With its many child-friendly attractions and restaurants, Disney World makes it easy to take a family vacation if you’re a single parent managing kids on your own.
But the popular amusement park and resort complex is far from the only place that’s worthwhile to take your kids on their summer break. In fact, a number of other destinations across the U.S. and Canada brim with attractions, scenery, and special things to do that can make your getaway even more magical.
Move aside, Mickey. Here are some of the coolest places single parents can take their kids that aren’t Disney World.
1. New Jersey shore
With roughly 130 miles of shoreline, New Jersey brims with beaches. And for single parents in the northeast, towns along the Jersey Shore make great family vacation destinations for sun and sand – no flights required.
In the 1990s, I have happy memories of helping my dad bury my younger siblings in the sand when we took summer vacations to Seaside Heights, NJ. We’d pile into a hotel room just a short walk from the beach, play one game of mini-golf after the next, and cool off with soft-serve ice cream. As a single parent, my dad’s budget was tight, but he always made sure to get us tickets for the amusement park rides along the boardwalk – a real treat for us.
Seaside Heights has undoubtedly changed a lot since then – it was wiped out by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the town has spent years rebuilding. But the boardwalk (one of the liveliest in the state!) is back, and along with it, a new rollercoaster with a 72-foot drop. Seaside Heights has also doubled down on its family entertainment, so expect free movies and live concerts on the beach if you visit in the summer.
2. San Diego, California
San Diego’s perpetually warm, sunny weather is just the beginning of what makes it an ideal single-parent family vacation destination, according to Jeff Johnson, a real estate agent and father of six who’s based in Maryland.
“What I loved about San Diego as a single parent was the variety of affordable lodging options available. We stayed at a family-friendly hotel with a pool and game room that my kids loved. There’s also plenty of free or low-cost things to do in San Diego, which was great for my budget,” Johnson said.
The San Diego Zoo has something for people of all ages. The world-famous wildlife park is home to more than 14,000 rare and endangered animals. You can ride the Skyfari Aerial Tram, talk to wildlife care specialists, see movies in the 4D theater, and even get an up-close look at cheetahs as they run and play.
You can also spend an afternoon at one of the other top attractions for families in the area. Johnson recommends SeaWorld San Diego, the USS Midway Museum, and Legoland (located 30 minutes north in Carlsbad).
“They were all a lot of fun that my kids still talk about to this day,” he said.
3. Yellowstone National Park
If you’re looking for an epic adventure with your kids, try Yellowstone National Park.
“Yellowstone is a great destination for single parents who want to bond with their children while also immersing themselves in nature and learning about the environment. The park is home to a diverse range of wildlife such as bison, elk, and grizzly bears, and it features breathtaking natural wonders like the Old Faithful geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring,” Jane Jones, a mother of two in Wyoming and a travel expert at See Sight Tours, said.
Exploring the great outdoors with your kiddos isn’t as heavy a lift as you might think. The park is one of the most popular in the country (counting nearly 3.3 million recreational visits in 2022 alone) and brims with facilities and activities for its many visitors.
“My children loved exploring the park’s many hiking trails and learning about the different plants and animals that call the park home. We also enjoyed the many ranger-led programs and educational exhibits, which helped us gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the natural world around us,” Jones said.
4. Waikiki, Hawaii
Do you dream of a family vacation with postcard-worthy beaches, swaying palm trees, and lots of fun things to do? Try Waikiki. Ivana Katz, a single mom in Australia who shares her travel tips at AdventureHQ, has visited the popular area of Oahu with her son four times. On each trip, Waikiki has allowed them to relive some of their favorite activities and appreciate them in different ways over the years.
They’ve made it a travel tradition to swim with the dolphins at Sea Life Park. “Their program caters to children of all ages, so on our first trip, when Jordan was just 6 years old, he got to kiss the dolphin, then each subsequent visit he got to do more. On our latest trip, we did the ultimate swim,” she said.
Waikiki Beach’s calm water and soft sand have been an ideal place for Katz and her son to soak up the sunshine, even when he was very young.
“You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas, and there are plenty of restaurants and shops nearby,” Katz said.
Waikiki is filled with kid-friendly attractions that have plenty for parents to enjoy, too. Katz recommends visiting the 900 animals at the Honolulu Zoo, going on sea turtle snorkeling tours, and taking an ocean journey with Atlantis Submarines.
“You get to dive 100 feet underwater in a submarine and see all kinds of marine life, including fish, turtles, and sharks,” she said. “Your kids will love seeing the underwater world up close and personal.”
5. Indianapolis, Indiana
Ranked by TripAdvisor as one of the top family-friendly destinations in the country, Indianapolis has an endless array of fun things to do with your kids that will be memorable for you, as well.
You can visit the world’s largest children’s museum, where you can marvel at dinosaur bones, ride a historic carousel, and see a five-story glass masterpiece by Dale Chihuly. Afterward, head to Kicasso Sneaker Art Bar to design custom sneakers in any size. Then, make your way to White River State Park, a 250-acre green space with seven family-friendly attractions and a central canal that you can float upon in a swan-shaped paddleboat. If it happens to rain, make a beeline to North Mass Boulder, a 47,000-square-foot bouldering gym where you can put your climbing skills to the test.
One of the best parts about visiting Indy is its walkability. You can walk to several of the top attractions, eliminating the hassle of getting the whole family in and out of the car.
6. Vail, Colorado
With one of the largest free public transportation systems in the country and an extensive network of bike trails, Vail is an easy place to get around when you’re managing kids on your own. Plus, the famous ski destination is gorgeous in the summer, when you can also take advantage of savings at hotels. Take in the views of the Gore Range and the Mount of the Holy Cross on Eagle Bahn Gondola. Once you reach the top, you can soar through the skies on Game Creek Zipline Tour, take a thrilling ride on the Forest Flying Mountain Coaster, and bounce on a bungee trampoline.
For an even more unique experience, book a “Take a Llama to Lunch” excursion with Paragon Guides. You’ll go on an easy hike with a leashed llama and dig into a red-checkered picnic on the trail.
7. Quebec City, Quebec
Between the costs of flying the whole family across the Atlantic and the language barriers, Europe can feel like a bit too much to manage if you’re a single parent traveling with kids. But you can get a taste of what it’s like across the pond by visiting Quebec City, instead.
The city’s Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) feels like it was plucked from Marseille, with its quaint shops and cafes, charming parks, and 19th-century fortress. Its cobblestoned streets, which are among the oldest in North America, are entirely walkable, so you can easily wander on foot. You can also head out on the water with a ferry ride across the St. Lawrence river. Kids under 5 are free!