10 TRIPS MADE FOR FAMILIES

YOUR NEXT AMAZING OUTDOOR VACATION STARTS RIGHT HERE!

by Monica Michael Willis
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Bixby Creek Bridge Beach along US 1
A gorgeous Monterey cypress tree
Monterey Bay Aquarium
WHY GO?
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Just two hours south of San Francisco, Monterey is arguably one of California’s loveliest coastal cities. Plus it offers great hiking, a world-class aquarium, and an astonishing array of wildlife viewing opportunities. Housed in a former sardine factory, the historic Cannery Row waterfront district (memorialized by John Steinbeck in his award-winning novel) is a prime spot to photograph some of the city’s most famous residents—the lumbering sea lions who call the municipal piers home.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Start your day off by getting to know the turban snails, giant green anemones, and gooseneck barnacles that flourish in the tide pools along nearby Asilomar State Beach. Later, motor along the coastal 17-Mile Drive, stopping to watch the pelicans at Bird Rock and take selfies at the renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links. And give yourself at least half a day to take in the 45 interactive kid exhibits at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, located at Cannery Row. You’ll be mesmerized by the phosphorescent jellyfish as well as the 28-foot-tall tanks that offer visitors a diver’s-eye view of everything from sardines and eels to leopard sharks.

Set aside a full day to motor along the majestic Pacific Coast Highway to nearby Big Sur, which lies 25 miles to the south. Hike the McWay Waterfall Trail, then lunch on the terrace at Nepenthe, a magical restaurant that’s been serving locals and travelers alike since 1949. Happily for parents, there’s a kids’ menu. For more info, check out Seemonterey.com.
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Sand Harbor State Park
Monkey Rock
Lake Tahoe
WHY GO?
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Sun and fun, of course. Incline Village is the perfect home base on Lake Tahoe, the largest (and arguably most beautiful) alpine lake in North America. While the 72-mile roadway that circles the freshwater lake makes it possible to “see it all” in a day or two, staying here will allow you to explore the area’s charms—gorgeous beaches, boat cruises, kid-friendly hiking, and scenic overlooks galore—on a series of short, no-stress day trips.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Pick up fruit smoothies and ham-and-hash breakfast burritos at Tunnel Creek Cafe, then head over to Monkey Rock—a nearby trail with one of the prettiest overlooks in the area—for an alfresco breakfast. Later, dive into the clear turquoise water at Lake Tahoe-Nevada State Park’s Sand Harbor , where your family can swim, play on the white-sand beach, rent kayaks, or take a standup paddleboard lesson. And while it may feel a little touristy to grown-ups, kids will love the narrated Emerald Bay cruise aboard the MS Dixie II, an old-fashioned paddle wheeler, accessed at Zephyr Cove Resort. For more details, check out Visitinglaketahoe.com.
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Glacier National Park
Many Glaciers Resort
Fishing in Lake McDonald
WHY GO?
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If outdoor adventure is what your family craves, look no farther than Glacier National Park, located about a 40-mile drive north of Kalispell, MT. Situated along the U.S-Canadian border, this spectacular, million-plus-acre park (nicknamed the Crown of the Continent) features old-growth forests, rugged mountains vistas, and mirror-like alpine lakes. You can bike, boat, fish, and hike along more than 700 miles of trails, including the family-friendly, 1.9-mile Rocky Point Nature Trail, which wends its way to the pretty beach at Lake McDonald. And don't forget your passport if you plan to cross the border into Canada. Calgary, home of the 1988 Winter Olympics, is about a 4.5-hour drive north of the park.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Treat yourself to a hearty breakfast in the grand Swiss Lounge at Many Glacier Hotel, which first welcomed guests in 1915, before piling into one of Red Bus Tours’ shiny, fire-engine red 1930s trucks with convertible tops. You’ll motor along Glacier’s famous 53-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road, which crosses the Continental Divide and offers Instagram-worthy views around every narrow, winding turn.

Along the way, you can stop and hike part of the famous Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which spans 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada. Junior anglers can also try their hand at fly-fishing (no license or permits are required) on the Flathead River, which boasts rainbow and cutthroat trout as well as largemouth bass. Bonus: There’s no limit on how many lake trout and whitefish you can catch, so there could be a seafood dinner in your future. For more info, check out Nps.gov/glac.
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Garden of the Gods Park
Pikes Peak Cog Railway
Manitou Cliff Dwellings
WHY GO?
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Over a mile above sea level, Colorado's second-largest city is situated at the base of Pikes Peak , the second-most visited mountain on the planet and the site of one of the richest gold strikes in American history. You can tour a Wild West gold-mining outpost turned ghost town; visit the United States Olympic Training Center; or get up close and personal with a T-38 Talon, the supersonic jet used to train fighter pilots at the U.S. Air Force Academy. And don’t miss the Academy’s Cadet Chapel, a stunning 17-spire glass-and-aluminum structure with soaring, 150-foot-tall ceilings.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Drive west along scenic Pikes Peak Highway to Pikes Peak Mountain. Climb aboard the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which has been taking passengers up the 14,115-foot mountain since 1891. The spectacular views, which inspired the poem-turned-song “America the Beautiful,” include alpine waterfalls, aspen forests, and a glimpse of five states on a clear day.

