6 Nonstop Family-Friendly Destinations
Take the stress out of air travel by flying direct to one of these fun cities
If you want your family to travel by air but dread connecting flights, you’re in luck. Raleigh‑Durham International Airport offers a wide range of nonstop flights to vacation destinations like Cancun, Paris, London, Montego Bay, Toronto, Montreal and Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
Want to stay in the U.S.? There are dozens of child‑friendly nonstop destinations as well. Let’s explore six of these domestic vacation hotspots.
Start at Independence Visitor Center. There, you can get your free, timed tour tickets for Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed. On the way to Independence Hall, stop at Liberty Bell Center (there is usually a line, but it moves quickly), where park rangers tell the story of this symbol of freedom. (Due to ongoing renovations, expected to be completed in May 2019, the exhibits and films are not available for public viewing at this time.)
Explore Benjamin Franklin’s legacy at the Benjamin Franklin Museum, an underground establisment. You'll find a steel-framed “ghost house” marked out in the museum's courtyard that outlines the dimensions of Franklin’s home. Just beyond, see the post office where Franklin served as Philadelphia postmaster beginning in 1737 under the British Crown Post, and later as joint postmaster general over the colonies with William Hunter.
At the post office, you can get the postmark “B. Free Franklin” (Franklin’s protest against British rule) for the price of a first-class stamp. Come prepared with your own stamped envelope for a unique and inexpensive souvenir.
The Betsy Ross House is another must-see. A local seamstress credited as the creator of the first American flag, Betsy Ross has played an iconic role in American history. Although there is no documented proof to substantiate the claim, Ross’ grandson, William Canby, reported that George Washington, who was the General of the Continental Army at the time, requested that she create the flag in accordance with a pencil drawing.
You can spend several days in the city’s historic areas alone. Other places to visit in Philadelphia include the Christ Church Burial Ground, where notable historic figures including Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried; Declaration House, where Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence; and Elfreth’s Alley, the nation’s oldest, continuously inhabited residential street.
Plan a day at the Philadelphia Zoo or at Adventure Aquarium, which is across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey. No doubt, there’s plenty of family fun to be found in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
The 2.5-mile Freedom Trail, marked by a red line, weaves through Boston to 16 historic sites significant to the pre-Revolutionary War era and beyond.
One stop includes Old South Meeting House, where the Boston Tea Party was organized. Meander off the trail here to explore the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, where you can “storm” aboard a ship to throw tea into the water, as colonists did during the Boston Tea Party 245 years ago.
Faneuil Hall has served as an open forum meeting hall and marketplace for more than 270 years. In 1764, Americans first protested against the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, setting in place the doctrine that would come to be known as “no taxation without representation.”
Paul Revere’s house, dating to 1680, is the oldest residence in downtown Boston. A silversmith and patriot, Revere lived in this home during the 1700s. While taking this tour, you’ll also hear about his family life there.
Revere arranged to have lanterns lit — one if the British were coming by land, and two if they were coming by sea — at the Old North Church, which was built in 1723. The lanterns were hung in the 191-foot steeple so Revere and fellow rider William Dawes would see them. Old North Church is open daily to the public.
Step aboard the oldest commissioned warship afloat, launched in Boston in 1979 — the USS Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides” — at the USS Constitution Museum. While there, you’ll learn about what it was like to serve on the ship’s decks two centuries ago.
The last stop on the Freedom Trail is the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place June 17, 1775, and was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War.
While you’re in Boston, discover plenty of other child-friendly attractions and activities, including the Boston Children’s Museum, New England Aquarium and LEGOLAND Discovery Center.
A great way to see San Diego is aboard an Old Town Trolley with hop-on/hop-off privileges. Before or after the trolley tour, wander through the area to shop, dine and discover several points of interest, including museums and historic homes.
The trolley winds its way through the historic Gaslamp Quarter. When development began in the 1860s, the area was known as New Town, in contrast to Old Town. Beautiful, century-old buildings of varying architectural design line the streets.
The trolley crosses the San Diego-Coronado Bridge to Coronado Island, home of Hotel del Coronado. This stop offers several beaches, shopping and dining options.
The trolley later stops at the 1,200-acre Balboa Park, the nation’s largest urban cultural park. You’ll find 17 major museums, several performing arts venues, beautiful gardens and the San Diego Zoo. If you choose to visit a museum or two and wander through the ornate gardens, save another full day for the zoo.
When visiting the San Diego Zoo, consider hopping on a guided tour bus, which travels through 75 percent of the park in 35 minutes. In addition to learning about the animals, you’ll discover that the zoo originated when the exotic animal exhibitions from the 1915 Panama‑California Exposition were abandoned.
It was Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, M.D., who founded the Zoological Society of San Diego in 1916 after discovering the animals had been left behind. The zoo pioneered cageless exhibits. A lion area, designed without enclosing wires, opened in 1922.
Once you have the lay of the land, consider day visits to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, SeaWorld San Diego or Disneyland in Anaheim.
Make the Alamo your first stop in San Antonio. Founded in 1718, this structure stood as a former Franciscan mission named the San Antonio de Valero after St. Anthony of Padua. Spanish soldiers called it “El Alamo” after the Spanish word for cottonwood because it stood in a grove of cottonwood trees. They also named it that in honor of Alamo de Parras, their hometown in Mexico.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, white settlers began to arrive. Soon a newly elected governor rescinded the Mexican constitution.
White settlers and Hispanic Texans demanded the return of the constitution. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his army marched on San Antonio to end the rebellion. After courageously holding out for 13 days before the invaders finally overpowered them, all of the defenders died and “Remember the Alamo” became the rallying cry of the Texas Revolution. Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836.
