By Steve Haberlin
When planning a vacation with the kids in mind, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of or visited the popular U.S. destinations: Orlando, San Diego, Washington, D.C., New York City. But there is a “whole another world” out there of affordable, family friendly cities, which can offer memorable experiences. Here are some to consider:
Lonely Planet ranks the Keystone State as one of the top five, family-friendly destinations that are normally not considered. In particular, Allentown offers a host of activities for kids and adults, including the American on Wheels Museum, the Lehigh Valley Zoo, the Lost River Caverns, Allentown Art Museum, and the Amore Vineyards and Winery. According tovisitpa.com, a stroll through the city’s historic district can fill an afternoon in itself or don bathing suits and hit Dorney Park and the Wildwater Kingdom, which boasts 200 acres of more than 100 rides and attractions.
Crescent City, California
Travelocity places this lesser-known town in its top U.S. destinations for families. Just 20 miles south of Oregon, Crescent City is home to lighthouses, such as Battery Point, built in 1865, and St. George Reef, also built around the same period. Take the kids to Ocean World aquarium, which houses injured elephant seals and sea lions before they are released into the wild, according to tovisitcalifornia.com. Later, you can wander Pebble Beach and comb the sand for agates and other semi-precious gemstones.
Coos Bay, Oregon
Located along Oregon’s “adventure coast,” and surrounded by thick forest, Coos Bay provides some outrageous outdoor fun. Hike along the area’s wind-sculpted dunes, some as high as 500 feet high, according totraveloregon.com. Visitors can also rent an ATV or dune buggy to explore the dunes. If you’d rather get wet, the family or kids can take a surf lesson (supplies/instruction can be obtained at local surf shops). You can even catch your own Dungeness crab by dropping your pot in the local Charleston Boat Basin (again, licenses and equipment are offered by local vendors). Fisherman’s Wharf employees will even cook and clean your catch for you.
Newport, Rhode Island
Another coastal city that the whole family can enjoy, Newport features everything from historic sites to beautiful beaches. Venture the cliff walk, a 3.5-mile-path at the edge of the sea, tour the more than dozen mansions that have served as summer homes to America’s wealthiest or enjoy a sailboat ride in the city of American Cup winners. Of course, spend time on the city’s pristine beaches, explore Fort Adams State Park, and music fans will want to time their visit with the Newport Folk Festival (July 28-30) and Newport Jazz Festival (early August), according to todiscovernewport.org.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Famous for Mount Rushmore, Rapid City also offers a number of family-fun options, including Dinosaur Park, Storybook Island, City View Trolley, and water parks, according to visitrapidcity.com. The young archeologists in the family will want to visit the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, an active archaeological dig site boasting the largest site of mammoth remains in the world, and perhaps the Journey Museum and Learning Center, which takes visitors back in time from when the Black Hills were formed some 2.5 billion years ago. Just 50 miles south of Rapid City lies the 244,00-acre Badlands National Park, where you can view endless, drastically striated rock formations.
Planning a unique family vacation can require thinking out-of-the-box. The above five destinations offer new, fun experiences for the kids as well as adult family members. While these cities might lack the hustle and bustle and larger crowds of the typical family vacation spots (not necessarily a bad thing), they provide refreshing alternatives that you certainly want to consider.
Steve Haberlin is a graduate assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of South Florida in Tampa. A former k-12 teacher and journalist, he loves to travel, particularly exploring international cities.