Interested in a horseback ride, hike, or a little rock climbing? Stop by the spectacular Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, home to some of the area’s most famous red-sandstone formations, including Three Graces and Kissing Camels. To see what life might have been like in a 19th-century gold-mining town, saunter into the Ghost Town Museum. The kids can saddle up to the bar at an Old West saloon; tour a Victorian residence, blacksmith’s shop, and livery stables; and even pan for gold in summer.

And don't miss the chance to hand-feed one of the country's largest herd of giraffes (18 of them!) at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. You’ll also want to make time to visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, home to the mysterious cliff-side houses the Anasazi Indians carved into the area’s sheer sandstone mesas more than 700 years ago. For more ideas, check out Visitcos.com.
KID TIP
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Consensus among siblings is a rare thing, but Myah Patterson, 11, and her brother Garred, 8, agree that no kid should leave Colorado Springs without nabbing a gooey caramel apple or a big hunk of fudge at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. The same goes for visiting Old Colorado City, especially during Territory Days, an annual Memorial Day weekend event that gets the historic district jumping with live music, Wild West gunslingers, Native American displays, gold panning exhibits, pony rides, and more .
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Wide-open views
Blonde grizzly bear
Rockfish at the Pratt Museum
WHY GO?
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For families who want to truly experience the state’s wild beauty and gorgeous Kenai Peninsula, nothing beats Homer, a scenic, laid-back village at the end of Alaska’s Highway 1. Just over 220 miles south of Anchorage, Homer (a.k.a. the “The Halibut Fishing Capital of the World”) has it all—fishing, hiking, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and bird watching. If your kids are older, you can even schedule a once-in-a-lifetime day trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve to see grizzly bears in their natural environment, catching salmon and digging for clams. To amp up the kids’ excitement before hitting the road, check out Discovery’s Emmy Award–winning series Alaska: The Last Frontier, which chronicles the off-the-grid frontier lifestyle of the Homer-based Kilcher family.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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kip the oatmeal and surprise the kids with breakfast at Two Sisters Bakery, a popular café known for its organic coffee, hot cocoa, and irresistible baked goods (think buttery cinnamon rolls and jalapeño cream–cheese Cheddar buns). Afterward, drive along the 4.5-mile Homer Spit (the longest road into ocean waters in the world), where you can stop to hike, shop, have lunch, or sign up for a half-day fishing excursion with one of the many charters.

The next day, watch sea otters, seals, whales, porpoises, and shore birds galore from the deck of the Danny J, a fishing boat that ferries locals and tourists between Homer and Halibut Cove (population: 76), a fishing village turned artist colony, for a few hours of exploring. (Bring binoculars, as you’ll pass Gull Island Preserve, a bird sanctuary en route.) Once you arrive, check out the galleries, order fish tacos on the deck at The Saltry , and shoot a selfie in front of one of America’s only floating post offices. Before you leave, pick up local produce and goodies at the Homer Farmers Market, open Saturdays and Wednesdays, depending on the season. Get all the details at Homeralaska.org.
KID TIP
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“Every Tuesday and Friday at 4 p.m., the Pratt Museum lets kids help feed the fish in the aquariums, which is really fun and not something everyone knows about,” says Native Alaskan Lillian Sweeney, 11. “In the summer, my sisters and I like to go to Hobo Jim’s Frontier show at AJ’s Old Town Steakhouse & Tavern to hear Alaskan music, and we love the shakes and corn dogs at Glacier Drive In Cafe, across from the fishing hole at Homer Spit .”
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Nashville skyline
Kangaroos at the Nashville Zoo
Full-scale replica of the Greek Parthenon in Nashville
WHY GO?
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Music City’s about as welcoming and family friendly as it gets. Plus, it’s affordable; the food’s great; and there are loads of fun, kid-centric activities, many of which are free. Check out vintage concert reels of Elvis and sparkly dresses worn by Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift at the Country Music Hall of Fame; tap your foot at one of the many concerts at the iconic Ryman Auditorium downtown; or root for the Nashville Sounds, the city’s Minor League baseball team.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Hit up the Nashville Zoo, where kids can brush a goat, feed a lorikeet, and pet a kangaroo. If everyone in your group is 5 and up, you can sign up for a monthly behind-the-scenes tour of the elephant, giraffe, or anteater barns with one of their keepers, too. Later, grab a burger and fries and enjoy some live country music at Robert’s Western World, one of Nashville’s most venerable honky-tonks. (Admission is free, and kids are welcome until 6 p.m.)

