We’ve examined the best family vacation destinations in the USA. Then picked the top 2 beach, mountain, southern feel, as well as the most affordable and fun destinations. Here are our choices for best family vacations in 2018!
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#1 best beach family vacation
Panama city beach, florida
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Due to the Hurricane and Red Tide events in the recent year, we have a great alternative to Panama City Beach, FL! Orange Beach, AL is not far away from Panama City Beach but shares the same beautiful white-sand beach. In Orange Beach you will find condos, restaurants and sunsets as well and it is very kid-friendly. Check out our Orange Beach Vacation article for everything you need to know!
Check our 2019 PCB update regarding the current conditions and damages since the 2018 hurricanes and red tide.
If you’re taking a road trip to Panama City Beach, be sure to check out our article dedicated to that here.
Also check out “Things To Do In Panama City Beach” for the best resorts, restaurants, attractions and sight-seeing spots. If you’re looking for a PCB Adventure Vacation with the best activities for a little bit of adventure and exploration to your trip, we have that too.
To start, a family vacation to Panama City Beach is ranked #1 on our list because of everything it has to offer. PCB has one of the most beautiful snow-white sand beaches in the world. With various Resorts, condos and hotels to choose from, there’s a perfect lodging option for every budget. You will enjoy you family vacation by relaxing and tanning while the kids enjoy playing in the sand, pools and ocean. There are many beaches to choose from, Long Beach and Panama City Beach are conveniently located, while more quiet and secluded beaches of Seagrove, Seaside and Santa Rosa offer privacy.
Drive to Destin
As a bonus, if you have your own transportation, you can take a 40-minute drive to Destin on road 98. It’s well worth the drive for its secluded beaches and beautiful sand dunes. e sure to visit Destin’s Silver Sands Premium Outlet Mall, and gaze at unique and magnificent homes. You can find many beach vacation rentals right now for Under $100.
With Panama City Beach being a prime location, everything is close, right on front beach road 30 and the faster road 98. From Walmart, dollar stores, adult and liquor stores to museums, mini golf, water sports, helicopter tours and clubs, there’s tons of fun and simple things to do.
Pier Park is one of the best attractions in Panama City Beach for families, couples, friends or anyone. It’s filled with beautiful local shops, a theater, multiple dining and snacking options as well as live music. Dress up and head to Pier Park for a day of fun, take breaks while you eat lunch or dinner at one of the magnificent restaurants like Margaritaville, enjoy some live music at one of multiple restaurants. During the evening, enjoy a drink and lit up atmosphere. Cross the street and go to the beach whenever you want to and come back for more shopping, ice cream or thrilling adventures!
Another “can’t miss” attraction is Shell Island. It is a family vacation experience where you can bring your own or rent snorkel gear and be taken (by boat) to a secluded island for the day, boat trips back run every 30 minutes. The island is full of shells and the water is shallow and calm, perfect for snorkeling. It’s an activity you don’t want to miss! Cost is $18.95 for shuttle service and $26.95 including snorkeling gear rental. The official and trusted Shell Island Shuttle service can be found here.
Additionally, here’s a lot more Panama City Beach has to offer. Waterparks, Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, Wonderworks, Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf and Just Jump Trampoline Park being just a few of the most popular attractions for a family vacation.
Condos and Resorts
Panama City Beach offers a lot of vacation rentals in resorts, hotels and small as well as big houses. Right now, you can get some great PCB Condo and Home Rentals on Sale. As a deal seeker looking to rent for under $100/night, head over here for beach rentals under $100.
To make your vacation more romantic, even a family vacation, check our article on creating romance on your vacation right here.
Additionally, we have a Panama City Beach Family Vacation Idea with day-by-day activities to save you time and research in planning.
#2 best beach with theme parks
San Diego, California
Another top city for a beach family vacation is San Diego, California. With over 70 miles of coastline, relaxing beaches are a must for you to enjoy and your kids will have fun making castles in the sand. Top San Diego beaches are Mission Bay, Coronado Beach and La Jolla Cove. Check this out for Deals on Condo Rentals in San Diego,
To simplify your travel planning, get our free 7-day San Diego Vacation Itinerary with daily activities.
Besides nature, one of the top attractions in San Diego is SeaWorld, with thrilling rides like the upcoming Electric Eel, an underwater virtual reality experience and many more. Exceptional shows are presented with dolphins, orcas, sea lions and other animals. Family vacation dining is made easy with special dining offers like the all-day-dining deal for $35 and $18 for children. Buying online saves you $20 and makes the cost of a single-park ticket $69, there are also packages available like tickets with the all-day-eating pass for only $20 more.
