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Most Kid-Friendly Cities to Visit in 2017

For many families, planning for vacations can be time consuming and stressful - particularly when you have to factor in the many needs of young children. Many parents avoid visiting a big city with their little ones; the traffic, congestion, and stress can be too overwhelming to bring the children. However, certain cities in the United States are more child-friendly than others and they offer numerous opportunities that can help your family make lasting memories on your next vacation.

Kids love it when there’s a lot to do. They are ever-wary of the dreaded “B-word”: boredom. Luckily, when it comes to big cities in the U.S., families will find there is no shortage of things to do. From parks, to museums, to kid-friendly tours; U.S. cities run the gamut of family-friendly activities. But you have to know where to go. Some cities are just better suited for bringing the whole family. Certain destinations offer amenities that can make family travel easier, like kid-friendly hotels and restaurants. RewardExpert took a look at all of these factors to determine the most kid-friendly U.S. cities.

We compared 53 of the largest cities in the country and evaluated them on 16 key metrics across three categories: kid-friendly recreation, city profile, and affordability. Using this data we determined a full ranking of the the most child-friendly cities in the country.

Top 5 Kid-Friendly Destinations

san diego view

96.2San Diego, CA

The weather, beaches, and attractions put San Diego at number one on our list. As the home to Legoland, San Diego is a perfect destination for kids. Explore Balboa Park, a place where kids can visit the zoo, the park’s gardens, or one of their 14 museums all in a single afternoon. Take a trip to the Torrey Pines State Reserve. With stunnings views and hiking for all levels, visitors would appreciate the natural wonders of California. Don’t forget to catch some waves at the beach, too!

San Francisco

78.1San Francisco, CA

San Francisco comes in second on our list. Any trip to San Fran wouldn’t be complete without visiting Golden Gate Park. With over 1,000 acres to explore, and free to the public, Golden Gate Park is a wonderful destination for children. Next up, swing by the city’s science museum, the Exploratorium. This museum is a playground for ideas. The exploratorium offers hundreds of exhibits in areas of science, art and human perception. Don’t forget to hop on the trolley for a ride. The city is easy to get around with public transportation. According to our data, San Francisco has a transit score of 80.4, which is second best overall.

Portland

77.5Portland, OR

Bring the kids to Portland and chill out! Portland is the perfect mix of being a lively city without the stress. According to our data, Portland is an easy city to get around via public transit, biking, or walking. Furthermore, it has so many things for kids to do. When you’re there, hit up Playdate PDX. The kids will have a blast getting lost in this 7,500 square foot indoor play place, specifically for children. Afterwards, take the kids to Oaks Amusement Park. Oaks is one of the oldest, continuously operating amusement parks in the country. Take a stroll through Washington Park, home to one of the biggest playgrounds in the city. Lastly, if your kids work up a sweat after all that fun, cool off at the Mt. Scott Community Center and Indoor Pool. This place is more than just a pool, it’s also an indoor roller skating rink.

74.7Atlanta, GA

Atlanta comes in at number four on our list and first of the southern cities. According to our findings, Atlanta is also less expensive than other cities in the top ten. On average, a three star hotel room costs $130.0 per night, and Atlanta’s restaurants are less expensive. Atlanta is known for being home to LegoLand and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. Each of those attractions will have your kids building, thinking, and creating - all while having loads of fun. Take the family to the Chattahooche Nature Center. Located along the banks of the Chattahoochee River, the 127-acre park and nature preserve offers hiking, canoeing, and more. Lastly, hit up the Stone Mountain Park. Listed in Frommer’s “500 Places to Visit with Your Kids Before They Grow Up,” this is Georgia’s number 1 attraction. Hike to the top of a rock, take a ride aboard the scenic railroad, or get soaked at Geyser Towers.

Washington

68.5Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital ranks fifth on our list of kid-friendly cities. Washington D.C. has the most kid friendly museums per capita in the country. Check out the National Museum of Natural History or the International Spy Museum. Also, the National Air & Space Museum offers daily programs involving science experimentation. The kids are bound to have a wonderful time learning and engaging with science, history, and art. Take a walk through the U.S. Botanic Garden. Send the kids through a scavenger hunt, identifying plants and getting their passports stamped. Finally, don’t forget about the national monuments. Make sure the kids say hi to Honest Abe. Most of the family friendly attractions in D.C. are free, so there’s plenty of opportunity to catch everything without draining your budget.