At sunset, head to Centennial Park, across from Vanderbilt University, to feed the ducks and geese and climb the steps of Nashville’s life-size model of the Parthenon, built in 1897 for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition. You can also check out the free loaner bikes at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center, which boasts five miles of paved paths along the Cumberland River. Or rent a canoe at Foggy Bottom in nearby Kingston Springs for a leisurely paddle down the winding Harpeth River.

Don’t leave town without trying two of Music City’s best (and most affordable) restaurants: Mas Tacos Por Favor dishes up amazing chicken-tortilla soup and a rotating cast of fabulous tacos, while Hattie B’s nails the city’s signature hot chicken (the pimento mac ‘n’ cheese and black-eyed pea salad get high marks, too). P.S. Kids with tender taste buds can order their bird sans spice. For more info, check out Visitmusiccity.com.
KID TIP
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“When it’s sunny out, it’s really fun to walk or ride your bike across the big pedestrian bridge that connects downtown and east Nashville,” says third-grader Shae Camardo, 9. “You can see all the skyscrapers—my favorite’s the Batman building—and the Cumberland River below you. Rocket Fizz, a really cool shop with a million types of candy, is close by, too .”
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Tybee Lighthouse
Tybee Island Beach
Sea Turtle at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center
WHY GO?
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Why Go Nestled between some of the South’s prettiest coastal marshes and the Atlantic, this old-fashioned, laid-back barrier island has more than five miles of public beaches as well as loads of kid-centric activities (think dolphin-watching cruises, fishing, kayaking). And it’s all without the high-rise condos and glitz of neighboring resort towns like Hilton Head, SC. Bonus: You’re only 18 miles from Savannah, GA, one of the country’s loveliest and most historic cities.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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The kids will be more than happy to surf the waves, collect shells, and wade in the tidal pools at low tide, but be sure to save some time for exploring. Rent beach cruisers at Fat Tire Bikes (you can ride on the beach here), climb the 178 steps to the top of the iconic Tybee Lighthouse, and learn about Georgia’s nesting sea turtles at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center.

Hungry? Eat at Huc-A-Poo’s, a quirky hangout known for its pizza and wraps, or snag a table on the deck at A-J’s Dockside, where you can order fried shrimp and flounder, both caught daily by local fisherman. Feeling lucky? Join the locals at the family-friendly bingo held at the American Legion Post every Friday night, or head into town to cheer on the Sand Gnats, Savannah’s Minor League baseball team.

Afterward, stroll along the bustling main fishing pier at the public beach to see what everyone’s catching, and do a little stargazing. Before you leave, let the kids nab a souvenir at T. S. Chu’s, an 82-year-old general store on Tybrisa Street that carries everything from seashell art to pirate tchotchkes. For more info, check out Visittybee.com.
KID TIP
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“I like to ride my bike to the Back River Fishing Pier to look for dolphins and catch crabs, and the cherry and green apple snowballs at Seaweed’s are my favorite!” says Grace Molina, 6. Note to parents: Grace's mom says the pier's also the best spot on the island to watch the sunset over the marsh.
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St. Vincent Island
Lighthouse in Eastpoint
Snowy egrets
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Just 76 miles from Tallahassee, the Florida state capital, this idyllic fishing village has preserved its sweet, Old Florida charm while managing to avoid the willy-nilly high-rise development that plagues much of the Sunshine State. Kids will love the coastal wildlife and clean, uncrowded beaches; the historic downtown filled with shops, cafes, and galleries; and the bustling waterfront docks, where shrimp trawlers and fishing boats come and go throughout the day.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Get the inside track on Apalachicola from fifth-generation native Captain Jimmy Maxwell, the owner of Backwater Guide Service. He offers fishing trips in the bay, shelling excursions to Little Saint George, and ecotours on the Apalachicola Rivers, where you’re likely to see alligators, osprey, raccoons, deer, turtles, and more. And don’t miss the chance to explore the pristine white-sand beaches on nearby Cape San Blas, a gorgeous peninsula flanked by St. Joseph Bay to the north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. The kids can ride bikes on the new bayside paths; cast for fish in the crystal-clear shallows; collect curly worm shells, Atlantic coquinas, and yellow cockles; and snorkel in St. Joe Bay for sweet bay scallops. (The season runs from July 1 to just after Labor Day, and anyone can hand-harvest up to two gallons of the mollusks per day.)

