5 Surprising Destinations for Family Travel

It’s no secret that traveling with children has some limitations. (Who’s signing up for zip lining or a wine tour with young kids in tow?) But that doesn’t mean you have to feel constrained to focusing on mouse ears and a top 10 amusement parks list. Check out these top destinations and it just might surprise you how great these spots are for families.

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Wingaersheek Beach - Massachusetts

Wingaersheek Beach - Massachusetts

Wingaersheek (pronounced Wing-er-sheek) Beach near Gloucester, Massachusetts, is great for families because the sea here is like one giant bathtub. The ocean at Wingaersheek is largely protected by the Ipswitch peninsula, so it's usually calm and warm, creating perfect swimming conditions for the little ones. At low tide, sand flats seem to stretch forever (or at least to the Annisquam River). 960 1280

Garry Black / Getty Images  

Wingaersheek Beach - Massachusetts

Wingaersheek Beach - Massachusetts

Another benefit: glorious tide pools, which are perfect places for inquisitive tykes to get up-close-and-personal with snails, hermit crabs, sea stars and other critters. Perhaps the only downside to this natural treasure is parking; since beach access is smack in the middle of a residential area, daily fees can be steep. 960 1280

Garry Black / Getty Images  

Bean Hollow State Beach - California

Bean Hollow State Beach - California

Pocket beaches are plentiful along the San Mateo County Coast south of San Francisco, but Bean Hollow offers something different: privacy. Bookended by wind- and water-carved bluffs, the beach has a number of natural nooks and crannies that are perfect for family picnics--and Frisbee, book-reading or some serious sunbathing. 960 1280

A K Potts Photography / Getty Images  

Bean Hollow State Beach - California

Bean Hollow State Beach - California

There's also a self-guided nature trail that winds atop the bluffs, offering a great vantage point from which to see passing grey whales (in the winter and spring). Three miles up the road, in the sleepy town of Pescadero, be sure to bring the family on a tour of Harley Farms Goat Dairy, where kids can feed, pet and even milk a bunch of alpine goats. 960 1280

Mark Miller Photos / Getty Images  

Robert Moses State Park - New York

Robert Moses State Park - New York

When most New Yorkers seek ocean waves, they flock to Jones Beach, one of the oldest and most famous stretches of shore on the Eastern Seaboard. Farther east along the Fire Island National Seashore, however, is another beach that sees far less tourist traffic: Robert Moses State Park. Kids will love wake-boarding and wave-jumping in the lively surf; parents will appreciate that the beach isn't crawling with humans. 960 1280

Stephen O'Byrne / Getty Images  

Robert Moses State Park - New York

Robert Moses State Park - New York

Toward the eastern end of the beach, past Field 5, the circa-1891, black-and-white ringed Fire Island Lighthouse, is a living window into the past, offering tours and historical photos of yesteryear. Be warned: just beyond the lighthouse is a nude beach. 960 1280

rickberk / Getty Images  

Kure Beach - North Carolina

Kure Beach - North Carolina

This tiny seaside community sits at the southern tip of North Carolina's Pleasure Island--a strip of barrier beaches that front the Atlantic--and while some of its northern neighbors are teeming with tourists in the summer, Kure remains fairly empty. That's good news for vacationing families, who usually have most of the town's attractions to themselves. 960 1280

Gary Tognoni / Getty Images  

Kure Beach - North Carolina

Kure Beach - North Carolina

On the list of must-sees: the fishing pier, which is the oldest on the Atlantic Coast; and the North Carolina Underwater Archaeology Center, which spotlights shipwrecks and dive sites nearby. The ocean beaches are breathtaking; for a more off-beat experience, hike the trail at sound-side Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and look for native plants and animals along the way. 960 1280

Gary Tognoni / Getty Images  

Ebey's Landing - Washington

Ebey's Landing - Washington

Technically speaking, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve contains 17,500 acres, 18 farms, 400 historical structures, two state parks and the second-oldest town in the state of Washington (Coupeville). We, however, love its beach best. On a clear day, the rocky, driftwood-strewn shoreline serves up too-amazing-to-believe views of the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier off in the distance. 960 1280

