Travel

What Are Your Favorite Family Vacations?

Lake jumping by Hailey Wist

What kind of vacations do you love? Cities? Lakes? Grandparent hangs? Here are five fun ideas, including a cross-country train trip and a dude ranch (!)…

new mexico

new mexico

new mexico

A Road Trip (through New Mexico)

Our one-week family road trip through New Mexico felt like a summer rite-of-passage: Dad giving lessons on sedimentary rock formations from the front seat, Mom humming “Holiday Roads” (à la the Griswolds) next to him, while our two kids, then 4 and 6, watched the vast landscapes change color outside the car window. Some of the highlights: sledding down the gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument, following the bats into the intricate caves of Carlsbad, climb ladders into Bandelier National Monument‘s ancestral Pueblo dwellings, and hiking “tent rocks” formed over six million years ago. Every night we’d tuck happy, exhausted kids into bed — usually before sampling some variation of chile-tinged margarita. — Ashley Muir Bruhn

tumbling river ranch colorado

tumbling river ranch colorado

A Dude Ranch (in Colorado)

At Tumbling River Ranch, there was no cell service so we were totally off the grid and ready to connect with other families and the gorgeous Rocky Mountains around us. Our days were filled with horseback riding, fishing, skeet-shooting, rafting, hiking and taking care of the resident animals — donkeys, chickens, goats and cows. We fulfilled every rancher dream we had, while still enjoying three warm meals and a cozy cabin, complete with fireplace. I loved that the kids made fast friends and roamed free and could just be — skip rocks in the creek, pick up a fishing pole or whittle a stick. There was even a “fancy night” dinner just for adults, while the kids ate and played games with the ranchers down the road. It wasn’t not a bargain vacation, but the all-inclusive rate and low guest-to-rancher ratio made it more than worth the price. My daughter is already planning a return trip! — Sherrelle Kirkland-Andrews

madison wisconsin family vacation

cheese curds madison

madison wisconsin

Visiting the Grandparents (in a Midwestern University Town)

Every summer, we go to Madison, Wisconsin, to visit my parents. The city is nestled within three lakes, and my parents live on Lake Mendota, where you can go swimming, sailing and tubing. It’s incredibly eco-conscious and bike-friendly, and families can bike to the Capitol Square where there’s always something happening, like the farmer’s market on Saturdays that celebrates everything local — cheese, meat, cheese, cheese! Great shops and coffee houses are all along State street, and it feels almost European. The university is central to life in Madison and that is true in the summer, too — you can pick up some grilled brats and good beer at the Union (staffed by student employees), then eat on the lakeside terrace and watch live music. — Anne Scharer

amtrak trip

amtrak trip

amtrak family trip

A Cross-Country Train Trip

One of my all-time best trips was when I took my then three-year-old and five-year-old across the U.S. on Amtrak from New York to San Francisco, stopping in Washington, Chicago, Denver, Glenwood Springs, Portland, Vancouver — then back across Canada, stopping at Jasper, Winnipeg, Toronto, Niagara Falls before returning to New York. It took us seven weeks, and it was brilliant. We saw museums, hot springs, zoos, and Niagara Falls; and we went on a river cruise in Chicago. We slept on the train every night. To reduce costs, we made our own meals, and for souvenirs, we collected T-shirts (which cut down on packing). The whole seven-week trip cost us about $5500 total. — Karen Powers

york maine

york maine

york maine

Small Town Charm (in Maine)

We love Maine’s York Beach, not only because of its classic New England summer town vibe — think briny air, salt-water taffy and ice cream shops — but because it feels like you’re going back in time. There’s a “Funorama” with games for kids, a downtown trolley, penny candy and an animal kingdom with rides. Then there’s the beautiful beach. The surf is calm and when it’s low tide, our kids just play in the tide pools and can run freely without fear. You can rent through HomeAway, but there are also great hotels, like the Anchorage Inn and the York Harbor Inn. The nearby towns of Portsmouth (New Hampshire) and Kittery offer lots of family-friendly eating, and Portland is only an hour away if you are craving some city flavor. But you won’t be. — Christy Knell

Where do you go on family vacations? Please share below!

P.S. How to travel with kids (and actually enjoy it), and 10 tips for traveling with a baby.

(Top photo by Hailey Wist. New Mexico photos by Ashley Muir Bruhn. Dude ranch photos by Sherrelle Kirkland Andrews. Madison lake photo by Richard Hurd. Amtrak train photos by Amtrak. Maine family photos by Christy Knell. York town photo by Visiting New England.)

  1. Omg, so much pretty photos. I totally loved these pictures. I am sure you had a blast during this vacation time. My daughter loves beaches and we venture out to places which beaches. And of course, we all love long drives too. So the beach is our #1 consideration for a vacation and next comes a resort:-)

  2. I enjoy all of our long vacations, however last summer was definitely one of the best ones. My husband and I gave our kids the destination and then let them pick what we did. Each kid got to pick an attraction they wanted to go to and it was up to us to figure out what to do. We started in Miami Beach and spent a few days soaking up the sun, rented a minivan and headed to Cape Canaveral to the Kennedy Space Center, then drove to Orlando to Gatorland to zipline over gators, then to Clearwater and the Florida Aquarium to swim with sharks in the tank, down to Naples to hang out at the beach one last time, and ended with a drive through the Everglades to head back to the airport. It was such a fun two weeks!

  3. lindsay marie says...

    The only places we went all growing up were within a couple hours drive. San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Capitola, Carmel by the Sea…..And I never tired of any of them! I am very attached to these places, ha. We would usually stay in cheaper motels and do the beach, boardwalk, art galleries, favorite restaurants, see the blue angels, visit the zoo, eat gelato, drive around nice neighborhoods like Pacific Heights, playgrounds, shopping, pretty walks…. I always think of these memories when I hear the beach boys, Beatles, mamas and papas, Simon and Garfunkel and others because that is what my parents played in the car.
    Now with our 3 kids, we love exploring the PNW where we live and traveling much further than I did when little! And the kids are loving weezer, Muse, and the beach boys. :)

  4. Kat says...

    Our annual “big” trip is to visit my husband’s family in Tokyo. My mother in law refuses to come visit us in LA and also refuses to meet us in Hawaii so the only way to see her is to go to her. Since we go so frequently and have already traveled around most of Japan I like to combine the trip to someplace else in Asia. Last year we went to Thailand and the year before Bali. I love showing my young daughter the world and seeing it through her eyes too!

  5. Laura says...

    I gasped when I got to the Madison pictures — so fun to see my city featured! We don’t get a lot of attention outside the Midwest but it is truly magical here in the summer. Thanks for the love!

  6. kmb says...

    House exchanges worked great for our family. We loved having a home base,
    where we got to know the neighbors, had 5 bikes for family exploring, their vehicle to drive and the feeling like we really lived there! Our only expense was our flights. Three weeks – once in England and once in Belgium- allowed time to get to know the area and take a few overnight trips further afield.
    We did a lot of travelling with the kids (still do) camping, extended family vacations, city weekends, day trips. They may have been dressed in yard sale clothes but they did get to explore the world!

  7. beth says...

    Hi, Rachel- I live in St. Augustine! I’m glad you like it! Besides our beautiful beaches, Castillo de San Marcos, and the charming downtown area, my favorite recommendations are going up the top of the lighthouse, taking an ecotour (boatride with Zack’s ecotours), Fort Matanzas, and visiting the Fountain of Youth for its old-Florida-style charm/goofiness. Also, a trip to Salt Springs is not very far away, and is so much fun- and it’s gorgeous.

  8. My parents have been in the Marriott resort club our whole lives and we would always go to Southern California for a week growing up. Now we are all married with kids, my parents book the Marriott in park city, right against the mountain. With 12 grandkids between us, we all ride the alpine slide, make our own meals, play games, swim our hearts out, stroll leisurely along Main Street and make s’mores at the big fire pit near the pool. It’s such a relaxing time and since all my sisters live an hour away from park city it’s easy for them. It’s quite heavenly.

  9. Beck says...

    I’d like to add a few spots to the NM list….1. Truth or Consequences (yes that’s the name of a town, its history is quite amusing!) is the most underrated and inexpensive spa town in America. 2. Cloudcroft and Ruidoso (which are pretty close together) offer amazing hikes and great weather!

  10. Amanda says...

    My family has been going to York Beach since before I was born; my grandfather built a cottage there and it’s still in the family; it used to be shared my my dad and his 5 other siblings. When I was a kid we would cram my huge family – aunts, uncles, cousins and all into all of the available space. I hated having to wait my turn to take a shower after the beach and sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag, and always wanted to go somewhere more exotic…like a hotel with a pool! Now that my aunts and uncles have bought their own places nearby, sold their part of the cottage, or even passed away at this point in life, I realize how special it was to have everybody under one roof, even if it was a little squishy :)

  11. Janey says...

    Thank you Kim and Yvette, I have added those to the list. We are coming from the UK so unlikely to be back….want to fit in as much as we can!

  12. Em says...

    Shhhh, you’re sharing all my best-kept secrets! I grew up near Madison and live just outside of it now, and it is such a hidden gem. You can’t help but fall in love (especially in the summer and fall). My sister and her family moved to New Mexico about five years ago and while it doesn’t seem like any top destination, every time I visit her there is something fun and beautiful to see…and Ashley makes nearly all of my favorites!

  13. lizzy says...

    Tumbling River was the first dude ranch I remember going to as a kid, and we continued going to different ones once every couple of years through my early teens. Last year, we went to Mountain Sky in Montana, and though we’ve loved them all, I think we’ve finally found the one we’ll be going back to again and again.

  14. Jill says...

    All of these comments made my day! On vacations growing up, for one day my mom and I would split off from my dad and brother. They would go do a sports thing and we would go shopping. It was great to have one on one time and always a nice breather!

    • STEFANIE FARQUHARSON says...

      I love this idea. My daughter is about to hit her tween years and can see her desperately seeking moments with just me (YEAH!) I’ve been working to find opportunities to connect with her in hopes of keeping our relationship strong in the years to come. Thank you.

  15. We go to my husband’s family’s house on Kauai, Hawaii. It is on the sand on an untouristed bay called Anahola. The house sleeps 12 maybe even more. You never have to leave the bay since there are tide pools so the kids have tame waters down to the right or you can surf directly in front of the house. The house is all windows and full of good energy and nostalgia. The house has huge a large deck to watch the waves. It is pure magic ohana time. It can be rented out when our family isn’t using it and most of the renters are loyal and keep coming back traditionally and some even consider it ‘ theirs’ since it holds such special memories for all. http://www.napaina.com

    • My favorite family vacations as a kid will always and forever be Disney World. We lived 3 hours away and went every year. There’s a reason so many families go – everything is taken care of and orchestrated for you to have a magical experience. Once you get on Disney property, you don’t have to worry about what to do or where to go, you just go to the parks and see where the day takes you! It is still my happy place and is filled with nostalgia from all of our trips there.

  16. Jessie says...

    Kauai, Hawaii. We took our kids, 8,7,4 last summer and it was AMAZING. We rented a house in Hanalei Bay and spent a week there. We went to the beach every day and just walked around the little town. We did some morning trips and one day went to the South part of the island for snorkling. It was so magical. The only time my older two fought was in the car driving. Other than that we’ve never been happier. This year we are going to see my parent in Portland OR then doing a road trip around Vancouver Island for a week

  17. Being from Maine, Small Town Charm was my whole life growing up. Our primary family vacation was always to Disney World in Orlando which I know doesn’t have the charm or the “culture” that other vacations abroad can provide, but I have the fondest memories of those trips because as a kid, they were just plain old fun. My mom and I did a nostalgia trip during my freshman year of college to Disney after we discovered we had two two-day passes left over from our trip there in 2001! Going was like seeing it with new eyes but fully restored me with the childlike wonder it always bestowed on me.

