Growing up in Miami, we had many family vacations in the Southeast as we enjoyed local travel. We often would take road trips to neighboring states during school breaks or even spend long weekends in north Florida. With mild temperatures year-round, these Southeast vacation spots are great to visit almost any time. Here are some of the best family vacation spots on the East Coast.
SOutheast Vacation Spots
Marco Island, FL
Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Marco Island is a gem of a vacation spot for families. Only two hours west of Miami, Marco Island offers a peaceful getaway from the big city beaches. The warm waters of the Gulf are great for younger kids as there are many shallow areas and rarely any large waves.
I would recommend renting a hotel or timeshare in one of the many South Collier beachfront properties – my favorite is Marriott Crystal Shores. Many properties offer water sport rentals as well as beach chairs and umbrellas if needed.
Besides the beach and pool, Marco Island has some local shops, delicious restaurants like Michelbob’s Ribs, Doreen’s Cup of Joe, and Pelican Bend, and even a small movie theater. You can also take a dolphin-watching cruise, kayak through the mangroves, take a fishing charter, and even go snorkeling.
Marco Island is a great location for family vacations in the Southeast; although it can get quite popular in the summer with tourists. If you are planning on visiting in the winter months to escape the cold, just know that you will be joining many “snowbirds” who call Naples and Marco Island home.
Pensacola is located on Florida’s panhandle and the iconic Emerald Coast. While Pensacola Beach brings clear blue water and powdery white sand, Pensacola proper is rich in history and is arguably the oldest settlement in the United States. Since its creation, Pensacola has been ruled by Spain, France, Britain, the Confederacy, and the United States gaining the name “City of Five Flags.”
No matter if you’re a history buff, foodie, or nature lover; Pensacola has everything your family needs for a perfect getaway. Downtown Pensacola offers a plethora of family-friendly dining including the famous Jacos on the Bayfront, McGuires, The Vineyard, and Five Sisters Blues Café. For entertainment, your family can attend one of the Blue Wahoos games, climb the Pensacola Light House, watch a Blue Angels practice or show, explore Fort Pickens, relax on the beach, rent a boat/kayak/paddleboards, go fishing or even walk the nature trails in Big Lagoon State Park. My absolute favorite place to stay in right on Pensacola Beach at Margaritaville Beach Hotel; they have absolutely amazing food, a zero-entry beachfront pool, private beach access, and covered parking.
Downtown Pensacola and Pensacola Beach offer so many exciting activities that no one in your family will be bored! Don’t forget to document your Pensacola memories with a photo at the famous Pensacola Postcard!
Contributed by: Tavia from Big Brave Nomad
St. Augustine, FL
St. Augustine is one of the best family vacation spots on the East Coast. Founded by the Spanish in 1565, this is the oldest European settled city in the US. Our family loves the colonial architecture, museums, food, and charming historic district in St. Augustine.
When you visit St. Augustine with kids, the historic district is where to start. Everything revolves around this walkable brick-lined old city downtown area. Be sure to walk around St. George Street, as it has many local shops, candy stores, and restaurants. It is in this area where you will find the majority of the family-friendly attractions in St. Augustine such as the Castillo San Marcos, the Fountain of Youth, the Pirate and Treasure Museum, and the Oldest Wooden School House.
If your family loves history, St. Augustine is a great little town to visit. The Castillo San Marcos (shown below) is a great place to take the kids back in time and even get junior ranger badges. While it does make for a great family trip, St. Augustine is also a wonderful place for adults to enjoy the charm. There are quite a few bed and breakfasts in the historic district that are within walking distance to many restaurants and things to do. Some of my top picks are The Floridian and Mojo Old City BBQ.
Another bonus is that St. Augustine is just 20 minutes away from the highway, which makes it the perfect place for a road trip stop or a great weekend getaway in north Florida. There are even nearby beaches for those looking to soak up some more sun.
Orlando is a prime vacation spot for families as theme parks are king. While some families will choose an off-site resort for their stay in the Orlando area to do both Universal Studios and Disney World, many choose to stay at one of the Disney properties.
While most people will plan to visit the four theme parks, there is plenty to do in Disney besides the parks (like Disney Springs). Universal Studios’ two parks are also very popular, as is visiting Citywalk. For those with younger kids, Legoland, in nearby Winter Park, is a fantastic option.
