Whether you’ve got something to celebrate or the grandparents are paying (wink, wink), these vacation destinations around the country have something for travelers both young and old.
If there’s one thing that can wow all generations, it’s space travel. Your mission: Spend a day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where kids can touch a real piece of the moon, hold rocket-building materials, and crawl through a replica space station. The grandparents will also want to take a #humblebrag pic of everyone next to the Atlantis Space Shuttle, ride the launchpad bus tour, and even treat your whole crew to a meal with an astronaut. And, yes, rockets still blast off from here about once a month. (Check the launch schedule at kennedyspacecenter.com to see if your travel dates match up.)
Once you’ve had your space journey, your fam can move on to beach walks and lunch at the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier, or take a guided kayak tour at the Brevard Zoo (you can paddle right through the water exhibits!). Stay at a local Airbnb or book a four-bedroom suite at the just-renovated Westgate Cocoa Beach Resort, which will wow your swimmers with an on-site water park.
Drop your bags in a condo rental (they’re plentiful), then head out to explore the oldest city in the U.S. The area pleases both history-loving grandparents and fun-obsessed kiddos with a focus on pirates. Explore the Castillo de San Marcos fort that was constructed to ward off foes, and check out the old city gates built to protect local residents from invasion.
There’s also the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, where guides will entertain the grandparents with area trivia while kids get to fire a cannon, steer a replica ship on the main deck, and grab a treasure map to help them find hidden artifacts throughout the exhibits.
Head out to the water’s edge at low tide with your buckets in hand to search for this area’s biggest draw: shells! Hundreds of species of ocean treasures wash up daily on the island’s curving stretch of beaches along the Gulf. (Learn more about where they come from and how to find the most-coveted ones with an all-ages Discover Shelling tour at the Sanibel Sea School.)
If you have a bird-watcher in your group (shout-out to Gramps), the 6,400-acre J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge should be your next stop. Hike the easy Indigo Trail and go to the Wildlife Education Boardwalk, where kids can mix and match animal markings or help the adults spot wading fowl and shorebirds from the observation deck. Stay beachside in one of the Island Inn’s just-renovated cottages, which sleep six to 12 guests.
“We love the cottages because there’s plenty of room for downtime and family gatherings,” says Courtney Whitt, of Bellbrook, Ohio, who visits every year with a big crew of kids, siblings, and grandparents. “We enjoy spending loads of time cooking out, swimming, kayaking, shelling, and having nightly competitive Uno tournaments.” (Yup, those cottages are stocked with everything you need for all that.)
This laid-back, classic beach town just south of Daytona is great for a family that wants to hang out together on the sand. But it’s also cool and different: You can rent fat-tire bikes and go riding by the breakers or visit JB’s Fish Camp Seafood Restaurant for blue crab and fry baskets while you spot dolphins and manatees right from your table.
Grandparents can also get a little of their own R&R with a visit to the Atlantic Center of the Arts or a stroll around downtown galleries. Book two connecting suites (one for you, one for the grandparents) at the new Springhill Suites by Marriott. Your extended fam will score super-affordable oceanfront digs and free buffet breakfast.
There is just something about pretending you’re in another era while you stroll past cobblestone streets, horsedrawn carriages, and costumed interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg that’s enthralling for kids, parents, and grandparents alike.
“This was one of the best trips we’ve done,” raves mom Lyla Gleason, of New York City, who recently visited there with her daughter, husband, and mother-in-law. “History is a great way for kids to bond with adults. There were so many fun activities, like visiting with the blacksmith and watching the Fife and Drum march.”
Just as important as the history (at least if you ask the kids) is visiting Busch Gardens theme park. “Grandma took a day to explore Colonial Williamsburg on her own when we went there,” adds Gleason. After long days on your feet, head back to Kingsmill Resort, which offers affordable three-bedroom suites with a full kitchen.
Drive over the causeway or take a ferry to Mustang Island and head to a pastel-hued rental home in the oceanfront Cinnamon Shore enclave.
“The community has everything you need right there,” says Melissa Navarro, of Belton, Texas, who visits with extended family every summer. “There are restaurants, live music, and s’mores making. Plus, you can rent golf carts or beach-cruiser bikes and be on the beach in minutes.”
But don’t expect to lounge around by the waves: Sand-castle building isn’t just for the kids. The area hosts Texas SandFest, the largest native-sand sculpture competition in the country, each April. No matter when you visit, book a private castle-making lesson from the Sandcastle Guy (sandrum.com), who will put your whole family’s building skills to the test.
