Big City Vacations- 9 US Cities to Visit with Kids

When many people think of a family vacation, theme parks and beaches often come to mind.  But you don’t have to be stuck to overcrowded and overpriced theme parks or an all inclusive resort just because you have kids!  There are many US cities that make the perfect family destination.  With top notch restaurants, lots of accommodation options and endless possibilities for entertainment, big cities offer a lot to the traveling family.  We have compiled a list of favorites from family travel bloggers around the world. In no particular order, here is a list of 9 US cities that make the perfect family getaway.

1. NYC

Harmony from Momma To Go shares why NYC is her favorite big city getaway with kids.

New York City is one of those places that can feel so overwhelming, but is really an
awesome city getaway for families. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in, or just outside NYC for almost all of my life!

In NYC, it’s super easy to get around with kids! Park your little ones in a stroller, keeping them safe, contained and very portable. Busses run everywhere, and what kid doesn’t love a bus ride? If you kid likes trains, the subways have become more and more handicap (and stroller accessible). And in a pinch, there is always an Uber a few clicks away.

In NYC there is so much for kids to do. In nice weather check out Central Park (and its zoo), walk the High Line or ride the Staten Island ferry. Indoors, there are many museums such as Natural History, the Met or the Museum of Mathematics.

Kids will love the many food options NYC has to offer. Enjoy pizza by the slice,  a real New York bagel, or if your kids are more adventurous eaters, take a trip to Chinatown, Little Italy or Koreatown! And be sure to check on the latest dessert craze – right now edible cookie dough is all the rage!

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Harmony and her family riding the NYC subway.

2. CHICAGO

Yamy from GoFamGo shares why Chicago is her choice for best US city getaway.

Chicago is one of only 3 cities in the U.S. to welcome more than 50 million visitors every year. The Windy City has plenty of reasons to offer.

I encourage you to experience Navy Pier . Initially designed for shipping and recreational purposes, the landmark has grown during the last century into one of the most visited destinations in the world. Enjoy FREE ADMISSION to the facility and choose among different activities that appeals to your family. Get a 360-degree views of Chicago and Lake Michigan to as high as 200 feet aboard the new Centennial Wheel alongside other family friendly rides located in Pier Park. Take your little ones on a dinosaur expedition, dress up as a firefighter or construct a skyscraper in the Chicago’s Children’s Museum where there’s three floors of interactive fun for kids and their families. There are also boat tours, dining cruises and plenty of restaurants to enjoy. An additional cost will be required for some activities in Navy Pier.

Other family -friendly spots include the 20-acre of FREE fun Maggie Daley Park, Museum of Science and Industry which houses a U-505 submarine, and 360 Chicago or Skydeck if you want to see the city in a more thrilling way.

Aboard the Centennial Wheel
Aboard the Centennial Wheel on Navy Pier.

3. LAS VEGAS

Maggie from Milana’s Travels shares why Las Vegas makes a great family getaway.

When most people think of Vegas, they think of gambling, parties and adult entertainment.  I’m here to tell you that while all those exist, Vegas is one of the best places to bring your family!

The children’s museum in Vegas is one of the best in the nation! There are 3 floors filled with fun, engaging exhibits that will appeal to a variety of ages.

Just down the street from the strip is Towne Square Park.  In the hotter months, they have a splash pad for kids to cool of in and there is also a playground.  A small train (additional fee) takes kids on a ride around the park.

Hotels on the strip are known for their awesome pool areas, and if you stay at MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay, your kids will be entertained for hours!  There is a lazy river, wave pool and MGM even has a small, shallow kiddie pool too. Mandalay Bay also has a small aquarium that kids love to visit.

The food options in Vegas are endless, even the pickiest eaters are bound to find something they like. Vegas is the perfect big city getaway for families with young kids.

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Having fun in the water room of the Discovery Children’s Museum.

4. SAN FRANCISCO

Emily from Henry and Andrew’s Guide shares why San Francisco makes the perfect family getaway!