San Diego Zoo
Another popular attraction is the San Diego Zoo offering more than 3700 animals and many children play areas. Pricing for tickets is $54 for adults and $44 for children 3-11 years old. There are a lot of add-ons available like meeting animals up close or a 2-hour morning with panda’s experience for $109, they even offer shadowing a zookeeper for 5 hours at a whopping $850!! All of their ticket prices can be found here.
Additionally, another super-fun attraction in San Diego, like Disneyworld, featuring over 60 rides, attractions and even shows is Legoland. By offering a waterpark, Sea Life Aquarium and a new Surfers’ Cove, this attraction is sure to fill up your entire day and family vacation with excitement. Get the admission for $89 for kids as well as adults for the Legoland theme park, and if you want to add Sea Life, Aquarium and Waterpark, it’ll be an additional cost. Exclusive offers and prices can be found here.
#3 the most fun-for-kids family vacation
Disney World in orlando, florida
Multiple parks and packages
Plan your family vacation and get packing for a thrilling expedition to one of the coolest places for kids in the Unites States. Disneyworld offers multiple parks such as Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot. You can visit all, one or just a couple and the more days’ worth of tickets you purchase, the bigger your discount. With their own accommodation options, you can pick to stay at their campground as low as $55/night or one of the resorts for around $100. If you want to check out some discount ticket offers, SAVE MONEY on daily or multiday tickets to multipark and even package options.
Toy Story Land Opening summer 2018 at DisneyWorld
Furthermore, Innovative adventure awaits with the brand-new Toy Story Land opening this summer at DisneyWorld. It’s full of new rides, eateries, games and even character encounters.
Many theme park Options
Don’t forget about the most important thing – food! With numerous restaurants to choose from, you’ll find something for everyone’s taste. Choose from fancy themed restaurants like Coral Reef and Woody’s Lunch Box to family buffets like Biergarten Restaurant or Boma with flavors of Africa. Disney makes it easy to create your own all-inclusive vacation by providing everything from lodging to meals to activities and parks. A family vacation to Disney world will surely make one of the most memorable experiences for the entire family, find special discount park tickets though here.
Universal Studios Orlando Theme Parks
Much like Disney World, Universal Studios Theme Park has a lot to offer! Get a lot of thrills and memories created like Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, The Simpsons ride, dancing and character shows, kids play, character encounters and more. Find special offers on multi-day/park discounts of 25% or more. There you can choose different parks, dates and options for whatever you need and get a discount on top of it.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not
In addition to some of the best attractions, this is a classic activity, especially for a rainy day! Prices are $19, but you can get $5 off.
Most noteworthy, don’t forget that beach access is about an hour away from Orlando, hence you can have a fun day planned at the beach also. Family vacation and Beach are a match made in heaven. Just head out early, pack lots of snacks and enjoy a relaxing day at the beach. The closest beaches are Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach and Smyrna Beach, all at just over an hour distance. Don’t forget, you can even stay at one of the beaches – check out beach vacation rentals for under $100/night, then visit Orlando whenever you want!
Discounts at DisneyWorld, Universal Studios and Seaworld available when you click the banner below.
Note-if on mobile, you can zoom in for a better view.
#4 best mountain family vacation
Colorado Springs, Colorado
If you’re in the mood for mountains, Colorado Springs makes another perfect family vacation. With numerous mountains to choose from, countless trails and landscapes, stunning open spaces and fun attractions too. Get a free vacation guide by mail here.
First of all, mountains! Pikes Peak is the most visited mountain in America, having the highest summit at 14,115 feet high and located 12 miles from Colorado Springs downtown. It’s a spectacular experience to ride your car through the 19-mile road that takes around 3 hours round-trip. Or, you can bike the road for 8 hours and even hike for 8 hours to 2 days! Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids over 6 and $35 for a carload of up to 5 people. Here’s a bit more info about Pikes Peak Mountain.
Note – The Pikes Peak Cog Railway is no longer offered, see their website for more info.
