From coast to coast, you'll find superb attractions for all ages: bucket-and-spade fun at the beach, amusement parks, zoos, eye-popping aquariums and natural-history exhibits, hands-on science museums, camping adventures, battlefields, hikes in wilderness reserves, leisurely bike rides through countryside, and plenty of other activities likely to wow young ones.
Best Regions for Kids
- New York City
The Big Apple has many kid-friendly museums, plus carriage rides and rowboating in Central Park, cruises on the Hudson and theme restaurants in Times Square.
Get behind the movie magic at Universal Studios, hit the beaches, or head south to Disneyland and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. In Northern California, see redwoods, San Francisco's Exploratorium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Washington, DC
Washington has unrivaled allure for families, with free museums, a panda-loving zoo and boundless green spaces. Nearby, 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. Then hit the beautiful beaches.
Ski resorts go full throttle in summer with camps, mountain biking, slides and ziplines.
The USA for Kids
Traveling with children can bring a whole new dimension to the American experience. You may make deeper connections, as locals (especially those with their own children) brighten and coo and embrace your family like long-lost cousins. From the city to the country, most facilities are ready to accommodate a child's needs.
To find family-oriented sights and activities, accommodations, restaurants and entertainment, just look for our child-friendly icon.
Dining with Children
The US restaurant industry seems built on family-style service: children are not just accepted almost everywhere, but usually are 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 on 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 (also ask how much it will cost), or if it 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 USA, 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 rollaway beds or cribs that can be brought into the room for an extra charge – but keep in mind these are usually Pack 'n' Plays (portable cots), which not all children sleep well in. Some hotels offer 'kids stay free' programs for children up to 12 or sometimes 18 years of age. 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 bonded (ie they are qualified 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.
Necessities, Driving & Flying
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, and items such as baby food, formula and disposable diapers (nappies) are widely available – including organic options – in supermarkets across the country.
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 and expect to pay $10 to $14 more per day.
Domestic airlines don't charge for children under two years. Those two and up must have a seat, and discounts are unlikely. Rarely, some resorts (eg Disneyland) offer a 'kids fly free' promotion. Amtrak, America's national train service, offers half-price fares for children 12 and under.
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, very 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.
All national parks have Junior Ranger programs that include activity booklets and badges upon completion.
- Florida Everglades Kayak, canoe or take guided walks.
- Yellowstone National Park, WY Watch powerful geysers, spy on wildlife and take magnificent hikes.
- Grand Canyon National Park, AZ Gaze across – or descend into – one of earth's great wonders.
- Black Hills, South Dakota and Wyoming State and national parks – such as Mt Rushmore – are filled with kid-friendly natural sights and adventures, and the buffalo do indeed roam free.
- New River Gorge National River, WV Go white-water rafting.
- Zion National Park, UT Wade in the Virgin River and hike to the Emerald Pools beneath the crimson canyon walls.
Theme Parks & Zoos
- Bronx Zoo, NY One of the nation's biggest and best zoos is just a subway ride from Manhattan.
- Walt Disney World®, FL With four action-packed parks spread across 27,000 acres, this is a place your children will long remember.
- Disneyland, CA Kids aged four and up appreciate the original Disneyland, while teenagers go nuts next door at California Adventure.
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park, CA A fantastic place to see creatures great and small, with more than 6500 animals spread over 1900 acres.
- Six Flags (www.sixflags.com) One of America's favorite amusement parks, with 11 locations across the country.
- Cedar Point, OH Has some of the planet's most terrifying roller coasters, plus a mile-long beachfront, a water park and live entertainment.
Traveling in Time
- Plimoth Plantation, MA Don 18th-century garb and mingle with costumed interpreters in this history-rich setting.
- Fort Mackinac, MI Plug your ears as soldiers in 19th-century garb fire muskets and cannons.
- Freedom Trail, Boston Go on a walking tour with Ben Franklin (or at least his 21st-century lookalike).
- Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, IL Fun, interactive galleries where you can learn about one of America's greatest presidents.
- St Augustine, FL Rattle along in a horse-drawn carriage through the historic streets.
- National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC Rockets, spacecraft, old-fashioned biplanes and ride simulators to inspire any budding aviator.
- American Museum of Natural History, NYC Kids of all ages will enjoy a massive planetarium, immense dinosaur skeletons and 30 million other artifacts.
- City Museum, St Louis There's a packed fun house of unusual exhibits here, plus a Ferris wheel on the roof.
- Port Discovery, Baltimore Three stories of adventure and (cleverly disguised) learning, including an Egyptian tomb, farmers market, train, art studio and physics stations.
- Pacific Science Center, Seattle Fascinating, hands-on exhibits, plus an IMAX theater, planetarium and laser shows.
- Children's Museum of Indianapolis, IN The world's largest kids' museum, with five floors of fun stuff (including dinosaur displays).
- Strawbery Banke Museum, Portsmouth, NH Role-play New England history from Colonial times through the 1940s at the interactive Family Discovery Center.
Weather and crowds are all-important considerations when planning a US family getaway. The peak travel season across the country is from 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 resort areas and heavy traffic on the roads – you'll need to reserve well in advance for popular destinations. The same holds true for winter resorts (in the Rockies, Tahoe and the Catskills) during their high season of late December to March.
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).
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) Eclectic, enormous national resource. Download songs and activities, or even link to the CIA Kids' Page.
Travel BaBees (www.travelbabees.com) A reputable baby-gear rental outfit, with locations nationwide.