Watching your little one dip her toes into ocean surf for the first time can be spellbinding. Ditto the first time he sees a dolphin up close. Or any number of firsts that come with going on a vacation with your toddler.
After all, she’s not a baby anymore – she can run around, explore and explain (at times, loudly) exactly what she wants to do or see.
Planning a trip with your toddler brings both joys – and a few challenges. That’s why it’s important to find a destination that will appeal to your little one – while having activities for moms and dads to enjoy, too.
As you’re plotting out your next getaway, here are some of the best vacation spots for families with toddlersto consider putting on your list.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
North of Atlanta, Blue Ridge, Georgia, packs in the kind of old-fashioned family fun that’s perfect for little ones. Take a ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, mine for gems or fish at The Lilly Pad Village or tour the Mercier Orchards farm.
Hiking trails weave throughout the area too, but your toddler might be more content enjoying the views on a scenic drive.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Your kiddo may fall asleep as you drive up the winding, climbing road that scales the 14,115-foot Pikes Peak. Stick with the Rockies theme by going to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, where you can hand-feed giraffes or even an elephant. Other kid-centric hotspots include The North Pole, an amusement park where you might see Santa, the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings Museum.
Disney Hawaiian Resort, Oahu
The Aulani Disney Resort & Spa captures all of the magic you’d expect from Disney right on the famed beaches of Oahu. While your tyke may not be quite old enough for the complimentary kids club, which starts at age 3, there are plenty of other free activities, like storytelling about the fire pit at night, Disney-style (think puppets and props).
There’s so much more to do beyond racing in Indy (although a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is a must). For kids, there’s no better place to go than Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – the largest children’s museum in the world! For a mix of arts and nature, including walking paths galore, spend some time at Newfields. Downtown is also very accessible, even for little feet, and includes several free history museums and monuments.
Hugging the Lake Michigan shoreline, Ludington is lined with family-friendly beaches. One of the largest, Stearns Park, includes new handicapped-accessible walkways that you’re welcome to use with your stroller to go from the free parking lot right to the beach (no struggling to push the stroller in the sand!). Beyond the beach, check out a lighthouse or two; then take your toddler to the Sandcastles Children’s Museum.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Spanning almost 1 million acres in the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park takes in mountain ranges, rainforests and remote coastline. For families, make the most of your trip by opting for lodge that will take the work out of planning activities – like Lake Quinault Lodge, which offers families with toddlers canoes, paddleboats and kayaks the nearby lake and Lake Crescent Lodge, where you’ll find pontoon boat rides.
Princess at your house? Obsessed with Legos? Entranced by Minions? Orlando has a theme park for just about any interest that your kids may have. For a unique experience where your kids will have a chance to interact with dolphins, snorkel with tropical fish and feed birds, head to Discovery Cove – they’ll provide all your gear (snorkels, too) and food as part of the experience.
San Diego, California
Fill your day with attractions like the world-renowned San Diego Zoo (let your little one say hi to a penguin – or maybe a giant panda), the zoo’s Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego or LEGOLAND California Resort. For a more relaxed pace, plan a day at the local favorite Del Mar Beach (bring a picnic) or Mission Bay, a massive manmade aquatic park with kid-sized waves.
The Palm Beaches, Florida
Just north of Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach County stretches over 47 miles of coastline, just waiting for little kids to build sandcastles. For gentler waves, opt for beach spots on Singer Island or Carlin Park. Help your pint-sized marine biologist sharpen her skills at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, the Manatee Lagoon or Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Known as the water park capital of the world, you could easily spend your whole vacation doing laps around the lazy river with your toddler. Most larger water parks here – like Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari Resort Waterpark – have kid zones. Schedule in some free time to walk around the downtown area (ice cream break!); then take your pick from Circus World, the Wisconsin Deer Park (kiddos can feed the deer) and more.