Passion Points: Family
We are often asked about last-minute getaways for families, and these ten destinations are easy to reach, have lots of hotel options (we do list our favorites) and offer child-friendly activities without requiring the adults to trail Mickey Mouse or ride water slides. The destinations, not necessarily the specific hotels, are the main draw, which is why you can entertain all ages and don’t have to plan months ahead or worry that there is only one way to get the trip right. In fact, this year, it’s quite likely that you can get a good deal on transportation and accommodation even as little as a week before you go.
WHY: An easy combination of city thrills and warm-weather escape.
WHAT: Dedicate a few days to discovering Los Angeles, which toddlers to teens with even little film or TV exposure will recognize. Universal Studios never disappoints; teens love exploring Beverly Hills (with a map of the star’s homes) and for younger ones, don’t miss the roller coaster at the Santa Monica pier (read designer Kelly Wearstler’s tips on what to do with children in LA). Then escape to a nearby resort in Laguna Beach, Ojai, Palm Springs, San Diego or Santa Barbara.
HOW: Our favorite family-friendly hotels include Shutters on the Beach and the Beverly Hills Hotel, in Los Angeles, Hotel del Coronado and the Lodge at Torrey Pines, in San Diego; the Four Seasons Biltmore, in Santa Barbara and the Ojai Resort & Spa, in Ojai; and the Montage Laguna Beach, in Laguna Beach.
WHY: There’s a new first family with young kids in the capitol, which is buzzing with cultural and historic offerings. Spring break may be before cherry blossom season peaks in early April, but that also means that you beat the crowds.
WHAT: The cultural offerings in the nation’s capital are simply extraordinary, and most of the major museums are free. The ones not to miss with kids are the White House, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the International Spy Museum the Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt memorials; Ford’s Theater and the Capital (tip: it’s best if you write to your Congressperson before your trip, as they can arrange for a page to take you through the underground tunnels and lead you on a tour to see the halls of Congress).
Read Melissa’s tips on her trip to Washington, D.C.
WHY: A sunny, dessert destination with many large-scale resorts—think pool complexes, award-winning golf courses and destination spas—and hauntingly beautiful landscapes.
WHAT: There are tons of great outdoorsy activities, including exploring Red Rock State Park and the Grand Canyon, embarking on dessert adventures, riding horses, as well as going river-rafting, biking and hiking. Kids also get excited about Wild West shows and can learn about the region’s Native American culture and the spectacular Southwestern environment. A simple nature walk can turn into a treasure hunt for spotting such local inhabitants as mules, deer and jackrabbits, as well as to see the varied canyon and dessert plants.
HOW: Our favorite family-friendly resorts include The Boulders, in Scottsdale; the Arizona Biltmore, in Phoenix; and Enchantment (connected to Mii Amo), in Sedona; and dude ranch Rancho de la Osa, where activities include cattle drives and roping.
WHY: Thanks to a steady supply of affordable, direct flights, families in need of warmth have flocked south to Florida for generations. In spring, good weather is practically guaranteed, as are upscale resorts with plenty of practice spoiling both parents and children.
WHAT: Florida’s two coasts have something for everyone, with the wildlife of the Everglades in the west and the nightlife of Miami in the east. The social center for well-heeled families, Palm Beach offers a more formal take on time in the sun (with shopping, of course); Miami brings a sexier edge to an escape, thanks to the bustling scene in South Beach, but resorts like Fisher Island and Acqualina cater to families who crave sun, beach and uninterrupted time together with proximity to the city’s trendy dining. To see a simpler side of the state, try the Gulf Coast’s Captiva or head south to the Keys. Plus, there is always the childhood rite of passage: Disney World.
HOW: Our favorite family-friendly resorts include the Breakers, in Palm Beach; Fisher Island, in Miami; Acqualina, in Sunny Isles; South Seas Island Resort (above), in Captiva; and, if it has to be Disney World, stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Grand Floridian.
SAN FRANCISCO & NAPA
WHY: An appealing West Coast combo of a city that brims with family-friendly activities and a countryside that offers beautiful scenery and delicious food.
