12 US Culinary Cities For Tastier Family Vacations

Family vacations in the U.S. are often typified by destinations like national parks and Disney World, where food and restaurants play second fiddle on the itinerary. But just as restaurant children's menus have evolved dramatically over the years, so, too, has the standard-bearer for family vacations. Sure, road trip fast-food and kid-centric dining will always have their rightful place in the Americana lexicon, but nowadays, foodies come from all backgrounds, generations, and ages — and kids no doubt appreciate a gourmet tater tot as much as their parents. Heck, even Disney World has experienced a culinary renaissance of late.

While certain U.S. cities reign as quintessential destinations for seasoned gourmands, others feel decidedly more familial, offering a plethora of kid-friendly restaurants and food experiences along with activities, attractions, and amenities that appeal to all age groups. Along with particular meccas for foodie families, like San Francisco and New York City, other metros offer their own edible rewards. From real-deal Sonoran cuisine in southern Arizona to Lowcountry cuisine along the Georgia coast, these are great culinary cities in the U.S. for tastier family vacations.

Asheville, North Carolina

Flanked by the Blue Ridge Mountains, a stone's throw from Dollywood and Pigeon Forge, and home to iconic offbeat destinations like the Biltmore Estate, Asheville has more than its fair share of all-ages attractions — and this certainly includes food. For the second time in three years, the North Carolina city was named Yelp's top city for foodies (via Travel + Leisure), and that's not just for adults.

While the city has developed a reputation for craft beer, home to more breweries per capita than any other U.S. city (via Explore Asheville), many of them — like Sierra Nevada, Wedge, and Burial Beer Co. — remain kid-friendly. Beyond beer, Asheville has a wide array of unique culinary stops for kids and parents alike, from Hole Doughnuts for fried-to-order fritters and Carolina-style barbecue at Buxton Hall BBQ, to whimsical tacos at White Duck Taco, desserts in a London-style double-decker bus, and fried chicken, gourmet hot dogs, and ice cream at The S&W Market, a food hall in an ornate Art Deco building.

Tucson, Arizona

Designated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015 (via City of Gastronomy), the first US city to earn such an elite accolade, Tucson deserves top culinary billing alongside other international destinations like Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Seattle. Nestled in the mighty Sonoran Desert, strewn with sky-scraping saguaro cacti and sun-soaked mountains, this is a city that's as tasty as it is beautiful. It's a place where history and heritage are front and center — home to one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in the U.S., as well as James Beard Award-winning hot dogs (per AZ Central), Tucson is the kind of city where timeworn institutions stand side-by-side with exciting newcomers.

Between hikes in Saguaro National Park, visits to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures (say that five times fast), families will love super-sized sweets from the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin, the "world's longest oatmeal bar" at mural-clad Hotel McCoy, and tacos and churros by a patio fire pit at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa. Another cool stop is the MSA Annex, a funky shipping container complex that has one of the best veggie burgers in the country, as well as festivals, flea markets, and music events.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Like a magical oasis in the high desert of northern New Mexico, Santa Fe is a haven of arts, culture, color, and flavor. The oldest capital city in the U.S., this adobe-filled enclave is also one of the largest art markets in the nation, as evidenced by myriad revered attractions — like whimsically immersive Meow Wolf and galleries along Canyon Road — beloved by children and adults alike. It's also a foodie wonderland, offering a kaleidoscope of flavors, from blue corn and green chiles to frozen margaritas and burly breakfast burritos.

At once old-school and innovative, this historic city boasts a miscellany of foodie experiences for all ages. Start with blue corn doughnuts from Whoo's Donuts, an apple walnut strudel from Dolina Bakery & Cafe, or a breakfast burrito from the place that mastered the form in 1974, Tia Sophia's. Meanwhile, the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe is a particularly family-centric property in the foothills, offering guided activities like mountain biking adventures and tours of Native American sites, along with "S'mores School."

Savannah, Georgia

For the pinnacle of Lowcountry cuisine, in a city rife with history and seasoned lore, a stint in Savannah is calling your name. This hallowed Georgia city, 20 minutes from the Atlantic coast, is one of cinematic beauty and flavor — and we're not just talking about Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. Although Savannah's historic downtown district has a decidedly mature reputation, thanks to its open container policy, the city is just as inviting for kids.

Everyone feels right at home in the timeworn dining halls of soul food institutions like The Olde Pink House, while newer entries, like fried chicken-slinging Brochu's Family Tradition, know that Southern comfort foods know no age restrictions. Hearty bagel sandwiches make for a fine breakfast at Big Bon Bodega, or you can go the sweet route with picture-perfect pastries at Stevedore Bakery. Vintage riverboat cruises and beach days on Tybee Island provide plenty of fun in the sun, while Starland Yard food truck park, Little Duck Diner, and kid-friendly Service Brewing Co. offer plenty of options for dining and imbibing with the whole brood.

