When you live in a country as vast and varied as the US, it’s hard to decide where to spend that oh-so-precious family vacation. And the answer also depends on your point of origin and how far you’re prepared to go. To give you a few ideas, we asked 10 family travel experts to name their favorite spots to take the kids, ranging from familiar yet fabulous domestic destinations to some unforgettable adventures overseas.
The Cape Cod peninsula is home to some of the country's finest beaches, including the 40-mile-long Cape Cod National Seashore © CO Leong / Shutterstock
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Recommended by Laura Begley Bloom, chief content officer at Family Traveller Magazine.
My family started vacationing on Cape Cod when I was a child. My parents loved it so much they moved here about 10 years ago. So now, I go back all the time with my own family, and it has not changed much since I was a kid. Our first stop is always the Chatham Squire, a seafood joint where my daughter Lucy, five, can dance to live bands and play pinball. Across the street is any kid's dream: the Chatham Candy Manor, a classic sweet shop. We also love going to the Chatham Bars Inn for lobster rolls by the ocean.
The town of Dennis Port has plenty of family-friendly thrills (go-kart racing, squirt-gun boats, trampolines). When I was a kid, I saw Jaws at the Wellfleet Drive-In, and now I enjoy taking Lucy to one of the country's last remaining drive-in movie theaters. And, of course, the beaches are stunning, from the white-sand National Seashore to hidden coves like Jackknife Beach.
When we’re feeling adventurous we go to artsy Provincetown at the tip of the Cape, where you can go on whale-watching tours with Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, and explore the dunes in four-wheel drives with Arts Dune Tours. These are memories that a child will never forget.
Follow her tweets @laurabegley.
Epic hikes abound in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images
Recommended by Eileen Ogintz, author, columnist and creator of Taking the Kids.
Spectacular wildflowers and mountain views… epic hikes and bike rides, great eats and just as much fun in winter – welcome to Colorado. I’ve traveled all over the world and have had many memorable moments with my family, but we always come back to Colorado. The kids choose the activities at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park when we gather for big family reunions and lead us on hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We’ve made it a winter tradition since they were preschoolers to ski and ride Colorado’s famous slopes, and also go snowshoeing and snowmobiling in the backcountry at Vista Verde Ranch. Our grown kids like nothing better than to lead us on adventures here, especially when they coax us out of our comfort zones – taking my husband mountain biking, for example, or me fly fishing, ending the day with their favorite Colorado craft brews.
Follow her tweets @takingthekids.
The craggy coastline of San Diego’s Sunset Cliffs © Dancestrokes / Shutterstock
Recommended by Katia Hetter, senior producer at CNN Travel.
Sunshine almost every day, sandy beaches, koalas at the zoo and good Mexican food no matter where you go – that’s my beloved hometown of San Diego. My family headed back after many years away to show my daughter where I grew up and my favorite spots to play and eat. There’s so much to enjoy in this kid-friendly city: year-round beach action, the zoo and safari park, and the world-class theater at the Old Globe in Balboa Park.
On our visit, we headed to the Cabrillo National Monument for a panoramic view of the city, followed by a short hike down Sunset Cliffs to the tide pools. Next stop was Point Loma Seafoods for catch of the day while watching fishing boats dock next to the restaurant. Our favorite animal is the koala, so naturally we had to stop at the world-famous zoo, with its bragging rights to the largest koala colony outside of Australia.
Follow her tweets @katiahetter.
A boat tour is a great way to see Chicago © Iris van den Broek / Shutterstock
Recommended by Kirsten Maxwell, owner of Kids Are A Trip.
Chicago is one of our family’s favorite vacation destinations with an endless number of entertainment options. We love the city’s diverse museums that captivate visitors of all ages and centrally located Maggie Daley Park, a magical playground children never want to leave.
On a sunny day, don’t miss an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River or Willis Tower where families can walk out on The Ledge, a glass box hovering 103 floors above ground. Finish the perfect day with a slice of Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza and Garrett’s Chicago Mix popcorn, two tastes that are unique to the Windy City.
Follow her on Instagram @kidsareatrip.
With three families of orcas, the San Juan Islands give visitors a great chance of a sighting © roclwyr / Getty Images
San Juan Islands, Washington State
Recommended by Matt Villano, creator of Wandering Pod.
My pick for the best summertime family destination is the San Juan Islands of Washington State. There are three major islands – San Juan, Orcas, and Lopez – and each is an outdoor playground. Wildlife abounds throughout the region: seals, eagles, salmon, and more.