Afterward, grab a riverfront table at Up the Creek Raw Bar downtown and treat the kids to peel-and-eat Gulf shrimp, crab cakes, or some of Apalachicola’s renowned oysters. If seafood’s on your kid’s never-gonna-eat-it list, order a dozen briny bivalves for yourself and let junior chose from the affordable children’s menu. Dessert anyone? Make a beeline to the Apalachicola Chocolate Company on Market Street for caramel turtles, almond rocky road clusters, or handcrafted gelato in homemade waffle cones.

If you can pull the kids away from the beach, visit the nonprofit Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve’s free education center in nearby Eastpoint. There are trails and a boardwalk, interactive exhibits, aquariums, oyster boat models, and fun touch tanks—all designed to teach kids (and their parents) the importance of protecting the wildlife and marine ecosystem that makes the area so special. Get more details at Apalachicolabay.org.
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Horse-drawn carriage tour
Learning about life in the 18th century
Loch Ness Monster roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
WHY GO?
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Travel back in time to the 18th century—and give your kids the best history lesson they never knew they were getting. A manicured, 301-acre living-history museum, Colonial Williamsburg expertly depicts how daily life unfolded c. 1775 for American colonists, ranging from the local blacksmith and shopkeepers to Martha Washington and Patrick Henry. At every turn, you’ll get a very real sense of how society operated in the formative days of our country, right down to the authentic clothing worn by the docents, the meals served in the restaurants, and the heirloom flowers and vegetables growing in the property’s countless gardens.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Start the day at 10 a.m. sharp on the Palace Green, as an angry mob prepares to storm the Governor's Palace, then learn about the Declaration of Independence, meet George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and find out what it was like to be a Revolutionary War soldier.

Along the way, tour the regal George Wythe house, where General Washington set up his headquarters; try your hands at spy craft in the alternate-reality game RevQuest: Save The Revolution!; and enjoy a steamy bowl of cream of peanut soup—a late-18th-century favorite—at the cozy King's Arms Tavern. Souvenirs anyone? Head to the William Pitt Shop, a children’s boutique that carries reproductions of Colonial-era petticoats and dresses, dashing triangle hats, and period toys.

When your patriots have had their fill of history, drive to nearby Busch Gardens Williamsburg, home to Sesame Street’s Forest of Fun as well as more adventurous rides like the Loch Ness Monster, a stomach-churning roller coaster that drops 114-feet and reaches speeds of up to 60 miles per hour! Get more info at Colonialwilliamsburg.org.
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Mt. Greylock at sunset
Hancock Shaker Village
Kidspace Gallery at MASS MoCa
WHY GO?
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So many choices, so little time. Tucked away in western Massachusetts’s incredibly beautiful (and under-the-radar) Berkshire region, Great Barrington has it all—quiet country back roads, a postcard-worthy downtown, and close proximity to oodles of fun day trips. Two highlights: You can hike a section of the Appalachian Trail on Mount Greylock (elevation: 3,491 feet), or visit the 36-acre Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, where the artist created many of his famous Americana paintings for The Saturday Evening Post. You can tour his studio, too.

WHILE YOU'RE THERE
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Browse the locally owned shops and cafes along Railroad Street, get a hot chocolate or a scoop of the small-batch ice cream (try banana brownie or the salted caramel) at SoCo Creamery, then catch a classic film or a show at the 1905 Mahaiwe, a former vaudeville venue turned performing arts center that’s one of the oldest surviving theaters in America.

Within an hour’s drive, there’s plenty more to keep you busy: Take a free guided tour of the AniMagic Museum of Animation, Special Effects and Art (reservations required), then let the kids create their very own animated movie. Or step back in time at Hancock Shaker Village, a restored 18th-century Shaker village complete with cute farm animals, heirloom gardens, and historic buildings, including the village’s iconic round stone barn.

The next day, head to North Adams to roam MASS MoCa’s enormous contemporary art galleries, all housed in a massive complex of 19th-century factory buildings. The museum’s innovative Kidspace features child-centered exhibits as well as a hands-on art studio that helps visitors tap into their inner Picasso. For more info, check out Berkshires.org.
KID TIP
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Preschooler Norah Quasha thinks Tom’s Toys is the best shop downtown—if not the world. She also loves swimming at Lake Mansfield (a local swimming hole with a sandy beach) and getting dinner at Bistro Box, a super-casual roadside eatery on Route 7. “I like the fried pickles and strawberry lemonade, and they let you draw on the picnic tables with chalk while they cook your food,” says Norah.
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