Unexpected Family-Friendly Vacation Destinations: From Road Trips to Abroad

If you find your family vacations stuck in a rut of waterparks, theme parks and campgrounds, you need to shake things up. Whether you’re venturesome or a homebody, these out-of-the-ordinary family-friendly destinations may help realign your thinking.

To make it easy, we’ve broken these destinations into road trips and international destinations. Whichever you choose, they’ll help you plan and deliver family vacations your family will never forget.

See why you should consider getting travel protection for your next family vacation

Road Trip Destinations

Muskegon State Park, Michigan

There’s a great big secret in the middle of the United States called the Great Lakes. Not only are they massive bodies of water that are larger than some seas, but they have shorelines that are home to great big cities, little towns, and lots of beaches.

Some of the beaches are rocky but some aren’t, and some of the ones that aren’t have massive sand dunes that are great for families to run up and tumble down and wiggle their toes in.

Better yet, many of these dune beaches have campgrounds and are next to cities, so if you run out of marshmallows for the campfire s’mores you don ‘t go into abandon-all-hope mode.

There are scores of Great Lakes state and national parks with sand dunes to explore, from Kohler-Andrae and Whitefish Dunes state parks in Wisconsin to Indiana Dunes National Park to state parks adjacent to Holland and Muskegon, Michigan.

Muskegon will never be mistaken for Chicago or even Detroit, but it has grocery stores and playgrounds and a submarine you can tour.

Families can’t ask for much more.

Find more to do: 6 Winter Activities for Non-Skiers and Where to Try Them

Wall, South Dakota

The road trip to Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, is a Midwest rite of passage. These road trips can be memorable for many reasons, but scenery is generally not one of them, nor is things to do along the way.

That’s where Wall Drug shines. It announces its presence for hundreds of miles, and then the countdown begins. Under 200 miles … under 100 … under 50. And finally you’re there.

What did you expect? It’s a drugstore-turned-tourist-destination at the edge of the Badlands with free water, lots of stuffed creatures, and machines that smash pennies. It’s the main reason people visit Wall, and it’s the key to a modest tourism infrastructure built around trading posts, Black Hills gold, and jackrabbits.

Still, the destination is about the journey, and Wall Drug is your reminder that Mount Rushmore isn’t far – less than 80 miles. And that’s worth seeing.

See the Top 11 Famous Landmarks Americans Want to Visit

The parts of the Great Smoky Mountains that aren’t Gatlinburg

Many recommendations on travel-friendly destinations specifically cite Gatlinburg (and its sister cities Sevierville and Pigeon Forge) as great family destinations. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a wealth of outdoor adventures for families, and Gatlinburg is not the best place to experience those.

Instead of the commercialized Gatlinburg, consider exploring the park's stunning trails, like the Chimney Tops Trail or the Laurel Falls hike. Enjoy breathtaking views from Clingmans Dome or Cades Cove, where you can spot wildlife in their natural habitat. Pack a picnic and spend a day immersed in nature, away from the crowds. The park also offers excellent opportunities for fishing, horseback riding, and learning about the rich cultural heritage of the area.

Dollywood (Dolly Parton’s theme park) is fun in an aw-shucks kind of way (and the food is quite good), but you’re better off entering the park from the North Carolina side, letting the kids clamber up trails and see the incredible views, and stopping at Dollywood on your way out.

Find more: The Best Mountains Vacations in the U.S.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Who’d have thought of the Steel City as a great destination for families? It really does check all the boxes: The children’s museum is top-shelf, the Carnegie Science Museum is excellent, the zoo and aquarium are great, the sports venues are picturesque (especially the baseball stadium), the parks are spacious, and walking the hills is a great way to tucker out everyone.

Plus, the food’s not bad, and the river cruises come highly recommended.

All in all, Pittsburgh is one of those places you’d never think to go, but once you go, you’re glad you did.

