Chances are when you’ve daydreamed about your ultimate family bucket list, exotic islands, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and old-world Europe full of culture and teeming with expensive attractions that bore your toddlers and young kids to tears float to the top of your list. But there are plenty of stunning attractions, landscape, and even seaside islands waiting for you right in the Southeast. Although there are endless Southeast attractions worth a stop on your family bucket list vacation, we’ve picked some of our favorites to add to your own travel bucket list. Our Southeast best of the best includes world-class museums, national parks, historic landmarks and more that will keep you coming back to check amazing places off of your list.
Why we Love it? The bustling city of Birmingham has plenty of world-class museums, attractions, and great restaurants for your family bucket list, but Birmingham is also home to a wealth of Civil Rights history. Kids and grown-ups alike learn stories of African American leaders from Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks and their fight against slavery, racism, and inequality. This attraction is more appropriate for kids at least 6-years-old, though it will resonate more with tweens and teens who have some history under their belts.
Best time of year to go? Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute year-round, but whenever you go, you can save on Sundays or Martin Luther King Jr. Day with free admission.
Best thing to do with kids? School-aged kids have enough understanding to realize “separate but equal” education was anything but equal and can learn more about it at the museum’s exhibits. Your family will also see rare footage of life in the “Jim Crow” south. It’s not just an up-close and personal look at our nation’s history, but a look at Birmingham and how the city has evolved.
Why we Love it? Alabama is loaded with travel bucket list attractions from historic Selma to museums and historical sites. It’s a perfect stop for kids with military parents, a passion for battleships, or a fascination with really big boats. The ship and surrounding historic park is dedicated to “all Alabama Citizens who have worn the uniform of all branches of the United States Armed Forces.” Visitors from around the world can explore the wartime artifacts, exhibits, and military displays.
Best time of year to go? The Battleship USS Alabama is a great place to visit year-round, though springtime in Alabama is especially beautiful and summers will prove hot.
Best thing to do with kids? The glorious ship is the main family bucket list attraction where kids can explore 12 oversized decks. But there’s also over 25 aircraft on display. Kids get up close to real life spy planes, fighter jets and jets, or move onto the Submarine USS DRUM and altierary display.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Alabama With Kids
Why we Love it? Situated in the Ouachita Mountains of Southwest Arkansas, the botanical garden of the University of Arkansas features stunning bridges, a wildflower overlook, gorges and more. It’s also a must for your kids’ train-obsessed travel bucket list. For train enthusiasts, the Sugg Model Train Garden opens when volunteers are present to oversee the operation, so call ahead. The garden features 389 feet of track and 259 trestles with three independent operating loops with charming freight and passenger trains.
Best time of year to go? The Garvan Woodland Gardens offers year-round events including a holiday lights display in winter. But spring blooms and fall foliage make the gardens an especially captivating stop on your family vacation.
Best thing to do with kids? There are tons to explore in the garden on a family bucket list trip, but kids will especially love the Evans Children’s Adventure Garden with 1.5 acres of interactive fun with garden rocks and 3,200 of Arkansas-quarried boulders. There’s also a 12-foot waterfall, man-made cave, unique bridge, an elevated walkway. Make sure and stop by the Tree House towering four levels that include a circular boardwalk and different levels to learn more about the function of a tree.
Why we Love it? Big cat lovers should put this exotic cat rescue center at the top of their travel bucket list. Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge offers compassionate care to big cats rescued from around the country and provided a nurturing environment. Guided habitat tours takes visitors through a half-mile of large cat habitats lead by a biologist or zoologist intern with tons of information and educational insights. There’s also a Discovery Area to explore smaller animal residents and ongoing educational programs.
Best time of year to go? Travelers sensitive to humidity might feel overwhelmed by Arkansas summers, but late spring and fall are ideal seasons to enjoy a few hours at the refuge.
Best thing to do with kids? If you do visit during the summer on your family bucket list adventure, look for Summer Camps at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge where kids to learn more about the roles wild animals play in the world.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Arkansas With Kids
Why we Love it? Florida’s 30A isn’t so much a destination as it is a journey through some of Florida’s best beach towns in South Walton that stretches along the Emerald Coast. The stretch lives up to its name with blue-green waters and white, sandy beaches that earn rank on travel bucket lists. You’ll find plenty of beachside restaurants and resorts to choose from. And after a day in the car, you can stop at and a staggering 25,000 acres of protected state forests and dune lakes.
Best time of year to go? Spring break, summer, and early fall are popular times to cruise along 30A, but you’ll get the best weather with the least threat of hurricane weather in the summer months. However, locals will tell you the best time is early October when the weather is glorious and the crowds are gone.