In summer, San Juan is famous for its shore- and boat-based whale watching, as the waters around it are home to three family groups of orca whales. Orcas is great for hiking and lounging; the 2400-ft Mt Constitution presents a challenging tromp, while Cascade Lake below is a perfect spot to snooze on an inflatable raft. Lopez is mostly flat, making it perfect for bicycle tours. All three islands have loads of vacation rentals, and because the region is so far north, summer sunlight stretches well past 8pm.
Follow him on Instagram @mattvillano.
Jupiter is blessed with a handful of pristine beaches like Coral Cove © Jon Bilous / Shutterstock
Recommended by Elizabeth Anne Shaw, editor in chief at FamilyFun Magazine.
We started coming to Jupiter to visit Grandma, and it’s consistently been one of our favorite destinations. You get all the beauty of Florida minus the touristy onslaught found in many of the more well-known cities. On our last trip, we went paddle-boarding on the Intracoastal Waterway (and spotted two manatees), took a boat trip up the Loxahatchee River in Jonathan Dickinson State Park (where we spied another manatee, a blue heron, and a gator), and visited the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary.
This was on top of spending hours at Jupiter’s gorgeous – and undeveloped – beaches, including Jupiter Beach Park, Coral Cove, and Juno Beach. Pick up some cheap boogie boards and the kids will be happy for hours. P.S. Don’t miss Dune Dog for lunch or dinner; our boys always get the ribs even if it’s 11:30am!
Follow her on Instagram @elizanneshaw.
Head to San Miguel de Allende central square for a taste of the town’s welcoming spirit © Barna Tanko / Shutterstock
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Recommended by Colleen Lanin, founder and editor of Travel Mamas.
San Miguel de Allende offers a different kind of Mexican vacation, perfect for families like mine who are looking to unplug from technology and connect with each other. With its cobblestone streets, grand haciendas and beautiful central square, it feels like a slice of Europe in the heart of the country’s highlands. But it’s a very Mexican town, too, offering traditional cuisine, a penchant for celebrations and festivals, and the welcoming spirit of Latin America.
Home to the country’s oldest art school, Instituto Allende, San Miguel is a magnet for artists; it has art classes for all ages, as well as an array of handicraft stores and fine galleries. My family fell so in love with this compact and colorful city during our one-week stay that we’re headed back there this summer for an entire month.
Follow her on Instagram @travelmamas.
The pyramids of Xunantunich offer all the atmosphere of better-known Mayan sites, but see far fewer visitors © Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock
Recommended by Carrie Simmons, creator and host of family travel documentary series Travel with Kids TV.
If the lush jungles dotted with soaring pyramids and white-sand beaches abutting turquoise Caribbean seas aren’t enough, families will find the unique culture and warm, welcoming locals make Belize an ideal destination. We’ve been visiting Belize since 1992.
Our favorite moments include climbing Mayan pyramids at Xunantunich; gorging on lobster burritos on Caye Caulker, where the main mode of transport is bikes; spotting monkeys and manatees near Placencia; learning to play drums in a Garifuna village; tubing through caves; and diving where the ocean teems with wildlife, including sharks and stingrays.
Follow her tweets @Travel_WithKids.
Prepare for a close encounter with one of these unmistakable residents en route to Machu Picchu © coopermoisse / Getty Images
Recommended by Sharlene Earnshaw, editor in chief at Trekaroo.
My dreams of visiting Peru began as a child, spawned by an image of a misty Machu Picchu on the back cover of National Geographic. But my family's visit greatly exceeded my wildest childhood fantasies.
Highlights included rafting the Urubamba River past Incan ruins dramatically framed by Andean peaks, journeying into the High Andes to meet with women who hand-weave traditional blankets and tapestries using centuries-old techniques, encountering curious llamas on our hike up to Sun Gate at Machu Picchu, and witnessing a culture steeped in ancient tradition.
Follow her tweets @trekaroo.
The Philippines boasts some of the world’s best diving, so where better to learn? © Rich Carey / Shutterstock
Recommended by Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association.
Until recently, I was naive to the fact that children as young as 10 could become scuba certified. And I was certainly clueless about how child-friendly the Philippines could be. Joined by a group of other families during a week-long Kids Sea Camp, my kids and I loved exploring the country’s deep blue waters and pristine reefs looking for some of the world’s most amazing sea creatures.
The dive guides at the Pura Vida Dive Resort in Dumaguete are among the best in the world, and their Sea Explorers PADI 5-Star Dive Center is professionally trained to work with children. When we weren’t busy communing with sea turtles, whale sharks, frogfish and seahorses, my boys were just as happy shooting hoops with the local kids.