This city is catching up with Nashville as Tennessee’s “It” destination, and offers multigenerational fun in spades. Have the grands cue up their favorite Elvis tunes on your way to Graceland, where your kids can climb onboard the star’s custom jet after you all tour the inside of the mansion. The Memphis Zoo is one of only four in the U.S. that has giant pandas, so you know you’re going to spend a while there.
Another good stop is the Children’s Museum of Memphis, which features indoor rock climbing and a little-kid water table. If you’re up for something really memorable, stay at the pyramid-shaped Big Cypress Lodge inside the iconic Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid. Its 103-room hotel boasts alligator ponds (a glass wall protects visitors), an ocean-themed bowling alley, and observation decks with spectacular views.
About 30 minutes from downtown Charleston, families can relax at the sprawling beachfront oasis that is Wild Dunes Resort. “
We originally wanted to go to Charleston, but Wild Dunes was the best of both worlds,” says Kristen McElhaney, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who visited with her son, husband, and parents. “It’s close enough to the city but gave us so much more space to stay as a family.”
The lodging options include hotel rooms, condos, and rental homes. There’s even a golf program; kids can tee off for free alongside grandparents.
Whales, dolphins, sea lions, oh, my! This area’s pretty scenery gives way to some epic animal encounters that will excite everyone. Head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium bright and early and spring for the before-opening Feeding Frenzy tour, where you’ll get a private sea-otter viewing and kids can even help give the animals breakfast. After the aquarium, try a whale-watching boat tour or rent a six-seater surrey bike and pedal down the coast as you look for birds and dolphins.
Stay at the InterContinental The Clement Monterey, which is right on Cannery Row, so grandparents can easily stroll to a coffee shop or gallery if they need some quiet time. And don’t forget a winery visit in nearby Carmel Valley. You have built-in babysitters, after all!
Hawaii is a bucket-list locale for every generation, and the two-story, ocean-view villas at Ho’olei at Grand Wailea Resort that sleep eight are the ultimate home base. The villas have their own pool with a waterfall rock feature (expect your little mermaid to do her best Ariel impression) as well as access to the Grand Wailea’s six pools (including one with a rope swing and another just for grown-ups).
The whole fam can take hula lessons, make leis, or rent a kayak. The grands might especially appreciate the golf or the botanical and cultural tours. Ask them to babysit at naptime so you can book one of the unique spa services, like a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage. Everyone can meet up for dinner at the villa, which has its own grill on the lanai (order groceries from Instacart).
One night, eat dinner at the oceanfront luau. You’ll be talking about its lawn games, photo ops, and hula show for years to come.
The moment you hop off the boat (no four-wheelers allowed on Mackinac!), you’ll know you’re somewhere special: All along Main Street, there are horse-drawn carriages, mom-and-pop ice-cream parlors, and fudge shops. Head over to the just-renovated Mission Point Resort.
“We adore Mission Point because there is something for everyone at any age to do,” says Adrianne Rotfeld, of Chicago, who vacations there with her daughter and grandchildren each summer. “The kids love renting bikes and hiking. I love to go to the spa, and then we all meet up for our meals.” You’ll have lots of space with connecting suites.
And for families who love to cruise?
The mind-blowing nature you’ll see takes this trip from family fun to family legend. Most cruises will last about seven days and take one of two routes: the Inside Passage or the Gulf of Alaska.
Inside Passage tours are usually roundtrip from Seattle or Vancouver and typically stop at southeastern must-sees like Juneau, Skagway, Sitka, and Ketchikan. On a one-way Gulf of Alaska trip, you’ll generally see most of the Inside Passage route but also make it far enough north to check out Anchorage. Consider your options:
For engaging kids’ activities: Princess Cruises has a partnership with the Discovery channel, which translates to great programs for children, such as spending time with sled-dog puppies onboard or stargazing from the top deck of the ship.
For land-sea combo vacations: Holland America Line offers amazing Land + Sea Journeys (think: glass-topped train rides through the wilderness to Denali and the Yukon) that grandparents might want to book.
For smaller budgets: Despite its lower price, Carnival Cruise Line includes extras, like craftspeople who teach kids about Alaskan culture and adults-only spaces with hot tubs.
For great nightly shows : Norwegian Cruise Line provides all the bells and whistles you might be used to seeing on more entertainment-focused Caribbean cruises.
For their favorite characters: Disney Cruise Line combines excellent service (you have the same waitstaff every night, for instance) with brand tie-ins like a Frozen-themed deck party (naturally).
For a more intimate feel: Lindblad Expeditions sails Alaska on small ships (the newest has only 100 guests) and has a stellar, science-based National Geographic program for kids.