Our Favorite Family Destinations Across the U.S. for 2024

Hikes, museums, and train rides await, from Hawaiʻi to New York and beyond.

Lydgate Farms in Kaua'i, viewed from water, showing jagged hills

Our writers have taken their families to New Mexico, New York, and Kaua’i this year.

Travel changes when you have kids, but it doesn’t have to end; you just need to factor in a few more needs and opinions than before. Thankfully, the United States is packed full of must-visit destinations for the whole family, where parents and children alike can have a great time. I’ve personally enjoyed roaming southern California with my brood, exploring forests, sea caves, and snowy mountains in Sequoia National Park, La Jolla, and Big Bear, respectively.

We asked a bunch of our contributors who wrangle children as well as words for their family travel memories across the country—and their recommendations for 2024 and beyond. Your next family adventure starts here.

Two parents with two kids in front of Niagara Falls (L); the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (R)

Kids will remember the watery spray of Niagara Falls and the contours of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum in New York State.

Buffalo, New York

My husband’s family lives in Buffalo, New York, and I’ve been visiting the city annually for more than two decades. But I’ve only learned how kid-friendly it is in the past few years. Our two-year-old son, Julian, loves romping around the seven interactive play zones—including a pretend car wash and a splashy water exhibit inspired by the Erie Canal—at the sprawling Explore & More Children’s Museum. We ride the whimsical, hand-painted ostriches and giraffes on the Buffalo Heritage Carousel, a century-old merry-go-round now fully powered by the sun; twirl among the painted branch sculptures at the Charles E. Burchfield Nature & Art Center; and sample new foods at the recently expanded West Side Bazaar, a nonprofit food hall that highlights cuisine from Egypt, Myanmar, Congo, and beyond. While Julian is too young to appreciate Buffalo’s iconic architecture (including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House), we love building our own towers in the LEGO-centric Creative Commons lab at the newly reopened Buffalo AKG Art Museum. Then, of course, there’s Niagara freakin’ Falls—it will leave you so utterly gobsmacked, silencing even the fiercest toddler tantrum.

Where to stay

The 88-room Richardson Hotel inhabits the former Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane on the landmarked Richardson Olmsted Campus, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (of Central Park fame). Its spacious suites have vaulted ceilings and enormous windows, but it’s the colorful tiles in the mile-long hallways that form the ultimate toddler runway. —Ashlea Halpern, contributing editor

Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

The Twilight novels shined a spotlight on the small town of Forks, Washington, depicting its gloomy climate and casting it as the ideal hiding spot for sun-fearing vampires. What the books failed to capture, however, is the sublime beauty found nestled among the rainforests, waterfalls, and hot springs of the enchanting Olympic Peninsula.

As a preschooler, my son delighted in splashing in the ocean as it lapped against the craggy coastline, and later, as a burgeoning hiker, he tested his limits while clambering over felled Douglas fir trees to earn a coveted Junior Ranger badge. The Pacific Northwest keeps bringing my family back for new adventures, and with nearby Mount Rainer joining the ever-growing list of popular national parks instituting a reservation system in 2024, Olympic remains blissfully open to explorers of all ages—even those adverse to advance planning.

Calling us to visit this year is the Tree of Life, a seemingly magical tree that suspends itself in midair. With the ground beneath it having eroded, the tree’s roots are now exposed, leaving no soil to keep it secure. It’s only a matter of time before the Tree of Life comes tumbling down, and we’re hoping to catch sight of this magnificent phenomenon before it’s gone—and perhaps snap a photo with the “Welcome to Forks” sign on our way through town.

Where to stay

Camp alongside towering Sitka spruce at one of several national park campgrounds, or nestle into comfier digs at the scenic Lake Crescent Lodge. Or, for those seeking upscale accommodations with a rustic chic design, try Olympic Lodge by Ayres, located in the charming town of Port Angeles. —Amanda Adler

Large, dark metallic statue of wolf outside Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe

Sante Fe offers indoor and outdoor fun—and the famous Meow Wolf immersive art space.

Photo by Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock

Santa Fe, New Mexico

This New Mexican city can make you feel as if you’ve traveled abroad without the need for a passport, thanks to a strong Indigenous history and connection with Mexico. Explore indoor and outdoor attractions like Bandelier National Park, which contains preserved ancestral pueblo dwellings; the Museum of International Folk Art, which includes the Tree of Life play area; the small Georgia O’Keefe Museum; the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market; and the Santa Fe Reptile & Bug Museum, which has a new location housing live animals and natural history exhibits.

