Last year at this time, I was cautiously optimistic about travel this summer. We had rescheduled our big summer European vacation to August 2021 and spent last summer exploring the beautiful things to see in Massachusetts. However, while things are definitely better for travel this year, that European trip is unfortunately a dream for 2022.
Whether you’ve had a trip for this summer postponed, or held off on planning one, there is still time. Things are booking up, however, so you’ll want to start looking at flights and hotels now. For inspiration, here are some awesome summer vacation ideas in the US for families.
When looking at ideas, consider things like where you’ll want to stay (e.g., resort, campground, vacation home), what activities you’ll want to do (e.g., beaches, shopping, outdoor activities), where you’ll want to go (e.g., theme parks, national parks, water parks), type of vacation you want (e.g., big city, beach, small town) and how far you want to travel (e.g., road trip, plane trip).
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, and a click-through/purchase through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us. All opinions are my own. We may have traveled to some of these locations at no cost for purposes of review.
2021 Summer Vacation Ideas in the US for Families
Note that due to labor constraints and other public health concerns this year, many tourist attractions, restaurants, shops, and hotels are not operating at full capacity. The best summer vacation spots especially may be very busy. Others may require advance reservations. Be sure to look into operating hours and reservation needs before heading out on vacation.
As a New Englander, I can’t think of a more quintessential summer vacation idea than Cape Cod. This cape (not an island), located in Massachusetts on the East Coast of the United States, offers a number of beach towns that are perfect for a summer vacation.
When visiting Cape Cod, you’ll have a variety of options for lodging and small towns. The Cape is separated into Mid-Cape, Lower/Outer Cape, and Upper-Cape.
Lower/Outer Cape towns include Harwich, Brewster, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. These are furthest from Boston but include upscale shops, restaurants, and resorts. Luxury hotel options include:
The Mid-Cape can be a great option for families for a summer getaway because it’s in the middle of a lot of the action. You’ll also be able to drive to any of the activities and restaurants throughout the Cape. Towns in this area include Yarmouth (South Yarmouth, Yarmouth Port and West Yarmouth), Dennis (Dennis Port, West Dennis, South Dennis, East Dennis, and North Dennis), and Barnstable (Cotuit, Hyannis, Barnstable Village, Centerville, Marstons Mills, Osterville, and West Barnstable).
Hotels include the Red Jacket family of resorts, which are located right on the waterfront. The Cape Codder in Hyannis is also very popular. There are also lots of vacation home rentals in the area (including ours!).
The Upper Cape is the first section you’ll drive through and is closest to Boston. Towns in this area include Falmouth, Bourne, Sandwich, and Mashpee. Our favorite hotel in this area is the Sea Crest Beach Hotel.
There are so many beautiful beaches in the area including the Cape Cod National Seashore, so it’s best to choose one closest to where you are staying – keeping in mind that some beaches are open only to residents of the town.
While visiting Cape Cod, there’s much more to do beyond the beaches. Activities include the Whydah Pirate Museum, the Cape Cod Inflatable Park, miniature golf, dune tours, whale watches, fishing excursions, a visit to the Nickerson State Park, horseback riding, and much more.
Beyond Cape Cod, you can also take a ferry or a plane to the two nearby islands – Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Both are extremely popular and beautiful in the summer. You can go for a day trip, or can stay at one of the many hotels or vacation homes nearby.
Maine is known as Vacationland for a good reason. This Northern New England state boasts impressive summer activities for families along with beach towns and cities. Whether you want to road trip up and down the coast, or settle into one spot, you are likely to find the perfect summer vacation spot for the whole family.
One of our favorite places to stay in Maine is Ogunquit, a beach town located in the south of the state. Ogunquit is a hip, artsy town offering Ogunquit Beach, as well as shops, restaurants, and a vibrant arts community. Stay in the downtown area, and you won’t even need your car.
There’s also Migis Lodge, a rustic but luxurious lake resort located on Sebago Lake. This all-inclusive resort (excluding alcohol) offers quaint charm and a sentimental return to old-fashioned lake vacations. Young kids will enjoy the kids’ camp, completely with group dinners.
If you’d prefer a more city-style vacation, Portland Maine is one of the best on the East Coast. It’s a small city, but has great restaurants, museums, art galleries, and waterfront activities.
There’s also Boothbay, Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park, which are extremely popular with tourists in the warm weather.
I didn’t appreciate the natural beauty of my home state of Rhode Island when I was growing up there, but I’ve learned to appreciate it. This tiny New England state is best visited in the summer when you can take full advantage of the vast coastline.
I’d recommend visiting Newport Rhode Island, located on Aquidneck Island off of Narragansett Bay. This charming town offers the Newport Mansions, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, waterfront activities, boat tours, restaurants, shops, and nightlife.
Guests to Newport can also enjoy a visit to Fort Adams State Park, which is home to several live music festivals including the Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals.
New Hampshire offers family-friendly activities in all four seasons. Because we don’t really ski, we think the best time to visit is in the summer months, when it’s warm, but not usually too hot.