Best Cities for…

…Playgrounds

San Diego, CA - Beautiful San Diego has the most playgrounds per capita in the country. The city has 22 playgrounds per 10,000 residents, which means there’s ample opportunity for kids to have a good romp and play outside. The pleasant weather makes this city is a wonderful destination any time of the year, so families from up north can escape the tundra for the beach.

top 5 playgrounds
1San DiegoCA
2TampaFL
3San FranciscoCA
4AtlantaGA
5SacramentoCA
Bottom 5
49WichitaKS
50El PasoTX
51MemphisTN
52LexingtonKY
53Corpus ChristiTX

…Kid-friendly accommodations

Tampa, FL - Tampa has the most kid-friendly hotels as a share of total hotels. These hotels have a variety of programs specifically catered to children, like child care, tours, performances, workshops, and classes for kids. Tampa had the most hotels with amenities geared towards children of all the cities we analyzed.

TOP 5 hotels
1TampaFL
2MiamiFL
3PortlandOR
4AtlantaGA
5San FranciscoCA
Bottom 5
49AnchorageAK
50El PasoTX
51FresnoCA
52JacksonvilleFL
53WichitaKS

…Kid-friendly museums

Washington, D.C. - Grab a pencil and bring the kids to Washington D.C.. The nation’s capital comes in first with the most kid-friendly museums. With 30 museums per ten thousand residents, the kids are able to try their hand as scientists, historians, or artists. Who knows? Perhaps a visit to D.C. will inspire your child to be the President. Our pick? Check out the National Children's Museum. It’s bound to be a good time for the whole family.

top 5 museums
1WashingtonD.C.
2MiamiFL
3PittsburghCA
4MinneapolisMN
5San FranciscoCA
Bottom 5
49WichitaKS
50MilwaukeeWI
51Corpus ChristiTX
52FresnoCA
53AustinTX

…Amusement parks

Miami, FL - Who’s first in line for the rollercoaster? Bring the kids to Miami for amusement parks! Miami has the most amusement parks per capita of the cities we analyzed. With 16 parks per ten thousand residents, Miami is a dynamite city for children. We recommend taking the kids to Jungle Island. The combination of rides and safari will amaze everyone in the family!

top 5 PARKS
1MiamiFL
2TampaFL
3St.LouisMO
4HololuluHI
5AtlantaGA
Bottom 5
49LouisvilleKY
50WichitaKS
51LexingtonKY
52TulsaKO
53TucsonAZ

…Kid-friendly dining

Atlanta, GA - Any picky eaters in your crew? Parents know that it can be a challenge to find restaurants that will satisfy the whole family. You certainly won’t have that problem in Atlanta. We ran the numbers and Atlanta, GA has 180 kid-friendly restaurants per ten thousand residents, which means there’s a plenty of choices for a family on vacation. We recommend Osteria 832; a laid-back neighborhood restaurant that is known for its tasty food and cheap kid meals.

TOP 5 DINING
1AtlantaGA
2MiamiFL
3TampaFL
4St.LouisMO
5MinneapolisMN
Bottom 5
49El PasoTX
50AnchorageAK
51WichitaKS
52Corpus ChristiTX
53LexingtonKY

Overall Ranking

# City & State Score

By default cities are sorted by a general score. You could sort by other parameter.

CITY PROFILE AFFORDABILITY KID-FRIENDLY RECREATION
1San Diego, CA

96.2

11501
2San Francisco, CA

78.1

1524
3Portland, OR

77.5

18233
4Atlanta, GA

74.7

25182
5Washington, D.C.

