4 Epic East Coast Family Vacations And What To Do There

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Family Adventures, North East, South East, USA

(This article may or may not contain affiliate links. What does that mean?)

 

West Coasters tired of the same old palm tree-dotted sandy beaches and amusement park rides can find a change of scenery on the other side of the country. No need to spend thousands on international flights. The East Coast boasts 23,000 miles of changing terrain, regions, and cultures, from the rugged coast of Maine to the blue beaches of Key West. These are our family’s favorite spots for our East Coast family vacations.

 

NO TIME TO ENJOY THIS ARTICLE NOW? PIN IT OR BOOKMARK FOR LATER!

 

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, Maine, can serve as your home base for a trip to this region of the East Coast with neighboring Acadia National Park.  With loads of activities for family travelers, the town serves as a launchpad for adventures on land and sea.  Don’t pass up the opportunity to explore this hotspot that is still holding onto the charm New England’s small towns are known for.

 

Bar Island 

Sitting just off the downtown area is Bar Island.  The island is connected to the mainland by a tidal bar and gently rises to offer sweeping views of the many islands that dot the harbor.  The walk is just two miles and takes less than one hour on average. Leave lots of time for the kiddies to explore the nooks and crannies in search of critters as the route takes you through a tidal zone.  The bar is only above water during low tide, so make sure to keep an eye on the local tide charts and plan accordingly to leave yourself plenty of time to get back across.  

 

Great Touring Experience

Guided tours are always a hit.  Whether the tour guide is recycling his worn-out jokes, or is an actual expert in his field, a tour can be just what it takes to bring a destination to life.  Bar Harbor Kids is a tour agency that specializes in getting kids engaged with the outdoors.  They offer multiple options for different age groups, with both private and public tours throughout the week.  A stop here early in your stay is a great way to teach the young ones just what to look for as they explore.  Their ‘Mythical Maine’ tours are suggested for ages 4-7 and allow kids to learn about pirates, sea monsters, and Vikings that have visited these shores while also following a map in search of their very own buried treasure!

 

Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company

Families looking to get up close and personal with the celebrities of the ocean can avoid the paparazzi by cruising with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.  The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company offers tours throughout the week that showcase the large aquatic mammals drawn to the region. 

 

As the only Whale Sense certified company in Maine, you can also be assured that the captain of the boat is educated in responsibly interacting with wildlife.
  

 

Other than whale tours, they also offer trips that showcase local lighthouses and even a trip out to Petit Manan Island for any birders looking to check the Atlantic Puffin off their life checklist.  What really makes these guys stand out, though, is the five-hour, ranger-led cruise out to Baker Island.  The trip out to the Island is led by a naturalist from the National Park Service aboard the authentic Maine lobster boat ‘Miss Samantha.’  Pack a lunch. After being ferried to the island by their specially designed landing craft, guests will have time to eat it before being led on a 1.5-mile hike that highlights the natural features and history of the island.  All ages are welcome, but there is limited space on the boat for strollers, so consider bringing a child carrier for this trip.  

 

Dont Miss An Unforgettable Romantic Weekend Getaway in Key West, FL

 

Acadia National Park

By the time the National Park Service was born in 1916, most of the land east of the Mississippi River was already claimed and unavailable to be protected by the title of National Park.  Today, looking at a map of our National Parks, there stands a crown jewel, isolated from its nearest park by hundreds of miles.  Acadia National Park exists because private landowners recognize the importance of protecting the natural beauty of the land.  Today, millions of people make the trek to this remote park to soak in its rugged grandeur.  

 

Rugged Coast - Coastal Maine

Where land meets sea, Maines rugged coast. © NPS

 

Cadillac Mountain

As the sun crosses the Atlantic each morning, it could choose to appear anywhere, and for several months a year, it chooses Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.  Who can blame it? Coastal Maine provides a rugged backdrop to the Atlantic Ocean that can be found nowhere else on American soil. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the Eastern Seaboard at an imposing 1,527’.  Because of this, for several months of the year, it is the first location in the United States to see the sun each morning.  The road leading up to the summit puts this among the best places for families with young kids who may not be ready to trek up the mountains on foot but are in search of a quintessential New England forest view.  There are pull-offs along the road on the way up, but the real prize is the panoramic view from the top.  The summit view opens 360-degree sweeping views.  Take a moment to point out the long lakes and rounded mountain summits, evidence left behind by the glaciers that shaped the land while retreating almost 20,000 years ago.  

