Car with Thanksgiving turkey on top

Top 12 Thanksgiving Vacation Ideas for Families

Thanksgiving is a holiday that most of us associate with food. We sit around the dinner table with our family and consume regrettable amounts of food before retiring to the living room to watch the football game. But did you know that Thanksgiving is actually one of the best holidays to travel with your family? Not only are there cheap, family-friendly places to visit, but you don’t have to worry about cooking and there’s zero clean up! If you’re considering taking a trip this Turkey Day, here are the top twelve Thanksgiving vacation ideas for families.

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1. Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Thanksgiving Parade with Yogi Bear

The Windy City is home to an impressive Thanksgiving Day parade that features kid-friendly characters, jovial music, and plentiful theatrics. People look forward to seeing and/or participating in this parade every year. In many families, it has become a tradition. If you’re not in the parade mood, take heart. There are plenty of other activities in the city to keep your family entertained. These include an aquarium, planetarium, and multiple museums. The city is chock full of parks and playgrounds as well as level, easy-to-walk paths for biking or walking. Additionally, there are several family-friendly restaurants to visit for a hearty Thanksgiving meal. One of the more popular restaurants is Tavern on the Rush, located at 1031 N Rush Street. Kids twelve and under eat at a discounted price. And the menu includes all the holiday favorites, like carved turkey, cranberry sauce, baked beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and more.

2. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu, Hawaii Thanksgiving Vacation Ideas for Families

When you think “Thanksgiving vacation ideas for families,” Hawaii is probably not the first place to come to mind. But what better way to spend Thanksgiving than relaxing on a beach? Not only is there plenty to see and do, but Thanksgiving is a less popular time for tourists in Hawaii. That means you and your family will get better deals on hotels and experience fewer crowds. There’s a wonderful Thanksgiving Day parade here to take in, but it’s probably unlike anything you’ve experienced before. The parade features hula dancers and people dressed as the Hawaiian Santa Claus, complete with shorts and sunglasses!

If you’re feeling active, you can take place in one of the annual Turkey Trots. These two, four or eight-mile-long races help you make space for all those extra calories you’ll consume a few hours later. After, you can gobble up those calories (plus some) at one of many restaurants. Several in Honolulu put on a full, traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Just be sure to make reservations, as these can fill up quickly.

3. Las Vegas, Nevada

Fall season in Bellagio Hotel conservatory in Las Vegas

Far from the seedier image Las Vegas held in the early years, the city has become a hotspot for family-friendly activities. This is particularly true around the holiday season. The strip has many casinos and resorts that offer kid-friendly activities. These include things like the arcade at Excalibur and the ever-changing atrium exhibit at the Bellagio.

If you want to take a day trip, beautiful Red Rock Canyon is just a short drive from Vegas and boasts breathtaking landscapes. Or you could go visit the wonderful Hoover Dam with kids. As far as food, there’s no limit to what can be enjoyed. One option is to chow down at the all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving buffet at Searsucker. Afterward, take the kids for a walk through the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Here, you can catch a show depicting the Fall of Atlantis. And end your night with fountain show at the Bellagio.

4. New York City, New York

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Thanksgiving Vacation Ideas for Families

If you’re seeking Thanksgiving vacation ideas for families, look no further than The Big Apple. This is the home of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Though you’ll have to stake your place out early or brave the crowds, the number of imaginative floats are sure to charm children of any age.

Aside from the parade, there are plenty of other things to see and do here with your kids. Stroll through Central Park, which even has a zoo to explore. Or hop aboard the Staten Island Ferry, which offers impressive views of the iconic Statue of Liberty. Kids who enjoy a thrill will delight in taking one of the fastest elevator rides in the world to the observatory at the top of the Empire State Building. Another kid-friendly attraction in NYC is the Children’s Museum of the Arts. Here, your child can tap into their creative side with hands-on painting and sculpting projects.

New York City is well known for its fine dining establishments. But even if you’re traveling with small children, you don’t have to compromise on quality since there are plenty of choices for dining out with kids. Cowgirl, located on Hudson Street, offers kid-friendly menu choices like pancakes until 4 PM. Other classic choices such as grilled cheese, chicken strips, and corndogs are served all day with corn on the cob and French fries. Top the meal off with the ice cream baked potato, which is a delicious sundae disguised to look like a healthy side item.

5. Pinehurst, North Carolina

Thanksgiving meal Thanksgiving Vacation Ideas for Families

The Pinehurst Resort has been open since 1895 and offers a choice of three different hotels. These hotels make up the quaint, village-like atmosphere of the place. Here, you and your family can partake in carriage rides or go for a swim in the Carolina Hotel. During the day, your child can participate in the KidsClub, which has a ton of games, puppet shows, and other activities. Depending on how long of a time slot you book, they’ll provide lunch and snacks as well.

If you’re looking for the ultimate family destination, be sure to book the Thanksgiving package. This not only includes your accommodations but also grants access to fun activities and a bountiful breakfast and dinner buffet you can access each day. There is something for everyone here. From golfing to an impressive spa for dad and mom to wagon rides and movie matinees for the kids, this is one of the best Thanksgiving vacation ideas for families. The best part? Kids seventeen and under stay for free!

