Family travel is fun in the Eastern USA, which boasts a diverse range of scenery and activities to suit all ages. As a bonus, most of it is accessible by car, which means you don't have to break your back carrying luggage and strollers.
Best Regions for Kids
- New York, New Jersey & Pennsylvania
New York City offers adventure such as row-boating in Central Park and kid-friendly museums. Head to the Jersey shore for boardwalk fun and to Pennsylvania for Amish Country horse-and-buggy rides.
- New England
Boston’s waterfront and green spaces entice with an aquarium, an 18th-century warship and pedal-powered swan boats. Plimoth Plantation, with its re-created Wampanoag and Pilgrim villages, is good family fun.
- Washington, DC & the Capital Region
Washington has unrivaled allure for families with free museums, a panda-loving zoo and boundless green spaces. Virginia’s Williamsburg is a slice of 18th-century America with costumed interpreters and fanciful activities.
Orlando’s Walt Disney World is well worth planning a vacation around. Afterward, hit the state’s beautiful beaches.
Eastern USA for Kids
Dining with Children
The local restaurant industry seems built on family-style service: children are not just accepted at most places, but are often encouraged by special children’s menus with smaller portions and lower prices. In some restaurants children under a certain age even eat for free. Restaurants usually provide high chairs and booster seats. Some restaurants may also offer children crayons and puzzles, and occasionally live performances by cartoon-like characters.
Restaurants without children’s menus don’t necessarily discourage kids, though higher-end restaurants might. Even at the nicer places, however, if you show up early enough (right at dinnertime opening hours, often 5pm or 6pm), you can usually eat without too much stress – and you’ll likely be joined by other foodies with kids. You can ask if the kitchen will make a smaller order of a dish, or if they will split a normal-size main dish between two plates for the kids. Chinese, Mexican and Italian restaurants seem to be the best bet for finicky young eaters.
Farmers markets are growing in popularity in the region, and every sizable town has at least one a week. This is a good place to assemble a first-rate picnic, sample local specialties and support independent growers in the process. After getting your stash, head to the nearest park or waterfront.
Motels and hotels typically have rooms with two beds, which are ideal for families. Some also have roll-away beds or cribs that can be brought into the room for an extra charge – but keep in mind these are usually portable cribs, which not all children sleep well in. Some hotels offer ‘kids stay free’ programs for children up to 12 or sometimes 18 years old. Be wary of B&Bs, as many don’t allow children; inquire before reserving.
Resort hotels may have on-call babysitting services; otherwise, ask the front-desk staff or concierge to help you make arrangements. Always ask if babysitters are licensed and insured, what they charge per hour per child, whether there’s a minimum fee, and if they charge extra for transportation or meals. Most tourist bureaus list local resources for childcare and recreation facilities, medical services and so on.
Driving & Flying
Every car-rental agency should be able to provide an appropriate child seat, since these are required in every state, but you need to request it when booking; expect to pay around $13 more per day.
Domestic airlines don’t charge for children under two years of age. Those two years and up must have a seat, and discounts are unlikely. Rarely, some resort areas (like Disney) offer a ‘kids fly free’ promotion. Amtrak and other train operators run similar deals (with kids up to age 15 riding free) on various routes.
Discounts for Children
Child concessions often apply for tours, admission fees and transport, with some discounts as high as 50% off the adult rate. However, the definition of ‘child’ can vary from under 12 to under 16 years. Unlike in Europe, few popular sights have discount rates for families; those that do will help you save a few dollars compared to buying individual tickets. Most sights give free admission to children under two years.
Everglades, FL Keep your eyes peeled for gators as you explore the swamps.
New River Gorge National River, WV Ramp up the adrenaline with white-water rafting.
Provincetown, MA Spot humpbacks spouting on a whale-watch tour.
Mammoth Cave National Park, KY Take a jaunt through the underground chambers.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN/NC Plenty of short hikes for shorter legs.
Theme Parks & Zoos
Walt Disney World, FL Immerse your kids in the mightiest attraction of all, with four action-packed parks spread across 20,000 acres.
Bronx Zoo, NYC Take the subway to one of the USA’s biggest and best zoos.
Wisconsin Dells, WI Choose a water park – or 20 – and splash it up.
Cedar Point, OH Ride some of the planet's wildest roller coasters, then play at the mile-long beachfront and water park.
Traveling in Time
Williamsburg, VA Don 18th-century garb and mingle with costumed interpreters in the history-rich triangle where America began.
Fort Mackinac, MI Plug your ears as soldiers in 19th-century costumes fire muskets and cannons.
Freedom Trail, Boston, MA Go on a walking tour with a Ben Franklin look-alike.
St Augustine, FL Hop on a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of this historic city.
National Air & Space Museum, Washington Inspire budding aviators with rockets, spacecraft, biplanes and ride simulators.
American Museum of Natural History, NYC Discover the planetarium, the dinosaur skeletons and 30 million other artifacts.
Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago Geek out at the biggest science center in the western hemisphere: mock tornadoes await.
Children's Museum of Indianapolis, IN Let 'em loose at the world's largest kids museum, with five floors of fun dinosaur-laden galleries.
To find family-oriented accommodations and restaurants among our reviews, just look for the child-friendly icon.
When to Go
- Peak travel season is June to August, when schools are out and the weather is warmest. Expect high prices and abundant crowds – meaning long lines at amusement and water parks, fully booked resorts and heavy traffic on the roads; book well in advance for popular destinations.
- High season for winter resorts (in the Catskills and White Mountains) runs from January to March.
Need to Know
- Many public toilets have a baby-changing table (sometimes in men’s toilets, too), and gender-neutral ‘family’ facilities appear in airports.
- Medical services and facilities in America are of a high standard.
- Items such as baby food, formula and disposable diapers (nappies) are widely available – including organic options – in supermarkets across the country.
- Single parents or guardians traveling with anyone under 18 should carry proof of legal custody or a notarized letter from the non-accompanying parent(s) authorizing the trip. This isn’t required, but it can help avoid potential problems entering the USA.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children. To get the kids excited, check out Not for Parents: USA (also by Lonely Planet), filled with cool stories about candy bars, astronauts, heroic animals and more.
Baby's Away (www.babysaway.com) Rents cribs, high chairs, car seats, strollers and even toys at locations across the country.
Family Travel Files (www.thefamilytravelfiles.com) Ready-made vacation ideas, destination profiles and travel tips.
Kids.gov (www.kids.usa.gov) Enormous, eclectic national resource; download songs and activities or even link to the CIA Kids' Page.
Travel Babees (www.travelbabees.com) Another reputable baby-gear rental outfit, with locations nationwide.
Eastern Lit for Kids
- Little Women (1868) Louisa May Alcott’s wonderful book about girls growing up in 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts.
- Paul Revere’s Ride (1861) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow combines history, poetry and suspense in his classic.
- Eloise (1955) Kay Thompson's six-year-old Eloise lives in the Plaza Hotel in NYC, a prime place to launch into all sorts of mischief.
- The Wright 3 (2006) Tween sleuths solve a mystery involving ghosts, treasure and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago in Blue Balliett's book.
- Raymie Nightingale (2016) Three girls form a friendship while competing for the title of Little Miss Central Florida Tire in this charmer by award-winning writer Kate DiCamillo