Summer is a time of rest and relaxation for kids who spend most of the year learning and studying in school. We all have great memories of summertime as kids when the rules are a little looser and you don’t have as many obligations and responsibilities. Think of the great memories you have from your best summer family vacations. Now you’re lucky enough to be able to plan those getaways and make new memories. We’ve got you covered with this list of the best family vacation ideas and locations for your summer trip.
Remember that planning a vacation is part of the fun, so enjoy each step of the process. Pick a few of these options and then get some input from the family members. The more engaged and involved your family is in the process, the more invested they will be in the outcome. Happy Travels!
Pack Adventures From Scratch!
When you’re packing for a summer family vacation, don’t forget your copy of Adventures from Scratch: Family Edition. It’s packed with ideas for things to do with the whole crew. Each activity is a surprise! Kids will love scratching the surface of each page to uncover the next adventure, and there’s space to write down funny things that happened and favorite memories.
The Best Summer Family Vacation Ideas
We’ve rounded up a list of 22 great summer family vacation ideas. Some of these are easy to plan and more budget- friendly, while others include checking off some large bucket list items that might require a few years of saving and planning to make them happen. Pick the ones that work best for your family and have fun with the entire process.
Take a classic road trip down Route 66.
A good old-fashioned road trip always amounts to family fun. Route 66 is a highway that runs from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. It was one of the original highways in the U.S. highway system and is often referred to as the Main Street of America.
Starting on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, you can fuel up on some classic deep dish pizza at one of the famous spots in the city and maybe even take in a view from the Hancock Building or the Willis Tower. Head southwest through Springfield and past the Cahokia Mounds, which are a UNESCO world heritage site.
The highway enters Missouri in St. Louis, so you can stop to see the famous St. Louis Arch and check off the nation’s smallest national park. On the road to Joplin, you’ll pass by some of the original drive-thru food stands. After Missouri, the route cuts through Kansas, but only for about 13 miles.
In Oklahoma, you’ll travel through the two largest cities in the state, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Each has plenty of museums and attractions that are kid-friendly and fun to explore when you need a break from driving. Once you’re in Texas, you’ll cruise by the famous Cadillac Ranch, which offered inspiration for Disney’s Cars.
New Mexico and Arizona have tons of natural beauty to explore along Route 66. You’ll pass through places like Santa Fe and Flagstaff. Don’t miss the Petrified Forest National Park in eastern Arizona.
The route ends in California on the beach in Santa Monica, so you can choose to enjoy the sunshine or turn around and head back. Either way, this road trip will introduce the whole family to new parts of the country while spending lots of quality time together. Make sure to prepare for the trip by preparing some road trip games!
Go camping in the national parks of Montana and Wyoming.
National parks are a popular family summer vacation because they offer plenty of outdoor activities and the unique opportunity to spot animals in the wild. Montana and Wyoming have a few of the largest parks with great summer camping options available.
Yellowstone is one of the most popular national parks and it was also the very first in the world. The park is filled with unique geothermal springs and geysers that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. In addition, there are so many animals that can be spotted in the park including bears, wolves, bison, and more. You could easily spend at least a week exploring various sections of the park with your family, but you could also lump this park in with another park in the same region.
Grand Tetons National Park is home to the famous mountain range with beautiful alpine lakes and incredible hiking. It’s located just about an hour south of Yellowstone’s southern entrance. The town of Jackson feels like something out of the movies with archways made of antlers and a large Elk refuge on the edge of town.
To the north of Yellowstone, in Montana, you can drive a few hours to Glacier National Park. This park is home to more incredible wildlife and the famous Going to the Sun road. You’ll be treated to some stunning views of the mountains and glaciers. With warmer summer weather, the roads are all open and you won’t have to worry about snow or ice.
In addition to these three popular national parks, Wyoming and Montana have some breathtaking state parks that have additional campground options to see even more of these western mountain states. Anywhere you choose will be gorgeous and your kids will have a blast making s’mores around the campfire and watching for new types of animals that they’ve only seen at a zoo or on TV. Enjoy nature and be able to unplug in the great outdoors for your family vacation.
Visit the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is a great summer family vacation option. First of all, the scenery is breathtaking and everyone will be impressed by the unlimited views. There are a few campgrounds and kid-friendly adventure resorts in the area, so you can really immerse your family in the outdoors.
