For a child, there’s nothing quite like a trip to Disney World for the first time, nor is there anything like a hike through the Grand Canyon’s natural wonders. Your children will one day look back and appreciate the opportunity to have seen these amazing sites, and perhaps even be inspired to take their own children there, too.

Written by Kimberly Liu and Amanda Geronikos

A Disney Theme Park

Every kid deserves to see "The Happiest Place on Earth" at least once during his or her childhood. Kids of all ages will enjoy the magic of a Disney vacation, but it's particularly fun to visit at least once when they are young enough to get a thrill out of seeing and meeting the Disney characters and enchanting princesses.

Whether you choose to visit Disney World, Disneyland or even Disney parks in other areas of the world isn't as important as making sure you have all the requisite experiences: enjoy a character breakfast, garner a photo with Cinderella in front of her castle, watch the Light Parade and nighttime fireworks, ride a few all-time favorites, and take home a pair of mouse ears. A successful Disney theme park vacation does take some planning, so use our guide on Disney vacations, learn about the hotel choices and find out ways you can save to help you have a more affordable and fun trip. If you've already been to Disney, see what's new; you're never too old to visit Disney!

Recommended Nearby Hotel: See Disney Hotels

U.S. Space & Rocket Center

A world-renowned museum featuring space, rockets, and engineering, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center offers all kinds of ways for kids to learn about NASA's achievements in space. Kids will be star-struck when they see the world's largest space attraction: the history-making Saturn V, hanging 10-feet above the floor and housed in the 476-foot-long, 90-foot-wide and 63-foot-high Davidson Center. There are also dozens of interactive activities for kids to enjoy in the Davidson Center and main museum, including the Spacedome IMAX Theater, the Olympus Mons Climbing Wall and the Mission to Mars Simulator.

Outside, your budding engineers and astronauts can explore the Rocket and Shuttle Parks and take a ride on the Space Shot and G-Force Accelerator, giving them a sense of the physical impact experienced in space exploration. Although many of the activities are more appropriate for older children, there are dedicated play spaces for younger children both inside and outside of the museum. The adjacent Space Camp offers weekend and three- and four-day family camps where parents and children can have a blast learning about space together.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Embassy Suites Huntsville

The Boston Freedom Trail

Bring Colonial Revolutionary history to life with a walk along the 2.5-mile, red-brick or painted-line Boston Freedom Trail, showcasing 16 national treasures and spanning two-and-a-half centuries. Most school-age kids will particularly enjoy the Old Granary Burial Ground where John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine and Paul Revere were buried; the First Public School; the Boston Massacre Site; Faneuil Hall; the Paul Revere House; and, if you can make it over to Charlestown, the USS Constitution. You can walk the trail and read the descriptions on your own or take a guided tour. Trolley tours are also available and allow you to disembark at selected sites.

You can pick up a map and guide at the visitor center on Tremont Street at Boston Common or at the Bostix Booth at Faneuil Hall; it's fine to start the trail at any point. Try to plan so you can stop for lunch at Quincy Market, the largest food hall in New England, and for a relaxed pace, allow three or more hours for your exploration. Admission to the sites on the trail is free except for the Paul Revere House, the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House. Guided tours are offered by the National Park Service from mid-April through early September, and private tours are available year-round, many with guides in costume.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Hotel Commonweath

Mt. Rushmore

After seeing Mt. Rushmore, kids will never forget the inspiring faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, all chosen by sculptor Gutzon Borglum as the presidents best representing the first 150 years of American history. But in addition to learning about these important figures in our nation's history, kids will be impressed with the physical creation of this iconic landmark carved into a mountain of Harney Peak granite.

While visiting Mount Rushmore, take the 30-minute guided daytime tour along the beautiful Presidential Trail, learning more about the natural and cultural history of Mount Rushmore, the American Indians, and the Black Hills. There is also a stirring patriotic evening program in the park's outdoor amphitheater, a short Sculptor's Studio Talk, and an audio tour available for a fee. Older kids can earn their Junior Ranger badge, learning why the four presidents were chosen. While in this remote area, don't miss the nearby Crazy Horse Monument and Native American art museum, as well as the Badlands National Park. Head two miles from Mt. Rushmore to also see the National Presidential Wax Museum.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: K Bar S Lodge

The Mighty Mississipi

Kids will love stepping back in time with a riverboat ride on the mighty Mississippi, where the East, West, North and South all come together in the heart of our country. In St. Louis, aboard a 19th-century paddlewheel boat replica, history comes alive as kids learn about the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch and the country's westward expansion. A National Park Service ranger also joins the cruise to explain how the river currently impacts the surrounding city.