6. Park City, Utah

Picture showing joyful kids preparing Christmas biscuits

Montage Deer Valley, located in Park City, is one of the best Thanksgiving vacation ideas for families. This family-friendly destination is complete with a number of indoor and outdoor activities. Since this place is a major ski area, you can hit the slopes as long as the weather is cooperating. Participate in archery lessons, or play a game of flag football on the front lawn. But if you’re looking for something more relaxed, there are cookie decorating classes, a hot chocolate bar, and live entertainment. The Apex restaurant puts on an awesome Thanksgiving Day buffet as well. Pick and choose from traditional dishes, such as roast turkey, stuffing, and of course, a number of freshly baked desserts.

7. Plymouth, Massachusetts

Plimoth Plantation

Even if your kids aren’t into history or the idea of learning while on vacation, Plymouth, Massachusetts has multiple options for keeping kids fascinated as they soak in the culture of the place. There is, perhaps, no better spot to visit with the family for Thanksgiving, as this was the landing site of the Mayflower. You and your kids can literally take a walk back in time, exploring a true to size rebuilt model of the famous ship itself. You can also take advantage of any number of parades the season has to offer. 

Without a doubt, however, the star attraction of this destination is Plimoth Plantation, which dates all the way back to the 17th century. For the ultimate experience, book tickets for the Thanksgiving dinner, which concludes your day’s exploration with a buffet-style holiday meal that pulls out all the stops. Even if you can only visit for the day, this place is sure to captivate children and adults alike. You can watch characters going through the motions of an average day on the plantation, including watching some of the food for the evening feast being prepared and cooked.

Another highlight of the place is the Wampanoag Village, where kids can learn an alternative side of the story by learning about Native American culture and how it was forever changed by the arrival of the settlers.  Here, your kids can gain insight into a number of native crafts and skills, such as building canoes or tanning skins.

8. San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio, Texas, USA cityscape at the River Walk.

San Antonio is famous for its beautiful river walk. It becomes a hotbed of family-friendly activity over the Thanksgiving weekend with its annual Holiday River Parade, which includes a number of different boats decked out for the holiday season. The Museum of Art offers free admission for people of all ages, and there’s also a huge light display right in the center of town. There are a number of wonderful restaurants in the area to sample, with some of the best being located on the riverfront. Be advised that reservations are highly recommended, as these places fill up quickly, particularly during the holiday season.

9. St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida Thanksgiving Vacation Ideas for Families

In many areas of the United States, Thanksgiving comes around a time of year where the weather is growing chilly. So escaping to warm weather, sunshine, and sandy beaches certainly is a tempting choice for a family holiday vacation. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the entire country, dating back to 1565. This city is gorgeous in its architecture, and it offers a number of family-friendly activities. Explore an alligator farm, roam around the historical Colonial Quarter, or visit Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. Around Thanksgiving, you can take in the Night of Lights parade, which lights up the downtown area in a way that specially marks the beginning of the holiday season.

10. The Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park during Thanksgiving

The Smoky Mountains are breathtaking in their beauty. However, there is much more to do here than simply look at the scenery. There are multiple hiking trails suited for every ability as well as impressive drives for those who prefer something a little more relaxing. Just outside the national park is the town of Gatlinburg. This quaint city is home to an annual Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts show. It also has other kid-friendly attractions including an aquarium and opportunities for snow tubing. Smoky Mountains National Park encourages families to take a step away from the distractions of everyday life and immerse themselves in the simplicity of being out in nature.

11. Washington, D.C.

The White House and National Christmas Tree at night, in Washington, DC.

If you’re looking for cheap family Thanksgiving destinations, consider a trip to Washington, D.C. There’s so much here to keep you and your kids occupied. And most of these activities come at little to no cost. The Smithsonian museums at the National Mall are without parallel and so massive and complex that you could dedicate a day to exploring a single one. In addition to museums, Washington, D.C. is full of monuments that are free to visit yet leave a lasting impression on all who see them.

During the Thanksgiving season, taking a trip to nearby Mount Vernon, the historic home of George Washington is an absolute must. The estate goes all-out decorating and setting the festive mood. Likewise, the Reston Holiday Parade provides a less-crowded alternative to NYC’s Macy’s Day parade. Nevertheless, it doesn’t skimp on impressive floats and entertainment.

12. Williamsburg, Virginia

man on horse-drawn carriage in Williamsburg, VA

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg is like being transported back in time. You and your children can walk the cobblestone streets and pop into various shops and storefronts. Take part in demonstrations, including watching a blacksmith at work, observing an actual newspaper be printed, learning how a cobbler makes shoes, or visiting the wigmaker. Visit the old jail and gallows as well as take tours of the mansions and government buildings. One of the best features is that everyone stays in character, so your kids will feel as though they have walked into the pages of a book. This place goes all out for Thanksgiving, with numerous historical reenactments as well as parades and live entertainment.

There is, of course, a reason why Williamsburg loves Thanksgiving so much. The Berkeley Plantation is the site of the original Thanksgiving. So, as you might expect, this place is absolutely incredible to visit in November. Kids can delight in watching the fife and drum corps as well as watching Native American dance and ceremony reenactments. While you’re in the area, take a quick detour to Jamestown. Here, you can walk through a replica of a Powhatan village. Also, be sure to check out the incredible ships at the seaport.

For many families, Thanksgiving is a time of year for stuffing yourself with delicious food then lounging around the house. But if you’re in the mood for something different this year, consider some of our Thanksgiving vacation ideas for families. But no matter how or where you spend this Thanksgiving, be safe, have fun, and remember that the meaning of Thanksgiving is giving thanks for life’s many blessings.

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