Spend your days hiking around the park or even horseback riding. When you need a break from the sun, you can visit some of the cool museums in nearby Flagstaff. Many tour groups offer rafting trips down the Colorado River for the more adventurous explorers. The park runs a shuttle service throughout the busy season, so you never have to worry about parking or getting around.
Make sure to hit all the popular spots in the park, like the Desert View Watchtower and the Grand Canyon Lodge. If you want a sampling of life in the Wild West, you can take the Grand Canyon Railway which starts with a wild west shootout and then takes the scenic route to the park.
For more adventure and beautiful southwest landscapes, you can add on a trip to Zion National Park, Sedona, or the area around Antelope Canyon. There is so much to see in this part of the country.
Discover the Great Lakes Region
The Great Lakes are made up of five large lakes that border Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, New York, and even a little bit of Pennsylvania. In the summer, this region is popular with tourists who want to spend their days enjoying the cool water and bright sunshine. There are great golf courses and plenty of outdoor activities in each of the major cities on the lakeshores.
Lake Superior is the largest of the lakes. Road trip along Highway 61 in Minnesota to experience all the small towns, beautiful state parks, and views that will make you feel like you’re next to an ocean instead of a lake. The Apostle Islands are another popular destination in Lake Superior. Kayaking and boating are popular ways to explore along the shore. You can also try your hand at fishing.
Lake Michigan can be explored from Chicago, Milwaukee, or the entire western side of Michigan. Climb the giant sand dunes on the southern part of the lake or sample some of the wine that is made in Door County, Wisconsin. You’ll find no shortage of cabins and resorts along the lakefront.
The eastern lakes are home to a few popular destinations as well. Niagara Falls sits between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and has tons of great family activities. Cross the border into Canada for the day or add on a few nights in Toronto. There are so many great options to choose from.
Become cowboys and cowgirls on a dude ranch.
For kids who dream of living the cowboy lifestyle, you can spend your summer vacation at a dude ranch. These ranches and resorts were created to let people step back in time and experience a way of life that differs from their norm. The term “dude” used to be how cowboys referred to people from the big city, so these ranches opened as a way to introduce city slickers to something completely new.
Activities include horseback riding, cooking, caring for the animals, target shooting, and campfire stories. Each spot is unique, but you can find options all over Montana, Wyoming, and the Southwest. Some places offer family cabins and others have more community-style housing where you’ll all stay in a big house with the owners of the property.
Experiences like this will give kids the ability to learn more about animals and nature in a very unique way.
Pack your hats and boots and bring the family to a ranch this summer for vacation. It will be unforgettable for the whole family.
Hit the theme parks in Orlando, Florida.
Orlando, Florida is a premier family vacation destination. It’s the amusement park capital of the world. There are activities for kids of every age and even the adults will have a blast.
Walt Disney World is made up of four unique theme parks, a few water parks, and a collection of resorts and hotels with fun themes. Magic Kingdom includes many of the classic rides and attractions that have been around for years including Space Mountain, Cinderella’s Castle, and the Jungle Cruise. Each year, new rides open, so you can keep coming back. Animal Kingdom is like a zoo, but 100 times more fun because there are roller coasters and interactive shows in between the animal habitats. Epcot and Hollywood Studios are the other two major parks and each has enough to keep your family busy for days.
If you want to explore more than just Disney, you can head over to Universal Studios and check out the Harry Potter-themed areas or ride attractions based on your favorite superheroes. You can also explore SeaWorld, Legoland, and Busch Gardens (which is just 90 minutes away in Tampa).
With warm Florida sunshine, you’ll be able to spend your off days lounging by the pool or playing in the water as well. Plus, there are plenty of non-theme park activities like mini-golf, museums, and great restaurants to fill in the gaps. This is a trip your whole family will love.
Experience big city living in New York.
You may not think of New York City as a family-friendly destination, but there is so much to do and see in the Big Apple. Experience life in the big city for your summer vacation and experience the place that millions call home.
You’ll want to check off the major tourist attractions like the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the 9/11 Memorial Park. Central Park is amazing in the summer with playgrounds and a zoo to explore. When you need a break from the streets and outdoors, you can take in one of the many museums in the city covering anything from art to history to ice cream.
Most kids love pizza for dinner, so take advantage of the giant slices you can get on just about any street corner. And then you can head to some of the outer boroughs for more adventures, like the Bronx Zoo, Citi Field in Queens for a baseball game, or take a ride on the famous Staten Island ferry for some breathtaking views of the skyline.