Randall J Hodges / Getty Images  

Ebey's Landing - Washington

Ebey's Landing - Washington

A three-mile bluff trail provides even more perspective on these sites, and some good (read: protected from the elements) picnic spots for the family to spend an hour. For children who appreciate wildlife, nearby saltwater lagoons and wetland marshes are teeming with birds; with the right pair of binoculars, it's like going to the zoo, only free. 960 1280

nik wheeler / Getty Images  

Spend a Week at a Dude Ranch

Spend a Week at a Dude Ranch

Ride horses, dine under the stars at chuck wagon dinners and learn the basics of horse care during a week-long stay at a dude ranch. It’s a must for any kids’ bucket list. Elk Mountain Ranch in Colorado offers so much for families ranging from daily trail rides and cookouts to fishing trips and a kids’ rodeo at the end of the week. The Hideout in Wyoming boasts trail riding, cattle drives and riding lessons for all levels. Beyond horses, look for photo workshops, dino digs, canoeing and daily rodeos in the summer.  960 1280

Jeff Vanuga  

Set Sail on a Caribbean Cruise

Set Sail on a Caribbean Cruise

Kids love cruises. There’s so much to do on-board and at each port, making a Caribbean cruise a must for any child’s bucket list. Book a sail on the new Carnival Vista, the largest of their ships, which boasts a ropes course, mini golf and several waterslides. Or, try the Disney Wonder, recently updated with AquaDunk, a new water slide, and Marvel Avenger’s Academy, a part of the Oceaneer Club for kids. Disembark at each port for horseback riding, kayaking and fun explorations. 960 1280

jcarillet  

Take a Family Ski Vacation

Take a Family Ski Vacation

There are many amazing ski resorts across the country, making a ski vacation a must for any bucket list. Hit the slopes, but save time for snowcat rides, snowmobiling, fat biking and snow tubing. Colorado is already getting loads of snow and Keystone is a great ski destination for families. Camp Keystone boasts a world-class ski school, a massive snow fort and ice skating. On the East Coast, try Seven Springs in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, which has lots of snow, great skiing, sleigh rides and snowshoe tours.  960 1280

SolStock  

Build Rockets at Space Camp

Build Rockets at Space Camp

What kid doesn’t dream of going to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama? For an out-of-this-world experience, look for three- and four-day family camps where kids can train like astronauts, launch simulated missions and learn all about space exploration. Kids as young as fourth grade can go on their own to a six-day Space Camp where they build model rockets, learn what it’s like to live on board the International Space Station, even train like a real-life astronaut on the 1/6th Gravity Chair and Multi-Axis Trainer. 960 1280

Richard T. Nowitz  

Go Camping in a National Park

Go Camping in a National Park

Every child should go tent camping under the stars at least once. All the better if you can score a campsite inside one of our iconic national parks, like Grand Canyon or Yosemite. Many take online reservations – the most popular sites book up months in advance – though some do have first-come, first-served campgrounds, which can fill up by noon each day. Not ready for camping? Rent an RV from Apollo, which has pick-up locations within an easy drive of many major parks.  960 1280

Ferran Traité Soler  

Go on a Rafting Adventure

Go on a Rafting Adventure

Whether an easy float or a more adventurous rafting ride, there’s something for everyone when you’re looking to get out on the water as a family. Adventures on the Gorge in West Virginia offers rafting adventures for children as young as six. As a bonus, look for treetop canopy tours, ziplines, fishing, hiking and rock climbing. Or, go west for a half-day rafting adventure in Arizona with Colorado River Discovery, which books rafting trips along the Colorado River.  960 1280

apelletr  

Experience the Holidays in New York City

Experience the Holidays in New York City

It’s hard to get more magical and bucket list-worthy than visiting New York City during the winter holidays. Take selfies in front of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, then walk along Fifth Avenue to see the holiday window displays at each of the department stores. Get tickets to the Christmas Spectacular, featuring the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall (kids will be wowed by the living nativity), then warm up on board The Ride, which is far from your typical sightseeing tour of New York City.  960 1280

Rudi Von Briel  

Mush a Team of Dogs on a Dog Sledding Trip

Mush a Team of Dogs on a Dog Sledding Trip

Mush your own team of dogs or ride in the sled at Nature’s Kennel in McMillan, Michigan. Kids as young as 10 can drive their own team of sled dogs as part of a 10- or 20-mile sledding trip into the snowy forest. Even better, book an overnight adventure and kids can help feed and care for the sled dogs. Another idea is Arctic Paws Dog Sled Tours, which runs sled dogs in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.  960 1280

