Take That Trip: Must-Do Vacations

There's no better time than now to take that dream vacation.

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Take in one of the most iconic views of the nation's original national park with a gaze over the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, from the vista point at Canyon Village in Yellowstone National Park. Many other famous vista points are accessible from here, such as Artist Point, and Upper Falls, as are a souvenir shop and an irresistible, interactive super-volcano exhibit. Chances are you'll be inspired to venture farther into the park and get out on the trails, so be sure to lace up your hiking shoes and bring your sunscreen for some of the most beautiful views you'll ever see. For more great places in the Mountain area, check out our Best of the Mountain Region Gallery.

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The Tower of London

Sure London is known for its beautiful gardens, Big Ben and Harry Potter. But before the London Eye was the king on the Thames, the royals who resided at the Tower of London brought new meaning to the term "off with their heads." Built in 1088 by William the Conquerer, this fortress has so many ghosts and legends associated with it, you'll need several hours to hear them all. If your family stays long enough, you just might see the famous Queen Anne Boleyn, who has been spotted at the chapel in The Queen's House (considered one of the most haunted buildings at the Tower ), or Sir Walter Raleigh, who called the Bloody Tower home when he was imprisoned there in the 16th century. For more great haunted locations, conjure up our Ghostly Getaways Gallery.

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The National Mall, Washington, D.C.

When you take a walk through the 309.2-acre National Mall in Washington D.C., you are strolling past history. The National Mall and Memorial Parks, which was founded in 1791, contains a large reflecting pool; more than 80 historic buildings and 150 historic parks, including the Washington Monument (1848), Lincoln Memorial (1922), Jefferson Memorial (1937), Korean War Veterans Memorial (1995), World War II Memorial (2004), Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982); and several of the museums of the Smithsonian Institution. It's also where some of the most famous rallies and speeches in U.S. history have been heard — including Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream." For more great places to celebrate the spirit of America, check out our Best of Americana Gallery.

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The Grand Canyon

It never ceases to amaze: The view above one of the world's most iconic natural wonders, where shades of pink, purple, and gold shine in layers reaching nearly one mile down and 10 miles across. Whether you see it from a balloon, a mule, a trail hike, even from the parking lot, a trip to the Grand Canyon is sure to impress everyone in your brood and will be remembered for a lifetime. It also is a Reader's Choice selection as a favorite family vacation. Want to see what else made the list? Check out the Reader's Choice Gallery.

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San Francisco

The city by the bay has a vibe all its own, where Victorian meets modern — and it seems everyone meets at Fisherman's Wharf. Take the family on a trip on a cable car tour, bike across the Golden Gate bridge or drive down Lombard Street. Grab dinner at a Noodle Bar, dessert at Ghirardelli Square and walk around the eclectic neighborhoods that make San Francisco one of a kind. Or why not take a day trip to Berkeley, Santa Cruz or Sonoma.

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San Diego Zoo

One of the best-known zoological parks in the world, the San Diego Zoo is packed with fun. From an aerial tram ride to a close look at dik diks, there is something to intrigue everyone in your family. The zoo in San Diego is so big, and there's so much to see, that many visitors plan to go over two days.

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Newport, Rhode Island

Visitors flock to Newport from December 1-31 when there are Christmasy events daily and multiple events on the weekend. Winter is a great, affordable time to visit the island — the weather is more temperate than Boston and New York, and there are package deals available for families. The winter holiday season in Newport is like Christmas with the Whos in Whoville — it's less commercial and more of an educational experience full of history and Colonial culture. Many events are free to the public.

Don't miss:

  • Newport Rhode Island Marriott
    Historic Newport

    Make your first stop for Christmas at The Newport Rhode Island Marriott, which builds a giant gingerbread house with 450 pounds of gingerbread and a 16-foot working lighthouse. The roof alone is made from more than 4,000 cookies and giant lollipops! Admission is free but you can share the holiday spirit by bringing a nonperishable food item to be donated to charity.
  • Sovereign Bank Family Skating Center
    December 2012
    Downtown Newport

    The whole family will enjoy this affordable open-air skating rink located right in downtown Newport next to the Newport Yachting Center, where you slip along with a view of the harbor and the boats. Bundle up for several hours of icy fun!
  • Touro Synagogue
    72 Touro Street

    The winter holidays are a great time to visit the oldest standing synagogue in America, which opened its doors for worship in 1763 and is a masterpiece of Colonial architecture. You can take a tour of the white and green perfectly restored interior where you'll see a Torah that is 500 years old. Guides ranging in age from 19-79 tell your family about the national significance of the synagogue and the fascinating history of Jews in Rhode Island. Tours last about half an hour and are recommended for children ages 6 and older.

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New York, New York

A trip to New York City during the holidays is a feast for the senses — fanciful, elaborately-decorated department store windows beckon to passers-by; trees twinkle with colorful lights (including the nearly 80-foot one at Rockefeller Plaza); sidewalk vendors send the aroma of roasting chestnuts into the cold winter air; and the songs of carolers bring a small-town feel to this thriving metropolis. The season begins with Santa's grand arrival at the conclusion of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends with a flourish when the ball drops in Times Square, signaling the arrival of the New Year. The weeks in-between are unquestionably the most magical time of year in this bustling city.

Don't miss:

  • The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
    November 22, 2012

    The most exciting moment of this more than 80-year-old parade is the same every year, but the anticipation of it only adds to the fun for kids: Santa's much-heralded arrival at Macy's and his temporary home in Santaland, the unofficial signal that the Christmas season has begun. More than 3 million spectators line the route of this famous parade each year and if you can't get there in person, you can join the millions who will be watching from their television sets on NBC at 9 a.m.
  • Macy's Santaland
    Macy's stores around the country.

    Hop aboard the Macyland Express for a magical journey through the Enchanted Forest to the North Pole that culminates with a private visit with Santa. Along the way kids stare transfixed at the expansive Christmas scenes, marveling at the model train displays.
  • Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular
    November 9 - December 30, 2012
    Radio City and National Tour

    It's been a sell-out hit for 85 years, and there's a reason — seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is truly awe-inspiring from the moment you walk into the opulent theater until the lights come back up at the show's conclusion. Whether you catch the show at the historic theater or in your hometown, prepare to be captivated.
  • Tour of Store Window Displays
    Holiday time
    Thoughout the city

    Fanciful department store windows have become a hallmark of the holidays in New York City, eagerly awaited each year by tourists and locals alike. The stores plan all year for the unveilings each November, protecting the top-secret themes and design
  • Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center
    Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 7-9 p.m.
    Rockerfeller Center

    Although trees are brightly decorated all over New York City, none compare to the majesty of the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree. Set amongst a glorious display of holiday decorations throughout the Plaza (including the gossamer-winged, horn blowing angels that guide
  • Historic Richmond Town
    Staten Island

    Travel back through time at Historic Richmond Town, a living history museum and village in the heart of Staten Island that was originally populated by colonists in the 1690s. During December, visitors are surrounded by the sights and sounds of Christmases past.
  • Lighting of the World's Largest Menorah
    December 8, 2012
    Near Central Park

    The miracle of Chanukah takes on even greater significance for kids as they look upon the 32-foot, 4,000-pound, golden candelabra that grandly takes the spotlight near Central Park on the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street.
  • Holiday Events in Central Park
    Central Park and Zoo

    Central Park is a year-round destination for visitors to New York City, but special events during the month of December make it a can't-miss spot for families — and best of all, the events are free and don't require advance registration.
  • New York City Ballet's Nutcracker
    November 23, 2012 through December 30, 2012
    Lincoln Center

    Seeing The Nutcracker is a right of passage for many children; seeing the New York City Ballet's version of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The holiday classic takes on even greater grandeur here, with more than 100 dancers.
  • New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show
    November 17, 2012-January 13, 2013
    The Bronx

    Leave the holiday hustle and bustle of Manhattan behind and head to the Bronx for this beloved family event. Now in its 19th year, visitors to the Holiday Train Show get a birds-eye view of nearly 150 miniaturized five-borough landmarks.
  • Grand Central Terminal Holiday Laser Show, Holiday Market and Train Show
    November - December 2012
    The Bronx

    Grand Central Terminal is a kid-favorite New York City destination throughout the year, but the Holiday Fair, Laser Light Show and Holiday Train Show make it even more of a must-do.

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Maid of the Mist

Join fellow blue windbreaker-wearing guests on the Maid of the Mist for the classic Niagara Falls tour. The unique boat's eye view gives you a taste of what all those barrel-jumping daredevils had to face.

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Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

When you see the six-story, 68,000 pound steel bat in downtown Louisville, you know you're at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Baseball fans of all ages will get a kick out of learning the history of this famous bat — such as the one that Babe Ruth used during his 60 home run season of 1927 or the first public display of a Louisville Slugger used by Joe DiMaggio during his 56-game hitting streak of 1941. Also enjoy seeing how the bat itself is made by Hillerich&Bradsby (Hillerich's signature is on the side of the "Big Bat" outside).

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John G. Shedd Aquarium

Sharks, dolphins, whales, jellyfish and giant sea turtles — not to mention the building's gorgeous architecture — make the John G. Shedd Aquarium a feast for the eyes as well as the brain. With close to 25,000 aquatic critters, the Chicago landmark will delight your entire family — especially any future marine biologists. Then make a day of it and stop by the other buildings on the museum campus: the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum. For more under-the-sea adventures, check out our Best Family Aquariums Gallery.

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Hershey Park

Amusement parks are great. Chocolate is great. Marry them and you have a place north of Lancaster that's just about as close to Willy Wonka's vision as you're going to find. Play all day at Hershey Park — a real, live Candyland.

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Fiorella's Jack Stack BBQ

When its time for barbecue, those in the know head to Kansas City — and those in Kansas City head to Fiorella's Jack Stack BBQ. The restaurant was founded by eldest Fiorella son, Jack, who wanted to differenciate the restaurant from other barbeques in the area. So, in 1977, he started cooking with a hickory wood-filled brick-oven, in use at all four Jack locations. Menu faves include Jack's famous spare ribs, Hickory Pit Beans and Cheesy Corn Bake — which can all be shipped anywhere in the country. But, if it looks like a lot of food for your young ones, the kids menu makes sure everyone can get some Kansas City BBQ lovin'.

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Dole Pineapple Plantation

If Hawaii was represented by a fruit, it would probably be a pineapple. The state's connection to this sweet tropical plant can be found at the Dole Pineapple Plantation on "The Gathering Place" island of Oahu. It was here in 1901 that the Hawaiian Pineapple Company was founded by James Dole. What started as a fruit stand in the 1950s, opened to the public in 1980 as Hawaii's "Pineapple Experience." In addition to tours, visitors can ride the Pineapple Express, and get lost in The Pineapple Garden Maze — the world's largest — which stretches across two acres and 2.46 miles.

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One of the most intriguing parts about a cruise is seeing something new outside your window everyday. And sharing it with someone you love? Even better. Keep an eye out for the Italian coast, the glaciers of Alaska, the Ruins of Mexico, the Castles of Russia and locks of the Panama Canal.

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Colonial Williamsburg

Take a walk through history — literally, at the largest living history museum in the United States: Colonial Williamsburg, where the motto is "that the future may learn from the past." In the 1920s, the private non-profit foundation operates the restored 18th-century capital of colonial Virginia that, from 1699 to 1780, was the political, cultural, and educational center of what was then the largest of the American colonies. Tour the 300-plus acres of political sites, homes, public buildings, gardens, and tradeshops; and meet the townspeople (male and female, slave and free) who can tell your family about life in the 1700s.

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Beautiful Beantown is great for strolling, with historic landmarks galore that you can take in for free all over the city. Many of these lie along the mostly-free Freedom Trail, from the graveyard where Paul Revere is buried to that famously gorgeous park, Boston Common. But put on your walking shoes and hit a few more bargain attractions you may not know about, like Faneuil Hall Marketplace, The Longfellow House and the Boston Children's Museum

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Occupying almost the entire area of Paradise Island — which is connected to Nassau by both bridge and boat — Atlantis tops all competitors in terms of sheer glitz and excitement. It's definitely the place to wow jaded city kids who think a tropical vacation sounds boring.

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Aspen Mountains, Colorado

There's nothing like taking a walk in the clouds. When the temperatures drop, head to the beautiful snow covered mountains of Aspen. The town itself was formed as part of a silver boom in the late 1800s, but when your children are on the mountain, possibly in the Powder Pandas program during the winter, you'll feel very rich indeed to have such a magnificent example of nature's magic.

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