The 50 Best Vacations for Kids in the U.S. for 2021

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Traveling with children can be a challenge, especially when it comes to deciding where to go next (and navigating the ever-changing logistics of COVID-19 regulations). But whether you’re in search of a camping adventure or a thrilling amusement park, there are plenty of places right here in the U.S. perfect for your next family trip—many of which are easily accessible by car.

The CDC recommends traveling within the U.S. only if you are fully vaccinated (unvaccinated travelers should get tested and wear a mask when possible). It’s important to check any local regulations when planning a trip, and booking early is a great way to score post-pandemic travel deals, especially when it comes to rental cars and flights. Things might feel a little different as you venture away from home, but we’re all ready for a little “revenge travel,” whether it’s one hour away or straight across the country.

From camping in national parks to exploring cities like Boston and San Francisco, here are 50 vacation ideas for kids of all ages right here in the U.S.

Is It OK to Book a Summer Vacation with Your Unvaccinated Kids? We Asked a Pediatrician

Kent Phillips

1. Walt Disney World Resort, Florida

The happiest place on Earth really is worth it for a memorable family vacation—especially as it expands with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. For ease, book into one of the resort’s many themed, family-friendly hotels, which include Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Or, you can be a little savvy and stay only a mile “off-campus” to save over $200. A few things have changed since the pandemic, including limited capacity and face masks in all indoor spaces, but don’t worry, all the magic is still there.

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2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Home to legendary geyser Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park is an ideal spot for camping, hiking, fishing and just getting away from it all for some quality family time. Camp out at the Mammoth campsites, located near Mammoth Hot Springs, where RVs and tents are welcome (and there are flushing toilets). The campground is currently by reservation only, so be sure to book in advance.

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3. New York City, New York

The Empire State Building, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the Met and the awe of seeing your very first Broadway show—need we say more? For a great bonus adventure, head to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, where kids can learn about how movies are made and experience an exhibition on Jim Henson. Broadway reopened its doors in September and it’s worth planning way ahead when it comes to scoring tickets, especially if you’re coveting the front row at Hamilton.

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4. Chicago, Illinois

Climb aboard an actual submarine at the Museum of Science and Industry, gawk at the underwater beauty at the Shedd Aquarium and try to count how many dots make up George Seurat’s iconic A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute. Chicago can be done in all types of weather (ask the locals), but summer means comfortable walks through the free Lincoln Park Zoo and beachside lounging on Lake Michigan’s Oak Street Beach. Grab a room at the family-friendly Embassy Suites on the Magnificent Mile for close proximity to the Riverwalk, shopping and great food.

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5. Miami Beach, Florida

Miami Beach is way more than just beaches, from an Everglades airboat tour at Sawgrass Recreation Park to graffiti touring at the Wynwood Walls to the Miami Children's Museum, and the cool hotels are appealing to parents who want more than the usual resort. The Loews Miami Beach Hotel has tons of kid-related amenities, including a kids club, and the is a hip spot with daytime activities for young ones.

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6. San Diego, California

Who can say no to the number one zoo in the world? Yep, from the San Diego Zoo to SeaWorld to family-friendly resorts, San Diego has a lot to offer young travelers. Not to mention the weather is always on point, which makes wandering through the hip Gaslamp District especially appealing. Stay at the Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa, located along the water and equipped with an inviting outdoor pool.

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7. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio is a cultural hub that boasts historical sites and several theme parks, like Six Flags Fiesta and SeaWorld San Antonio. The renowned River Walk is a great place to explore the city’s serious, diverse food scene, and visitors can embed themselves right in the center of things at the Marriott Riverwalk.

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8. Outer Banks, North Carolina

Rent a vacation house along the shore in the Outer Banks, a group of barrier islands with picturesque stretches of sand, charming towns and numerous activities for kids. Don’t miss Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which boasts the East Coast’s highest sand dune, and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. This is a great pick for families who aren’t quite ready to deal with crowds quite yet.

