100 Kid-Friendly Places to Play in the Southeast
There are so many great, kid-friendly places to travel within a few hours of Atlanta. Ride on a train, splash in a water park, visit wild animals and more at these fun places.
Climb aboard one of these train exhibits/museums, and go “Choo Choo” for locomotives!
Big South Fork Scenic Railway. Stearns, Ky. Go back to the bygone era of logging and coal mining with a train ride through beautiful southern Kentucky. bsfsry.com.
Casey Jones Home and Museum. Jackson, Tenn. The legend of America’s most famous engineer lives on. Fans can tour Casey’s original 1900 home or climb aboard a 130-ton replica of engine #382. caseyjones.com.
Folkston Funnel. Folkston, Ga. Train enthusiasts from all over the country converge at the double track, which serves as the main artery for railroad traffic in and out of Florida. The viewing platform features lights, ceiling fans and scanners to listen to radio traffic between trains. innatfolkston.com.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Bryson City, N.C. The Railroad offers a variety of scenic, round-trip excursions. Trips range from 3 ½ hours to a full day of fun and adventure. gsmr.com.
Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. Chattanooga, Tenn. This breathtaking, one-mile railway has thrilled passengers since 1895 and boasts the distinction of being the steepest passenger railway in the world. ridetheincline.com.
North Alabama Railroad Museum. Chase, Ala. Self-guided tours are available for the depot, museum grounds and facilities. Vintage trains rides are offered on select days. northalabamarailroadmuseum.com.
SAM Shortline Railway. Cordele, Ga. All aboard! Ride through the countryside and historic towns in Georgia, including Cordele, Americus, Leslie and Plains, home of President Jimmy Carter. samshortline.com.
Tennessee Valley Railroad and Museum. Chattanooga, Tenn. Ride the Missionary Ridge Trail, which travels through Missionary tunnel on a steam or vintage diesel locomotive. Advance tickets required. tvrail.com.
The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. Blue Ridge, Ga. A pleasant 26-mile round trip through historic Murphy Junction along the beautiful Toccoa River. brscenic.com.
Many water parks are affiliated with amusement parks and have combined ticket prices. Most water parks are open from April to October.
Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park. Destin, Fla. Find a place to stay cool among the lazy river, slides and 40 other water attractions. The park even touts the biggest man-made waterfall in the world. bigkahunas.com.
Boomerang Bay. Charlotte, N.C. Part of Paramount’s Carowinds, this water park is a 16-acre, Australian-themed, outback oasis of wet fun. carowinds.com.
Dollywood’s Splash Country Water Park. Pigeon Forge, Tenn. A 30-acre water adventure theme park that combines the beauty of the Smoky Mountains with the excitement of water park rides, slides and attractions. dollywood.com/waterpark.
Family Kingdom Water Park. Myrtle Beach, S.C. The city’s only oceanfront water park is home to some of the “coolest” fun on the Grand Strand. There are three water flumes, one with a 185-foot drop, four speed slides, eight kiddie slides and a lazy river with waterfalls. familykingdomfun.com.
Nashville Shores. Hermitage, Tenn. Brave the waves in a gigantic wave pool, plunge down eight thrilling water slides, or, play, slide and splash in Kowabunga Beach, a massive water treehouse and playground. nashvilleshores.com.
Point Mallard Park. Decatur, Ala. Hidden among northern Alabama‘s wooded pines, the 750+-acre family park lets you stay in tune with nature 365 days a year with a water park (including America’s first wave pool), tennis courts, golf courses, nature trails and more. pointmallardpark.com.
Shipwreck Island Water Park. Panama City Beach, Fla. More than a dozen water attractions for thrill seekers, families and children. shipwreckisland.com.
Splash in The Boro. Statesboro, Ga. Race your buddies on their 5-lane mat racer, plus enjoy slides for toddlers, 3 large tube slides, a lazy river and more. This park also has the only double FlowRider in Georgia. splashintheboro.com
Splash Island Water Park. Valdosta, Ga. Part of Wild Adventures, this fun water park boasts interactive play where you can enjoy a children’s water play area, wave pool, lazy river and dousing your family with buckets of water. wildadventures.com.