  18. Heather says...

    I sooo want to know more about Karen’s train trip with kids! I love train travel and have been saying for the last year I want to take our kiddos (now ages 7 and nearly 4) on a longer train trip. Ours would be a bit shorter than hers, starting in Denver and heading west (maybe to Cali?). Has she written more extensively about her experience anywhere?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’ll ask her!

    • Rose says...

      Agreed. Need more info.

    • Eva says...

      Yes! I’d love to hear more too. Sounds epic!

    • Anna says...

      Yes, more info please – maybe a full post? This sounds like so much fun!

    • Alexis says...

      Yes, more please!!

    • Sheri Hall says...

      Me too!!

    • Kelly P says...

      Me too! I’d be interested in a whole post about it, if she’d be willing to share. Sounds fascinating and like so much fun!

    • Elise says...

      Yes! Would love to know more!

    • Anne says...

      Me too! I would love to hear more about this trip.

    • Taylor says...

      I’d also love to know more!

      I’ve done the cross-country Amtrak trip two times myself but would love to hear about doing it with kids (did they sleep in chairs? in a family sleeper room? etc).

  19. Meg says...

    This is ideal. <3 <3

  20. Jenny says...

    Finland! We get a cottage by a lake in the middle of nowhere and do not leave for end of the week. As it’s light in the summer for 12 hours a day the days are long and leisurely. We go swimming, row the boat, read a book on the jetty, drink beer with lunch, make a fire in the outdoor fire pit and roast marshmallows, use the sauna twice a day. It is total bliss. We have just started having children and I can’t wait to take them to Finland for the most relaxing holiday there is.

    • Elina says...

      Yes! My family is from Finland and we go every other summer. It’s so lovely and relaxing.

    • Michelle Jacques says...

      It would be great to have a full post on a Finnish summer holiday!

    • Emma says...

      Oh my goodness, yes I want to know more about this Finish holiday too!

  21. Emily says...

    When I was nine and my sister was 12, my grandparents drove their motor home from Seattle to central Pennsylvania and picked us up. From there we drove across the US on a more Northern route, stopping to see too many landmarks to name. It took most of the summer and I’m certain our mom missed us like crazy, but it is one of the highlights of my childhood.

    My dad recently retired and purchased an RV and two summers ago he collected my son and my sister’s son from us and drove up the Eastern coast of the US, stopping ultimately in Acadia. He had always vowed to do for his grandkids what his parents did for theirs.

  22. Julie says...

    YORK BEACH FOREVER!!! Been going there since I was small and it means everything to me.

  23. stacy says...

    What a timely post! As a newly single mom I have been longing to get away with my 4 year old. It is such a challenge to think of somewhere that ticks all the boxes- affordable, relaxing, and fun!

  24. Linda Z says...

    I love this post! I love traveling and going on adventures with my husband and 2 boys. We have some of our best memories and funny stories from our travels. About 8-9 years ago, when the kids got old enough, we began to adventure down a river every summer. We love the excitement of not knowing what’s around the bend, and picnicking on the banks, skipping rocks. Now it is a much loved family tradition, and we plan our trips around rivers. In California, the Russian River is a great starter river for canoeing, and the Stanislaus River is a good, non-guided rafting experience. The Hoh River in Washington state has amazing, aqua glacial water on a guided rafting trip. The Salt River in Arizona is a fun tubing experience with wild horses on the way. The Provo River in Utah is an easy ride and beautiful for kayaking and site seeing. The Snake River in Wyoming is some of the most beautiful country we’ve ever seen, and we counted over 30 bald eagles on our guided rafting excursion. We’ve even done the Hudson River by ferry, which kind of counts!! We’ve done some rivers multiple times. This summer, we hope to hit the Weber River in Utah, and next summer we want to find something near Estes Park, Colorado. Our family highly recommends traveling by river!!

  25. Maggie says...

    We went to Madison to visit family last summer, went to devil’s lake and the terrace and the farmer’s market – it was all so dreamy. I begged my (four-year-old) son to go to college there! Growing up in Northern California, we always went camping. All year every year. It’s a lovely, much less expensive way to get out of town. My husband and I have all the gear but haven’t quite gotten it together to go camping with our young kids yet. Hopefully this summer!

    • Kim says...

      We camped with our (then) 14 month old son in Acadia last summer and had a blast and I couldn’t recommend it more! He was in his own tent in a pack in play (because we only had two small tents) and we hiked with him in a backpack carrier. It was a lovely trip I’ll never forget!

  26. Cooper says...

    My favorite childhood vacation was renting a houseboat on Lake Powell, Utah – think red canyons and pristine blue water. Of course, my family packed 13 people, three dogs, and a kitten on a boat meant for nine people so it was memorable :)

    • Cooper says...

      My husband and I did the Amtrak trip between Denver and San Francisco. It was 30 hours (so only one night on the train), and SO INCREDIBLY scenic. We literally just stared out the window the whole time – the slower speed of the train is great for that, and the railroad passes through parts of the mountains where there are no roads so the train is the only way to see those parts. We rented a tiny sleeper car but spent most of the time in the viewing car with comfy lounge chairs and huge windows. All meals are included with the price of a sleeper car which was a nice perk – you can even order multiple desserts ;) I think it was about $220 per one-way ticket, if I remember correctly. (We flew home after spending a few days in SF.)

  27. Kristen says...

    I’m originally from New Mexico, and I often feel our state is vastly underrated (it is the Land of Enchantment, after all). So this makes my heart smile.

    • A says...

      Yes! I spent 3 summers in my early 20s in Santa Fe and I have to say – New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment. It gave me some of the best times of my life with some of the best people i’ve ever met. I need to get back it’s been 15 years!!

  28. My father and his two brothers owned the same RV model but in different colors. Our three families would caravan and camp out at lakes, beaches, and the mountains. It’s one of my favorite memories as a child.

  29. Ana says...

    Being European and having lived in Madison, WI for the past 5 years I must disagree with the comment on how State street, “feels almost European”. That said, I definitely recommend summer nights at the Terrace for a movie or live music.

  30. Ashley says...

    I will NEVER forget my family’s roadtrips as a kid. We went to national parks, family reunions, and always made plenty of stops along the way. We would see my great-grandparents, and get to spend hours of quality time together in my parents’ Suburban. My siblings and I got along remarkably well on these trips, and I remember rest stops with sandwich and capri sun breaks, and telling family stories. My parents didn’t always have a lot of money, but we always did a family trip together. We still tell stories of those road trips, and the nights we’d stay with older relatives hearing stories of my parents and grandparents childhoods. My husband and I can’t wait to to take our future children on roadtrips through the US, so that they can see the country like I did! My family still recalls these road trips, and it makes me smile every single time.

  31. Britt says...

    My family drove to Montana every summer to visit family in Missoula and Helena (and sometimes Billings too). Last summer my husband and I took our five year old son back to Missoula for a week. It’s a great medium-sized University town, with lots of things to do in the summer (food trucks and live music every Wednesday, concerts in the park, Rockin’ Rudy’s), plus great weather. If you get out to Helena, you can take a street car tour, which starts at the Capitol building and winds through the narrow downtown streets. Plus the Archie Bray Foundation is about a 10 minute drive from Helena – it’s one of the top ceramics artists residency in the country with a great sales gallery and the coolest grounds! Our son had so much fun exploring the cool structures that artists have built from clay and discarded ceramics over the years. It’s hard to explain but so cool.

  32. Marci says...

    I’m surprised there aren’t any comments about boating. Maybe because I’ve always lived landlocked – at least 8 hours drive from any coast. But hot summers mean finding water. My parents had (have) a ski boat that is older than I am. Shout out to Mellow Yellow – the 1978 Sea-Ray. We didn’t have a lot of money so this boat was (still is) my dad’s prized possession. We spent many summers floating lazily on Dale Hallow Lake, which is in KY, TN. We’d rent a cabin and then spend the day boating; watersking, tubing, swimming, finding a shady spot to eat lunch that we packed earlier in the day and reading all the books we could. The evenings would be a fire outside the cabin and dinner. The best dinners because we were worked up quite an appetite during the day.
    Of course, that old boat also meant many days waiting on the dock while my dad tried to problem solve and get it running, but that made for more stories. We also have many a stories about the old mercury wagon that broke down often trying to tow that beast of a boat (before they were made of fiberglass)
    The greatest thing is that they still have the boat and my babies are getting to enjoy the same vacation I had, curling up in the same cozy spots my sisters and I would find when trying to dry off.

  33. Abby says...

    The sleepy Lake Michigan beach town of South Haven has been our family summer vacation spot for years. The fun has continued to a second generation. My 3 year old daughter loves the white sandy beaches and exploring the dunes. The town itself is walkable and adorable!

  34. Janey says...

    We are bringing our 3 boys (18, 15, 12) to NYC this summer for 10 days….I am super excited! Any tips on things to do/places to eat with 3 perpetually hungry and energetic teenage boys very gratefully received!!

    • Samantha says...

      Food tours! There’s one in Chelsea Market that’s so much fun.

    • Linda Z says...

      The NYC City Pass is more economical if you want to see major sites like the Empire State Building, The Met and the Museum of Natural History, etc… you get choices. My teen boys loved the huge Nintendo store and the NBC store at Rockefeller Plaza. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is near that area, too. We also inexpensively rented bikes through a Groupon and biked Central Park for a half day… we love Bethesda Fountain and The Mall. The Staten Island Ferry is a free way to see the Statue of Liberty. The Lion King and Wicked would be great musicals for teens (and adults alike)… humorous, great story lines, beautiful music scores, and gorgeous sets and costumes. Seeing the 9/11 Memorial is sobering and important. My boys loved eating at the Shake Shack and getting “a slice” of pizza at all times of the day. Riverside Park on the Upper West Side is nice if you want some quiet down time… a lot of You’ve Got Mail was filmed in the area and you can look up addresses if that interests you (Cafe Lalo has yummy desserts). Visit Grand Central Station and/or take a train ride. So much to explore… hope to get back there again someday!!

    • Janey says...

      Thank you so much Linda and Samantha, I have added all of these wonderful suggestions to my list – so much better to do things I know other teens have enjoyed. I have waited 44 years to visit and really want to pack the most in! :)

    • Kim says...

      It’s also fun to rent Citibikes and bike across the Brooklyn bridge!

    • Yvette LaLonde says...

      The Tour of the Rock give you the best view in the city, better than the Empire State Bldg. and you can see the SNL and Jimmy Fallon sets which is fun.

  35. Sydni Jackson says...

    Can you tell me where that first train railroad picture is? It looks like exactly what I imagine when I think of the “Wild West.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m not exactly sure — the photo was from the Amtrak site. Does anyone else have an idea?

    • R says...

      I am not 100% sure, but it certainly looks like Royal Gorge Railroad in Colorado.
      We drove from Boulder to Glenwood Springs couple of summers ago and it was most magical scenic drive ever! We also made a quick stop at Breckenridge and were awestruck by its charm *starry eyed emojis*

    • Beth says...

      If I’m not going crazy, I think this is on Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” train route- goes from Chicago to the PNW through the most northern states. This looks a LOT like Montana to me, but the view is really similar all throughout the Rocky Mountains :)

    • Linda Z says...