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9. Waikiki Beach, Hawaii

If the beach isn’t enough of a draw, Waikiki, a boisterous strip of Honolulu, has tons to see and do, from a lively zoo to hula shows. Nearly every hotel in the area is welcoming to kids, but the Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations Club is a good bet for families who want a kitchen and separate bedrooms. Plus, there are five pools and a kid’s club. Not too shabby. Note: Currently, there are travel restrictions in place for travel to all of Hawaii’s islands where travelers will either need to be fully vaccinated or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test to avoid mandatory quarantine upon entry.

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10. Sanibel Island, Florida

This small, relaxed island off the coast of Florida is notably family-friendly, with great places to stay, scenic beaches and tons of outdoor activities, like biking, fishing and boating. If it rains, head to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, which has activities for young visitors. The hotels on the island tend to be minimal, so look into a beach cottage rental instead.

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11. Black Hills, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a bucket list sight, and the Black Hills have a plethora of other things to see and do, from Custer State Park to Devils Tower National Monument. Plus, amazing camping, which you can do at Under Canvas Mount Rushmore, a glamping site perfect for those who don’t want to truly rough it.

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12. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Outdoorsy types will love Rocky Mountain National Park, a short drive from Denver, which has hiking, horseback riding, scenic drives and lots of wildlife viewing. Book into the YMCA of the Rockies in nearby Estes Park, which has everything from archery to arts and crafts. Plus, the cool cabins are great for family bonding. Due to the pandemic, Rocky Mountain National Park currently has a timed-entry system, where reservations will be required for visitors to the park through October 11, 2021.

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Sesame Place

13. Sesame Place, Pennsylvania

Young travelers will love Sesame Place, a theme and water park located in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, where favorite Sesame Street characters are the basis of every activity. The town itself is not super chic, but hotels like the Courtyard by Marriott and the Radisson Hotel Philadelphia Northeast welcome all Sesame Street fans (and are official partners with the theme park). In accordance with CDC guidelines, vaccinated guests are no longer required to wear masks at Sesame Place.

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14. Hershey, Pennsylvania

Travel to the home of Hersheypark, a massive amusement park dedicated to chocolate, where visitors will also find the kid-friendly ZooAmerica and Hershey Gardens. The town of Hershey, known as “the sweetest place on Earth,” has a few resort hotels, as well as the Hersheypark Camping Resort, where families can bunk up together in a log cabin.

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Aulani Resort & Spa

15. Aulani Resort & Spa, Hawaii

Slap the name Disney on it and you know the kids will go crazy, but Disney’s Aulani Resort is actually worth the splurge, with pools, activities and its own private beach. During your stay don’t miss character experiences with Mickey and Minnie, boat excursions around O’ahu and even family spa treatments, which mean you can relax alongside your kids. Again, heading to Hawaii means you’ll either need to be fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test (but it’s worth any hassle).

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16. Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, the small town of Glenwood Springs is home to a massive hot springs pool, whitewater rafting and the memorable Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Stay in the Hotel Glenwood Springs, which has an indoor waterpark and adjoining suites for larger families. Adventurous visitors should follow the trails to Hanging Lake, one of the area’s most popular hiking destinations.

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17. San Francisco, California

Explore California’s northern city with young kids or teens, enjoying the museums, amazing restaurants and ferry boats, which can take you to Sausalito or Alcatraz, depending on your mood. Spend an afternoon at the Exploratorium at Pier 15, an interactive museum that replicates tornadoes and earthquakes. For a splurge, stay at the Fairmont Heritage Place Ghirardelli Square, which gets you up close and personal with the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory.

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18. The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, California

Universal Studios Hollywood is the gateway to Hogwarts, where kids and adults can sip on butterbeer, ride a Hippogriff-themed roller coaster and shop in Hogsmeade. Universal Studios also has tons of other attractions, like the WaterWorld Stunt Show and the brand new Jurassic World: The Ride. If you’re visiting for a few days, snag a package deal with park passes and one of the nearby hotels. Universal Studios Hollywood no longer requires masks for vaccinated guests, but recommends them in all indoor areas.