Chicago, Illinois

In terms of big American metropolises, Chicago is second to none as a family-friendly foodie destination. Sure, deep-dish institutions and Chicago-style hot dogs are worthwhile bucket list experiences in their own rights, but to really dig into the heart and soul of this great Midwestern city, it pays to venture into the offbeat a little more. By all means, stroll along the Magnificent Mile, reflect in The Bean, visit The Art Institute of Chicago, and set sail on an architecturally awe-inspiring river cruise, but save room for your other senses — namely, your taste buds.

Whether historic or newfangled, the city is teeming throughout its numerous neighborhoods with destination-worthy dining. Rise and shine with a classic cinnamon roll slathered in icing at Ann Sather, shop for the farm-fresh fare at Green City Market, venture to Humboldt Park for epic breakfast sandwiches at Spinning J, or visit old-school diner Lou Mitchell's for pancakes with a side of Route 66 history. Later, keep the feast going with stacked sandwiches at Publican Quality Meats, grain bowls, and trout scrambles at Lula Cafe, dumplings for days at Chinatown's MingHin Cuisine, or dinner with a view at The Signature Room on the 95th floor of the iconic 875 North Michigan Avenue building.

Orlando, Florida

Despite the fact that Orlando is in fact about 30 minutes away from Disney World, the Florida city is frequently lumped in with the Most Magical Place on Earth. And although Orlando may lack in Mickey-shaped snacks and Dole Whip, it's still magical in its own ways. Long underrated as a foodie city, the tide is starting to change, as evidenced by the fact that the Michelin Guide's new Florida edition includes Orlando coverage, notes Visit Orlando, highlighting The City Beautiful as a sensory experience that's just as delicious as its nearby theme parks.

In Winter Park, the adorable Buttermilk Bakery satisfies sweet tooths with its array of croissants, cookies, and muffins, while colorful Deli Desires skews savory with bagels, bialys, and potato salad. Families can ride their own swan boat surrounded by actual swans in downtown Lake Eola, or enjoy hands-on edutainment at the Orlando Science Center. Then, explore East End Market, home to artisan shops, cafes, rave-worthy ramen, and cookies to popular — and so epic — that they spawned a spin-off location in Disney World (via Orlando Weekly). Other family-friendly foodie stops include Pizza Bruno, Black Rooster Taqueria, and Cuban-style Black Bean Deli.

Portland, Oregon

Any city that proudly wears "weirdness" as a badge of quirky honor is bound to appeal to visitors of all ages. Indeed, Portland, Oregon, is a city whose unique strangeness is its greatest asset, from eccentric activities and outdoorsy fun to its unexpected dining concepts and one-of-a-kind restaurants.

Kids and adults alike can lean into the weirdness with a stop at the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium, an immersive museum and zany gallery that just so happens to serve ice cream garnished with bugs, hang out at Steeplejack Brewing Company, a kid-friendly brewpub in a former church in Sullivan Gulch, or make your frosting fantasies come true at Kinnamon's, a downtown bakery specializing in gourmet cinnamon rolls. Families can find zen at the sprawling Portland Japanese Garden before strolling the nearby bucolic streets of Nob Hill, with stops at Salt & Straw for ice cream or lattes and pastries from Barista. For more eccentric sweets, dine at HunnyMilk, where doughnut-inspired dishes are the brunch fare, or go for actual doughnuts at the iconic — and endearingly weird — Voodoo Doughnut.

Boston, Massachusetts

American history, unparalleled seafood, and culture-rich neighborhoods converge in Boston, a city that's not shy about its love for taverns, Italian food, and a classic "pie" that's actually a cake (you know which one we're talking about). Teeming with tourist attractions across all spectrums, from sports to aquariums, there's something for everyone — and every age bracket — in this quintessential New England mecca, and that includes its singular food scene.

Sugar lovers will swoon over the famed cannoli at longstanding Mike's Pastry, the decadent and artisanal desserts at James Beard Award-winning Flour Bakery + Cafe, or Boston cream pie at the oldest continuously operating hotel in the U.S. that made the dessert famous, Omni Parker House. While strolling the history-filled Freedom Trail, stop off at Quincy Market, a quasi-food hall that predates the idea of food halls for bucket list-worthy bites like clam chowder, Boston baked beans, and lobster rolls. Even older, the Union Oyster House is a crowd-pleaser that touts itself as America's oldest restaurant, slinging timeworn traditions like crab cakes, calamari, and, of course, oysters aplenty.

