Summer Vacation Hot Spots for Your Family

February 19, 2019

Imagine stepping out your front door and inhaling a mouthful of fresh sea-salt air. Or closing the door behind you and strolling on boardwalks past meticulously quaint gardens and picture-perfect cottages. Did you hear that? That’s right. No noise but the breaking of waves and the sound of surf and sand. No honking cars, no milling crowds, just miles of unspoiled views and the glimmer of white-powder sand shining in the early morning sun. 

Known for its 15 beaches, a 26-mile stretch of uninterrupted pure white sand and relaxed family atmosphere, South Walton, Florida, is the ideal place to come together and create lifelong memories. While the pristine beaches will always beckon with their promise of total relaxation, there are plenty of things to do here besides get your feet covered with sand, or your entire body if you happen to be playing with the kids. 

For nature lovers, South Walton is an endless playground with 40 percent of its land area preserved for state parks, dune lakes, and coastal forests. There is no limit to how much one can explore—and in what ways. Biking, horseback riding, or just taking long strolls along the dunes are some of the top pastimes here. To truly experience the scenery of the popular Rosemary Beach area, rent a bike or take a leisurely hike down the Eastern Lake Bike/Hike Trail. With three state parks, one of them being a 2,000-acre beachfront beauty, each park offers amazing wildlife and scenery.

Sporting enthusiasts and activity junkies will also find plenty to do here. Horseback riding through the local woodlands is a popular pastime, and the area is also known as a haven for paddle boaters. But for those looking for a more relaxing way to explore the water, kayaking across a dune lake is a must-do for the entire family. And last but not least, South Walton just happens to be a mecca for golf enthusiasts. With more than 207 holes of championship golf available here, locals swear by Walton County’s Tom Fazio-designed Camp Creek Golf Club that features a course with its own natural wetland system. 

For kids, highlights include spending the entire day at Treasure Island in the popular Big Kahuna’s Lost Paradise amusement park, a draw for little tykes and bigger kids alike. Another family excursion that gets top billing is the Gulf World Marine Park. Offering a variety of aquatic animals, birds, and a nighttime show, there’s also an option to swim with the dolphins. And while there’s plenty for kids to do here, adults will enjoy getting away for some alone time when night falls. Whether it’s sipping on cucumber martinis at one of the local quaint bars, strolling through the shops and art galleries, or kicking back and enjoying one of the many outdoor concerts in this sophisticated Florida town, there’s something to do for everyone here sunup to sundown.

If your idea of the perfect day sounds anything like this—traveling with the family to a remote village to experience local island traditions, hiking above the highest volcanic peak, and watching a humpback whale migrate in the distant shores, followed by a romantic dinner for two at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant Spago—then Maui is just the vacation you’ve been waiting for. On Maui, families with kids of all ages will thrive due to the natural bounty that awaits and the kid-friendly attitude of the locals. It’s a multigenerational hotspot, allowing for activities that accommodate youngsters, their parents and even their grandparents. This is a place for making memories.

Here, one can choose to kayak toward Turtle Town, where you’ll see green sea turtles swim with tropical fish. For families with older children, no trip to Maui would be complete without trying one’s hand at surfing or hiking up one of the many trails at the Haleakala National Park, Maui’s highest volcano. (For those who want to expend a little less effort, hitch a van ride up to the viewing area and careen down the winding road on a bike.) Families with kiddos in tow need not worry about their little ones braving the surf. Grab a spot at Baby Beach located in Lahaina. A great place for youngsters to wade into the water without large waves scaring them away, families can spend the day relaxing knowing that their kids’ foray into the ocean is both gentle and fun. Another great option for the little ones is the adventure-filled submarine ride excursion from Atlantis Adventures, which offers a unique stop at Carthaginian, a whaling ship replica that lies under 100 feet of water.

For something a little off the beaten path, day trips to Hana, a remote, unspoiled village, are known not only for the uniqueness of the destination, but also for the scenery along the way. Driving the road to Hana is an adventure unto itself—some car rental companies even cite it as a no-no. With gorgeous views, tropical waterfalls and the occasional grassy plain, the road to Hana is a popular excursion for families who are looking for natural thrills and an unspoiled view of Maui. This is one collective family experience not soon forgotten. As night falls and the little ones get restless, treat the entire family to an old-fashioned luau complete with twirling hula dancers, drumbeats, and fire throwing. The whole clan will come together in a fun, festive environment to feast and learn about the local traditions through dance, song, and food.