Best thing to do with kids? Rosemary Beach is home to kids fun at Camp Rosemary that runs from the end of May to early August. Kids enjoy crafts, sports, pool games, beach expeditions and more. Over in Sandestin, kids can climb rock walls, sail through the air on zip lines, catch a magic show, and bodyboard along the coast. Bike lovers who want to make the most of picturesque landscape and sparkling views can cycle along the Timpoochee Trail for 18.6 miles of paved pathway winding past dune lakes, state parks, and beach neighborhoods.
Why we Love it? There’s so much more to see and do around the Orlando area than Disney and Universal Studios. Among our hands-down favorite is Florida’s gateway to space at the Kennedy Space Center. Explore the early inception of NASA’s space program and historic launches while learning about the race to the moon. You’ll also learn more about NASA’s future missions and visitors also get a close-up view of real spaceships including Space Shuttle Atlantis with a cargo bay open for viewing.
Best time of year to go? Florida is out of this world hot and humid in summer, so venturing to the space center during the rest of the year will prove more comfortable. Avoiding school breaks will also help beat the crowds.
Best thing to do with kids? There are tons to see and do on this family bucket list stop, but kids will enjoy shooting down a slide that shows how the shuttle glides in for a smooth landing. The full-size Mars Rover built from Legos and a chance to meet a real-life astronaut are also big hits with kids.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Florida With Kids
Why We Love it? As the epicenter of all things Coca-Cola, Atlanta offers its own museum of fun dedicated to the soft drink. Visitors get an overview of how the soft drink was invented and see its evolution over the years. The World of Coca-Cola is also nestled along a wealth of other family-friendly Atlanta attractions from the Skyview Ferris Wheel to the Georgia Aquarium that are all within walking distance of each other, and some can be enjoyed by hopping on and off the city’s light rail.
Best time of year to go? Y’all, Atlanta is hot and humid in the summer, but the city’s main attractions can still be enjoyed indoors. Although spring through fall is safe bets to visit Atlanta, it does get cold and can snow from time to time, so check the forecast accordingly.
Best thing to do with kids? Kids will go wild over the tasting room at the World of Coca-Cola where guests sample soft drinks from around the world. The Children’s Museum is also wildly popular with hands-on displays including a shopping experience where kids can unload produce from a wooden truck built to scale.
Why We Love It? This stunning coastal town is like a dreamscape of southern charm as locals stroll down cobblestone streets in the historic district. Pro tip: While kids grab an ice cream and explore the waterfront, grown-ups can carry one alcoholic drink that’s no more than 16 ounces through the historic district.
Best time of year to go? Savannah is incredibly humid in summer and winter proves rainy and chilly. Try spring and fall for a gorgeous backdrop.
Best thing to do with kids? If kids are tired and don’t want to stroll the gorgeous streets of the historic district, a Savannah Riverboat cruise glides along the historic district and beyond complete with lunch or brunch and live entertainment. For more ideas for a bucket list, try an Old Town Trolley Tours with hop on and off privileges to explore the area and see even more of Savannah.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Georgia With Kids
Why We Love it? See a blend of past and present at the Louisville Slugger Museum with interactive exhibits and nonstop baseball memorabilia. There’s even a batting cage to test out your skills. Who knows, maybe your kids will go pro on this family bucket list stop.
Best time of year to go? Late spring and fall are nice and cool in Louisville, but if you can take the heat and chill, summer and winter work for your family bucket list fun too.
Best thing to do with kids? This special slugger museum isn’t just about history and facts, you can also see where and how bats are made. We’ll even give the Louisville Slugger Museum extra credit for giving everyone a mini bat with the Louisville Slugger logo on it.
Why We Love it? Get your walking shoes on, Mammoth Cave boasts the longest cave in the world and takes some distance to walk through it. It really grows up to the “mammoth” in its name. But if your kids aren’t quite up for the adventure, ask about shorter tours like the Frozen Niagara Tour designed with families in mind for kids ages 4 and older.
Best time of year to go? The cavern is comfortable year-round for tons of underground fun. But in regards to weather, spring and fall are pleasant times to visit Kentucky.