Because planning a trip to Disney World can be a daunting task, a travel agent can help you organize your day, give you tips to avoid the crowds, and suggest dining locations.
Atlanta is one of our favorite Southeast vacation spots due to the number of activities there are to do and the great restaurants available in the area. We have visited the city twice and the Georgia Aquarium continues to steal the show. Seeing the whale sharks was a definite highlight! Besides the sharks, giant manta rays, huge dolphin, tuna, grouper, they also had many other exhibits. The Arctic exhibit with the beluga whales was fantastic too. They came right up to the glass and interacted with us.
The Centennial Park area is a great place to spend the day in Atlanta. In addition to the Georgia Aquarium, it contains the CNN Studio, the World of Coca Cola, the College Football Hall of Fame, Zoo Atlanta, the Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights, and more. Depending on the time of year you visit, this area has varying activities.
Just outside of the city is a very popular attraction – Stone Mountain, which is perfect for a day trip to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Helen is a small Bavarian town just north of Atlanta, Georgia. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen is a quaint German-inspired town that looks like a storybook village. Although our family has only visited once, it quickly captured our hearts and became one of our favorite Southeast vacation spots.
Helen is a great home base for your family vacations in the Southeast because of its proximity to so many other activities. Strolling the downtown area will make you feel as if your family has traveled to Germany and with plenty of unique local shops, the window shopping opportunities are endless. There are also quite a few German/Austrian restaurants in the area. Some of our favorites are at Old Heidelberg and Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Cafe.
In the summer, tubing down the Chattahoochee River is very popular. In addition to the town itself, there are numerous waterfalls and hiking opportunities and nearby Unicoi State Park. Anna Ruby Falls is our favorite, but some other notable waterfall hikes are Dukes Creek Falls, Raven Cliff Falls, Helton Creek Falls, and DeSoto Falls.
Savannah, Georgia is a wonderful city to visit with kids! Between the historic side of Savannah and the surrounding areas, there’s enough to keep everyone in the family happy. We recommend finding a hotel or nice Airbnb within downtown Savannah, where you can marvel at the architecture as you walk through Savannah’s historic center. For exploring some of the further out areas, a rental car is key.
The Wormsloe Historic Site is one place that should be added to every itinerary for Savannah with kids. The majestic oaks with the hanging Spanish moss is as stunning as you would expect. While there, take the time to do one of the hikes like the hiking path to the Colonial Life Area. The kids will have a blast.
For a day in the city, start with a walk through Forsythe Park and each of the beautiful public squares on your way to the waterfront. Window shop along River Street and be sure to stop at one of the candy shops for some Pecan Praline. Other items to include in your city walking tour are the City Market and of course the incredible architecture throughout downtown Savannah.
Nearby Skidaway State Park has some really fun hikes for families. With any luck, you’ll be able to spot dolphins on the Skidaway Narrows River.
Contributed by: Celine from Family Can Travel
The city of Charleston eludes Southern charm and hospitality. Before we had kids, my husband and I visited this city a couple of times. It quickly became one of our favorite Southeast vacation spots. Since it is not horribly far from South Florida, our family has visited this city on road trips and it has become for us one of the best family vacation spots on the East Coast.
One of our favorite things to do is walk through the downtown area where the Charleston City Market is located and walk through King Street where the local shops are found. A walk along the riverfront is quite scenic, as is the famed Rainbow Row, a series of colorful historic houses located on the Charleston Battery. Our kids loved the South Carolina Aquarium too.
My husband and I love visiting historical sites and national parks. So naturally, we were very excited to visit Fort Sumter. The only way to get here is to take a ferry. In addition to exploring the place where the Civil War started, you could also tour a World War II aircraft carrier, planes, and a submarine across the bay at Patriot’s Point.
Ghost tours are also a popular nighttime attraction in Charleston, as are walking tours and carriage tours throughout the city and around nearby graveyards. Just outside of Charleston, there are many southern plantations that offer tours of the grounds. Some of our favorites were Boone Hall and Magnolia.
Finally, you cannot truly experience Charleston without eating some delicious Southern cuisine. Charleston has become a foodie haven for upscale Southern cuisine and unique versions of the city’s signature dish – shrimp and grits. We loved Hominy Grill and Husk.
