Planning a trip for teenagers takes some extra research, but I have put together a list for you that will help make it easier. Each of these destinations come up regularly as the best places to go with teenagers in the U.S. The list will start on the West coast and move to the East coast. I will include activities in and around the destination as well as accommodations teens will love. My family has been to most of these places, but not all of them! If you haven’t done one for your family yet, you need to create a U.S. travel bucket list for teens.
Hawaii is a dream destination and consistently remains at the top of most lists as the best family vacation with teens, but the biggest decision is to decide on which island to visit. In my opinion this will depend on what your teens want to do and see.
If you have active teens, you will want to consider Maui and Kauai. You will find waterfall hikes and helicopter tours to die for. The Road to Hana on Maui is a must do to see things like black sand beach, to cliff jump or jump off waterfalls, short hikes among the rainbow colored eucalyptus trees and more. My teens also loved Haleakala National Park at sunset, but you could also see the cloud inversion at sunrise. Kauai has incredible hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling with unbeatable nature experiences.
The Big Island is rustic and wild and well known for Volcanoes National Park. You can see the incredible natural wonders of lava and its path of destruction all throughout the park along with epic views along the chain of craters road. The unique green sand beach is worth the hike, but if you want to hire a ride down you can choose that option. Kona, the Waipio Valley, Akaka Falls and more show off the rustic beauty of the island.
Oahu is a great spot for teens who love history and want to see the Pearl Harbor monument and visit the Polynesian cultural center. Of course, you can’t leave Oahu without taking surf lessons, visiting the famous Waikiki Beach, or participating in a luau. An amazing teen activity on Oahu is the Kualoa Ranch movie site ATV tour. If you’re there at the right time of year, whale watching is another hit.
Bucket List Lodging in Hawaii
There are so many resorts to choose from on the islands. Aulani Disney Resort is a favorite for kids of all ages, as is the Grand Hyatt Kauai. Check out Mauna Key on the Big Island further up the coast from Kona toward Kamuela. On Oahu, consider staying on the north shore away from the buzz at Turtle Bay. Each has amazing beach access and range from luxury to budget. Truth be told, teenagers just want great pool access, yummy shave ice and a place to relax and be kids for a bit. Hawaii has it all for a tropical destination with big ocean fun!
If you are looking for a balance of city fun and nearby incredible scenery, Seattle may just be the perfect family vacation with teens. My family is always looking for an escape from the sultry heat of summer, so the pacific northwest is a fantastic place to run to for us. The city itself will keep your teens busy for several days, or you can make it a weeklong trip by adding some outdoor adventure inside Olympic National Park or Mt. Rainier National Park.
The city itself offers great walking tours like the beneath the streets tour and food tours. If you’re looking to get views from above visit the Space Needle and ride the Great Wheel. Don’t miss the iconic Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks-you can do both in 30 minutes which includes waiting in line for your coffee. Two museums worth making time for are the Museum of Pop Culture and the Museum of Flight, which can each be done in about 1/2 day. A large part of the allure to Seattle is the waterfront. Take a ferry to one of the nearby islands or go whale watching.
For outdoor fun, take your teens up to the San Juan Islands for some serenity and time off the grid. Active teens will want to do some hiking in the stunning Olympic National Park and/or inside Mt. Rainier. Nature here is all around and even if you’re not super outdoorsy, you won’t be able to resist being in it. Check out my favorite spot to take teens on Lake Crescent in the northern section of Olympic National Park or hike up Hurricane Ridge for amazing views of the Salish Sea and Vancouver Island.
In Mt. Rainier choose from Silver Falls Trail, walk amongst the big boy trees in the Grove of Patriarchs, or meander the Skyline Trail for up close views of Mt. Rainier itself. My daughter claims so far that Washington state is the most beautiful state she’s seen.
Bucket List Lodging in Seattle
In a major metro area like Seattle, there are a lot of hotels to choose from. I personally think it’s best to avoid the touristy areas. My family enjoyed staying in the business district, which is still walkable to all of the hot spots. The Hyatt at Olive 8 is an excellent choice for families with teens. Another option with a hip vibe that teenagers will love is the South Hotel in Bellamy; it’s within walking distance of everywhere you will want to go.
In full disclosure we haven’t made it to San Diego yet, but it’s on our list. Although I think all teens would love this city, I’m considering reserving it for a mother-daughter getaway. I can envision boutique shopping and outdoor dining with lots of instagram worthy spots to snap pics.
Beaches like Coronado beach and La Jolla are a draw for teens for obvious reasons, but teens may also want to explore taking surf lessons. For other outside activities, check out the beach volleyball courts or bike riding along the boardwalk. Balboa Park is an iconic landmark in San Diego with a variety of parks, trails and gardens. If you are looking for old time beachfront amusement, check out Belmont Park with rides and arcades. Admission is free, just pay as you play! Two other noteworthy attractions include the U.S.S. Midway museum for history lovers and Petco Park to enjoy a major league baseball game.
Bucket List Lodging in San Diego
For a bucket list stay, look into Hotel Marisol Coronado. This historic boutique hotel is within 5 walking minutes of the beach. If you are looking for something a little more homey check out the Redwood Hollow Cottages in La Jolla, also close to the beach. Another option for great teen vibes and those who love music is the Hard Rock Hotel with an incredible rooftop pool located in the Gaslamp district.
Jackson Hole, WY
There is something so alluring about the national parks of the wild west. Teens love the idea of experiencing wide open spaces with jaw dropping scenery. When you add in some great adventures, you have the perfect fit for fun vacations for teens.
In summer your teens can canoe on Jenny Lake and kayak or motor boat on Jackson Lake. Take a hike to Paradise Falls and Inspiration Point near Jenny Lake as well. For more adventure, find a whitewater rafting tour or a wildlife jeep tour to see things from a different vantage point. If your teens enjoy being in the backcountry, do a horseback riding day or even an overnight. At Teton village you can take the gondola up to Rendezvous mountain, but bundle up even in summer! In town hit up the rodeo for a memorable family night. Mormon Row is one of the best spots for sunset photography.
In winter, Jackson Hole is known as one of the most epic ski areas in the U.S. The challenging terrain and the homey feel of the town itself make for an awesome winter vacation with teens. Also, the opportunity to snowmobile inside Yellowstone National Park would be a huge pull for teens, which is why it should be on your bucket list.
Bucket List Lodging in Jackson Hole
There are a lot of accommodations in Jackson Hole that range from luxury to budget and most of them cater to families. In summer consider staying in town at Cowboy Village Resort, which offers rooms with several beds and easy parking within walking distance of all the town attractions and restaurants. In winter, staying up in Teton Village will make skiing easier. Check out Hotel Terra or the Alpenhof for a quintessential ski lodge experience.
Denver is frequently mentioned on outdoor lovers bucket lists, but I’m also impressed with the amount of indoor activities available. It’s a great city to visit year round with pro sports fun, stuff for outdoorsy teens, and activities for adventure seekers.
Active teens will enjoy the outdoor skateparks, and theme parks like Elitch Gardens and Water World. Just outside of Denver, teenagers can find zip line tours, hiking, and whitewater rafting. Ruby Hill Rail Yard is an awesome spot for winter thrill seekers in an urban setting. If you are willing to drive, about an hour and a half away is Rocky Mountain National Park. The incredible views and hiking opportunities are well worth the trek.
Your teen can try iFly Denver for indoor sky diving fun. Or, they can be the hero in their very own hunger games at Archery Games Denver. If you have a bad weather day, head to an IMAX show or find a hotel with a spa such as The Four Seasons for a wellness day.
Bucket List Lodging in Denver
If you want to be in the heart of the professional sports complexes in Denver look into staying at the Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown. Another great location that people love and has great amenities like a rooftop pool is The Jacquard. They offer free bikes and you can do a rental car right from this location, perfect for a day trip.
The heart of the midwest is in the windy city where you get all of your big city vibes, but it’s just a little easier than NYC. Teenagers love Chicago (maybe not in winter-ha!) because there is so much to do. Teens will love doing a food tour and indulging in deep dish pizza. If your teens love professional sports, you must do a tour of Wrigley Field or catch an afternoon Cubs game.
If you have sketchy weather there are plenty of museums to choose from. Your teens can have their very own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off moment at the Art Institute of Chicago! If it’s views you’re after, make your way up to the Skydeck or 360 Chicago. Depending on your level of tolerance and openness, you could also check out some comedy shows that are mostly appropriate for teenagers.
Outside, make your way to the lakefront of Lake Michigan for bike riding or roller blading. Stop by Millenium Park and take pics by The Bean and then make your way down to the riverwalk along the Chicago River. Do not miss the architectural boat tour! I highly suggest taking the last tour of the evening so you can get the best sunlight on the buildings along the river. The tour will end with a look back at the city when all the city lights come on for the night. If you want something active, check out kayaking on the river during the daytime.
Bucket List Lodging in Chicago
In a big city like Chicago there are handfuls of properties great to choose for an overnight stay. Sable at Navy Pier offers incredible views of Lake Michigan. In the Loop, I would suggest The Wit, which is a super hip boutique style property that gets your teens hyped to be in the city. Hyatt also has an incredible property called The Chicago Athletic Association which is a great property to book with points if you are playing the points and miles game.
Another midwest city with a great waterfront and active food scene is Louisville. Waterfront Park and Waterfront Botanical Gardens will lure everybody outside. In nearby outdoor areas your teens will love the treetop obstacle course, and Jefferson Memorial Forest. An absolute must is Mega Cavern, an underground ropes course and adventure area, but at Christmastime the cavern is transformed into a magical wonderland.
Louisville draws horse lovers from all over the world. Churchill Downs not only offers fun horse races, but an amazing museum full of history of the Kentucky Derby. It’s something iconic, and even if your teens aren’t into horses they will love this for its uniqueness. Plan at least a half day there. Take a walking history tour of the old Louisville homes and neighborhoods to learn more.
Bucket List Lodging in Louisville
Stay in the throng of downtown at The Grady and enjoy the masterful renovation of a historic property or the Cambria Hotel on Whiskey Row. Both are in excellent locations and offer a fun atmosphere for teens.
Charleston, South Carolina
This historic city drips with southern charm…and heat. This destination is best visited outside of summer. In the South that means, avoid June-September so you don’t melt. Charleston is a walking city, but there are lots of options beyond the peninsula. Learn all of the history and let your teens absorb the reality of slavery in the south. It’s important and something they should experience.
Evening ghost tours are fun for teens and also a good way to get some history of the city and families that founded the peninsula. Another way to see the homes and gardens is on a carriage tour. Yes it’s cheesy and a tad expensive, but our teens love it. Check out the urban adventure quest to make the learning more engaging-great for tweens too. Foodies will not be disappointed in the unending options for southern delicacies and shopoholics will be in heaven on King Street.
There are several beaches to spend time at, all within 30 minutes driving distance of downtown. I know many families that stay at the beach and make their way onto the peninsula for day trips or for a night of fun. Head on over to Mount Pleasant, across the Thomas Ravenel Bridge to SUP or kayak on Shem Creek. If you go around sunset, you are likely to see dolphins! Teens will also love doing an Outer Banks Film locations tour or an ebike tour of filming spots. If they are die hard fans you can do a self-guided tour, which may be necessary due to spread out locations. The black swamp offers excellent kayak tours that are perfect for outdoorsy teens. A favorite for us!
Bucket List Lodging in Charleston
It’s tough to decide whether to stay downtown or to stay at the beach. We’ve done it all and they each have their benefits. Do a vacation rental at the beach if you want a relaxing trip with just a touch of Charleston during a day trip or two. If your teens are looking forward to being in the action, then stay down in the peninsula at either The Hyatt House downtown or the Francis Marion Hotel.
If your kids have already done this city when they were younger, I would challenge you to re-visit. Teens learn so much in 8th grade U.S. History and again in high school civics or APush that this city really comes alive with the teenagers. D.C. is one of our favorite cities on the east coast because it’s so easy to navigate and is walkable. The foodie scene is packed due to all of the international influences.
Of course there are all of the Smithsonian museums. Remember that you don’t have to spend all day there. They are free, so if you only pop in to check out your must do exhibits it’s totally worth it. The spy museum is something teens enjoy, and although there is an entry fee teens stay engaged. I highly suggest the nighttime monuments tour for teens. Seeing the city sites lit up at night is such a treat! Pro sports events are always a hit and the metro makes it easy to get to them. If your teen is in the marching band definitely make time for the Marine Corp sunset parade. It is awesome even if your kids don’t play an instrument.
Bucket List Lodging in Washington D.C.
D.C. can be rather expensive, but one way to save money is to stay out further and use the Metro to get to the must see locations. If you’re looking to stay on a strict budget, consider The Omni Shoreham Hotel or The Homewood Suites in Arlington. For closer in look at CitizenM for all the artsy vibes. Stay at Thompson if you’re in town for a Nationals baseball game!
New York City
I know this goes without saying, but NYC has to be included. There’s not a group that NYC doesn’t fit, but teens find the city so exciting with a variety of things to do. It’s a city your family can return to at just about any age. There are the obvious activities like shopping in SoHo, taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, and visiting the 9/11 Memorial the the OneWorld Observatory. Also, there are some less obvious choices that will appeal to teenagers.
Walk the Highline North to Chelsea Market after you’ve worked up an appetite. Make your way to Hudson Yards and the Beehive for a photo opp. End your time at The Edge for some incredible daytime city views. Another daytime activity is the Hip Hop Bus Tour for teens who love music and the music industry.
One of the best parts about traveling with teens is all of the nighttime activities. Visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt for sunset views and interactive fun. Broadway never disappoints for an evening show. Afterwards, walk around Times Square for people watching during the late night hours because it’s much more fun at night than during the day. Brunch is perfect for teens who love to sleep in after a late night in the city. Try one of the hot spots like Sidney’s Five, Tre, or Alma. Walk off the brunch calories by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to the Dumbo neighborhood for a few hours.
Bucket List Lodging in NYC
With so many choices for accommodations it can be tough to pinpoint the right spot, so it will depend on your agenda and tolerance for using the subway system. We have loved staying at the Hotel Bowery 50 located in Chinatown. You can find everything from uber luxury to super budget, but location is the most important factor in NYC.
Miami & The Florida Keys
Fun in the sun is always a win for teens. If you can make it to Miami for the boat show teens really enjoy wandering around checking out all the swanky boats. Head on down to South Beach for people watching or rent bikes to ride along the boardwalk. Join in a beach volleyball game and catch some rays. The art deco architecture is well worth a walking tour for a few hours as well. There are so many shops and restaurants for fun late nights or people watching with your teenagers. For the art lovers make a stop at Wynwood Walls and the walk the neighborhood for some of the best murals we’ve ever seen.
There are two U.S. National Parks in the Miami area. The Everglades are an expansive marsh-like wonderland ripe with wildlife. Definitely schedule an airboat tour. It’s best to visit there in the early spring or late fall through winter for an optimal experience. Biscayne National Park is mostly water so you will want to get out away from land to truly absorb it.
For teens who love to be in the water and on the water, make sure to spend some time down in the keys. Active kids who love to kayak, fish, and stand up paddle board will love the keys. There are even spots to take kite surfing lessons! Sombrero Beach is great because there are bathroom facilities and easy parking is available. Snorkeling spots are dotted along the keys, but it’s best to get further out from them to have the best experience. If you don’t have your own boat, rent one for the day. Hire a guide for a half day of deep sea or inshore fishing.
There are several state parks throughout the keys that offer small beaches and places to explore. The entrance fees are pretty nominal and they are great stop offs if you want to drive all the way down to Key West.
Bucket List Lodging in Miami & The Keys
Honestly, finding a rental home or condo in the keys is the best way to go. Look for somewhere in the middle like Marathon Key to give you access North and South. One of our favorite family hotels in Key Largo is Baker’s Cay, perfectly set up for families with kids of all ages. It’s worth it to pay a little extra for a fancy spot in South Beach so you can be around all the action. Check out the Kimpton Angler’s South Beach hotel for an awesome rooftop pool.
Technically Puerto Rico is still a U.S. destination. It’s easy to get to and no passports are needed! Your teens can get the Caribbean vibes without having to provide a passport making this destination one of the best vacation spots for teens. This island has it all from beaches, to culture, to food, to history, as well as a host of outdoor adventures.
Make sure to spend some time in Old San Juan. The cobblestone streets and squares with local fare restaurants and shops is fun for a few hours. Visit the historic site of Castillo San Felipe del Morro to check out the fort and channel your inner child with kite flying.
Rent a car to visit some of the impeccable beaches. Consider taking a water taxi to Cayo Icacos where your teens can scuba, snorkel or paddle board in stunning turquoise waters. The next day make your way to El Yunque National Park for hiking and waterfall jumps. For teens who are night owls (I think they all are) try a night kayak excursion in a bioluminescent bay because it will be unforgettable. Another high energy activity is to do an ATV tour through the rain forest to get the adrenaline pumping.
Bucket List Lodging in Puerto Rico
First you will need to decide if you want to stay on the beach or in town. Personally I think there are too many good options at the beach to pass up. You can always take a taxi or ride share to town. The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar is an exceptional property for families with teens. There are 3 swimming pools, over 1 mile of beachfront access and plenty of activities to keep everyone busy.
Bucket lists are meant to inspire and help us dream, but the truth is mine are ever changing. I’ve got a variety of lists going, too. I have really specific outdoor adventures I want to do (like snowmobiling in Yellowstone), and I have restaurants are really want to try (Copenhagen I’m looking at you!), and more. I share these bucket lists to get your wheels spinning. Every family will have different goals and different ways of ticking things off. So this is your start-get to making your bucket lists…and get your teens involved to make their own! My oldest wants to ski and surf in the same day. Maui anyone?!?!