When we visited Santa Fe, our whole family had a blast exploring the incredible interactive installation that is Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, a massive and ever-changing adventure inside an old bowling alley. Be sure to also book a ride on the Sky Railway, which offers themed rides on two fantastically painted trains that make their way between Santa Fe and Lamy as riders enjoy entertainers, music, storytelling, and more. Kid-friendly dining includes the Shed for traditional New Mexican dishes like burritos, enchiladas, and tamales. We also loved breakfast at Dolina Café & Bakery, which has New Mexican breakfast burritos as well Eastern European baked goods. For a treat, stop by Kakawa Chocolate House for chocolate truffles, ice cream, or hot chocolate.

Where to stay

The Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado recently completed a multimillion-dollar revitalization of its spacious 65 casitas, which can be stocked with baby gear and child-size robes and slippers on request. If you want to be right on the plaza in the heart of downtown, book a room at the historic La Fonda on the Plaza, which has a heated pool and a variety of rooms, some with sleeper sofas. Ask for the scavenger hunt booklet at check-in to keep kids busy. —Devorah Lev-Tov

Columbus, Ohio

As our plane touched down in Columbus from Tampa in Fall 2023, my then six year old told his sister they’d be welcomed on the ground with flower necklaces called leis. He’d somehow mistaken Ohio for O‘ahu when I told him we were going on a fall trip. But Columbus delivered so deeply on family fun that there was never a regret. In the Franklinton Arts District we hit the community festival called Franklinton Fridays (held two Fridays a month). And along the Scioto River nearby, the COSI (Center of Science and Industry) Museum had a Barbie exhibit in addition to all its hands-on science fun. From now through early September, there’s a Titanic exhibition with full-scale room re-creations from the ocean liner. In Columbus’s vibrant Short North Arts District, where the fall leaves were piled in a manner no Florida kid could resist, we devoured macaroons at a bakery and made bracelets at pop-up project Tenspace, where the interactive offerings are always changing.

We food hall–hopped, too, from the city’s 150-year-old public market, North Market, where we sampled Somali cuisine and Himalayan dumplings, to Budd Dairy Hall, where we played foosball while digging into pizza and cheesesteaks. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and its more than 10,000 animals might have to wait for our return visit. But at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, blue morphos landed on our heads in the butterfly garden, and a nature playground beckoned in the crisp fall air outside. Streets lined with beautiful homes in German Village lured us later, with the 32 warrenlike rooms of the Book Loft and Schiller Park, with its pond stocked with rainbow trout and yet another great playground.

Where to stay

The Junto sits right across the street from the Scioto Riverwalk and COSI Museum and sometimes offers themed rooms reflecting visiting exhibits. (We stayed in a temporarily Barbie-themed suite during our visit, at the height of the hype.) The hotel’s cozy lobby has open fireplaces and board games you can play at big tables within a few steps of beverages for adults at the Trade Room lobby bar. And the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, Brass Eye, does a great brunch with river views. —Terry Ward

 View of packed audience at Red Rocks, with band on stage in foreground

Denver is an essential stop for family fun in all seasons.

Photo by Evan Semón photography

Denver, Colorado

Marrying the best of a thriving city with spectacular natural beauty, Denver is a pedestrian-friendly metropolis that’s a blast with kids and, I’ve found, especially fun for an active family. On a recent trip we enjoyed visual stimulation and storytelling during a two-hour walk through RiNo street art with Denver Graffiti Tour, and our toddler found the immersive spaces of the weird and wonderful psychedelic art experience Meow Wolf thrilling and tactile. The city’s excellent museums—including the Denver Art Museum and Denver Museum of Nature & Science—capture the attention and imagination of all ages, while outdoors enthusiasts have a slew of options for hiking, such as Red Rocks (the amphitheater is the legendary home of concerts but also summer movie nights) and quaint Golden, where we enjoyed strolling with our then-baby.

Summer 2024 in Denver includes such events as the Tennyson Street Fair (July 20) and Denver Burger Battle (August 1) while this June 1 to 2 sees the inaugural Outside Festival at Civic Center Park with a family-friendly lineup of music, adventure, wellness, film, and kids activities and programming. Additionally, the country’s first carbon-positive hotel—with sustainable design and construction by Studio Gang—Populus at Civic Center Park is set for a summer debut. As appealing as the warmer months are, our favorite time to visit is winter, when it’s an alluring place to acclimate to higher altitudes and enjoy a vibrant city before heading off to mountains like Breckenridge or Vail for snowboarding.

