In the decades since cars became accessible assets, the quintessential family vacation for many has become a road trip. Even today, with discount airlines offering affordable flights to an array of desirable destinations, many families still choose road tripping for their vacations.
Why have road trips been the vacation of choice across generations of families? In large part, it’s because a family road trip is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. While kids may remember the great time they had at the beach, they’ll likely recall the drive to that destination just as readily as they age and retell stories about their childhood vacations.
While a staycation may seem like an affordable alternative to a road trip, the fact remains that a well-planned road trip generally won’t break the bank. Although you’ll have to pay for fuel and accommodations, a road trip with the kids will create lasting memories that far outweigh the cost of the trip. To set you on the right path, let’s uncover some of the most exciting and enjoyable family road trip ideas!
Scratch Off Your Next Family Adventure
While preparing for your family road trip, don’t forget to pack Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition. This scratch-off book includes over 50 creative activities you can do just about anywhere. The kiddos will love revealing your next surprise adventure and everyone in the family will have a fantastic time conquering challenges, one by one. Pick up your copy today!
Family Road Trip Destination Ideas
With the destination and journey being equally important to a memorable family vacation, it’s vital that you pick a destination that has a lot of kid-friendly activities and attractions. It’s just as important that you make the ride to that destination as pleasant as possible. The United States has plenty of kid- and family-friendly vacation ideas for you to explore and experience.
National Park Tour
America is home to 423 national parks that stretch across more than 84 million acres. Every state in the country has at least one national park within its borders as do the following American territories:
- Puerto Rico
- The Virgin Islands
- American Samoa
With so many federally funded parks scattered across the country and its territories, you could use these natural areas as the basis for every vacation you take with your family and never come close to exhausting your possible v-kay destinations. While that’s the case, you can knock a few parks off your bucket list by taking a national park tour that starts in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Zion National Park
Despite its history as a gambling mecca, Sin City pulls double-duty as the gateway to several southwestern national parks. Just three hours or so northeast of the city, you’ll find Zion National Park in Utah. This park has red cliffs, slot canyons, and a river you can dip your toes in to stay cool on hot summer days. If you want to avoid crowds, you should head to the park’s Kolob Canyons to hike and enjoy beautiful landscapes.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
About 80 miles north of Zion you’ll come upon Cedar Breaks National Monument. Situated 10,000 feet above sea level, this park typically has a comfy temperature that provides a nice break from the oft-sweltering heat experienced at lower elevations. This park is a renowned dark sky preserve that’s a wonderful choice if you want to engage in some stargazing. Dark Rangers are quick to point out constellations for curious onlookers when it’s dark out.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is located approximately 60 miles east of Bryce Canyon. This park is widely celebrated for having the largest number of hoodoos in the world. What is a hoodoo? The word itself means “to bewitch.” As it applies to this park, “hoodoo” refers to the tall, skinny shafts of rock that rise out of the park’s barren basins only to bewitch park visitors. To get a better idea of what hoodoos look like, it’s helpful to think of a totem pole made with rock rather than wood.
Grand Canyon National Park
Around 160 miles south of Bryce Canyon, you’ll come across the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. While not as popular as the canyon’s South Rim, the North Rim still provides incredible views of one of the world’s seven natural wonders. If you want to explore the Grand Canyon by air, water, or land, it’s wise to book a tour months ahead of time. Guided excursions into the canyon typically sell out quickly far ahead of time, so you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to try to schedule a tour.
Las Vegas, Nevada
As a parent, you might be perplexed by any recommendation for a family trip that involves taking your kids to a metropolis with the irreverent nickname of “Sin City.” While it may seem like a quizzical suggestion, taking the kids to Vegas is a great idea if you want to experience some good ‘ole family fun.
Over the years, Sin City has evolved from a gambling city known for overindulgence into a family-friendly vacation destination. Today, the city has a nearly countless number of kid-oriented activities and attractions that are sure to delight children of all ages.
Pinball Hall of Fame
Do you want to introduce your kids to old-timey games that predated today’s video games? If so, we suggest you take your children to the Pinball Hall of Fame.
Located directly across from the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign and the Mandalay Bay resort, the Pinball Hall of Fame occupies 25,000 square feet of real estate on the Strip. The museum is home to pinball machines that date from the 1950s through the 1990s. All the machines belong to one club member, Tim Arnold. As a non-profit organization, the museum donates its excess revenue to various non-denominational charities.
The pinball machines aren’t just display pieces at this location. Museum visitors are encouraged to play them, meaning they’re all interactive exhibits of sorts. Older machines cost 25 cents per game while newer ones cost 50 cents to play. With such low per-game fees and free admission, the Pinball Hall of Fame is an affordable place to bring the kids for a nostalgic day of family fun.
CBS Television Research Center
Have you ever wanted to have a say about what shows get aired on TV? You can let your opinions be known with a visit to the CBS Television Research Center located in the MGM Grand. This center is where visitors can watch a show and rate it using touchscreen devices. In addition to rating prospective television shows, the center has tested various products in the past, such as Nintendo Wii, Dell computers, and Xbox 360.