Hero Images  

Embrace the Magic of Walt Disney World

Embrace the Magic of Walt Disney World

No bucket list for kids would be complete without a visit to “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Pick up park-hopper passes and take the kids to each of the four parks at Walt Disney World, including Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, as well as Disney Springs, which boasts a variety of new restaurant concepts. Stay on-property to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours so you can arrive early or stay late at a different park each day. 960 1280

Blaine Harrington III  

Catch a Wave at Surf School

Catch a Wave at Surf School

Kids will love learning how to catch the waves and ride them onto the beach at the five-night Endless Surf Camp in San Clemente, CA. There are even day camps available to kids ages 10 and up that are good for both surfing newbies and those who want to up their skills. You'll also find incredible surf schools for kids in beach locales, like Huntington Beach and Hawaii. Or, head to the east coast of Florida for Ron Jon Surf School in Cocoa Beach. Hang ten! 960 1280

ferrantraite  

Kentucky State Fair

Kentucky State Fair

The Bluegrass State's big-name concerts -- including Rascal Flatts, Journey and Hank Williams Jr. -- and serious horse shows draw over 600,000 visitors to the state fair in Louisville each year. 960 1280

Kentucky State Fair  

California State Fair

California State Fair

California's State Fair in Sacramento earns the nickname "Big Fun" with a petting zoo and water park for kids, as well as live thoroughbred racing and a brewfest for adults. 960 1280

California State Fair  

Oregon State Fair

Oregon State Fair

The Oregon State Fair's biggest attractions in Salem include the Hart of the Garden made up of over 8,000 flowers and the Fairlift which gives visitors a bird's-eye-view as it travels from one end of the fairgrounds to the other. 960 1280

Oregon State Fair  

State Fair of Texas

State Fair of Texas

It's true that everything's bigger in Texas, including its state fair in Dallas which draws over 3 million people annually to see the 52-foot-tall mascot Big Tex and eat an astonishing array of fried foods. 960 1280

Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas  

Arizona State Fair

Arizona State Fair

With over 75 rides, 100 food booths, a stellar concert lineup and warm weather, it's easy to see why the Arizona State Fair draws over 1 million visitors to Phoenix in October and November. 960 1280

Jillian Danielson  

Ohio State Fair

Ohio State Fair

In addition to agriculture, the Ohio State Fair in Columbus is heavy on entertainment where you can hear the likes of Gavin DeGraw, Jason Aldean or see a new star born during Ohio Idol. 960 1280

Ohio State Fair  

Puyallup Fair

Puyallup Fair

Don't let the name fool you, this is Washington's largest fair which draws 1.3 million visitors to Puyallup each year for rides, rodeo and the new Rainforest Adventure, where kids get the chance to experience an authentic tropical rainforest atmosphere in a lush exhibit complete with toucans, anacondas, snapping turtles, and more. 960 1280

anaxila, flickr  

Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair

Like most fairs, one of the biggest draws to the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights is the live music at the Grandstand. The second-biggest state fair in the country (second only to Texas which runs twice as long) offers entertainment that ranges from country music legend Alan Jackson to stock car races to the ever-popular live broadcast of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion. 960 1280

Minnesota State Fair  

Iowa State Fair

Iowa State Fair

Iowa State Fair's slogan is "nothing compares," and it's true nothing compares to the life-size, 600-pound butter cow on display for the more than a million fairgoers in Des Moines each year. It also one-ups a fair staple: Food on-a-stick, offering over 50 types including the deep-fried cupcake and hot bologna on a stick. 960 1280

Iowa State Fair  

Wisconsin State Fair

Wisconsin State Fair

Held just outside Milwaukee in West Allis, otherwise known as America's Dairyland, it's no surprise the biggest attraction at the Wisconsin State Fair is the cream puffs -- betcha can't eat just one. 960 1280

Wisconsin State Fair Park  

The Big E Fair

The Big E Fair

Even though it’s located in Springfield, Massachusetts, The Big E Fair is actually New England's regional fair. Despite not technically qualifying as a state fair, any fair where you can try Maine lobster and baked potatoes as well as Vermont's maple syrup and Ben and Jerry's ice cream easily makes this list. 960 1280

TheBigE_ESE, flickr  

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