Where Do You Go on Family Vacations?

I recently read a quote pointing out that you have only 18 summer vacations with your children—so you have to make them count! As the summer approaches, I’m curious: Which family vacation spots would you recommend? We adore Palm Springs, Chicago, Michigan and Fire Island, but I’m curious to learn about other great places. I asked nine friends for ideas, below, and I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts, too. Here goes…

Roadtripping on the California coast
We love renting a VW camper van in Redwood City near San Francisco and driving up and down the west coast to Big Sur, Carmel and the Redwoods. (It fulfills every hippie dream we’ve ever had, but disclaimer—we camp only every other night!) It feels like a real adventure and seems like the perfect way to slowly take in all that California majestic beauty. We went over the second week of September, so luckily we didn’t have to prebook anything, and I relied on Yelp for hotel recommendations. We mostly stayed in cabin-like hotels—Big Sur has especially amazing options, ranging from Airstream trailers to yurts to modern cabins. —Kendra Smoot, prop stylist

Tulum, Mexico
Our other favorite spot is Tulum, Mexico. It’s just so easy—a direct flight from NYC, a short drive and then you’re at one of the most stunning beaches you’ve ever seen. We love the amazing tacos and cool eco-chic cabanas. (One of my favorite hotels, Casa Violeta, doesn’t have electricity at night. They light candles and you sleep under pretty mosquito nets.) But, really, the best thing is turning off the phone and just having long days together that are totally stress-free. I always feel like we get so much quality time together—we feel very bonded after those trips. And naked beach bums! —Kendra Smoot, prop stylist

Hudson, NY
What I like about Hudson: laid-back, small-town feel with delicious restaurants, plus lots of galleries and art that you can window shop while pushing a stroller. They have an annual Halloween parade down Warren Street (the main drag) which we happened upon last year and it was the highlight of my son’s year, stopping into the hardware store and art galleries for candy. The farmer’s market is a highlight (the pie guy!!! we always stock up on a pie or two) and Hudson is accessible by train from NYC which makes it a nice easy weekend getaway. You can find great places to stay on Airbnb. Favorite restaurants: Grazin Diner, Crimson Sparrow, Mexican Radio. —Abbey Nova of Design Scouting

Miami, FL
Miami is surprisingly family-friendly for a place that has a bit of a party-town reputation. What I like about it: a direct flight from NYC, lots of things to do with kids (beach, pool, museums) and good food of all kinds. Oh and wait, the weather! Also, just walking around the streets is an activity in itself with a lot to see and experience. Favorite restaurants: Mandolin Miami, La Sandwicherie, Yardbird. —Abbey Nova of Design Scouting

Joshua Tree National Park, California

We love heading out to the California desert, where we explore Joshua Tree National Park and stay in a little adobe cottage at the 29 Palms Inn, which is on a natural oasis. Springtime is my favorite time to visit, as the desert is in bloom and the weather, while a lovely relief from the still-cold-and-rainy days of NYC, isn’t too hot yet. It may reach 90 degrees at midday, but there’s always the pool back at the hotel to keep things cool. There are loads of giant rocks to scramble up (my daughter has started getting really into rock climbing) and all sorts of desert wildlife. Plus, you don’t see Joshua Trees growing anywhere else in the world! It feels like you’ve entered another universe. —Brooke Williams of This is Authentic

San Francisco
In the summer, we like to take a break from the hazy East Coast humidity, pack our sweaters and head west to San Francisco, where a typical July morning can be in the mid 50’s! San Francisco is an incredible place to explore with kids (as those of you who live there must know). There’s the Exploratorium, the Conservatory of Flowers with its giant meat-eating plants, or the De Young if you want to check out some serious art…Oh, and my secret favorite spot to go with my daughter is across the bay—Fairyland in Oakland. It’s an old-fashioned theme park based on all the classic kids tales with none of the horrible commercialized feeling of today’s theme parks. It’s like going back to a kinder, gentler time. I will be heartbroken when my daughter outgrows it (though she swears she never will!) —Brooke Williams of This is Authentic

Montauk, NY
We love Montauk, on the eastern end of Long Island, for a quick city escape. We stay at Sole East, where our daughter Sophia can hang in the pool for hours. For restaurants, South Edison has great food, and Navy Beach is cool for a beachy sunset dinner (plus they have bocce ball for the kiddos). —Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers

Talbot County, Maryland
In New York City, I think one of the hardest things is finding a place to go that feels far away and doesn’t require a plane ticket. If you push outside of the comfort zone of a three-hour drive, and allow for four, it can make all the difference—and as long as it has a pool, we are all happy. One of our favorite places, where we have returned again and again, is Talbot County in Maryland. We stay at the Inn at Perry Cabin, which has beautiful rooms, a pool, amazing gardens and great food (two restaurants—one fancy, and one a more casual pub style). There’s lots of room to run around, and it’s on the water, so there are tons of boats for the kids to look at. The Inn is on the edge of a tiny historic town called St. Michaels, which has lots of restaurant and shopping and is next to one our favorite museums, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. We always go to the Crab Claw, an old-school, family-run restaurant. You order a dozen blue crabs, they bring them to the table and dump them on newspaper, and you just sit and pick and eat. —Yolanda Edwards, creative director of Conde Nast Traveler and founder of Momfilter

Baltimore, MD
Another unexpected place we love that’s easy and has a pool is Baltimore. We stay at the Four Seasons, which is on the water, next to the National Aquarium, and next to the Historic Ships of Baltimore, where you wander in and out of great boats. If we could, we would eat every meal at the Woodberry Kitchen, which serves up delicious food, mostly sourced within 60 miles. It’s owned by parents, so they have cute things like organic play dough they give kids to play with while you wait. —Yolanda Edwards, creative director of Conde Nast Traveler and founder of Momfilter

Gulf Coast beaches, FL
Growing up in Florida, we spent nearly all our vacations at the Gulf Coast beaches. One of my favorites is Pass a Grille, a quaint, laid-back beach town with an historic Florida feel. It’s not as busy as the more popular St. Pete or Clearwater beach destinations, which makes it a perfect family getaway spot. On our most recent trip we stayed at an adorable boutique hotel called The Coconut Inn and it was just perfect—steps from the beach, restaurants, ice cream and shops. Fun tip: Have breakfast at The Seahorse, then head over to Merry Pier and catch the Shell Key shuttle for shell hunting and dolphin watching. —Alyson Brown of Unruly Things

Block Island, Rhode Island
We are huge Block Island fans and when our girls were young (about ages 2 to 5) we went there three summers in a row. It’s super laid-back, not ridiculously crowded like some beach islands, and quintessentially New England with its dive-y seafood shacks, weathered shingled houses and grand hotels overlooking the Atlantic. When we were on our game, we’d figure out the rental a few months ahead of time (this was always our go-to site) but even when we waited til the last minute, we always found something that worked. One summer, I think we got the last available rental on the island—it was kind of small and a little run-down, but it was still the best vacation ever because Block Island is such an outdoorsy kind of place, between the hiking, kayaking, crabbing, pond-crashing, boogie-boarding, wave-jumping and general Dark-and-Stormy drinking, which you must must do on a patio overlooking the ocean. I think that is the law, you never want to be inside unless you are sleeping. That’s another reason we loved it back then—something about the briny ocean air made the kids sleep and nap so well. So we all got to relax. —Jenny Rosenstrach of Dinner: A Love Story

Twain Harte, California
Our favorite family vacation spot is Twain Harte, a small town in the California mountains where I went as a child and where my husband Josh and I got married. Now we’ve started taking our son, Eli, and I’m seeing with fresh eyes what a wonderful place it is for kids. In the summer, we swim in the town lake, pick wild blackberries and barbecue every night. The town has a few cute motels, but ideally I would recommend renting a cabin there. —Lena Corwin, designer

El Capitan Canyon, CA
El Capitan Canyon, just north of Santa Barbara, is less than two hours by car from Los Angeles but once you get off the exit on the Pacific Coast Highway you feel like you’re light years away. There is a llama farm. Fields of wildflowers. Hiking trails. A creekside forest. Free bikes to ride to the beach. It’s the perfect place for a trip with multiple families, since you can rent a safari tent, a cabin with a kitchenette or a yurt. Each comes with a fire pit for roasting marshmallows under the big starry sky. It’s also so close to Santa Barbara and Isla Vista that you can pop down for lunch. A local favorite is Freebirds in Isla Vista. Make sure to order the “quesarrito”—a burrito wrapped in a quesadilla. It’s not on the menu but you won’t soon forget it. —Elizabeth Antonia of The Littlest

Whidbey Island, WA
Whidbey Island, just north of Seattle, is a perfect place to take little ones. It’s quick ride on a ferry, which kids always love. The seafood is amazing (home of Penn Cove oysters!) and you can collect driftwood and build sand castles on the beaches. Downtown Coupeville has a pier with a small museum and a great bakery called Knead and Feed. If you want to blow your kid’s mind, go to Kapaw’s for ice cream—the owners don’t believe in just one scoop! We stay at Fort Casey Inn, where you can get your own charming two-story cottage with a claw-foot tub and a wood-burning stove. It’s at the edge of a state park with deer and bunnies. Our favorite restaurant is Seabolt’s Smokehouse in Oak Harbor; they have fresh-caught halibut sandwiches, and fish and chips for the kids. On the north end of the island is the breathtaking Deception Pass Bridge and Bowman’s Bay, which has beautiful family-friendly hikes. My husband and I have spent a lot of time on Cape Cod, and this reminds us of a western version. In springtime, it feels like there is a fairy behind every leaf and flower. —Elizabeth Antonia of The Littlest

