Orlando, home to some of the world’s best amusement parks, might be an unavoidable stop on your USA trip – depending on the age and interests of your kids (or those of the adults!). Especially interests related to a certain wizard named…Harry. That’s right; Universals’ Islands of Adventure now feature the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, village and all. After having your Butterbeer in Hogsmeade, you can all trot to one of the extensive parks at Walt Disney World and visit Spaceship Earth at the Epcot Centre and dance with all your favourite cartoon characters –that’s just for a start. For live animal encounters head to Sea World and Discovery Cove. Orlandos’ attractions are seemingly endless and the lines and crowds can be exhausting, but the kids (and the adult kids) will have an amazing time by the end of it all. Do rent a car, bring your umbrellas plus plenty of bottled water and…pace yourselves!
First time visitors to Hawaii will love the beautiful landscapes, friendly people and the sights Oahu offers. The capital city, Honolulu, is the cosmopolitan resort-loaded part of the island, which offers creature comforts and a good base to explore the sights from, including Pear Harbor’s USS Arizona Memorial and the historic ‘Iolani Palace. Head to Waikiki, Sunset Beach, Kailua Beach Park or Waimea Bay to spend some quality family time on the beach. Visit the Waikiki Aquarium and hike around the Manoa Falls or the volcanic Diamond Head. Those families wishing for a more relaxed natural setting will enjoy Oahu’s North Shore. Make sure to join in the Aloha Festival fun, if it happens to be on during your stay – it’s a great way to get to know the native culture and the locals a little better. Aim to visit between September and November when everything from temperatures to prices gets a little milder…
San Francisco, California
San Francisco has it all: charm, history, ambiance, plenty of fantastic family-friendly restaurants and cool sights. The latter include the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, colourful Chinatown (hey, they invented the fortune cookie here!), the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf, the serene traditional Japanese Tea Garden (dating back to 1894!), the rather chilling Alcatraz, and culturally-vibrant districts like the Mission, The Haight, and The Castro. The kids will love riding the historic cable car on SF’s steep hills – which is great, because there is one thing that this city just does not have on offer, namely parking. So forget the car and make some public transport-friendly family day trips out of it! Of course a Full House-style family portrait in Alamo Square is an absolute must. Another plus is the city’s proximity to the natural wonders of Yosemite National Park and Muir Woods.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Prepare everyone to be completely swept off their feet: as a natural wonder, the Grand Canyon not only does justice to its name, but surpasses all expectations. This UNESCO World Heritage site, about 277 miles long, 18 miles wide and a mile deep, has been around for 6 million years, and gets about as many visitors per year. So prepare for some elbow pushing around the main tourist spots on the South Rim, where you’ll find the Grand Canyon Village – Yavapai Point here is claimed to be the spot to appreciate the expanse of the canyon – and the popular Bright Angel Trail, best travelled by mule, if you can convince everybody to do so! For a more intimate encounter, and if travelling with older children, check out the North Rim as a good spot for camping and more challenging hikes. History buffs might want to have a look at the old Grand Canyon Railway Depot, and for authentic Native American souvenirs, head to the Hopi House, a traditional adobe crafts studio. There is a shuttle bus that runs along the main trail if the kids get tired, but this is one destination that just does not disappoint.
Yellowstone National Park
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Made famous to youngsters by Yogi Bear, Yellowstone National Park, covering an area between Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, is a great outdoor family destination. Amazing scenery of mountains, streams, woods and wildlife, including buffalo, elk and grizzly bears, awaits you. Must see sights include the Old Faithful geyser, offering regular 130 feet high eruptions, the multicoloured Grand Prismatic Spring and the muddily bubbling Mammoth Hot Springs. Make sure to take the kids to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana for an up close and personal look at the animals, in case none show up outside of their tents!
The USA is full of unforgettable destinations for a family holiday; all you have to decide is which one you’d like to visit first.
Author: Patricia Bieszk is a Queensland-based travel writer who enjoys discovering natural wonders around the world’s national parks.