
best family vacation spots st george sand hollow park
Adria Photography/Getty

3. St. George, UT

What We Like

  • outdoor fun for all fitness levels
  • unspoiled outdoor vistas

What We Don't Like

  • summer temperatures can reach over 110 degrees
  • lack of diversity

Want to get away from it all? That’s the appeal of St. George, where the distance from major metropolitan hubs combined with gobsmacking natural beauty. State and national parks including Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon are nearby, and there’s boating, fishing and ATV riding in Sand Hollow State Park. Founded in 1861 by westward-migrating Mormons, this city retains a family-focused vibe.

  • Getting There: Las Vegas Airport (3 hours, 17 minutes); St. George Regional; Cedar City, UT (48 minutes)
  • Rates: $142/night median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: Zion Balloons, Zion Tubing, ATV tours
best family vacation spots: Kissimmee lakefront near Orlando Florida
VisionsbyAtlee/Getty Images

4. Orlando, FL

What We Like

  • more than 12 theme parks
  • tubing in Apopka

What We Don't Like

  • poor public transportation
  • humid hot weather

Just submit. You know you’re going to end up at Disney World, you loving parent you, so it’s best if you just make the reservations already. But…happy surprise—there’s a lot you’re going to like for grown-ups at Disney and in Orlando overall. First off, the food is surprisingly good, there are a million hacks to get the most out of your days at the park and best of all, a wide range of resorts and other local attractions like water parks and boating means you can have a well-rounded experience outside the theme parks. And of course, there’s always a drink waiting for you at the Star Wars cantina bar at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

  • Getting There: Orlando International Airport, Orlando Sanford International Airport (27 miles)
  • Rates: $176/night median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Sea World
best family vacation spots Cape Coral Florida beach

5. Cape Coral, FL

What We Like

  • outdoor activities
  • Gulf of Mexico boating access

What We Don't Like

  • limited dining choices
  • not ideal for non-swimmers

This sleepy South Florida community has a throwback suburban feel that’s family-friendly and outdoors-focused. It’s 20 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale; the inland location means it’s sheltered from direct Atlantic Coast storms yet retains the warmth of the region, in both weather and hospitality. There’s a great pier on a river beach for days when you’re away from your hotel or Airbnb pool, and lots of fishing, boating and kayaking waiting for you on waterways.

  • Getting There: Ft. Myers Airport (12 miles), Tampa International Airport (105 miles)
  • Rates: $173/night median booking price·     
  • Standout Attractions: IMAG History and Science Center, kayak tours, Yacht Club Public Beach pier
best family vacation spots scottsdale az canal

6. Scottsdale, AZ

What We Like

  • unique landscape
  • wide dining options

What We Don't Like

  • summertime temperatures over 100 degrees
  • dicey rush hour traffic

Spas for the grownups, water slides for the littles and desert exploration for the whole family—that’s just some of the appeal of Scottsdale as a family destination. At 2,165 feet altitude, the air is clear and the desert landscape stretches forever in the distance, while in parts nearby your fam can enjoy a little of the Old West in Old Town Scottsdale downtown (dating back to the 19th century) and a bit of world-class golfing at the many patches of green dotting the resort landscape.

  • Getting There: Scottsdale Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (7 miles)
  • Rates: $139/night median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Butterfly Wonderland

Where to Stay

best family vacation spots: Honolulu overhead view
Matteo Colombo/Getty

7. Honolulu, HI

What We Like

  • walkable Waikiki strip
  • gorgeous environment

What We Don't Like

  • expensive groceries
  • lots of street hawkers

The long easy waves rolling onto the shallow shores of Waikiki Beach are heaven for learning or mastering surfing or other watersports, and an entire family holiday would be well devoted to just this pursuit. However, there’s a lot more to enjoy and learn in the state capital, such as how the sinking of the USS Arizona in the harbor led to the U.S. entering World War II, or how migrant labor built the Dole Plantation and introduced pineapples to the mainland table. Or maybe just how the native islanders have held onto their traditions (cue the luau celebration). Whatever cultural enrichment you’re sharing with your family, Honolulu is here to host—with a mighty wave.

  • Getting There: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport
  • Rates: $370/night median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: Waikiki Beach, USS Arizona Memorial, Dole Plantation
best family vacation spots new braunfels guadeluape river
Natalie Taylor as Misfit Images/Getty

8. New Braunfels, TX

What We Like

  • outdoor fun
  • cave exploring

What We Don't Like

  • high summer temperatures
  • long airport transfer

New Braunfels is a city just over a half-hour’s drive northeast of San Antonio, Texas. Situated on the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, where groups go which wind past leafy parks like Landa and Cypress Bend. Original 1800s German buildings like Gruene Hall are preserved in the Gruene Historic District. To the west, walkways snake through underground limestone caves at Natural Bridge Caverns. The Schlitterbahn water park has rides, slides and a wave pool.

  • Getting There: San Antonio Airport (30 minutes), Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (2 hours, 41 minutes)
  • Rates: $242/night median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: Animal World and Snake Farm Zoo, Schlitterbahn Waterpark

Where to Stay

best family vacation spots: Bend Oregon river
halbergman/Getty Images

9. Bend, OR

What We Like

  • sporty fun
  • artisanal food
  • dog-friendly

What We Don't Like

  • limited ultra-high peaks for climbers

At this 3,625-foot elevation, you and your family are going to enjoy an unspoiled high desert in the shadow of Smith Rock and Mt. Bachelor. Hikers, mountain bikers and all manner of X Games enthusiasts love this destination for its mountain cowabunga spirit, and wild landscape. (In the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, for example, you can take the kids through a mile-long lava tube (and possibly even spot some bats). Foodies will appreciate the brewpub offerings here, and dog-friendly families will appreciate how Spot is welcome nearly everywhere.

  • Getting There: Redmong Airport (15 miles), Eugene Airport (95 miles), Portland Airport (124 miles)
  • Rates: $387/night median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: Deschutes River, Mt. Bachelor
best family vacation spots: Green Bay WI coastline
Douglas Rissing/Getty Images

10. Green Bay, WI

What We Like

  • ports-centric activities
  • native peoples attractions

What We Don't Like

  • extreme seasons

Located at the southern end of Green Bay, this midwestern destination has the benefit of being conveniently sited right in the middle of the country but with lots of waterway access and a thriving sports scene. While football season is peak Green Bay—the Packers are one of the oldest and the winningest team in NFL history—there’s a lot of beautiful countryside, dining options in Astor Park and Ashwaubenon neighborhoods and chances to spend time hiking and biking.

  • Getting There: Austin Straubel International Airport (8 miles), Milwaukee General Mitchell International Airport (127 miles)
  • Rates: $218/night median booking price
  • Standout Attractions: Oneida Nation tours, National Railroad Museum, catamaran sailing lessons

Where to Stay

best family vacation spots green bay WI home

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best family vacation spots green bay boho home

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dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...