WHAT: In San Francisco don’t miss riding the cable cars, visiting Alcatraz Bridge, walking in the Presidio, exploring the California Academy of Sciences and visiting Ghiradelli Square (what can beat a location named after chocolate?). Once you’ve had your fill of city sights, plan a few days in Napa wine country for hiking and great cuisine (relaxed Taylor’s Automatic Refresher remains the hands-down favorite for families).
WHY: An easy flight from either coast gets you to some of the most stunning beach resorts in Mexico.
WHAT: Most travelers choose to stay put at the resorts, all of which offer extensive water sports activities and kids’ programs, but there’s lots of local sights to explore, including the Mayan ruins at Tulum (visit with a guide who can bring them to life) and Xcaret, an amusement park where families can snorkel, watch traditional Mexican dance and see such animals as pink flamingoes and monkeys. Or take a day trip to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, a stunning 1.3 million-acre nature reserve that can be visited with a local Mayan guide.
Read the destination report on the Riviera Maya.
WHY: With few distractions from sand and sea, the Caribbean vacation revolves around sports and opportunities for busy families to reconnect. Calm seas offer the added plus of allowing kids to cut loose safely.
WHAT: Some of the most glorious family-friendly spots (Harbour Island, Mustique) are difficult to get to, so for a quick getaway, consider the U.S. Virgin Islands. The laid-back island of St. John is wonderful for families and reached via an easy ferry ride from St. Thomas (a quick direct flight from major US cities). In addition to some wonderful family resorts, the area also offer places to explore beyond, including national parks; Buck Island, an incredible marine park for snorkeling off the island of St. Croix; and lots of fun family-oriented restaurants scattered around St. John. If tiny St. John books up, consider the Turks & Caicos. This island chain is equally well connected by direct flights, and many of the properties that line Grace Bay are currently offering steep discounts.
WHY: London brings history and pageantry to life with soldiers, palaces and royals as well as beautiful parks and endless dining options.
WHAT: Enjoy the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, live reenactments at the Tower of London plus tours of the Natural History and Science museums. It’s a big city, so if you know your family won’t enjoy all the walking, get a unique perspective from the world’s largest ferris wheel, the London Eye or see it from aboard one of the famous double-decker buses. Teenagers will love the shopping in Oxford Street, or for something a little different, take them to the trendy markets in Spitalfields and Brick Lane. For a touch of culture with a twist, don’t miss the Tate-to-Tate boat tour which takes you on a Damien Hirst-designed catamaran between the Tate Modern and the Tate Britain.
WHY: In Venice, spend time in a fairytale setting of canals and palazzos, mixed with pizza and pasta meals, getting lost and having fun.
WHAT: Hire a guide who can bring the city’s past to life (Context Travel is one of our favorites) and visit St. Mark’s Basilica and the secret chambers of the Doge’s Palace. Seeing the city from the water is a must (the canals are especially dramatic at night) and to give kids a hands-on activity, explore the artisan workshops in the Cannaregio district, including a master glass blower who creates insects and animals. Along the way, don’t miss such family-friendly restaurants as Il Refolo, Da Gianni and Osteria Oliva Nera.
HOW: Our favorite family-friendly hotels include the San Clemente Palace and Palazzo Selvagedo. There are also wonderful apartment options for families, including ones that are connected with hotels like Casa Nova Bauer, so you have the privacy and space of an apartment with concierge back-up.
WHY: The classic introduction to Europe’s capitals, Paris doesn’t disappoint when it comes to parks, pastries, riverside strolls, and pursuing the enticing vie française.
WHAT: Mix seeing the major sights with garden visits, strolling through less touristy neighborhoods and stopping at outdoor markets for typical Parisian snacks (croissants, crêpes, ice cream). Tour a museum like the Louvre with a guide who can turn the visit into a treasure hunt for the Winged Victory, the royal jewels and the Mona Lisa. When the sightseeing becomes too much, head to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where the Charles Garnier-designed merry-go-round has entertained generations. Restaurants not to miss with the kids include Le Soufflé, Ladurée, Angelina and Le Fauchon Café.
HOW: Our favorite family-friendly hotels include the Four Seasons George V, on a smaller scale, the Hôtel Regina and Hotel Brighton, on the Right Bank, and the Hôtel Relais Saint-Germain and Hôtel d’Aubusson, on the Left Bank; or rent an apartment through Time & Place.
Read a suggested four-day itinerary for Paris
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