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19. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Jump back in time to 18th-century Virginia, where visitors can explore historical shops and homes and learn about trades like glass-blowing and blacksmithing. Get in on the old time vibe at the Williamsburg Lodge, a four-star hotel set in a Colonial-era mansion (with a much more modern swimming pool). Note that while vaccinated visitors don’t have to wear masks when visiting Colonial Williamsburg, all guests do need to wear one on the parking lot shuttle buses.

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20. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Family vacations are the thing in Wisconsin Dells, a city with numerous theme parks and waterparks, including Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park, Chula Vista Resort or the “best and largest waterpark in the Dells,” Noah’s Ark. Stay in the popular Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor waterpark resort with tons of activities, shopping and dining options—and, of course, waterslides.

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21. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach welcomes visitors welcomes visitors to its sandy shores with a top-notch boardwalk, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center and the Ocean Breeze Waterpark. Keep the kids happy at the Holiday Inn & Suites North Beach, which boasts three pools, a lazy river and nautical-themed guest rooms (with kitchenettes).

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22. Boston, Massachusetts

Head to New England for amazing seasons and lots to do in Boston, a city with museums, parks, the Freedom Trail and, of course, great seafood. The Boston Children’s Museum is also a good bet, especially when visiting during the freezing cold winter. The Boston Marriott Long Wharf sets you up with easy access to all sites, including the impressive New England Aquarium. If you need a little more space and quiet, drive out of the city to one of Cape Cod’s picturesque beaches.

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23. Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park offers a Junior Ranger program for young visitors, as well as biking and hiking trails, a geology museum and river rafting (for teens). Camping is the best way to experience the park—look for the North Rim campground—or book a room at the Maswik Lodge, a rustic hotel not far from the canyon’s edge. Note that a few of the park entrances remain closed, so check online ahead of your visit for any updates.

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24. Blue Ridge Mountains, South Carolina

Experience the great outdoors by hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains or rafting down the Chattooga River, all in an area that’s perfect for families with kids of any age. Settle down for the night at the Bear Den Family Campground and Creekside Cabins, which has campsites and cabins that cater to both young and old travelers.

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25. Cooperstown, New York

Baseball fans should book a trip to Coopertown, home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum—as well as numerous other kid-appropriate attractions, like the Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum. For something extra special, stay at the incredible Otesaga Resort Hotel, which was built in 1909 and overlooks the picturesque Ostego Lake. Score your timed tickets to National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ahead of time online.

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26. Denali National Park And Preserve, Alaska

Older kids will love the vast stretches of wilderness in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve, an area that welcomes travelers from May to September to hike, spot wildlife and camp. It’s camping only in these parts, but Riley Creek Campground has good amenities and access to the main road (it’s strongly recommended to reserve campsites in advance online and all campers are asked to maintain social distancing). There is a small fee to enter Denali National Park and Preserve, which you can pay ahead of time online.

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27. Florida Space Coast

The area surrounding the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station makes for an engaging family vacation, with beaches, rocket launches and several towns to explore. There are tons of vacation rentals and condos available, but if you prefer a hotel check out the Four Points by Sheraton on Cocoa Beach, which is a short drive to all of the nearby attractions.

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28. Arches National Park, Utah

The brilliant red landscape of Arches National Park is a memorable spot for any traveler, but especially for those who enjoy camping, rock climbing and bouldering and exploring endless hiking trails through the rocky vistas. Moab features a range of accommodations, from campgrounds to chic hotels, so it’s really a matter of preference where to stay. For something really scenic head to Red Cliffs Lodge, a Western-inspired property right on the Colorado River. When visiting Arches National Park during busy summer periods, arrive as early as possible since trailhead parking lots can fill up quickly.

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29. Indianapolis, Indiana

You’ll never run out of activities in the thriving metropolitan area of Indianapolis, with the Indianapolis Zoo, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (the largest in the world) and Corner Prairie, a massive outdoor, interactive museum. The centrally-located Conrad Indianapolis notoriously caters to small travelers, and the property is connected to the Circle Center Mall, making it perfect for grabbing a snack—or bribing the kids with a new toy.