      It might be the Heber Valley Railroad in Utah. Or somewhere in that general area.

  36. Sydni Jackson says...

    My favorite family vacations growing up were in Hilton Head Island, SC. Think biking, walking to an ice cream shop, al fresco dinners, and LOTS. OF. BEACH TIME.

  37. Mary Ellen says...

    The best family vacation we ever had was Family Camp at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbour, Maine. Families stay in the dorms and eat in the cafeteria. But the cafeteria food is the best food ever! Organic, homemade – incredibly delicious. Every day there were outings to Acadia National Park or boat tours of nearby islands – all led by knowledgeable guides who love kids. We met other terrific families. This would be a great trip for a family with one child because there are other kids to play with. It was really a highlight for our family! https://www.coa.edu/summerprograms/family-nature-camp/

    • gracemarie says...

      That is so cool that they offer that! Randomly a beloved teacher at my high school had a daughter that attended COA. Our teacher always spoke admiringly of it so it sticks in my mind. It would be cool to check out that camp when I have a family of my own!

  38. Lisa says...

    Growing up, we always went to Hatteras, NC, which is on the Outer Banks. We started out at the campground, where I fondly remember staying in the pool hall one night when a vicious storm came through. We then stayed in small cabanas a few years later as I suppose my parents made a bit more money, and later on in various houses which we rented. Days were filled with fishing with my dad, building sand castles and hunting for sea shells on the beach, getting tossed about in the waves, climbing the lighthouse, nighttime visits with the rangers to see sea turtles nest, watching the fishing boats unload and the fish being prepped at the marina, riding the ferry to the next island, and roasting hot dogs and marshmallows on the beach. So much has changed there since I was little and while I will always love it, I do miss how relatively undeveloped it used to be.

  39. We took a year off and did a big road trip from Seattle to Argentina. I refuse to call it a vacation though because it (like daily life with children aged 4 and 6) was moderately exhausting. We dubbed it our Grand Adventure and embraced the fact that it was exciting, thrilling, and not at all relaxing.

    Someday I’ll sip margaritas and read trashy books while lounging in a beach chair; I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that a truly relaxing vacation is still a ways off for those of us that are slightly beleaguered parents of young, crazy, wonderful kids. :)

  40. Kim says...

    So happy to see Madison on this list! Best city in America. On Wisconsin.

    • lana says...

      If you’re in Madison, the BEST bakery is Rosie’s!

  41. Kat says...

    Our family pretty much did this exact thing when we visited SF and Yosemite . As long as you are ok with paying really high parking rates it is worth it to have a car. I will say that we got lucky and parking at a meter turned out to be much easier than I expected. SF was nearly impossible to navigate on foot for my 80 year old inlaws. We were able to drive around drop the old folks and babies off at each destination and then park within a few blocks. This way we didn’t need to worry about the car seats or wheelchair. We we’re a group of 6, 2 little ones and 2 elderly so Uber was pretty much out of the question.

    • Jane says...

      Kat, thank you for taking time to share your experience and thought. It definitely helped us made our decision.

  42. Kara says...

    My absolute favorite kind of vacation is a ski trip. There’s no better feeling than taking your ski/snowboard boots off, snuggling your tired feet into fuzzy boots or slippers and drinking hot chocolate. I grew up with that and so did my husband, and if you have the money, our favorites are
    Colorado: Breckinridge, Copper Mountain
    Utah: Snowbird
    California: Big Bear
    Oregon: Timberline
    BC: Whistler
    (Neither of us has skied the east coast)
    All that being said, we are in a very different financial environment than our parents were/are, so the only ski trips we ever take now are occasionally gifted from them. But we do love camping near a hot springs, and there are so many dotted throughout North America, you don’t have to go too far.
    Less expensive (but super rad) trips we’ve taken were mostly about whom we had along with us. A bunch of good friends in a parks department yurt on the Oregon Coast is just as magical as any lift ticket.

    • Rach says...

      Japan with kids is amazing.
      Another that sticks out is when we hired a camper van for my partners bday and took a week to travel wherever we liked in Tasmania, Australia. It was so freeing, it felt like we were celebrating our family and it’s such a gorgeous part of the country!
      Locally we love weekends away to Apollo Bay and Anglesea for beach weekends even in winter, and Bright in summer is amazing – lazy days splashing in the river and splash park, riding bikes and eating too much ice cream.
      Having said that we all delight in finding and exploring new places with our kids. So far we’ve visited Bali, Japan, Singapore, a teeny part of Canada, a teeny part of New York. Many more places to come.
      Travel energises us, and teaches us and opens our eyes to the world.

    • Nicki says...

      I agree that there’s something magical about a family ski trip. I’m from Germany, and we just came back this weekend from a week in neighbouring Austria with family members from three generations (ages 2 to 80 years) – best vacation we’ve taken in years! There’s something incredibly invigorating about being outside all day and doing something physical that is equally fun and do-able for kids, parents and even reasonably fit grandparents – plus being outside in the cold makes evenings even more cozy, especially in Austria where many hotels, rental apartments or even some youth hostels have fireplaces or access to indoor pools/saunas. I understand that skiing is North America is more expensive than it is in Europe, so unfortunately it might not be an option for all budgets.

  43. Amanda says...

    We vacation with friends near Lake Michigan every year or so. While family vacations are fun, it feels like vacations with good friends are just lighter. Our kids play on the beach, we take turns making dinner and generally just hang out. It’s my favorite time of year!

  44. Anna says...

    Each and every summer, since I was 4 years old (now 25), I have gone to a small coastal town in Maine with my family. There is no hotel, no boardwalk- just pure, down to earth, Maine beauty. I’ve been fortunate to have my parents rent a home on the ocean every year for the last 21 years. Now, as a young adult attending grad school, I cherish this place. It’s a true happy place- where days are filled with laying in the sand, jumping the waves, biking along the rocky coast and kayaking the pool. I’m so thankful my parents gave me this oasis, a getaway to look forward to each and every year. I love it so much that 2 of my bucket list goals are to get married in town and to someday own a small plot of land to share this magical place and continue this vacation tradition with my children.

    • Brooke says...

      What town?

  45. Jane says...

    Can someone from San Francisco helps me out here?
    We’re about to take my parents who are visiting from another country and who are 70 and 71 years old to San Francisco and Yosemite, along with my will-be 11 months old baby because I can’t leave her with the rest of her siblings with the grandparent. We want to rent a car because we’ll drive to Yosemite after 3 or 4 days in SF, but are wondering is it worth renting or driving a car in SF? Will driving be more hassle because you have to find a parking spot compared to taking public transportation or uber? But I’m also scared that I’ll have to lug a lot of baby paraphernalia, and my mother can’t walk too much.
    Also, any baby friendly restaurants/musuems/places or tips for people who have never been to SF?
    Thanks in advance for any reply!

    • Amanda says...

      I’d recommend renting. With parents and a baby, parking may be an extra expense and a pain, but worth it. You’ll be able to get out more and see all of the city. We used to live in the Bay with two little ones and found that while Bart and Muni are awesome, if you aren’t used to public transit, it’s easier to drive. You can use SpotHero to help with parks too!

    • Elisabeth says...

      I personally think it’d be worth renting a car in San Francisco. The degree of difficulty you’ll have with parking just depends on the neighborhood where you’re staying. Trekking up and down the hills of SF is great and it’s a very easy city to walk and take public transit, but I think it’ll be easier on your parents if you get a car.

    • Anna says...

      You should head over to designmom for her tips on visiting the Bay Area with kids. And rent a car. There’s great public transportation in San Francisco but I think between the baby stuff and your mom’s mobility issues, you will probably feel the most comfortable and secure with your own transportation. Good options for adults and babies together are the de Young Museum, SFMOMA, the Ferry Building for food, lunch at Zuni Cafe (a classic!!), and Tartine. You really can’t go wrong in San Francisco. You’ll likely pay a lot for parking on this particular trip, but I think you’ll have a lovely time. xxx

    • Lysie says...

      The utility of renting a car depends on where you are staying. If you have an airbnb with parking, then a car will be helpful to you. However if you’re staying at a hotel or in a very busy part of town then it’s going to be far easier to avoid the hassle of a rental car, and the parts of the city you’re likely to be visiting are easily accessible by public transportation. Public options will be limited if your mom has trouble with walking however (lots of hills).

      As far as kid-friendly places, there are plenty! I think you’ll find neighborhoods that are filled with restaurants that are welcoming to families and have playgrounds galore – some ideas are Noe Valley, Bernal Heights, Glen Park (I live in the Southern part of the city so this is what I am familiar with), and Inner Sunset. Great playgrounds include Lafayette Park, Christopher Park, Koret Children’s playground in Golden Gate Park (actually there is a lot to see and do in Golden Gate Park). I would avoid SOMA, Tenderloin, Western Addition, and Civic Center in general. If you do decide to rent a car, the Bay Area Discovry Museum in Sausalito is well worth the trip. Geared toward young kids with fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and city.

      Have fun!!

    • Lysie says...

      ALSO, if you do rent a car, don’t leave anything in your car. No bags, papers, packages, etc. Car break ins are a major problem here!

    • Sal says...

      If you can avoid having a car in SF to take an Uber/Lyft that is probably the best option to get around. But if you avoid taking a car and take pub transit instead, it will be more of a pain! The public transport in SF IS HORRIBLE! And packed like sardines. Plus way harder with a baby and someone who can’t do stairs easily. If your hotel has parking and you rent a car, you will be ok with a car since you can always leave it behind – and you can do fun day trips like Marin Headlands, Stinson Beach, Pescadero, Sonoma/Napa, or even just Ocean Beach. While in SF, do not drive to Downtown/ Chinatown/North Beach/Fishermans Wharf area. Not worth it. Take a cab. Parking in general in SF is quite challenging but anything is better than Muni. I would pick some concentrated areas and spend much of the day there after taking a Lyft, like the Academy of Sciences/Japanese Tea Garden/De Young or Ferry Building/Piers, or Valencia/Mission. Have fun and pack a lot of layers!

    • B says...

      Could you rent an Airbnb in or near Berkeley? In that case, I would say to rent a car and commute in and out of the city as desired. If you are staying in downtown SF, I don’t think a car would be worth it — parking is tough, the driving itself can be stressful, and break-ins are frequent. I would recommend using Uber hands down.

      I echo the recommendation for the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. Also, Habitot in Berkeley might work for that age and Little Farm (also in Berkeley) is a must! Golden Gate Park is great of course, but sprawling. I think the Asian Art Museum is amazing, and of course MOMA is great but always very crowded. The Ferry Building farmer’s market can be fun.

      There are tons of wonderful restaurants but it all kind of depends what area you will be in and what food you like.

      – from a longtime SF resident who now lives near Berkeley with young kids

    • Denise says...

      I stayed in SF a few years back and rented a car. Not too bad, but I did notice there were rental car lots, where you could pick up a car for the day using an app. Not too familiar with it, but maybe something that would work for you? Also, there was an app for on street metered parking. Have a great time!

    • hita says...

      Definitely rent a car. SF is a great city to see by car too, after your main outing of the day and when your baby is asleep or parents are tired. One of my favorite memories (we used to live there, and had elderly parents visit) was driving up to twin peaks one evening after work and errands and having picked up some take out, and just park and eat and watch the sun go down and city lights start to twinkle, while our 9 month old took a long car nap! Go to the botanical garden, ferry building and Japanese tea house in golden gate park. Get gelato in sunset and for the best views/photos with the golden gate bridge, go to China beach. Also, look up any street fairs happening while you are there for the peak SF experience. (now I am nostalgic!!)

