Before You Go
Learn more about your destination:
Lake Charles: cityoflakecharles.com
La Jolla: lajollabythesea.com
If you're ready to shake off the dust from the same old summer plans and try something fresh, check out these vacation ideas. The five places are perfect for families and offer meaningful, hands-on experiences your kids will remember forever. Plus, we found local accommodations (and great eats) that will help you get what you need: some R&R. So pack your bags and head out for some fun!
Farmyard Fun in Martha's Vineyard, MA
The adventure: Most people think beaches when you mention this charming little island. We want you to think farms. Martha's Vineyard is full of them, and many are open to visitors. We recommend Katama Farm in Edgartown as a great starting place. Wander around the property on your own, or participate in a day-long program caring for hens, harvesting, cooking produce, making farm-related arts and crafts, collecting eggs, feeding pigs, or milking goats.
The accommodations: Just next door to Katama is the Winnetu, a conveniently located resort that runs interesting and educational activities for kids of all ages — toddlers through teens — like exploring beach finds, fire-truck rides, crafts and games, and more. (winnetu.com; 866-335-1133)
Local flavor: French toast at The Right Fork Diner in Edgartown
Deep-sea Dr. Doolittle in Clearwater, FL
The adventure: Does your child love sea creatures? Check out this sunny city, which offers an opportunity to interact with them up close. At the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, visit injured sea turtles, otters, and dolphins — including the world's only dolphin with a prosthetic tail — on their way to recovery and release. Nearby is the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a non-profit avian hospital where you're invited to walk among pelicans, owls, and other feathery folk, some waddling down the path by your side.
The accommodations: The Sandpearl Resort is a quick drive from both wildlife centers. We love it because it's "green"; it offers many kids' educational programs (a moonlit nature walk, day camp on the beach, astronomy night); and the staff will hook you up with outside activities like a boat ride with net pull where your tour guides collect fish, plants, and shells for hands-on demonstrations. (sandpearl.com; 877-726-3111)
Local flavor: Key lime pie at Palm Pavilion Grill & Bar
Gators Galore in Lake Charles, LA
The adventure: Great snapping jaws! What's the coolest way to get nose to snout with an alligator? By taking a leisurely drive down the Creole Nature Trail and venturing into the wildlife refuges along the way. Though it's a national scenic byway, this trail is traffic-free. As it takes you from Lake Charles through the towns, bayous, and beaches of southwest Louisiana, you'll see other birds and beasts, too, like turtles, crabs, and herons.
The accommodations: We suggest camping or RVing. Pick a home base (like Sam Houston State Park) and go exploring from there. In some shore areas (like Holly Beach), you can even settle your RV or tent right up on the sand. (For those who prefer a motel/hotel, we recommend the Microtel Inn and Suites, 337-477-4230.)
Local flavor: Voodoo-cue (shredded brisket) sandwich at Blue Duck Café
Down by the Bay in Caraquet, New Brunswick (Canada)
The adventure: The first leg of this journey is an overnight train ride on VIA Rail Canada's Ocean line from Montreal to Bathurst, New Brunswick. In the morning, sit upstairs in the observation dome watching forests and towns rush by as an onboard learning coordinator tells stories about the areas you pass. In Bathurst, jump in a rental car and drive 45 minutes to the small town of Shippagan, on the Bay of Fundy (see one of the highest tides in the world!), where you can check out an old, restored lighthouse and a collection of rare blue lobsters at the Aquarium and Marine Center. Neighboring Caraquet has an oyster eco-museum to visit, too.
The accommodations: We're crazy about Hotel Paulin, a charming spot on the water in Caraquet. Innkeeper Karen Mersereau helps her guests plan activities like fishing and mushroom hunting, and she often serves as a personal guide. (hotelpaulin.com; 506-727-9981)
Local flavor: Seafood omelet at Le Caraquet
Making a Splash in La Jolla, CA
The adventure: The waves at La Jolla Shores beach are considered the most gentle in San Diego, making it the perfect place for families to try out new water activities, such as scuba diving and snorkeling. Companies like OEX Dive & Kayak offer these as well as guided kayak tours for all ages — paddle out to see (harmless) leopard sharks, seals, dolphins, and maybe even a whale, up close! If you're brave enough to try hanging ten, make your way down the beach to Surf Diva, a cool company that offers private or group surfing lessons for all ages and skill levels.
The accommodations: Right near Surf Diva is the La Jolla Shores hotel, a comfortable, relaxed, family-friendly place located right on the beach. We recommend you spring for a room with a view of the water — you might catch a glimpse of dolphins playing in the bay. (ljshoreshotel.com; 858-459-8271)
Local flavor: Cowboy cookies at Girard Gourmet