68.4

8486
6Pittsburgh, PA

68.5

15355
7Minneapolis, MN

68.4

9339
8Seattle, WA

66.9

64412
9Denver, CO

66.8

16417
10Honolulu, HI

66.4

74911
11St. Louis, MO

64.9

22278
12Sacramento, CA

64.2

203210
13Miami, FL

62.2

53818
14Los Angeles, CA

61.2

24721
15Boston, MA

60.7

45117
16Tampa, FL

59.2

132415
17San Jose, CA

57.4

144316
18Cleveland, OH

56.1

192514
19Philadelphia, PA

56.0

104022
20Dallas, TX

54.5

212619
21Detroit,MI

53.5

261520
22 Las Vegas, NV

52.6

323413
23New York, NY

51.9

35336
24Raleigh, NC

51.3

281325
25Chicago, IL

50.8

124531
26Virginia Beach, VA

50.0

311624
27Austin, TX

49.8

233727
28Baltimore, MD

49.5

174229
29Kansas City, MO

47.8

421726
30Oklahoma City, OK

46.4

37145
31New Orleans, LA

46.3

364623
32Phoenix, AZ

46.1

332130
33Columbus, OH

45.7

301037
34Tucson, AZ

45.5

27640
35Houston, TX

45.0

293632
36San Antonio, TX

44.4

34447
37Albuquerque, NM

44.2

40239
38Milwaukee, WI

43.9

242838
39Omaha, NE

43.6

46833
40Tulsa, OK

43.5

38348
41Charlotte, NC

42.4

502228
42Corpus Christi, TX

41.9

39550
43Louisville, KY

41.3

45946
44Nashville, TN

41.2

443135
45Lexington, KY

40.9

411151
46El Paso, TX

40.1

491243
47Fresno, CA

40.0

353052
48Colorado Springs, CO

39.6

433942
49Indianapolis, IN

39.5

481941
50Memphis, TN

38.9

532034
51Anchorage, AK

38.4

472949
52Jacksonville, FL

37.9

521444
53Wichita, KS

36.9

51751
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Expert Insights

RewardExpert spoke to Corinne McDermott, founder of family travel website HaveBabyWillTravel.com, for her expert insights on trends and practices in kid-friendly travel.

Corinne McDermott

Founder

HaveBabyWillTravel.com

What trends have you noticed in travel related to families with children? What do parents consider when choosing a travel destination?

More and more destinations are realizing that they don't need to have kid-focused gimmicks or theme parks to be attractive to families. Most parents want a destination that is clean, safe, and welcoming to children. A range of accommodation options at different price points, combined with easy access to decent food, transportation, and healthcare are really the basics that most families look for.

What can a city do to be more kid-friendly? How can hotels, parks, cities better accommodate families?

Lots of places these days offer "kids free" everything--from riding public transportation to museums to restaurants with kid menus or the option of ordering child-sized portions from regular menu items. Clean and accessible public washrooms, many with breastfeeding and/or change facilities, are popping up everywhere. Hotels can offer or include cribs and mini-refrigerators free-of-charge, and many package stays in partnership with local attractions or tourist boards to include tickets or admission and also services like babyproofing rooms or turndown service with milk and cookies.

How can parents prepare for traveling with children? What preparations are important to ensure a trip is fun and successful?

Depending on the age of your child, choose your trip based on your interests with what your child will be capable of doing. Small babies that are not yet mobile (and are happy to be worn or pushed in a stroller) are great for city trips visiting museums and galleries (that can be stressful to visit with an active toddler). Older kids may enjoy helping to plan trips by researching your chosen destinations and adding to the itinerary. But parents need to be organized at every step of the planning, regardless if their trip is a week at the beach with an infant, or a month-long road trip with teens. Careful packing, informed planning (with flexibility baked in for when plans go out the window), and a good travel insurance policy are essentials for every parent.

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Methodology

To help travelers discover which U.S. cities are best to visit with their children in 2017, RewardExpert compared U.S. cities with more than 300,000 residents across three key dimensions: 1) City Profile, 2) Affordability, and 3) Kid-Friendly Recreation.

RewardExpert used the U.S. Census definition of a metropolitan area. The Census may include the some of the surrounding area when calculating data relevant to the cities we examined.

We first identified 17 relevant metrics that are listed below in their respective dimensions and with their corresponding weights. Each metric was given a value between 0 and 100, wherein 100 represents the most favorable conditions for travel and 0 the least.

Finally, we calculated the overall score for each city using the weighted average across all metrics and ranked the cities accordingly.

Indicators

City Profile - 36 Points

  • Walkability: Full Weight (6.0%)
  • Transit Score: Full Weight (6.0%)
  • Bikeability : Half Weight (3.0%)
  • Number of Pleasant Days Per Year: Half Weight (3.0%)
  • Crime Rate Index: Full Weight (6.0%)
  • Kid Friendly Hotels per capita: Double Weight (12.0%)

Affordability - 16 Points

  • Average Hotel Prices: Half Weight (4.0%)
  • Restaurant Price Index: Weight and a Half (12.0%)

Recreation for Children - 48 Points

  • Playgrounds per capita: Double Weight (12.0%)
  • Kid Friendly Restaurants per capita: Double Weight (12.0%)
  • Zoos per capita: Full Weight (6.0%)
  • Nature parks per capita: Half Weight (3.0%)
  • Amusement parks per capita: Full Weight (6.0%)
  • Sports Teams per capita: Half Weight (3.0%)
  • Children Museums per capita: Half Weight (3.0%)
  • Historical Sites per capita: Half Weight (3.0%)

Sources: Data used to create these rankings were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Yelp, Numbeo, Hotels.com, Walk Score, and Kelly Norton.