    • hita says...

      Also, yes, dress in layers!! You will be unexpectedly cold otherwise!!

    • Milla says...

      A drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to the Marin Headlands area is always beautiful– and I second the Discovery Museum! I spent many wonderful days there as a kid and there is so much to explore for any age. I’d also recommend the Japanese Tea Garden- absolutely beautiful and calming, especially if you manage to get there on a less crowded day. ALSO, the Legion of Honor- go to the museum, or just enjoy the view :)

    • Jane says...

      Wow, thank you everyone! I was reading the comments to my husband and he was really impressed that you took the time to gave us your thoughts and also the details! They definitely helped made up our mind. This will likely be my parents’ last trip to US, and since I feel like I have missed out a lot doing life with them because of us living on two different continents, I intend to make this trip memorable. Even though flying and traveling with a baby who never sleep when she is out is already stressing me out, I think we will just take it slowly and enjoy being with my parents and exploring a new city with them. Thanks again everyone, if you think of me in two weeks please pray or send good thoughts about our traveling.

    • Danielle says...

      You’ve got lots of great suggestions. I know that organizing multi generational trips can be overwhelming so I just wanted to add that a few years ago my parents and my brother and sister-in -law along with their 8 week old all came to visit us in our tiny SF apartment. We rented a mini van and the trip was great. It’s nice that SF is not really that big and there are tons of spots that are fun to drive to. It’s nice with a big group to sometimes have someone hang out at the car with the baby while others go to viewpoint to take pictures. It could be worth checking out Zipcar if you don’t want to have rental car the entire time. Definitely get the app for parking meters to save headaches at metered parking.

    • Hannah says...

      I live in SF and have found that if you’re willing to walk 10 minutes to your destination you can almost always find parking. I absolutely think that you can drop off your parents and one adult with the baby gear, and the other person all be able to find parking close-ish. You definitely have to scan closely for spots, and need to be willing to flip a U-turn to get a spot on the other side (if you go around the block you might lose it). The one thing to be careful of is if you’re driving downtown near rush hour, traffic can be really bad as everyone tries to get on the Bay bridge.

      For more calm and relaxation, I’d stick to Golden Gate park, Land’s end, the presidio, baker beach, etc. I live near Golden Gate Park and have found that when friends with kids visit that’s all we really need. Koret playground is fantastic. The SF botanical Garden is beautiful and a safe fenced in place for kids to run around. Elven months might be a little young to truly appreciate Cal Academy, but the rainforest dome and the aquarium downstairs are fun for kids and adults alike. You can ride the elevator to the top of the DeYoung tower for free for a nice view (it is outside the zone where they check tickets). There’s also a lovely Monet exhibit at the DeYoung right now.

    • Kat says...

      You’ll be fine with a car in SF but do not leave anything in sight in the car!!! Not even a loose penny. IMO break ins are a bigger problem than parking.
      I personally don’t like driving on the streets with street cars running on them so I try and avoid them as much as possible.

  46. Kristin says...

    As Madison natives, I guess I’d better say visits to Madison to visit grandparents! The kids have instructions to scatter my ashes on the lakeshore path and we had our wedding reception at Memorial Union, looking out over those colorful chairs to Lake Mendota. But we also love camping trips…the Tetons were the best ever…and once the kids were older, trips to Europe!

  47. Sarah says...

    Each summer my parents took us kids (3) on a road trip from Ohio to a destination out West. The constants each summer? White water rafting, mountains, spicy ginger soda & any National Park we could find. The best trips!

  48. Ellen says...

    I go to school at the University of Wisconsin! When I saw those terrace chairs I thought “No way! Cup of Jo is featuring my city!” Hahaha but seriously, Madison is AWESOME!!

  49. Claire says...

    The Finger Lakes region of NY State, and surrounding area, is a terrific family vacation area. We have family there and have been a few times. I recommend Robert H Treman State Park, where we swam at the base of a waterfall, hiked and meandered on the beautiful trails, and lucked into an evening presentation from the Cornell Ornithology department that featured birds of prey (they had an eagle owl- it was enormous!). We’ve also picked berries and cherries, tromped around Watkins Glen (like being in a fantasy world), visited the Corning Museum of Glass (where my son got to blow glass- they have workshops and classes for kids), visited Niagra Falls a day trip from where we were staying), feasted and bought souvenir t-shirts and holiday ornaments (family tradition) at the Ithaca Farmer’s market (the area is a fabulous food and wine region), kayaked a bunch, took a boat ride around the Thousand Islands, lucked into a celebration of Canada Day at Sacket’s harbor (with fireworks on the beach!). And another super fun thing that we did while in the area was hunting for hidden letterboxes, an activity that can be done anywhere (the letterboxing world is vast!), and all adults and kids loved it. It led us on some fabulous walks and adventures. There’s a website, in case anyone is interested in reading more about that: https://www.atlasquest.com/about/

    • Catie says...

      My husband and I both went to Syracuse and stumbled upon the Finger Lakes as our family summer destination last year. We forgot how much we loved the area and it truly is such a special place (and only 4 hours from where we live in MD!) So happy to begin this family tradition so close to where we started our story…

    • Liz says...

      This commentmakes me so happy. I am from the little town right next to Sackets Harbor and my parents live just outside Syracuse now. Even though I now live in California upstate NY will always be home :)

    • Katie says...

      My husband and I got married at Robert treman! and are originally from Syracuse. Such a beautiful corner of our world (in the summer:)

    • Catie says...

      Skaneateles Lake is a favorite destination for our family in the Finger Lakes. There is also a very robust wine trail in the area and many great breweries. Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard/Distillery is a favorite of my whole family. Hard Cider/Spirits/Live music for the adults and playgrounds and lots of open space to run around for the kids. Everybody wins!

    • Claire says...

      It is a fabulous area! I too have roots in the area, and feel at home there. I could have listed many more fun things that we’ve done while vacationing (a lavender festival, The Museum of the Earth, ice cream everywhere, many state parks, Lake Ontario, ice wine – aka: liquid sunshine….).
      Catie- I’ve kayaked on Skaneateles Lake, and am in love with the town of Skaneateles, and sometimes daydream of moving there.

  50. Mary says...

    The Outer Banks! The beaches are beautiful, you can sit on the beach and have no one sit in front of you (or directly next to you!), and the laid back pace is a dream.

    Would CupofJo ever consider running a story about folks moving – deciding to leave a place (city) not because of jobs, but in search of a slower/gentler pace? I’d love to read that :) It came to mind after seeing Madison in the list; Madison is a place I’ve always thought of living… but how do you decide where to go?! I’m curious to know how others have made the decision!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s such a great idea, mary! we’d love to do a post on people who move to slower paced places.

    • Claire says...

      me too! we would love to move toward a slower gentler life in a smaller town.

    • Teegan says...

      Hi! My family moved from the busy suburban shore of Massachusetts to central Vermont this year. It was a decision years in the making (perhaps one of us was a bit more convinced it would all work out than the other!). We looked at Maine, all over VT, western MA, but VT was our top choice (my husband’s birth state), so my husband (the bigger breadwinner in the family) applied to jobs in his field around the state. We had been to Montpelier and loved it, so it was great when he was hired at a school just outside of town, so we could be a little farther out. Also, we fell in love with our property as soon as we walked onto it. When you’re moving someplace more rural, especially a place with a long winter, it’s vital to love the place you’ll be “stuck” in ugly weather. Now I drive to work in the opposite direction (toward the Northeast Kingdom, which is about as slow-paced rural as it gets), taking mostly dirt roads, but we can still get to “town” in under half an hour.

    • Sandra says...

      We moved somewhere with a much slower pace (from Chicago to a village of 5,000 people). There are some positives, but in general I am losing my mind and dream of moving back to a big city pretty much daily (we have been here almost 4 years). It turns out I like to go to quaint little villages on vacation, but I do not like to live in one full time.

    • A says...

      Hi Mary!
      My boyfriend and I are about to do this. I am quitting my job and he is going to work remotely. After living in the city for 10 years (him for 6) we decided we want to live a more outdoorsy, slower paced (yet adventure-filled) lifestyle. It’s going to be a huge change – I live in walking distance to both my siblings right now and have a well paying job, but we both feel this call to do something new and live a life more in line with what we imagined for ourselves. As we both turned 30 this year we think better get going :)

    • I’d love to see this too! My husband and I are both from Los Angeles. A few years into our marriage we moved to Denver to see if we enjoyed that “slower pace” (ha! it’s all relative) but we missed home/family/California too much. Then, after two years in LA proper, we moved out to a sleepier suburb that’s definitely more “boring” but also we have more space, etc. I wrote about it here. Something that helped me make the decision was Gretchen Rubin’s decision-making technique where you ask, “Which decision will give me the ‘bigger life’?”

      https://nosidebar.com/bigger-life/

    • Melissa says...

      Really love this story idea!

    • Tessa says...

      I would also love to read this story!

    • Linda Z says...

      We moved from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo County on the CA Central Coast about 21 years ago. We’ve never regretted the decision.

    • lana says...

      Outer Banks with kids is awesome! They loved the lighthouses, surfing the sand and Kitty Hawk as well as the ferry boat and food and beaches.

  51. I would not recommend White Sands as a family (unless the kids are way older). It is beautiful and stunning, but eyeball-dryball-blinding. And while it makes for great pictures, you cannot really sled there.

    BUT if you want to do the desert thing with kiddos, I can’t recommend enough camping at El Cosmico (in Marfa). There’s always a hoard of kids running around, so parents can relax in the hammock groves and read a book while kids go nuts. In the mornings there’s free coffee by a fireplace where parents huddle while their kids chill. And often, at night there’s live music. Even though you’re camping, almost everything is walking distance (excellent food trucks and great restaurants… galleries and rock shops, oh my!) They have plenty of camping options: bring your own tent, sleep in an airstream, doze in a yurt, or camp in a teepee.
    https://elcosmico.com/

    • Jessica Wood says...

      I absolutely LOVED going to White Sands at many different ages during my childhood…total joy running up and down the dunes in such a surreal landscape! Nothing but happy memories for me there….Carlsbad Caverns was also incredible, but I didn’t bring a jacket on my first visit and was so cold that my dad had to carry me the whole visit, hah!

      I’ve visited Marfa but never El Cosmico – sounds like a great recommendation!

    • Chelsea says...

      I love Marfa and El Cosmico is really cool. Great recommendation, Emma.

      We live in NM and have done White Sands with kids multiple times, you just have to go prepared with sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen for everyone. And the key to making sleds work there is waxing them. They sell wax at the gift shop at the entrance, and I think some of the local stores in Alamogordo might as well.

    • Sasha says...

      I think it depends on the time of year. When we visited White Sands pre-kids in July, I nearly died from heat on a hike (and people do die there every year- Google it)! However, we visited our friends with small kids and a baby in Las Cruces for Easter- and White Sands was a magical day trip (though not much hiking was done), and we did have a lot of fun sledding. I do highly recommend New Mexico for amazing hikes of all difficulty levels. Santa Fe and Sandia mountains are also great to visit.

  52. Hannah says...

    I worked at the 4UR Ranch in Creede, CO for many years and it is THE. BEST. PLACE. EVER. Happy to answer any questions!! I cannot imagine a better family vacation – and I have never even vacationed there, just worked!

    • Carter says...

      I have family members and family friends that have gone there for years and love it! The Hoffman’s and the Smith’s of OKC.

    • Hannah says...