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30. Huntsville, Alabama

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the main draw for kids in Huntsville, but the Alabama city is also home to the Huntsville Botanical Garden, the EarlyWorks Children's History Museum and the Altitude Trampoline Park. Book a room at the budget-friendly Hampton Inn Huntsville, which has a playground, an indoor pool and a location that’s walking distance from several restaurants. When visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center bring along mask—they’re still required on certain attractions—and note that some exhibits are currently closed due to social distancing concerns.

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Lake Winnie

31. Lake Winnepesaukah, Georgia

Lake Winnepesaukah, called “Lake Winnie” by those in the know, is one of the U.S.’s best amusement parks, featuring rides, games, a waterpark and lots of picnic spots for a lunch break. There are plenty of chain hotels and eateries located near the park, both in Georgia and neighboring Tennessee. For something more historic, The Read House in Chattanooga is a charming hotel near the Tennessee Riverwalk and the Tennessee Aquarium.

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32. Cedar Point, Ohio

Known as the “coaster capital of the world,” Cedar Point is where you go for some serious thrills—and, potentially, for a memorable family vacation. The location on Lake Erie offers the possibility for boating, swimming and fishing, and Castaway Bay is a nearby indoor waterpark with a tropical theme. Book a cabin at Lighthouse Point, a lakefront site with an outdoor pool and early daily access to Cedar Point. Cedar Point currently requires reservations in advance, although social distancing and capacity limits are no longer in place.

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33. Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas

There’s no greater moment than stepping into an actual dinosaur footprint, one of the many activities you can seek out in Dinosaur Valley State Park, located outside Fort Worth, which also boasts the memorable amusement park Dinosaur World. You could find a nearby hotel, but the park’s campgrounds are a better way to immerse the family in the area. Reserve a campsite ahead of time online, looking for one with electricity and showers if needed.

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34. Williams, Arizona

Drive through Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, where visitors can spot animals like wolves, bears and bison. Bonus: Williams is on historic Route 66, which leads you right into Grand Canyon National Park. The hotels around Williams are rustic, to say the least, but Under Canvas Grand Canyon boasts amazing glamping tents with far better amenities than some of the local motels.

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35. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Venture inside real-life caves in Mammoth Cave National Park, which boasts the longest known cave system in the world. There’s also boating, hiking and a place called Dinosaur World, which you’ll obviously need to visit. Keep the outdoor spirit at The Lodge at Mammoth Cave, which has nice picnic areas and is walking distance from the park entrance.

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36. Niagara Falls, New York

Head north to Niagara Falls, where your family will enjoy Fallsview Indoor Waterpark, a Hornblower boat cruise around the iconic falls and the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory. The Skyline Hotel & Waterpark will keep kids happy with some indoor splashing fun, but is nice enough for adults to enjoy too. Once the Canadian border reopens to U.S. travelers, be sure to check out Great Wolf Lodge on the other side.

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37. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is a charming destination with historic Fort Mackinac, Victorian-style shops and hotels and no cars, so you can travel by horse and buggy or bike. The historic Grand Hotel is the obvious choice when staying on the island, especially if you have kids who like to dress up for afternoon tea, however the Bicycle Street Inn and Suites is better for those on a budget (and it has fridges and microwaves in the rooms). Visitors need to take a ferry to access Mackinac Island, so be sure to bring along a mask for the boat ride.

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38. Legoland Florida Resort, Florida

Enjoy the theme park and water park attractions at LEGOLAND’s Florida outpost, a massive resort with three colorful, themed hotels. Select the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, which has colorful bungalows and an outdoor pool. The area of Winter Haven is also less than 30 miles from Walt Disney World, which means you can hit two theme parks in one magic-filled vacation. Safety measures at LEGOLAND include cashless payments, social distancing and masks for unvaccinated guests.

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39. Boulder, Colorado

Nature lovers will find access to hiking, kayaking and biking in Boulder, a picturesque town at the foot of the Rockies with a pedestrian mall and lots of parks and playgrounds. The Boulder Marriott is a good bet for travelers who want to keep things central and easy, but if you want a bit more adventure, the Boulder Adventure Lodge has an outdoor pool, film screenings and group hikes to accompany its creek-side cabins.