Hop on a trolley tour bus near the Alamo to experience a comprehensive overview of the city. Tour guides take visitors to two of the UNESCO World Heritage site missions — Mission Concepción and Mission San José — both built in the early 1700s, in addition to the Alamo, to convert Native Americans to Christianity and to help settle the region under Spanish rule. Mission San José has been designated as a national historical park and features a 23-minute film that explains the history of missions in the area.
The San Antonio River Walk is known as one of the top tourist attractions in Texas. In the late 1920s, when city and business leaders realized what an asset the river could be to the growing city, architect Robert H. H. Hugman developed plans that led to the construction of the San Antonio River Walk. Completed in 1941, this walkway transformed the downtown area into a vibrant tourist destination. Hotels, restaurants and shops line the oldest part of it.
Stroll along the river or take a short barge cruise to see some of the extensions: South Alamo Street to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center; Museum Reach connecting downtown to the San Antonio Museum of Art and Pearl Brewery (a dining and shopping complex); and Mission Reach, which extends 8 miles to Mission Espada.
Venture outside of the downtown area to experience the San Antonio Zoo, Aquatica San Antonio (a SeaWorld park) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, all of which offer great family fun.
Known as “The Big Easy” for a variety of reasons — a gossip columnist once contrasted life as being simpler in New Orleans than in “The Big Apple,” and the nickname is also said to reference the ease in which New Orleans’ laboring musicians were able to pursue their art — New Orleans blends French, Spanish, African, Cajun and Creole cultures and traditions to create a setting that is uniquely its own.
Start your exploration in the French Quarter. In 1718 explorer Jean‑Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, founded New Orleans for France. Four years later, he made New Orleans the capital of the colony. The original city was centered in what is now called Jackson Square, named in honor of Andrew Jackson, a hero of the Battle of New Orleans, which took place Jan. 8, 1815. It is considered the greatest battlefield victory of the War of 1812.
Facing the river, the square oozes history, jazz, mystery and excitement. Street performers and artists add to the fun. Explore the streets leading off the square, enjoy a unique New Orleans-style meal and tour some of the area’s historic homes.
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is located in Audubon Park adjacent to the French Quarter. Discover exhibits featuring the Mississippi River and the Great Maya Reef, an underwater world of the past featuring moray eels, lionfish and spiny lobsters. The “Gulf of Mexico” exhibit is housed in a 400,000-gallon tank featuring sharks and stingrays.
Cruise on the Steamboat NATCHEZ and hop a trolley for a ride up Saint Charles Avenue to the Garden District to better understand the city’s past before making your way to Audubon Zoo, which spans the globe with exhibits such as “Louisiana Swamp” and “Jaguar Jungle.” You’ll also see Amur leopards, orangutans and white alligators.
Denver | By Christa C. Hogan
No matter the season, Denver, Colorado, promises direct flights from Raleigh-Durham International Airport and family fun for all ages.
Denver’s Downtown Aquarium offers 1 million gallons of extraordinary marine life exhibits. Pause for a meal at the aquarium’s restaurant, then watch the “Mystic Mermaids” show, performed in the 50,000-gallon centerpiece tank.
Appeal to young scientists and curious minds by exploring the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where your family will discover dinosaur fossils, Egyptian mummies, planetarium shows and other scientific wonders.
Just next door, the sprawling Denver Zoo offers a 10-acre “Toyota Elephant Passage” exhibit. Within this area, your family can explore 2 miles of interconnected trails.
General admission to the Denver Art Museum is free for ages 18 and younger, and children can use tree branches to build horse sculptures in the “A Walk in the Woods” exhibit, participate in Create-n-Takes to make their own art, and play gallery games.
Cool off and get your thrills on as a family at Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, open May through October. Visit during summer and you may be able to catch a concert while you’re there, which is free with park admission.
Denver is a premier destination for sports fans. Where else can you watch a Denver Broncos NFL game, Denver Nuggets NBA game, Colorado Rockies MLB game or Colorado Avalanche NHL game — all in the same city? Denver even claims a Major League Soccer team: The Colorado Rapids.
Located 24 miles northwest of Denver in Westminster, the Butterfly Pavilion features a tropical conservatory with more than 1,600 butterflies. There you’ll meet Rosie, a live Chilean rose hair tarantula you can hold in the palm of your hand — if you so desire!
When your family is ready to get up close and personal with Denver’s gorgeous mountain views, head 68 miles northwest to Rocky Mountain National Park. If the roads are safe (typically after Memorial Day when most of the snow has melted), take Trail Ridge Road — a 48-mile drive in the park that climbs to more than 12,000 feet in elevation.
Drive 21 miles west of downtown Denver to explore the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where you can take in a show, explore the facility or learn about the amphitheater’s 75-plus years of music history. If you have the time and energy, hike the 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail through the surrounding gorgeous red rocks that gave the location its name. Less than a 1-mile drive from the amphitheater, view 100-million-year-old dinosaur tracks and bones at Dinosaur Ridge, a national nature landmark.
Brush up on your Colorado gold rush history with a visit to Idaho Springs, a small town 34 miles west of downtown Denver that was founded by prospectors during the 1800s. Today, visitors can pan for gold at the Argo Mill & Tunnel and tour the old mine to learn about its disastrous history.
Finish your day with a burger and craft beer at nearby Tommyknocker Brewery.
Marilyn Jones is a travel writer living in Texas with her family. Her work routinely appears in magazines, newspapers, online and on her website, travelwithmarilyn.com.
Christa C. Hogan is a freelance writer and mom to three busy boys.
Edited by Janice Lewine.
Sources for historical facts mentioned in this article include history.com, britannica.com, battlefields.com and culturetrip.com.