One-hour tours aboard the Tom Sawyer or Becky Thatcher riverboats can be booked through the Core of Discovery. Better yet, purchase a money-saving combo ticket and also take a ride up the 630-foot Gateway Arch, the nation's tallest monument offering 10-mile panoramic views at the top. Below the Arch, visit the Museum of Westward Expansion where kids will learn about the shaping of the American West and the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as see an authentic American-Indian tepee. When hunger strikes, fuel up at Arch View Cafe, located on the Gateway Arch Riverboats dock.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Drury Plaza Hotel

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Kids will feel the heat and the extraordinary power of nature to create and destroy the earth when they get up close to the active volcano, Kilauea, in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park was created to preserve the natural setting of live volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, as well as to serve as a refuge for native plants and animals; it is also the only national park with a tropical rain forest. Still today, rising molten rock fuels "quiet" eruptions of Kilauea, affording kids the rare opportunity to see oozing lava.

Start at the visitor's center where you can pick up Junior Ranger badge materials, watch a short film and inquire on guided tours. To explore the summit of Kilauea on your own, head to Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road with scenic stops, short walks and additional sites for kids including the massive pit, Kilauea Caldera; superb views from the interesting Jaggar Museum; and a 20-minute walk through the forest and underground Thurston Lava Tube. For older children, stay for a nighttime hike when Kilauea's oozing lava turns a brilliant red and casts an eerie glow to the sky.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows

The National Mall

There's no question that the National Mall, the two-mile strip of wide-open green stretching between the Lincoln Memorial and the U.S. Capitol and surrounded by Smithsonian museums and national monuments, is a must-see destination for kids. "The Mall," chock full of our nation's history, offers no shortage of free learning opportunities. Family-favorites include the Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum, as well as world-famous memorials and monuments like the 19-foot-tall Lincoln Memorial (most memorable when beautifully lit up in the evening) and Washington Monument, where you can ride an elevator (or climb the 896 steps!) to the observatory at the top. Also be sure to see the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedicated in 2011.

For older children, don't miss a free guided tour of the U.S. Capitol, and younger children will enjoy whirling around on the 60-horse vintage carousel on the green. Once kids have visited the Mall, they won't forget the visual impact of the many historic stone buildings, and hopefully they'll remember a bit of what they learned inside them as well! While in the Capital, let the kids have some extra fun at the International Spy Museum, and don't miss the nearby National Zoo, a nice change of pace from the museums and a favorite with kids of all ages.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Omni Shoreham Hotel

Niagara Falls

No matter how kids see Niagara Falls -- in America or Canada, from behind, below, above or beside -- they'll be taken aback by the dramatic view (and noise!) of the 13-stories-high thundering falls. By foot, you can get closest to the falls on the American side, but from the Observation Tower in Canada, you'll take in the grander view of the combined Horseshoe, Bridal Veil and American Falls. However, with a passport in hand, you can easily walk over Rainbow Bridge, from one side to the other, enjoying the best of both.

To fully experience the falls, take the Cave of the Winds tour where you'll ride an elevator down 175 feet to "Hurricane Deck" and get within 20 feet of the Bridal Falls, or take a ride on the double-decker ferry boat, the Maid of the Mist, for a wild excursion deep into the waters right below the falls. (On either tour, you'll don cloaks for protection from the spraying waters, but still expect to get soaked!) For an even more memorable experience, take an evening tour when the falls are spectacularly illuminated by colorful neon lights. After taking in the falls through all of your senses, head for more family fun at the kitschy museums in Clifton Hill and nearby Buffalo Zoo, Butterfly Conservatory, and the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Marriott Niagara Falls Hotel Fallsviwew & Spa

The Grand Canyon

One of the most remarkable natural wonders in the world and most popular national parks for families is the Grand Canyon. Kids will be awe-struck not only by the size of the canyon (277-miles long, up to 18-miles wide and a-mile deep), but also the sense of time conveyed by the layers of colored rock. Most visit the more accessible South Rim, where you can walk or bicycle along Desert View Drive, learning about the geology and history of the canyon on two-minute cell phone tours along the trail. Or take a free shuttle or private bus tour, stopping at scenic overlooks including the 75-foot-high Desert View Watchtower offering outstanding panoramic views of the canyon.

For a different perspective, take a hike into the canyon -- even if only for a short distance. Even better, for older children, take a classic mule-ride deeper into the canyon (for several hours or staying overnight at Phantom Ranch); reservations can be made up to 13 months in advance and fill up quickly. Or go all out with a helicopter tour and hold your breath as you fly over the canyon and the ground drops out from beneath you! If you have an extra day, head to the western end of the canyon (250 miles from the South Rim) and walk on the glass floor of the Skywalk 4,000-feet above the canyon floor; kids won't forget the experience! And if that's not enough for teens, take a whitewater-rafting trip through the Canyon on the Colorado River.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Yavapai Lodge

The Statue of Liberty

Kids may enjoy the ferry ride to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor more than climbing the steps to the top, but it's a right of passage for kids to make the trip to the top of Lady Liberty, standing tall as a symbol of freedom and democracy in America. Many cruises will take you close to the statue, but to actually sail to Liberty Island and climb the steps, book a tour through Statue Cruises. On Statue Cruises, your tour also includes a stop at Ellis Island, the entry point of 40 percent of American Citizens' ancestors. At Ellis Island, kids can take an audio tour of the immigration museum and search on an interactive database for information on their relatives. At the end of the tour, take older children to Ground Zero, the National 9/11 Memorial. And while in New York, kids may also particularly enjoy the dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, the Central Park Zoo, the Children's Zoo, Dylan's Candy Bar and even sitting still at a family-friendly Broadway play like "Mary Poppins" or "The Lion King."