Hilton Head, SC
Hilton Head Island is a family-friendly destination and ideal for a vacation. It has been recognized as one of the top ten family beaches in the country. It’s like a boot-shaped sea island which is truly a paradise on the coast of South Carolina.
This area is in the low country region of South Carolina and has incredible beaches and world-class golf courses. Atlantic Ocean Beach, South Beach, Folly Field Beach, Forest Beach are few popular seashores. Along with it, there are some exceptional restaurants like Truffles and Old Oyster Factory.
April to May and September to October are the best to visit. During the spring, the crowds and the cost of hotels are a little less. I would recommend staying at the Sea Pines Resort. You can relax on the beach and also enjoy swimming in the ocean.
Make sure to visit the Harbour Town Lighthouse. It is one of the iconic destinations. From the top of the lighthouse, you will have a spectacular view of the island.
Contributed by: Ruma from The Holiday Story
Greenville has been on the list as one of the best small towns in America for a few years now, and it is easy to see why. It is no surprise that Greenville gets its name from all the green spaces in the area. One of the highlights of this city is a beautiful park located at the edge of downtown. Falls Park on the Reedy has a gorgeous rock waterfall surrounded by plenty of green space and a walkable suspension bridge that overs a scenic overlook of the area.
The downtown area is filled with boutique shops, breweries, and delicious restaurants. In addition, the city has a 20-mile scenic biking and walking path that connects two other towns. We biked a section of it, had breakfast at Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery, then continued biking, and stopped for lunch at Swamp Rabbit Brewery.
On this particular trip, we stopped into Greenville for 2 nights from nearby Tallulah Gorge State Park and continued our road trip exploring South Carolina. It was one of our most memorable family vacations in the Southeast.
Asheville, North Carolina is a great city in the Southeast for families with kids of all ages to visit. With mild weather and four seasons, there are activities to enjoy year-round. The main draw is the great outdoors; there are lots of family-friendly Asheville trails. All kids will have fun when they’re hiking towards a beautiful waterfall; many of them have swimming holes and creeks to splash in during summer too!
The WNC Nature Center is a small zoo that makes for a fun half-day excursion to see local wildlife like black bears, wolves, and snakes. The Biltmore Estate is often advertised as a place for couples, but kids will love exploring the stately mansion almost as much as they’ll love petting the animals in the farmyard and playing on the playground.
Downtown Asheville is full of live music and public art, full of kid-friendly restaurants alongside the Asheville Museum of Science and Asheville museum of art. Artsy kids will enjoy exploring the River Arts District where small shops display a wide range of mediums and artists often put on displays or work in public. Beer drinking parents will be thrilled to find several microbreweries with outside spaces perfect to let little legs run around while parents relax and everyone can eat dinner!
Where to stay: The Residences at Biltmore which has suites perfect for when the kids go to bed earlier and an outdoor pool to play in.
Contributed by: Stephanie from Explore More Clean Less
My family and I came up for a visit to North Carolina when our oldest son was just six months old. We fell in love with the sheer diversity of landscapes, rich history, wide range of attractions, and temperate climate. We were so enamored that we decided to relocate to the crowning jewel of the state’s Central Piedmont Region, Charlotte. Having called the Queen City home for over a decade, we are still finding new and fun things to do.
As an adventuresome family will love the variety of activities offered at the US National Whitewater Center such as “family rafting”, flat-water kayaking, zip-lines, and ropes courses. Our favorite hidden gem is The Quarry at Carrigan Farms. Mined in the late 1960s, this pristine swimming hole is fed by an underground spring and rimmed in rock walls that rise to 70 feet. We love to jump off the rocky ledges into the ten million gallons of teal blue water.
Uptown Charlotte is another favorite area teeming with skyscrapers, public art, and family-friendly museums. Discovery Place, The NASCAR Hall of Fame, and The Levine Museum of the New South are at the top of our must-see lists in the city. We also highly recommend Imaginon. This multi-story children’s library is home to rotating exhibits as well as The Children’s Theater of Charlotte.
Contributed by: Amber from Mom Abroad
Kure Beach, NC
Kure Beach, North Carolina is the perfect town for your next family beach vacation. Located about 2 hours south of Raleigh, and 30 minutes south of Wilmington, this part of the southern NC coast is such a hidden gem. On a barrier island, home rentals are all close to the beautiful beach. If you prefer hotel accommodations, stay in nearby Carolina Beach.
