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Top 10 Amazing US Cities to Visit with the Family!

There’s way more to the US than LA and New York. For your next family holiday stateside, check out some of these vibrant cities

Father and son enjoying the Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco, California
Father and son enjoying the Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco, California

1. New Orleans, Louisiana

The home and heartland of jazz, New Orleans is a city on the Mississippi River, where Caribbean, American, French and African cultures collide, imbuing it with an exotic blend of sights, sounds, flavours and attractions you won’t find anywhere else on the planet!

New Orleans streets
New Orleans streets

Make your first stop the famous French Quarter, which positively pulsates with an electric atmosphere, and stroll through the 120 blocks of authentic old world New Orleans. Street artists and entertainers, carriage rides and museums offer a full day’s adventure here. Then take a streetcar ride on the St Charles line, along charming, character and history-filled streets lined with ancient live oaks, on your way to Audubon Park, the Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas. Don’t leave without letting the family sample amazing, mouth-watering southern cuisine, New Orleans-style, in any one of the many friendly restaurants and cafes that perfectly punctuate this eclectic city.

2. Seattle, Washington

Seattle downtown and Space Needle view
Seattle downtown and Space Needle view

When the forefathers of the city first established Seattle, they laid claim to a premium location —green hills, surrounded by water, and sandwiched between two mountain ranges — that gave rise to its unofficial name, ‘Emerald City’. Seattle’s natural beauty and outdoor attractions are a given, but its real welcome comes from the relaxed and friendly pace set by locals. 

Seattle is also known for being quirky, embracing and fun, and in the heart of the city that ethos is evident in the many attractions that tip their hat to art (multiple museums and Olympic Sculpture Park) and music (Seattle is the birthplace of grunge music – visit the EMP Museum); the fabulous and fun (the iconic Space Needle, Seattle Great Wheel, Seattle Center Monorail); and the funky and foodie (Seattle Waterfront, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market and even the original Starbucks!). 

Grab a great value Seattle CityPASS for all-inclusive admission to multiple attractions including the Space Needle and Aquarium, and your choice of other fun experiences.

3. Orlando, Florida

Meet your favourite Disney characters at Walt Disney World Resort Florida. Image: Disney
Meet your favourite Disney characters at Walt Disney World Resort Florida. Image: Disney

What to do in Orlando? A better question would be “where to start?”, because Orlando is known the world over as theme park central, and every kid’s idea of a great holiday destination.

Before you embark on your theme park adventure, explore Downtown Orlando, which wraps around Lake Eola, and feed the swans from Lake Eola Park, or hire a swan-shaped paddle boat before grabbing a bite to eat, marvelling at the city’s impressive skyline, and planning out which theme park is first on the itinerary! 

Whether it’s Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, a wonderland of ocean animals at SeaWorld or the amazing LEGOLAND, your days and nights will be jam-packed with guaranteed delight.

4. Santa Monica, California

Kids having fun on the beach in Santa Monica
Kids having fun on the beach in Santa Monica

With enormous appeal for visiting Aussie families, the beachfront city of Santa Monica sits between Los Angeles (only 13 kilometres away) and the beautiful Pacific Ocean, and is a true seaside town that boasts palm trees and promenades, beaches, history and contemporary Southern California charm.

The historic Santa Monica Pier is a hub of amusements, attractions, beaches, stalls and shops, surfers and bodybuilders and sensational fresh seafood, and the must-ride, much-photographed, solar-powered Ferris Wheel in Pacific Park! Swim, bodysurf, play beach volleyball, cycle the bike path and people watch. 

Stroll a few blocks from the pier to explore Downtown Santa Monica/Third Street Promenade, with more than 200 shops, and a whole range of tasty choices for family eats. Laid back and lively, it may sound incongruous, but Santa Monica effortlessly rolls out the beachside lifestyle and urban adventures in a side-by-side experience that provides a perfect holiday playground for visiting families.

5. Indianapolis, Indiana

Dinosaur skeletons on display at Indianapolis Children's Museum
Dinosaur skeletons on display at Indianapolis Children's Museum

They call it INDY – friendly and informal, reflecting the prevailing funky and hospitable vibe here, that belies the fact that Indianapolis is actually Indiana’s largest city. An incredible metropolis it is, but it’s also a family-centric place that boasts the world’s largest Children’s Museum. Of course, Indy is known the globe over for its iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where IndyCars jostle for position at the ultimate family experience, the Indy500. Motor racing fans of all ages will get a buzz touring the speedway and testing their skills behind the wheel of a racing simulator at Dallara IndyCar Factory.

For more sport, tour the arenas that host Indiana’s hometown football and basketball greats – the NFL Indianapolis Colts and the NBA Indiana Pacers. Kids of all ages love dressing up, hopping into a stagecoach, and playing in the General Store at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, and wandering the 60 hectares of gardens and grounds at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Explore the city’s urban green space at White River State Park where world-class museums, outdoor live music, paddle boats and gondolas beckon, before a visit to the triple accredited Zoo, Aquarium and Botanic Garden.

