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7 Idyllic Destinations for a Family-Friendly Thanksgiving Vacation This November

Ohio San Antonio Family Travel
by Eben Diskin Oct 18, 2021

If you’ve ever hosted a Thanksgiving get together, then you know it can be stressful. There’s the kitchen prep and planning, of course, but also the cleaning (of your home and your kitchen), entertainment, and attempted sidestepping of controversial issues that’ll put the dinner conversation in a tailspin.

Thankfully, there’s an easy way to avoid this formulaic nightmare while still celebrating with the people you love: take a vacation. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving on the day or decide to stretch it out to avoid the madness of airports during the holidays, travel is one way to have a Thanksgiving everyone actually enjoys. If it’s spacious accommodations you’re looking for, we narrowed down the best Airbnbs for families in the Pacific Northwest, as well as family sized Airbnbs in the Northeast and family friendly Airbnbs in the Southwest.

The key to a successful Thanksgiving family vacation is picking the right home base. From places with stunning natural beauty to destinations known for their kid-friendly atmosphere, these are the best family vacation spots to check out this November.

1. Hershey, Pennsylvania

hersheyland sign

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Thanksgiving isn’t as heavily associated with chocolate as Christmas, but when it comes to chocolate, rules don’t apply. You’ll get no complaints from the kids when you tell them you’re planning a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, AKA the chocolate capital of the United States located just two hours from Philadelphia.

Known primarily for Hersheypark, the chocolate-themed amusement park, Hershey was built as for the workers of Hershey’s Chocolate Factory in the early 20th century. The city has since turned into a destination. The famous theme park has roller coasters, a water park, and ZooAmerica — an 11 acre park zoo with alligators, mountain lions, black bears, lynx, and more. Right next to the park is Hershey’s Chocolate World, a visitors center attraction with shops and restaurants, a chocolate factory tour, and a create your own candy bar experience.

If you’ve had your fill of chocolate, you can always check out a Hershey Bears hockey game. An affiliate of the Washington Capitals, the Bears offer professional ice hockey action without the high prices of an NHL game. There’s also the Hershey Story Museum if your interest in chocolate is more academic. With interactive exhibits detailing the history of the Hershey company, as well as the Chocolate Lab where you can make and decorate candy, the museum is a perfect rainy day activity for kids.

2. Cape May, New Jersey

victorian houses on cape may

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Whereas the Jersey Shore and Atlantic City are associated with a classic New Jersey summer, Cape May should represent winter. With plenty of spacious beaches, parks, shopping, restaurants, and early autumn sunsets, Cape May in November has all the benefits of a summer beach destination without the summer crowds.

Cape may is defined by the Washington Street Mall — a pedestrian thoroughfare with restaurants, boutique art galleries and bookstores, and a slow-paced vibe that will make you completely forget about the hectic Thanksgiving dinner you could be having instead.

There’s also Cape May State Park, which has a beach and nature trails to explore, as well as the Cape May Lighthouse that offers an impressive view of the ocean (as long as you don’t mind the 199 steps to get there). Children might particularly enjoy a ride on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to Lewes, Delaware — a perfect day trip if you’re looking to get out on the water — or a visit to the free Cape May County Park & Zoo to see the zebras and giraffes.

3. Sandusky, Ohio

cedar point ohio

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Sandusky, Ohio, is best known for its iconic amusement park Cedar Point, which has 18 roller coasters and more than 50 other rides. The amusement park alone — which also features a white sand beach, water park, and sports complex — could keep you and your family occupied the entire trip, but this city on the banks of Lake Erie has plenty else to offer.

Take a break from the action at one of Sandusky’s parks. Shoreline park has walking trails, playgrounds, ponds, fountains, and is perfect for a family picnic lunch. Facer park is known for its art installation that reflects the town’s role in the Underground Railroad, while Mylander Park in the heart of downtown has a giant battleship game.

One of the city’s more unique attractions — and also one of the best for families — is Escape Rooms by FrankNicky. One escape room experience takes you on a retro treasure hunt through the 1980s, while the other transports you back to 1943 as you solve a mystery involving Tesla’s nephew, Nikola Trbojevich.

4. Grand Canyon, Arizona

horseshoe bend grand canyon

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Who needs the stress of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner when there’s one of the world’s greatest natural wonders to see? There are seemingly limitless ways to explore the canyon, and many of them are kid-friendly. You can hike around the rim with the aid of an experienced guide, go by bicycle, or even ride a mule down to the bottom. Also be sure to check out the Skywalk, which extends 70 feet out from the rim at Grand Canyon West, for the clearest views down to the canyon floor.

