We all remember what it was like to be a kid on summer vacation. Those carefree summer days full of sunshine and splashing in the pool felt like they could never end. Then, like a malfunctioning alarm clock in the middle of the night, reality startles you with the sudden influx of back-to-school sales and your parents insisting that you start to get mentally prepared for the early September mornings walking to the bus stop.
It seems ridiculous as an adult, especially considering that most of us don’t get a summer vacation, but to the dramatic mind of a child, the back-to-school season can be an anxiety-driven nightmare. But we adults know that learning can be fun, so why not ease your kids back-to-school with an educational trip to end the summer?
To help you plan your trip, we’ve reached out to parents and teachers across the country for their favorite back-to-school family vacations.
19 Back-to-School Family Vacations
Missouri River, North Dakota — Indigenous History[caption id="attachment_56095" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Photo courtesy of Joe Baur[/caption]
The Missouri River has been central to life for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara nations in North Dakota for centuries. Bunk at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Bismarck (for family rooms, a hot breakfast, and indoor pool), and journey through indigenous history along the banks of the Missouri.
Tour the reconstructed Mandan earth lodges in Miti-ba-wa-esh (On-A-Slant-Village) at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park south of the city of Mandan. The village thrived from the 1500s until 1781, when smallpox survivors moved into Hidatsa settlements.
Lewis and Clark met Sakakawea in one such Hidatsa village. Don buffalo robes and experience interactive exhibits and a recreation of Fort Mandan, the Corps of Discovery winter camp, at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn. Then head west to the remains of Mitu’tahakto’s (Fort Clark), a Mandan and Arikara farming and trading village felled by disease, and the Knife River Indian Villages’ gardens, earth lodge and riverside trails near Stanton.
Arikara, Hidatsa and Mandan culture thrives on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation along the shores of Lake Sakakawea. See six earth lodges, a ceremonial lodge and tribal art and artifacts at The Three Affiliated Tribes Museum in New Town. End with a panoramic view of the lake from Four Bears Bridge (which honors 19 Hidatsa, Arikara, and Mandan chiefs) from Crow Flies High Overlook.
— Alicia Underlee Nelson, Prairie Style File
Greeneville, Tennessee — Andrew Johnson National Historic Site and David Crockett Birthplace State Park[caption id="attachment_56037" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Photo by National Park Service[/caption]
Located in the heart of East Tennessee, Greeneville is a remarkable stop for kids and parents. The city resonates with old-fashioned charm, from the beautiful architecture to the lush landscapes. Visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site upon arrival, and sign the kids up for a Junior Ranger booklet. This is an activity scavenger hunt that encourages children to interact with the historic sites. Easy tasks, such as trying on clothes in the Andrew Johnson Visitor Center/Museum, become an incentive to earn the badge. It’s a fun way to make learning meaningful.
Finish the downtown tour with a visit to the General Morgan Inn. The charm of this historic hotel is not to be missed. Take a few moments to stroll through the delightful shops that surround the hotel, then savor the lunch buffet in sumptuous Brumley’s Restaurant. Be sure to notice the unusual wall coverings in the dining room. Kids will love looking for familiar titles on the book spines.
Ready to head out of the city? Head to David Crockett Birthplace State Park. Listen to the relaxing sounds of the Nolichucky River as you stroll through the vegetable gardens and take photos in front of the Crockett birthplace cabin replica. Allow kids the freedom to walk around the park, which is especially beautiful in autumn when the leaves change color.
— Dianna Gardenhour, Savings In Seconds
Chattanooga, Tennessee — Tennessee Aquarium and Chattanooga Zoo[caption id="attachment_56091" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Photo courtesy of John Bamber, Tennessee Aquarium[/caption]
If you’re looking for a fun family vacation that has educational benefits, look no further than Chattanooga. The downtown area offers educational family activities including the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX, Creative Discovery Museum, Chattanooga Zoo, and Hunter Art Museum.
For a central and historic place to stay, opt for the Read House Hotel Historic Inn and Suites. The Read House Hotel is less than a mile away from many area attractions. Originally built in 1872, it is a piece of educational history in itself and is recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. The amenities, which include a heated indoor pool and a full-service coffee house inside, are top notch. They also offer pet-friendly rooms which are perfect for a family getaway if you’re bringing your four-legged friend along.