6. Washington DC

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. Image
The Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC. Image:

The White House, in the District of Columbia, is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States of America. That’s worth a visit to DC alone! For a city so intertwined with American history, that boasts spectacular monuments, memorials and impressive, important buildings, DC sure knows how to provide a whole lot of family fun. 

Washington DC is home to world-famous Smithsonian Institution museums (think ‘Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian’), all located on or near the National Mall – and they are all free! Explore space, fun movie history and our prehistoric world, and discover historic Union Station, the largest railway station in the world when it opened in 1907, now meticulously restored with shopping and entertainment on site too. 

Find out what it’s really like to be a spy at DC’s International Spy Museum! Ideal for kids aged seven years and older (admission for children six years and under is free), the interactive spy experiences are awesome and bring out the inner Inspector Gadget or James Bond in every visitor.

7. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe Children's Museum
Santa Fe Children's Museum

The USA’s second oldest city (400 years old) is also the country’s highest city, perched at the base of the Rocky Mountains and sharing its borders with Colorado, Arizona, Texas and Mexico. Its rich Native American, Wild West and Spanish heritage has shaped Santa Fe’s contemporary culture. Vibrant and colourful, Santa Fe’s many Native American pueblos (villages) and the work of its artists and artisans continue to influence this very distinctive American city. 

Kids will love learning more in a hands-on environment at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art and Santa Fe Reptile and Bug Museum and Store! In winter, Santa Fe takes advantage of its alpine climate and turns into a magical snow fun playground for skiing, sledding and ice-skating.

8. Boston, Massachusetts

Children at Boston Children's Museum. Image Kathryn York
Children at Boston Children's Museum. Image: Kathryn York

Boston is a modern city full of history! Renowned for its fantastic family-friendly eateries (try some Boston cream pie while you’re there!), fabulous seafood and the Boston Red Sox (the city’s pro baseball team), Boston’s seam is comprised of strong Irish-American roots with strong African-American roots and an urban buzz that offers plenty of great family-friendly attractions. 

Kids will love the Boston Children’s Museum where ‘don’t touch is never heard’ and exploring the Museum of Science. At the city’s urban park, Greenway, there are spray pools and fountains for water play, and on Boston’s famous waterfront you can whale watch, take a sunset cruise or venture into a world of robots, holographs and weird science at the world-famous MIT Museum.

Take in LEGOLAND Discovery Center or head out on a Boston tour with a difference – a Duck Tour, to be precise – where your transport is an amphibious WWII-style landing craft that travels on land and water! Visit the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum on the waterfront and aside from a fascinating history lesson, you’ll also experience panoramic views of the Boston skyline and Harbor Islands. Book any one of a diverse range of city walking tours, suitable for families, and delve into Boston’s fascinating history first-hand.

Grab a Boston CityPASS for discounted admission to a variety of attractions including the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science.

9. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston carriage tour. Image: Explore Charleston
Charleston carriage tour. Image: Explore Charleston

You may have heard of the 1923 tune and dance, ‘The Charleston’, which was named for this beautiful South Carolina harbour city. Immortalised in music, the often-called ‘charming and quaint’ Lowcountry city of Charleston is used to being in the spotlight because it’s one of the most loved US cities, constantly topping readers’ polls and attracting visitors in droves. There’s just something about the genteel southern spirit that is evoked here, the ambience, the history, the pretty, colourful, cobbled streets, and the beautiful beaches just minutes from downtown!

Kids will love the South Carolina Aquarium and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. At the Old Slave Mart Museum, children can discover more about Charleston’s part in the slave trade, and at the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon see where American Patriots were held prisoner during the War of Independence. Take the ferry across Charleston’s harbour to Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began, with the first shots fired on the Fort in 1861.

10. San Francisco, California

See Ramses the Great and the Gold of The Pharaohs at San Francisco Fine Arts Museums. Image: San Francisco Travel Association
See Ramses the Great and the Gold of The Pharaohs at San Francisco Fine Arts Museums. Image: San Francisco Travel Association

One of the most popular and most-visited cities in America, a family holiday is not complete without walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, hopping on a cable car and hanging out at Fisherman’s Wharf – and taking lots of selfies with these notable landmarks! A beautiful marina–side hub bursting with attractions, eateries and entertainment, the kids will love Aquarium of the Bay, the 7D Experience, Madame Tussauds, The Sea Lion Experience and Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Start your adventures at Pier 39 and you won’t miss any of the action, plus you’ll discover great places to eat, indulge in treats and shop!

San Francisco is bursting at the seams with museums (including Walt Disney Family Museum), and a bustling Chinatown. Plus, San Francisco sits right on the doorstep of the 30,000ha Golden Gate National Recreation Area—one of the largest urban parks in the world— with islands, redwood forests, beaches and plenty of fun outdoor activities on offer. And don’t miss a trip across the San Francisco Bay to ‘The Rock’ – the infamous Alcatraz prison!

A San Francisco CityPASS will get you discounted admission into several attractions. 

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