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Hotel Elysee

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns, a giant system of more than 117 underground caves and tunnels under the Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico, is an altogether different and impressive site for kids. Offering an underground twist on a national park, the main attraction, The Big Room, is a 14-acre chamber of pale limestone 750-feet underground. Younger kids can take the elevator in the visitor center down to the Big Room for a wide-eyed look around and a kids' audio tour. Older kids may enjoy trekking down the steep one-mile path that begins at the historic natural entrance and goes through additional underground rooms, or taking one of the more demanding guided tours (tickets may be reserved ahead for ages 3 and up).

Whichever you choose, all kids should leave knowing the meaning of the words "stalactites" and "stalagmites" -- the stone formations they'll see and learn about; the Junior Ranger program will ensure it. And if visiting in summer, don't leave the caverns without seeing nearly a half-million Mexican free-tail bats soar out over the desert at sunset to dine on tons of insects; it's a one-of-a-kind site. Then enjoy the evening darkness at a Star Party where kids can view the wonders of the night sky. Note that while the outside temperature may be over 100 degrees, the average temperature in the cave is a cool 56 degrees.

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites, Carlsbad

The San Diego Zoo

There are several stand-out zoos in the United States, but what sets the San Diego Zoo apart is its enormous size and location within Balboa Park, the largest cultural park in the country. Within Balboa Park, the 100-acre San Diego Zoo, known for its stellar efforts in conservation, education and animal protection, awaits with over 4,000 rare and endangered animals for kids to meet and learn about. It can become arduous walking around the zoo and is not always easy with strollers, so plan on taking the relaxing 35-minute double-decker bus tour that winds through the park. Along the way, knowledgeable bus-guides share humorous stories about the zoo's animals, peaking kids' interest.

Alternatively, take the Skyfari aerial tram and enjoy a bird's-eye view of the animal exhibits. Whichever way you choose to tour, don't leave the zoo without seeing the famous panda family and taking in a show featuring the natural behaviors of animals like sea lions at the Wegeforth Bowl and Hunte Amphitheatre. The zoo and Balboa park can easily keep you busy for several days (there are 15 museums and more to see in the park), but if you are on a longer vacation, you're in the perfect spot for even more family fun nearby at the zoo's Safari Park, Disneyland, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND, gorgeous beaches, historic and cultural sites and more!

Recommended Nearby Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach

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12 Places Kids Should See Before They Grow Up
 
Embassy Suites Huntsville Reviews
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Hotel Commonwealth Reviews
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K Bar S Lodge Reviews
mirilev - Apr 29th, 2011

Wonderful beach vacation,with beautiful mountain views all around. The sea is a minutes walk from the hotel,beautiful clear water,with lots of colorful fish. Weather was really good,but the sea water was cold (only us tourist were in the sea) ... read more
K Bar S Lodge reviews
Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch Reviews
Sheriedawson - Apr 2nd, 2014

Loved this hotel..it was beautiful and right around the corner from the Arch, Cathedral, and Old Courthouse. The staff was very pleasant and helpful on other destinations. We will diffidently go again.... read more
dubzap - Jul 27th, 2012

We were in town for the Independance Celebration and stayed at this property. We choose this property whenever we are in town because not only is it family friendly it is also pet friendly. We always have a great time and our entire ... read more
Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch reviews
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows Reviews
ktwdg - Oct 25th, 2009

This is a fabulous resort with the staff to match. They are currently undergoing renovations (October 09) to the pools and other areas (though I saw nothing lacking). This was my first trip to Hawaii and this resort was all I could have asked for. ... read more
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows reviews
Omni Shoreham Hotel Reviews
sandrose - Nov 29th, 2011

We stayed here for 4 days at the end of August and had a great time. The location was great with 2 kids-within walking distance to the metro, and not too long of a ride to get to the sights of DC. It was a bit too long of a walk to the zoo, ... read more
Omni Shoreham Hotel reviews
Marriott Niagara Falls Fallsview Hotel & Spa Reviews
mousedragons - Jun 25th, 2013

I was very impressed with how efficient and friendly the people in the reservation department of this hotel. They accommodated my needs to change the schedule and they were all very helpful. Their reservation system is smooth and flexible. The ... read more
pthynne@aol.com - Jun 3rd, 2013

We loved this location, the view was breathtaking and loved coming back to our suite every night and looking out the window at the view.It was the highlight of our trip.After all we came here to see the falls and see it we did from this ... read more
Marriott Niagara Falls Fallsview Hotel & Spa reviews
Yavapai Lodge Reviews
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Hotel Elysee Reviews
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Hampton Inn & Suites Carlsbad New Mexico Reviews
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Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach Reviews
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