Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips. 

Four Colorado cities—Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins—rank in the top 10 places to live, according to the most recent U.S. News & World Report. So do Austin, Charlotte, Des Moines, San Francisco, Fayetteville, and Portland. That’s all based on factors like jobs, schools, and housing. But how do these cities rank when it comes to family-friendly activities? To help, we’ve re-ranked five of the top ten cities by their fun factors. Be careful, though: After living it up in these family-friendly cities, you may want to stay there permanently.

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Denver, CO

Best place to live ranking: #2; fun factor ranking: #1

Denver provides a day, a weekend, or a whole week’s worth of fun, and every activity is either found downtown or close by. It’s also smack dab in the middle of the other four Colorado cities that made the best place to live list, giving you easy access to check out the others, as well. That’s why it ranks number one on this list. The Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature and Science are within walking distance of one another, making for a fun and educational one-two punch the kids will enjoy. Back downtown, hop on the rides at Elitch Gardens or take the kids to a ballgame at Coors Field where they might even run into the Rockies mascot, Dinger. The Downtown Aquarium boasts more than a million gallons of underwater exhibits, highlighting ecosystems from around the world. When hunger kicks in, 16th Street Mall has quite a few places to grab a bite to eat.


Austin, TX

Barton Springs in Austin, Texas is a fun natural spring worth visiting.

Barton Springs in Austin, Texas | Photo by Meagan Wristen

Best place to live ranking: #3; fun factor ranking: #2

Coming in at number two is Austin, the city known for its motto, “Keep Austin Weird,” which is at least partly attributable to its emphasis on music and dedication to fun. If you want to keep with the city’s motto, head over to the Museum of the Weird. The place has exhibits ranging from Bigfoot and mummies to wax figures, and plenty of other oddities. Thinkery is a place where families and science connect ideas by doing, making, and experiencing. The 10 miles of scenic trails bordering Lady Bird Lake in downtown is a great place to hike and bike. Once everyone has worked up a big appetite, look for one of Austin’s many hip food trucks, estimated at 2,000 or more citywide. You can satisfy even the pickiest of eaters if you find one of the many food truck parks that pop up around the city.


San Francisco, CA

San Francisco Chinatown

Best place to live ranking: #10; fun factor ranking: #3 

Family-friendly is the name of the game in San Francisco, thanks to cable cars, museums, Giant’s baseball, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Golden Gate Park. The toughest part of your vacation here will be knowing where to start first. Try the Exploratorium where kids can touch a tornado, levitate, or dance with their own shadow. Check out early drawings, cartoons, and a cool model of Disneyland at the Walt Disney Family Museum. When you’re done there, visit Pier 39. You’ll find everything from shops and bread bowl clam chowder dishes to up-close sea lion encounters, and boat tours heading to Alcatraz. And no trip to San Francisco is complete until you’ve taken the Powell-Hyde cable car for a spin around the city. You can learn about them at the free Cable Car Museum, where you’ll see the cables at work. Don’t forget to swing by the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory in Chinatown and watch cookies made by hand before your eyes.


Portland, OR

Flickr CC: Travis Wise

Best place to live ranking: #9; fun factor ranking: #4

With all the family-friendly options Portland has to offer, we had to list it at number four. Downtown offers the Oregon Zoo, the oldest of its kind in the West and home to 2,600 animals, including chimps, cheetahs, otters, and elephants. Journey back 250 million years to the time of dinosaurs, visit the planetarium, or tour a submarine at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry–the coolest museum in town. Help teach the kids the importance of trees and sustainability at World Forestry Center Discovery Museum. Old Town Pizza has served up slices since 1974 and offers some of the city’s best pies. Portland is also home to the original Voodoo Doughnuts. And, for a breath of fresh air, there’s also plenty of hiking trails close to the city, as well.


Charlotte, NC

Best place to live ranking: #6; fun factor ranking: #5

Charlotte, also known as the “Queen City,” finishes in the top 5 list thanks to its ability to lure families to the South for fun. Not only is Carowinds an exciting amusement park offering world-class rides, but it’s also a place to dig into some true Carolina cuisine. Hodges Family Farm is the longest-running farm in the city and offers field trips. If you’re an adventurous, outdoorsy family, don’t miss the U.S. National Whitewater Center. There are more than 30 activities to do from ziplines and mountain biking to rafting. Meanwhile, Tiger World will teach the kids about wildlife conservation via big cat encounters.

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