12 Best Places To Visit in the South, USA with Kids

Snorkel in the pristine waters of Key West. Coral Reef State Park. Photo by John Pennekamp
Snorkel in the pristine waters of Key West. Coral Reef State Park. Photo by John Pennekamp

The best places to visit in the South are all wonderful in their own way. If you're looking for a warm and sunny destination to escape a cold winter, you'll find it in many parts of Florida, Georgia, and other southern states. Perhaps your family is drawn to the fabulous Orlando theme parks, the country-music scene in Nashville, or the rich history of charming cities like Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Or, maybe you just need a good dose of southern hospitality and cooking!

Whatever your reasons for traveling down south, here are the 12 best places to visit in the South with kids. From beautiful beaches and pristine parks to world-class museums and children's attractions, there's a southern destination on this list to suit every family's interests. For even more southern family vacation ideas, check out our Southern States Vacation Guide.


Best Places to Visit in the South: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Sixty miles of beautiful coastline make Myrtle Beach one of the best places to visit in the South. Photo by Jackie Jones

Best Places to Visit in the South with Kids

1. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

If you're looking for an east coast beach town that has something for everyone in the family, Myrtle Beach is one of the best family vacation ideas. Grown-ups love the world-class golf courses, fantastic shopping centers, and delicious restaurants. Kids love the plethora of fun activities, including a boardwalk with thrilling rides, a haunted house, Ripley's Believe It or Not!, and more. There's also the fantastic Ripley's Aquarium, a great children's museum for toddlers and preschoolers, South Carolina's largest water park, and plenty of mini golf courses. And the whole family will enjoy frolicking on the city's 60 miles of gorgeous beaches.

2. Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville is not only one of the best places to visit in the South. It has actually landed on several of our best-of travel lists, including the best off-the-beaten-path vacation spots in the US—and for good reason. Families can explore the majestic Biltmore Estate and all of its activities, visit loads of kid-friendly museums, take gorgeous hikes through forests and past waterfalls, dine at delicious restaurants, and so much more. Asheville is also known for its family-friendly breweries, including the popular Sierra Nevada Asheville. And if you visit in December, you can check out the famous National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn.

3. Charleston, South Carolina

This South Carolina city has it all—beautiful beaches and waterways, kid-friendly museums and historic sites, pretty parks and gardens, great restaurants, and loads of southern charm. The two-story, 385,000-gallon ocean tank full of fish, sea turtles, and sharks at the South Carolina Aquarium is a can't-miss. Kids will also love exploring the Old Exchange building downtown—including the dungeon where pirates and Revolutionary War prisoners were held—and playing at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry. Be sure to check out the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier at Patriots Point, too. Hotel options range from charming inns to activity-packed resorts.

RELATED: Top Amusement Parks in the US for a Family Vacation

Best Places to Visit in the South: Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Be sure to visit Annakeesta, a mountaintop theme park, during a trip to Gatlinburg. Photo courtesy of Annakeesta

4. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Families flock to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge for the area's multitude of amusement parks, including the world-famous Dollywood. But there's so much more to these Tennessee towns that make them a fabulous family vacation spot in the southern USA. If you want to explore nature, you can't get much better than Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with its gorgeous waterfalls and stunning mountain hikes. Check out interesting museums like the unique Gatlinburg Pinball Museum and the interactive Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge. Get an up-close look at marine life at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. And stay in one of the area's many family-friendly hotels, from rustic lodges to full-blown resorts with water parks.

5. Nashville, Tennessee

If you've got a country music fan in your family, the best places to visit in the South are the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. But even those who don't rock out to Blake Shelton or Carrie Underwood will find plenty to do in Music City. Kids will love riding a vintage train at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, playing with the interactive water features and exploring the pretend shops at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, and seeing over 375 species of exotic birds and animals at the Nashville Zoo. And, of course, everyone will enjoy indulging in some delicious southern BBQ and fried chicken.

6. Sunny Florida Beach Towns

With hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, and year-round warm weather, there's never a bad time to visit Florida's beach towns. Two of our favorites to visit with kids on the Atlantic coast are West Palm Beach—home of a sea-turtle rehabilitation center and the stunning John D. MacArthur Beach State Park—and Amelia Island, with its award-winning beaches, world-class golf courses, and loads of nature activities. Near the southern tip, Miami has a surprising number of things to do with kids, and you can't go wrong with any of the gorgeous islands that make up the Florida Keys. And on the Gulf Coast, try Clearwater Beach, Naples, or Destin.

