We know the ingredients of the ultimate kid-friendly weekend vary with each clan, but these nine spots around the country are time-tested family favorites—and, unlike camping, they’re easy. With thrills of every sort, you'll never hear the words, “I’m bored.”
Las Vegas, Nevada
Before you cry foul (Vegas for families? Really?), hear us out: Sin City can go toe-to-toe with any Disney-opolis. Where else can you see Sawed-off Shotguns at a Mob Museum, ride a Venice-style gondola under bridges at The Venetian, and spin around on a roller coaster (with a a 180-degree turn) through a faux Manhattan skyline at New York New York? It’s also worth making the 20 minute drive west to ride a 1905 steam train at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
San Antonio, Texas
The home of The Alamo is also home to a 250-acre SeaWorld, where you can swim with beluga whales, dolphins and sea lions, and hang with a hundred resident penguins; and Natural Bridge Caverns, where spelunkers of all ages can explore the cave’s stone ribbons and soda straws by lantern-light. Other must-dos: take in the view from the top of the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas (ticket prices include a 4D theater ride over Texas, including a “Friday Night Lights”-esque football game) and catch a show at Aztec on the River, a glammed-up 1926 movie palace on the Riverwalk.
The town Julia Roberts made famous in 1988’s Mystic Pizza has a lot more going for it than on-point Italian food (though, if you’re in the mood, the restaurant that inspired the film still exists—and its calzones are appropriately legendary). You can spot enormous Japanese spider crabs and giant Pacific octopus in the newly opened Weird & Wonderful exhibit at the Mystic Aquarium, and take a two hour steam train-meets-riverboat cruise up the Connecticut River with The Essex Steamtrain & Riverboat (be sure to keep an eye out for spooky Gillette Castle, built in 1919 by an actor who played Sherlock Holmes). The little ones will adore The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village, where they can pan for gold and take selfies with 40 life-size dinosaur statues (the Brachiosaurus is a whopping 40-feet-tall).
San Diego, California
Everyone knows Sun Diego is good for families—but SeaWorld and The San Diego Zoo are just the beginning. The 1,200 acre Balboa Park houses seventeen Spanish Colonial museums, including miniature towns at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum; you can spot sea world (whales surfacing; sea anemones in the tide pools) at the clifftop Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve; and you can even play lighthouse keeper at the Pacific Ocean-side 1855 lighthouse at Point Loma.
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It’s never too early for college tours, and Boston is the ultimate college town. But it’s also the ultimate kid town—a place where you can storm Old Ironsides, a wooden ship built at the request of George Washington in 1797, follow in Paul Revere’s footsteps at the circa 1680 Paul Revere House (which he bought it in 1770), and ride swan-shaped boats along the lagoon in the 1837 Public Garden, the first botanical garden in the country.
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One of America’s easiest-to-get-to airport hubs is also one of the best-ever weekend getaways for families. Kids can pan (or sluice) for gold in mountain streams with Goldstrike Colorado Gold Experience, see actual money being made with a free tour at the Denver Mint, and enter a recreated tropical rainforest where 1,200 butterflies flit at the Butterfly Pavilion. Don’t leave town without stopping for a cotton candy-wrapped cannoli ice cream cone at the new Sweet Cooie’s, run by the same people behind Denver’s famous Little Man Ice Cream.
You knew we had to include at least one Disney spot on this list, and Orlando tops them all thanks to the usual suspects like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Walt Disney World, and Epcot, to name an iconic few). There are plenty of non-theme-park reasons to visit, too, including rocket launches at the Kennedy Space Center and zip-lining (safely) over alligators at 110-acre Gatorland.
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What other American city is devoted to perfecting kiddie foodstuffs—both pizza and hot dogs—in surprisingly inventive ways? First stop: swing by the neon-lit Superdawg Drive-In for a tricked out all-beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun or go for a deep dish sausage pie at Pizzeria Uno. Next, head to Wrigley Field, built in 1914, to slide into baseball history with a Cubs game. If you happen to be traveling with teens—or precocious toddlers—check out “The Bean,” Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture for a quick insta or snapchat before hopping on an architecture cruise with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
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Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
With a newly revamped Williamsburg Inn (built by a Rockefeller in 1937), one of America’s oldest preserved towns is getting new buzz. Colonial Williamsburg itself should be on every middle schooler's bucket list for three reasons: you can take a spooky lantern-lit ghost tour, pretend to fire a musket during drill practice; and—this is easily the best part—put a parent in the stocks, a ye olde form of a time out.