If you can think of a family-friendly activity, you can do it in San Francisco! There are too many activities to list one by one, so here are the top 10 reasons why SF is great for families.  In San Francisco families can:

  1. Visit one of over 50 museums (including super cool Instagrammable pop-up ones).
  2. Go on endless hikes (we are covered in National and State parks).
  3. Go to the beach (foggy or sunny, with amazing views).
  4. Watch professional and college sports (baseball, football, soccer, basketball, hockey).
  5. Visit family-friendly wineries in every direction, any season.
  6. Ride cable cars, trains, buses, bikes, peddle boats, GoCars and Segways.
  7. Play at one of over 100 playgrounds in the city.
  8. See, feed and touch all types of animals (bison, zoo animals, sea lions, ducks, and reindeer in the winter!)
  9. Watch one of many kid-friendly shows at the theater.
  10. Go on a boat ride to nearby islands and towns, like Alcatraz, Angel Island, Sausalito and Tiburon.
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Checking out all the colors at the Museum of Ice Cream, a pop-up museum currently in the city.
 

 5. St. Louis

Gretchen from Boxy Colonial on the Road shares why St. Louis will make the perfect family destination.

We had heard that St. Louis was a great family vacation city with tons of kid-friendly stuff to do, but we didn’t quite understand the extent of it until we went there ourselves for a spring break trip awhile back. Most famously, you can take a tram to the top of the 630 foot Gateway Arch for some great views of the city and the Mississippi River. The City Museum is an amazing and nearly indescribable playground for kids and adults, complete with a system of caves to explore, a ferris wheel on the roof, and a ten story slide!

St. Louis is also packed full of totally free attractions, making it a perfect destination for families with a tight travel budget. In Forest Park, a city park larger than Central Park in New York, you’ll find a world class zoo with our all time favorite penguin exhibit, a great science museum and planetarium, and history and art museums–all with free admission! If you don’t get your fill of free animal gawking at the zoo, you can ride a tram, watch animal shows, and feed baby goats at the Anheuser Busch owned Grant’s Farm (there’s even free beer for the adults).

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Penguin at the zoo in Forest Park.

 6. Washington D.C.

Ruth from Have Kiddos Will Travel shares some kid-friendly tips for DC.

Washington, DC is one of our family’s go to road trip destinations. Believe it or not, it is an affordable, educational travel option for those traveling with children. The variety of free museums, monuments, zoos and memorials makes it so that our family visits on an annual basis.

– Explore the National Mall, monuments and memorials at night. Trust me, there is nothing like walking around the Lincoln Memorial with a view of the Reflecting Pool and the Capitol at night.

– Get up early and go see the pandas at the National Zoo. Morning time is when the animals are the most active and your kids will thank you for the opportunity to see these amazing animals interacting with each other and their environment.

– Visit Arlington National Cemetery.

– Explore Chinatown.

– Explore Washington’s Mount Vernon and teach your kids the history of the slaves that played a role in the foundation of our country.

– DC Ducks: The DC Ducks land and water tour is a wonderful way to see the Washington, DC sights with children. The DC Ducks allows for a fun, interactive and restful way to enjoy all that DC has to offer. This tour allows you to view the monuments and the Pentagon from the Potomac River which provides a unique perspective to the capital city.

– Visit the NMAAHC. Check out my blog for more detail on obtaining tickets to this must-see DC Museum.

Junior Ranger Program: This educational program for children is a wonderful way to help children make connections to the history, key figures and educational opportunities offered in our Nation’s Capital.

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Exploring the National Mall.

 7. Miami

“Miami is the land of sun and fun with plenty of diverse places to visit,” said Stehli Krause from Mommy and Kid Travel.

South Beach, Calle Ocho, Miami Metro Zoo, and Miami Children’s Museum? All awesome and kid-friendly, but touristy and crowded. Check out these gems instead:

Catch a Miami Marlins baseball game at Marlins Park. The team does not draw huge crowds, meaning great deals at this fan-friendly stadium! Enjoy watching the “marlin” jump in the outfield when a homerun is slugged.

Animal lovers must check out Safari Edventure. Its natural setting in the Redland’s allows for an authentic animal experience.   Don’t miss the “hands-on” animal show. It’s truly memorable!

Pinecrest Gardens is a beautifully shaded tropical garden with great walking paths set alongside turtle and fish ponds. Pack a picnic and enjoy the splash park, petting zoo, and top-notch playground. Alert: great spot for Instagram photos! 

The Wynwood area will appeal to your inner-artist! Abstract painted walls blanket the area, dotted with trendy restaurants, bars and shops. Kids love treats, so check out the Salty Donut and Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop.

These hidden treasures will provide hours of fun in Miami – The Magic City!

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Safari Edventure

8. Phoenix

Melissa from The Family Voyage tells us why Phoenix is a great destination with kids.  Follow Melissa and her family as they spend a year traveling the world with their two young kids, visiting over a dozen countries on five continents.

