We asked the staff of Parents to share their favorite vacation spots. Whatever your pleasure -- from Maine to California -- you'll find the perfect escape right here.
BOOTHBAY HARBOR, MAINE
This enchanting fishing village is known for its quiet coves, relaxing boat excursions, and freshly caught lobster. Take your children on the Boothbay Whale Watch cruise (888-942-5363, www.whaleme.com) for the thrill of spotting humpbacks in the wild. Then visit Railway Village (207-633-4727, (www.railwayvillage.org) and ride its
narrow-gauge steam train. For a great stay, try the Linekin Bay Resort (866-847-2103, www.linekinbayresort.com). "It's
the best resort I've been to," says Deborah Skolnik, senior editor. "You stay in cabins by a beautiful harbor and get three huge, really good meals a day." Guests also have free access to the largest resort sailing fleet on the East Coast.
BLOCK ISLAND, RHODE ISLAND
This hideaway just off the coast of Rhode Island has miles of unspoiled beaches and offers a break from the hectic pace of everyday life. "It's a great place for families," says Mary Hickey, special projects editor. "I highly recommend renting bicycles with a tagalong or baby seat, and touring the island that way." Be sure to check out the historic lighthouses, old Victorian hotels, Sachem Pond Wildlife Refuge, and the Mohegan Bluffs, which overlook the ocean. At the end of a bike ride or a day at the beach, stop by the Ice Cream Place (401-466-2145) to cool off.
Set on Cape Cod's bay side, Brewster is a haven for families. During low tide, kids have a blast exploring the Brewster flats, where the bay recedes more than a mile, trapping little sea creatures in tidal pools. For freshwater fun, families head to Nickerson State Park and swim in its sandy-bottomed kettle ponds. Afterward, kids often clamor to stop at the Brewster Store (www.brewsterstore.com) for its impressive array of penny candy. Not surprisingly, the town also features great seafood. "We love going to Kate's (508-896-9517) for their fried clams and ice cream," says Linda Fears, deputy editor.
BUCKS COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA
For children, the highlight of a visit to Bucks County is undoubtedly Sesame Place (215-752-7070, www.sesameplace.com).
The theme park has great kiddie and water-park rides, as well as friendly, larger-than-life Muppets. For a different kind of fun, visit Washington Crossing Historic Park (215-493-4076) to see where George Washington's army crossed the Delaware. Or take your kids tubing or rafting along a shallow, gentle stretch of the river just north of New Hope (215-297-5000, www.rivercountry.net). "There's even a hot-dog stand on a little island where you can eat, hang your feet in the water, and watch people float by," says Diane Debrovner, senior editor.
Mid-Atlantic & South
Paint the town red, white, and blue as you immerse your family in our nation's rich history and culture. Whether you're visiting the stately Lincoln Memorial or touring the White House, your kids will come away with unforgettable memories. There's tons to do in the capital. Happily, most of it is free -- including the awesome National Air and Space Museum (202-357-2700, www.nasm.si.edu). And don't pass up the National Museum of American History (202-357-2700, www.americanhistory.si.edu). "There's no way to describe this magical place adequately," says Bruce L. Flamm, M.D., a Parents adviser. "There's even a full-size locomotive on display on the first floor."
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA
Could a city that boasts a highway as one of its top attractions be worth a visit? If it's Asheville, North Carolina, the answer is yes. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains, has some of the most breathtaking vistas in the country. "The views are absolutely gorgeous," says contributor Emily Abedon. Along the way, you can access plenty of great hiking trails -- or you can opt to head directly to Sliding Rock, a natural 60-foot water slide that's a favorite with families. For indoor fun, Abedon suggests trying the Health Adventure at Pack Place (828-254-6373, www.health-adventure.com), a children's discovery center.
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA
It's got miles of beaches and bike trails, as well as dramatic salt marshes and a maritime forest -- what's not to love about Hilton Head? Stop by the Coastal Discovery Museum (843-689-6767, www.coastaldiscovery.org) for hands-on exhibits about the island's environment and heritage. "My best memory of Hilton Head is walking along the peaceful, white-sand beach, gathering shells and searching for sand dollars," says Kate Lawler, articles editor. A trip to Hilton Head can also be relaxing for parents who golf -- the island has more than 20 courses.
Nestled in the North Georgia Mountains, Helen captures the look and feel of a Bavarian village. On Main Street, shopkeepers dressed in lederhosen welcome visitors to their quaint stores, and restaurants offer a unique mix of European and Southern cuisine. "We'd stay at the Castle Inn (877-878-3140, www.castleinn-helen.com), which is a treat for kids because the outside really looks like a castle, and the rooms have beautiful views," says Kourtney Eidam, assistant editor. Fun family activities nearby include panning for gold, tubing down the Chattahoochee River, and taking the easy hike to breathtaking Anna Ruby Falls.
THE FLORIDA KEYS
Getting to the Keys is half the fun. With the ocean on both sides, the Overseas Highway has sweeping views of the Atlantic and its coral islets. "We love the Keys," says Parents adviser Michael Thompson, Ph.D. "They're funky, simple, and relatively inexpensive." On Islamorada, the Theater of the Sea has dolphin and sea-lion shows, exhibits, and bottomless boat rides (305-664-2431). On Key West, tour the island by riding the popular Conch Train. For accommodations, try the Conch Key Cottages, which are located on their own little castaway-style island (800-330-1577, www.conchkeycottages.com).