Best thing to do with kids? Adventurous kids ages 8 to 12 can ditch their parents and embark on a ‘No Parents Allowed’ Trog Tour. Seasoned rangers take a group of kids overland and underground to explore. Tours are offered seasonally, so check-ahead for availability. There’s also a Junior Ranger Program where kids can choose activities in a booklet to earn “bat points” and earn a badge.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Kentucky With Kids
Why we Love it? This family-friendly city is the perfect home base to venture out into Louisiana and soak up the local flavor. This charming area is a stone’s throw to Atchafalaya Basin, the largest swamp in the country, for a swamp tour. And it gets major love for its cajun flavor and offers tantalizing seafood as reigning Louisiana and American Seafood King.
Best time of year to go? Spring and fall are a safe bet in Lafayette with moderate weather and plenty of blooms and foliage to explore.
Best thing to do with kids? Nestled on nearby Avery island, the 170-acre Jungle Gardens and bird sanctuary delights visitors with wildlife from snowy egret to alligator, deer, and raccoons. In downtown Lafayette, families head to the Children’s Museum of Acadiana and Lafayette Science Museum & Planetarium for hands-on, interactive fun.
Why we Love it? The birthplace of jazz is teeming with life with decades of live performances from soul to funk and rock. Creole style architecture with Caribbean influences captivates visitors with its colorful townhomes and grand mansions. Hop on an RTA Streetcar and find lots of ideas for a bucket list in the French Quarter. Start with a historical tour, treasure hunt and more.
Best time of year to go? Visit from February to May when weather is comfortable, or look for calm crowds in December or January and skip Mardis Gras Season. Halloween in New Orleans is also an extra-special time for kids on a family bucket list adventure.
Best thing to do with kids? New Orleans has a well-earned party reputation, but that doesn’t mean kids can’t get in on the fun. New Orleans is full of music festivals, St. Charles Streetcar rides, and popular holiday fun like Boo at the Zoo. For some spooks, there’s also a kid-friendly ghost tour that isn’t too scary and delights kids while giving them an education on the history of New Orleans.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Louisiana With Kids
Why we Love it? Washington, D.C. is a must-see family bucket list stop if you’re cruising through Maryland. Perhaps best of all, so many attractions are free from the Lincoln Memorial to the National Air and Space Museum and Botanical Gardens and Zoo. So while you won’t find big bargains on downtown D.C. hotels and parking, you will find a wealth of free and frugal attractions.
Best time of year to go? Stop through D.C. from September to November or March to May when the height of summer is over and before cold snaps and snow drifts begin. Cherry blossom season is especially captivating and usually peaks sometime between March and April.
Best thing to do with kids? Kid-friendly museums like the National Air and Space Museum are must-see ideas for a bucket list, but if the kiddos tire of culture and history, try the nearby Georgetown Waterfront Park. Stop and marvel at the views of the Potomac River and the Key Bridge with a splash fountain and opportunities to rent canoes and kayaks.
Why we Love it? From historic ships to the Maryland Science Center, the Baltimore Waterfront is full of family fun. Paddle boats get families out on the water during summer months while wintertime transforms into ice rinks and holiday displays.
Best time of year to go? Fall and spring are safe bets on the waterfront, but if you can take a little heat, summertime also offers glorious views and chances to cool-off and splash in the fountains at the waterfront West Shore Park.
Best thing to do with kids? There are tons to put on a family bucket list on the waterfront, but Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! is a big hit with kids looking for some quirky fun. Snap a selfie with a giant T-Rex made from pop tart wrappers, see a shrunken head, and behold 8,000 square-ft of oddities and weird. For something lower key, the outdoor Harbor Amphitheater also brings year-round entertainment from music to mimes delighting crowds.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Maryland With Kids
Why we Love it? This barrier island of Mississippi features some of the state’s best beaches with opportunity for snorkeling to boogie boarding. As part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, West Ship Island and Ship Island offer a relaxing weekend getaway that’s low key for busy families. Put a dolphin watching cruise on your family bucket list, spend the day swimming, or see a preserved brick fortification completed in 1868 on a seasonal fort tour.
Best time of year to go? Like with most of the South, Ship Island experiences intense heat and humidity during summer months and sand on the beach can get hot. Instead, look to the tail end of spring or early fall to enjoy warm weather without feeling like you’re going to melt.
Best thing to do with kids? The water is the main draw at Ship Island, but families can check the visitor’s center for a Junior Ranger program where kids can earn a Gulf Islands National Seashore Junior Ranger badge. Kids who already have a National Parks Passport can get it stamped during your trip. Your kids will forever own the bragging rights of earning a badge along the 16-mile Gulf Islands National Seashore, making it the longest seashore in the National Park system.
Why we Love it? This museum “takes fun seriously” with interactive exhibits, a playground, gallery, and even a seasonal splash pad for family bucket list fun. There’s even a Literacy Garden for outdoor play that also encourages language and reading skills for 0 to 8-year-olds. Literary-inspired sculptures, an edible garden, and technology turn little ones into collaborative learners.
