10 Family-Friendly, Educational Summer Vacation Ideas

Family posing for selfie on beach
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The school year is wrapping up for most homeschooling families and many of us are planning a vacation for either the summer or early fall (after public and private schools resume and the popular venues aren’t quite as crowded).

No matter when you plan to travel, consider some of these ideas for vacation destinations that are fun, family-friendly, and educational!

1. Living history museums. One of the most interesting vacation field trips we ever experienced was the Colonial Quarter living history museum in St.

Augustine, Florida. It was like stepping back in time, which is, of course, the goal of a living history museum.

A living history museum recreates a historical setting with full-scale replicas of the homes, businesses, and other physical features of the period being represented. Costumed museum workers present hands-on demonstrations of period activities with historical artifacts to educate visitors on the daily life of the period.

Popular colonial living history museums include Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown, but there are a variety of popular living history museums throughout the United States.

2. The beach. Not only is a beach a beautiful vacation destination, but it can be an educational one, as well. Check with your vacation destination to see if there are educational opportunities unique to your particular location. On a trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina, we had the option of several early morning guided nature walks to learn about the birds and wildlife native to the area.

There were also boat excursions to look for dolphins and an island excursion to search for shells, sand dollars, and arrowheads.

Even if there aren’t guided opportunities at the particular beach you’ll be visiting, there are still plenty of educational opportunities. Consider taking field guides to help you identify native birds, animals, and shells that you may discover.

Look for sea or river life in the shallow waters, along the beach, or in tide pools.

Be prepared to define new terms related to your visit, such as estuary, high/low tide, or riptide.

3. Historic towns.  Historic towns can make an amazing vacation destination for the whole family, and you probably don’t need to be reminded to take advantage of all the educational opportunities available. Who wouldn’t love to visit Boston, Massachusetts to see famous landmarks from the Revolutionary War or visit Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to see the Liberty Bell or the spot where the Declaration of Independence was signed?

Even if a historic city isn’t your ultimate destination, if it's on your route it can definitely be worth a little extra planning and expense to spend some time there.

My husband and daughter accompanied me to a conference near Washington, D.C. a few years ago. They went on a some day excursions while I was attending the conference. Then, we planned an extra night at the hotel so that we could spend the majority of final day visiting our nation’s capital. It’s a trip we’ll never forget!

4. Space centers. If you have a student who if fascinated by all things space, consider a visit to Space Center Houston in Texas; the Space and Rocket Museum in Huntsville, Alabama; or Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

I was so awe-inspired by my own trip to the Kennedy Space Center as a teen that my family and I made a point to detour for a visit there on the way home from a beach vacation a few years ago.

5. Wildlife refuge. If you and your family enjoy observing birds, plant life, insects, and wildlife, you may want to consider visiting a nature preserve or wildlife refuge while on vacation – or staycation.

We have a couple of local options that we enjoy, but we’ve visited wildlife spots on our travels, as well. One of the most memorable was Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, which we visited on our trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

You can search the National Wildlife Refuge System for a wildlife refuge near your home or vacation destination.

6. Famous landmarks. Visit some of our nation’s famous sites in person, such as:

  • The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri
  • The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington
  • Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois
  • The Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty in New York
  • The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California

There are so many possibilities! Document the fun facts and history behind the landmarks that you discover on your visit with photos, postcards, and brochures.

7. Natural history museums. I can’t say for sure how excited I’d have been to visit a natural history museum as a kid, but after Night at the Museum, what kid wouldn’t want to go? Of course, there are the well-known museums such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York or the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., but there are many others throughout the United States.

The most exciting opportunity would be to visit one of these museums in person, but if you can’t travel that far, consider taking a virtual tour of natural history museums.

8. National parks. There are currently 58 national parks in 27 states throughout the United States, including well-known parks such at Yellowstone and Grand Canyon.

There are over 400 parks listed on the National Park Service website where you can search for a park by state and discover which offer opportunities to learn about our national history and cultural heritage.

9. RV travel. Traveling the country in an RV would be a dream-come-true for many homeschooling families. Most of us can only imagine having the opportunity to travel the United States seeing, first-hand, sites that we have only read about in books or seen on TV.

Perhaps, most of us can’t take off for an extended trip around the country, but traveling by RV (or other means) as part of a summer (or fall) vacation might be within the realm of possibility.

As a family, make a list of places you'd like to visit and see how many trips you can bring to fruition. Consider a family savings jar where the whole family can contribute to embarking on the adventure together.

10. Travel abroad. The majority of homeschooling families probably don’t have the opportunity to travel abroad either, but what an educational excursion for those who do!

Anywhere you travel as a family has the potential to be an educational experience! Consider these destination ideas and look for the educational opportunities in others that appeal to your family as you make your vacation plans this summer.