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.