There’s nothing like a weekend getaway to recharge your batteries and keep your kids entertained, but sometimes, a big city is just too overwhelming for a quick weekend trip. The next time you need a change of scenery, and you’ve only got a day or two to spare, try visiting one of America’s fascinating small-town communities. You’ll find a lot of surprises in small-town life, including fun activities like authentic narrow-gauge train rides, old-fashioned festivals, and historic reenactments. Whether you end up panning for gold, riding a burro, or looking for dolphin sightings, small-town America has something to entertain each member of your family.
Although it’s one of the nation’s premier family travel destinations, tiny Key West still hasn’t lost any of its small-town vibe. Activities for kids include the interactive Shipwreck Treasure Museum, the famous Conch Tour Train (offering a 75-minute sightseeing adventure), Old Town Trolley rides, the Key West Aquarium, and, at night, the Ghosts & Gravestones Tour, where costumed re-enactors will thrill you with tales from Old Key West. You’ll also find beaches, museums, boat excursions — and a Sunset Celebration every night at Mallory Square, complete with top-notch musicians, acrobats, and entertainers.
With a main street packed with Christmas shops and local artisan boutiques, plus kid-friendly attractions like the Ride-a-Kart entertainment center, Estes Park is a perennial family-favorite destination. But its real glory lies in its gorgeous Rocky Mountain setting and the fact that it's the gateway to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, where you can drive (or hike) through 415 miles of stunning wilderness views. Along the way, you'll see plenty of elk, deer, and Bighorn Sheep (and, deep in the woods, bears and mountain lions). The views of some of America’s highest peaks, snow-capped year-round, are alone worth the trip.
Tourists keep coming back to Savannah not only for its historic architecture but also for its fun, family-friendly activities. Highlights include dolphin excursions, carriage rides, and tours on the Old Town Trolley. There’s also a wealth of historic attractions — and for the kids, plenty of big arcades, toy stores, and interactive museums, including the UGA Marine Education Center, home of Georgia’s first saltwater aquarium.
Just 20 minutes from Savannah, Tybee is the perfect, unspoiled small-town island. While the three miles of oceanfront beaches are the main attraction, Tybee also has tours of its most famous landmarks, including the 145-foot Tybee Lighthouse. There’s also a Marine Science Center and plenty of great family restaurants.
In its pristine setting between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a famous family getaway destination with a multitude of kid-friendly attractions. There’s the Pinball Museum, the Biltmore House, and the WNC Nature Center and Wildlife Park, just to name a few. Asheville is also home to a multitude of family arcades, including a “retrocade” with all the classic favorites.
Primarily known as a popular ski resort, Breckenridge is also home to a multitude of family-friendly attractions. You can visit authentic gold mines, tour interactive history museums, see antique railroad cars and even enjoy sled-dog rides and horse-drawn wagon trips in the mountains. For sports enthusiasts, there’s the Breckenridge Recreation Center, plus plenty of wilderness hiking and rafting.
For those who aren’t looking for theme parks or arcades, Bar Harbor provides a unique back-to-nature getaway. In addition to the picturesque windswept beaches and lobster restaurants, you’ll find quaint small-town neighborhoods, lighthouse and museum tours, and boat excursions. Plus, it’s the gateway to Acadia National Park, with its miles of hiking trails and beaches.
Famed for its artist community, Taos is also a first-class family destination. Kids can enjoy visiting fun interactive museums (including the Kit Carson Museum) or touring the Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-year-old Native American community. For the ultimate thrill, consider taking a hot-air balloon ride, a Llama Hike through the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, or a raft down the Rio Grande.
This charming hidden treasure was once home to real treasure when Dahlonega became the site of America’s second big gold rush in the 1820s. Today, it’s a thriving small mountain town that cherishes its past. Kids can enjoy panning for gold in an authentic gold mine, visit farms and wildlife preserves, enjoy horse rides and river adventures, and even see performances at The Magic Theater.
Famous for its starring role in the exquisite 1986 John Denver movie The Christmas Gift, Georgetown is the quintessential Rocky Mountain small town. Its biggest family attraction is the incomparable Georgetown Loop Railroad, where you can ride in an authentic narrow-gauge train across streams, rivers, and miles of rugged Rocky Mountain territory. You can also enjoy gold mine tours, museums, and a wealth of family festivals throughout the year.
Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the tiny town of Helen was recreated in the 1960s into a Bavarian Alpine village, making it an ideal destination for day-trippers. Today, it’s home to a variety of Bavarian-themed stores and restaurants. It’s also just two minutes from Chattahoochee National Forest, where you can enjoy panning for gold, hiking, rafting, and zip-lining.
With a wealth of entertainment venues, Gatlinburg is one of the southeast’s premier family destinations. Attractions include a Ripley’s museum, adventure parks, arcades, museums, and Skylift Park, where you can soar above the Great Smoky Mountains. There’s also plenty of hiking and nature trails, plus rafting tours on the Pigeon River.
The nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, plays host to more than six million tourists a year. Family-friendly activities include visiting the Pirate and Treasure Museum and the Castillo de San Marcos Fort (where re-enactors fire cannons). Plus, you’ll enjoy zoological gardens, boat rides, dolphin encounter adventures, and Old Town Trolley rides through the historic town.
For many East Coast families, a weekend trip to Wildwoods is a summertime tradition. While it’s home to five miles of beaches and lots of entertainment venues, Wildwoods’ crown jewel is its historic amusement park, Morey’s Piers, which features more than 100 rides. Favorites include the tower-drop ride AtmosFEAR, the Ghost Ship, Dante’s Dungeon haunted house, and the classic Great Nor’Easter roller coaster.
With its Wild West heritage, Bozeman is home to a variety of interactive history museums, natural history exhibits, and fun historic walking tours. For something uniquely different, you can visit the American Computer and Robotics Museum, take a western wagon ride, or go on a Llama Hike or Montana Grizzly Encounter. For outdoor lovers, there’s also hiking, zip-lining, river tubing, and rafting.