Activities in New Hampshire include alpine slides, theme parks, water parks, hiking, horseback riding, camping, zip lining, and much more. Younger kids will appreciate a visit to Santa’s Village and Story Land, while older kids may enjoy the outdoor activities.
While you are there, be sure to take advantage of the lack of sales tax in New Hampshire to do some shopping. The Settlers Green Outlets in North Conway are our favorite, but there are other outlets as well.
Here are some of our favorite hotels in the White Mountains.
Walt Disney World
It may seem counterintuitive to visit Florida in the summer, but Walt Disney World is especially busy in the summer. It could be because it can be the easiest time to visit with school out for the summer. But if you do plan a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll want to be prepared for both the crowds and the heat.
Choose a resort with a great pool, so you can relax and cool off during the hottest hours of the day. Wake up early, and visit the parks both early in the morning and later in the day. Make reservations for lunch and dinner, so you can cool off during a sit-down meal. Visiting a water park is also a great idea during the summer months.
Keep in mind that the Orlando theme parks may still be operating at limited capacity, so you’ll want to make sure you have a park reservation if necessary.
Vail is known for its fantastic skiing, but it can be a wonderful place to visit in the summer as well. Adventure seekers will love Epic Discovery at Vail Mountain, which offers unique experiences including a gondola ride, zip lining, a mountain coaster, adventure courses, and more.
There’s also shopping and restaurants at Vail Village, as well as the beautiful gardens at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. Vail is about a two hour drive from the Denver airport, or there’s a small airport right in Vail.
New York City
Summer in the Big Apple can be both magical and hot. Although Broadway isn’t quite open yet, there’s still so much to do.
I’d recommend visiting some of the popular museums in New York City, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Mathematics, and the Central Park Zoo. You could also take a Circle Line boat tour of the area – one of our favorite things to do.
For beautiful views of the city, you’ll have several options. The most popular is the Empire State Building, but you can also get great views from the One World Observatory or the Top of the Rock.
If you want to visit the Statue of Liberty, you’ll want to prepare in advance. Many opportunistic tour providers and street vendors will try to sell you expensive tickets at a premium. But, tickets can, and should, be purchased in advance. Check out this post to learn about the process of visiting the Statue of Liberty.
Outer Banks, NC
Want a relaxing getaway? The barrier islands known as the Outer Banks in North Carolina offer lots of relaxing activities for families. These include sailing, fishing, water sports, hiking, and swimming.
Getting to the Outer Banks can be a bit tricky because there isn’t an airport right there. Instead, you can either drive, or fly into a nearby airport and rent a car. Airport options in the area are the Norfolk International Airport, the Raleigh Durham International Airport, and the Coastal Carolina Airport.
While Seattle is known for rain and clouds, the summer months can be really beautiful. Seattle isn’t a beach vacation destination, but it does have many fun activities for families. I recommend including it on your family vacation bucket list.
The iconic Space Needle and the world-famous Pike Place Market are definitely the most popular Seattle activities, but there is so much more. From the waterfront Seattle Aquarium and Seattle Great Wheel to the Museum of Popular Culture and Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center, there are plenty of things to fill your days.
Seattle offers some great sports venues as well, and if you are visiting in the summer, you may want to take in a Seattle Mariners game. You can also drive around the area to Ballard Locks, Funko HQ, the Boeing Future of Flight Museum, Snoqualmie Falls, and Mount Rainier State Park.
I grew up going to Walt Disney World, but I also have a big appreciation for Disneyland Resort in California. Offering two theme parks, this resort is more manageable than Walt Disney World. In addition, the Los Angeles area climate can be a bit more comfortable than Florida in the summer.
Disneyland reopens to out of state visitors June 15th, which is perfect timing to explore the newly opened Avengers Campus. There are lots of other differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World, including Pixar Pier and Cars Land.
While there are several on-property Disneyland Resorts (like the Grand Californian), Anaheim California is also home to other hotels that are just steps from the Disneyland entrance. One of these is the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground, where I had the opportunity to stay last year.
Visiting the Grand Canyon on a summer vacation can often be a rite of passage. Because it’s an extremely popular destination, and it is still running on a decreased capacity, you’ll want to plan ahead especially during the peak season.
There’s so much to do and see in the Grand Canyon, and it’s hard to do everything in one quick visit. For lodging and camping trips, you’ll want to make reservations well in advance. Be sure to read all of the details on their website before planning your trip.
The consistent perfect temperatures in San Diego make it a great family travel destination regardless of the season. But, it can be especially fun in the summer, which is the perfect time to avoid the super-hot temperatures and enjoy some time outside.
Popular attractions in San Diego include the San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND (in nearby Calistoga), and Seaworld. You’ll also find quaint neighborhoods, museums, restaurants, shops, and plenty of beaches.
We recommend staying at a hotel with amenities you’ll enjoy, like an outdoor pool and/or beach access. We really enjoyed our stay at the Bahia Resort Hotel, located by Mission Beach and Belmont Park in Mission Bay.