It’s a new year, which can truly only mean one thing—it’s time to choose a new vacation destination! These are the top 12 U.S. destinations to put on your family vacation radar for 2019.
1. Huntsville, AL
Got a kiddo who dreams of traveling the galaxy? Head to Huntsville, Alabama, which will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing in 2019. Events throughout the year include moon landing reenactments and special exhibits at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. On July 16, visitors can watch as the center attempts to break a world record by simultaneously launching 5,000 model rockets at the exact time of the Apollo 11 launch in 1969. A 50th anniversary parade on July 19 will bring back memories of the one held 50 years ago.
The state of Alabama is also celebrating its bicentennial in 2019 and Huntsville is a fitting place to get in on the party, since it’s where the state constitution was signed back in 1819. Check out Huntsville’s EarlyWorks Family of Museums for birthday-related events and kid-friendly fun. The MidCity Huntsville and Stovehouse complexes, two major developments coming online in 2019, will offer lots of new dining, shopping, and entertainment options for visiting families.
Recommended Hotel: Element Huntsville
2. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The awe-inspiring Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2019 with a slew of special events. Good options for families include the Centennial Summerfest and Star Party June 22 through 29. Visitors can see cultural demonstrations by tribes native to the canyon, learn about the canyon’s history, and taste Arizona food and drink at the Visitor Center Plaza. During the evening, local astronomy clubs offer info and telescopes for stargazing. June 22 is also Junior Ranger Day, when kids can learn about what’s involved in taking care of the park.
Lodging could fill up fast during this anniversary season. If you want to be a part of the celebration, a tour could be a good option for lining up a place to lay your head. Tauck Bridges, for example, offers all-inclusive, multi-generational trips that include lodging inside Grand Canyon National Park, as well as meals and activities.
Recommended Hotel: Yavapai Lodge
3. Disney World – Orlando
Yes, the Orlando theme park resort could be on this list almost any year. But 2019 brings lots of highly anticipated additions to the Florida family favorite, like the fall opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where visitors will be able to take the controls of the Millennium Falcon and be part of a battle between the Resistance and First Order.
Fall 2019 also marks the opening of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway at Hollywood Studios, the resort’s first-ever ride-through attraction themed to Mickey Mouse, and the Skyliner gondola transportation system connecting Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and several resort hotels. Other new additions in 2019 include Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy show at Hollywood Studios and a new fireworks show at Epcot. There will be new on-property lodging options opening in 2019, too: Disney’s Riviera Resort, the 15th Disney Vacation Club property, and the re-imagined Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, home to a new 15-story, 545-room tower.
Recommended Hotel: Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
4. Memphis, TN
Memphis celebrates its 200th birthday in 2019, making it a great time to visit the Tennessee city known for its music history (Sun Studio, Elvis Presley’s Graceland) and family-friendly attractions like the Memphis Zoo and Mud Island Park. The annual Memphis in May festival will celebrate what makes the city unique with events like a barbecue cooking contest and the Beale Street Music Festival, a three-day, four-stage event featuring more than 60 musical acts.
The Pink Palace Museum recently reopened after a two-year renovation and now includes displays like a replica of an original Piggly Wiggly Store (the museum was once the home of the founder of Piggly Wiggly). A special exhibit opening in March will focus on the city’s history. New hotels entering the Memphis mix include a Hilton Curio Collection hotel in the city’s former Central Station, and the Moxy Memphis Downtown near the Beale Street entertainment district. Another fun option is Big Cypress Lodge, located inside the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid in downtown Memphis and featuring rooms designed to look like tree houses or vintage duck-hunting camps.
Recommended Hotel: Peabody Memphis
5. New York City
The Big Apple is calling 2019 a “Monumental Year” because of all the new attractions and hotels coming to the city. That includes the opening of Hudson Yards, New York City’s largest development since Rockefeller Center. It will include more than 100 shops, a collection of restaurants, the Shed arts center, an Equinox hotel, and the highest outdoor observation deck in the western hemisphere.