RELATED: 100 Things To Do in Orlando with Kids (Other Than Theme Parks)

Universal Orlando is a must-visit for Harry Potter fans! Photo courtesy of Universal Studios

7. Orlando, Florida

If you're looking for a theme-park adventure in Florida rather than a beach vacay, obviously Orlando is the place to be. From Disney World to SeaWorld to Universal Orlando and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Orlando is the ultimate amusement-park haven. But there are so many more reasons to visit this Central Florida city with kids. There are tons of family-friendly attractions like the Orlando Science Center, WonderWorks, Gatorland, and even the world's largest McDonald's (we're not kidding). Add to that mild to hot temperatures all year long and loads of family-friendly hotels, and you've got yourself the perfect warm and sunny family vacation spot in the southern USA.

This Jekyll Island beach is filled with driftwood, hence the name: Driftwood Beach. Photo by Charlotte Blanton

8. Jekyll Island, Georgia

This barrier island midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida is one of the best places to visit in the South if you want to unwind and enjoy nature. Its 10 miles of natural shoreline include gorgeous and unique beaches like Driftwood Beach and Shark Tooth Beach. There's also a seasonal water park, tons of outdoor activities including biking and horseback riding, a nature center, historic sites, and even a sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility (the only one in Georgia). Accommodations for families range from maritime-forest campgrounds to luxury villas with pools and other amenities.

9. Savannah, Georgia

When you think of the best places to visit in the South, the picture in your mind probably looks (and sounds) a lot like Savannah: cobblestone streets, oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, majestic riverboats, and live jazz music. With two children's museums, interesting historic sites, beautiful nearby beaches, sprawling parks, and family-friendly restaurants serving up delicious southern cuisine, Savannah is also a great city to visit with kids. Plus, the weather in Savannah is warm year-round, and there are plenty of affordable hotel options, making it one of the best winter vacation spots in the US for families.

RELATED: Columbia with Kids: 25 Best Things To Do in Columbia, SC

Best Places to Visit in the South: New Orleans
Tour New Orleans' French Quarter with Quartour Kids. Photo courtesy of Quartour Kids

10. New Orleans, Louisiana

Sure, New Orleans may be one big party during Mardi Gras, but the rest of the year, it's an awesome city to visit with kids—so long as you stay off Bourbon Street. The Big Easy is full of great family-friendly museums (including the massive Louisiana Children's Museum), places to see animals such as the Audubon Zoo and the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center, amazing parks to play in, steamboats and ferries to ride, and delicious local foods to try such as po-boys and gumbo. Be sure to explore the famous French Quarter, catch some live jazz music, and nosh on beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

11. Williamsburg, Virginia

There are so many reasons to visit Williamsburg with kids, especially if you have a history buff on your hands. The biggest draw is Colonial Williamsburg, an open-air living history museum that children absolutely love (my own included). There's also the Jamestown Settlement, where costumed historical interpreters demonstrate life in the first permanent English settlement in the New World, as well as Historic Jamestowne, the actual site of the original Jamestown fort and town. And there's the Yorktown Battlefield, site of the last battle of the Revolutionary War in 1781. When you need a history break, catch some thrills at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the nearby Water Country USA. Williamsburg also has some amazing family resorts, including Great Wolf Lodge and Kingsmill Resort.

RELATED: Best Family-Friendly Beaches in Galveston

Best Places to Visit in the South: South Padre Island, Texas
Visit South Padre Island in July to see thousands of baby sea turtles get released into the Gulf of Mexico. Photo courtesy of NPS

12. South Padre Island, Texas

When you want to escape the winter doldrums and have some fun in the sun, head to South Padre Island, home to some of the best beaches in Texas. Just don't visit during spring break, when it's popular with the college crowd! Any other time of year, South Padre Island is one of the best places to visit in the South with kids. In addition to beaches featuring soft, powdery white sand, there are some great hiking and water activities like kayaking and paddleboarding, a sea turtle rehabilitation center, a nature center and alligator sanctuary, a water park, and lots more. And if you really want an outdoor adventure, take the family camping at Padre Island National Seashore.

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