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13 best family attractions in the US

Aug. 22, 2022
13 min read
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When planning vacations for my own family, I'm always looking for destinations that infuse a dose of science, nature or history into our itinerary.

At first glance, a visit to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis may appeal to my kids because they get a 630-foot-high view of the city and its teeny, tiny inhabitants. However, they can also get an education in American history and architecture.

They would no doubt "ooh" and "ahh" over seeing a real volcano eruption at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but there are also opportunities to learn about this incredibly biodiverse region of the country and the native peoples who have resided here for centuries.

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Below are 13 such family attractions that, together, make up TPG's ultimate list of U.S. spots to visit with your kids.

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Statue of Liberty

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

If you've only ever seen the Statue of Liberty from one of New York City's nearby boroughs or in a history book, it's high time you saw it up close and personal by visiting this important national monument in person.

To do that, you'll need to book a ferry tour through Statue City Cruises, which grants access to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the largest gateway for millions of immigrants who traveled to America between 1892 and 1954. Cruises leave from both Battery Park in Manhattan and Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

Related: 7 things you didn’t know you could do with little kids in New York City

Access to the top of the Statue of Liberty is currently unavailable. The highest you can climb is 10 stories (or 215 steps) to the top of the pedestal just below the statue's feet. The rest of the grounds are also open to the public, including the interactive Statue of Liberty Museum where you can view the original torch held by Lady Liberty.

National Mall

(Photo by Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The National Mall in Washington, D.C. is often referred to as "America's front yard." With 18 acres of perfectly-manicured grass spanning from the United States Capitol to the Potomac River, it's certainly one of the largest front yards in America.

Related: Off the beaten path in DC: From a historic garden to a travel-inspired restaurant

Surrounding the lawn are memorials and monuments that honor some of the most important events and influential figures in our country's history. From Martin Luther King, Jr. to World War II, each memorial and monument is as impactful as it is educational.

The National Mall is open 24 hours a day (rangers are on duty from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.) and there's no fee to visit. You can also participate in free weekly ranger-led programs or enhance your visit (and your view) by purchasing a ticket for the Washington Memorial observation deck or the Tidal Basin paddle boats.

Gateway Arch

(Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

St. Louis is known as the "Gateway to the West" and the Gateway Arch — in all its 630-foot-tall glory — was erected as a symbol of that notion.

There are various ways to experience the Gateway Arch and the surrounding area. The tram ride to the top of the arch takes visitors to an observation deck inside the arch with windows that look down on the city and the Mississippi River. Both the tram and the observation deck can feel cramped, something to keep in mind if you are not a fan of close quarters.

Related: A major league view: The pros and cons of staying in a room overlooking an MLB field

There is no fee to visit the Museum Under the Gateway Arch, though you may want to purchase a ticket to see the award-winning film "Monument to the Dream" that documents the arch's construction. The museum features interactive exhibits dedicated to St. Louis' role in our country's westward expansion and the building of the Gateway Arch.

Make it a full day by taking a scenic one-hour riverboat cruise along the banks of the Mississippi. You'll get views of the arch and the St. Louis skyline and, depending on which cruise you book, maybe even dinner and live music to go along with it.

You can purchase tram, documentary and riverboat tickets individually, but you will save by purchasing combo tickets.

Field Museum

(Photo courtesy of the Field Museum)

The Field Museum in Chicago is easily one of the world's premier natural history museums. Permanent exhibitions span nearly the entirety of the Earth's history, from Native American and Indigenous communities to ancient Egyptian artifacts and even more ancient dinosaur fossils.

Related: 11 must-do activities when visiting Chicago

Probably the most well-known of those dinosaurs is a nearly-complete, 40-foot-long T.Rex skeleton called SUE (named for Sue Hendrickson who discovered the fossil).

Families with younger kids will want to spend time in the Crown Family Playlab, an interactive play area that's fun and educational. Kids can dig for dinosaur bones, explore a pueblo home and play musical instruments from across the globe.

Peruse the exhibits online before your visit to find your favorites because there's probably more than you can see in one day. There is an on-site cafe (with a full bar, if that interests you) where you can replenish your energy mid-day before tackling the rest of the exhibits on your list.

Most exhibits are included in museum admission, but a few require a separate ticket, including 3D movies and temporary exhibits.

Grand Canyon

(Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

The Grand Canyon is a quintessential stop on any "Great American West" family adventure. It's nearly 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep, and the breadth of family-friendly activities at the Grand Canyon is nearly as large as the canyon itself.

Related: What to pack and where to stay: TPG’s ultimate Grand Canyon family vacation guide

If you have younger kids, you'll probably want to spend the majority of your time at the South Rim of the canyon. There you can explore the historic Grand Canyon Village, hike the paved Rim Trail and pick up a Junior Ranger activity book at the visitor center.

Families with older kids may choose to hike down into the canyon or reserve a mule to do the walking for you. Both are available at the North and South Rim. However, keep in mind the North Rim has fewer accommodations and is only open seasonally.

Kennedy Space Center

(Photo courtesy of the Kennedy Space Center)

The Kennedy Space Center on Florida's Space Coast is a must-do for space-obsessed kids (and adults, of course). The visitor complex is divided into six "mission zones," with each zone concentrating on various time periods in space exploration.

