Some of the most treasured family vacations when you have young kids include a mix of sightseeing, cultural exploration, plus plenty of downtime by the hotel pool.
We’ve selected several vacations that are ideal for families traveling with kids under 10, allowing you to go at your own pace.
1. Alaska Cruise
Alaska is a bucket list destination for many families, and for good reason: the rugged scenery, wildlife watching tours and laidback, friendly vibe makes it a wonderful destination to explore with little ones along for the adventure.
We recommend an Alaska cruise as a great way to trek to the Last Frontier while providing a comfortable homebase. (On our recent cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas, ship amenities included a complimentary iFly experience, bumper cars, roller skating, the FlowRider surf simulator and the NorthStar, an elevated pod that gives cruisers 360-degree views of the Alaskan landscape).
While in port (such as Juneau or Skagway), kids of all ages will shriek with excitement while watching for whales on small research vessels and petting sled dogs in the off season (we even got to snuggle with puppies!) as they prepare for the Iditarod. Be sure to stop at one of the Junior Ranger Centers affiliated with the National Parks Service to earn a Junior Ranger badge.
2. Portland, Oregon
If your family is seeking some fresh-air-fueled hikes and outdoor adventures, combined with the amenities of a big city with a super casual vibe, Portland is an ideal destination. Hiking trails for even the tiniest feet abound around Mt. Hood. Stop in a ranger station to ask for trail recommendations.
In the summertime, Skibowl offers tons of outdoor thrills, from ziplining to mountain coasters. Elsewhere in Portland, public parks and playground spaces are pine-scented and rich with open space for your kids to run off their energy. We loved exploring downtown, stopping into mainstays like Powell’s Books and Voodoo Donuts, plus the city’s many craft breweries that are also very family-friendly.
Recommended Hotel: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Portland
3. Vienna, Austria
Many European cities, in addition to being rich with historical and artistic treasures, are also very family-friendly, and Vienna absolutely fits the bill.
We loved exploring the mile-long Naschmarkt (Night Market) with our kids, sampling ice creams along the way. Schönbrunn Palace, a summer palace for members of the Habsburg dynasty, offers guided tours especially geared toward children, and there’s an onsite Children’s Museum and strudel-making demonstration. Kids can also run around in Baroque maze in the gardens, recreated based on the original design from 1720.
One of the highlights of a trip to Vienna is the Prater amusement park, home of a Rollercoaster Restaurant—a diner operated by robots that delivers your meals and drinks on roller coaster tracks (it’s as cool as it sounds).
If you can swing the trip, journey out to Kinderhotel Almhof for a special experience for your children, with onsite kids’ clubs and activities like ski lessons.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Vienna Danube
4. Venice and Sarasota, Florida
Many families visit Florida for Disney World, but there are some special family vacation gems across the state if you head to the West Coast. Particularly for families seeking quieter beach time (maybe following your more intense Disney experience), head to Venice and Sarasota. Here you’ll find dozens of beaches (Sarasota’s Siesta Key Beach regularly graces top beach lists), family-friendly restaurants and more.
We love returning again and again to Sarasota’s Mote Aquarium, which is the site of a working research laboratory and animal rehabilitation facility. Here you can get up close to local wildlife, petting baby sharks and stingrays and saying hi to the resident manatees, Hugh and Buffett.
On beaches around Venice (the Shark Tooth Capital of the World), keep your eyes peeled for tiny black triangles in the sand, which are actually fossilized shark teeth.
Recommended Hotel: Captiva Beach Resort
5. Chicago, Illinois
This Midwest city is big on glitz and glam throughout its Magnificent Mile, but also plenty of family fun.
Make time in your itinerary for the biggies: Shedd Aquarium, with 5 million gallons of tanks filled with interesting creatures and the Field Museum of Natural History (home of the world’s largest T-Rex, SUE). Explore the fascinating public art at Millennium Park while your kids run and play.
Navy Pier is worthy of a stroll to see Chicago’s shoreline on Lake Michigan, and maybe take a ride on the Ferris wheel or on a tour boat. Baseball fans can catch a game at Wrigley Field, while those willing to walk on the wild side can peek over the Skydeck in Willis Tower from 1,353 up in the air. Pair all that excitement with a Chicago dog or deep-dish pizza and you’ve found yourself the perfect family getaway.
Recommended Hotel: Embassy Suites Chicago Magnificent Mile
6. Victoria, British Columbia
Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria is teeming with vibrant gardens and green spaces. One of our favorite places to roam with our kids is Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can take a peek at the colorful tiny waterfront homes, grab some fresh seafood, say hello to the harbor seals and take a water taxi (big fun for young kids). The water taxis even perform a free “water ballet” on select dates.
Victoria’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America (San Francisco’s is first)—make time to slurp noodles and do a bit of shopping here, including Fan Tan Alley (the narrowest street in Canada).
Do you have a budding entomologist in your family? Visit the Victoria Bug Zoo to see dozens of live bugs from around the world in tanks. Also visit the Royal British Columbia Museum, which tracks 550 million years of natural history through insightful and interactive exhibits.
Recommended Hotel: The Fairmont Empress
7. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Perhaps best known for its annual Balloon Fiesta every fall, Albuquerque offers plenty of family-friendly fun year-round. In winter time, take your kids to any of the ski areas around New Mexico for specialized lessons (plus sledding and other snow fun) just for them. Another highlight is the Petroglyph National Monument, one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America with carvings dating back four to seven centuries.
A stay at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort features three pools and a waterslide, horseback riding, and cultural activities, such as bread making, adobe brick making and leather stamping. Sample fresh from the pueblo oven bread each day, dance performances and storytelling under the stars every Friday at this resort, which is owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo.
Recommended Hotel: Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa
8. LEGOLAND Florida
LEGOLAND is tailored for kids ages 2 to 12 and has several parks throughout the world, including locations in Florida, California and soon, New York. The roller coasters here are just a bit more gentle than other big name parks—ideal for kids who are new to thrill rides or slow to warm up to them.
At LEGOLAND you’ll find traditional amusement park rides, shows and, of course, inspiring bricked-out landscapes. Bring along your minifigs to trade with park employees—and for even more fun, stay on site at a LEGOLAND themed hotel.
Check out the newest attractions in LEGO Movie World, which is inspired by the blockbuster films from the past few years: Masters of Flight, Unikitty’s Disco Drop and Battle of Bricksburg (a water blasting battle).
Recommended Hotel: LEGOLAND Florida Hotel
9. Dude Ranch
Dude ranch vacations are ideal for younger kids who still love hanging out with mom and dad, but also want to test their independence a little (such as with horseback riding lessons). Dude ranches typically offer plenty of together time, plus kid-focused activities, all in the fresh outdoor air.
There are numerous dude and guest ranches throughout the western and southwestern states (and even the East Coast!), ranging from glamping/resort-style to more rugged options.
Bonus for parents: these tend to be all-inclusive style trips, where meals are included, so no fussing about where to eat every night. And you’ll probably get to know other families, too—dude ranches are great choices for making new friends.
Recommended Hotel: The Resort at Paws Up
10. Frisco, Texas
A destination that’s ideal for families with kids who love sports or e-sports, Frisco is the home of the Dallas Cowboys’ headquarters and practice field at The Star, as well as the newly opened National Soccer Hall of Fame and the National Videogame Museum.
In late 2019, Frisco was the first American city to welcome KidZania, an international interactive theme park for kids. KidZania is essentially a city run entirely by children—where kids can learn a variety of trades, from doctor to pilot, veterinarian, banker and window washer, earning KidZos currency along the way.
In summertime, take in a Frisco RoughRiders game at Dr. Pepper Ballpark, where there’s a lazy river you can float on near the outfield.
Recommended Hotel: The Westin Stonebriar Hotel & Golf Club
Cynthia J. Drake is a travel writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Since becoming a mom, she’s been stranded at sea with her family, gotten lost in the Rocky Mountains, dealt with more than her fair share of public vomiting, and still can’t wait for the next trip. She writes regularly for AAA magazines, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Highways and Cruise Critic. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.