Besides the Grand Canyon itself, there are plenty of other peripheral natural beauties to see while you’re there. Antelope Canyon, just 10 minutes from Grand Canyon National Park, is a favorite for its colorful slot canyons, while at the Petrified Forest, just under three hours away, you’ll find ancient petroglyphs and Pueblo Ruins.

If you’re craving some civilization after spending much of the trip exploring the rugged Southwest landscape, set aside at least a half-day for Grand Canyon Village, the park’s most popular entrypoint. It’s home to the Grand Canyon Railway Depot, a traditional Hopi Native American crafts studio, and Yavapai Point — one of the canyon’s most scenic viewpoints.

5. San Antonio, Texas

san antonio riverwalk

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For some, temperatures in the 70s are enough of a reason to visit Texas in November. Aside from the appealing weather, San Antonio is packed with family-friendly attractions that blend history with natural beauty.

Kids will likely want to start off at Seaworld San Antonio to see the dolphins, stingrays, sharks, giant sea turtles, whales, sea lions, and penguins. There are also adrenaline-pumping rides like the Steel Eel and Great White roller coasters. Back on land, you can’t visit San Antonio without a trip to the San Antonio Zoo. The third-largest zoo in the country, the zoo is just 10 minutes from downtown and home to thousands of animals, including rhinos, hippos, tortoises, giraffes, and flamingos.

The city is also home to the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas, which encompasses San Antonio’s five Spanish colonial missions: Concepción, San José, San Juan, Espada, and the Alamo. The largest concentration of Spanish Colonial missions in North America, these 18th century buildings will give you a glimpse of one side of San Antonio’s past.

To get out of the city, drive just over a half-hour north to the Natural Bridge Caverns. These 140-year-old rock formations run deep underground, and are best explored on adventure tours of varying degrees of difficulty.

6. Lake Tahoe, California

lake tahoe

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Adventure-loving families should look no further than Lake Tahoe for Thanksgiving. From biking and hiking to paddle boarding on the lake, Tahoe has no shortage of family activities.

The East Shore Trail is the best way to access the lake in the fall and winter. This 2.8-mile paved path starts at the Tunnel Creek Cafe in Incline Village, and follows the lake’s perimeter to Sand Harbor with views of the lake all along the way. It also provides access to Hidden Beach, a great spot for a family picnic.

One of the best ways to explore Tahoe is by fat biking — a trend that has exploded in popularity over the past few years. A more sustainable way to navigate rugged terrain, fat biking is perfect for exploring the paths along the North Shore of the lake. There are also tons of beaches, bars, shopping, and restaurants located conveniently close to the trails, so you’ll never be too far from civilization (or a comfortable bathroom break).

It might be a bit brisk for watersports, but truly adventurous families can take advantage of kayak and stand up paddle board rentals. There are enough hidden beaches and rocky coves to discover that you could easily spend the entire weekend exploring the lake by water. Just don’t fall in, as the water is quite chilly.

7. Bellingham, Washington

bellingham washington sunset

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When it comes to visiting the Pacific Northwest, Portland and Seattle tend to be the twin pillars propping up the vacation. While those cities are great, you wouldn’t want to ignore one of the region’s most beautiful cities: Bellingham. A coastal city on the Canadian border, Bellingham is known for its proximity to North Cascade National Park and easy access to the San Juan Islands, as well as its Cultural Arts District full of cafes, independent cinemas, and family-friendly museums.

The best way to catch the last days of fall in Bellingham is by taking a foliage walk along Lake Whatcom. The Lake Whatcom Hertz Trail used to be a railroad, and runs for three miles along the lake’s shoreline. It crosses bridges and beaches and brings you through some of the region’s most colorful foliage. And the best part? It’s accessible for hikers of all fitness and experience levels.

You could spend your whole trip exploring Lake Whatcom, Lake Padden Park, Nooksack Falls, and the nearby San Juan Islands, but it’d be a mistake not to devote some time to the city itself. Bellingham’s Historic Fairhaven district dates back to 1853. Once a manufacturing hub, it’s now designated a National Historic District with 17 historic structures, a farmer’s market, a lively restaurant scene, and an immersive 18th century aesthetic.

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