Scheduled to open in May 2019, the Statue of Liberty Museum will tell the history of Lady Liberty and showcase artifacts like her original torch. MoMA will also open an expansion in 2019 that will give the modern art museum 30-percent more gallery space and a state-of-the art studio and performance center. And the TWA Hotel brings some mid-century style to JFK International Airport. The re-imagining of Eero Saarinen’s circa-1962 TWA Flight Center will include guestrooms with views of JFK’s busy runways, six restaurants, and a rooftop observation deck with a pool.
Recommended Hotel: Library Hotel
6. Greenville, SC
Greenville has been a destination on the rise for a few years now, thanks to its food scene and attractions like Falls Park on the Reedy, with its iconic Liberty Bridge spanning the falls. If you visit this city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 2019, you can enjoy an array of new restaurants, and the new one-stop culinary experiences at Gather GVL, a collective housing restaurants, breweries, and bakeries in one-time shipping containers and other small structures, and the Commons, where a daily farmers market will sell only produce and meat from farms in a local 10-county area.
Greenville’s also home to Seedlings, the first farm-to-table restaurant for kids in the United States, and the Greenville Drive baseball team, the Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Right across from the team’s Fluor Field, the new Homewood Suites by Hilton Greenville Downtown opening in spring 2019 will offer suites will fully equipped kitchens, complimentary breakfast, and an outdoor pool.
Recommended Hotel: Embassy Suites by Hilton Greenville Downtown Riverplace
7. Greater Williamsburg, VA
In 2019, Virginia’s American Evolution commemoration will mark the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, the arrival of the first recorded Africans to English North America, and the first official English Thanksgiving in North America. Events will take place throughout the state, but the greater Williamsburg area is a good destination for families who want to delve into Virginia’s history.
Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum, takes visitors back to the 18th century with costumed interpreters and demonstrations depicting life in the city’s early days. New exhibits and experiences at nearby Historic Jamestowne and the Jamestown Settlement living history museum will explore the important role the first permanent English settlement in North America played in that list of firsts from 400 years ago. The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will also host a special exhibit in 2019, focusing on the stories of enslaved and free African Americans who fought on both sides of the American Revolution.
If the kids need a break from living in the past, the Historic Triangle also offers some 21st-century fun. Busch Gardens Williamsburg will open a new swing ride call Finnegan’s Flyer that will reach heights of more than 80 feet and speeds of up to 45 mph. And Water Country USA will debut its new Cutback Water Coaster, Virginia’s first hybrid water coaster where four-person rafts will travel along an 856-foot slide, through tunnels, and into a massive saucer-shaped feature.
Recommended Hotel: Kingsmill Resort & Spa
8. Cody, WY
Founded in 1896 by buffalo hunter and showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, this city bills itself as the “wildwest way into Yellowstone.” (It’s just 50 miles from the popular national park’s east entrance and 80 miles from its northeast entrance.) In 2019, Cody will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cody Stampede, an annual rodeo event created to honor the city’s founder. The centennial event taking place July 1 through 4 will include nightly rodeos, parades, free concerts, and fireworks.
Two of the five museums within the Buffalo Bill Center of the West will also be marking milestones in 2019. The Whitney Western Art Museum, one of the top Western art galleries in the country, will be celebrating its 60th anniversary, and the Plains Indian Museum, which showcases the arts and traditions of its namesake tribe, will turn 40 years old. Families can further immerse themselves in all things Buffalo Bill by booking a room at the Irma Hotel (which he built and named for his daughter) or Pahaska Teepee Resort (his one-time hunting lodge). And that’s just the tip of the Wild West–style fun families can have here.
In 2019, Wyoming will also celebrate the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state. (The Wyoming Territory approved the first law in U.S. history granting women the right to vote and hold office in 1869, 50 years before women could vote in the rest of the country.) It’s honoring its historic women throughout the state, and in Cody, visitors can check out an exhibit on Amelia Earhart’s Wyoming connection at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Recommended Hotel: The Cody Hotel
9. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, AL
In 2018, these neighboring beach towns on the Gulf of Mexico welcomed the new Lodge at Gulf State Park and unveiled major renovations to the Gulf Shores Public Beach Area. In 2019, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo will open at its new 25-acre site. Now known as “The Little Zoo That Could”–after zoo staff oversaw a complete evacuation of all animals prior to Hurricane Ivan–the attraction will add new animals, larger-scale shows, and new food vendors once it moves to its new home in the fall.