While in Kure, try out all sorts of water sports – you can kayak, paddleboard, or rent jet skis down at Carolina Beach State Park. On Kure Beach, fishing at the pier is a really popular activity. Our kids loved boogie boarding in the ocean! If you get bored of the beach – your family can check out the Aquarium at Fort Fisher State Park, or the civil war era historic site.
We visited Kure Beach with our extended family and rented a big beach house right across the street from the sand. Needless to say, we had a great time and it was so easy to access the beach, and then head home for naps, for meals and to get more beach toys! I highly recommend checking out Kure Beach for your next North Carolina beach vacation!
Contributed by: Harmony from Momma To Go
Wilmington, North Carolina is a great year-round family-friendly destination. Families will love exploring the fun downtown Riverwalk area, getting their history lesson at the Battleship North Carolina or historic Fort Fisher, or getting up close and personal with sea life at the NC Aquarium. The local children’s museum downtown, the amusements at the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, and Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park are always a huge hit with kids too. Oh, and definitely make time for a visit to Britt’s Donuts!
But…in our opinion, a visit to Wilmington would not be complete without spending some time on the water. Enjoy some fun in the sun on Carolina Beach or Wrightsville Beach; play in the sand, try your hand at surfing, stand up paddleboarding, or kayaking, or head offshore for an exciting fishing excursion. Hungry? Watch the boats go and indulge in fresh local seafood at Dockside Waterfront Bar & Grill or Bluewater Grill.
Looking for somewhere to stay? If you’re looking for oceanfront check out the Courtyard Carolina Beach or Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort on Wrightsville Beach. Another great budget-friendly option with a central location is the Residence Inn Landfall.
No matter where your interests lie, your family is sure to find some serious fun in Wilmington, NC!
Contributed by: Julie from More than Main Street
One of our favorite underrated cities to explore is Chattanooga, TN. There is so much to do with kids, especially families with younger kids. It is home to the Creative Discovery Museum, one of the best children’s museums in the country.
If you are a nature lover there are a lot of outdoor activities to explore in the city. Rock City is a fun family-friendly area, where you can hike through caves and see unique rock formations. During the summer your kids can enjoy some fun in the sun and get wet in the animal fountains at Coolidge Park. The gorgeous park overlooks the Tennesse River and has one of the world’s longest pedestrian bridges for a nice long walk. You could spend the entire day here and have a picnic with the kids. As if that wasn’t enough nature the Riverwalk is 13-miles of trails and nature through Downtown Chattanooga.
Spend a few hours at the Tennesse Aquarium with the otters and fun exhibits. For history buffs, there are several museums to enjoy. The Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Bessie Smith Cultural Center, and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum are all fun museums that provide a learning experience.
If you want to be close to everything in the area, the best place to stay is the Doubletree in Downtown Chattanooga. Note: If you want to see a cool underground waterfall head to Ruby Falls.
Contributed by: Cee from Its a Family Thing
Pigeon Forge, TN
Pigeon Forge is one of the best family vacation spots on the East Coast as it serves as the perfect home base for exploring Smoky Mountains National Park. There are so many activities for families here that you will never run short of things to do. From miniature golf to go-kart racing and theme parks, to lumberjack shows and country dinner theaters, Pigeon Forge is a family-friendly destination. I would highly recommend renting a cabin when you are visiting this area. There are so many choices located in Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, or Gatlinburg.
Visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park is one of the best national park vacations we have done. Some of my favorite hikes in the Smoky Mountains are Laurel Falls and Cades Cove. The Cades Cove Loop Road is a great idea for those wanting a scenic drive around the valley or you can choose to take one of the many hiking trails that start in the cove. The Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail is another great scenic drive with many overlook points.
Why You Should Consider FAMILY VACATIONS IN THE SOUTHEAST
Taking a family vacation is great at any time of year; however, they usually happen during school vacations in the summer and winter breaks. Due to the warmer temperatures, Southeast vacation spots are a great idea for those in colder climates looking for a break. Since our family is from Florida, we have had many family vacations in the Southeast and love the variety that it brings.
I hope that after reading this, you would consider a trip to one of these Southeast vacation spots.
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