And don’t forget to take a trip to the top of at least one of the skyscrapers. The Top of the Rock is my favorite because you get to enjoy the famous Empire State Building as a backdrop, plus you get great overhead views of Central Park.
Spend a week on the beach in Southern California.
Looking for a beachfront spot for your family’s summer vacation this year? Consider San Diego or one of the other great beach towns in Southern California. The stretch from Los Angeles down to the Mexican border has tons of activities that the family will love. Balance the fun with some relaxation while you take in the golden sunsets each night over the Pacific Ocean.
San Diego is home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo which has animals you have probably never seen before. It’s also home to Legoland California and SeaWorld, plus miles of boardwalks and some of the best tacos in the country.
If you head a little further north to Orange County, you can spend a day or two at Disneyland or learn to surf on Huntington Beach. Laguna Beach has a beautiful downtown area with lots of oceanfront restaurants. Get some golfing in when you need a break from the sand and saltwater.
For a full SoCal road trip, continue on to Los Angeles and explore the Hollywood area, or head to one of the beautiful national parks located in California. There’s so much to explore in this west coast state, but don’t miss a few days on the sand.
Take a cruise to Canada and Alaska.
Many people picture cruises as a tropical experience, but one of the most popular cruise routes is to the glacial waters of Alaska. Cruises leave from Seattle or Portland and head north along the Canadian coast towards Alaska. You’ll enjoy some incredible fishing towns, islands, waterfalls, and wildlife.
Family travel is best when you’re all experiencing new things together. If Alaska has been on your bucket list, consider a cruise to explore. So much of the state is still complete wilderness and this is one of the only ways you can reach these certain spots.
Imagine floating through turquoise icy waters with mountains that rise right out of the water. Add in the orcas jumping out of the water and the incredible variety of birds and fish circling near the boat and the entire family will be in awe. Sign up for excursions or book some additional time to explore Denali when the cruise is over. It will surely be a trip you’ll all remember.
Learn about the nation’s history in Boston and New England.
America was founded in New England in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Boston is a fantastic destination on the east coast filled with history. If you’re looking for family vacation ideas where the kids will get to see the places they’ve learned about in school, take your summer trip to New England.
The Freedom Trail is a path through downtown Boston that passes by so many important historical places. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. It’s so much more fun to experience these places instead of just reading about them in a textbook. When you need a break from history, you can visit the Aquarium, take a whale watching tour, or one of the many day trips out of the Boston harbor.
Road trips in this region can easily transport you to historic mountain towns in New Hampshire and Vermont or further up the coast to Maine. Eat great seafood and spend some time checking out the beach towns and summer escapes outside of Portland or Rhode Island.
New England is filled with natural beauty and important history. Bring the family along to see the places that helped this country become the place it is today.
Rent a lakeside cabin.
Did you go to summer camp as a child? There’s something very nostalgic about spending some time in the summer next to a lake. Most regions in the United States have lakes that you can easily travel to. Rent a cabin, find a resort, or even pitch a tent and spend time enjoying the outdoors.
Rent paddleboards or kayaks, bring fishing gear, or just pack your swimming suits to enjoy the water. Cook some classic summer BBQ and bring cards and board games to play on rainy days. Pick up all the supplies for s’mores and enjoy campfire stories each evening.
Cabin trips are great for families with young children because you don’t have to worry about moving around each day to new locations. You can completely unpack and just spend time together for a week away from the distractions of normal routines. Leave the screens at home and enjoy the quality time together.
Sample the flavors of Texas.
Texas is one of the largest states in the USA and it’s packed full of fun summer vacation spots. If you’re looking for something different to do this year, consider taking a trip through Texas and enjoying some of the incredible foods and culture this southern state has to offer.
BBQ lovers will love taste testing the top spots in cities like Austin and Houston. You can sample Tex-Mex in San Antonio which has no shortage of flavor from the other side of the US/Mexico border. And don’t forget to visit the home of Blue Bell ice cream in Brenham.
In between your meals, you can explore places like the Alamo, Big Bend National Park, and all the incredible museums located all over Texas. There are many state parks with swimmable lakes for those really hot summer days. You can enjoy live music in cities all over the state of Texas.
Whether you visit just one city or take your time traveling around, Texas is a great place to get the family out and have an adventure. If you do plan on visiting some of the popular BBQ spots, just make sure to pack some cards and bottles of water in case you’re stuck waiting in line. Places are popular for good reason.
Visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
A summer beach vacation in North Carolina might be the perfect fit for your family this year. The beaches are quieter than places like southern California or Florida. These beaches are located in between the historic lighthouses along the barrier islands. You won’t find any large cities, just a beautiful collection of charming towns and villages.
There is so much to explore other than just the beach. You can spend a day learning about the beginnings of flight at the Kitty Hawk Adventure Center. Play disc golf, rent kayaks, or stroll through the gardens and towns in the area. And when you’re ready to hit the beach, there are more than 100 miles of shoreline to explore.
The more adventurous family members can try out kiteboarding or do some deep-sea fishing off the coast. For quieter days, stroll through the shops of the towns along the shore and sample some tasty seafood. The OBX region is a classic American summer destination and would be perfect for any beach-loving family.
Head to a local water park for a weekend.
Sometimes, the best family vacations are a little closer to home. A quick google search will pull up options for outdoor or indoor water parks in your area. You can have a great staycation with the family and still enjoy a change of scenery. If you don’t have a full water park in your area, choose from one of the hotels nearby with swimming pools. Even without waterslides, kids love being able to jump in a pool and splash around.
In between the trips down to the pool, make sure to pack some fun movies and board games so you can enjoy family time in your hotel room. Do some things that you don’t normally do at home. Order food to your room, sleep in, eat in your bed, and make some memories.
Explore the museums and monuments in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., is a great trip for the whole family. The city is famous for all the attractions that you can only find in our nation’s capital. Spend your days strolling along the National Mall checking out the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the buildings where all the government work happens.
Once you’ve checked off the monuments and the White House, you can enjoy boat trips along the Potomac, walk the streets of the Georgetown neighborhood, and any of the museums in town. The Smithsonian Institute has 17 museums and galleries in the city and that’s just a few of the options.
For kids, it might be fun to visit the wax museum where you can pose with past presidents and even sit in the president’s chair in the Oval Office. The National Zoo is another favorite for families with small children. Bus tours and bicycle tours are available if you want a guide to give you additional information.
Choose from any of the hotels right in the city that are walkable to a lot of the main attractions. You can also head across the river to Virginia and stay in the beautiful town of Alexandria. Day trips to Baltimore and Annapolis are also easy if you want to explore a little more of this region.
Try adrenaline-pumping activities in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Colorado is home to 58 mountain peaks that are taller than 14,000 feet tall. It’s the perfect place to visit with the family if you want to enjoy gorgeous scenery plus get in a little adventure. There are famous spots like Rocky Mountain National Park and Pikes Peak, but the entire western half of the state is home to mountain ranges and great adventure hubs that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The mountain towns outside of Denver are famous for skiing and snowboarding in the winter, but it’s great for summer vacations as well. You can ride a zip line down the mountains and get some great treetop time. There are hikes available for any fitness level all over the mountain region as well and it’s one of the easiest ways to enjoy the great outdoors because you don’t need any equipment.
Whitewater rafting is another popular sport in parts of the mountains. Rivers flow strong as the snow melts, but later in the summer, the rapids die down a bit and they are more family-friendly. You can find companies that offer rentals, safety instructions, and a guide to enjoy these activities.
Mountain biking, camping, and rock climbing are all additional options for the Rocky Mountain region. If you’re part of a family that loves trying new things and facing challenges together, book a trip to Colorado this summer to explore the mountains.
Say “aloha” to a Hawaiian Getaway.
Hawaii is never a bad option. Many people think of it as a winter getaway when they need to escape the cold air. The summertime is a fantastic time to visit the islands because the prices are more affordable and the weather is still perfect. You can bring the whole family to check off this bucket list destination for your summer vacation.
Many of the resorts are in gorgeous destinations right on the water. There are plenty of family-friendly options where the younger children can participate in kids club activities and adults can enjoy a romantic date or two. On the other days, you can fill your time with beach time, water sports, fun hikes, and island adventures.
Whichever island you choose, the entire family will easily be able to find adventures and activities that they will love. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, so it’s a perfect vacation destination any time of year with any group of people.
Journey down the Great River Road.
Another classic road trip in the United States is the Great River Road. The Mississippi River is the longest river in the country and you can adventure from the headwaters of the river in Itasca, Minnesota all the way to New Orleans where it meets the Gulf of Mexico.
There are a collection of highways that follow the river through all the cities, towns, and countryside that are alongside it. Pair this adventure with a reading of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where Mark Twain tells the story of boys rafting down the river. You can even visit the town along the river road where the main story takes place.
