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I’m working on our travel plans for 2021 and I am trying to decide where the best family vacations with teenagers. My children, ages 14 & 16 are very busy, and we try to travel more to spend quality downtime with them.
I’ve updated our 2020 list for 2021. I know that many family vacations just didn’t happen last year. Many of these are great for socially distancing and safe travel.
For 2021, these are the best family vacations with teenagers that I found. These vacation destinations and activities will get your teenager talking to you, get off their cell phones, and create those lasting memories that we all crave. Plus, many of these are in the US, or easy to get to North American cities.
Let’s dive into vacations that have an adventure, amazing food, culture, relaxation, and history.
Feel free to jump to the type of vacation you’re looking for here for inspiration.
Adventure Family Vacations with Teenagers
If you really want to impress your teenager and get them off their phones, an adventure vacation is just what the doctor ordered. You can’t look down when you have to paddle or climb. Even a simple hiking vacation may be a fun escapade for your teens. However, I would recommend these exciting adventures as well.
1. Whitewater Rafting
You can’t get more exciting and more Adventure by taking a white water rafting trip down in Class II to the Class IV river.
There’s plenty of exciting rivers that are probably not a far drive from where you live.
Among some of the top rivers where you can get guided white water rafting expeditions are Idaho’s Salmon River, West Virginia’s New River, Maine’s Penobscot River, Ocoee River in Tennesse, and of course the Colorado River.
While you may start with the Colorado River in Arizona and visit the Grand Canyon at the same time, many experts recommend doing white water rafting in northwestern Colorado and Utah.
2. Mountain Climbing
Even if you and your teenagers have never been mountain climbing before, there are plenty of places to get beginner lessons and combine a hiking and climbing vacation at the same time.
First, find a place that offers rock climbing lessons such as an indoor rock climbing gym near your house. Start off there, then once you are ready to hit the rocks, find a rock climbing tour group or guide.
According to Tripsavvy, Mount Rainier and Mount Baker both in Washington State are perfect for beginners. It’s not intimidating yet still high enough for newcomers to get the science of how mountain climbing feels. Search for the American Alpine Institute for guided climbs.
If your family doesn’t live in Florida, California, or Hawaii, consider heading to one of these destinations for surfing school. Your teen will love learning a new and exciting new sport. He or she will have plenty of stories to tell their friends about riding the waves.
Do you have a food lover in your family? And truly, what family with teenagers doesn’t have a food lover? Take a look at these destinations for delicious food, exciting culture, and a full stomach. this is a family vacation your teenagers will thank you for.
4. New Orleans
New Orleans is an exciting mix of painting, creole, cajun, and distinctly unique American destination. While I could place this on culture destinations with jazz clubs on every corner, what I’m most excited about the food options in New Orleans.
Here you can find oyster bars, Southern fried chicken, gumbo, crawfish, red beans and rice, and my favorite, jambalaya. New Orleans is also known for its beignets, fried dough dusted with lots of powdered sugar. Who wouldn’t like to get their fill of those?
New Orleans Hotels:
For the meat lover in your family, head to Memphis, Tennessee where you can get every style of BBQ in the city.
Try the dry rub at Rendezvous or the all-you-can-eat ribs special at the Germantown Commissary. If the BBQ that drips down your chin is your style, you’ll find all sorts of BBQ joints on Beale Street. Memphis is home to some of the best blues music and your teenagers can get a taste of the origins of rock and roll as well.
Cultural Destinations Teenagers Love
6. Wild West
We might be familiar with Tombstone from the movie by the same name, though it’s likely you’re kids are not. But Tombstone, Arizona does offer a glimpse into what life in the Wild, Wild, West may have looked like.
Visit the reenactment of the Gunfight at the OK corral. While some of the Tombstone areas are touristy and kitschy, it’s still an inside view into the wild west culture of the late 1800s.
Just south of Tombstone is a more authentic Wild West Town, Bisbee, Arizona. While it’s not quite an official Ghost Town, you will still see Victorian buildings, narrow winding streets, miner shacks, and a historic railway museum. Take a trip turn on the Queen Mine Tours which has an underground rail tour through the old copper mines. Bisbee is an eclectic mix of the Wild West ghost towns and funky artists and boutiques.
Tombstone Hotels and Rentals:
7. Hispanic Culture
The Hispanic culture can be seen in every town or city. However, to really dive into this vibrant and varied culture, travel to Little Havana in Miami or the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Bonus tip, don’t forget that Puerto Rico is part of the US and you don’t need a passport to visit.
Little Havana has a vibrant Cuban background. Explore Calle Ocho, the main strip which is full of brightly colored storefronts and authentic delicious Cuban Cuisine. Meet some of the locals at Domino Park, Maximo Gomez Park. And while I’m not encouraging your teenagers to smoke, Cuban cigars are an integral part of the culture. Be sure to visit how cigars are made at El Titan de Bronze.
Little Havanna Rentals and Hotels:
Puerto Rico, on the other hand, is everything you’d expect a colorful Caribbean Island to be. The island has mostly recovered from recent hurricanes and absolutely needs tourism to help restore the island. Don’t hesitate to visit, in order to explore. Puerto Rico can also fall under the adventure vacations for teenagers. The rainforest located on the island is where you can spend the day hiking and climbing, as well as a dip in the natural pools. If you’re looking for a more serene vacation oh, hello, it’s still a Caribbean Island! You know there are plenty of beaches.
Puerto Rico Rentals and Hotels:
8. New York City
Want to visit the entire world at once? In New York City, you can get culture in the form of theater, with many known and unknown theater and comedy venues both on and off-Broadway. You can visit neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Chinatown, to get immersed in those cultures. You can dine on every culture imaginable. And you can visit any type of museum you can imagine, from stepping back in time at places such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art or a distinct culture such as the Tenement Museum. Try a Sightseeing Pass to maximize your savings.
9. French Canadian
If you need some European flavor in your family vacation with teenagers, just head north to Montreal and Quebec City. These French Canadian cities are filled with cobblestones castles, extraordinary nature and of course, the primary language throughout these provinces is French. In case you didn’t know, Canada is a dual-language country, meaning that both French and English are spoken throughout the country. French seems to predominate Montreal and Quebec City.
10. Native American
Native American culture is obviously everywhere throughout the United States. And if you’re interested in a particular tribe, seek out experiences in that area. However, because Oklahoma marks the end of the Trail of Tears and remained a Native reservation for many years following, it’s a great place to experience the culture. I highly recommend the Cherokee Heritage Center near Tulsa for living history enactments.
Places in History Everyone Should See Once
I ranked these historic places as some of the best family vacations for teenagers, having taken my teens to a few of them. Not just for teenagers, really these historic cities have something everyone should visit just once in their lives. If you need more inspiration for places to visit, check out my favorite book for research, 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up.
There’s no better place to see the start of American history than in Philadelphia. Home to Independence Hall, The Benjamin Franklin Museum, the first post office, the US Treasury, the American Revolution Museum, Philadelphia is a cultural Mecca of History. Also, the city is really easy to get around. Whether you do a hop-on-hop-off bus, which I highly recommend, or stay right in the heart of the city, you can walk too many of those destinations and attractions above. Use a Sightseeing Pass to save on the attractions. Be sure to head on down to Philadelphia’s Chinatown for some delicious sweets.
I absolutely fell in love with Boston. While Philadelphia might be home to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the start of the American Revolution can easily be traced here.
My favorite historical site was the Granary Burial ground, where you can find Paul Revere, John Hancock, those killed in the Boston Massacre, Samuel Adams, along with other signs of the American Declaration. Other places to note are the North Church, Paul Revere’s House, USS Constitution, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, and Boston Freedom Trail.
I highly recommend taking a guided tour along the Freedom Trail where you get a first-hand authentic walk along with the historical sites with Colonial attired guides.
13. St. Augustine
Did you know that Saint Augustine is the oldest settled city in the United States? In addition to its location in sunny Florida, St Augustine has a number of historical reenactments on a weekly basis. Check out my guide to St. Augustine’s Living History here.
You may have noticed I did not dive deep into Washington D.C. here and it is a fantastic city to visit with teens. However, most teens do visit DC during a school trip in middle school or high school.
Laid Back Family Vacations with Teenagers
Sometimes we need a vacation to disconnect from it all. Perhaps your teenager doesn’t need the adventure, the culture, or the learning. Instead, they need a place to relax, unwind, disconnect from the world, and connect with family. Take a look at the following family vacations with teenagers.
14. Cabin in the Woods
No, not the scary movie kind. Although it might be fun to watch scary movies with your teens while staying at a cabin in the woods. However, I love the idea of getting away to a remote cabin in the woods somewhere.
This type of vacation offers little distraction with gorgeous scenery. You can still get out to walk and wander. Yet, come back to a cozy cabin and play games around the fire. If you use my Airbnb link, you can get up to $50 off your first stay.
15. Beach Vacations
It’s no secret that I love to relax on the beach. Even if your kids no longer build sandcastles, this might be a great place to relax with a good book for a long time.
One of our favorite places was Sanibel Island. Read about the best hotel on the island here.
16. Spa Vacation
While this is generally thought of as a place just for mom to get away and relax, I can think of nothing better than taking my teenage daughter with me for a mother-daughter bonding experience.
Sports Vacations for Teens
Do you have an athlete in the house? Or a sports fan fanatic? A popular vacation idea is to take a road trip to see your favorite sports teams.
17. Stadium Tours
Do you or your teenager have a bucket list of visiting all the baseball stadiums or all the NFL stadiums? Maybe you have a college football fan. Take your teen to a bowl game. These are a lot of fun and often cheaper than an NFL game.
Theme Parks for Teenagers
18. Walt Disney World
Even if you think your teenager has outgrown princesses and character visits, Walt Disney World can still appeal to teenagers with the opening of Star Wars land at Hollywood Studios. Disney can be one of those overwhelming places to plan family vacations with teenagers. Seek out the help of a Travel Agent here.
19. Universal Studios
Universal Studios is generally thought of as a better place to visit when your kids become teenagers. It is full of thrilling roller coasters and an entire Wizarding World to explore. I would recommend visiting this year and then come back in a few years for the opening of the Epic Universe.
20. Advanced Thrill Seekers
Advanced thrillseekers, however, may want to consider amusement parks such as Kings Island, any of the Six Flags over the US, and Cedar Point. For these, I would recommend staying in a waterpark hotel such as Kalahari Resorts or the Great Wolf Lodge. You are next to a fun location, and teens can go off and continue the fun when you collapse into your hotel room.
There you have it. 20 ideas of family vacations with teenagers this year and beyond. Do you have more? I’d love to hear them. Pop your suggestions in the comment boxes below.
Want more specifics? Take a look at these destinations for teenagers here.
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