Our Favorite Family Vacation Spots of 2021: Great Cities, Beaches, Hotels, and More
After the pandemic canceled way too many of our travel plans in 2020, our Mommy Poppins team and their families were eager to get back out there in 2021. And travel we did! We explored some amazing cities that are perfect for family vacations, from Charlotte to Seattle and all the way to Sitka, Alaska. There were also epic zoos to visit, lots of hands-on children's museums to explore, sunny resorts, and Christmas towns that made us light up inside.
Here is our list of the best family vacation spots of 2021, including warm and sunny family vacation ideas for winter or spring break, the Poconos Mountains if you want to get back to nature, and more.
You'd be surprised at how many amusement parks call Tennessee home. Photo courtesy of Anakeesta Theme Park
Family-Friendly Cities: From Southern Charm to the Wild West
1. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge
For a family vacation that offers both the cultural experiences of a city and plenty of outdoor recreation, we loved Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Highlights for our writer and her family included visiting the famous Dollywood amusement park, taking in the views at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and climbing through a Paula Deen adventure park.
2. Southern Charm in Charlotte
We also recommend Charlotte, North Carolina, one of the biggest and fastest growing cities in the southeast. From museums and parks to great shopping and restaurants, it's brimming with things to do with kids.
3. Florida Fun in Gainesville
And, we visited yet another city in Florida, one of our favorite travel destinations—Gainesville. Our writer found plenty of things to do with kids in this city north of Orlando, including hiking, museums, and, yes—cheering on the Gators.
See the Red Rocks in Denver. Photo courtesy of Visit Denver
4. Mountain High: Denver, CO
Denver, Colorado, also known as the Mile High City, may be known for its mountain ranges, but one Mommy Poppins editor's family also discovered plenty of museums, parks, and delicious restaurants.
5. Warm Weather in the West: Phoenix
Another editor took a family vacation to her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, where her kids loved exploring museums related to everything from dinosaurs to firefighting to musical instruments.
The iconic Seattle skyline. Photo by Chad Copeland
6. Wet Weather in the West: Seattle
Another writer took us to her hometown of Seattle, Washington, where her family explored Pikes Place Market, the Space Needle, Puget Sound, and so much more.
7. Marvelous Madison, WI
If you don't want to go all the way west, try the midwest city of Madison, Wisconsin. Our writer's daughters loved the parks and lakes, the delicious restaurants, and so much more.
See the grand beauty of Sitka, Alaska. Photo by Anna Fader
8. A Bucket-List Trip: Alaska
If your dream is to visit Alaska, we can help! Mommy Poppins founder Anna Fader visited Sitka, Alaska with her family and shared a great list of fun, free things to do with kids there, including parks and playgrounds, rocky beaches, and scenic hiking trails. Anna has also written insider guides to other Alaska cities for our Alaska Family Travel Guide.
Snorkel in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in the Florida Keys. Photo courtesy of the park
Best Beach Vacations for Families
We love a good beach family vacation here at Mommy Poppins, and our editors and writers stepped up to explore some of the best our country has to offer.
9. Three Florida Beach Towns We Love
For east coasters, we love Florida so much that we gave it its own travel guide! Though one of our writers loved the miles of gorgeous beaches in and around West Palm Beach, the area also stood out for its wide variety of animal adventures, interactive museums, and hiking trails. Another writer's family had a blast in Destin, where they rode a zip line, fed giraffes at the Emerald Coast Zoo, and soaked up plenty of sun at the beach. And one of our editors explored the Florida Keys, a 125-mile stretch of islands at the southern tip of Florida.
10. The Gulf Coast: Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
We also checked out another stretch of the Gulf Coast with a visit to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama. In addition to "the softest, whitest sand" one Mommy Poppins editor has ever seen, it offered plenty of outdoor activities like boating, fishing, amusement parks, and more.
Explore the beaches on Jekyll Island, Georgia. Photo by Charlotte Blanton
11. Island Living in Georgia: Jekyll Island
And then there was Jekyll Island, Georgia, where another writer discovered many family beach activities like swimming, learning about sea turtles, horseback riding (yes, on the beach), and biking.