GRAND HAVEN, MICHIGAN
The living is easy in Grand Haven, on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Picture sandy beaches, mild waves, colorful sailboats on the horizon, and strolls along the 2 1/2-mile boardwalk. Off the shore, delight your children with a trolley ride (616-842-3200). Head back to the harbor for the sunset spectacle of the world's largest musical fountain. Oh, and don't forget the blueberries. They're a star attraction -- there's even a shop dedicated to them in nearby South Haven (877-654-2400). "I came to Grand Haven as a child, and I still remember the blueberry pies brimming with fruit," says Maura Christopher, senior editor.
All the city's a stage in Branson. On any given day, this high-energy Ozark resort town offers scores of toe-tapping shows for families -- from country music to variety acts. Branson also has lots of other kid-friendly attractions, including a water park and a pirate cruise. And Silver Dollar City, a 61-acre theme park (800-475-9370, www.silverdollarcity.com), is a "don't miss," says Heather Gowen, senior news editor. "Besides the great rides, we really loved the craft demonstrations -- and the barbecues are the best." Just southwest of Branson, overlooking scenic Table Rock Lake, is the Ozark Mountain Resort (866-804-8444, www.omrcondo.com), great for fishing, swimming, and carefree fun.
LONG BEACH PENINSULA, WASHINGTON
A beachcomber's paradise, the peninsula has one of the world's longest stretches of sand -- 28 miles unobstructed by beachside condos and hotels. While few visitors swim in the rough, often frigid water, kids love to splash through the puddles, dig for clams, build sand castles, and explore the tidal pools. Families can trace the final stage of Lewis and Clark's epic expedition at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center (360-642-3029), in Fort Canby State Park, or tour the unique World Kite Museum (360-642-4020, www.worldkitemuseum.com). If you visit in August, plan to stay for the kite festival. "It's one of the highlights of the year," says Katherine Camacho Carr, Ph.D., a Parents adviser.
From its spectacular waterfalls to its ancient giant sequoias, Yosemite National Park will amaze your children at every turn. "I was really struck by the park's magnificence," says designer Stephen Christensen. "El Capitan, in particular, was awe-inspiring." More than 3,000 feet high, El Capitan is the largest hunk of granite on the planet, and its sheer face is often dotted with expert climbers. Glacier Point, with its sweeping views, is another Yosemite wonder. In the valley just below Glacier Point is Curry Village (559-252-4848), which has moderately priced cabins, motel-style rooms, and a tented camp. For an easy overview of the park, ride the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad (559-683-7273, www.ymsprr.com).
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
For close encounters with other species, look no further than San Diego. "The San Diego Wild Animal Park is my children's favorite place to go," says Parents adviser Michele Borba, Ed.D. Animals roam over acres of land, while many visitors
opt to ride the Wgasa Bush Line Railway (760-747-8702, www.wildanimalpark.org). For marine life, check out SeaWorld Adventure Park (619-226-3901, www.seaworld.com), where Shamu reigns. A short walk away is the Dana Inn and Marina (800-445-3339, www.danainn.com), convenient for families.
You'll also want to spend time in beautiful Balboa Park (www.balboapark.org), known for its carousel, butterfly ride, puppet theater, and kid-friendly museums.
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
Remember the Alamo? So will your children after a visit to San Antonio. You can tour the site of the legendary siege and battle (210-225-1391, www.thealamo.org), then stroll along the city's serene River Walk. The cobblestone paths, on the banks of the San Antonio River, wind among gardens, shops, and restaurants. "The food is amazing in San Antonio," says Robin Immerman, beauty editor. "I was hooked on the corn fritters." Make time during your visit to stop at Splashtown water park (210-227-1400, www.splashtownsa.com); rides range from the playful Kid's Kove to the daring Lone Star Luge.
Beyond the U.S.
Little islands, mountains, a rain forest, and a pristine city -- Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, has something for everyone. The city's Stanley Park (604-257-8400, www.parks.vancouver.bc.ca) is a great first stop. "We rented tandem bikes and had the best time," says Stacey Felsen, a Parents contributor. The park is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium and the Children's Farmyard. To see the city from a different perspective -- 3,700 feet up, that is -- jump on the Grouse Mountain Skyride (604-980-9311, www.grousemtn.com). For a fun time shopping, take the speedy water bus to Granville Island, where a kids' market (604-689-8447, www.kidsmarket.ca) caters to the allowance set.
THE ATLANTIC OCEAN
Looking for a voyage rather than a destination? A Cunard cruise (www.cunard.com) on the Queen Elizabeth 2 -- or, starting in 2004, the Queen Mary 2 -- offers an unbeatable way to experience the Atlantic: by sailing from New York to England. "I love the annual Family Cruise," says Sally Lee, editor-in-chief. "It's such a relaxing experience, and if you choose the right cabin -- think the inside, lower decks -- and bunk with the kids, the trip is affordable." On board, there's a video arcade, a computer learning center, planned children's activities, and plenty more. And the caregivers at the children's center are all trained nannies. "We visited the casino, health spa, and pools, and we could really relax, knowing our children were in good hands."