 

Carriage Roads

Before donating thousands of acres to the National Park Service, John D. Rockefeller spent $3.8 Million dollars improving the land for its usage, including building 57 Miles of carriage roads.  These crushed gravel paths crisscross the park, conveniently connecting the many features, often using ornate stone bridges to cross the heavily glaciated land.  The stroller-friendly trails are an excellent way for parents to stretch their legs and offer up some solitude from the scenic vistas.  Wildwood Stables even offers horse-drawn carriage tours of varying lengths for families looking to cover a little extra ground.

 

Where to stay in Bar Harbor

The Mt Desert Inn is conveniently located in Bar Harbor.  Making it a great base for exploring the Island. They offer Double Queen rooms with their own private balcony or terrace access.  Their private garden can serve as a saving grace for frazzled parents looking for a little slice of serenity at the end of a long day.  Parking can be a challenge in the rapidly expanding village. A stay here will leave you with a brief walk to the harbor area, where most of the dining and activities are located in town. 

 

Newport, Rhode Island

Summer home of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, birthplace of religious freedom in the United States, and possibly even the next great destination for your family vacation.  Surely, all those billionaires who built elaborate mansions (Cottages?) on the shores of Newport couldn’t have been wrong.  There are loads of reasons to visit the island. It’s a short jaunt for a day trip to Block Island, a road trip to Cape Cod, or hit the waves and try your hand in the area’s vibrant water sports community. 

 

Easton’s Beach

If Rhode Island is the Ocean State, then Newport is the Ocean City. You can’t visit without spending some time at one of their famous beaches.  Travelers familiar with West Coast beaches always comment on the rugged terrain that seems to protect our sandy shores.  Southern California has endless beaches that stretch and wrap the horizon, while in Newport, they appear to be placed in nooks chiseled from the neighboring granite cliffs as though by design.  At first, their small size would appear a disadvantage. But, when the winds lull, and you feel the power of the ocean in your chest as it hammers the distant rocks and echoes off the walls, you will understand.  

Easton’s Beach, sometimes known simply as 1st Beach, has something for everyone.  The western portion of the inlet is primarily used by surfers, who enjoy some of the finest breaks in Rhode Island year-round.  There is hardly a day that passes where there are not a few adrenaline junkies that paddle out, often trudging through snow-covered sand to reach the water’s edge!  Further East, where the sunbathers and swimmers gather, is a large building housing showers, a snack bar, and a carousel.  What kid wouldn’t love a ride on a carousel with an ocean view?

 

Rocky Coastline - Eastons Beach Newport

Sun, sandy and salty air at Easton’s Beach © Tom Rhodes

 

Save The Bay Aquarium

Right from Easton Beach, families can access the Save The Bay Exploration Center and Aquarium.  Here for a small donation, see all manner of rescued wildlife from the waters off our coast.  One of the best things about this location (aside from its convenient access) is its touch tanks.  Kids of all ages will love being able to hold countless creatures as the naturalist volunteers excitedly speak about the animals.  This spot can be very popular in the summer months during peak beach hours and is best visited either early or late in the day to avoid crowds.

 

Cliff Walk

You’ve watched surfers hang loose, rode an oceanfront carousel, and pet a shark.  What more could Easton’s Beach have to offer?  How about a walk along the cliffs for which Newport is so famous?  Newport’s Cliff Walk follows the coastline for 3.5  mostly smooth miles.  Those who walk the full path will be treated with world-class views of Easton’s Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on one side and, quite literally, billions of dollars in real estate on the other. 

 

Pro Tip: Families with strollers will only be able to walk the first section of the trail, but this is a can’t-miss opportunity.

 

Breakers Mansion

Stepping inside The Breakers mansion feels like a journey back in time to the Gilded Age. Built by the Vanderbilt family in the late 19th century, this magnificent summer ‘Cottage’ boasts 70 rooms filled with ornate details, elaborate carvings, and stunning artwork. From the grand marble staircase to the breathtaking ocean views, every corner of The Breakers exudes equal parts luxury and excess. As you walk through the rooms, it’s easy to imagine the lavish parties and gatherings that took place within these walls. A visit to The Breakers is a glimpse into a bygone era of American history, a testament to the incredible wealth and ambition of the period.   The Preservation Society of Newport County offers various tour options.  The group tours can be a great way to have any questions answered while being immersed in the history of the home.  For families with young children who may be distracting to other guests, or those who simply want to go at their own pace, there are self-guided options as well.  Parents on the fence should know the self-guided tour will never disappoint, and it can be nice to drift around the grounds and explore all the details that have made The Breakers so prominent at your family’s pace.  