Road Trip Travel Insurance: Why It Makes Sense

South Texas

The Texas gulf coast has a lot to offer vacationing families.

Houston is home to the NASA Space Museum, an excellent kids’ museum, a natural-science museum, and a big-time zoo. Kids’ and family passes make the combo platter affordable.

Galveston offers the warm sand of Stanley Beach, an aquarium at Moody Gardens, and the MASSIV, the world’s largest water coaster, at Schlitterbahn Waterpark.

Houston is also the gateway to the Gulf Coast, specifically Corpus Christi and South Padre Island, with their long stretches of glorious beaches (don’t go during Spring Break). The beaches are a three-hour drive from Houston but well worth the trip.

Whether you’re looking for hands-on fun or a sunny, sandy getaway, don’t sleep on South Texas.

Before you head to Texas, check our hurricane risk map to see the chance of a storm wrecking your vacation

Cody, Wyoming

Cody might be the Old Westiest town in the country.

Cody’s at the gateway to iconic Yellowstone Park. It’s also the home of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, with five family-friendly museums documenting the westward expansion.

Dude ranches abound, and if you visit during July 4 weekend you can catch the Cody Stampede Rodeo, one of the nation’s top events, with calf roping, bull riding, and plenty of cowboy clowns.

Whether you’re interested in the park or the rodeo, the same recommendation applies: Make reservations early.

See more: 6 Ranch Getaways for a Real Western Vacation

Destinations Abroad


Italians love kids – who knew?

Just the fact that you’re traveling with young ones will win you fans in Italy. Add to the fact that Italy can offer just about any sort of vacation your heart desires, from mountain treks to beach walks to bustling cities and museums, and you have the recipe for a fantastic family vacation.

And did we mention the food? Unlike many destinations where the food is definitely adult-oriented, kids love Italian food.

Kids love Italian food, Italians love kids, parents love Italy – sounds like the perfect overseas destination.

Learn before you go: Top 10 Italian Phrases for American Tourists

Hong Kong

Maybe all you need to know about Hong Kong is that Hong Kong has a Disneyland.

After that everything else should be gravy – only it’s better than that.

Hong Kong is incredibly clean and safe, with excellent food and myriad attractions like the Ngong Ping tram ride, the Star Ferry, and Ocean Park.

There’s all sorts of fun shopping, from local markets to bustling malls, and everything is geographically close and easy to get to.

The hardest thing about a family vacation in Hong Kong is the plane ride there. After that, it’s a breeze.

Did you know Hong Kong has one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world?


Who doesn’t love Ireland? All that green, with castles to explore, and shoreline to wander down, and fun cities to scamper through.

But there’s more: Ireland has started adding special fairy trails to some of its most popular attractions. These trails are specifically designed for young tourists and take them down enchanted paths to secret destinations.

Since many travelers to Ireland rent a car, it’s no trouble to bring along car seats and all the other kid essentials, pack them in the car and go off exploring. And because Irish towns are often closer together than their American counterparts, it’s easy to find places for everyone to stretch their legs and run off some energy.

On a budget? Find some Free Things to do in Dublin


Dubai is the polar opposite of Ireland in many ways, though it can be just as much fun for kids.

Because Dubai’s climate is often oppressively hot and humid, you shouldn’t plan a lot of walking-around-outside activities, even in the more temperate months of October and November. What you can and should plan, though, are some amazing indoor activities.

The Dubai mall has an aquarium, an underwater zoo and a full-size hockey rink. Ski Dubai offers all sorts of winter activities, including a march of the penguins. A trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, can be great fun for kids.

When you venture outside, be sure to check out the Garden Glow light show and the spectacular Dubai Fountains.

Dubai might not be everyone’s first choice for a family vacation, but it deserves serious consideration.

You know what else deserves serious consideration? Travel insurance with assistance services from Generali Global Assistance. We have plans for every sort of family vacation from road trips to international adventures – and getting covered is easy.

It all starts with getting a quote.


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