Family-Friendly Attractions in the U.S. Southeast

The Southeast United States is chock full of family-friendly attractions that will delight everyone in your group and all ages, too! We took a look around the Southeast and found these must-do family-friendly spots — under the sea and out of this world — for your family to check on the next time you’re on the road.

Under the Sea

Whether your family’s a bunch of ocean-loving folks or are simply curious about the wonders of the deep, there are plenty of aquariums in the South at which to take a peek under the sea.

Creatures big and small live in more than 800,000 gallons of water at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach; hands-on exhibits make for fun inside, while a nature path and natural marshlands await exploration outside.

The North Carolina Aquariums in Roanoke Island, Pine Knoll Shores and Fort Fisher showcase not only marine life found in the nearby ocean, but in the state’s estuaries, rivers and streams as well. In Charleston, the South Carolina Aquarium follows suit, highlighting the entire Southeast Appalachian Watershed through exhibits and hands-on activities.

If you find yourselves in Atlanta, head to the Georgia Aquarium — the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere — and make a beeline for the whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. You can even swim with them! Another spot to swim with the fish is at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, but you can swim with sharks, too. Or, stay dry and watch the penguins as they parade just inches away. Also in Florida, Winter, the star of the Dolphin Tale movies, makes her home at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, along with her marine life friends.

Little Girl in the Aquarium

Little Girl in the Aquarium © Juliasha |

In Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium is a terrific introduction to life that can be found from the mountains to the sea. One of the most popular attractions here is watching the North American River Otters play at River Otter Falls. Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg takes the fun a bit further with three unique experiences — Waddle with Penguins, Splash with Stingrays and Sleep with the Sharks, a sleepover adventure.

New Orleans is fun for kids, too, especially if you plan to spend a day at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Many of the sea turtles you’ll see at the aquarium are being rehabilitated for release back into the wild — wish them bon voyage! Thousands of animals from around the world are on display at the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky, where you can pet a shark and touch creatures that make their homes in a tide pool.

Out of This World

Space has long been the final frontier, but we’re closer than we were, and there are a handful of terrific places from which to set your sights on a galaxy far, far away.

Let’s start in Virginia, just as the U.S. space program did in 1917. At the NASA Langley Visitor Center at the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, your family can explore the early days of space exploration and check out a variety of artifacts and replicas that show the evolution of spacecraft.

Down the coastline, an entire day — or more — can easily be spent wandering between rockets and exhibits, including “Heroes & Legends” and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and taking the tour to the launch pads at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. And if your family really wants a blast, sign up the gang up for Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. If you’d rather sit back and enjoy the solid ground found here on Earth, your kids can participate in day camps and children’s workshops throughout the year.