12. Virginia Beach
But you don't have to travel all the way south to find great beaches. One writer's family had a blast in Virginia Beach with its seven beaches, three-mile-long boardwalk, and plenty of kid-friendly activities such as mini golf and water sports.
13. The Delaware Beaches
Another editor fell in love with the Delaware beaches (Bethany Beach, Rehoboth Beach, Fenwick Island, Lewes, and Dewey Beach), where she and her family supplemented their beach-going with mini golf, shopping, and lots and lots of homemade ice cream.
Sail around Newport in Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Sail Newport
14. Rhode Island: Newport and Block Island
Don't forget Rhode Island, where Newport—despite its reputation as a playground for the elite—is a great place for a family vacation, as is Block Island, with its plethora of outdoor activities kids will love.
15. West Coast Beach Camping
We also explored some of the best beaches to go camping on the west coast, from Leo Carrillo State Beach in Malibu, to Half Moon Bay State Park in Northern California, all the way up to Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon.
Visit the breathtaking beaches of Oahu, like Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Photo courtesy of the preserve
16. Hawaii: Exploring Oahu
Of course, no list of family beach vacations would be complete without including the islands of Hawaii. Our writer found 30 things to do in Oahu with kids, including Pearl Harbor, the Dole Plantation, and of course, plenty of breathtaking beaches.
Yellowstone is spectacular any time of year. Photo courtesy of the NPS
Parks and Outdoor Adventures
We discovered some great travel destinations for outdoorsy families.
17. Yellowstone National Park
One writer shared tips on visiting Yellowstone National Park with kids any time of year, and our whole team now wants to visit in each and every season.
18. Niagara Falls
Another writer took her family to Niagara Falls, where she shared the best sights for families on both the U.S. and the Canadian side.
Bundle up and visit the starkly stunning Ice Castles. Photo courtesy of Ice Castles
19. Ice Castles
While chilly, it's also stunning: For a unique and magical winter trip, visit one of the country's magical Ice Castles.
Coconut Bay is an all-inclusive resort in St. Lucia. Photo courtesy of the resort
Best Kid-friendly Hotels, Resorts, and More
Hotels and resorts are the first places many parents think to stay during a family vacation, and we wrote about some pretty great ones in 2021. We listed our favorite all-inclusive resorts for families in the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean.
20. Florida Resorts
Check out the amazing new water park at Baha Mar in Nassau. Photo courtesy of the resort
21. Baha Mar Resort and Water Park
If you're taking a family vacation to the Bahamas, check out the new Baha Bay water park at Baha Mar resort in Nassau. One lucky Mommy Poppins writer was one of the first visitors to the water park with her 8-year-old daughter, and proclaimed it the most beautiful water park she has ever seen.
22. New England Resorts for Families
For families visiting the New England states, we compiled a list of our favorite New England hotels for families. They include the Bar Harbor Inn in Maine, The Lodge at Spruce Peak in Vermont, Sea Crest Beach Hotel in Cape Cod, and more.
Saddle up your little dudes at the Tanque Verde Ranch. Photo courtesy of the ranch
23. Dude Ranches for Families
Families that want to enjoy lots of outdoor activities, from fly fishing to horseback riding to campfire sing-alongs, can visit one of our 10 favorite dude ranches across the U.S.
24. The Best Cabin and Beach House Rentals
Many people in 2021 traveled by car and felt more comfortable staying in individual rental homes, instead of big hotels. For a beach trip, we listed our favorite beach house rentals all along the east coast, from Maine all the way down to Melbourne Beach, Florida. Or, unplug for a bit at one of our favorite Pocono cabin rentals in northeastern Pennsylvania for families.
Who wouldn't want to sleep in a treehouse? Photo courtesy of julian@hipcamp
25. Treehouse Travel
And we've saved the coolest for last: If you really want to blow your kids' minds, rent an over-the-top treehouse! Every kid loves a good treehouse, but we listed 12 amazing treehouses across the U.S. that even the grown-ups will love. They include amenities such as full bathrooms and kitchens, washer and dryers, and fun extras like slides, zip lines, bridges, telescopes, and more.
Wherever you decide to go in 2022, we’re wishing you a fantastic year of travel. Here's to making family memories!