 

Scenic Mansion - Breakers Mansion Newport

Just a low-key Newport “Cottage” © Marco Carillo

 

Where to stay in Newport

After a while in Newport, you might actually begin to loathe the word luxury.  It seems to ooze up out of the cobblestone streets and follow along while you make your way through the shops. But maybe that is part of the fun? The Vanderbilt Hotel offers a luxurious (sorry) stay for families who want a small sample of what life in The Breakers may have been like. The hotel’s prime location on historic Thames Street puts travelers within walking distance of the town’s shops, restaurants, and museums. The spacious rooms and suites offer plenty of space for families to relax and unwind after a day of sightseeing, and the hotel’s amenities, which include an indoor pool and fitness center, provide plenty of entertainment options. Great news for pet parents the hotel’s pet-friendly policy means that furry family members can join in on the fun too! With its elegant decor, excellent service, and convenient location, The Vanderbilt Hotel is the perfect place to use as a home base for a family trip to Newport.

 

Chesapeake Bay

Get ready to soak up the sun, sea breeze, and quality time on a family trip to the charming Chesapeake Bay! for everyone.  Travelers can hike through scenic trails, kayak on calm waters or discover historical sites while indulging in local cuisine.   The Chesapeake Bay area offers a unique combination of natural beauty, rich history, and cultural diversity, making it an excellent location for a family vacation to the east coast. 

 

Chesapeake Pirates

Driving through Baltimore now, it can be hard to imagine the majestic sailing ships of the past gliding through the harbor.  Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Chesapeake Bay was a hotbed of activity, with ships from all over the globe bringing in cargo.  Of course, at the time, if there was cargo to be had, there were pirates there to take it.  These waters were no exception.  The pirates that ravaged the Atlantic and Caribbean often took advantage of the shallow waters of the bay to avoid capture, and their stories have been passed down through the generations. Today, the pirates are gone, but the water is just as beautiful as ever.  It can be a challenge to take in a sightseeing cruise with little ones who just want to play; however, one local company has come up with an ingenious solution.  At Chesapeake Pirates Adventure, parents can sit back and soak up the scenery while kids get the opportunity to live out their swashbuckling fantasies.  Located in the port city of Annapolis, Maryland, climb aboard the pirate ship ‘Sea Gypsy,’ don a costume, and watch the kids undertake a daring adventure.   The adventure is scheduled to last for just over one hour, and tickets are available for pre-purchase online.  They suggest showing up 30 minutes early to allow time for the face painting and dress-up.  In this fast-paced, modern world, even pirates are expected to be punctual; else, they’re likely to walk the plank.

 

 

Air Mobility Command

History buffs, aviation enthusiasts, or fun day trippers will love the Air Mobility Command Museum. Located on the grounds of Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the museum is home to an impressive collection of aircraft, artifacts, and exhibits that tell the story of military air transportation.  With over 30 planes ranging from sleek fighter jets to massive cargo carriers, there’s something for everyone to ooh over. So fasten your seat belts, stow your tray tables, and prepare to take off. Located on Dover Air Force Base, the museum has free parking and admission Wednesday through Saturday year-round.  For an extra special treat, visit on an ‘open cockpit day’ – the 3rd Saturday from April to  October – where the planes are left open for visitors to get an even better look.  They even have some of the crew that served aboard the plane standing by to share their experiences and help explain what makes each one special.  The museum also gives access to a high-tech flight simulator to anyone over the age of 10.  After seeing all these planes up close, everyone will enjoy the opportunity to attempt a landing on their own.  

 

Port Discovery

Port Discovery in Baltimore is an adventure that’s both educational and entertaining. This children’s museum is packed with interactive exhibits and hands-on activities that will spark curiosity in visitors of all ages. From exploring a three-story urban treehouse to learning about the science of bubbles, Port Discovery is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to have some serious fun while also learning a thing or two.

 

Sky Climber

Climbing up through the center of the museum, the Skyclimber play area is several levels of obstacles and climbing for kids 5-10 years old.  As a reward for making the trek from the base to the top, kids can take a trip back down the twisting slide.  Socks are required, but if families forget to pack a pair, they sell them in the gift shop. 

 

Assateague National Seashore

Every trip should have a stop that offers an opportunity to relax and soak up the raw beauty of the location.  There are few spots on the Atlantic coast offering a more secluded beach experience than the barrier islands of Maryland.  The most famous of which is Assateague, home of the Assateague National Seashore.  From the meticulously etched Islands of Maine to the haphazardly placed sands of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, the East Coast is bejeweled with thousands of islands. 

Like distant cousins, related by blood but separated by culture, tradition, and unique landscape.  Each is worthy of praise, so what makes a trip out to Assateague worthy of your itinerary? Hundreds of years ago, for reasons which nobody can agree upon, a herd of horses was set to range on the seagrasses.  Left to their own devices, these animals lasted many generations, surviving storms and drought until the island was adopted by the National Park Service in 1965. 

Today, the herd has grown to several times that number and is controlled to maintain a healthy ecosystem, with proceeds from the sale of foals going to fund the local volunteer fire department.   The horses can be seen throughout the island but often congregate in and around the marshes as the tide drops.  Remember, these animals are wild and may not behave like their domesticated cousins.  As with all wildlife, give them the distance to maintain safety for both your family and the horses. 

 

Horses on Beach - Assateague

Come gallop on the beach alongside wild horses © NPS

 

Penning Day

An extra special experience each year can be had leading up to ‘penning day.’  Each July, saltwater cowboys herd the horses on the Island together.  Over the course of several days, they corral them together for health checks and population count.  Finally, they make a swim across the channel where bidders can attempt to purchase one of the foals at auction.  There are always loads of activities during the week, with rides, cultural presentations, and of course, the always popular annual Fireman’s Carnival.

 

Where To Stay In Chesapeake Bay

The only thing better than falling asleep to the smell of the ocean is waking up to it.  At the Harbour Inn Marina & Spa you can do both and still be just a short drive from all the action.  This family-owned Inn has been providing travelers with a place to kick back for generations.  Their on-site restaurant, Harrison’s Harbour Lights, has served locally inspired meals on their open-air deck for over 100 years. For the hunters in your family, they offer a guided duck hunting trip to a private 500-acre preserve, complete with guides and transportation, for a reasonable fee.  If you’d prefer something a little more relaxing, make sure to book a massage in the spa to help loosen up after a long weekend exploring the scenic town of St. Michael.

 

Key West

The beauty of the North Atlantic beaches is often found in their ruggedness. On our family travels, we’ve made our way south along the east coast, sailed over New York City, and headed right on past Virginia Beach until we were welcomed by swaying palm trees, waving hello as they beckoned us to their warm sand. This tropical paradise is more than just a destination. It’s a state of mind. From sipping on fruity cocktails to watching chickens cross the road, Key West covers all the travel bases. So grab your sunscreen and your favorite Hawaiian shirt and head out on the most scenic of highways to Key West, where families can snorkel with sea turtles, explore a coastal fortress, and maybe even catch a glimpse of the elusive Hemingway cat. 

 

Coral Reef- Key West

Spend time exploring above and beneath the waves in Key West ©NPS

 

Overseas Highway

The Overseas Highway in Florida is a breathtakingly scenic drive that spans 113 miles, connecting the mainland to the Florida Keys. Traveling on this highway is an unforgettable experience that offers stunning views of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

Along the way, you’ll cross over 42 bridges, including the famous Seven Mile Bridge, and pass through charming towns and villages that are full of history and culture. You can stop to admire the art galleries and boutiques or indulge in delicious seafood at one of the many restaurants that span the route. There are stops along the roughly 3-hour journey for bathroom breaks.  Several small villages along the way also offer a great opportunity to stretch the legs and explore before getting back on the road and heading further into the keys.  

 

Long bridge - Overseas Highway

You’ve never been on a road like this before! © Chase Baker

 

Florida Keys Eco-Discovery

The Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and conservation enthusiasts. Located in Key West, the center features interactive exhibits that showcase the unique ecosystems and wildlife of the Florida Keys. From the mangrove forests to the coral reefs, visitors can learn about the diverse habitats and species that call this region home. The exhibits are engaging and informative, with hands-on activities and displays that appeal to all ages. The center also offers educational programs and guided tours that provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the importance of conservation and the impact of human activity on the environment. Whether you’re interested in marine life, bird watching, or environmental science, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center is a great place to learn and explore.