Phoenix may not be on the top of anyone’s “kid friendly” radar, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find so many great activities for kids in Scottsdale and Phoenix. Every time we visit, we find new and different things to do (and of course we sometimes re-visit old favorites). We love that so much of what the area has to offer integrates the local landscape or indigenous culture, including gems like the Heard Museum and Taliesin West.

I’ve been visiting the area almost annually since I was a teenager, and my favorite (apart from the hottest week in August) is always Desert Botanical Garden. One of our fondest travel memories is of taking our son there at age 2 and going “Chihuly hunting”, seeking out the unique glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly that were scattered through the gardens for the incredible exhibition in 2013. You can even see a few remaining pieces today!

I would be earning my keep as a family travel blogger if I didn’t throw in a plug for my son’s favorite restaurant, La Santisima… or simply “gourmet taco shop” to him. As Jacob would say, “don’t miss it!”

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Melissa and her family at Desert Botanical Garden

9. Baltimore

Tracey from Pack the PJs tells us why Baltimore makes a great family destination.

Baltimore is one of the lesser known tourist US cities but it has huge promise for visiting families. By staying in the Inner Harbor area there are a huge number of things for kids to do. Baltimore is a hub for maritime history, with the ‘Historic Ships in Baltimore’ consisting of four ships USS Constellation (a tall ship), USS Torsk (a submarine), USCG Lightship Chesapeake and the USCGC Taney (coast guard cutter) – you can walk through all of these and the children love it.

The world-famous US National Aquarium is an absolute ‘must-do’ with children too – they’ll love the dolphins. Other attractions good for families are the Maryland Science Center (also Inner Harbor area), Fort McHenry – home of the Star-Spangled Banner (catch the free ‘Banner Route’ bus), the B&O Railroad museum (very good provisions for young children) and the Babe Ruth museum (a must for those interested in baseball).

All-in-all Baltimore can provide some great attractions that kids will love, as well as some great coffee shops and restaurants (try the crab cakes!), free buses and for baseball lovers there’s the Baltimore Orioles.

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View across Inner Harbor
Do you have a favorite US city you’ve taken your kids to? Tell us about it in the comments!

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19 comments

  1. I don’t have kids but have travelled to many cities in this list. I’d love to visit St Louis and Baltimore as they look interesting. Those penguins in Forest Park are so sweet; would love to see them!

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  2. Such a fun post! We’ll be visiting NYC and DC next summer….now I want to put Baltimore on the list, too–we love a good railroad museum!

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  3. Great post! My sister has young kids and always complains about traveling with them so this was fun to read. I especially like that you included SF and NYC because she thinks those would be the worst to travel in with kids. You have great points so I am going to send this on to her to read! Thanks for sharing

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  4. I never thought Las Vegas can be considered a family friendly holiday spot where kids can be taken. It is good to know there is a three storey children’s museum in Vegas with engaging exhibits! Okay I may have shrieked a bit watching the kid holding a crocodile in Miami’s Safari Edventure!

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  5. I don’t have kids. But I have traveled with the kids of my friends. I understand that when traveling with kids, the destinations should be chosen carefully. The places you have listed are nice. I might go with Miami as its appeals to both kids and adults.

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  6. Great destination ideas on here! We don’t have kids yet, but hope to keep them traveling once we do. 🙂 All of those cities are fabulous with any group, as far as I’m concerned. Love the photo of your little guy on the Centennial Wheel in Chicago–such a cutie!

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  7. great post! I don’t have kids but such an interesting read. Traveling with kids can be an overwhelming experience, but when planned right and the right attitude you can make it work 🙂 I’ll definitely pass this list to my brother. Thank you for sharing! All best, Mariella.

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  8. thanks for hosting! Ive been to most of these, but cant wait to take my kids. I went on a girlfriends trip to Baltimore last year and its such a great city because its small, but there is lots to do. Hope to bring my kids there for a weekend away!

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  9. This is a great list of family-friendly destinations! Traveling with kids can be an overwhelming experience, but when planned right and the right attitude you can make it work. Such a helpful guide!

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  10. A very comprehensive list for all the parents planning a holiday with the kids within the USA. I never though Las Vegas can be considered a destination for little kids but looking at the activities there, it certainly seems to be a great choice. All the places mentioned are perfect for a fun-filled family vacation.

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