Best time of year to go? Spring and fall are usually the most comfortable times of year to visit Mississippi, but the indoor galleries and exhibits at the museum are perfect year-round.
Best thing to do with kids? It’s near impossible to pick just one fun thing at a super over-the-top fun children’s museum, but we’ll try. The World at Work offers kids a chance to explore careers and industries in Mississippi including agriculture, farming, transportation, manufacturing, foresting, engineering and more. Kids role-play and work together to create and test out their new ideas.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Mississippi With Kids
Why we Love it? Nestled on the Biltmore Estate, these gardens feature a 250-room chateau that looks like a castle rising over the hills in the Southeast. Kids get a history lesson while exploring the lush gardens. Bonus points that there are an ice cream parlor and confectionary and toymaker’s shop with old-fashioned toys and games.
Best time of year to go? Although you can visit Biltmore Gardens during every season, spring and fall really bring out the beauty of the grounds. You’ll also miss the heat and cold snaps that come during wintertime.
Best thing to do with kids? There are tons to do around Biltmore gardens and the expansive estate. Visit the Farm in Antler Hill Village and let the kids play farmer for a day. Chickens, goats, horses, sheep, and more delight kids while learning more about farm life. They can even explore and climb on antique tractors and wagons before playing games from the 1800s.
Why we Love it? Marbles Museum got its name from the wall that wraps around the museum filled with more than a million illuminated marbles lighting up at night. But the exhibits and interactive play are built with innovative kids in mind. And we just love their “play-losophy”, which says that they “believe play strengthens families” among other wonderful words of wisdom. There’s an endless amount of stuff to do here from STEMosphere to Art Loft for a day of family bucket list fun. And if you’re staying a few days, the surrounding Asheville area is full of kid-friendly fun.
Best time of year to go? There’s really not a bad time to hit Marbles. The museum is open daily (check ahead for holiday schedules) and Mondays are free from 9 am to 5 pm.
Best thing to do with kids? This place will blow your kid’s mind, and it’s difficult to pick just one thing that’s extra special. Try Around Town for a kid-size version of the area community where kids explore how people live, work, and play together.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: North Carolina With Kids
Why we Love it? Charleston just exudes old Southern charm with a modern twist and plenty to do. This city boasts a gorgeous waterfront, amazing food, and is super walkable on a family bucket list adventure.
Best time of year to go? Spring or fall are likely the most breathtaking around Charleston, and weather-appropriate times to go. Otherwise, you could get caught with cranky kids in high humidity.
Best thing to do with kids? The Charleston Pirate tour is a must where kids get a brief history lesson, take a pirate pledge, flex their skills in a faux sword fight, and set-off on a treasure hunt. We’re also big fans of the Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park with a play replica of the bridge above, play airplane and lots of climbing platforms.
Why we Love it? This gorgeous beachfront park offers an expanse of white, powdery sand with pristine views, camping, and birding. This place is truly a tucked away gem with plenty of opportunity for camping and exploration of marshes, wetlands, and historical artifacts.
Best time of year to go? This beach gets chilly and windy in the winter months. Try late spring through early fall for warm, beach-friendly weather.
Best thing to do with kids? A day playing on the beach will keep kids busy, but Huntington Beach State Park also offers hiking, biking, and a chance to explore. Bring along your binoculars and birding book, and brush up on your shelling knowledge to turn the day into a scavenger hunt.
Why we Love it? Nashville earned its nickname Music City with an incredible array of music available around every corner. In addition to a bustling downtown and attractions like a replica of the Parthenon built to scale, there are also lots of parks and hiking trails.
Best time of year to go? Avoid the hot, humid summers in Tennessee and stick to spring and fall for a pleasant trip with happy kids.
Best thing to do with kids? The travel-loving family at The Wandering Rumpus and Nashville locals love to take the kids to hear the world-famous music scene in Nashville too – yes, we said kids! From the Honky-Tonks on Broadway (best enjoyed in the morning or early afternoon with kids) to The Grand Ole Opry to outdoor concerts at Centennial Parks Musician’s Corner — Nashville is overflowing with musical options for every age!
You can read more about their Nashville adventures and favorite family bucket list stops here.
Why we Love it? The Smoky Mountains are full of breathtaking views, trails, and wildlife watching; making it pretty tough not to just totally fall in love with this place on the spot. Of course, it helps that there are family bucket list ideas to put on your list including Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokey’s and Forbidden Caverns.