To remember your family’s visit to the CBS Television Research Center, you can pick up some souvenirs in the on-site gift shop. Most of the items in the shop are reasonably priced at $20 or less. Don’t forget to enter the drawing for a state-of-the-art home theater system before you leave the facility. Drawings for a theater system are held every three months, and you just might win!
If you want to share more of your opinions, sign up for the center’s entertainment panel. As a member of that panel, the center will send you commercials and pilot episodes for you to review at home.
The Midway at Circus Circus
The Midway at Circus Circus should be your family’s destination if you want to play carnival games, classic arcade games. and the latest video games as you try to win prizes, prizes, and more prizes. The Midway surrounds the hotel’s circus stage, which features circus acts every day. The circus acts start at 1:30 pm and there’s no fee to view the world-class performances.
Big Shot at the Stratosphere
If your children are at least 48 inches tall and they love thrills, take them over to the Strat to ride Big Shot. This ride “shoots” people 160 feet into the air above the surrounding valley at 45 miles per hour. Then the ride catapults riders from the 921-foot high platform up a mast to a height of 1,081 feet. Next, the ride drops riders down only to shoot them back up again before anyone has a chance to catch their breath.
You’ll find Big Shot to be terrifyingly exciting as you experience four Gs of force going up and negative Gs as you drop down. If you want your kids to enjoy the ride, but don’t want to experience it yourself, you should know that kids under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult. If your kids are under 15, you may want to bypass the ride unless you’re willing to strap in with your children.
Hershey’s Chocolate World Las Vegas
When you’re in the mood for something sweet, take your family over to Hershey’s Chocolate World in the world-renowned New York-New York Hotel & Casino. Occupying 13,000 square feet of retail space, Hershey’s Chocolate World sells more than 800 Hershey’s chocolates and candies, and it gives visitors the chance to make their own signature sweet treats.
When you visit the shop, you can take a selfie or a family photo with a sculpture of the Statue of Liberty that was constructed with nearly 800 pounds of Hershey’s milk chocolate. You can even star in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup television ad with your kids when you visit the store.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina
Commissioned during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Blue Ridge Parkway took decades to complete. Today, the corridor connects Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The parkway represents a laudable conservation effort as there are no gas stations, billboards, eateries, or accommodations on the side of the elongated roadway.
If you’re worried about finding activities and attractions your whole family will enjoy during an upcoming vacation, your fears will melt away as you travel along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Your brood can enjoy breathtaking views at Blowing Rock. At 4,000 feet above sea level, this rock formation hangs over the John’s River Gorge and offers spectacular views of neighboring mountain peaks and lush forests.
Asheville is just 120 miles to the south of Blowing Rock. A hipster city, Asheville is known for its art galleries, varied retail shops, diverse restaurants, and outdoor activities. The city is also recognized as the home of the Biltmore Estate, which is the former home of industrialist George Vanderbilt. You can take a guided tour of the estate that will take you through the property’s storied gardens and opulent rooms. If you want to give your family a treat, you can book a stay at the Biltmore Estate.
When you leave Asheville to make your way to the parkway’s end in Cherokee, NC, you’ll have many opportunities to engage in outdoor activities, such as:
- Rock climbing
- Nature watching
As you make the 100-mile trip from Asheville to Cherokee, keep an eye out for the Oconaluftee Indian Village. This village is a recreation of a Cherokee community from the 1750s. When you visit the village, you can see how indigenous people from that era did things like live off the land and make baskets and canoes.
No road trip with kids through the northeast would be complete without a layover in Boston, Massachusetts. Boston has a ton of things that are both kid-friendly and family-oriented. Whether you want to visit museums, historic sites, or a restaurant that serves yummy lobster rolls, you can do it and a whole lot more during a vacation in Beantown.
New England Aquarium
Located on the edge of the city’s striking harbor, the New England Aquarium is a must-visit attraction. The aquarium has a unique central tank that’s four stories high. As you’ll see, the tank holds marine life that typically lives along the Caribbean coral reef, with inhabitants including small sharks, a variety of fish, and a monstrous sea turtle.
All in all, the aquarium’s exhibits are home to more than 8,000 marine creatures. Those creatures include over 80 penguins who’ll delight you with their silly antics the moment you enter the building. As you view the penguins, keep an ear out for the call of the African penguins as it sounds almost exactly like the braying noise donkeys are known for.
You can catch a kid-friendly film on the largest I-Max screen in New England during your visit to the aquarium. In addition, you can attend some special presentations, such as penguin feedings and seal training sessions.
Boston’s Public Garden should be on your radar if you want to take your family on a swan boat ride. The paddle boats used to provide rides at this location are the only ones of their kind. Even some Boston natives don’t know that the swam boats in the Public Garden were inspired by the opera entitled “Lohengrin.” Each paddleboat ride lasts about 15 minutes or so, which will leave your family plenty of time to enjoy some of the city’s other attractions.
Old Ironsides and the USS Constitution Museum
Located just outside of Boston, the USS Constitution is docked in Charleston, MA. Guests are welcome to take a free tour of the venerable war shop, and they can even go below deck to see where sailors slept more than 200 years ago.