Splash Lagoon. Bowling Green, Ky. Beech Bend’s water park is a great place to cool off during a hot summer day. With three sky-high water rides, visitors can find thrills or relax at the leisure pool. Little ones also have their own area to splash around. beechbend.com.
Spring Valley Beach Water Park. Blountsville, Ala. A charming, family-owned water park; bring your own picnic basket or grill to the park. Free suntan lotion provided, as well as free parking. springvalleybeach.com.
Summer Waves Water Park. Jekyll Island, Ga. Plan your fun-filled day with relaxing laps around Turtle Creek Lazy River, riding the waves of the Frantic Atlantic, and taking in high-speed thrills down Pirate’s Passage. jekyll-island.com/summer-waves/.
Waterville USA. Gulf Shores, Ala. The ultimate in family fun with a 20-acre water park and amusement area, located in the beach resort community. Experience thrill-seeker slides and relaxed family attractions. watervilleusa.com.
Zoos & more
A visit to the zoo is always a hit. Your kids will be amazed to see all kinds of wildlife. Don’t forget to bring your camera!
Alligator Adventure. Myrtle Beach, S.C. One of the largest facilities for reptile life in the world, it has new exhibits of Chilean flamingos and red kangaroos. alligatoradventure.com.
Birmingham Zoo. Birmingham, Ala. With rides both animal and mechanical, feedings galore, and over 900 animals to see, the whole family is sure to be busy, busy, busy. birminghamzoo.com.
Chehaw Park & Wild Animal Park. Albany, Ga. This park is situated on over 800 acre and includes a zoo. Chehaw’s Zoo is home to 238 specimens representing 87 different species. Enjoy natural, outdoor exhibits including Cheetahs, Black Rhinoceros, Meerkats, Black Bears, Alligators and more. chehaw.org
Duke Lemur Center. Durham, N.C. The world’s largest and most diverse collection of lemurs outside of Madagascar. The Center advances science, scholarship and biological conservation through interdisciplinary research, community-based conservation and public outreach. lemur.duke.edu.
Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Jekyll Island, Ga. Learn all about the life cycle of the sea turtle with interactive exhibits and presentations, then visit recovering turtles in the sea turtle hospital (the only one of its kind in the state). And, if you time it right, you can even see some baby sea turtles! gstc.jekyllisland.com.
HollyWild Animal Park. Inman, S.C. Nearly 100 acres house close to 500 rare and exotic animals. Many are “Celebrity ZooperStars” of movies and commercials. hollywild.com.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Jacksonville, Fla. The zoo houses more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals. It also features a play park for kids, including a splash ground, forest play area, maze, otter and squirrel monkey exhibit, discovery building and animal care area. jacksonvillezoo.org.
Knoxville Zoo. Knoxville, Tenn. Situated on 53 acres, the zoo features more than 800 animals. Encounters with giraffes, camel and carousel rides, a splash pad and an indoor kid’s adventure area are just some of the joys that await. knoxville-zoo.org.
Nashville Zoo at Grassmere. Nashville, Tenn. A 200-acre zoo and historic plantation farmhouse located 6 miles southeast of downtown Nashville. It’s home to more than 2,248 animals including Red Pandas, blue Hyacinth Macaws and White-Cheeked Gibbons. nashvillezoo.org.
North Carolina Zoo. Asheboro, N.C. The zoo covers over 500 acres and is a walk-through zoo. See animals and plants living in environments that simulate their natural habitats. Between exhibits, walk through North Carolina’s natural piedmont forests. nczoo.org.
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. Columbia, S.C. The grounds are home to more than 2,000 animals and botanical gardens. The 170-acre site features dynamic natural habitat exhibits, scenic river views and spectacular valley overlooks. riverbanks.org.
Historical Museums & Houses
The history lessons don’t have to stop once school ends: these historical museums will provide your children with valuable information about the nation’s past.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace. Hodgenville, Ky. Discover Abraham Lincoln’s Boyhood Home at Knob Creek, which includes a memorial building, the actual sinking spring that inspired the farm’s name, an environmental study area and the location of the boundary oak. nps.gov/abli/.
Biltmore Estates. Asheville, N.C. Tour America’s largest home, along with its beautiful gardens, winery and 1890s farm village. biltmore.com.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Birmingham, Ala. With a collection of galleries, the Institute offers families a self-directed tour through the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement and human rights struggle, including exhibits that feature dramatic media presentations. bcri.org.