Where to stay

Four Seasons is the gold standard for optimizing the hotel experience for babies, and the Four Seasons Hotel Denver is no exception, offering families traveling with youngsters miniature robes, no-tears toiletries, gear such as small bathtubs and diaper pails and, for our then 10-month-old, a welcome snack of freshly made applesauce. For older kids, the Curtis Denver – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and its hyper-themed rooms—think Barbie, Comic Book Heroes, and Ghostbusters—are a must. —Kathryn Romeyn

Jackson, Wyoming

It’s impossible to say whether the national park gateway and Wild West town of Jackson (known to many as Jackson Hole: the name of the valley and the ski resort) is more captivating in snowy or warm months. Both are gorgeously sunny and blue-skied, ripe with experiences active and peaceful. My family’s recent trip was into a winter wonderland: My two-year-old began giddily learning to ski, all of us soaked in steamy springs at Astoria Hot Springs Park, and we spotted bighorn sheep, fox, and moose on a spectacular snow-blanketed safari with locally owned Jackson Hole EcoTour Adventures. Dogsledding with Call of the WYld‘s adorable huskies was one of the most entertaining activities we’ve ever done together and cemented Jackson, for me, as a place to make indelible memories as a family.

When the snow is gone, there’s plenty of amusement in the form of fishing and floating on the Snake River, hiking, tram and gondola rides, and the rodeo. In the warmer months, there’s always something lively happening, whether it’s the Grand Teton Music Festival or the Snow King Summer Concert Series. In June, the Snow King Observatory and Planetarium open to the public with a 24-foot AstroHaven dome, a state-of-the-art one-meter PlaneWave telescope, plus interactive galleries that should entice the space-obsessed no matter their age.

Where to stay

From the decor—see giant video screens at the end of each hallway playing striking wildlife videos—to the pool and large hot tub plus gratis snack and hot chocolate stations, the Cloudveil, Autograph Collection Hotels, appeals to kids and kids at heart with a luxe twist. Just off the town square, family-owned Hotel Jackson is rustic meets plush with a Lebanese restaurant downstairs and a steaming hot tub a few floors up. —Kathryn Romeyn

A man cutting large yellow cacao pod from tree

A trip to Kaua‘i will foster a love for the environment in kids.

Kaua‘i, Hawaiʻi

With incredible hikes, marine life, and chocolate tours, lush Kaua‘i (it’s not called the Garden Isle for nothing) is a veritable playground for families. My crew learned all about how cacao is grown, harvested, and processed, and sampled all manner of deliciousness (macadamia nuts, apple bananas, lychee, spiky rambutan, cacao nibs, truffles!) during a three-hour tour at Lydgate Farms, which has won some major awards for its locally grown, sustainable chocolate. For snorkeling, join sailing excursions with Holo Holo Charters, which monitors areas where reef fish and green sea turtles are active. The grand finale of our island time? Taking to the sky (and even managing to catch a double rainbow) with Island Helicopters for a 50-minute ride over the dramatic Nāpali Coast, Waimea Canyon, and rainforests.

Where to stay

Try oceanfront Timbers Kaua‘i, part of the 450-acre Hōkūala resort, along the island’s southeast coastline. Boasting gorgeous multi-bedroom digs, an on-site farm (from which pineapples and papayas are delivered to rooms), a spa (a Lomi Lomi massage is a must), a restaurant, and a stunning infinity pool, the property is pure bliss. —Tanvi Chheda

Lake County, Northern California

I live in Northern California’s Bay Area, meaning my husband and I and our two kids (ages five and seven) spend a lot of time in Sonoma and Napa Valley. But we recently discovered a lesser-known spot just north of the iconic wine regions with fewer crowds, but plenty of scenic rolling hills, lakes, hiking trails, and vineyards. On a recent visit to Lake County, we went to Six Sigma Ranch and Winery, where families can book a tour of the mountainous property in an all-terrain Pinzgauer (a hefty military vehicle the kids loved bumping around in). After, our little ones fed pigs and goats at the ranch, and then we noshed on cheese and charcuterie plates while the adults sipped tempranillo and sauvignon blanc.

There’s plenty more to do. At Anderson Marsh State Historic Park, wander through the 19th-century ranch house and barn before heading out on a nature walk through beautiful marshlands full of birds and frogs. Head to Clear Lake State Park on the shores of California’s largest freshwater lake for access to a swimming beach and more hiking trails. On the way to or from Lake County from the San Francisco area, you can take a detour toward Safari West, an African safari experience on a 400-acre private preserve where the kids can be on the lookout for giraffes, rhinos, wildebeest, and zebras. Fuel up at Oxbow Market or Gott’s Roadside on the way.

Where to stay

The main draw in Lake County for families is Huttopia Wine Country, a glamping concept opened by a French family in 2023. With a veritable summer camp vibe, Huttopia features 93 solar-powered wood and canvas tents with an outdoor kitchenette and barbecue grill. Many also have en suite bathrooms with showers (otherwise, it’s a shared bathroom setup). There’s a swimming pool, a main lodge with dining, concessions, games (like Ping-Pong and foosball), and activities (like arts and crafts for kids and movies under the stars). We loved that there was a playground, and you can rent electric mountain bikes. Your kids will inevitably team up with newfound friends for nature exploring. —Michelle Baran, deputy editor, news

Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
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