Gulf State Park will be expanding its education programs in 2019 when its new Learning Center opens. The park has already added 13 miles of trails and a sustainably-focused interpretive center as part of its recent expansion efforts. The Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism & Sustainability will also open in 2019, hosting day-long programs, special events, workshops, and festivals that can be enjoyed by visitors to the area. And of course there are miles of beaches to be enjoyed, plus one of the largest Ferris wheels in the Southeast to ride.
Recommended Hotel: The Beach Club
10. St. Louis
A visit to the Gateway Arch is rightly on many families’ bucket lists when traveling to St. Louis. And a recently opened museum at the Arch helps visitors learn more about St. Louis history and its role in the country’s westward expansion. It’s just one of many free spots for family fun in the Missouri city, which also include the St. Louis Zoo and St. Louis Science Center.
The much-anticipated St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station will be opening in fall 2019. The $50-million attraction will house one-of-a-kind exhibits and 1.3-million gallons of water, home to aquatic species from around the world. It’s part of a larger renovation of the former train station, which will also transform old train cars and steel shipping containers into dining spots. It will also add the St. Louis Wheel, a 200-foot-high observation wheel with fully enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas, to the city skyline.
One of the coolest new hotels in the city is the Angad Arts Hotel in the Grand Center Arts District. It offers family-friendly bunk rooms and suites with kitchenettes and is the first hotel in the world where guests can select rooms by emotion of color! (Stressed-out parents might want to choose blue for tranquility.) Or stay at Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis for views of the Arch, a rooftop pool and splash pad, and kids’ amenities like teen spa services and a children’s movie library.
Recommended Hotel: Angad Arts Hotel
Transformation could be the Seattle buzzword for 2019, as visitors to the Washington city will have the chance to experience a lot of brand-new or newly renovated sites. The city’s iconic Space Needle recently unveiled its dramatic “spacelift” and now features the world’s first and only revolving glass floor, suspended 500 feet above the city, plus expanded views from indoor and outdoor observation areas at the 520-foot level. And another bird’s-eye view of the city can be found at the also-recently-renovated Sky View Observatory, the tallest public observatory in the Pacific Northwest.
The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and Seattle Asian Art Museum will both unveil new or renovated digs in 2019, joining the Nordic Museum—the only museum in the United States devoted to Nordic culture and history—which opened its new home in 2018. At Amazon’s Spheres site, visitors can tour the company’s headquarters or check out the exhibits on flora and design at the Understory public visitor center. For the latest and greatest in lodging options, check out the Hyatt Regency Seattle, the largest hotel in the Pacific Northwest, or the State Hotel, conveniently located near Pike Place Market and the city’s waterfront.
Recommended Hotel: Fairmont Olympic Seattle
12. Salt Lake City, UT
In 2019, Utah will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 1869 completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, when the Golden Spike was driven in at Promontory Summit. Events will take place around the state, but Salt Lake City would be a good place for families to station themselves. There are special railroad-related exhibits at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and Utah State Capitol leading up to the May 10 celebration at Golden Spike National Historic Site (about 90 miles away).
The Natural History Museum of Utah will mark its 50th anniversary in 2019 with a special exhibit, “Nature All Around Us,” which opens in the fall. The city’s Food Alley project, which will feature a collection of restaurants and artist lofts, is also set to open in 2019. And the new Snowpine Lodge at the nearby Alta ski area offers year-round fun with amenities like a slope-side swimming pool, a fully stocked game room, onsite ski shop, and ski-in/ski-out access thanks to the adjacent Snowpine ski lift.
Recommended Hotel: Grand America Hotel