5 Road Trip Ideas for Kids (That Parents Will Love Too)
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Summer is a magical time—full of sunshine, fireflies, and longer play days. But with the lack of school often comes less childcare and restless children itching for things to do. Though Instagram would have us believe that most families are jetting off to the Amalfi Coast or the Balearic Islands, the truth is that majority of mamas spend the summer lifeguarding their own children at the neighborhood pool or schlepping said littles from day camp to day camp. How about mixing it up a bit with a good old-fashioned Americana road trip?
Thinking that sounds like a terrible idea? Don’t fret. Driving for extended periods of time with tots in tow certainly comes with its own set of challenges, but the life experiences are priceless, and the memories made last a lifetime. No matter where you decide to let the open road take you this summer, keep an open mind, stop often, and let the journey evolve in its own way. The world’s largest chili pepper may just be at the next exit. Google it.
Ahead, Heymama member Morgan Hutchinson, founder of BURU and mama to Olive and Schafer, shares her top five destinations with the perfect amount of appeal for both parents and kiddos alike—along with some must-have products that are certain to make the trip more enjoyable for you and the littles!
The Wild West:
Deadwood + Mount Rushmore
With Mount Rushmore as its most recognized tourist attraction, it's not surprising that South Dakota's state slogan is "Great Faces, Great Places." Obviously, we knew all about those famous faces, but the other "great places" were a mystery to us until we cruised through the entire state from east to west.
The hidden treasures we discovered along the drive—like the Badlands National Park, the small Wild West town of Deadwood, and Wall Drugstore (the largest in the world) were equal parts kid- and parent-friendly. AKA, we enjoyed a few cold beers (due to lax open-container laws) strolling down the historic streets of downtown Deadwood while our 4-year-old took in all the eye-catching shop windows filled with trinkets and our 6-month-old snoozed in the stroller.
On top of the obvious stops, which all include some type of kid activity (think rides, midway games, go-karts, etc.) the hotels in South Dakota are a child’s dream come true because the majority of them have indoor pools with legit water slides! It’s quite possibly the best way for your littles to burn off their bottled up energy from riding in the car.
Pro Tip: Don't forget to pack a "wet bag" for damp swimsuits that may not have time to dry completely before you hit the road again.
Art Loves + Wide Open Spaces:
When Donald Judd decided to morph Marfa into an art mecca, it's highly likely he didn’t have road trippin' with kids in mind—but the city has evolved in a way that makes art approachable at any age. In fact, through the eyes of babes, many of the pieces appear more like a "play park" than a sculpture installation. In addition to visiting the must-see "Prada" store, our kiddos also loved the eccentric Chinati Contemporary Museum and the magical (and mysterious) Marfa lights—which basically allowed them to stay up far past their bedtimes staring at the sky for signs of alien life.
For a tiny West Texas town, the food is exceptionally chic, delicious, and family-friendly. To this day, The Food Shark food truck, complete with a converted school bus acting as a dining car, is still our daughter's favorite restaurant. And you can't help but fall in love with the Museum of Late Night Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour. Though there are several great hotels to choose from, I highly recommend the Hotel Saint George for modern style, larger rooms, and double beds. Note that most of the rooms do not have bathtubs, so if your little ones are too young to shower, pack an inflatable travel tub.
Pro Tips: Many restaurants and hot spots are only open Wednesday to Sunday. Plan your trip to accordingly. Unless you are already in the state of Texas, the easiest way to reach Marfa is to fly into El Paso and rent a car.
Historic Allure + Modern Fun:
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Established in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in America. Its rich history oozes from every corner. I swear even the parking garages are cute in this Spanish Revival–style town. Beyond the eye candy that is literally EVERY building, Santa Fe offers kid-friendly art experiences from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum with its scavenger hunt–esque drawing workbook to Meow Wolf—a 20,000-square-foot sci-fi-inspired interactive exhibit created by an artist collective.
Pro Tip: The Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi offers amazing services for families traveling with kids including babysitter sourcing, in-room changing tables, diaper pails, and baby monitors if needed, as well as its signature "Rosebuds" kid kits with activities geared to your littles. Note: The hotel only has one suite, so if you're looking for more space, book early.
Hidden Gems in the Midwest:
St. Louis, Missouri + Omaha, Nebraska
Though these two cities are over six hours apart, they make a nice little Middle America combo with lots of family-fun options—many of which are free. Thanks to an influx of cash from casino revenues, St. Louis offers countless free museums (art, science, history, etc.) and cultural activities at no charge.
Additionally, both cities are home to incredible zoos (competing with San Diego and each other for the top spot every year), and they offer incredible pedestrian metro parks full of interactive art sculptures and splash fountains. We had a blast simply strolling through each of these cities discovering hidden gems around every corner—from artisanal ice cream shops to giant two-story slides.
If you're searching for something to keep the kiddos entertained during the six hours on the road between these two midwestern locales, the toy company Melissa & Doug makes a great travel bingo and its Splash Cards are amazing! Our 4-year-old also loves her Buddha Board Mini—which allows for mess-free art on the move.
Pro Tip: Two nights in each town is a great start to seeing what they uniquely have to offer. Also, in St. Louis, the Union Station Hotel puts on a unique light show every half hour in its main in the lobby bar/restaurant. It keeps the kiddos entertained while parents sip on adult beverages! In Omaha, the Hyatt Place in downtown is within walking distance to many parks and unique shopping spots.
There is something special about the Deep South. Perhaps it's the history, or perhaps it's the people, but everything about the culture in Savannah is charming. Strolling down the giant live oak tree–lined streets, where historic parks and squares seem to appear every few blocks is captivating. And while cobblestone and frequent level changes do make the city a bit hard for a toddler to navigate, the Uppababy Vista handles it with ease.
If you're there for a limited time (perhaps en route to the beach or Charleston), I suggest the Tricentennial Park—a 25-acre complex with three different museums included, one of which is the Children's Museum. If you have more time, consider an excursion to Tybee Island for dolphin watching or some family beach time.
Pro Tip: If you're a foodie but your children can't handle long, fancy dinners, I suggest the Planter's Inn Hotel on Reynolds Square. Not because the hotel is amazing (it's a little dated, to be totally honest), but because the room service comes from The Olde Pink House Restaurant, one of Savannah's most popular spots.
What's your favorite thing about family road trips? Share your memories and trip ideas with us in the comment section below.