The most common question you’ll hear when traveling with kids in the USA? “When can we have a snack?”

We jest, kind of, but hungry kids may be onto something. Cool snacks – from giant turkey legs to milkshakes served upside-down – are a US specialty and indicative of the attractions you’ll find from coast to coast: innovative, exuberant and fun for the entire family. And the sense of welcome? Most facilities are ready and happy to accommodate children.

From wide beaches and soaring mountains to niche museums and immersive art experiences, there’s a destination for every kind of kid. Adventures are equally varied, with easy hikes beneath soaring redwoods, leisurely bike rides, thrilling zipline tours and stomach-dropping plunges on roller coasters. In every region of the US, you’ll find engaging activities suitable for every age group, from toddler to teen. One thing the US does particularly well? Dinosaurs.

Here's everything you need to know about visiting the USA with kids.

Three little boys take in a dinosaur skeleton at Welcome to the Natural History Museum of Utah
There's plenty to do for kids in the USA, but especially dinosaur-related fun ©RubberBall Productions/Getty Images

Is the USA good for kids?

Most major attractions keep kids in mind, and hotels and restaurants are typically adept at accommodating kids and their families. Traveling with children in the US can also bring a new dimension to your trip, allowing you to make deeper connections with locals, who typically enjoy chatting with children.

It sounds obvious, but stop by the visitor center when arriving in a new city for a list of kid-friendly attractions – most have suggestions ready. Larger museums often have programs designed for children as well as hands-on, kid-themed areas where they can create art or dress up in clothes from a different era. Children’s museums, geared to younger kids, and science museums, well-suited for older kids, are common in larger cities.

Restaurants are typically built for family-style service. Children are welcome almost everywhere, and that includes craft breweries, which often have expansive outdoor spaces. Many restaurants have a limited children’s menu, typically with smaller portions and lower prices. They often provide high chairs and booster seats, too. High-end restaurants may discourage kids at dinner time, but if you show up early you might be able to dine without causing too much stress. Keep control of youngsters in coffee shops and cafes, which can have limited space for free-range exploring.

Most public restrooms have a baby-changing table (sometimes in men’s toilets, too), and gender-neutral, or unisex, facilities are increasingly common in larger public areas like airports and major train stations. City transport systems may have steep stairways, which are not great for strollers, but most will have wheelchair-sized ticketing areas. Every state requires child seats for smaller children riding in cars, so reserve one – at an extra fee – when booking a car rental.

Domestic airlines don’t charge for children under two years. Kids two and up must have a seat, and discounts are unlikely. Amtrak, America’s national train service, offers half-price fares for children two to 12 years of age, and infants travel free.

A little boy looks out of the window of a train in Chicago, United States
With half-price fares and incredible views, kids will love traveling by train in the US © Heather Wilson / EyeEm / Getty Images

Where is best in the USA for kids?

There are 63 national parks scattered across the US. Most have daily ranger talks and kid-themed Junior Ranger programs. Along the coasts, you'll find sandy beaches with kid-friendly features that vary by region, from tidepools and boardwalks to surf camps and whale-watching tours. Epic adventures abound in the West and Southwest, with loads of opportunities for hiking, rafting, cycling and camping, typically in beautiful places. History, culture and hiking are top draws for families in the Midwest and East Coast. You’ll also find theme parks scattered across the continental US.

Best things to do in the USA with babies and toddlers

Beaches are a good bet for babies and younger kids. Building sandcastles, beachcombing and watching hermit crabs are easy baby’s-day-out adventures, particularly along the coast in the Mid-Atlantic and the Southeast. You can poke around in tidepools in New England, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Numerous big cities have splash playgrounds – small fountain displays where kids can cool off and play in warmer months. Toddler story times and kiddie music hours are an option in some museums, while aquariums mesmerize old and young alike with their tanks of colorful fish and lazy jellies.

Theme parks, which are typically found in the suburbs of big cities, often have designated toddler areas with easy-going rides. In rural areas, look for farms where kids can laugh at baby animals and watch daily farming activities.

Children are heading to the family campsite in the forest Walk along the tourist route.
The great outdoors offers adventures galore in the USA ©Userba011d64_201/Getty Images

Best things to do in the USA with young children

Among the national parks, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is the clear family favorite. Younger ones enjoy the Grand Canyon Railway and its train-robbing cowboys while budding scientists learn about geology and California condors during ranger talks. Wearing out the kids is easy here – you can cycle along the rim, hike into the canyon or ride a mule to Phantom Ranch. Campgrounds are also busy with families. New glamping resorts in Valle, 30 miles south of Grand Canyon Village, entertain kids with their evening s’mores and inventive programming.

The Wild West is alive and well in Arizona and the broader Southwest. Kids channel their inner cowpoke at dude ranches near Tucson and Phoenix during week-long spring breaks. Old West theme parks are popular, too, and former mining towns like Tombstone often stage daily shootouts. In Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, guided tours dive deep into the history and culture of the Navajo tribe.