You can view relics from well-known NASA space missions and learn about the past, present and future of the NASA space program through interactive exhibits and simulators. If you have the flexibility to do so, time your visit around a shuttle launch or astronaut Q&A experience.

Purchase one- or two-day date-based tickets online prior to your visit.

USS Midway Museum

(Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Even if you tell your kids ahead of time that you're visiting San Diego's USS Midway Museum, we suggest leaving out the part about how the museum is actually located inside the eponymous decommissioned aircraft carrier.

Related: The 15 best things to do in San Diego

Now docked at Navy Pier in downtown San Diego, the museum comprises more than 30 restored aircraft and interactive exhibits that give kids a peek into life on board an aircraft carrier.

When you arrive, stop by the information booth to pick up a Junior Pilot activity sheet and help your kids earn their wings during your visit.

Outside the museum, you can see a 25-foot-tall statue of a World War II soldier kissing a nurse that recreates the 1945 photograph "V-J day in Times Square." Exhibits are located above and below deck.

The museum is open every day of the year except for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Dinosaur National Monument

(Photo by Taylor Reilly/Getty Images)

Dinosaur National Monument straddles the Utah/Colorado border. You can hike, raft and camp around the National Park Service site's more than 210,000 acres.

However, no visit to Dinosaur National Monument is complete without stopping at the Quarry Exhibit Hall to meet its 150,000 million-year-old residents – Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus and all of their late-Jurassic friends.

Related: Reminder: The first national park free entry day of the year is next week

Inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall, you'll find more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils (some of which you are allowed to touch) and educational exhibits. Around other parts of Dinosaur National Monument, you can also see petroglyphs and pictographs from the Fremont people who lived in the area nearly 1,000 years ago.

Mount Rushmore

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

If your kids are school-age, it's likely they've seen Mount Rushmore in one of their textbooks. Nothing compares to seeing this massive National Memorial in person, though.

Related: A great American road trip through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming

Visitors can gaze upon the 60-foot-tall faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the Black Hills of Keystone, South Dakota. Walk the paved Presidential Trail loop for the best views of the monument and, like other National Park Service sites, there is a Junior Ranger program for kids.

There's no fee to visit Mount Rushmore, but the parking fee is $10 per vehicle.

Niagara Falls

(Photo by Victoria Walker/The Points Guy)

Niagara Falls is a group of three impressive waterfalls — the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls — that straddle the border between the U.S. and Canada.

You can explore the falls from both sides of the border and much of what you can experience depends on when you plan to visit. Crowds are heaving in the summer, but all attractions, including the Maid of the Mist and Voyage to the Falls boat rides, are open for business.

If you visit during the winter, many attractions may be closed due to much of the area being caked in ice. However, you'll be treated to strikingly beautiful ice formations formed by the icy mist.

No matter what time of year you visit, the falls are illuminated by a colorful light show each evening at dusk.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

(Photo by Art Wolfe/Getty Images)

Two of the world's most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa – reside within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Of the two, Kīlauea has had the most recent active eruptions and there are areas within the park where you can view the eruption.

Related: TPG’s favorite national parks: A month-by-month guide

You can also drive around Kīlauea on the Crater Rim Drive Tour or Chain of Craters Road Tour to see craters, lava tubes and other geological wonders formed by the volcanoes. There are also a number of day hikes where you can view some of these same formations up close.

Similar to other national parks, Volcanoes National Park charges a $30 entrance fee, which is good for seven days. You can also purchase a Hawaii Tri-Park Annual Pass that costs $55. It will get you into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Haleakala National Park and Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park for one full year.

Related: 5 national parks to visit before your kids leave the house

Space Needle

(Photo by Stuart Westmorland/Getty Images)

Towering 605 feet above the Seattle skyline (just 25 feet shorter than the Gateway Arch) Seattle's Space Needle is one of the tallest observation towers in the U.S.

Related: 5 reasons why Seattle should be your fall vacation destination

The Space Needle was originally constructed for the 1962 World's Fair and is not one of Seattle's most iconic tourist spots. After a quick elevator ride to the top, you'll step out onto an outdoor observation deck surrounded by panes of slanted glass that provide a safety barrier without obstructing your view.

Back inside, you can travel down to the loupe level, which features the world's only revolving glass floor. Timed-entry tickets are available online, which will cut down on the amount of time you have to wait to get to the top when you arrive.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon

(Photo by Jenifoto/Adobe Stock)

Sequoia National Park is best known (and named for) for its giant sequoia trees. Within this rugged forest in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, you'll find some of the largest trees in the world, including the largest living tree in the world, the General Sherman Tree.

There are four lodges and a handful of campgrounds located around the park for overnight stays. The park has its own Junior Ranger program for kids. There's also a Giant Forest Museum where they can learn more about these giant redwoods and why they are so prevalent in the area.

Bottom line

Among these 13 family attractions across the U.S., you'll find opportunities to learn about our country's history, commune with nature and have some good old-fashioned fun.

Visiting these natural and human-made U.S. wonders is practically a rite of passage for kids, and certainly a family vacation they will never forget.

Featured image by Rocket Garden (Photo courtesy of Kennedy Space Center)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases