10 Places in North America That Feel Like Exotic Escapes

Na Pali Coast
Na Pali Coast

Traveling abroad with kids introduces them to new cultures and alluring locations that open up the entire world for them. But with hectic work and school schedules, not to mention rising costs, jetting overseas with your family isn’t always within reach.

Fortunately, you don’t have to travel to the far corners of the earth for a getaway that feels exotic — there are plenty of destinations in North America that are just a stone’s throw away, yet show children a totally unique culture, landscape or way of living. Here are 10 of our favorites.

North America Travel Ideas
Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. Photo by Lisa Frederick

Something Different: Unique North America Travel Ideas

Kauai, Hawaii

Lush, craggy and rustic, Kauai — where taro fields dot the land and wild chickens roam freely — feels more like the South Pacific than the 50 states. More than 90 percent of the isle is inaccessible by car, so unspoiled that you half expect a dinosaur to emerge from the trees. Take in the adventurous atmosphere and the jawdropping landscapes with a sailing tour of the Na Pali Coast, a helicopter tour or a backcountry hiking, kayaking and horseback riding adventure. When it’s time to relax, there are plenty of kid-friendly beaches, including Anini Beach and Poipu Beach Park, as well as more rugged ones like Polihale State Park and Tunnels Beach.

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North America Travel Ideas
Adak Island, Alaska. “Finger Bay, Adak Island, Alaska,” by Paxson Woelber is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Aleutian Islands, Alaska

Alaska as a whole ranks high for exotic locations within the United States, but if you truly want to delve into its wilderness, head to the remote islands. Nestled in the northern Pacific Ocean, the Aleutian Islands boast active volcanoes, untamed terrain and rich, diverse wildlife. Give the kids a history lesson at the Museum of the Aleutians, from the Russian American period to WWII and the present. Bald eagles pepper Expedition Park in the town of Unalaska and Dutch Harbor. There’s so much to see and do that it can be overwhelming — our CB! Family Travel Advisors can help you book a sightseeing itinerary that makes the most of your time and interests.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

After spending a few days exploring Albuquerque, make the 4-hour drive to White Sands National Park for a walk through breathtaking sand so white your kids just might think it’s snow. The area holds the distinction of being the largest gypsum dune field in the world. There are plenty of ways to explore, including on horseback and by hiking, but kids and adults alike will love grabbing a sled from the Visitor Center and sailing down the pale, powdery slopes.

North America Travel Ideas
Olympic National Park in Washington. Photo by Ross Burris

Olympic National Park, Washington

You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into another world among the 1,000-year-old groves and glacier-covered peaks at Olympic National Park. The habitat is so diverse that you can go from snowy mountains to beaches on the same day without leaving the confines of the park. Gear up for a hike out to Sol Duc Falls to see hemlocks and firs alongside the roaring water; visit the unearthly Hoh Rainforest, covered in moss; or explore Kalaloch Beach 4 during low tide to see sea stars, sea urchins and rock-covered mussels. Note that parts of the park are remote and time-intensive to reach, so a little extra planning is required with younger kids.

Big Sur, California

A road trip along the California coast is a must for every family’s travel bucket list, and the journey isn’t complete without a stop at Big Sur. Kids can run free at Pfeiffer Beach and explore the arched rock formations and sand dunes, or go horseback riding to look for otters and wildlife along the shore. Don’t miss the stunning McWay Falls while you’re there. Sand Dollar Beach also offers easy access to hunt for sand dollars and polished beach stones that look like jewels in the sunshine. Before you leave, drive across Bixby Bridge for awe-inspiring views of the blue water below.

North America Travel Ideas
A wild horse on Cumberland Island. “Horse on Cumberland Island” by Lee Coursey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Georgia‘s shoreline is home to a string of beautiful, tucked-away barrier islands, and one of the most captivating is Cumberland Island. Unlike many of its neighbors dotting the East Coast, Cumberland is almost entirely undeveloped and feels worlds away from the mainland. Plan ahead and make ferry and camping reservations in advance, or stay at the island’s lone commercial establishment: the luxurious Greyfield Inn. This is the place to get off the grid as a family; spend your time wandering the ruins of the 19th-century Dungeness mansion, fishing in the sea or biking past the wild horses that call Cumberland home.

North America Travel Ideas
Acadia National Park. “Acadia National Park, near Seawall” by Peter Rintels is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park is an explosion of natural diversity, from rocky coastlines to wildlife and granite mountains. It encompasses three main areas, including Mount Desert Island, the Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut. Explore via kayak or horse-drawn carriage, or walk to the tidepools to see mussels, sea stars and young lobsters. Ocean-obsessed kids can also hop on a lobster boat tour to learn more about lobstering, with a chance to spot harbor seals as a bonus. Take the kids to a free ranger-led program to learn more about constellations, birds of prey and the park’s history.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

For an offbeat destination that blends a subtropical ecosystem with military history, head to Dry Tortugas in Key West, Florida. This 100-square-mile park is only accessible by boat or plane and features historic Fort Jefferson, one of the largest coastal forts ever built. Less than 1 percent of Dry Tortugas is dry land, so you’ll want to dive in for a swim or sail along by boat to really get the full picture of the park. Sea turtles, lobsters and tropical fish all live in the surrounding waters; meet them up close during an afternoon of snorkeling.

North America Travel Ideas
Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland. “Green Point – Gros Morne” by Bernard Poirier is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Newfoundland, Canada

You can reach out and touch the easternmost tip of North America on the island of Newfoundland, where the region’s oldest standing lighthouse sits. Northeast of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island, Newfoundland features L’Anse aux Meadows, said to be the settlement of Viking explorer Leif Erikson, as well as dramatic Gros Morne National Park, a panorama of waterfalls and glacial fjords. In St. John’s, the capital, stroll down Jellybean Row to see the city’s distinctive colorful row houses (legend has it that families painted them in bright colors so seafaring workers could find their way home in the fog). In summer, family programs at the lighthouse include songs and s’mores through the Parks Canada System; this is also a good spot to look for humpback whales. Or visit the Johnson Geo Centre to explore the Titanic exhibit and how glacial deposits have changed over millions of years.

Where to Go in North America with Kids
Isla Holbox, Mexico. Photo by Virtuoso

Isla Holbox, Mexico

Your family might have explored popular tourist spots around Mexico like Tulum, but chances are you have yet to set foot on Isla Holbox, where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean. Streets in this idyllic fishing enclave are made from sand rather than pavement, and bikes far outnumber cars for getting around. Stroll along or lie on the beach as you indulge in the local treat called machaca, made from shaved ice with fruit and a mixture of sweet evaporated milk and cinnamon. Hop in a kayak to paddle the shoreline and keep an eye out for flamingos grazing. In the mood for a day trip? Kids will be fascinated by the Sacred Cenote, an underground cavern and pool, paired with a visit to the Chichen Itza ruins.

Relevant Links:

Top 50 places to go in 2018 with kids

18 summer vacations to take before your kids grow up

10 family vacations that will change kids forever

Kidding around Kauai: Why the Garden Isle is a dream for families

10 reasons to visit Alaska with kids

Postcard from California: Driving the Big Sur coastline

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