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12 Kid-Thrilling Stops That Erase Road Trip Boredom

road trips, family vacation

Kids love road trips, especially when they’re not taken too seriously.

During a recent 2,000-mile road trip, my kids and I were flying along Interstate 40 in Arizona when we came to the state’s notorious Painted Desert. It was breathtakingly beautiful and everything anyone has ever said it would be. Yet my kids? They were deep in some kind of backseat little brother torture and tuned out all my exclamations of the awesomeness of nature, etc.

That’s the thing about family vacations, especially with kids of such different ages like I have — 10, 6 and 2. What’s interesting for me is often on the dry side for them. What’s fun for the 6-year-old is “babyish” for my oldest. And the 2-year-old? He just wants to snack.

We could go the Disneyland route, but I like seeing stuff. So instead, I’ve started building in little side trips of weird stuff to keep our family vacations memorable. Three hours at an 1,000-year-old pueblo erased eight hours of being restrained in the back seat.

Here are 12 quick stops that are guaranteed to get your kids’ attention and make long road trips less monotonous. These hardly cover all of the U.S. so be sure to add yours in comments.

Image: Lecates via flickr


  • Grand Canyon Skywalk 1 of 13
    Grand Canyon Skywalk
    Even if the Grand Canyon can't get your gadget-obsessed kids to love nature, standing 4,000 feet from the ground on a glass sidewalks is guaranteed to freak them out. They'll never forget it.
  • Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse 2 of 13
    Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse
    This 200-year-old school in St. Augustine, Fla., was built when Spain was in charge of the state. It's tiny, it's loaded with artifacts, and best of all -- it's out forever!
  • Gateway Arch, St. Louis 3 of 13
    Gateway Arch, St. Louis
    It's big, it's shiny, it's fun. Kids love riding the vertical train to the top of the 630-foot monument (the nation's largest) and feeling it sway in the wind (it's supposed to!).
  • Hoover Dam and Bypass Bridge 4 of 13
    Hoover Dam and Bypass Bridge
    Another feat of awesomeness in the American Southwest, even if you cheat and take the bypass bridge. If the Grand Canyon skywalk wasn't too traumatizing, get out of the car at the dam and peek over the side. Dizzying and amazing.
  • Lambert’s Cafe 5 of 13
    Lambert's Cafe
    Not just any diner, Lambert's is the home of throwed-rolls. Stick your arm in the air and watch the wheat rolls start flying. Two Missouri and one Alabama location. Let the kids get food throwing out of their systems!
  • Mount Rushmore 6 of 13
    Mount Rushmore
    Faces carved into a mountain using dynamite? Your kids are so there.
  • Montezuma Castle 7 of 13
    Montezuma Castle
    Near Camp Verde, Ariz., these preserved cliff dwellings of the Sinagua culture are the kind of high-rise your city kid won't ignore. You can't go into the structures anymore -- they're under close watch for deterioration -- but they're still a wonder when from the base of the cliff they're built into.
  • Oldest Operating McDonald’s 8 of 13
    Oldest Operating McDonald's
    This landmark McDonald's opened it's doors in Downey, Calif., in 1953. It's the only of the world-famous franchises still sporting red and white tiles on the outside and a Speedee the Chef in its sign. It's on the National Historic Registry and yet can crank out a Happy Meal with the best of 'em.
  • Wigwam Hotel 9 of 13
    Wigwam Hotel
    "Kids, we're staying in a Wigwam tonight!" Holbrook, Ariz., just off Route 66.
  • Alcatraz Island 10 of 13
    Alcatraz Island
    Kids love the San Francisco Bay boat ride, tide pools, and prison island lore. You'll never tire of threatening to leave them there.
  • Sky City, Acoma Pueblo 11 of 13
    Sky City, Acoma Pueblo
    This Native American village dates back to the 12th Century. It sits on top of a mesa in the middle of New Mexico and is still home to a few hundred Acoma people. Ride the shuttle bus to the top and follow a guided tour. You'll love the history. Your kids will love the wind, steep and unfenced edges of the village.
  • USS Constitution 12 of 13
    USS Constitution
    The nation's oldest commissioned ship, Old Ironsides is now docked in Charlestown, Mass., near Boston. Guided tours aimed at all ages take you all over the ship, where you'll learn about the 200 years of the ship's service in war and in commerce.
  • La Casa Bonita Restaurant 13 of 13
    La Casa Bonita Restaurant
    Don't judge, your kids will love it here. The food's totally American-Mexican and the clientele 100 percent tourists. But there are cliff divers, people. Inside the restaurant! A little kitsch in otherwise authentic Denver.

Get on-the-road entertainment ideas from the pros: Top 25 Travel Blogs for Families!

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