Best Family Road Trips: 3 You Need To Know About
A road trip is the perfect family vacation if you want to explore the country.
Road trips offer endless opportunities for exploration. You can see a national park, national forest, or state park from the road. You can stop in quirky small towns and view breathtaking landmarks like the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the redwoods in Northern California, or the massive rock formations of Utah. No matter where you go, you’re in for a treat.
Keep reading to get all the info you need on how to successfully complete the family road trip of a lifetime and check some items off your bucket list!
First Thing’s First: Why Take a Road Trip?
Road trips are perfect getaways if you enjoy playing things by ear.
You can move at your own pace and enjoy scenic drives on famous USA roads like Route 66, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Pacific Coast Highway. Meanwhile, you’ll find ample opportunities to explore multiple places within one trip and connect with local communities.
As you drive, you can enjoy the breathtaking vistas that every state has to offer. Each of the 50 has something special — the pines of Oregon, the beaches of Florida, the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, and the city lights of Tennessee and New York are just a few examples.
Another fantastic aspect of road trips is that they make for ideal family travel. You can pack as much as you need in the car instead of trying to fly with a stroller, diaper bag, and five bags of kids' toys.
Road trips are also ideal bonding experiences for families since there will be plenty of time spent in the car. You can spend that time looking at the landscape around you and talking about what you like in each area.
If you are ready to take your family on an exciting road trip but don’t know where to go, we are here to help! Below is an itinerary for three different road trips. After reading, pick your route based on which is closest to you or which looks the most interesting for you and your family.
1. Southern California Road Trip
This road trip is definitely the shortest on our list, lasting only a little over two-and-a-half hours without stops. However, you can totally extend your time in any of these areas and make the trip last as long as you would like.
This San Diego to Los Angeles road trip includes warm weather and fun for the whole family. There’s also room for optional stops in cities like Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Monterey.
La Jolla Shores Beach
Our first family road trip idea starts in San Diego. We obviously have to include a trip to a beautiful, family-friendly beach in one of the largest cities in California: sunny San Diego.
The beach is over a mile long, which can alleviate any worries of not finding a spot for your entire family. Additionally, there are always lifeguards present, making it a popular spot for families who want an extra layer of safety for their kids.
You can also choose to rent kayaks and paddleboards and take them out into the water. However, if you want something more adventurous, you'll also have the chance to go surfing or scuba diving.
The beach is located in front of Kellogg Park, which has plenty of grassy areas and picnic tables for your family to take a break from the beach and share a meal together.
However, if you didn’t pack a lunch, there is a nearby stretch of restaurants on Avenida de la Playa. We recommend checking out Barbarella!
This restaurant has a fabulous indoor space, as well as plenty of outdoor seating options available. They have a kids’ menu and a regular menu filled with a variety of options.
San Diego Zoo and Safari Park
San Diego is famous for its zoo.
The zoo and the safari park are on the pricier side, but they’re some of the most popular attractions on the entire west coast. They’re both fantastic stops for the whole family!
At the San Diego Zoo, you'll get an up-close look at almost any animal you can imagine. The zoo is enormous, so we recommend downloading its official app, which will give you a location-based map.
If your family is feeling tired of walking, the zoo offers plenty of animal-based shows. However, you'll be sitting in the sun, so bring water and sunscreen. Also, if you have young kids with you, be sure to check out the children’s zoo! There’s a playground located at the entrance, along with a petting zoo and exciting educational exhibits located in the park.
The San Diego Safari Park, on the other hand, is a much more immersive experience.
You can choose from a variety of guided tours that will take you through the habitats, allowing you to see the animals up close and personal. Their most popular tour is their Wildlife Safari. During this safari, you'll ride on a covered, open-air safari truck while an expert guide gives you a 90-minute tour of their expansive savanna.
Anaheim and Disneyland
The next stop on our Southern California adventure is Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California. This amusement park has activities for the entire family. Additionally, it’s much more manageable than Disney World since it is smaller and much more compact. You’re only about an hour's drive from Legoland, too, which is another fantastic road trip destination.
Before heading into the park, be sure to put on comfortable shoes and clothes that won’t allow you to be overheated. Also, it’s best to pack some snacks for the kids since the food at Disneyworld can be very expensive.
The Disneyland theme park has a mix of indoor and outdoor activities, which comes in handy when you need a break from the sun.
If you have little kids on your trip, we recommend checking out Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, King Arthur Carrousel, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and Peter Pan’s Flight.
If your kids are older, you can head over to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, and Splash Mountain. One of their most highly-rated indoor experiences is the Indiana Jones Adventure. This immersive show will make you and your family feel like you are on a journey with Dr. Jones himself, including a collapsing bridge, a falling boulder, and fiery explosions.