Garden Of The Gods Rock Formations Park
Garden of the Gods Park features natural red rock formations, an astonishing view of Pikes Peak, various hiking paths, biking and mountain biking, rock climbing and even Jeep Tours. This park is perfect for your family vacation and it’s free. The park is open from 5am to 9pm. There is a visitor center as well. Garden of the Gods offers free 30-minute guided tours every day at 10am and 2pm. Trolley Tour is available for $17, Jeep tours last 75 minutes for $30 and Segway tours include training and rider evaluation costing $82 for 90 minutes and $110 for 120 minutes. Kid-friendly hikes include Siamese Twins Trail, Fountain Creek Nature Trail, Paint Mines Trail and The Quarry.
Broadmoor Seven Falls
Another must-see are The glorious Broadmoor Seven Falls is a grand waterfall where you can hike through trails, 10 ziplines ranging in distance, rope bridges and an audacious rustic restaurant featuring local trout, vegetarian entrees, sustainably-raised meats and more. Any family vacation will be perfect here. Admission is $14.50 for adults and $9 for children over 2 and includes re-entry to the park for that day and free parking. The walk to the Seven Falls is under 1 mile on a paved road.
Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Finally, one of the most exceptional attractions, Manitou Cliff Dwellings where you can explore the inside of the dwellings, touch then and learn while having fun. The cost of admission is $10 for ages 12+ and$7.50 for children aged 4-11. In addition, a coupon for $1 off can be found on their website. Parking is free and leashed pets are allowed.
You can find beautiful mountain vacation rentals for under $100/night including hotels, resorts, cabins, condos and houses.
We also have a great Colorado Family Vacation Idea featuring ideas on daily activities. You will find a vacation idea of staying in Colorado and visiting other cities on different days. Also, add a little adventure to your Colorado Vacation with our Adventurous Colorado Springs, featuring top activities and things to do if you want to explore.
#5 most affordable Attractions family vacation
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is a great affordable family vacation. If you like this idea, be sure to check out our St. Louis Family Vacation Idea with day-by-day activities. Also, if you’re looking to add a little Nightlife to your trip, check out our St. Louis Nightlife page where we list the top recommended late-night bars, clubs, casinos, restaurants and neighborhoods, recommended by a LOCAL.
Free St. Louis Zoo
Most noteworthy, a huge and totally FREE Zoo that is one of the largest and best in the States, perfect for family vacations. There are wild cats, Penguins, Stingrays, a new Polar bear exhibit as well as an upcoming grizzly bear exhibit and so much more to see! For a small price, there’s a sting ray area at $4, a $4 petting zoo as well as a railroad train to ride for $7.95 that you can use to ride throughout the zoo all day long. There are many more add-on attractions for only a few dollars. As you can, see this is a truly Free attraction with very cheap additional options!
Another great, stunning and famous place to explore is the Gateway Arch. A tram ride to the top is available fr $13 and a museum is coming this summer in July 2018. The surrounding area is being completely remodeled with a $380 million dollar renovation and is due to be completed summer of 2018 as well.
Missouri Botanical Gardens
Also, the Missouri Botanical Gardens is a wonderful place to go with the kids or alone. Events and special exhibitions are available throughout the year including special nightly events. Admission is $6 for residents and $12 for everyone else with children under 12 being free. Compared to other city parks, the price is reasonable.
Further, perfect for rainy days is The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House, a beautiful and affordable place to visit offering over 60 species of butterflies and over 150 tropical plants. At only $8 for admission, it’s a must see.
Additionally, one of the most fascinating places that will add some spice to your family vacation and the kids is the City Museum, featuring four floors of astonishing activities. Anything from crawl-through caves, puzzling spaces to slides and beautiful art, the City Museum is full of fun for kids and adults. For $14 ages 3 and up and $12 if it’s past 5pm on Fri & Sat, the price makes this activity well worth it.
More Affordable Attractions
Finally, here are a few more spots to discover in the St. Louis that you might have never heard of. The Magic House in Kirkwood is excellent for toddlers as well as older kids, offering exploration and learning for $10 per person.
Forest Park featuring the Zoo, museum, Jewel Box and more
Also noteworthy is that Forest Park is one of the biggest and most beautiful parks in the United States. It’s excellent for picnics, trailing, biking or anything else to make any family vacation one-of-a-kind. Inside of Forest Park is the St. Louis Zoo and museum, restaurants, beautiful water fountain as well as the Jewel Box. A day at Forest Park can mean many activities! Best of all, the Park is completely free.
If you’re looking for cheap and free attractions, a St. Louis family vacation is a great choice. If you’re on a budget, make sure to check out this article about budget traveling.