There’s a reason families return to C Lazy U Ranch in Colorado year after year. Tailored to accommodate every member of the family, the five-star dude-ranch vacation set in a rustic-but-pristine lodge is the perfect glamping (glamorous camping), high-rodeo experience that offers activities for individuals and large groups. From the accommodations to the activities to the location, everything works in tandem for memory-making and vacation-taking.

Think of it as a luxury sleep-away camp for kids (the camp is tailored to children ages 6 and up) that you can actually share with them at the end of the day. From learning to ride horses, to putting on plays, to telling stories by the campfire and operating a real-life carnival for the adults, there’s a sense of pride that comes with getting involved in this old-fashioned, camp-like experience, albeit with all the luxury conveniences modern families have come to expect.

Moms and dads who want some Wild West communion with nature but don’t want to sleep on the ground (and would prefer to have an on-site spa and gourmet restaurant) need not worry. C Lazy U combines country club amenities with all the excitement of the outdoors. At the beginning of your stay, you’re interviewed by the head wrangler, who then hand-selects the horse that matches your equestrian personality, whether it’s cautious never-ever or seasoned thrill-seeker. That’ll be your horse for the duration of your stay, and you can develop a special relationship with it. Riding along on a cattle drive is often a major highlight, as are the scenic trail rides. Still, there is plenty on offer for the non-riders in the group. For those who want to get outdoors in other ways, fly-fishing, zip lining, hiking, and tennis are just some of the active pursuits available here. No matter what a guest’s activity level or personal preference, the on-site ranch concierge works hard to ensure that every member of the family comes away with a happy experience.

Adults will feel as relaxed and catered to as if vacationing completely on their own, but with all the joy that comes from connecting with their children. Spa treatments, lounging by the pool, and gourmet dining are just some of the ways parents will choose to pamper themselves. And there’s no shortage of things to experience as a family. From a lunchtime barbecue to a sunset hike to a nighttime theatrical display, the staff here always plans something to bring families together. Your kids will beg to return every year after forming the kind of family bonds and new friendships that will last a lifetime. What’s really special about the kids’ program at the C Lazy U is that children learn the joys of time together and time apart, taking pride in their newfound independence and new skill sets. 

Claiming 80 miles of pristine shoreline, Nantucket instantly conjures up images of the lazy days of summer: long, endless stretches of time where one has nothing more to do than stroll the beach, take in the historic sights, or immerse oneself in a book. Teeming with history and the nautical splendors of surf, sun, and sand, this is an idyllic family retreat for large groups looking to step into a bygone era when time seemed to move a little slower and the days passed by a little breezier. There’s no doubt as to why families flock to Nantucket. Whether it’s riding bikes on the coast to check out every lighthouse, renting a boat to discover the many inlets and bays, pampering oneself at a deluxe spa, or feasting on the fresh catch of the day in one of the area’s acclaimed seafood restaurants, there is an activity to suit every member of the family.  

Another highlight that draws visitors year after year is the now famous Nantucket Farmers and Artisans Market. Brimming with the freshest vegetables and flowers as well as local handicrafts, there is always something to tempt shoppers here. Stroll the aisles to enjoy a nonstop parade of the sweet, the savory, and the handmade. Kids can pick out their dinner or a special souvenir to take home. Even local chefs come here to pick out ingredients for their farm-to-table creations. From the epicurean delights of the chef’s table at The Pearl to Todd English’s restaurant at The Summer House, the gastro pleasures of Nantucket are both savvy and breezy. The Farmers Market is one reason the local restaurants are some of the most celebrated in this area.

As night falls, romantic duos and fun groups looking to unwind from a long day of meandering head to the Club Car restaurant/bar located on Main Street. This restaurant is situated in an authentic 1800s Pullman train coach and has become a venerable institution, known equally for its engaging pianist Tony as the famous gin and tonics made with Hendrick’s gin. But there’s no reason you can’t kick back in your own well-appointed kitchen, grill up some fish that until that very day was swimming in the sea, and enjoy a simple and delicious meal. And perhaps you should have the kids do the dishes—one of the duties they can tend to in the transformation from swabbie on the deck to captain at the wheel. Even doing dishes can be an adventure on the high sea.