Fort Sumter National Monument and Museum. Sullivan’s Island, S.C. The place where the Civil War began remains a powerful symbol to both North and South. The island can only be accessed by private boat or park ferry. www.nps.gov/fosu/.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Little White House State Historical Site. Warm Springs, Ga. Tour this house to see our 32nd president’s carefully preserved retreat, guest house, servants’ quarters and garage, including a hand-controlled 1938 Ford. gastateparks.org/LittleWhiteHouse.
George Washington Carver Museum and The Oaks. Tuskegee, Ala. Located in the Tuskegee University, the museum teaches how Dr. George Washington Carver rose from slavery to become a renowned educator, scientist, artist and humanitarian. The Oaks, which is nearby, was the home of Dr. Booker T. Washington; free admission. nps.gov/tuin/learn/index.htm.
Georgia Museum of Agriculture and Historic Village. Tifton, Ga. Travel back in time to this 95-acre Agrirama featuring costumed interpreters explaining and demonstrating daily tasks as they were performed over a hundred years ago. abac.edu/museum.
Graceland: The Home of Elvis Presley. Memphis, Tenn. For a one-of-a-kind experience, visit the home of a small town boy who became the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Don’t miss the tour of his automobiles and custom jets while you‘re there. graceland.com.
Ivy Green. Tuscumbia, Ala. Touch the actual well pump where Anne Sullivan brought the young, deaf and blind Helen Keller out of her dark, silent world at the 640-acre birthplace of Helen Keller. helenkellerbirthplace.org.
Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Savannah, Ga. Scouts honor, you’ll love the birthplace of the founder of Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. This 1821 home is also a National Girl Scout Center and Savannah’s first National Historic Landmark. juliettegordonlowbirthplace.org.
Lightner Museum. St. Augustine, Fla. Located in the heart of our nation’s oldest city, the museum displays relics of America’s gilded age including costumes, furnishings, mechanical musical instrument demonstrations and the beautiful stained glass work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. lightnermuseum.org.
Mayfield Dairy Farms. Braselton, Ga. and Athens, Tenn. Find out (among other things) how the stick gets into the ice cream bar, view the historical exhibits and displays before taking a tour of the plant and end with a sample. mayfielddairy.com.
Mission San Luis. Tallahassee, Fla. A visit to Mission San Luis transports you back to 1703. Your destination is a community where Apalachee Indians and newcomers from Spain lived together. missionsanluis.org.
Muddy Pond Mennonite Community. Monterey, Tenn. Catch a glimpse of the fascinating world of the Mennonites as you watch true craftsmen create fine horse-drawn buggies, wagons, and more with several homes selling fresh baked breads, pies, eggs and molasses. dalehollow.com/attractions/mennonites.
Museum of Appalachia. Clinton, Tenn. Your entire family will appreciate the privately-owned, 65-acre collection, which celebrates the rich Appalachian history with 30 log cabins and buildings and over 250,000 historical artifacts. museumofappalachia.org.
Oconaluftee Indian Village. Cherokee, N.C. An authentic replica of an 18th century Cherokee community, this village allows visitors to step back into 1760. Watch Cherokee craftsmen demonstrate their skills, and tour the replica of a council house and typical Cherokee homes. visitcherokeenc.com/play/attractions/oconaluftee-indian-village/.
Old Salem Museum & Gardens. Winston-Salem, N.C. History comes to life with costumed interpreters performing household activities and trades common to Salem in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, along with beautifully restored gardens waiting for visitors to stroll. www.oldsalem.org.
Oldest House Museum Complex. St. Augustine, Fla. A must-see tour that includes Florida’s oldest house, two museums, a changing exhibition gallery, an ornamental garden and museum store. saintaugustinehistoricalsociety.org/oldest-house-museum-complex/.
Tallahassee Museum. Tallahassee, Fla. Travel back in time, see a wealth of exotic animals, walk nature trails and soar above the rest with Tree to Tree Adventures zip line course for children and adults. tallahasseemuseum.org.
Tennessee State Museum. Nashville, Tenn. One of the largest state museums in the nation with interpretive exhibits include the prehistoric, frontier, age of Jackson, antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction periods of Tennessee’s history. tnmuseum.org.
Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. Tybee Island, Ga. Be amazed by the beauty of the lighthouse, which has been guiding mariners safe entrance into the Savannah River for over 270 years. tybeelighthouse.org.
Science & Nature Museums
The mysteries of science and technology will enthrall you and your kids at one of these museums.
Adventure Science Center. Nashville, Tenn. Multilevel museum features nearly 175 hands-on exhibits and a planetarium teaches kids about biology, physics, visual perception, listening, mind, air and space, energy and earth science. adventuresci.org.
Anniston Museum of Natural History. Anniston, Ala. Explore the seven fascinating exhibit halls (in association with the Smithsonian Institute), where perhaps you can solve the mysteries of 2,000-year-old mummies. Nature trails, gardens and children’s discovery room included as well. annistonmuseum.org.
Discovery Place. Charlotte, N.C. The ever-growing science center features exhibits from the frontiers of space to the depths of the sea. Also, the Charlotte Nature Museum provides education and entertainment. discoveryplace.org.
Florida Museum of Natural History. Gainesville, Fla. Visit a Butterfly Rainforest and Florida Fossils, along with other exhibits displaying Florida’s natural history. flmnh.ufl.edu.
Gulf Coast Exploreum Science Center. Mobile, Ala. With more than 150 interactive exhibits, IMAX films, and fun educational programming, the center aspires to increase science literacy. exploreum.com.
McWane Science Center. Birmingham, Ala. Permanent exhibits include Just Mice Size, Explore! Collections Center, Alabama Dinosaurs and Sea Monsters, NatureScope, Fox 6 Weather Lab, Science on a Sphere, High Cycle, World of Water Aquarium, Shark and Ray Touch Tank, the John W. Woods IMAX Dome Theater and Itty Bitty Magic City. mcwane.org.
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. Jackson, Miss. Named the Southeast’s Best Attraction in 2014, and a Family Fun Favorite in 2015, this museum is packed with activity. mdwfp.com
Museum of Aviation. Warner Robins, Ga. Let your vacation take flight at the beautiful 51-acre site displaying 93 aircrafts and hundreds of exhibits. Free admission and picnic and playground area. museumofaviation.org.
Museum of Life and Science. Durham, N.C. Explore the Butterfly house, the Insectarium, aerospace and weather. Take train rides, and visit over 60 different species of animals. lifeandscience.org.
Museum of Science and History (MOSH). Jacksonville, Fla. Delight in the remarkable, hands-on exhibits for exploring the natural environment and history of Jacksonville and northeast Florida, featuring an Allosaurus and Planetarium. themosh.org.
U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Huntsville, Ala. Have a blast with the actual-size NASA and military rockets on display, The Spacedome IMAX and National Geographic theaters and numerous other hands-on attractions. rocketcenter.com.
Take the whole family out for a fun-filled day of exciting roller coasters, thrills and entertainment.
Alabama Splash Adventure. Bessemer, Ala. Just west of Birmingham, this park has received a number of new rides and attractions to turn this into one worth stopping by. It features ten water rides, two roller coasters, a train and a laser maze. alabamasplash.com.
Beech Bend Park. Bowling Green, Ky. A 368-acre, multipurpose entertainment complex nestled amongst a Beech tree forest and the winding Barren River in southern Kentucky. Five new rides expected to be completed in June. beechbend.com.
Carowinds. Charlotte, N.C. 108 action-packed acres, with more than 60 world-class rides, shows and attractions, including Carolina Harbor Waterpark, Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare: 3Z and Cirque Imagine. carowinds.com.
Dollywood. Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Major theme park with wooden roller coasters, including Lightning Rod, the fastest wood roller coaster and the first launching wood roller coaster in the world, thrilling rides and new family attractions. dollywood.com.
Family Kingdom Amusement Park. Myrtle Beach, S.C. More than 30 fun-filled rides for all ages, and the only seaside amusement park in Myrtle Beach. familykingdomfun.com.
Lake Winnepesaukah. Rossville, Ga. More than 30 family and kiddie rides to please the entire family. 2013 expansion added SoakYa Water Park. lakewinnie.com.
Pavilion Park. Myrtle Beach, S.C. Three areas of attractions to enjoy: East Park (original and new rides), West Park (kiddie rides) and Central Park (thrill rides). pavilion-park.com.