Denver, Colorado

The gateway to the Rocky Mountains, and home to a miscellany of both indoor and outdoor recreation for families, from events at Red Rock Amphitheater to the Colorado Railroad Museum in nearby Golden, Denver is a city with a ton of appeal for every type of visitor. This holds particular truth for culinary connoisseurs, including those drawn to the city's vibrant ice cream scene, its kid-friendly breweries, and its abundant food halls.

Before fueling up for a day trip into the nearby mountains, or an afternoon spent exploring the 16th Street Mall, chow down on hearty and wholesome breakfast fare at The Delectable Egg, or cacio e pepe croissants, bagels, and bear claws from Rebel Bread. The Denver location of immersive art experience Meow Wolf has a vibrant cafe called HELLOFOOD, where locally sourced ingredients lend themselves to tacos, burritos, and grain bowls, along with a cotton candy confection called Unicorn Poop. There's also a whole slew of kid-centric eateries throughout town, like The Inventing Room Dessert Shop, retro-inspired Game Lounge, and offbeat hot dogs at Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs.

San Francisco, California

From the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island to one-of-a-kind sites like zigzaggy Lombard Street, San Francisco is a world-class city that more than merits top billing on any familial bucket list. But beyond the iconic attractions and outdoor escapades, the metropolitan mecca is also highly regarded as a culinary city that's truly in a league of its own.

This is a city where croissants and egg-filled muffins are top-tier eats that transcend age, right along with other must-eat items like succulent steak tacos and ice cream. This is also a paradise for doughnut lovers, sourdough bread, massive Mission burritos, and boba tea shops in a rainbow of colors. It just so happens that most of the quintessentially San Franciscan foods are just as appealing to kids as they are to adults, and along with a cultural melting pot of museums, attractions, and vibrant neighborhoods to explore, it's all set against a stunning backdrop in a walkable city (be mindful of the hills) that's fun to explore for all.

Austin, Texas

Heralded as a seminal destination for coveted comfort foods like breakfast tacos and barbecue (and in the case of places like Valentina's Tex Mex BBQ, breakfast tacos heaped with barbecued meats), there's a lot to salivate over in Austin. As one of the hubs of Texas-style barbecue, the Texas capital is a meaty mecca for beefy barbecue cooked over wood, an Americana style of dining that entices little ones just as much as it does seasoned foodies.

Beyond the sheer omnipresence of barbecue and tacos, though, Austin is rife with activities and eateries fit for families. Lady Bird Lake is a massive body of water downtown lined with trails, parks, swimming holes, and kayak rentals, which provides plenty of energy-burning activities before or after a good feast at nearby restaurants like Better Half Coffee & Cocktails, an all-day counter-service hot spot slinging one of the best breakfast sandwiches in the country, or the kid-friendly Austin Eastciders restaurant and taproom, where adults can sip rosé cider while sharing plates of queso, chicken wings, and fried pickles. Then there's the Texas Hill Country, a pastoral landscape of rolling hills and fertile farmland located mere minutes from city limits, home to a plethora of all-ages breweries, distilleries, and wineries, along Pedernales Falls State Park, and kid-loved destinations like Abby Jane Bakeshop and The Salt Lack BBQ.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Oklahoma's days as flyover country are over. Across the Sooner State, travelers and vacationers — and foodies — are catching wise to its myriad surprises and must-eat restaurants. The state's biggest city, Oklahoma City, is amassing a massive culinary reputation for all ages, but don't sleep on Tulsa. Located about an hour and a half away in the lush hilly confines of the Ozark foothills, the historic city brings the wow factor with its abundant Art Deco buildings, ample nature trails, and illuminating museums, like the newly minted Bob Dylan Center.

A must-stop in the morning is Queenie's, a cutesy cafe and bakery with a dizzying array of sweets and cakes, along with oatmeal pancakes, grits, and eggs every which way. Or, fully indulge your sweet tooth at Antoinette Baking Co., which offers an ever-changing assortment of seasonal desserts and morning pastries. Stop along Route 66 at Mother Road Market, a lofty food hall with kid-pleasing vendors serving everything from barbecue and tacos to ice cream and chicken sandwiches. The Vault is another fun stopover, a quasi-diner in a mid-century Art Deco garage building that serves playful American fare like cauliflower wings, mac and cheese with Korean BBQ pulled pork, and potato-crusted salmon. Everyone will enjoy some time exploring the Gathering Place, a sprawling — and whimsically landscaped — park on the banks of the Arkansas River, before winding down at the kid-friendly brewery American Solera.