We know all about traveling as a family. More often than not, the grownups want one thing, kids the other. When it comes to city breaks, museums and galleries might not cut it with the energetic teenagers who need to burn off steam outdoors. So, if you’re looking for a city escape within a stone’s throw of the great outdoors, we’ve got you covered! From the beaches of Honolulu and the deserts of Phoenix to the mountains of Denver and the lush parks of San Francisco, here are the 9 best cities in the United States for family-friendly outdoor activities.
1. Denver, Colorado
Nestled at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is seemingly tailor-made for families who want city sophistication and a sizeable slice of nature. One of the best places to start your outdoor Denver adventure is at the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. With its stunning red sandstone formations and outdoor amphitheater, which hosts concerts and events, this is one of the best places to get acquainted with Denver’s nature.
If your family loves green spaces, the Denver Botanic Gardens has 24 acres of gorgeous blooms. City Park and Washington Park are also great spots for walking, biking, playgrounds and picnics. Or hire some bicycles and take on the Cherry Creek Bike Path, which is suitable for riders of all ages and skill levels.
EXPERIENCE IT: Welcome to Colorado
2. San Francisco, California
In San Francisco, you needn’t leave the city for expansive outdoor spaces. From the golden beaches to the lush parks, San Francisco is perfect for family-friendly outdoor activities. The Golden Gate Park is one of the best spots for families and you can do everything from renting a paddleboat to exploring the Japanese Tea Garden or enjoying the famous Golden Gate Park playground.
Take a walk along the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf to watch the sea lions at Pier 39 or ride the famous Powell-Mason Cable Car. You could even take the ferry to Alcatraz Island to explore the spooky former prison or catch the ferry to the charming seaside town of Sausalito. As you cruise across the bay, you’ll get a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.
EXPERIENCE IT: Northern California
3. Anchorage, Alaska
There are few cities in the world so deeply immersed in nature as Anchorage. On the doorstep of true Alaskan wilderness, there are plenty of unique family-friendly outdoor activities here. You can visit the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Centre, a sanctuary for injured and orphaned animals like bears, moose and caribou.
Take a scenic drive along the Seward Highway. Go hiking or biking in nearby Chugach State Park and Kincaid Park. You can also go walking along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail or Flattop Mountain Trail for breathtaking views of the ocean and mountains. If you go in the right season, you can also witness the Northern Lights (September to April) or migrating whales (April to November).
EXPERIENCE IT: Majestic Alaska
4. Honolulu, Hawaii
If you’re looking for a tropical paradise and city escape in one, look no further than Honolulu. Beach-loving families will adore exploring the island, with everything from surfing to snorkelling on offer. Relax at the famous Waikiki Beach or hike the Diamond Head trail, a volcanic crater, with panoramic views of the city and coastline. Snorkelers will love the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a beautiful marine preserve with crystal-clear waters and plenty of tropical fish and marine life. You also can’t miss hiking through the rainforest of the lush Manoa Falls Trail.
EXPERIENCE IT: Best of Hawaii
5. Phoenix, Arizona
Surrounded by stunning desert landscapes, Phoenix is undoubtedly one of the best cities in the US for family-friendly outdoor activities. Visit the Desert Botanical Garden for a unique outdoor showcase of the diverse plant life of the Sonoran Desert. Enjoy the miles of hiking and biking trails, picnic areas, golf courses, baseball fields, and tennis courts at Papago Park. Or take on the hiking trails of South Mountain Park and Preserve and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, where you’ll get views over the spectacular Sonoran Desert.
EXPERIENCE IT: America’s Great Desert National Parks
6. Portland, Oregon
Famed for its parks and gardens, Portland is the ideal destination for families who love the outdoors. Visit the International Rose Test Garden, explore the sprawling Forest Park, or enjoy a leisurely stroll or kayak along the Willamette River. Head to Washington Park, where you can visit the Hoyt Arboretum and the Japanese Garden, or take a ride on the park’s miniature train.
Spend a morning at the Portland Children’s Museum, with a range of exhibits encouraging learning through play including a water play area, grocery store, and construction zone. You could also venture to nearby Multnomah Falls or Mount Hood for a day of hiking and sightseeing.
EXPERIENCE IT: Scenic Seattle, Portland and Oregon Coast
7. Seattle, Washington
Not only is Seattle located right by iconic national parks like Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park, but it’s also got plenty of green spaces and a beautiful waterfront right in the city. Visit Discovery Park to explore the miles of trails, the beaches and tide pools, or enjoy a picnic in one of the scenic areas. Green Lake Park is another popular spot for families, with a large lake where you can rent paddleboats, canoes, or kayaks, as well as miles of walking and biking trails, playgrounds, and picnic areas.
You can also check out the street performers, shops and restaurants of the lively Pike Place Market. Or take a ride to the top of the Space Needle for incredible views over the city from the observation deck. For more spectacular views, take a ride on the scenic gondola at Crystal Mountain and get a closer look at the Cascades and the iconic peak of Mount Rainier that watches over Seattle.
EXPERIENCE IT: Scenic Seattle, Portland and Oregon Coast
8. Salt Lake City, Utah
Located near the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City is the ideal base to explore the famous nearby national parks like Arches, Canyonlands, and Zion. You’ll also find plenty of family-friendly outdoor activities closer to the city. Wander around the gardens, fountains and monuments of the historic Temple Square in the heart of the city. Explore the trails at the stunning Red Butte Garden or go hiking and biking in Big Cottonwood Canyon. If you visit in winter, head to the Utah Olympic Park to try out the ski jumps and bobsled track. The thrill seekers in your family might also like to take a ride on the alpine side or zipline.
EXPERIENCE IT: Wild West, Cowboys and Buffalos
9. Santa Fe, New Mexico
Set at the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Santa Fe is a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural wonders. You can explore ancient cave dwellings and petroglyphs at Bandelier National Monument. Then wander through the diverse plants and flowers at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden. Or turn it up a notch and go whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande and Rio Chama.
Check out the nature walks in the nearby Santa Fe National Forest, the Dale Ball Trails, and the La Tierra Trails, all serving up beautiful views of the city and landscapes. You can go wildlife watching in the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve, and spot elk, coyotes, and unique birds. When you travel with family in winter, you can even go skiing and snowboarding at Ski Santa Fe.
EXPERIENCE IT: Colourful Trails of the Southwest
What are your favorite family tours or destinations for family-friendly outdoor fun? Let us know in the comments below!