10 Favorite Family Summer Destinations on the East Coast in 2018
The school year is winding down, and summer is fast-approaching. So, is the thought of planning a family vacation still lingering in your mind as you just can’t find the time to scout out a destination and affordable accommodations all members of your travel tribe will enjoy and remember for years to come?
I’m with you 110%. I know how much of a challenge it can be! And, that’s why I dedicated time to researching for you to bring you the only list you’ll need to cross the task off your to-do list and have something to look forward to for some R&R—away from the hustle and bustle of all that the upcoming season brings.
You ready to hear my ten favorite family summer destination (& resort!) picks on the east coast this year? Let’s make a splash and dive right on in!
1. Williamsburg, Virginia
How could we not kick off this list with none other than the city in which the Tripbound team lives and works in—Williamsburg, Virginia! While it’s known for being a historical destination thanks to Colonial Williamsburg, and Jamestown and Yorktown right down the road, it’s also a hotspot for some serious thrills and splashing fun.
Busch Gardens® Williamsburg operates daily following Memorial Day weekend through the summer. Best of all, if you find yourself in “The Berg” during the summertime, get ready for double the fun. Virginia’s largest water park—Water Country USA—is just three miles down the road. It’s filled with mega slides, family-friendly slides, splash areas, lazy rivers, and so much more, giving your family the perfect opportunity to cool down and soak up the sun.
Where to Stay: Wyndham Kingsgate, which offers up to three-bedroom lock-off units for families of every size. Not to mention, a slew of on-site amenities such as a game room that offers you the chance to play an unlimited amount of free games, an indoor and outdoor pool, 18-hole miniature golf, and even a seasonal deli and poolside bar and restaurant.
2. Virginia Beach, Virginia
Next up is Neptune City! Or, what’s otherwise known as Virginia Beach, Virginia. Why Neptune City? Well, it’s home to King Neptune, a colossal 34-foot-high bronze statue that resides on the boardwalk and was built in honor of the town’s annual festival—the Neptune Festival. So, pack up the family and head to this beach town to set your sights on him and other noteworthy attractions!
For starters, Grommet Island Park, located on 2nd Street, is an accessible playground and park for “everyBODY”—including those with special needs. Once the kids have burned off some pent-up excitement and energy, continue strolling the boardwalk for some quality people-watching or rent a family-sized bike to catch a breeze. And, when you’re ready, sign the kids up for some surf lessons (ages 8 and up) with Ocean Rentals, and park your towel in the sand.
As soon as you’ve had enough sun, head over to Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, which also houses an IMAX Theatre and extensive nature trails. If that’s not enough fun for the entire family, check out Live! On Atlantic (formerly known as BeachStreet USA), which presents live, family-oriented entertainment from mid-June through the end of August.
Where to Stay: Ocean Beach Club, which features Caribbean-style modern suites—from studios to two-bedrooms—with kitchens and all the comforts of home. Family-friendly resort amenities include a heated indoor and outdoor pool with fun water features, splash pad, poolside bar and grill, and so much more.
Plus, you’re central to all the fun including Lager Heads, featuring great food and an oceanfront atmosphere, just right next door. Not to mention, Neptune’s Park, where the kids can run around the playground, is within walking distance.
3. Charleston, South Carolina
As the oldest city in The Palmetto State and one that’s filled with southern charm, you and your family are bound to have some summer fun here. More specifically, you won’t need to wander far to see the shore. But, there are plenty of hotspots available to you, which might leave you wondering, “Which Charleston beach is the best?”
Take a look at the list below to help get you started:
- Folly Beach—overall, this is the most popular. As a six-mile-long island, it’s known for its funky, offbeat vibes.
- Sullivan’s Island—the most charming of Charleston’s list of beaches. With tide pools, an offshore sandbar, an enchanting restaurant district, and, most importantly, a historical foundation, it’s no wonder it serves as a serene sanctuary for both tourists and residents.
- Isle of Palms—this spot is known for being the best for families. It’s also filled with unique shops and restaurants!
- Kiawah Beachwalker Park—offering the least-crowded beach retreat, you can often spot bottlenose dolphins chasing fish as you’re sunbathing or strolling along the Kiawah River.
If you’re looking for a change of scenery, hop on the Charleston Water Taxi, which is only $10 to ride all day long. Dolphins are everywhere during your excursion! You can park on the Mount Pleasant side of the harbor for free.
Have some history lovers in your group? Venture to Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum. Whatever you do, however, just be sure you go first thing in the morning because it gets HOT out there! The highlight is the USS Yorktown—an aircraft carrier perfect for curious-minded young explorers.
Craving some play time and picnicking? Explore one of the area’s plantations, such as Magnolia Plantation and Gardens—complete with a petting zoo and a nature train tour.
And, when you’re ready to find some refuge from the heat, head to South Carolina Aquarium, located in the Charleston Harbor. You can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sea Turtle Care Center, which aids sick and injured sea turtles.
Where to Stay: Wild Dunes—Charleston’s Island Resort—on Isle of Palms, South Carolina. You can choose from one- to three-bedroom condos.
Its full menu of family activities is offered from approximately June 1 to August 15. You’ll also have access to educational programs (think basket weaving and blacksmithing), as well as Dune Bug Club, which is a supervised kids’ club for your mini-mes ages 5-12. And, even a Pirate Treasure Hunt where kids ages 3-12 will be guided by a real-life pirate as they find hidden clues that lead to buried treasures.
If you’re looking to enjoy the great outdoors and savor the island life, however, head out on a guided family kayak paddle to glide past wildlife and shrimp boats.
4. Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is a top-notch family destination, no matter the time of year. But, why not make it a summer of fun and learning by visiting our nation’s capital while the kids are out of school for a solid two and a half months (give or take)?
There are so many museums and attractions you can seek out. My personal list of favorites, however, begins with the National Museum of Natural History. Here, you can check out Q?rius—an interactive science education space where teens and tweens can engage in real-life experiments. My family also loved the Butterfly Pavilion where you can pay to stroll along living butterflies and exotic plants!
Next up is the United States Botanic Garden. The Children’s Garden offers your mini-mes the perfect opportunity to get hands-on in the garden, explore plants in bloom, and play with gardening tools. Once your kids are ready to keep moving, make your way to Smithsonian’s National Zoo to admire the giant pandas! You can even watch them from afar before your getaway via the Giant Panda Cam.
And, if you’re still looking for more educational experiences, be sure to visit the National Air and Space Museum before noon or after 2pm. There are loads of interactive exhibits here for all members of your travel tribe!
Lastly, a vacation to Washington, D.C., wouldn’t be complete without a walk up the terraced steps to the one and only Thomas Jefferson Memorial of the Tidal Basin. Did you know that you can also rent a peddle or swan boat here to soak in picturesque views?
Where to Stay: Wyndham National Harbor, putting you right in the middle of an innovative city center and just 10 minutes from Washington, D.C. Here, you can enjoy all the comforts of home at this resort in a two-bedroom sweet suite.
Most importantly, you’ll have access to on-site amenities such as an indoor and outdoor pool, theater with free daily movies, free shuttle runs to the nearest metro station, and more. Area attractions include the Capital Wheel, National Children’s Museum, playground and carousel area, and even summer movies on the Potomac and year-round festivals.
5. Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont
Here, the resort is the destination. And, for good reason as it’s often considered to be a Disney-esque wonderland! So, there’s no doubt you’re bound to have some happy travelers on your hands. Wyndham Vacation Resorts Smugglers’ Notch, which is considered America’s Family Resort℠, offers plenty to be enjoyed by each member of your family.
As a self-contained mountain resort village, there are endless opportunities for fun in the sun—we’re talking about a water playground with eight heated outdoor pools and waterslides!
Where to Stay: Again, Wyndham Vacation Resorts at Smugglers’ Notch will serve as your mountain-top getaway to the grandeur of the Green Mountains. Sweet suite options include one-bedroom units all the way up to three-bedroom deluxe units.
At this resort, you can enjoy family-friendly amenities such as an outdoor waterpark, playgrounds, the FunZone 2.0 Family Fun Complex with a 55-foot inflatable obstacle course and indoor playground, and so much more. Best of all, local activities are endless year-round—from a llama trek to mountain biking, organized family hikes, kayaking, and fishing to name a few.
6. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Gentle Carolina seascapes combine with gracious southern hospitality, making Myrtle Beach truly the gem of summer family vacationing in paradise. Some 60 miles of picturesque Atlantic beach—known as the Grand Strand—offer stunning ocean views and soft sand beaches where you can find the perfect spot to lay down your towel and relax.
Then, when you and your travel tribe have had enough sun for the day, stroll down the boardwalk for a ride on the SkyWheel! But, that’s not all the area has to offer as there are plenty of options to keep everyone satisfied. For starters, Broadway at the Beach is home to Ripley’s Aquarium, WonderWorks, Broadway Grand Prix, Broadway Cinema, shopping, and restaurants.
As if that wasn’t enough shopping and strolling, Barefoot Landing is another hotspot. It hosts Alabama Theatre, House of Blues, Alligator Adventure, waterfront dining options, and, yes, more retail therapy!
Lastly, a must-see on your list (besides the beach), is Brookgreen Gardens. It features beautiful storybook-esque gardens, spectacular sculptures, and even a Lowcountry zoo.
Where to Stay: Dunes Village Resort, your oceanfront home away from home, offers many suite options—from studio units to four-bedroom units. Most notably, it’s home to Myrtle Beach’s only indoor waterpark, which truly serves up fun for all ages. But, that’s not the only thing that’ll keep your kids amused the entire stay. Thanks to a hefty list of on-site activities such as a year-round activities program, basketball courts, miniature golf, and a pirate ship playground, we have a feeling your mini-mes will be asking to come back for years to come.
Don’t worry, however. We didn’t forget about you! This resort also offers plenty for the grown-ups to enjoy—from Starbucks coffee at Perk’s Up Coffee Shop to the Cabana Tiki Bar, and the Poolside Grill, you’re bound to quench any thirst. Most importantly, you’re conveniently located just steps away from the beach!
7. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Having been named the Best Island in the United States by Travel + Leisure, it’s no secret Hilton Head Island is calling your name for an unforgettable southern escape from the hustle and bustle. In addition to its Atlantic beaches and supreme golf courses, there are plenty of activities and attractions for the entire family to enjoy. For starters, you can hop into a kayak to get up close and personal with dolphins. Or, wander the wooden boardwalk at Driessen Beach Park as it takes you over a tidal marsh and sand dunes for sea critter sightings.
Then, when you’re ready for a break from the sun, visit The Sandbox—an interactive children’s museum in the area, recommended for mini-mes ages 6 and under—allowing you to take a break from the sun with a pretend plane, bank, and supermarket cafe. If you’ve got older kids in the mix, the Coastal Discovery Museum offers scavenger hunts, a butterfly exhibit, trails, and more fun experiences.
And, if your legs aren’t tired just yet from walking around town, climb the Harbour Town Lighthouse. It’s only 114 steps to the top for scenic views, making it manageable for families like yours! No matter what you choose to do, you’ll have the chance to revel in the island’s unmistakable Lowcountry charm.
Where to Stay: Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort, which is located in Palmetto Dunes—a quiet coastal area thanks to the fact that it lacks a public beach access point. With more than 530 square feet, this resort’s deluxe rooms are about one third larger than others on the island. And, they include an in-suite mini kitchen and private balconies. This luxurious, family-friendly hotspot also hosts adult, family, and wading pools; a day spa; daily resort activities; and more.
8. Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Wrightsville Beach is an ideal refuge for a true beach lover. Located just 20 minutes from Wilmington, North Carolina, this destination is filled with nothing but relaxing vibes. So, pack your bags and get ready to breathe in the salty ocean air, views of white sandy beaches and crystal blue waters, and all the amenities and attractions that fill the town.
Hitch a ride with Wrightsville Beach Scenic Tours for a Pirate Island Treasure Hunt as you travel to what is rumored to be the spot where the renowned Captain Kidd buried his illegal loot. Or, head to the Stanback Coastal Education Center where you can touch hermit crabs, sea stars, and other creatures for its Touch Tank Tuesday Exhibit every Tuesday, June through August, from 10am to 1pm.
But, I’m sure you’re coming here to get out on the water. Right? If so, enjoy a SUP paddleboard lesson down the Intracoastal Waterway. Or take in this ideal surf spot for a lesson with Sean’s Private Surf Instruction, featuring summer day camps for kids and teens. And, they’ll even take a drone or GoPro along for the ride to capture photos or a video of your family catching some waves!
When you’re ready to kick back and relax after an adventure-filled day, listen to live music all summer long on the Crystal Pier at The Oceanic—the only restaurant on the island overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. On Wednesday evenings from 6-9pm and Saturdays from 7-10pm (as weather permits), your family can also enjoy dinner on the pier and groove to the tunes.
Also, you won’t want to miss the Sounds of Summer Concert Series happening at Wrightsville Beach Park. The free outdoor concerts will take place on Thursday evenings from mid-June through the beginning of August. Grab your chair or blanket, and hang out with the family for this popular event! Check here for the exciting lineup of musicians.
Where to Stay: Blockade Runner Beach Resort offers waterfront rooms that will serve as your R&R spot when you’ve spent a long day enjoying some fun in the sun. It was actually featured in USA Today’s article titled, 10 Best: Beach Resorts Kid’s Clubs, thanks to its supervised “Sandcampers” program for your mini travelers, ages 4-12. Just be sure you sign them up at the concierge as it runs on reservations.
Want a parents-only night out? Kids Night In runs on Friday nights from 6-9pm for your little ones, ages 4-12. They’ll enjoy a night of fun with dinner, crafts, dancing, and popcorn and a movie! Lastly, Wrightsville Beach is a great place to learn more about sea turtles. And, when staying at this resort in the summer months (between June and August), you and your family will have the opportunity to pop into an interactive session, “Sea Turtle 9-1-1.”
Within this destination, however, I actually have two favorite resorts. You can also choose to stay at Shell Island Resort, the only all-suite resort on the beach with accommodations overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Here, you’ll have access to an indoor and outdoor pool, jacuzzi, beach volleyball, miles of white sandy beaches, a casual oceanfront restaurant and bar complete with outdoor seating, a fitness room, and also laundry facilities.
9. St. Pete Beach, Florida
Voted Tripadvisor’s #7 Beach in the United States in 2018, St. Pete Beach is your postcard-esque seaside summer getaway. With sugary-white sand, crystal waters, and dolphins popping up to put on a show near the shore, you’re sure to make memories that last a lifetime here.
My favorite place to enjoy the sun and sand is Fort De Soto Park. With miles of beachfront, calm waters, lifeguards, playgrounds, a fort, kayak and other watersport rentals, all ages in your travel tribe will be sure to savor the time spent at this family hotspot.
It’s not just the beaches that lure in tourists, however! It’s also the various family-friendly attractions. For starters, you can load up the car and head to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where you can set your sights on Hope and Winter—the most famous residents—and other rescued sea animals at this attraction, which served as the backdrop for none other than Dolphin Tale.
Not to mention, there’s ZooTampa at Lowry Park—the number one zoo in the country. Here, you can feed giraffes, rhinos, and parrots. Additionally, Great Explorations Children’s Museum is perfect if you’ve got preschoolers in tow.
Lastly, just seven miles north of where you could be staying if you travel with your Tripbound BFFs, you can enjoy a two-hour Pirate Ship Cruise at John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk. It’s complete with water gun fights, face painting, treasure hunts, dance parties, limbo, dolphin watching, pirate stories, and more. Talk about some serious FOMO if you don’t do this with the fam!
Where to Stay: Beach House Suites is a part of the legendary “Pink Palace,” aka The Don CeSar located ½ mile down the beach from one another. It’s old 1920s glam mixed with modern day luxury. Best of all, staying here often offers a better rate. And, it includes a mini kitchen, dining room, living room, and more.
My family and I stayed here, and we loved the intimate nature of this home away from home. Especially because it provided us the best of both worlds—an intimate collection of 70 suites, a heated pool with a splash pad, supervised kids club, and access to Don CeSar resort amenities such as loads of on-site dining options (including a friendly poolside bar with daily happy hour specials!) and a world-class spa. You won’t have to really lift a finger here as you’ll also have beach attendants with loungers and umbrella service. Talk about a dream!
10. Orlando, Florida
Last, but certainly not least on the list is none other than Orlando, Florida. Because, well, it’s summer and the kids are out of school! Keep in mind, however, that summertime at Disney can get seriously over-crowded and downright HOT. That said, I recommend going in June as soon as you possibly can so you can delight in all that Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom have to offer—without having to wait too terribly long in line for the rides.
And, as soon as you’re ready for a change of pace from the park life, head over to The Florida Mall for the Crayola Experience. You’re free to color outside the lines, let your creativity run wild, and have fun while enjoying 26 hands-on attractions.
Where to Stay: Wyndham Bonnet Creek, featuring fantastic family fun on the doorsteps of Walt Disney World Resort. You and your travel tribe can look forward to loads of pool time (with a lazy river and a pirate ship slide), one- to three-bedroom condos with in-suite kitchens, on-site restaurants, and a shuttle service to get you to the park in no time.
Well, there you have it, friends. My ten favorite family summer destination picks on the east coast in 2018! I know how difficult it is to plan an unforgettable family vacation—especially in the midst of all the hustle and bustle that is everyday life. But, I hope I’ve accomplished my goal and saved you some time and stress by narrowing down the list of places you can venture to this coming season.
If you’re ready to book your summer escape, give your travel BFFs at Tripbound a call today at 1-888-816-5214. We’re ready to match you with a vacation your travel tribe will be talking about for years to come!
Have you visited any of the hotspots listed today during the summer months? Share your experience with us in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!