Best time of year to go? Head to the Smoky Mountains in spring or fall and soak up the stunning flowers, blooms, and fall foliage.
Best thing to do with kids? The Smoky National Park is packed with waterfalls, wildflowers, and wildlife including black bears. Historic homes and churches are also scattered throughout Cades Cove for a popular stop for a picnic or chance to relax after a day of hiking. Stick around for the evening and see synchronous fireflies, one of 19 species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, that can actually sync up their flashing light patterns.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Tennessee With Kids
Why we Love it? Take a step back in time to the 18th century to understand the roots of the United States and find some entertainment along the way. Costumed interpreters and actors portray real historical figures in full dress for guests while carriage rides carry families through the Historic Area on a leisurely ride. Kids and grown-ups alike love the historic trade and shops with tradespeople demonstrating 18th-century tools.
Best time of year to go? Tourist season peaks during summer in Colonial Williamsburg, but can also be hot, humid, and crowded. Like most of the southeast, fall and spring offer the most comfortable weather during Colonial Williamsburg. But cold weather-lovers should try the Christmas season for celebrations and a chill in the air without the risk of much snow.
Best thing to do with kids? Make a big impression on your child’s love of history with a Colonial Williamsburg day pass and explore the historic grounds of Colonial Williamsburg. See how tradespeople made shoes and candles, visit costumed characters on horseback, explore old buildings and replica homes from the 18th century, and get hands-on, interactive fun. Make sure and stop by the Kimball Theatre in Merchant’s Square for a variety show of silly Colonial-themed comedy and jokes for a light-hearted break. There’s enough to keep your family busy for a few days in Colonial Williamsburg, so it really just depends on how many historical adventures you’re up for. But to get the whole experience, kids can even rent costumes and dress up as Colonial characters to get in on the fun.
Why we Love it? Maymont Gardens spills across 100-acres with vibrant gardens and landscapes and offers over 100 attractions. You can just imagine how the original resident, the Dooley’s, lived as the gardens are said to look like the original state from 1886. An Italian, Japanese, and specialty gardens delight visitors, and an arboretum dots the property with thousands of trees and shrubs.
Best time of year to go? Spring blooms are really the crowning jewel of Maymont Gardens, although there are year-round activities for families to enjoy.
Best thing to do with kids? Running through the gardens is a must at Maymont, but kids will also adore meeting the resident animals. A farm, nature center, and animal encounters captivate young visitors. Stop by the Wildlife Center for a look at animals your kids may have never seen like a bobcat, black bear, and bald eagle on display daily. Just remember to call ahead at 804-358-7166 to inquire about pricing and hours, as animal adventures can vary.
Why we Love it? One of the oldest rivers on the continent can be found right in West Virginia at New River Gorge. This place is fabulously stunning with the opportunity to go white-water rafting, hiking, biking, paddle boarding, zip lining, and more. It’s the type of place that will fill up your outdoor family bucket list in a heartbeat.
Best time of year to go? Head to the Gorge during summer months and cool off in the water with some rafting. But fall and spring offer plenty of chances to soak up the wildflowers and fall foliage while zip lining or mountain biking.
Best thing to do with kids? There’s something for everyone at the Gorge including horseback riding, climbing for kids 12 and up, and lots of adult activities for some couple bonding time. Enroll them in their own adventure at a Half Day or Full Day kids camp for kids as young as 5 years old. Arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, hikes, swimming, and more are all on their pint-sized travel bucket list.
Why we Love it? To get a true family travel adventure, start with one of the original adventure resorts. ACE Adventure Resort has been in business over 35-years with 1,500 acres of fun. This waterpark lake is filled with an adrenaline-pumping array of inflatable slides, kayaking, a mud obstacle course, paintball, caving, disc golf, and so much more. It gets bonus points that it also boasts some of the best white-water rafting on the east coast.
Best time of year to go? For waterpark fun, hit ACE Adventure Resort in summer months and cool off with some friendly waterslide competition down 200’ twin water slides. During the rest of the year, you can go mountain biking in the fall foliage, sail down gorge side ziplines, and more.
Best thing to do with kids? The waterpark is the crowning travel bucket list stop for kids with an endless amount of fun and obstacle courses. Take advantage of the Half Day Kids Camp where parents can get away on their own adventure while kids ages 5 to 10 explore the great outdoors with spirit guides.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: West Virginia With Kids
The Southeast has an endless treasure trove of family bucket list stops, so why not make an epic road trip and combine the adventure? Where are you headed on your next trip to the Southeast? Let us know by leaving a comment below!