 

DON’T MISS! 10 Best East Coast Resorts For Families

 

Mallory Square

Mallory Square is best known for its stunning sunset views and lively street performers. Every evening, locals and tourists gather at the square to witness the breathtaking sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. As the sun descends below the horizon, the sky slowly transitions through an array of vibrant colors. Visitors can enjoy the sunset from the square’s pier or aboard a sunset cruise while indulging in refreshing drinks and delicious snacks from the local vendors.  The experience is so great that they repeat it every day with the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration. Mallory Square is also famous for its entertaining street performers. From fire jugglers to acrobats, the performers showcase their unique talents and keep the crowds entertained with their energetic performances. The nightly Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square is not just a mere tourist attraction but a vibrant gathering of locals and visitors alike, creating a festive atmosphere of music, art, and culture.  Weekends can turn chaotic and start to take on the feel of an amusement park, so if you’re looking for some peace, target a weeknight. 

 

Southernmost Point Marker

We drove down the Overseas Highway to reach Key West and eventually stopped because….well, we ran out of land.  Luckily for us, it was gorgeous, and everywhere we looked was a tropical paradise.  Of course, no trip is complete without an epic family photo.  A Grand Canyon backdrop from the family trip to Arizona, Mt. Rushmore looming over the kids in South Dakota, and of course, the Southernmost Point Marker in Key West.   The name may be lacking in originality. It may lack the grandeur of the Grand Canyon and the engineering marvel of Mt Rushmore.  Heck, it is not even the Southernmost Point in the continental U.S., nor is it 90 miles from Cuba.  Come to think of it; there really isn’t much that makes this landmark stand out other than the fact that it is just a really cool place to take a great picture to help your family remember how much they loved Key West. 

 

Fort Jefferson

The road may have ended at the shore, but that doesn’t mean the adventure has to.  Fort Jefferson is located on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas and is a must-visit destination for history buffs and nature lovers alike.  The fort was built in the mid-19th century for use as a military base following the Civil War.  The fort’s architecture is impressive, with massive brick walls and a moat surrounding it. Walking around the fort and exploring the different levels and rooms gives visitors a sense of the challenges faced by the soldiers stationed there.   In addition to its historical significance, Fort Jefferson is located in one of the most beautiful and remote parts of the United States. The Dry Tortugas National Park, of which the fort is a part, is made up of seven small islands surrounded by crystal-clear water, coral reefs, and a diverse array of marine life.  Camping is available on the island, but most families will find the ferry service the most convenient option.  With packages that include a guided tour, beach access, lunch, and snorkeling equipment, the Yankee Freedom Ferry is a one-stop shop for a once-in-a-lifetime family adventure. 

 

Fort Jefferson- Dry Tortugas National Park

Walk through the gates and back in time in Fort Jefferson. © NPS

 

Don’t Miss! 16 Fun Things To Do With Kids in Key West!

 

Where To Stay In Key West 

Havana Cabana is a fun name to say and a great place to stay.  From the moment you arrive, it is evident the resort has dived headfirst into the Cuban theme, with tastefully done decor that will whisk you away to scenic Havana.  Guests can relax and unwind while enjoying the views of the gardens or pools, or indulge in the hotel’s signature cocktail, the Hemingway daiquiri, at the on-site bar.  There are activities such as Giant Jenga, Cornhole, and Foosball scattered around the properties. The on-site gardens provide ample opportunity for solitude while enjoying the largest pool in Key West.  Don’t forget to mark the important things on your calendar, like the poolside popsicles at noon or the slushies they’ll be serving up two hours later.  Transportation to and from the airport is included in your stay.  Mopeds and bicycles are available on-site for an additional fee, but they do have an hourly shuttle that runs until well after sunset year-round, so there is no excuse not to treat the family to one of their famed sunsets.

 

Pool - Havana Cabana

Level up your Marco Polo game with the largest pool in Key West © Havana Cabana

 

Whether you’re rising with the sun in Maine or soaking it up in Key West, a trip to the East Coast will not disappoint.  The whole family can enjoy boat rides, beautiful beaches, museums, and countless outdoor activities. Check out one of these destinations, and your family may find themselves as coastal converts!

 

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING OR PINNING IT!

 

Tom is Firefighter on the East Coast. He grew up with a love for everything outdoors. These days, he enjoys loading his family of 5 into their campervan and trying to keep up with his kids on their weekend adventures. Tom began writing recently as a creative outlet, with the hope of spreading his love of the outdoors.