Last year, we picked 15 US landmarks every child should see before they turn 15 and you didn't always agree with our picks. This time we asked you to help us put together the definitive family vacation checklist. What made a monument worthy of inclusion? It needed to be fun, educational, and especially magical through the eyes of a child. It needed to inspire adults to tap back into that childlike sense of wonder. And it needed to have universal appeal.
Of course, the surest way to rile folks up is to publish a list and this case was no different. Our nominations process was fierce and brought out the full range of emotions in our audience—passion, joy, sadness, anger. You spoke up to nominate 562 attractions and voted over 138,000 times.
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So how did we arrive at the final list? As we explained in the rules, we used your votes—combined with factors such as geographic and thematic diversity—to guide our selection-making process. And we automatically eliminated places that had made our story last year. The final list for 2012 represents the best that our nation has to offer our children.
Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco, California
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of those quintessential American icons, equal parts eye candy and engineering lesson (it's also one of our record-breaking bridges). The suspension bridge connects San Francisco and Marin County in a mechanical feat that was unprecedented in the 1930s; at its opening ceremony, the bridge's chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, said "What Nature rent asunder long ago man has joined today." Take a walk along the pedestrian path for astonishing views of Angel Island, Alcatraz, Treasure Island, and San Francisco. If the 220-foot height of the bridge is unsettling for the little ones, opt instead to view the landmark from a distance (there are relatively tourist-free viewpoints at Lincoln Park). It might be hard to find an empty spot, though. The famed bridge is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2012-there will be fireworks and a festival on Memorial Day weekend-and is expected to draw more than ten million visitors throughout the year. 415/921-5858, goldengatebridge.org. Free.