Mere steps across the shipyard, you’ll find the USS Constitution Museum. This museum’s collection includes more than 3,000 original artifacts related to Old Ironsides. Your kids can participate in some hands-on activities in the museum in addition to viewing the exhibits.
Legoland Discovery Center
Located in the Assembly Row shopping complex, Legoland Discovery Center is a wonderful way to keep the kids entertained on a rainy or exceptionally hot or cold day in Beantown. When you visit, your kids can play with LEGOs to their hearts’ delight. Your family can also catch a 4D movie and see a LEGO miniature of the city of Boston that was created by true LEGO masters. If your children have some pent-up energy, you can let them play in the climbing-wall area to blow off some steam.
Paul Revere House
The Paul Revere House is the oldest private home still standing within Boston’s city limits. Today, the house is a museum that boasts a genuine colonial style. A guided tour of the museum only takes 30 minutes, so it’ll wrap up before anyone has the chance to misbehave or complain. The museum only charges a nominal fee for admission, and it’s worth noting that the facility operates on a cash-only basis.
Old North Church
The Old North Church is noteworthy thanks to Paul Revere’s “one if by land, and two if by sea” ride through the city from centuries ago. Constructed in 1723, the church boasts Boston’s tallest steeple, which measures 191 feet. Located in the city’s North End, the church is surrounded by fantastic Italian eateries and some of the best bakeries you’ll find anywhere.
Los Angeles, California
Also known as the City of Angels, Los Angeles is the second-largest urban area in the United States. If you’re compiling a list of family road trip ideas, you should put “visit LA” at the top. This city has something that will appeal to even the pickiest of petite travelers, so you won’t have to worry about hearing “I’m bored” or “there’s nothing to do” during your stay in the LA area.
Wildlife Learning Center
Located in the suburb of Sylmar, the Wildlife Learning Center is a wonderful place to bring children. The center is home to an array of animals that include mammals, birds, amphibians, and arthropods. Although walking through the center and taking pictures of the animals are fun things to do on their own, you can make a visit to the Wildlife Learning Center even more memorable by scheduling a close encounter with an animal.
The center offers two kinds of close encounters, the Zoofari Tour and the Adventure Tour. The Zoofari Tour consists of a guided 45-minute tour of the facility and the opportunity for up to five family members to meet one of the following animals:
If you have more than five family members, you can add two more to your Zoofari Tour for just $16 per head. You also have the option to meet two more animals during the tour for an additional fee.
The Adventure Tour is the center’s most interactive option. During this 90-minute tour, you and your family will get to meet a sloth, a giraffe, a reptile, a porcupine, and a tortoise.
Bob Baker Marionette Theater
As the longest-running marionette theater in America, the Bob Baker Marionette Theater has entertained more than one million children since it opened its doors in 1963. Named an official Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009, the theater puts on live puppet shows that simply delight onlookers of all ages.
After a puppet show ends, kids have the chance to enjoy some free ice cream. Audience members can also go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. You can feel great when you buy tickets to a show at this iconic theater because 25 percent of all ticket sales go toward supporting field trips for kids living in the City of Angels.
Do you want to make your upcoming vacation one of the best road trips ever? If so, we encourage you to sign your family up for an outdoor scavenger hunt for your stay in LA. Let’s Roam has several hunts and tours in Los Angeles, and each one is a blast. If you’re not yet sold on the idea, look at our info on how a scavenger hunt works and read up on what to bring. We’ve got you covered!
If you’re concerned you might not have time for a full-blown scavenger hunt, you can rely on Adventures From Scratch: Family Edition for an alternate activity. Read the descriptions for the adventures in this wonderful scratch-off adventure book to find a family activity that will fit into your schedule perfectly while you’re in Los Angeles.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
Officially known as State Route 1 and informally referred to as Highway One or The One, the Pacific Coast Highway in California offers families the chance to have days of fun as they take in breathtaking views during their road trip. The Pacific Coast Highway has lots of roadside attractions that are as diverse as the terrain you’ll cover if you drive the thoroughfare from start to finish.
Here are some of the places you won’t want to miss during family travel along the Pacific Coast Highway:
- Big Sur: Situated just 25 miles south of Monterey, Big Sur is home to deep gorges, rugged mountains, pine forests, and a unique beach named Pfeiffer State Beach. That beach is where you can see purple sand and azure-colored waves. Just a short drive from the beach, you’ll find Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park which offers hiking trails, shaded by stunning Redwoods. It’s often referred to as “mini Yosemite!”
- San Simeon: San Simeon is a small town where you can visit two popular attractions—Hearst Castle and the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Colony. Situated about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it’s a perfect village for a day trip or a family getaway.
- Santa Cruz: When you visit Santa Cruz, you’ll be able to soak up some rays, swim in the Pacific Ocean, shop, eat delicious food, and visit a theme park that’s home to an old, wooden roller coaster that’s been in operation since 1924.
- Greyhound Rock Beach: This beach is an oft-overlooked oasis of sun, surf, and marine life that includes elephant seals and dolphins. A lot of people drive right past this beach presumably because they have to manage a steep walk down a cliff to get to it, but don’t make that same mistake or your family will miss out on what’s sure to be a good time.