      Yes! I know them!! Please tell Peter and Susan that Hannah W says hello! :)
      Hopefully you’ll make it there one day too!

  53. Amanda says...

    My husband’s family has been going to Lake Powell, without fail, every year since his mother was a kid – and she’s 55 now! Even now that her children are grown and they can’t all make it every year, she and E’s dad still hook up the speedboat, load the dogs, and drive to the lake.

    For the uninitiated, Lake Powell may seem boring, but for those in the know it is an absolute wonderland. I was lucky enough to join along for 9 amazing years before life got too busy, and I think about it every summer as the epitome of the season.

    The days there stretch on as long as they did when I was a kid on summer break: we get up early as the sun begins to lighten the sky, put on a pot of coffee to percolate, and go for an early morning water ski while the lake is as smooth as glass. After skiing, we whip up breakfast, and then the next hours are all ours to read, snack, nap, swim, kayak, paddleboard, fish, UNO, cliff jump, and/or imbibe to our heart’s content. If it gets too hot mid-day, everyone piles in the speedboat with a cooler full of lunch to seek shade in the respite of the towering canyon walls. Occasionally, my MIL will organize expeditions to geological wonders like Rainbow Bridge or one of the hundreds of slot canyons, where we scramble over and squeeze past rocks and canyoneer until we can go no further. In the afternoon, my FIL will go scouting for “striper boils,” where groups of striped bass participate in a feeding frenzy at the surface, and there will be a mad dash to catch as many fish as we can. In the evenings, after the sun retreats, we eat dinner al fresco before one last game of dominoes. Then we make our bed on the top deck of the houseboat, with nothing between us and the stars but the occasional cruising bat, and fall asleep in the soft, warm breeze as we try and spot satellites. It is simply magical…

    • emily d says...

      yes! my very favorite family vacation growing up was the week we spent on a houseboat on lake powell with a couple other families. we also had a speedboat we pulled and spent our days skiing, wake boarding, reading and exploring. even my jaded 16 year old self had fun with my parents : )

    • Juliette says...

      I am going to lake powell in 2 weeks! All the way from the UK. This sounds idyllic, i cannot wait.

    • Amanda says...

      Juliette – I hope you have the BEST time! It is a magical place :)

    • Beth says...

      H*ck yeah! I have so many fond memories of playing cards for hours on end, taking breaks to jump off red cliffs, and hiking to Native American ruins.

  54. Libbynan says...

    Starting in 1983 and going into the early 90s, we took our two kids to NOLA nearly every Spring Break. We always stayed in the Quarter and did a river cruise and went to the zoo on the trolley and visited the Garden District, etc. There was always at least one parade to go to (usually St. Joseph’s Day) and one year the Easter Parade went right by our hotel window. These days you can go to the Aquarium and the World War II museum (the BEST!) and some great new restaurants. Our kids, now middle-aged, still love New Orleans and love telling their friends about the wonderful spring trips they took.

    • Just moments ago I posted about my recent solo trip to New Orleans and how it seems like such a great place to bring kids! I’m hoping to bring my littles next year. Thanks for sharing your story as it only makes me more excited!

  55. janee says...

    As both a child and an adult, vacations have always involved camping in a small towed camper of one sort or another. (Currently a Casita but childhood was a pop-up). They are a really great luxury I’ve come to appreciate. More comfortable than a tent, more practical than an RV and still give you that special feeling of interacting with the great outdoors as well as effortlessly feeling like you’re in a Wes Anderson movie. As a child we went mostly to both east coast and Gulf beach campgrounds and as an adult it’s been largely forest and river camping. I do deeply enjoy exploring cities and culture but for vacations, I don’t think there’s anything I’d rather do than be in Nature.

    • Lisa says...

      Agree 100%. All vacations when I was little involved travel and sleeping in our Volkswagen camper. I always got the pop up bed at the top! We went to campground after campground and to the Outer Banks before they were as developed as they are today. I am so glad to have had that in my childhood and am trying to figure out how to recreate the wonder for my little guys.

  56. Kim says...

    These all sound fun. We went to York every summer as a kid. At the time, it was sort of off the beaten path, which was nice.

  57. Jenn says...

    We live in South Dakota, and can’t wait to take our kids to the Black Hills again this summer. I know many Americans get to the Hills once in a lifetime, and we consider it so fortunate that we can visit places like Badlands, Jewel Cave, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, and many others annually (or even a few times a year). There’s something that’s so nice about this trip for us – it’s about a five hour drive, we can get a cute cabin, get a donut at Wall Drug along the way, and have a great time. Soon I know we should start exploring other places, but with a 2nd grader and a preschooler, it’s nice to get them excited about somewhere they KNOW they will have a great time. July, come quick! I recommend South Dakota to everyone looking for a great vacation. We’ll treat you well, promise!

  58. Alexi says...

    My dad took my sister and I across route 20 when were were 12 and 10. It goes all the way from Massachusetts to the coast of Oregon. We took several weeks and just meandered across the country. It instilled my love of travel at a young age. I am currently in Vietnam for two weeks right now haha

  59. Josie says...

    We just did the New Mexico one almost exactly for Spring Break! It was really fun! Carlsbad, White Sands, Bandelier, plus we hit up Guadalupe Mountains National Park on the way back home to Houston. While in Santa Fe we went to Meow Wolf which was amazing!

  60. Angela P. says...

    I bought my husband a book on the great American railroad as a Christmas gift (inspired after reading a Cup of Jo post or comment about a book exchange tradition/date night (?) around Christmas time), and he GOBBLED it up. Fast forward three months, and we’re now set to take a train trip from Chicago to San Francisco this summer (it’s a 52-hour (!!!) train ride…) with my parents and sister, eventually making our way out to Yosemite and meet up with my brother and his fiance. As much as I grumble about how much easier it would be just to fly to California, 1) I have no one but myself to blame since I unintentionally planted the idea and 2) I secretly am excited to sleep on a train and be stuck together to chat, dominate in Blokus, and daydream. Plus, my parents are stoked, which makes my heart swell with gratitude that we can do this trip together.

    • Lena says...

      What book was it? That sounds fabulous!

    • Angela P says...

      “Nothing Like it in the Wolrd” by Stephen E. Ambrose :)

      He read “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough right before Christmas and was the inspiration to my gift choice, in case you were looking for a couple of book recs

    • Eileen says...

      Oh yeah baby BLOKUS!!!

  61. Franny says...

    When we would drive from our home on the East Coast to the Midwest to visit my mom’s family, my parents, brother, and I would always be charged with picking out two things/places/sites that we wanted to see along the way. It made the drives way more fun and resulted in getting to see all kinds of things along the way (The “Little Grand Canyon”, the start of the Oregon Trail, Carhenge, and all kinds of tiny museums along the way). It also, in retrospect, was a way to get two kids excited for the prospect of endless hours in a suburban.

    Maybe less trip than the process itself, but it resulted in some really fun memories.

    • Laura Candler says...

      I love this idea!

  62. celeste says...

    I live in Madison and staycations are always great. Excellent children’s museum. The train trip would be my dream but we are taking the kids to Disneyland this summer. Wish me luck…it sounds like a parent’s nightmare!

    • Christine says...

      We’ve taken my stepson to Disney a few times (usually around July 4th) and it’s been great. My tip, eat at the picnic area just outside the park. It’s got lovely shaded tables, perfect for eating some sandwiches or salads packed up on the cheap from Trader Joe’s or Fry’s (local chain of grocery store). We would also bring food for a snack break later in a soft cooler bag to store in a locker-cut up fruit, chips, etc.
      Taking a real break, away from the rides but still onsite, helped make for a much more relaxing day.
      Also, check ahead to see what rides are not open that day. Setting expectations ahead of time when the Runaway Train was closed for inspection helped. Leverage the ride reserve (basic, included in ticket price) to make the most of your day. Have fun!

    • DC says...

      Hi Celeste! Disneyland passholder here. If you want early-morning coffee in CA Adventure and the Starbucks line is long, go to Ghirardelli–there’s hardly ever a morning line. If you want a moment in a classy bar (where kids are allowed!) hang out in the Carthay Circle lounge, where there are excellent cocktails. Try to hit any of the must-do Fantasyland rides early in the morning if those are a priority, because things like Peter Pan don’t have fast passes (and have long lines by midday), but all the big rides do. And if you don’t want to pay $15 each for MaxPass (fast passes on demand), have one parent collect all of the tickets and go grab fast passes while the rest of you lounge somewhere or wait in line for something else. Good luck!

  63. Lauren says...

    I grew up going to Martha’s Vineyard for a couple weeks every summer with my family and have so many fond memories of those days! Great beaches, endless bike trails, classic ice cream spots – it’s really an idyllic summer vacation spot. Any time I go back now as an adult, I immediately feel like a kid again and get the urge to go to jump off the bridge at State Beach and ride my bike to the candy store in Edgartown. Watching the sunset on the beach in Menemsha while eating fried seafood take-out will always be my happy place :)

    • Laura says...

      As an international working at a camp in Sharon, MA, some of my best summer break memories were at Martha’s Vineyard! I love its quaintness, and the fact that we passed the POTUS one time! A special moment was sitting out deck on the ferry back, watching a red sunset and then seeing a shooting star so big that the entire deck ooohed together!

    • Claire says...

      Yes! We’ve had a couple terrific Martha’s Vineyard vacations. Menemsha is so wonderful. Last time we were there we chartered a sunset sailboat ride (nobody else signed up so it ended up only our family) and it was my best favorite thing ever. I also love the swordfish steak sandwiches at the Net Result, and the flea markets and farmer’s markets.

  64. Ro says...

    When I was young, we traveled so much – I had checked four continents off my list by 12 – and it became such a part of who I am/was/grew to be.

    I’m not financially able to afford the same kind of travel for my own kids (my parents weren’t rich – I can’t figure out how we could afford it! Maybe it was just a different time, and we did stay with family in a lot of places), and it pains my heart. I try to sort of make up for it by exploring nearby places and I’m always reminded how much they love any trip we take where there is a swimming pool!

    Funny story though – we live in Seattle, where there is no Wal-Mart, and somehow on every weekend trip to another town we end up visiting Wal-Mart. Now when I ask my kids what kinds of things they want to do when we go somewhere it’s always swim and go to Wal-Mart, like that’s some exciting vacation-only store.

  65. Amy says...

    I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband and 10 year old. We all prefer to visit large cities or the beach for vacation, and have been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places in the past few years including Paris, NYC, DC, Maui, San Diego. This year our vacation plans are more local and outside our typical comfort zone: we are taking a river rafting trip in Southern Oregon, visiting the Redwoods in Northern California, and spending a few nights “glamping” at a “Treehouse” resort. Although we live in Oregon, we are not a very outdoorsy family, so this will be a true adventure for us!

  66. SB says...

    Loved seeing Maine in there (as a native Mainer!) but honestly – I would recommend going to maybe Camden or Bar Harbour (Acadia National Park!) or even Old Orchard Beach for more “classic” Maine.

    Or come all the way up north (where I’m from :) ) and if you’re really outdoorsy, do a week on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway – one of my all-time favourite childhood and adulthood holidays, hands down :D Canoe and camp your heart out while enjoying the clearest night skies and most pristine waters, far away from the bustle of everyday life.

    • jemma says...

      Completely agree with you, even heading to Portland and the surrounding area is a bit more “classic.” Those areas are beautiful and there’s still a lot to do with children. We rented a lake house last summer and my little cousin’s came to visit and there was still plenty for them to check out. I’m not a Mainer but I wish I was! I spent a lot of family vacations in Maine growing up, from Portland up to Bar Harbour area, and it is my favorite state aside my my home-state. Even now, I try to get to Maine for a few days each summer.

      Also, one place I’m looking forward to taking my children when I have them (someday) is Israel. It’s where a lot of friends live and one of my favorite places, I can’t wait to see it through a child’s eye… there’s a lot of color and life to explore.

    • Rose says...

      I second Old Orchard beach, Maine. It really is like a blast from the past. Maine really is vacationland.

  67. Molly says...

    Check out some guided family trips! We love Backroads (www.backroads.com) but there are other companies, too, that focus on group family trips – Austin Adventures, National Geographic, Classic Journeys.

    • Molly says...

      I’m sorry – this was meant to be a reply to the person who was asking about ideas for trips with her only child.

  68. Marcella says...

    Growing up we didn’t go on vacation much except for the beach – turns out my parents are beach rats. It’s so interesting to me because we would always go for the day when I was younger, and then as we got older we started staying in condos, etc. So I LOVE the beach and always had so much fun and my brain cannot understand how my boyfriend doesn’t like the beach! He’s like “I dunno I didn’t grow up going.” It’s definitely something I think about for when I have kids someday – we always went to the river for the 4th of July here in TX and it’s another place I love because of so much nostalgia. Guess if you just put me by any body of water I’m happy!

  69. Kelly says...

    these are some great ideas! I am still trying to figure out our ideal family vacation…my husband like Adventure and Roughing It and is very Frugal and also very Independent (aka doesn’t like guides/tours/or really anything planned)…I like spas and really good food and a bit of structure…my kids are 8 (and very social) and almost 3 (aka not old enough to do a lot of things but sooo sad if her big sister does something that she can’t)…it feels very hard to find something for everyone. I’m hoping that by next year with a 4 and 9 year old it will get easier…

  70. Lisa says...

    Our kids are very little and we don’t have family nearby so at the moment our favourite trip is to go and stay with my in laws (who live in the south of France, so it’s not too bad …). My husband and I then go and do a night or two at a fancy hotel on the Côte d’Azur or Provence and the kids have uninterrupted grandparent time.

    We also go to Cape Town (where I’m from) which is just INCREDIBLE with kids. It’s very cheap (apart from flights) and kids are welcomed everywhere. There’s so many places to visit in the city and nearby (like big cat parks, Boulders Beach where you swim with penguins) it’s just great. And good weather!

    • Myfanwy says...

      We were in Cape Town last July and it was great. Our best night was definitely Madame Zingaro’s. The kids made pizza in the kitchen while we sat and chatted at our table. I was hovering and the waitress said, “Go! This is your moment to enjoy!” Best dinner all holiday.
      The winelands were also great. Lots of places had playgrounds and because it was winter, they were almost empty and the staff were super relaxed.

  71. Chelsea says...

    I was thrilled to see New Mexico featured here today! I live in Albuquerque with my husband and three kids and we love all of Ashley’s suggestions. New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment and it truly lives up to that name. So many beautiful landscapes, amazing food, and great culture. I would also recommend Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. It is such a fun and unique spot for kids and adults, like nothing you’ve ever seen before. https://meowwolf.com
    Los Poblanos Inn & Organic Farm in Albuquerque is a great place to stay with a family or just adults. Beautiful scenery and wonderful food. https://lospoblanos.com

    • Em says...

      Me too, Chelsea! I live in Oklahoma but love New Mexico! My husb., toddler, and I are heading to Santa Fe in a few weeks for a long weekend/first-in-a-very-long-time vacation! Any suggestions for what to do with a toddler? I love Bandelier and Tent Rocks, but I’m a little afraid of her falling off something. And I’ve heard of Meow Wolf but wonder if it’s something we should save for when she’s a little older?

    • Josie says...

      We just went and did many of the suggestions in New Mexico plus Meow Wolf. It was so fun. My kids are 3 and 5 so we didn’t get to get into the whole story of it but it will be fun to do if we get back! You live in a beautiful state!

    • Moira says...

      LOVE Los Poblanos! The restaurant there is amazing as well and I pretty much bought the entire gift shop of lavender goodies :)

    • Chelsea says...

      Em, we have been to Meow Wolf with our kids multiple times and the last time we went my toddler had a blast. It’s very hands on and fun for them. The only people I would not recommend it for are those with sensory issues, there are so many lights and sounds it could be extremely overwhelming. We have enjoyed it every time even though we have always visited with kids in tow.

      Shake Foundation is a great restaurant with kids because it’s like a little burger stand where you walk up and order then enjoy the delicious food on picnic tables outside. And they have great food and fun flavors of shakes like lavender or salted caramel. We’ve also been to The Shed and their sister restaurant La Choza with kids and those are good spots to enjoy a margarita and New Mexican food. And Cafe Pasqual’s has the most incredible breakfast and I have brought toddlers there as well. There are lots of great hikes on the road up to the ski area, but depending on weather, it might be a bit cold. The Railyards are cool and there is a fun park over there (La Choza is in this area). And Whoo’s Donuts is in that area and delicious too. Collected Works Bookstore & Coffee Shop is a fun spot to grab a coffee and look around, and they have a good kid’s section.

      Have fun!

  72. Cynthia says...

    My parents could not afford family vacations when we were growing up, so we typically took day trips. We could not afford family vacations when our children were growing up, but we did go camping on the weekends. In the summer, we had passes to a nearby amusement park, and I packed a picnic lunch. We always had ice cream at the park.

    • Casey says...

      Family camping trips are my favorite childhood memories. My parents sprung for a few more spendy trips over the years but I don’t even remember much from those trips – my only lasting Disney memories, even, are the terror of Space Mountain, my brother’s sunburn, and standing in long lines. Even rainy camping days (playing Guess Who all afternoon and reading Boxcar Children books) were more magical for me than The Magic Kingdom. (Not to criticize Disney at all, just saying that spending more doesn’t mean a better experience.)

  73. t says...

    We are very fortunate to have done lots of trips with our 6 year old twins: NYC, Charleston and Savannah (and the beaches between), Nashville, Yosemite, Ski trips, beach trips, desert trips, camping trips, sailing trips (long weekends staying on a boat), talum, but hands down their favorite place to vacation is the north shore of Kauai.

    • Moira says...

      YES to Kauai North Shore! We went there on our honeymoon and the view of Hanelai Bay is still the most breathtaking view of my life.

    • tmercí says...

      We did Maui in December with our 5, 3, 1.5 kids. It was great. I can’t believe how relaxing it was. I was worried about the time change, but they were rock stars. We went to bed early and got up early, did a few hikes, tidal pools, beaches, and swimming pool. The hotel we stayed at 3 of the restaurants kids 6 and under ate free! It was lush. Traveling is something so important to us and I want to share with the kids, so we’ve prioritized it. Seeing their excitement about a waterfall, whale – just brings me so much joy. Oh and the thing my kids talk about- the amazing French toast at breakfast 🤦🏽‍♀️

    • Denise says...

      This is how I feel about the east side on Oahu (Kailua, Lanikai). I’ve traveled to so many places, but that is simply my favorite place to vacation.

  74. I grew up vacationing different places every year (long car trips, lots of camping), and thought that I’d do the same thing with my children. As it turns out, we do not do that. We spend a week in Santa Barbara every summer, and Spring Break is either Mammoth or San Diego, depending on whether we think our daughter will want more snow time or more beach time that year. I’m surprised by how comforting it is to have these traditions, when I previously enjoyed the novelty.

    • Kathleen says...

      I’m currently on vacation with my 3 yr old and 4 month old near Tampa, Florida- at my in law’s condo, and I must say it’s a great break from the cold & snow!

      Growing up we’d vacation each summer on Prince Edward Island, and it was magical. I’d recommend it to anyone!

  75. My favorite family vacation from my youth was when we drove from middle TN to Sebring, FL, where my mom grew up. I was a rising junior in high school, my brother was about to be in eighth grade, and my sister was just starting middle school. Along the way, we stopped at the University of Florida in Gainesville because my little brother was a huge Florida football fan and he begged my parents if we could try to sneak onto the field. We pulled in at around sunset and a groundskeeper let us onto the field. My brother’s excitement was so infectious! It is a sweet, bright memory of my childhood.

  76. Caitlin says...

    My family has been going to Martha’s Vineyard for a week every summer since I can remember. Morning runs with my sisters, biking to the beach, grilling fresh fish at night, and soaking up as much sunshine as possible. It is magical.

    Now that we’re all adults scattered across the country, it’s the one week a year we can count on all being together. I teach and have summers off, so this year I’m taking my pregnant belly and my toddler for a whole month, and I just cannot wait!

    • Amanda says...

      Going on vacation is basically what I live for. We just returned from a ski trip to Park City, Utah with a group of family and friends, including our three year old. I was so antsy when we came home about booking our next vacation that I planned a whole trip to Martha’s Vineyard at the end of the summer and booked it all in one night. We are planning on going to Hawaii next spring. Vacations are a luxury and I appreciate that. But there is nothing better for me than experiencing new things with my son. Our last several trips have been to the mountains (Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Banff). We love hiking/being outside. I’m really looking forward to Martha’s Vineyard because my son has never been to a beach and it will hopefully be a little more relaxing than hiking or skiing many miles a day!

  77. Abbey Richards says...

    When we had only one child and lived in DC the city itself was a great vacation, and so were weekend trips to places like PHiladelphia, the Delaware beaches or NYC.

    Then we moved home to Oklahoma and had more kids. For a few years vacations were mostly state parks within Oklahoma. As our kids have gotten older and finances better our favorite family trips have included: Disney World (road trip that included alot of driving + Friends + Florida beaches), Maui (extended family trip), Colorado (Estes Park, Winter Park, Colorado Springs), and Phoenix/Grand Canyon.

    • Linda Zalamea says...

      I’d love to hear what you did in Estes Park. We want to go there in the summer of 2020.

  78. Rue says...

    Oh wow, this is so strange… ALL of these are important places to me! Like even many of the Amtrak stops. Get outta my head, CoJ!

  79. Taylor says...

    Growing up my family was fortunate enough to do the “Southern California Jewish Exodus” and fly to Hawaii every year on Christmas. When I was around six and my dad started his own business he was able to make the Maui airport one of his clients so we went to Maui about twice a year and it’s my favorite place on Earth to this day!

    One of my favorite memories was Y2K–because everyone was worried about tech and flights, my dad flew our family out to Maui for TWO WEEKS over the new year–it was a magical trip.

    Fast forward to two years ago, moments into meeting my fiance and I ask him where he’s from he says, “Guam, but most of my family is on Maui.” I’m not saying him I’m marrying him because he has family on Maui (and now I do too!)…..but it one of the many things I love about him :)

  80. Megan says...

    What amazing trips!

    I’m so so curious — how does one “make their own meals” on Amtrak?! Please do share!

    • Becca says...

      omg my question exactly!!

    • Michèle says...

      Am wondering the same thing!

    • Tricia says...

      I was wondering the same!

    • Sandra says...

      I was wondering that too! We’ve taken lots of Amtrak trips (not overnight) and we usually have a little cooler bag with lunch and snacks, but I can’t imagine trying to do all of our meals on the train…

    • Flora says...

      I wondered this too! I would actually love an expanded post on the train trip.

    • anne says...

      YES! And did they share a sleeper car?! I love this mom!

    • Heather says...

      same question here! Came to comment that, but I figured someone else already had hah

    • Maire says...

      I was wondering this too. We did a 24 hr trip from Chicago to Glacier and finding enough decent food to eat on the train was our number one difficulty. It’s probably the only thing stopping us from doing it again! The snack car had weird hours and the dining car was always full! It was so weird and unexpected. Would absolutely love a full post on this family’s trip!!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Hang tight on this question, we are trying to get more details for you!

  81. Sandra says...

    So far with our now 8 y.o. son we have done:

    Cape Cod
    Camping in Door County, WI
    Ogunquit, Maine
    NYC/Fire Island (twice, because it was so awesome)
    Laguna Beach/Catalina Island

    So it seems like our theme tends to be places near the water than can be low-key when you want them to be but also offer lots to do and in some way have a throwback to another era kind of vibe. :-) We’re trying to figure out where to go this year but our son recently had a heart procedure and just be to be extra safe we are crossing islands off our list since we don’t want to be anywhere we couldn’t easily get to a good hospital in the off chance of an emergency. I’m open to suggestions!

  82. Callie says...

    My family had never been to Florida and then when my daughter was 4 weeks old (and just one week past her due date) and my son was 18 months old, my husband and I decided we’d take the last week of his paternity leave and “if we aren’t sleeping in NY, we can always go not sleep in FL.” We found reasonable flights to Tampa and a last minute cancellation at a gulf-front condo and we went.

    I thoroughly enjoyed watching my husband play in the heated pool with our son while I snuggled my daughter from a lawn chair (b/c I was not yet post-partum cleared for swimming). We ate a lot of seafood, I enjoyed prosecco out on the porch with my husband while kiddos napped, we walked to a playground several afternoons, we checked out a nature park.
    One day we even managed to make it to the Tampa zoo (where I badly leaked breastmilk through both my shirt and back up shirt and ended up buying a souvenir teeshirt). I fell in love with Florida in early March.

    We have never done Disney but we’ve gone back to the Gulf of Florida the last two years since. (We took my parents with us the last two years which made the trip a bit different but even better.) I’ve already booked the condo for next year.

    • Robin says...

      This sounds like pure magic! What a beautiful memory. I hope you still have that t-shirt :)

    • Summer says...

      Callie, this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever read! What a lovely idea!

    • Leah PS says...

      I love this so much. My husband and I have also adopted the “we can not sleep anywhere” approach and have made the most of both of my maternity leaves, taking little trips with our new babies. What special memories!

    • beth from fl says...

      Hey, there- may I suggest the next time you visit Florida, you check out some of the beautiful springs? There are so many all over the state, each amazing in its own way, and there are several within easy reach from Tampa. I promise you will have a terrific time, enjoying scenery that is quintessential Florida- and most of the state parks charge very little (like $5 per car, not per person). Highly, highly recommend.

  83. Kate says...

    I’m hoping the great CoJ hivemind can help me out here…

    What are your best suggestions for vacations that appeal to the only child set?

    Mom and Dad want a break too, but it’s not exactly enthralling for our daughter to have to sit tight while Mom and Dad read. We haven’t found other families to travel with yet, but something that had some built-in social element wouldn’t hurt…

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      such a good question! a dude ranch could be an amazing option because there’s a built-in group of kids doing the same activities. we’ve also gone to some family-friendly hotels (like ojai valley inn and spa) with kids programs in the mornings, so our boys will meet other kids there (while alex and i take a break from parenting); then we’ll end up meeting up with the families at the pool later and all hanging out. i’ll keep thinking of other ideas, and i’d love to hear from other readers!

    • Shannon says...

      My only child daughter would highly recommend a Disney Cruise! She made friends in the kids club almost immediately & loved the “freedom” of doing her own thing. Disney does most things right & cruising with them was amazing. Signed a self-proclaimed cruise hater!

    • We are right there with you! See my comment below about family camp!!! But also, I think like Joanna said, if you go to a resort where there’s other kids maybe they make friends? We recently went to The Ranch at Laguna Beach and it was amazing how we met other families on the beach and at the resort that were instant friends for my daughter (to be fair, she is super extroverted). Also, a Disney vacation where they have a kids club (like the cruises, or Aulani) is great for this if you’ve got the $$$!

    • Lilly says...

      We used to go to orchestra camp in the mountains in BC every year (Valhalla Summer School of Music), and that was a great option – maybe there’s a camp your kid would like to do somewhere fun? There must be some great options that aren’t sleep away, like this.
      I have amazing memories of hanging out in the lake with big gangs of kids, wandering to the grocery store in our swimsuits for popsicles after practice, backstage nerves, first crushes & card games at the final concerts, and generally being kids all around this small town. And our parents got a break while we were at classes all day! My dad used it to paint a lot and my mum would hike, and they would trade off babysitting nights with some of the other parents and go off into the next town for date night.

    • Michèle says...

      We have found that our only child had great fun on “adult” trips. In Italy (age 7), he loved the sights that we wnated to see – the Coliseum, the leaning tower of Pisa, Cinqueterre. He was happy to walk around and observe/discover and if he got tired we stopped for gelato. Same for Paris the following year (sub croissant for gelato). Most museums are interesting to all ages (les Invalides in Paris is great for a little boy fascinated by the military). Maybe we got lucky with our boy!?

    • t says...

      Yes, I agree: resorts with kids programs are great: Fairmont Myakoba, dude ranches, club med, cruises, etc.

      Another thing we do is we switch off days or activities. So adults pick an activity and then kid(s) pick an activity. So we may do a historic tour as the adult activity and then the afternoon at the children’s museum.

      And for us, any beach dayis always great for kids and adults. Adults can relax and kids get to play and make friends.

    • Michele says...

      Our resort in Hawaii (Fairmont Orchid) had a Kid’s Club which we could drop her off for a few hours with an organized activity with other kids her age. We ended up meeting up for dinner or pool time with the families that she met through the Kid’s club.

    • Morgan says...

      I’m sure it depends on how old your daughter is, but if she’s old enough that she already has some independence at home (ie not a baby or small toddler), I wouldn’t worry about it too much! I’m an only child and remember many family vacations very fondly – and it never crossed my mind that I spend most of the time entertaining myself. As long as there’s safe outdoor space -so maybe not a big city vacation- there’s plenty to do! I have great memories from as young as 5 years old playing on beaches, going on walks, and just exploring the outdoors in new places. In my experience, only children are usually content to do their own thing, and presumably that’s what she’s used to doing at home already :)

    • Rosemary Laurin says...

      Our simple solution is to always take along a friend, and you can travel wherever you like. Works well for everyone.

    • Cheryl says...

      We have a Singleton too and find that hotels with kids clubs are the best. They tend to be nicer hotels, yes, but it’s worth every penny, even to begin and end a trip somewhere that has a full service catering room of toys and people to play. Sometimes they even run activities through dinner so you and your spouse can have a lovely dinner alone.
      Big cities are also fun with kids. We were just in NYC and between the great kid friendly museums and the park, we were all beat and ready for some screen and book time at our hotel just to unwind from the excitement. I met up with my old friends one night at a restaurant alone and my husband took a turn the following night to break it up.
      We’ve also traveled with family which obviously helps because built in babysitters.

    • FGB says...

      As the parent of an only child, this hasn’t been much of an issue. He’s used to being with mom and dad and the routine of that, which transferred pretty easily on vacation. When he was little, I was always conscious to include fun kid friendly activities into our day (having water – a pool/lake/river, always helped). Though he always enjoyed grown up activities as well. As he has gotten older, we have included a friend on our trips. He loves it, friend loves it, we love the friend, everyone wins! (minus the wallet, but in our case, it’s worth the investment).

    • Molly says...

      I accidentally responded upthread. You should check out some group family travel, like Backroads or Austin Adventures.

    • Sandra says...

      We have an only (age 8) and don’t really do upscale hotels or cruises so don’t really stay anywhere with Kids’ Clubs. We do a good mix of kid/adult activities wherever we go, but I don’t feel like we ever just get to kick back and read. I don’t think I’ve finished a book on vacation since he was born! I wish someone would start a travel group for families with only kids! (Hmmm…maybe I should do it?)

  84. I adore trips to Hilton Head Island with my family. We always get a big house with its own pool, close to the beach in the Palmetto Dunes resort. It’s something I look forward to every summer. One of my favorite parts (besides lots of family time!) is riding a rental bike along the beach every morning at dawn. Pure heaven!

    I highly recommend the Skull Creek Boathouse restaurant, by the way. Very family-friendly, with great food and service.

    • Tasha says...

      Our family (three littles 11, 5, 3) are heading to HHI, and staying in the Palmetto Dunes area, in a week. I’ve never been, very excited. Will check out your restaurant recommendation, thanks!

  85. We live on Vancouver Island with our five children under 9 and last year bought a tiny 16ft trailer that we (aka my husband) renovated (here! https://themumandthemom.com/2018/08/04/the-tiny-trailer-part-iii/ ) … it is a bit like watching clowns pile out of a car when we pull up to a campsite and unload all the children into what is normally the smallest trailer there but it’s super cosy and works perfectly for us.

    It was surprisingly the most relaxing trip we’ve taken in the past 9 years of parenting! Everyone slept really well… we drove 6hours a day and the kids got into such a calm driving routine that my husband and I felt like we had time to ourselves to just enjoy the scenery and chat up front.

    Last year, we did a trial trip on the island to Tofino BC – and then an 5000k American road trip all the way down to Utah (here! https://themumandthemom.com/2018/08/09/the-tiny-trailer-goes-to-america/ )… we loved it so much that this year we are adding an extra bunk bed to make space for our new baby, 6 weeks old – and getting ready to drive the west coast of the US down, through Seattle to Palm Springs)… so am hoping for some good west coast reccs to turn up in the comments :)

    Xx

    • Jill says...

      Love this Hannah! What an adventurous family!

    • Kate says...

      We are also on Vancouver Island and oddly I use to live in Utah so we road trip regularly down to Utah with our kiddos! Some of our best vacations! Our friends just drove with their kids down to San Fran this summer and they went o and on about dune buggies at the sand dunes in Florence Oregon! They all had such a good time we are putting it on our list! Also have you been to Hornby Island?? We started going five years ago and it’s now a summer tradition! My kids adore it and my husband and I love the laid back vibe and excellent beaches!

  86. Lisa says...

    My favorite family vacations have always been to Ocean Isle Beach in NC. It’s a barrier island packed with houses, just a few restaurants and shops, and of course beautiful beaches and canals/waterways.

    We always rent a house on the canal, and every day is basically the same. Wake up, have breakfast, go to the beach until mid-afternoon (and sit next to the same families all week – the joys of the Saturday to Saturday rental system), come back, hang out in the canal (in a big blow up raft! or stand up paddle boards!) start happy hour a little early ;) either back on the beach or on the big back porches. Someone is in charge of cooking, there are always card games and great conversation – and it its definitely my happy place. We haven’t been back in a few years since my siblings and I are all in busy stages of of lives (weddings, over-seas moves, etc). but it’s my favorite place in the world.

    I’m hoping to go back in the next few years with the family and show my New England (Cape Cod lover) fiancé the special joys of the NC coast :)

    • Meredith says...

      Hello from neighboring Sunset Beach, NC! (Sadly not there right now, but a piece of my heart always is!) I grew up spending Thanksgiving at Sunset since my aunt and uncle own a house on the island. We started the tradition wayyyy back when there was still a swing bridge to the island! It’s an unusual time of year for an extended family beach trip, but that just makes the years of memories even more special. Eventually we outgrew the one house and had to rent a neighboring house for all of the cousins and their growing families to fit! Every year you can count on jigsaw puzzle competitions between the two houses racing to complete Margaritaville themed puzzles (no surprise, Grandma’s team always seems to win!) and plenty of sunrise and sunset walks on the empty beach. With a little luck, you can generally spot deer that live behind the dunes on the walk down the beach access boardwalk!