Once you are in LA, there are countless things to do for the entire family — but you have to make a stop at the Griffith Observatory.
Griffith Observatory is one of the country’s most famous landmarks, with impressive exhibits, attractions, and educational programs. While you are at the observatory, you'll even have a perfect view of the iconic Hollywood sign.
One of the best parts of the observatory is the planetarium presentations. Lay back in the comfy reclining seats and explore space through a projected video on the vast dome ceiling. The shows rotate, so check the schedule before going to find a time that fits your family’s itinerary. Past shows have covered topics like our solar system, the ocean, and the space program.
The observatory also has plenty of exhibits, including the famous public telescope. You and your family can have the chance to look through this high-quality telescope as long as the sky is clear.
Once you are done, wander through the exhibits that will teach you and your family about the progress in space exploration, moon phases, cosmos, and so much more.
2. Colorado Road Trip
This short road trip will give you and your family plenty of opportunities to enjoy the state of Colorado’s natural beauty and experience a range of outdoor activities. Here’s where to start!
If you are looking for an adventure park experience, head over to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.
This adventure park has plenty of rides and attractions while also allowing each visitor to feel immersed in nature. Be sure to check out their cavern tours, which walk you through underground caverns and caves. There’s also a rollercoaster, gondola ride, and zip line situated at different locations in the park.
If you aren’t interested in the adventure park or decide to spend more than one day here, you can head to the Glenwood Whitewater Park and Activity Area.
The park gives your family a chance to try adventurous water sports like kayaking and whitewater rafting. However, some of the whitewater rafting experiences can be a little intense, so this might be a better option for families with older kids.
Lastly, there are countless hiking trails with a range of difficulty levels. Hanging Lake Hike is a great option for kids, as it is mostly flat with wide walking space and beautiful views.
Grand Junction is another beautiful stop on our Colorado road trip itinerary with lots of outdoor activities.
If your family is interested in skiing or snowboarding, be sure to visit the Powderhorn Mountain Resort! This terrain stretches over 1600 acres with an average of 250 inches of powder.
Here, you'll find 20% of the slopes for beginners, 50% for intermediate, and 30% for experts. Also, lessons are offered if any member of your family is new to skiing or snowboarding.
If winter sports aren’t on your to-do list, head to the Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range. This area exists to protect the wild horses that live on the land. With tour groups like Rimrock Adventures, you even ride on horseback through the range. With your tour guide, you’ll see wild horses and get the inside scoop on the history of the land. The rides can last anywhere from 2-4 hours.
However, if you have young kids who aren’t old enough to ski or ride a horse, take them to the Dinosaur Journey Museum. This museum has plenty of interactive exhibits and even has real fossils for your kids to look at and dig up.
If you are looking for water activities that are a little less intense than whitewater rafting, visit Montrose Water Sport Park.
This park offers kayaking that is suitable for the whole family since the water is calmer. However, if you aren’t interested in kayaking, you can still sit on the beach and wade in the water. Additionally, there are hiking trails along the river, which you can check out before hopping in the water to cool off.
The Montrose Botanical Garden is another stop to make if you are a plant-lover. Although Montrose sits in a desert, the Botanical Garden maintains several themed exhibits with a variety of plants. You'll see plenty of desert plants, as well as flora unique to Colorado. Before going, check out their events calendar to see if there is a show or activity that looks interesting to you.
The Covered Bridge Ranch is another fantastic family-friendly activity. This farm has plenty of animals for your kids to see as well as frequent family-friendly events. Here, you’ll see cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas, horses, and donkeys. There are also hayrides that will take you through the entire farm and haystacks for your kids to play on.
The capital city of Colorado, Denver has many family-friendly activities.
If you are visiting in the summer, check out the Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park. Whether you want to ride rollercoasters or water slides, this park will have something for you. They also have rides and attractions that are suitable for all ages. The park is huge, so you can easily spend an entire day here.
If you and your family are baseball fans, check out the Colorado Rockies schedule. Baseball season generally runs from April to October, making it a fun summer activity for the family.
Try to snag a seat on the right side of the stadium, which will give you a view of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Also, be sure to look out for firework nights, so you and your family can enjoy a show at the end of the game.
If you are looking for something super adventurous to mark the end of your Colorado road trip, book a session with Rocky Mountain hot air. This company gives visitors the chance to go on a hot air balloon trip that soars over the mountains of Colorado. This activity is open to everyone ages five and up and is a perfect way to wrap up your Colorado trip.
3. Vermont to Cape Cod Road Trip
This east coast road trip is the longest, with the most driving between each stop. However, this will allow your family to take in the beautiful landscape and alter the trip to add extra stops if you want.
In Stowe, you definitely want to immerse yourself in nature.