Explore cities like Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Memphis and get a taste of the center of the country. This is a classic road trip that will take you places that you might not get to otherwise.
Enjoy the great outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.
As we’ve mentioned before, national parks make perfect destinations for family vacations. The Pacific Northwest is home to four parks along with many national forests and monuments.
In Oregon, you can visit Crater Lake National Park and see many of the volcanoes that are part of the Cascade Range. Oregon is also home to a beautiful coast, the Columbia River Gorge, the Alvord desert, and even some natural hot springs near the Idaho border.
Washington is home to three national parks—Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic. Each one is unique and showcases a different part of the beautiful PNW region. You can also island hop around the San Juan Islands or enjoy the beautiful city of Seattle. There are national monuments to enjoy as well, like Mount St. Helens which blew its top off in the 1980s.
The Pacific Northwest is the only place in the country where you can see volcanoes, rainforests, high deserts, and glaciers all in one day. Spend your summer vacation exploring here and letting your children experience these natural wonders. Keep things extra interesting by searching for Sasquatch (aka Big Foot) along the way.
Swim in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
If you want to escape the United States for your summer vacation, you can take a short and easy flight to the Caribbean. Each island nation has a selection of all-inclusive resorts and vacation rentals to best suit your vacation wants and needs. Experience the local culture in countries like Jamaica or Aruba and try new foods, learn about traditions and customs, and help your children immerse themselves into new cultures.
The Caribbean is also a popular place for snorkeling and kayaking. The crystal clear waters make it easy to spot tropical fish and underwater life. There are even some spots where you can snorkel at night time with flashlights.
The beaches throughout the Caribbean Sea are gorgeous and calm compared to many of the oceanfront options in the United States. Kids will have a blast splashing in the waves and when they need a break from the salt water, you can enjoy the pools that most hotels have.
If you can’t decide on one spot in the Caribbean, there is always the option of taking a cruise. Disney Cruise Line is extremely family-friendly and offers characters and shows to entertain everyone. You can hop around between countries and enjoy the beautiful views from the boat on the days you’re out to sea.
Hop across the pond for a EuroTrip.
Ready for a bigger adventure with the family outside of North America? Europe has so much to offer for a summer vacation. Consider the age of your kids and what they’ve been learning in school. Is there a way that you can explore places that they’ve learned about? That can make the entire adventure more fun and engaging for everyone.
Italy is a popular spot with tons of history and incredible sights to see like the Colosseum and incredible world-famous artwork. Great Britain has huge castles that you can tour and kids can explore things they’ve probably only heard about in fairytales. Wherever you decide to visit, you’re giving your children the gift of learning about other cultures. Being able to hear different languages, try new foods, and see faraway places to expand awareness.
Summer is the perfect time to explore Europe. There is an incredible public transportation system that makes it easy to get around between cities and countries throughout the continent. It’s great if you have a little longer to explore.
Go on an African safari.
Kids love animals and a trip to the zoo is usually a popular outing for the family. Now imagine how exciting the experience would be to see those animals in the wild. Traveling to Africa is definitely more challenging than packing up the car for a local outing, but the experience is unforgettable.
Many countries offer fantastic safari options. Some lodges invite guests to stay in rooms that overlook watering holes where it’s common to see giraffes, elephants, and lions. You’ll learn about conservation efforts and what people can do to help protect these animals for years to come.
Obviously, the flights are long and the travel piece alone can be challenging. But if your family is seasoned at hitting the road, an African safari might be the perfect family vacation. We would recommend doing lots of research and working with a travel company if you’ve never planned a trip to the continent of Africa. Things are a little more off-grid there, and it’s not easy to just do a quick internet search and book something. Let an expert help you find exactly what you’re looking for and have a trip of a lifetime.
Let us know which of these spots is on your list for your summer family vacation. Take all the pictures, soak in all the moments, and make incredible memories with your kids and loved ones.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best summer family vacation spots involve the outdoors. It’s good to play outside with the family and take breaks from screens. Try visiting the national parks or checking out a new beach town or lake this summer.
National parks are some of the best summer family vacation destinations. Each park has plenty to do for people of any age. The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain are all large with tons to do and great wildlife.
A copy of Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition can make even the best family summer vacations better! Brighten up a rainy day or enhance your fun in the sun with family-friendly scratch-off activities.