Brimming with some of the best family vacation spots in the U.S., the East Coast is a great choice for family trips built around kid-friendly activities, outdoor attractions and the natural splendor of mountains and coastline. Whether you’re coming from near or far, the East Coast has something to offer everyone in the family.
For history buffs, baseball fans and everyone in between, here are the top East Coast vacation spots you can enjoy any time of year.
► Fly anywhere: The best flight booking sites for cheap airfares
The Adirondacks, New York
A region of towering mountains, old-growth forest and pristine lakes under five hours from New York City or Boston, the Adirondacks is a four-season destination for families.
The summer months were built for fishing, swimming, biking, hiking and paddling. In winter, snowshoeing, downhill skiing and ice skating on frozen lakes (or on Olympic ice in Lake Placid) take center stage. Fall is a family favorite thanks to a spectacular display of crimson, amber and orange leaves igniting the landscape. Spring brings beautiful blooms to meadows of wildflowers.
Small towns like Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Bolton Landing dot the region. There’s a yesteryear quality to these resort areas, with lakefront dining and old-fashioned mom-and-pop shops around every corner. In Tupper Lake, The Wild Center connects guests to the Adirondacks in a thoughtful way with multimedia exhibits and 31 acres of marked trails, plus a network of treetop bridges called the Wild Walk that’s a hit with kids and parents alike.
For families, it doesn’t get any better than Saranac Waterfront Lodge in scenic Lake Saranac. Situated right on the water, this kid-friendly hotel is centrally located for activities like hiking (easy to moderate trails abound), biking (rentals are available on site) and water sports including fishing, kayaking and chartered boat rides (boats depart from the hotel’s private dock). Dine inside or al fresco at the lodge’s in-house restaurant, the Boathouse, then take a s’mores pack outside to roast marshmallows at one of the many fire pits for guests.
With historic attractions, interactive museums and ample green space, Boston is catnip for any family seeking a vacation with an urban feel. Compact and walkable, the city is easy to explore without a car, yet close enough to all corners of the region to serve as a launching point for other New England getaways, seaside villages and fall foliage vacations.
► Hotel deals: The best hotel booking sites for cheap prices
There are hundreds of interactive exhibits at the Museum of Science and thousands of marine animals at the New England Aquarium. The Boston Children’s Museum is a great place for hands-on discovery and play. For fresh-air fun, ride a swan boat at the Boston Public Garden in warmer weather or go for a spin on the ice at the Frog Pond on Boston Common in winter.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Unplug from the 21st century with a family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, the largest living history museum in the United States. Roam cobblestone streets filled with horse-drawn carriages while surrounded by well-preserved 18th-century buildings that capture the spirit of the times.
► Family trips: The best vacation rental sites for families
Kids love meeting the authentically costumed re-enactors as they go about daily chores, demonstrating crafts such as bookbinding, blacksmithing, wig-making, open-hearth cooking and more. Questions are encouraged. For foodie families, historic taverns serve menus inspired by Colonial-era recipes.
The Poconos, Pennsylvania
Situated in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, the Poconos feels like a remote vacation spot, yet it’s only a two-hour drive from both New York City and Philadelphia. Natural beauty and a wealth of outdoor activities have made these mountains a time-tested panacea for the hectic pace of urban life.
► Driving distance: Where to go for a kid-friendly Mid-Atlantic getaway
In summer, hiking, fishing, swimming and boating are popular pastimes. In winter, there’s downhill skiing at Camelback, Shawnee and Jack Frost, as well as opportunities to snowshoe and ice skate on frozen lakes. Spring brings high waters on the Delaware River for paddling a canoe or kayak. Late in the year, fall vacation ideas abound when apple picking, pumpkin patches and vibrant foliage weave a patchwork of color. And if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there are numerous indoor water parks, such as Kalahari and Aquatopia.
Cooperstown, New York
While Cooperstown is best known as the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, this all-American village on the shores of pretty Otsego Lake is so much more than just a shrine to America’s favorite pastime.
► Together time: The best vacation spots for couples
With costumed guides demonstrating venerable traditions, Cooperstown’s Farmers’ Museum offers a window into rural 19th-century life. The Fenimore Art Museum is another worthy stop. Built on the grounds of James Fenimore Cooper’s former estate, the approach here is please-touch and family-focused.
Our nation’s capital is on the bucket list of many families. You’ll find some of the most famous museums and monuments in the U.S. here and many of them (like the Smithsonian museums) don’t cost a dime to visit. From watching the pandas romp at the National Zoo to listening to the rhythmic beat of drums at the Sunday Drum Circle at Meridian Hill Park (also called Malcolm X Park in honor of the famed activist), free options abound.
► Kid-friendly hotels: The best family resorts and hotels in the U.S.
Don’t skip the sparkling Hope Diamond at the National Museum of Natural History, Dorothy’s ruby slippers at the National Museum of American History and the life-size tipi at the National Museum of the American Indian. The absorbing collection at the National Museum of African American History and Culture is another must-see.
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia
The scenic Shenandoah Valley has many family attractions. It’s home to Shenandoah National Park, a natural wonderland with miles of hiking trails, wildlife and stunning views along the 105-mile, two-lane Skyline Drive that’s widely considered one of the best family road trip ideas in the entire country.
► Movies under the stars: The best projector screens and DIY tips for outdoor movie nights
For some serious subterranean fun, head down into one of the valley’s numerous caverns filled with otherworldly stalagmites. Shenandoah Caverns is the only Virginia cavern with an elevator, allowing for an easy descent for families with travel strollers in tow.
Clearwater Beach, Florida
At Clearwater Beach, the sand is as soft as a cloud and the Gulf waters as deep a shade of blue as you’ll find anywhere on the East Coast. The old-fashioned pier and palm-lined Beach Walk promenade beg for a breezy stroll, too.
► Florida vacations: 19 cheap theme park hotels that come with magical perks
After some quality beach time, shake off the sand and explore the community’s other attractions. Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a working marine hospital that rehabilitates rescued animals from sickness or injury. Animals who cannot be released remain for visitors to enjoy.
Active families should head to the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, a multi-use paved urban trail linking parks, coastal landscapes and residential areas. The 38-mile trail spans St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs and cuts right through Clearwater.
More from FamilyVacationist: