3 Tropical Family Getaways for Relaxation and Adventure

July 19, 2019

Families who vacation together, stay together. And whether they’re adventurers or relaxation-seekers, the following three locations have a variety of activities for everyone to enjoy.

1. Rosemary Beach, Florida

Idyllic. Charming. Timeless. All words often used to describe Rosemary Beach, a sandy-shore escape upon the warm waters of northern Florida’s Gulf Coast. Picture old world architecture reminiscent of Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; and even parts of the colonial Caribbean. Stately homes are interlaced by cobbled walk ways, sunny pools, pocket parks and grassy knolls—all within a short walk to the lovely downtown, where boutiques, cafes, art galleries and a day spa present a chance to relax while away.

Located along scenic Highway 30-A, an 18.5-mile stretch of road that wends along strips of fine-sand coastline, through marshes and wetlands, past hardwood forest and coastal scrubland, Rosemary Beach is one of 11 communities connected by four state parks, 27 miles of greenway paths and dozens of beaches. In Rosemary Beach, favored for its sugar-sand and family embracing ethos, there’s much to do and see. Homeowners and guests receive a secure passcode for the beach gate, keeping crowds minimal. The fine sand trickles through your toes en route to the warm, crystalline water. Once in the ocean, you can see your toes, as well as the dozens of species of fish swimming alongside you, making for excellent snorkeling.  

An avid golf community, Rosemary Beach is close to several renowned local courses, including the Fazio-designed Camp Creek and the stunning Santa Rosa, with two holes abutting the Gulf of Mexico. And with water as clear as the Bahamas’, aspiring fishermen can catch a boutique charter right out of Rosemary Beach for an intimate ocean-fishing excursion, or make the 45-minute trip into Destin for a deeper-sea option. Expect plentiful cobia, tuna, amberjack and snapper. Those seeking time away from the sand will find refuge in one of Rosemary Beach’s four unique pools (see sidebar). A sure hit with kids of all ages, the pools are open to all Rosemary Beach homeowners and guests. A highlight here is sampling each pool and soaking in its unique flavor and vibe. Summertime family themed pool parties are always a hit, followed by beach bonfires with s’mores and moon – light crabbing on the wet sand with flashlights in hand. 

Ideal for families with school age children, the summer high season also brings kids camp sunny days filled with activities designed to introduce the younger set to the joys of the beach, from snorkeling to fishing to stand-up paddle boarding, a new sport that’s become a Rosemary Beach staple. Concerts on the Great Lawn, movies out under the stars and family-centric performances all summer long perpetuate Rosemary Beach’s idyllic summer ambience.

And while everything in Rosemary Beach is walkable, getting around is more fun on a beach cruiser. Local cycle shop 30-A Bikes will drop off and pick up cycles at your residence, and the more adventurous cyclists should know that all 18.5 miles of Highway 30-A is paved from end to end. Pedaling it—all or in part—is a great way to get the lay of the land. But the real Rosemary Beach magic transcends the golf, the fishing, the snorkeling and the sugary beach. At the end of the day, time spent in such a special place creates family memories worth keeping.  

Locally owned cafes and restaurants—no drivethroughs allowed here—offer a down-home culinary scene with something for all comers.

Places to Eat

  • Restaurant Paradis: Serves steaks and seafood in a fine dining setting. 
  • La Crema: This fun tapas bar serves up diverse wines, small bites and tempting chocolate desserts in an outdoor cafe style setting. 
  • Summer Kitchen Cafe and Restaurant: A casual cafe serving three meals a day. Also a popular brunch spot.  
  • Wild Olives Market: Stop at this market and deli for fresh soups, salads and sandwiches made in-house.  
  • George’s: Located in nearby Aly’s Beach, this seaside restaurant focuses on fresh ingredients and is known for its famous grouper sandwich.
  • Caliza: Also in Aly’s Beach, Caliza offers waterside dining surrounding its sleek infinity pool. 
  • Cafe Thirty-A: About 15 minutes from Rosemary Beach, this restaurant in Seagrove Beach consistently offers up some of the best food and service in the region.  

Where to Swim

  • Cabana Pool: Next to a playground, Cabana Pool has a shaded 12-inch-deep children’s wading pool and a large main pool that boasts a colorful Mediterranean design. 
  • Coquina Pool: Sitting beachside, Coquina is simple yet beautiful with an infinity edge and a large shallow end that makes it a family favorite.  
  • Sky Pool: This unusual pool features a closable roof that allows it to stay open year-round. 
  • Barbados Pool: With two pools inside a gated structure, this complex has a distinctive Caribbean design with plenty of shade and a vestibule fountain

2. Punta De Mita, Mexico

The wild, rugged beauty of Punta de Mita is often the first thing visitors notice. Only 50 minutes from the tourist capital of Puerta Vallarta, Punta de Mita seems a world away—which is exactly what makes it so special. 

We can thank, in part, geography: Punta de Mita sits on a 9-milelong peninsula that juts into the Pacific, replete with hidden coves, craggy coastline and sandy bay-front beaches perfect for lounging, splashing and sunning. One of Punta de Mita’s finest is Veneros Beach, on the northern edge of Banderas Bay. One mile of soft sand meets the gentle, warm waters of the bay and serves up all the activities a beach-seeking family with adolescent and teenage kids could want: boogie boarding at low tide, kayaking out past the breaks, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, digging in the sand or just lounging in a chaise with a good book on an uncrowded strip of Pacific coastline. 

Punta de Mita is also one of Mexico’s top diving spots thanks to an underwater topography of arches and caves and plentiful coral reefs that attract diverse marine life. Even novice divers and snorkelers will find an excursion that meets their needs, including a tour to Las Marietas, rugged, uninhabited islands known as the “other Galapagos” thanks to their unique birdlife. Beneath the waves, look for dolphins, manta rays, sea turtles and colorful tropical fish such as pufferfish and damselfish. From December through March, whale-spotting cruises take over as the destination’s most popular diversion. The waters of Punta de Mita also hold a bounty for deep-sea fishermen hoping to catch their limit of sea bass, tuna, black and blue marlin, and red snapper.  

This beach vacation isn’t all about the water, though. Families with older kids can partake in a popular eco tour. These excursions introduce families to Punta de Mita’s pristine forests and inland parks of the verdant Sierra Madre Mountains. Visit up-and-coming San Pancho (also known as San Francisco), a quaint, artsy Mexican village still frequented by the native Hiuchol tribe. Or arrange for a hike or bike ride along the trails between Punta de Mita and surfing village Sayulita, then reward your brood with a taste of the local specialty: fresh coconut ice-cream pops dipped in Mexican dark chocolate. In or out of the water, you can’t go wrong.

Hot Tables 

  • Cafe des Artistes del Mar: Head to this gourmet bistrostyle restaurant for classically prepared fresh seafood and lovely views over the water. 
  • Señor: The Mexican menu features a healthy selection of seafood dishes in a space where almost every table enjoys an oceanfront view. 
  • Mariscos Tino’s: Savor very local flavors and preparations at this seafood restaurant, especially its pescado zarandeano, grilled sea bass with native spices.    
  • Casa Teresa: Homemade pastas and family recipes passed down through the generations characterize this cozy Italian cafe. Try the gnocchi or the eggplant Parmigiana.
  • Casiano’s: The epitome of the local experience; dine on Mexican tapas.  
  • Frascati Ristorante: This Italian clay oven puts out excellent pizzas and homemade pastas. 

The Price is Right 

  • Farmers’ Market in Punta de Mita: Local artists come here every Sunday from November through April to display their wares. Also try some fun regional tastes, such as banana cakes. 
  • Local Market in Bucerias: This is where you’ll find wood art sculptures, handcrafted silverware, pewter pieces, handmade bedspreads and all manner of Mexican artistry on display year-round. 
  • Galleria Tanana: Located in Sayulita, this spot is known for its authentic Huichol beadwork. 
  • San Pancho galleries: Local artists display their own work at several galleries in the craftsy town. 

3. Anguilla, British West Indies

What’s there to do on a coral-sand island a mere 16 miles around and 3 miles at its widest point? Plenty. Or, if you prefer, nothing at all. Tiny, laid-back Anguilla, located a few miles from St. Martin in the Caribbean Sea, is the northernmost island in the Leeward chain. On paper, this flat swath of beach doesn’t boast the geographical riches of some of its neighbors. It’s a good thing, then, that vacations don’t take place on paper. First among Anguilla’s assets are its 33 powder-sand beaches, gateways to the warm turquoise water that’s 80 degrees year round. Ideal for families with very young children, the gentle waves here invite sandcastle-making and safe splashing just off the shoreline. Families looking for some adventure can join a sailing or snorkeling excursion, perhaps coming face-to-face with historic shipwrecks (El Buen Consejo, a Spanish ship wrecked in the 18th century, is worth checking out), or boarding a Panga boat for a day of angling with a local captain. Not that you have to exert yourself. 

Anguilla’s crushed coral beach sand is slip-through-your-toes luxurious, and the island’s remoteness keeps the beaches blissfully uncrowded, even during high travel times. The largest beach is Rendezvous, wide and inviting, where one of the best beach bars on the island, Dune Preserve, provides a reggae soundtrack. Shoal Bay’s 2 miles of beachfront is known as one of the best in the world, where the water is so clear and blue it seems almost unnatural. More low-key and perfect for young families, Mead’s Bay offers a safe swimming area that’s separate from the rest of the beach. Moms and dads looking to get farther afield have more than a dozen near-deserted island cays at their disposal (see details above). 

We know Anguilla has killer beaches, but where this little island surprises most is what it offers on solid ground. Or rather, below it: caves. When the kids want a little mystery, families can seek out Big Spring Cave, a collapsed cavern that hides a natural spring where the native Arawak people sourced their fresh water more than a thousand years ago. The walls of the cave are covered with ancient petroglyphs called Spirit Eyes. One of the most dramatic caves is Fountain Bay, descending almost 100 feet into the earth. For young families, Cavanaugh Cave is ideal thanks to its smaller size and layout. Back in the sunshine, whether on beach or deserted cay, one thing is for sure: For all families, an Anguilla vacation promises as much adventure—or lack of adventure—as desired. 

Table Talk

  • Smokey’s at the Cove: Casual, on the beach, and serving local cuisine from pigeon peas and rice to jerk chicken to coconut shrimp, all accompanied by the beat of live island music. 
  • Picante: Hit up this Caribbean taqueria for fresh Mexican cuisine amped up with island spices. 
  • Blanchard’s: This is perhaps the classic Anguilla restaurant, located on the water in Mead’s Bay, known for stellar service and excellent American-Caribbean cuisine.

Paradise Found 

  • Sandy Island: As the name implies, this cay is made entirely of sand and is completely barren save for some palm and coconut trees. 
  • Prickly Pear Cay: Home to a reef that offers snorkelers the chance to see plenty of colorful fish, this little cay also has a restaurant that specializes in fish grilled over local coals. 
  • Scilly Cay: Smallest of the cays, Scilly has a restaurant known for its lobster and rum punch and a super-small but tranquil beach for sunning and swimming. 
  • Dog Island: Rocky and low-lying, Dog Island is home to several species of nesting sea birds, including Sooty Terns, Brown Boobies and Laughing Gulls.
  • Scrub Island: Lovely beaches and calm waters are the only amenities on this tiny, tranquil paradise at the eastern tip of Anguilla.