  87. Rosie says...

    Many people can not afford to have family vacations. I typically ask my students what they did over break instead of where there went in an effort to be inclusive.

    • Jill says...

      That’s beautiful Rosie.
      Applause.

    • Cynthia says...

      A good point. I used to ask my students if they had a good break.

    • Annie says...

      That’s a nice way to be inclusive! My siblings and I joke that the only “family vacations” we went on as children were to attend funerals or weddings of family members. We were lucky, though, to grow up near the beaches in Northern California, so really who needed to leave? :)

    • A says...

      Yes. Yes. Yes. These questions/posts tend to underscore that the ideal reader is someone who has money. It’s hard for people who have money to understand how loaded the breezy question about favorite family vacation destinations is.

      It’s like being told that everyone else is in another room having an unlimited ice cream party that you weren’t invited to. And they’ve been at that party for 30+ years.

    • Laura says...

      I’m glad you do this. We live in an area where kids go on vacation for every break and my family cannot do that. One of my child’s teacher asked the students where they were going and only two students were not going somewhere and one was my child. She felt so sad. I wish more teachers do what you do.

    • Sam says...

      I appreciate hearing that Rosie. We have become a travel obsessed culture and while I LOVE vacations too, it is not the be all end all of a happy childhood. In addition to financial considerations, there are environmental reasons not to travel extensively (especially by plane).

  88. Kate says...

    I recently realized that my family hasn’t taken any kind of trip all together since I was pretty young, so well over 20 years. We never had the money for all 4 of us to fly anywhere together, or the freedom to all leave town at the same time for an extended period because of work or school obligations. The weird thing is that now we’re all pretty well-traveled people…just not together! This is making me want to plan something asap!!

  89. Jill says...

    Last summer, my family stayed for one week in a cabin in the North Georgia Mountains. We enjoyed exploring Amicalola Falls, tubing down the Toccoa River, eating breakfast at Mercier Orchards, and visiting the city of Blue Ridge. At the time, my kids were 7 and 5. It was a great family vacation.

  90. Alexandra says...

    We have family in Germany and in Minnesota, so that’s where we usually go. A recent favorite was a two-week trip to Berlin (kids were 9 and 12). We rented a VRBO apartment in a decent area of town, so that the kids could go out on their own and explore a bit. There was subway connection a short walk away, bikes on the property and lots of little stores, restaurants, etc. in the walkable, non-touristy neighborhood. Since we had two weeks, we had a chance to hang out with friends and family and explore Berlin, including renting a boat on the Wannsee (which I can highly recommend), visiting the zoo and the panda bears there, going to the spy museum and the citadel in Spandau. The kids would go buy breakfast rolls at the bakery and we had fresh rolls every morning, and we had picnics with items from a Turkish grocery store nearby. It felt like living in a real neighborhood, and not just like being a tourist. Since we all have somewhat different interests, we split a few times, so that the guys did their thing, and my daughter and I went out together. It was a wonderful, very low stress two weeks. Highly recommended to stay in one place for a longer time to really get to know that place.

  91. Denise says...

    We’ve done camping road trips: Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon in one trip. Craters of the Moon, Yellowstone & Tetons in another. We also took an Alaska cruise one Fall which was an extravagance & so fun! Most recently we took the ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island and spent a week and it was SO lovely. There’s so much to see close by we haven’t really managed to travel outside of the American West but I’d love to go farther afield as well.

  92. Emily says...

    Here for the comments! I keep a running list of places/adventures for future family vacations.

    We started an end of summer beach week tradition at Cape May, NJ a few years ago for our two little kids. Love that place!

    • Regina says...

      Third generation Cape May lover here! I’ve gone my whole life and am lucky enough to take my young children there now. We live in Philadelphia so we make it there quite a bit over the summer. A wonderful place!

    • Lisa T says...

      Yes to Cape May! We used to go there as my neighbor had a place but back then it was a little boring for a kid as there were no rides. Now as an adult, I love the quaintness and beauty! Grew up in Philadelphia and my single parent mom would take the 3 younger of us (of 6!) to Ocean City NJ every summer for one week. We did not have any money but my mom saved up for that trip and we stayed in the same rental 3 blocks from the boardwalk and beach. We walked every where and always went to Mass on Sunday as that was the only thing to do with the Blue Laws:) Now I live in CT and we have gone to Cape Cod which is beautiful but I always have a soft spot for Ocean City!

  93. E says...

    I’ve been itching to plan a summer vacation this year for my family. We usually do long weekends but I’d love to do something for a week this summer. We are a family of four with six year old twin boys. Right now a long road trip would not be at the top of my list but a short one or flying would. (We live in New England). Does anyone have any good ideas?

    • We went to Acadia National Park last summer in early June right before the season officially starts and gets busy. Our kids are 3, 10, and 13 and they LOVED it. We stayed at Smuggler’s Den Campground in a really great cottage and cooked most of our own meals – grocery store nearby. Campground had a pool and nice playgrounds. Acadia itself is stunning and we ALL enjoyed it, but having a great place to stay was key for us, too.

    • Maureen says...

      I completely second Acadia National Park as well. This will be our fourth summer in a row we’ve taken our now 10 & 6 year old, we love it so much we’ve even gone back for two long Columbus Day Weekends. There are plenty of campgrounds, Air B &B or Home Away options, also several small hotels/cottages that can be rented. The national park is absolutely beautiful, there’s a small museum at the College of the Atlantic mentioned above that is fantastic for children, there is great hiking, Bar Harbor has plenty to do, there’s mini golf on the island, horse drawn carriage rides in the park, boat rides to other islands. We love Acadia and our kids count down the days until we are there again.

      Another option would be the Lake George area in New York, we’ve done a 4 day trip there and could have easily done a week…..great swimming, close day trip to Lake Placid, Ausable Chasm is nearby for great river tubing, excellent hiking.

  94. leahmarcella says...

    We went on a family vacation to a dude ranch in Texas 15 years ago and we all loved it so much, we decided to repeat it last year as adults for Christmas. Two of my fave vacations of all time!

    • Summer says...

      Which dude ranch?!

    • amanda says...

      We travel a LOT (lots of tagging along on my husband’s work trips, visiting family all over, and general adventuring. Last summer my mom and dad took my sibling, our spouses, and all the grandkids to Sylvandale (dude) Ranch near Loveland, Colorado. It was her favorite place as a kid, and she was happy to revisit it 50 years later. Let me tell you, it was magic. We each had our own horse for the week (and I thought i was nervous of horses), the kids forgot about technology, and the food…oh the food. outstanding. To all be together for a week was so special, we are planning on doing it again in 3 years. It was up there with our month and Thailand and “great american road trip”.

  95. About a month ago I was agonizing over what to do for a family vacation this summer. Our daughter will be 3 and a half, and she’s, um, a very *spirited* child. So we had to keep thinking about what would be fun for both child and parents, and was there possibly a type of vacation that would allow for a teensy bit of rest for us grown-ups?

    Last winter we went on a Disney cruise in the Bahamas with my entire family (a gift from my parents, for their 60th birthdays) and it was as amazing as you’d expect. The things we loved most about it: not having to make meals (or seek them out), and also the kids club that allowed us to steal time on the adult deck for a couple hours every day.

    We don’t have the funds to go on another Disney cruise this year, but those elements led us to sign up for family camp!! There’s a camp in the mountains about an hour away from us (we live in the LA area) that does family camp where the kids have their own little camp every morning, families have free time together in the afternoon to swim, go to the craft cabin, whatever, and then, get this: each family is assigned a child care assistant (basically, a trained teenage babysitter) who hangs out with your kid and puts them to bed every night so you have from after dinner till 11pm to do what you want! I also sprung for the “luxury” accommodations so we’ll feel more like we are in a hotel than a cabin, and have our own room separate from my daughter so I can go back and have some introvert time at night once she’s asleep. Can’t wait for July!!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh! What is this magical family camp you speak of? Xoxo

    • It’s called Forest Home; it’s in the San Bernardino mountains. There’s also one we heard about that sounds awesome (and doesn’t have a religious element) is called Montecito Sequoia Lodge (on the way to Yosemite). Some older friends of our said they went there every winter while their kids were young and it sounds magical.

    • Marissa says...

      Is this Family Vacation Center at UCSB? I’ve looked at this! Sounds fun.

    • Lil says...

      I also grew up going to family camp every year in Wisconsin, my brother and sister were in different age groups, but each day we’d have activities, go swimming, sail, hike, then have camp fires all together with parents. It was wonderful and as a child with anxiety, my parents would often let me accompany them by the lake while they read and I played with zebra crabs. A couple years ago I went on a trip, just my dad and I, up to the camp but stayed across the lake at an inn and it was one of my favorite trips ever.

  96. Meghan says...

    About five years ago, my grandparents both died within days of each other (my grandfather after a long battle with cancer, my grandmother very unexpectedly from a heart attack). After their estate was settled, my mom took the money she earned as executor and treated us and her siblings and their families to an amazing Hawaiian vacation. We’re a family that travels a lot (more than one airline employee in the family), but this trip was next level. We stayed at a beautiful resort, each family got their own car rental so they could go off and do their own thing during the day, she even gave us spending money. It was the first truly guilt-free vacation I’ve ever had (and still the only). It was about a year after their deaths, and because enough time had passed, we were able to share stories and memories and laughter.

    • Jill says...

      WOW. What a treat to experience together! Love!

    • What an absolutely beautiful way to spend an inheritance!! So inspiring.

  97. Hannah says...

    For 27 years we have gone on summer vacation with my mom’s family at a lake in Northern Michigan. It’s been a part of my life since before I can remember and, as a creature of habit, I love returning to our family happy place each summer. It’s where so many big things have happened, good and bad: where I got engaged, where my parents told me they were getting divorced, where my sister came out to us, where we saw my grandpa for the last time. Something about that place encourages intimacy and makes room for big life moments. It’s become harder to work out the logistics as our group nears 40 people, but I know I will always have a special place in my heart for that lake.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s so beautiful, hannah.

  98. Anna says...

    I gasped when I saw Madison featured!! Such a special place and super under-the-radar. One cool thing to do in the summer is Concerts on the Square– a free themed concert every Wednesday on the Capitol lawn by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love love love madison! we used to drive from michigan to visit friends who went to school there. the terrace on the lake is so amazing! and such a friendly place.

  99. Emily says...

    I go to school in Madison and my eyes basically popped out of my head when I saw it featured on CoJ! It’s a great place, definitely would recommend.
    Check out the:
    Bike paths!
    Food trucks in the summer!
    Concerts on the Square! (summer, again)
    Events on the frozen lakes in the winter!
    Chocolate Shoppe ice cream!

    It’s a cool place :)

    • Jill says...

      Have ALWAYS loved Madison! Winter or summer!

    • Rachel says...

      Every single summer, my dad’s whole extended family stays at a resort in St. Augustine, FL (yes, it’s very hot!). My grandmother grew up there and for the past 60 (!) summers, my family has spent a week there. Everyone stays in their own condos and can spend their time how they please—the only “rule” is that we all have dinner together. Everyone signs up for a night to cook, so we get to share recipes and be together in a home, which feels more intimate than a restaurant. It’s my favorite week of the year, and the relationships I have with my aunts, uncles and cousins as a result is something I treasure deeply. I can’t wait to bring my future children/partner one day.