Start by heading to Sterling Falls Gorge. This gorge developed over thousands of years and is beautifully situated in a forest. There is a scenic trail that will take you into a wooded area, to the gorge, and back out. The trail should not take you more than an hour to walk, making it an excellent option for the family.
If your family loves winter sports, check out the Stowe Mountain Resort. This is an ideal spot for skiing, and there are over 100 trails to choose from. The slopes vary in difficulty, which is helpful when you have a family with differing skill levels. Also, if you are visiting in the summer and the snow has melted, you can use this area for hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, or zip line rides.
Wrap up your visit in Stowe at Bingham Falls. This park stretches over 72 acres and can be used for many different activities. Whether you want to hike, swim, cross-country ski, or just go on a picnic, there’s something for your family here. Walk through the beautiful landscape to spot a waterfall or take a dip in their natural pools.
One of the most charming experiences in Concord is the Carter Hill Orchard.
Here, you'll find a large apple orchard that makes finding and picking your own apples totally exciting. Once you are done apple picking, you can take a short hike around the property, which gives you a great view of the beautiful New Hampshire landscape. After the hike, grab a pastry or dessert in their on-site bakery.
The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center is a wonderful place to visit with kids. It was opened by two New Hampshire natives who were both chosen to go to space. It is an interactive museum designed to teach people about space exploration and to inspire them to chase after their dreams.
To end your day in Concord, be sure to eat at Makris Lobster & Steak House. This is a beloved and long-standing restaurant that has a wide variety of seafood, even though it is most known for its lobster. However, if you have picky eaters in your family, they also offer pasta, burgers, steak, sandwiches, and more.
One of the first stops you should make in Boston is the New England Aquarium.
This aquarium has a four-story tank in its center that contains coral reefs and exotic water life. Additionally, the aquarium has plenty of educational exhibits that allow your kids to learn about and interact with different water animals.
You can even attend different eventssuch as penguin feeding, seal training session, and diver observations.
If you are ready for another museum, head over to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. This museum contains a large collection of fossils, gemstones, meteorites, and animals. The variety of exhibits is truly impressive and makes for a great and interesting stop.
If you are looking for a more relaxed day in Boston, check out the Boston common. This park is actually the oldest public park in the country and has been maintained exceptionally well.
Here, you'll find large green spaces, a carousel, a wading pool, a playground, tennis courts, and event spaces. Let your kids play in the water and on the playground while you set up a blanket and some snacks to have a nice picnic.
Cape Cod, MA
Cape Cod is another stop on the road trip that is perfect for outdoor activities.
First, make sure to see the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Taking a walk through this refuge will give you the opportunity to spot coastal birds, crabs, seals, and other wildlife. Be sure to check the visitors center to see if there are any programs or tours running that day.
If you are ready to get in the water, book a tour with Blue Claw Boat Tours. This is a family-friendly tour that promises sightings of seals swimming in the water or sunbathing on land. Additionally, you'll pass the Chatham Lighthouse and get the chance to see the Cape from the water.
If you are willing to take a 45-minute ferry ride off of cape cod, head over to Martha’s Vineyard. This quaint island is a quintessential New England experience. There are plenty of beaches to go to, but be sure to pick one with a calm surf so your whole family can enjoy the water. Also, check out the oldest operating merry-go-round, The Flying Horses Carousel.
How To Prepare for a Road Trip
Before you start your road trip, you want to make sure that you, your car, and the rest of your family are prepared. If you are going to spend hours or days on the road, you want to be prepared for any scenario.
First, you obviously want to spend a considerable amount of time packing the car.
Be sure to include a variety of clothing suitable for the climate of your road trip. It’s always best to have outfits for water activities, hiking, exploring town centers, and sitting in the car.
If your car is filling up quickly, you can always map out a laundromat in the middle of your road trip and make a stop to wash your clothes, allowing you to pack less.
In addition, pack a small first aid kit that includes bandages, antibiotic ointment, bug spray, and aloe vera. Of course, your packing list will definitely vary depending on where you’re going — Las Vegas, Nevada will have a different set of required items than Portland, Oregon or Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The Best Entertainment for Your Road Trip
Although all three of our road trips take you through beautiful landscapes that will keep you entertained during your drive, spending hours in the car can sometimes feel draining.
Additionally, you can use the time in the car to learn about where you are and what makes each area special.
Autio is a location-based audio platform that shares stories about the people, places, and history of the land they are traveling through. This will allow you and your kids to learn about the history of the spaces you are driving through during your road trip, making the entire trip much more exciting.
The audio clips are bite-sized, making them short enough to hold your kids’ attention. They are also filled with fun facts about the landscape and cities you drive through that will most likely stick with your family after the road trip ends. Sign up to gain access to thousands of bite-sized, location-based audio clips through your account!
Utah: A Geologic History | Utah Geology
Oregon's native pines | Oregon