Underground adventures are kid pleasers, too, and there are a surprising number of cavern tours across the country. Drop a mile into the earth on a steep hike into Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico and scan for “cave popcorn” in Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Kids can ride a mining car into formerly productive mines in West Virginia and southern Arizona. Above ground, they can pan for gold in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

A boy smiles as he rows in a whitewater raft down a canyon river in the USA
Kids will love river rafting in the US ©Chad Case/Getty Images

Tubing and rafting trips float past wildlife and gorgeous scenery on numerous gentle rivers. If your kids love the water, it’s hard to have a bad day on family-friendly floats on the Pigeon River in East Tennessee, the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers in Texas, the New River in West Virginia and the Yuba, Kern and American Rivers in California.

America’s most famous theme park is Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Also known as the Most Magical Place on Earth (Disneyland in California is the Happiest), it’s home to four action-packed parks sprawled across 27,000 acres. Universal Orlando Resort is nearby, and its Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a favorite of kids and adults alike. Another excellent theme park is Dollywood in East Tennessee, known for its roller coasters, oversized turkey legs and Southern hospitality.

One unexpectedly fun city for kids? St Louis, Missouri. The wonderful City Museum is a warehouse-sized maze of found objects, with slides, tunnels and hideaways galore. St Louis must-dos include riding a “pod” to the top of Gateway Arch and eating a milkshake at Ted Drews – packed so hard they call it a “concrete” and hand it to you upside down. Another engaging city for kids is Washington, DC – the National Mall is home to the Lincoln Memorial and 11 Smithsonian Museums. In San Francisco, glide around Skatin’ Place in Golden Gate Park, climb Coit Tower and explore Chinatown for small treasures.

And did someone say dinosaurs? On the East Coast, enormous fossils loom large in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In the west, head to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center to dig for bones in Thermopolis. Well-preserved and not looking a day over 67 million years, Sue, the largest T. rex yet discovered, anchors the Field Museum in Chicago.

A Hispanic woman holds her hands in the shape of 'LA' whilst looking across the cityscape of Los Angeles
Los Angeles offers teens both the glitz and the 'grammable © LeoPatrizi/Getty Images

Best things to do in the USA with teenagers and tweens

Teenagers may be hard to impress, but East Tennessee might win them over. Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are twin cities of excess, dotted with mountain coasters, mini-golf courses and fascinating niche museums like Titanic Pigeon Forge and Alcatraz East. Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions line the main drag in Gatlinburg, and ski lifts whisk passengers to mountain-top adventures. Drive into Great Smokies National Park next door for hiking, camping and waterfalls.

Whitewater rafting is excellent in several regions. Tackle the Gauley River during the fall dam release in October in West Virginia. Hold on tight on the Nantahala in western North Carolina and the Snake in Jackson Hole. The US National Whitewater Center is a blast, with loads of options for rafting and paddling in Charlotte, North Carolina.

If you’re exploring Los Angeles, join a studio tour. Open-air trams roll past famous movie sets – like Hitchcock’s Psycho house – at Universal Studios Hollywood while the Warner Bros. Studio Tour stops by the sets of old and current TV sitcoms and dramas. In Burbank, join a live audience for a sitcom taping or talk show.

Watching a professional sporting event is a quintessentially American pastime. In summer, your best bet is a minor league baseball game in a small city – we’re looking at you, Savannah Bananas and Albuquerque Isotopes. Major League Baseball teams play spring training exhibition games in the Cactus League in southern Arizona and the Grapefruit League in southern Florida. In colder months, everybody cheers the Zamboni during pro hockey games.

For art-minded teens, there are a number of museums with a specific cultural focus. Teens can listen to a global collection of instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix or step inside a refrigerator portal in the wildly immersive Meow Wolf – a warehouse-sized adventure combining mystery and art – in Santa Fe.

For tweens and teenagers interested in a specific slice of American history, there’s likely an attraction delving into the topic. Climb into cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado or learn about Martin Luther King, Jr at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Movie-going teens intrigued by Oppenheimer can explore the “Secret City” of Los Alamos in New Mexico.

Three generations of a family standing by a motor home on the side of the road at dusk.
Make sure you plan ahead, especially if there are several generations of the family traveling ©Bounce/Getty Images

Planning tips

  • To explore a national park with minimal driving, consider the Grand Canyon, Acadia, Yosemite, Glacier or Zion. All have convenient free shuttles.
  • With many cities rapidly improving their greenway systems, cycling is a fun way to explore with kids. Knoxville, Charlotte and Roanoke have extensive networks, while miles of pretty trails link towns around Lake Tahoe.
  • Take the kids to a local farmers market, where they can pick fresh ingredients for an evening meal and experience regional crafts and food.
  • Get oriented in a new city on a ghost tour. The best share spooky stories as well as interesting historical details about the destination.
  • Geocaching – hunting for hidden treasures using a combination of clues and GPS coordinates – is an easy way to break up longer road trips.

This article was first published Apr 29, 2021 and updated Oct 6, 2023.

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