#6 The Best "southern feel" family vacation
Lastly, we arrive at a southern-style family vacation. If you like this destinations, check out our Branson Family Vacation Idea featuring ideas for daily activities and things do to. If you’re going to Branson, check out our Dedicated Things To Do In Branson, MO page!
Find nature and entertainment all in one place. In Branson you can enjoy countless shows for kids and adults. From the famous Silver dollar city theme park, the historic downtown, museums, Table Rock Lake to shopping and even caverns. We also have a great read on road trips here.
Silver Dollar City
Let’s get started with one of the coolest theme parks in America. With its 1880s style, Silver Dollar City makes your family vacation an exceptionally fun and creative experience. Enjoy tasty local food including a yummy ice cream parlor, live demonstrations by craftsmen, a cave, unique performances and exceptionally bold rides, all in one place. Adult prices are $65, kids $54 and arrivals after 3pm get the next day free!
Next, Branson offers numerous shows and here is their official site for shows. The most popular ones include Dolly Parton’s Stampede dinner show ($45 adult), Showboat Branson Belle dinner show ($55 adult) and the Amazing Pets Show ($33 adult with a family pass option for $67 for 2 adults and up to 6 children). There are many other shows available and some offer specials and discounts.
But, ff you’re in the mood for fishing, scuba diving or relaxing, take it easy at one of Branson’s lakes. Choose from Table Rock Lake well-known for fishing, boating and water activities, Bull Shoals Lake recognized for bass fishing and water recreation or Lake Taneycomo that is notorious for trout fishing.
Branson’s Historic Downtown
Everything from restaurants, shops, entertainment, nightlife and a free trolley to get you around.
Talking Rock Cavern in Branson West offers tours and mini golfing starting at $19 per person. Top of the Rock Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail that is a one-of-a-kind drive-through type experience or walk through, each being $25 per person. Caverns are a great family vacation activity!
Most popular museums in Branson:
The Titanic Museum
Noteworthy by featuring a million-dollar replica of Titanic’s Grand Staircase and over 4 million artifacts, is the Titanic Museum. The cost is $26 for adults, $13 for children and they even offer hotel and admission packages through their website.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not
Then, for some silly fun, Ripley’s is a unique experience filled with weird artifacts like shrunken heads, hands-on-interactives, unique artwork and much more, Pricing is $20 and $13 for kids with $2-3 savings online.
The Butterfly Palace & Rainforest
Finally, a must-see for children is the Butterfly Palace. In the butterfly area, kids are given adventurer hats and magnifying glasses – perfect for picture-taking. There are a walk-through mirror and Banyan Tree Adventure Mazes, science center and a theater with a movie schedule. Admission is right under $20, children $11.95 (under 3 are free) and the purchased wristband is good for 3 days! Your kids will always remember their family vacation!
Also, here are a few more popular museums: Hollywood Wax Museum, World’s Largest Toy Museum and Branson Military Museum.
Thanks for sharing your list of so many great places to see and things to do! Love that you also include the price of admission! I’ve been to a few of these places, but now I must consider some of the others as well! 🙂
Wow love all the tips for each family vacation spot. We have already been to a few of these places and you nailed what makes them perfect right on the head. I can’t wait to get to the other 2 someday and take your advice.
This is a really great list! My favorite on this list is of course Disney World!! However, I’m partial to Panama City Beach because that is where my husband and I took our kids on our first family vacation! There are a few on your list that I still want to take my kids to visit. Thanks for sharing all your great ideas!
Great informative article! Thank you for giving out some great ideas!
This is a nice list covering different regions. Disney World is my favorite, but it’s just so expensive. We’ve been considering trying Branson instead of our usual Spring Break trip to Pigeon Forge. It looks like Branson has plenty to do and see.
adding florida and colorado springs to our bucketlist!
Loved reading about all of these gorgeous destinations. I have to ask- have you been to all these places? If so, which one would you personally recommend? I have such a hard time deciding where to go because there are just so many amazing places in this world!
Great article! I was happy to see San Diego which is where my family is vacationing this summer. We found a great little bungalow right on the beach and plan to do all the fun things they have for families. Also, I’m from Missouri, so it was funny to see St. Louis and Branson. You have to add The Magic House to your list for St. Louis. It is by far where my kids have the most fun!
These destinations all look amazing! I’ve been to a few of them, but now I want to visit all of the rest of them!