— Katherine Bartlett, Our Whiskey Lullaby
Jekyll Island, Georgia — Georgia Sea Turtle Center[caption id="attachment_56090" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority[/caption]
Let the kids get hands-on and experience marine life in Jekyll Island, Georgia. This Atlantic coast destination is part of Georgia’s golden isles and it’s the perfect place to teach kids about marine conservation and rehabilitation.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an educational must-do. They offer daily behind the scenes tours where kids can visit sea turtle patients, observe feedings, and get up close in the animal holding area. Biologists are always available for questions about Jekyll Island’s original inhabitants. If you’re looking for an extra special experience, our family loves the sunrise turtle walk on the beach.
After a day of family learning at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, enjoy the quaint accommodations of the Hodnett Coopers Sea Gate Inn at St. Simons. The beach access inn offers family suites with full kitchens. Hodnett Coopers Sea Gate Inn is a scenic 19 miles from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Plus, it’s also near Fort Frederica National Monument.
— Kimberly Stroh, Savvy Mama Lifestyle
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Independence Hall and Museum of the American Revolution[caption id="attachment_56087" align="aligncenter" width="1280"] Photo courtesy of J. Fusco for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®[/caption]
Philadelphia is the place to go for an educational family trip focused on U.S. history. Drop your bags at The Sheraton Society Hill, which is right on a charming cobblestone street close to the main historical attractions. (Kids will appreciate the huge indoor pool.) Visit Independence Hall for a free National Park ranger tour, learn history at 13 Once Upon A Nation’s Storytelling Benches, and see the famous Liberty Bell for yourself. (Pro tip: avoid the lines and see it from outside its glass home.)
The new Museum of the American Revolution has videos, artifacts and interactive exhibits, bringing the revolution to life. Nearby, the landmark Betsy Ross house is in one of the oldest parts of the city. If history is not to your kids’ taste, head to Reading Terminal Market and treat them to Bassetts Ice Cream, the oldest ice cream company in the United States. For science lovers, head to the Franklin Institute, which is filled with interactive exhibits.[button text="View Hotel" href="https://www.trivago.com/philadelphia-34932/hotel/sheraton-society-hill-77606"]
— Judy Antell, Wheels and Eats
San Francisco, California — California Academy of Sciences[caption id="attachment_56096" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Photo courtesy of Kathryn Whitney, California Academy of Sciences[/caption]
San Francisco doesn’t immediately come to mind as the most kid-friendly city trip, but the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park is a family favorite for educational fun. Every level is like exploring a new ecosystem. We watched a scuba diver swim through coral reefs, wandered among the birds and butterflies of a huge rainforest exhibit, and even learned more about California native plants up on the open-air living roof. While at Golden Gate Park, we squeezed in visits to a few of the many beautiful gardens, like the Japanese Tea Garden, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers.
San Francisco’s neighborhoods are so vibrant and diverse, we love taking some time to delve into the history and culture of each one. After hunting for vibrant murals in the Mission District, we stopped for an ice cream cone at Bi-Rite Creamery and spent the afternoon at Dolores Park. On our visit to the city, we stayed at the Parc 55 San Francisco, a Hilton Hotel. We appreciated the comfortable, spacious rooms that easily accommodated our family, plus its central location just a few blocks from Union Square. We could easily hop on any mode of public transit, from the historic cable cars to the Muni Metro, and arrive at our destination within minutes.
— Kelly Barcus, No Man Before
Fredericksburg, Virginia — Mary Ball Washington House and Civil War Battlefields[caption id="attachment_56059" align="aligncenter" width="950"] Photo courtesy of Fredericksburg, VA Economic Development[/caption]
On the east coast, Fredericksburg, Virginia is an overlooked historical marvel, ideal for family trips focused on fun with a side of history. Halfway between Washington, D.C. and the state’s capital, Richmond, Fredericksburg is easily accessible from Interstate 95 and via Amtrak.
Fredericksburg is a gold mine for your young history buffs having been significant to both the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Tour four nearby Civil War battlefields, including Chancellorsville and Wilderness. Since they are managed by the National Park Services, there are plenty of free guides and tour maps available online and at the two visitors’ centers.
Dive even deeper into history with a visit to the Mary Ball Washington House. The house and garden of George Washington’s mother, dating back to circa 1760, have been authentically restored.”
Stay in Fredericksburg’s National Historic District, a 40-block area with hundreds of buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Shop, dine, and stay in this walkable neighborhood. For lodging that’s family-friendly and historically significant, look to the Richard Johnston Inn on Caroline Street. Breakaway from chain hotels with a stay in this 18th-century inn packed to the rafters with charm, and centrally located in the historic district, three blocks from the train station.
— Anne Paris, Midlife Boulevard
Savannah, Georgia — Fort Pulaski and Railroad Museum[caption id="attachment_56038" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Photo by National Park Service[/caption]
Our family loves discovering new places and learning about what makes them unique. Savannah is a fantastic place to take the kids to learn about history. We spent the early part of the day at Fort Pulaski, which has the largest reproduction cannon being fired in the United States, learning about fort life and exploring the ramparts and tunnels. We then headed over to the Railroad Museum which is also housed next to the Children’s Museum. We toured several rail cars from different time periods and even got to go for a ride on a real steam-powered train. (The kids loved that!)
At the Children’s Museum, we explored the many kinesthetic activities they had including a life-sized maze and jumbo LEGO building blocks. After eating dinner, we went for ice cream at the famous Leopold’s which is not to be missed.
For lodging, we stayed the night at Holiday Inn in the Savannah Historic District. It was a great choice for our family with its proximity to the River Walk and historic district as well as being a comfortable place to stay.
— Shelly Morgan, Coral and Co.
Jupiter, Florida — Loggerhead Marinelife Center
Travel is a vital part of bringing learning to life and I love the educational opportunities available in Jupiter, Florida. Home to a gorgeous turquoise coastline in the Palm Beaches, the town of Jupiter is perfectly situated for a field trip between Miami and Orlando. Tour the museum at the Jupiter Lighthouse and climb its 105 stairs to the top to experience remarkable views and history “through a whole new lens.”
Next, it’s time to meet the locals, starting with the local sea life. No trip to the area is complete without taking in the turtles at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. One of my family’s favorite spots, you’ll come eye to eye with sea turtles, starfish, shrimp, seagrass and so much more. LMC is a unique destination, focusing on education, conservation, and rehabilitation of these beauties.
Catch a glimpse of adorable hatchlings waiting for release. Take a turtle walk and see turtles laying eggs along the shore, or come in for the aquarium fish feeding. Pack a picnic lunch for the pirate ship playground with an ocean view at Loggerhead Park directly behind the center.
Relax for the night in a family jacuzzi suite at the quaint, independently-owned Jupiter Waterfront Inn. Grab an açaí bowl at 3 Natives, founded by Jupiter locals. As a local myself, this is paradise for bringing learning to life.
— Jen Reyneri, Word Traveling
Asheville, North Carolina — Biltmore Estate and Grove Arcade[caption id="attachment_56039" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Photo by Biltmore Media Room[/caption]
Nothing wakes up a kid’s brain like time travel. Step back over 100 years at the Biltmore Estate with a 250-room castle tour. Kids’ audio guides narrated by the Vanderbilt’s dog keep children engaged. (You can download a free treasure map, too!) Outside, explore the 8,000 acres of gardens and forests. Kids 16 and under get in free all summer; nine and under are welcomed here for free all year.
Rest and refresh in a nature-inspired room at Hotel Indigo in the heart of the historic downtown then set out for a short walk to the Asheville Museum of Science. Explore the Appalachian Forest and Hall of Minerals, then marvel at the panoramic screen of planets and dust fossils like a paleontologist. On your walk to or from the museum, step into Grove Arcade. First opened in 1929, it boasts a rich revitalization story, architecture, shopping, and an outdoor artisan market. Asheville is the perfect escape to wind down summer and gear up for the school days ahead.
— Gigi Stewart, GigiStewart.com
Coronado, California — Coronado Island and Central Beach
If the back-to-school blues have got your kiddos feeling down, I highly recommend taking a weekend getaway to Coronado Island. It’s perfect for some end-of-summer sunshine and a little jump start into the educational experience your kids need.
Take the ferry or drive across the beautiful Coronado bridge. Then settle into the Hotel del Coronado, an old Victorian-style hotel that was built in 1888. You can take a 75-minute guided tour through the historic grounds and hear stories of heritage, history, and the ghost of Kate Morgan.
Stop at the pizza bar or the sundeck to enjoy delicious snacks with an ocean view, and then walk along the strand of Central Beach until you’re warm enough to hop into the cool water. Kids can enjoy a scavenger hunt that leads to real treasure or they can skip on over to MooTime Creamery for made-from-scratch ice cream. And for a little extra education, you can always hit up the Coronado Public Library for their Summer programs that include animal shows, magic, games, movies, and crafts. Just the right mixture of learning and fun!
— Cate Rosales, Sweet and Simple Life
Columbus, Ohio — COSI and Capital Atrium[caption id="attachment_56094" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Photo courtesy of COSI, Robb McCormick Photography[/caption]
Families who relish a touch of luxury will enjoy a stay at the Hotel LeVeque in downtown Columbus. This boutique hotel is housed in the LeVeque Tower, which was the tallest building in Columbus when it was built in 1927. A constellation theme is woven throughout and includes nightly turndown service that projects the Milky Way on the ceilings of guest rooms. COSI is a short walk down Broad Street and across the Scioto River. This science center is full of hands-on displays and they recently partnered with NYC’s American Museum of Natural History to open a permanent dinosaur gallery.
The grounds of the Ohio Statehouse are located two blocks from the hotel. Free guided tours are offered on weekdays. Don’t miss Pete the Pigeon in the Capital Atrium and if you’re from Ohio, take a photo of yourself standing on the marble map that features all 88 counties in the Map Room. For another photo op, head to the world’s largest gavel sculpture located in the courtyard of the Ohio Supreme Court.
— Tonya Prater, Travel Inspired Living
Charleston, South Carolina — Fort Sumter and Drayton Hall[caption id="attachment_56034" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Photo by National Park Service[/caption]
Charleston, South Carolina checks off all the boxes for a family-friendly destination with a healthy helping of learning. Stay at the historic Elliott House Inn, where Neal Cook, in-house historian and 10th generation South Carolinian, offers private curated tours.
Take a ferry ride to Fort Sumter and stand in the very place where the Civil War began or visit Drayton Hall, the oldest preserved plantation house still open to the public in the United States. Charleston is a city rich in history, where kids will effortlessly learn about the Civil War era and create memories that will last a lifetime.
— Vicki Floyd, ADK Consulting & Executive Search
Williamsburg, Virginia — Historic Jamestown
One of our all-time favorite educational trips is to Williamsburg, Virginia. Williamsburg provides the opportunity for you and your family to take a step back in time and enjoy colonial America.
First, book your stay at the Historic Powhatan Resort, where you can instantly immerse yourself in a little piece of American history coupled with a little modern day luxury. The fully restored Manor House from the 1700s now offers spacious multi-room units, a refreshing pool, a fun playground, and even a mini golf course all nestled on 256 acres for you to enjoy.
Located only minutes away from Historic Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, you can quickly take your colonial experience beyond just your stay. From guided tours of original 18th-century buildings to tons of hands-on activities and large collections of period art, Williamsburg offers a little something for everyone in your family to see and enjoy. There’s always a live demonstration going on, and locals dressed in period costumes walking the historic streets are more than happy to answer any questions your little ones might have.
— Jen Giambalvo & Carrie Beth Posener, The Magnolia Mamas
Seneca Falls, New York — Women’s Rights National Historical Park[caption id="attachment_56032" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Photo by National Park Service[/caption]
Parents looking for a way to ease their children back into learning should book a back-to-school vacation to Seneca Falls, New York. This history-rich village will inspire a “giddy-up” for the learning that will last all school year. Because, as I always say, “Where attention goes, energy flows.”
Things got hip in Seneca Falls in 1848, when locals inspired by a scheduled visit by Lucretia Mott from Philadelphia organized the first Women’s Rights Convention. Organizers were active in the temperance and abolition movements, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Jane Hunt, and Mary M’Clintock. Hailed as a “convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women”, it was held at the Wesleyan Chapel on Fall Street. The convention was the start of the women’s rights movement and Seneca Falls, its birthplace.
Families can visit the Women’s Rights National Historical Park including the Wesleyan Chapel and the Waterwall at Declaration Park, where the words of the convention’s guiding document, the Declaration of Sentiments, are inscribed on a 10-foot-long wall. The Elizabeth Cady Stanton House, which she referred to as the “center of the rebellion”, is another must-see in town. Those visits alone would be enough to spark the imagination of a budding young historian, teacher, or activist. The village is also home to the National Women’s Hall of Fame, which “showcases women, and inspires all”. A visit is sure to leave kids motivated to learn and become engaged citizens.
A stay at the Gould Hotel puts you at the center of it all. Just doors down from the park, this boutique hotel blends historical details with modern luxury.
— Keith Hughes, Hip Hughes
Boston, Massachusetts — The Freedom Trail[caption id="attachment_56093" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Photo courtesy of The Freedom Trail[/caption]
Boston makes learning history easy with the Freedom Trail, a marked trail throughout the city. A guided walking tour along the trail was by far the family’s favorite experience in the city. The costumed guide takes on a historic persona as he engages you in the events leading up to the American Revolution. (Be sure to check out John Hancock’s gravestone in the Granary Burying Ground.) We also found The Old State House incredibly informative thanks to a detailed timeline of the American Revolution.
After a full day of history, I recommend getting cozy at the Omni Parker House Hotel in the heart of Boston. Home to the famous Parker House Rolls and Boston Cream Pie, the Omni is steps from the Freedom Trail, the Old State House, and many more historic sites.
— Tonya Denmark, Detail Oriented Traveler
Flagstaff, Arizona — Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings and Lowell Observatory[caption id="attachment_56097" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Photo courtesy of the Lowell Observatory[/caption]
With the lazy days of summer winding down and school rapidly approaching, now is the perfect time to plan an educational trip with the kids and Flagstaff, Arizona is an excellent pick for an educational back-to-school escape for the family. From ancient cliff dwellings to the historic Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff has something for everyone.
Visiting the Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings was definitely one of my kids’ favorite activities in Flagstaff. They enjoyed spending time in the visitor center with a museum featuring pottery and other ancient artifacts recovered from the dwellings. We also took a hike along the one-mile Island Trail loop and entered most of the 25 cliff dwelling rooms along the trail.
After the kids have learned about the ancient cliff dwellings, head to the Lowell Observatory for the evening. The observatory is such a fun and educational destination for the entire family. My kids absolutely loved being able to peer through the giant telescopes at night and clearly see entire galaxies and planets up close. You can even view the telescope that discovered Pluto back in 1930. (For optimal stargazing, check the forecast before you go to ensure the skies will be clear.)
So just where should you stay in Flagstaff? I recommend the newly built Hampton Inn & Suites Flagstaff East. The views of the San Francisco Peak Mountains from the northern side of the hotel are stunning. In addition to free parking and free WiFi, they have a free breakfast every morning. It’s the perfect location with easy access to both the Lowell Observatory and Walnut Canyon National Monument Cliff Dwellings.
— Heidi, DIY Thrill
Tampa, Florida — Florida Aquarium and Tampa Riverwalk
Welcoming families of all ages is the Tampa Marriott Waterside Resort & Marina, which features panoramic views of the Hillsborough River, and enjoys direct access to the Tampa Riverwalk. Let the staff dote on your mini-vacationers with personal attention to detail while you relax in style. The hotel boasts an attractive rooftop pool, and multiple restaurants to satiate family sized appetites for fun and fuel.
Meanwhile, the Riverwalk provides public access to five museums and seven parks for families to enjoy. One of these museums is The Glazer Children’s Museum, where little ones will get lost in play and imaginative hands-on activities which delve into engineering, commerce, and art. Less than a mile from the resort sits the watery world of the Florida Aquarium. Kids of all ages will be in awe of the captivating exhibits covering the marshlands of Florida and the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t forget to pack your toddler’s swimsuits, they’ll be eager to cool off in the Aquarium’s Splash Pad located on site.
— Amy West, The Amy West
Estes Park, Colorado — Rocky Mountain National Park[caption id="attachment_56033" align="aligncenter" width="650"] Photo by National Park Service[/caption]
A National Park ranger, history buff, explorer, artist, inventor — your kids can become all of these things in Estes Park, Colorado. With Rocky Mountain National Park as its backyard, Estes Park features free outdoor adventures for kids of all ages. Park ranger-led programs teach families Rocky Mountain history, geology, flora, and fauna through engaging activities. Put your family’s nature skills to the test at the Estes Park Museum where visitors are challenged with identifying local wildlife. Continue your educational journey by exploring the town’s entrepreneurial pioneers, astrology, featured photography, and artwork. At the low cost of free, the Estes Park Museum is a must visit.
Turn in for the night at the famous Stanley Hotel. The luxurious accommodations were constructed in 1909 by F.O. Stanley, co-inventor of Stanley Steamer cars. “All work and no play” is a thing of the past with newly renovated amenities, including a pool and hedge maze. Informational tours of this historically registered hotel detail the grounds, owners, and even offer a ghost story or two.
— Erica Lawlor, BabyFat Blogging
Feature image courtesy of John Bamber, Tennessee Aquarium