Sure, ’tis the season for twinkle lights and gingerbread lattes and finally having places to wear sequins. But if you’re a parent, ’tis also the season for FFF—forced family fun. The festivities typically kick off with apple picking, which always seems like outdoorsy hands-on fun, until you’re waiting in line for a scorching-hot hayride, and then in another line to spend $75 on apples you’re not sure you actually want. This fall outing is often followed by a foliage-laced or beachy family photo session, holiday cards being the one time a year your people look somewhat pulled-together (appear being the key word, since it’s all a carefully styled and cropped illusion fueled by bribery and/or veiled threats). The wood stove gets lit, family-friendly board games get dusted off (here are the best ones for multi-generational fun LINK TO OTHER STORY TK), classic holiday movies are watched—if everyone can get off social media for long enough. As the calendar creeps toward Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, the pressure is really on to get off the couch, do fun things as a family and bank some collective core memories.
The thing is, when you have toddlers, teens, in-betweens, or (bless your heart) all of the above, it can be a challenge to find family activities that please your whole crew and also live up to the season’s high bar for festiveness. To help a mama out—our holiday gift to you!—we’ve rounded up a dozen family-friendly activities that grownups and kids of all ages will not only participate in but actually enjoy, no bribery required.
Go on a holiday-lights driving tour.
Sure, you glimpse your town’s holiday lights while driving carpools and running errands, but there’s something so magical about an intentional holiday-lights tour, where you cram everyone in the car and seek out the best displays in the area—you could even intentionally leave your phones at home. Many cities/towns have certain neighborhoods and blocks that are famous for over-the-top twinkle; grab some hot chocolate at a drive-thru and hit yours up with the fam some Saturday evening in December. Bonus points if you make holiday cookies to bring. Another fun thing to keep in mind: Botanical gardens and zoos often have spectacular lights displays and interactive exhibits for the holidays, too.
Make a holiday movie checklist.
Use a big chalkboard or whiteboard to make a holiday-movie bucket list featuring multi-generational favorites; ask extended family members of all ages to weigh in. Then set aside a few hours a week to start checking them off. Offer up popcorn with fun toppings, and your customers of all ages will show up. Use an air popper, and you can string popcorn garlands while you watch—weirdly satisfying no matter what age you are. Another idea for family-friendly movie concessions: Set up a hot cocoa bar in the kitchen, complete with flavor drizzles, peppermint spoons and a super-fun marshmallow shaker.
Do some intense family bonding in an escape room.
Escape rooms are the new trampoline park when it comes to family fun—you definitely have one in a downtown or strip mall near you. Don’t be fooled into thinking they’re too scary, or only for the older crowd; even spooky-themed escape rooms are usually totally family-friendly, and the get-us-out-of-here mission is a perfect way to encourage communication, collaboration and critical thinking among adults and kids of all ages.
Dive back into your local aquarium.
It’s easy to forget about aquariums when you don’t have little kids, but that’s crazy, because obviously we never get too old to thoroughly enjoy sea lions and penguins. In fact, your teenager might be even more obsessed now than she was at age 8. Zoos do the trick, too (especially ones with a photo-friendly carousel)—browse this list of the 10 best zoos in the U.S., so you can rediscover a local treasure or plot out a holiday road trip.
Spend a day at a snow tubing park.
If not everyone in your gang can ski, you can still enjoy the family fun that comes with heading to the slopes. Look up a snow tubing park near you; it’s like sledding only with less uphill walking and more downhill thrills (yet from a seated position that’s safer for the littles and the olds). Or, up your local snow-day game with really awesome sleds.
Scope out a planetarium.
If the animal-centric offerings near you don’t work, a planetarium is another attraction that’s ideal for multi-generational family fun; combine a show with dinner at a nearby fun restaurant. Many universities have planetariums or observatories open to the public.
Host an ugly-sweater party.
Let your kids invite some friends so they’ll be excited to shop and participate (teens won’t pass up the invitation to go thrift-store treasure hunting). Blind ballots can determine which ugly holiday sweater is the ugliest of them all.
Plan a road trip to your nearest national park.
You’re always saying you want to see more of the U.S., so instead of getting bogged down by the usual holiday obligations, use some of that school/work vacation time to plan a getaway to a national park. Did you know there are actually 63 national parks? That means most people in our country aren’t too far from one. Start your planning with this guide to the 17 best national parks in the U.S. Then start planning the more challenging part: your family-friendly road trip playlist (you can always cheat and use the pre-fab Spotify one).
Have a holiday mani-pedi party.
The more generations and genders involved, the more fun: Set up a bunch of frosty, glittery and red/green nail polishes and let everyone express themselves, then snap a bunch of family pics—instant classics.
Go biking together, for a change.
Even if you clock endless miles on your Peloton, getting on a real outside bike with various family members can present so many challenges that it’s easier to just skip it. Yet there’s no better way to get a new perspective on your area, plus the benefit of fresh air, family fun and exercise—especially reinvigorating during the indoorsy, junk food-stuffed holiday season. If you live or will be visiting somewhere non-freezing over the holidays, there’s your motivation to go over the river and through the woods on a family bike trip, during which your tweenager will have no choice but to put away her phone. Remember to keep things family-friendly by mapping your route around stops for special treats. In many areas, you can book guided tours where the bikes and gear and planning are all taken care of for you.
Find an indoor water park near you.
Scientific fact: It’s physically impossible to maintain toddler tantrums, spousal sulking or surly adolescent attitude while going down a waterslide. Sneaking in some of this time-tested family fun during the winter could be just the thing to keep you all going til spring, especially if you live in a colder climate.
Schedule an extended-family mega Zoom.
If you’re beyond over video chats, that’s totally understandable, but they can be so much fun when your entire wacky family hops on at once. Start a new tradition where everyone from your 81-year-old Pop-Pop to cousins away at college dial in on a given night and either just catch up or play virtual bingo, with everyone printing their own cards via a virtual Bingo card generator.
More family fun:
Petra Guglielmetti is a health, wellness, and beauty journalist who taps into a broad network of doctors, scientists, and medical experts to write in-depth service articles for leading publications like Glamour, Health, Real Simple, and Parents.
Originally Appeared on Glamour