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40. Stowe, Vermont

Stowe, known for its ski resort, is best in the winter, but the small town is also great for adventurous travelers in the warmer months, with hiking, fishing and kayaking at the ready. Family lodging is available throughout Stowe and the Stowe Mountain Lodge is a favorite amongst travelers thanks to the full kitchens in each room and the ski-in/ski-out location. It also has its own ski school, in case you want to ditch the kids for a morning on the slopes.

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41. St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis has the kid essentials of any good city—the Saint Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Science Center, the Magic House children’s museum—but it’s also got a slew of things for parents, from great restaurants to a buzzy night scene. Get up close to the famous arch at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch, a hotel that’s also super close to Busch Stadium and Gateway Mall.

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42. Seattle, Washington

If the Space Needle isn’t enough to get your kids excited for Seattle, the Seattle Aquarium, the Woodland Park Zoo and the Pike Place Market’s fish throwers should do the trick. The Kimpton Alexis Hotel has a great location downtown with options of connecting rooms and rollaway beds, or you can opt to save some money at the Homewood Suites by Hilton Seattle Downtown, which includes breakfast and two separate bedrooms in all the guest suites.

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43. Yosemite National Park, California

The scenery alone should draw you to Yosemite National Park, which is nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, but it’s the wealth of things to do that make it an ideal vacation, even if your family isn’t that into camping. Of course, if you are willing to rough it, Housekeeping Camp features pre-built tents with electricity and running water, and each can sleep up to six. Day visitors need a ticketed reservation to enter Yosemite National Park, which can be made online, while overnight guests will need to show a hotel or campground reservation when they head in.

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44. Portland, Maine

Get away from the daily stress in Portland, a historic city filled with lighthouses, beaches and a chic West End area, as well as a children’s museum and horse-drawn carriage rides. Don’t hesitate to book The Press Hotel, a chic property located in the former Portland Press Herald offices. For dinner, stop into OTTO, a local pizzeria with unique toppings.

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45. The Hamptons, New York

The posh set heads to the Hamptons every summer, renting massive beach houses and dining in pricey seafood restaurants, but family-friendly areas like Montauk and East Hampton aren’t just for the rich and famous. Book into a vacation rental or opt for a hotel, like Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, which welcomes kids.

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46. Las Vegas, Nevada

Sin City isn’t just for grown-ups with Cirque du Soleil, the Big Apple Coaster and Adventuredome Theme Park. There are numerous bargain-friendly hotel rates to be had, especially at the fun-loving Circus Circus and Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino (which has its own aquarium). Don’t forget to visit the Flamingo Wildlife Habitat, obviously located in the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel.

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47. Highway 1, California

Take a road trip along Highway 1, a coastal road that journeys from San Diego to Big Sur, stopping in spots like Santa Barbara and Carmel along the way. Pismo Beach makes for a scenic pit stop, especially for beach lovers, but it’s Carmel where you should stay the night. Try the Carmel River Inn or Hotel Carmel, both boutique properties walking distance from the ocean.

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48. Nashville, Tennessee

Music is the thing in Nashville, a thriving city with the top-notch Adventure Science Center, a great kids’ theater and the ever-popular Treetop Adventure Park. Be sure to take in a country show at the famed Ryman Auditorium. Downtown is the best place to stay with kids, so look for the Omni Nashville or the Cambria Hotel Nashville Downtown. Oh, and be sure to grab barbecue at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint.

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49. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Camp under the stars in Joshua Tree National Park, located not far from Palm Springs, where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts meet in an unearthly landscape. Be sure to stop by Pioneertown, a historical Western town with a restaurant and music venue called Pappy and Harriet’s. Enjoy the sunrise at the Jumbo Rocks Campground, known for its scenic rock formations. Jumbo Rocks requires reservations during its busy season, which runs from September through May.

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50. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Oregon

The scenic Columbia River runs through the Pacific Northwest, creating a beautiful expanse of mountains and waterfalls, perfect for a holiday trip away from crowds. There are tons of great campgrounds dotted along the river, so it’s easy to find a place to stay the night in the midst of the wilderness. Many of the campgrounds, like leafy Eagle Creek, can be booked in advance online.

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