Tweetsie Railroad. Blowing Rock, N.C. This family-oriented theme park is based on the early Tweetsie railroad, whose nickname derives from the shrill “tweet, tweet” of its whistle. tweetsie.com.
Wild Adventures. Valdosta, Ga. A mix of more than 100 rides and attractions, including nine roller coasters, more than 500 wild animals, a variety of daily shows, Splash Island water park and a line-up of more than 50 concerts and special events throughout the year. New for 2016 are a new land filled with life-size dinosaurs and nine play spots for the whole family. wildadventures.com.
You and your children will be fascinated with the variety of aquatic life at these Southern aquariums.
Newport Aquarium. Newport, Ky. Showcases thousands of sea animals, including four rare shark rays, one of which gave birth to nine pups in January. newportaquarium.com.
South Carolina Aquarium. Charleston, S.C. View over 5,000 animals, many that are native to the state, and don’t forget to touch a shark! scaquarium.org.
Tennessee Aquarium. Chattanooga, Tenn. Come eye-to-eye with 10-foot sharks, giant spider crabs, river otters and alligators. www.tnaqua.org.
This summer, you and your kids can beat the heat through hands-on projects and fun-filled exhibits at one of these children’s museums.
Children’s Hands-On Museum of Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa, Ala. Storytime, Movin’ and Groovin,’ Kiddie Kitchen and Small Fry Science are among the programs you’ll find at this museum, which also has an art studio, farm area and even a place for space exploration. chomonline.org
Children’s Museum of South Carolina. Myrtle Beach, S.C. Exhibits and activities keep kids engaged and learning in the 8,700-square-foot space. You’ll find an under-construction house that encourages kids to build, a bank for role-playing, a South Carolina fossil hunt and an exhibit on electricity, among others. cmsckids.org
Creative Discovery Museum. Chattanooga, Tenn. Programs include art lessons, science demonstrations and story times, and you’ll find traveling exhibits such as Heart and Seoul – Growing Up in Korea. cdmfun.org
Greensboro Children’s Museum. Greensboro, N.C. Kids are put to work on Main Street, operating a market or pizza parlor or performing in the theater. They can climb aboard a police car, a real tractor-trailer or a DC-9 jet. gcmuseum.com
Kidsenses Children’s Interactive Museum. Rutherfordton, N.C. This 10,000-square-foot museum has wowed visitors since 2004, when it opened with 12 interactive exhibits, workshops and other learning experiences for visitors to this small town (population about 4,000). kidsenses.org
Marbles Kids Museum. Raleigh, N.C. The museum encourages imagination, learning and discovery by providing a stimulating environment for hours of play. marbleskidsmuseum.org.
Mississippi Children’s Museum. Jackson, Miss. Explore galleries focused on how the world works, health, creativity, history and animals, splash around or visit the Library Garden. mschildrensmuseum.org.
Savannah Children’s Museum. Savannah, Ga. This museum, with activities for kids Wednesday through Sunday, is next to the Georgia State Railroad Museum, so you can have two adventures in one stop. chsgeorgia.org.
Additional Places to Discover
Museums devoted to unique themes like Rock ‘n’ Roll or automobiles may be just what your family needs for a little fun.
Ave Maria Grotto. Cullman, Ala. A 4-acre park, this mini Jerusalem contains 125 miniature reproductions of some of the most famous historic buildings and shrines of the world. avemariagrotto.com.
International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum. Chattanooga, Tenn. Located three miles from where the first wrecker was created, this unique museum includes antique wreckers, toys and memorabilia that will entertain adults and kids alike. internationaltowingmuseum.org.
Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame & Museum. Jackson, Miss. The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates the Magnolia State’s incredibly rich history of producing world class athletes and teams. msfame.com.
National Corvette Museum. Bowling Green, Ky. Corvette enthusiasts will appreciate the 115,000 sq. ft. building, which houses more than 80 Corvette models and one-of-a-kind concept cars spanning the history of Corvette. corvettemuseum.org.
The Tallahassee Automobile and Collectibles Museum. Tallahassee, Fla. An eclectic collection of items, with everything from Abraham Lincoln’s hearse carriage to the Steinway White House Piano to a Batmobile and Batman movie memorabilia, this museum is a delight for everyone. tacm.com.