Our family vacation spots in the past:
* Chicago and Michigan
* LA and Palm Springs
* San Francisco
* Florida
* Woodstock, NY
* Austin
* Fire Island
* Cornwall, England

Where do you like to go on family trips? Any places you’d recommend? (Especially places in the middle of the country, since these were mostly on the coasts.) I’d love to hear your thoughts, below. Thank you so much!

P.S. 10 tips for traveling with a baby, and 10 ways to entertain a toddler on a plane.

(Hudson photo via Architectural Digest. San Francisco photo from iPhone Wallpapers. Fairyland photo via Fairyland. All other photos courtesy of the women above.)

  1. Lovely Pictures! Thank you so much for sharing your amazing experience with us, this will be really helpful for the readers who are planning for a family vacation in SC.

  2. Hello Joanna Goddard,
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  3. We recently went to Isla Mujeres Mexico and it was amazing. We got a great place thru and they were able to help us with all of our activities. Originally we thought it would be to expensive but, we were pleasantly surprised. We will definitely be going back in the near future. My husband and kids had a blast.

  4. Heather MacDonald-Bosse says...

    Eastern Canada…a particularly good deal right now for those traveling using U.S. currency! Our family loves three spots in particular in the province of New Brunswick: St. Andrews by-the-Sea, an adorable seaside town with history and great dining; rustic Grand Manan Island on the Bay of Fundy for hiking, beach-combing, whale and puffin watching, etc.; and Fundy National Park for stellar camping and hiking. Everything is unspoiled, safe, not crowded and not overly commercialized. For example, Grand Manan Island has one grocery store, one gas station, one liquor store!

    • Jennifer says...

      We are headed to eastern Canada this summer! Share your recommemdations please!

  5. Door County, Wisconsin! The absolute best!!!

  6. Co and also Ut get good sites to travel along with little ones. We’ve got spent summertime vacation trips inside Vail/Beavercreek place and also were being astonished on precisely how household warm and friendly the two were being. Lots of actions established intended for young children : and also extremely beautiful to start. Recommend.


  7. Co and also Ut get good sites to travel along with little ones. We’ve got spent summertime vacation trips inside Vail/Beavercreek place and also were being astonished on precisely how household warm and friendly the two were being. Lots of actions established intended for young children : and also extremely beautiful to start. Recommend.


  8. I love the mountains in the summer. It’s cooler there (I don’t like stifling heat) and the scenery is so astounding, I love the Rockies. We love camping in Waterton Lakes national park (in Canada, it’s actually a joint international peacepark with Glacier national park in Montana). It’s pretty quiet for a national park and we love the wildlife. Every time we visit we see many bears, sometimes napping in huge pine trees just outside of town, sometimes wandering right down the path behind our campsite! The deer are the same, they just wander right by you, it’s very moving.

  9. Mexico beckons with a truly astounding range of travel alternatives, from the cultural and historic to the adventurous and scenic.

  10. As a kid, my indelible travel memories were forged over a childhood of summers in Colorado & Newport, RI. In Newport, we sailed, jumped waves at Narraganset beach, saved coins to buy packs of Wrigley’s gum at the ship store, and yum!!, sipped Awful Awfuls at the Newport Creamery. In CO, we hiked, picnicked at old west ghost towns, listened to bluegrass on the mountaintops, frolicked in rivers, played by streams, meandered thru flowery meadows and stargazed. In my opinion, GO WEST!! This year, we will venture into Utah for our 1st trip as a family of 4. Yeahh!!

  11. I’m New England born and raised so I can’t help with middle america recommendations. My grand parents had a little place on Cape Cod so that was where we vacationed. When I was little it would just be my parents and my brother and I crammed in with my grandparents. But once I hit grade school we rented a place so there was more room. I love the Cape. We stopped going down when I was in high school. I think I was happy to work and see my friends back then, but now I miss those trips.

  12. I grew up in Nebraska, and my family only took 1 vacation ever when I was growing up. My dad is a farmer, so he couldn’t get away in the summer and they didn’t have the extra funds for us to take trips.

    However, my husband’s family always loaded up a station wagon and took cross-country trips when he was growing up. Yosemite is still his favorite place. I have fallen in love with Colorado after being there several times. I had a blast while in Destin, FL and in Maui!