I bet this is true for you, too: Some of the most memorable moments I've spent with my family have been on vacation trips. With the exception of the inevitable navigation spats en route ("I said, 'take Exit 19, not 18!'") and a mild sunburn or two, we've all ambled happily through our week or two in a scenic place, exploring shell-strewn beaches and treasure-filled museums alike with a spirit of adventure, a sense of exuberance at being together, and the expansive feeling of having some much-needed free time. We've tried new things: fishing for crabs off a bridge using hot dogs for bait, hazelnut gelato. And found that partaking of small pleasures we enjoy at home—doing a jigsaw puzzle, going out for ice cream after dinner, skipping stones over the water—are heightened by the very fact of our being away.
If you're planning to get away with your family, FamilyFun has some winning suggestions in its April issue. Our annual travel survey (done in conjunction with Go Rving) had 2,000 families rank destinations around the country, and the result is the 2015 Travel Awards, which names the 10 highest-rated attractions nationwide and regional winners as well.
At the very top of our Top 10 list is Sanibel, Florida, "a relaxing place," as one mom put it, "that lets kids be kids," and a perfect spot for beachcombing, playing in gentle surf, and spotting roseate spoonbills (at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge). At the top of the U.S. map, another highly preferred vacation site is Mackinac Island State Park (no. 9), home to sublime natural wonders, including Arch Rock, and history, too, in the form of the Revolutionary War–era Fort Mackinac. For families who love creatures great and small, the animal attraction quotient couldn't be higher at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, no. 4 on the list, with its naturalistic habitats for all sorts of living things, from butterflies to gorillas.
Is there a budding scientist in your midst? For the ability to trigger "Oh, wow!" reactions from geeks and non-geeks alike, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (no. 2) and Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (no. 3) are hard to beat, with their arrays of spectacular specimens and artifacts: a mummified cat, the Hope Diamond, the 1903 Wright Flyer...
And when you can't get away for an extended stay? Dinner at The Cheesecake Factory or the Texas Roadhouse, no. 1 and no. 2 in our Casual Restaurant category,* might be just the toothsome break your crew needs. Kids are often more tempted to try a new food and more willing to sit up straight when they're eating out, and parents get to give their kids their full attention because they're not occupied, and preoccupied, with getting supper on the table. Over a restaurant meal of such savory offerings as fire-roasted fresh artichokes, mac-and-cheese burgers, fried pickles, and Fall-Off-the-Bone Ribs, parents unwind from their day and kids open up about theirs—and the dirty dishes? They're someone's else problem.
* Our survey focused on national chains offering dinner service and a kids' menu.
Faye Wolfe, FamilyFun's copy editor, spent a lot of her vacation last summer on the beach and seeking out the best lobster roll in Maine.