Parents staffers have seen it all, from exotic escapes to cheap-and-charming beach towns. So, check out the vacation spots we like best.
Miami Beach, Florida
Clare Lissaman, photo director
I used to think that this city was all about designer shops, hot nightclubs, and chic trendsetters. But I discovered a more kid-friendly side to Miami when I visited recently with my 4-year-old daughter, Lily.
We had a great time playing on the beaches and checking out the family attractions. Our favorite was Parrot Jungle Island (parrotjungle.com), which is home to more than 3,000 exotic animals. Lily couldn't stop talking about the live bird show and the flock of parakeets that flew right over our heads.
One bit of advice: Pick a resort carefully. Not all of them cater to children. We stayed at the Fontainebleau (fontainebleau.hilton.com), an oceanfront hotel that has a wonderful kids' program and a free dinner buffet for children under 4. The pool is also great: It's shallow all over and has a big octopus that sprays water, which Lily loved. Every now and then, she asks me when we're going back to "Your-Ami." I tell her it's not only "My-Ami," but it's "Her-Ami" too.
Manchester Village, Vermont
Jeffrey Saks, creative director
If you're looking for a fun family resort, I highly recommend staying at The Equinox Resort & Spa (equinox.rockresorts.com). I went there for a weekend getaway last year with my wife, Rita, and our 12-year-old son, Oliver, and we had a great time. The rooms, the food, and the staff were all really terrific.
Located between the Green and Taconic mountain ranges, the resort has a cool mix of activities--everything from mountain biking to sailing. The best part for my son was getting behind the wheel of a mini Land Rover on the kid-size driving course. (I got to take a Hummer H2 for a spin on the rocky off-road adult course.) While Oliver and I were busy with the cars, Rita went to the spa for a few soothing treatments.
But there are also lots of fun things you can try as a family, including an archery lesson or a fly-fishing expedition. We had a blast at the falconry center, where each of us got to launch a real, live falcon and have it return to our hands.
Paradise Island, Bahamas
David Sparrow, senior editor
My trip to the Atlantis resort (atlantis.com) was really special because it was my first time traveling solo with my son, Matthew, 5. My wife, Darcy, was pregnant with our second child and nearing her due date, so she couldn't fly. But she thought it would be a great male-bonding opportunity before the baby arrived. She was right!
Matthew loved the place--and no wonder: The resort is like one giant aquarium. Every morning, we would watch the sharks, manta rays, and a dazzling variety of fish through the pristine tanks. Then, we'd spend our days splashing away in as many of the 11 swimming areas as we could (most with their own set of super-cool water slides).
There's also a fabulous kids' club where Matthew did aquatic-themed art projects and played on a mock Spanish galleon (which freed me up to play tennis and get a massage at the spa). My favorite restaurant was Fathoms, for the great seafood and the entertainment: A Bahamian fire-eater gave a few of us diners a chance to extinguish a flaming stick with our mouths. Overall, we both had an awesome time. When we got home, Matthew said, "Mommy, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I had so much fun I didn't even have time to miss you."
Family Vacations: Atlantis Paradise Island
Getaways in New York, California, and Maine
Highland, New York
Sharon Elcock, sittings editor
To be quite honest, I wasn't sure what to expect from a dude ranch located in upstate New York. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Rocking Horse Ranch Resort (rhranch.com) has just enough Western flair to make it feel authentic. And thanks to the incredibly friendly staff and cozy accommodations, my family felt right at home. We went in early March, so the grounds were covered in snow and looked absolutely picturesque. My 4-year-old daughter, Tyler, and I sped down the mountain on an inner tube over and over again. We totally loved it! Next winter, we may give skiing a try.
The resort is open year-round, and in the summer, you can take advantage of a whole bunch of fun warm-weather offerings, like paddle boats, waterskiing, a gigantic water slide, and a kids-only pool. Of course, you can't leave the ranch without going on a horseback-riding adventure with your family. There are even expert instructors on hand for those cowboys and cowgirls in training (like me) who need a little more help.
Megan Mattes, assistant beauty editor
My coolest vacation ever was a motor-home trip up the California coast, starting near Los Angeles and ending in Monterey Bay. Our family visited lots of great beaches, but the highlight of the trip for me was a charming little spot called Solvang (solvangusa.com), about 35 miles north of Santa Barbara. It's an authentic Dutch town, complete with windmills, thatched roofs, and cobblestone walkways.
To get around, we rented a big tandem bike, so our whole family--five people, plus our dog in the basket--could pile on and cycle together. The town is famous for its Belgian waffles and fudge shops. It's also home to the Old Mission Santa Ines (missionsantaines.org), which was established by Franciscan priests.
About 55 miles farther north--and totally worth the drive--is the Hearst Castle (hearstcastle.com). Kids aren't always big museum fans, but this one is really fun. The guides tell entertaining stories about William Randolph Hearst and bring the amazing architecture and art to life.
Yosemite National Park, California
Mary Hickey, articles editor
One of my most memorable vacations was a trip I took with my daughter to the park last spring. The huge sequoias and breathtaking mountain vistas alone would have made it all worthwhile. But we also found plenty of fun stuff to keep us busy.
One afternoon, we took an easy hike to a spot where we had a fabulous view of the magnificent Yosemite Falls. Another day, we rented bikes and rode along miles of paved pathways, stopping along the way at a gallery filled with Ansel Adams photographs.
We stayed at the Yosemite Lodge (559-253-5635), a clean but basic hotel that's perfect for families--provided you can deal with the fact that there's no TV. But the park has a variety of options, ranging from camping to staying at The Ahwahnee (yosemitepark.com), an elegant 1920s-era grand lodge. The whole getaway was really fun, and it was especially nice to visit off-season--before the hordes of summer tourists descend on the place.
Heather Gowen Walsh, senior editor
I grew up in this New England beach town, but I never realized just how perfect the place is for families until I went back last year with my husband and 3-month-old son, Jack. For starters, you can't beat the kid-friendly beaches: The sand is clean, and the surf is gentle and safe. You can also park close to the waterfront, so you don't have to lug all your baby gear too far.
There are tons of quaint bed-and-breakfasts, but I recommend the Anchorage Inn (anchorageinn.com), a year-round, beachfront family resort. You'll also find plenty of good, inexpensive places to eat. One of my favorite spots is the Goldenrod restaurant (thegoldenrod.com), where sandwiches start at $3. They make taffy at the restaurant (you can watch how it's done!), and there's an enormous penny candy counter, which is a big hit with little kids.
York is just a seven-minute drive from Kittery, Maine, where there are more than 120 outlet stores as well as the Weathervane Seafood Restaurant (weathervaneseafoods.com), which has delicious lobster rolls and fried clams. Actually, I think it's some of the best seafood you'll ever eat--and as a New England native, I know what I'm talking about!
- Rocking Horse Ranch Resort
- Solvang Visitors Bureau
- Old Mission Santa Ines
- Hearst Castle
- Yosemite Park
- York Beach Maine Lodging
- The Goldenrod
- Weathervane Seafood Restaurants
Getaways in Hawaii, Colorado, and South Carolina
The Big Island, Hawaii
Ron Kelly, managing editor, Parents Baby Group
I'll admit it. I'd once thought of Hawaii as an overrated vacation spot. But then I did something crazy: I actually went there and fell in love with the place. My island adventure found me at the massive Hilton Waikoloa Village (hiltonwaikoloavillage.com). It's so big that you can find everything your family could possibly want right on the property. The awesome water slide at one of its pools alone had me hooked for an entire afternoon. Judging by how many parents were racing their kids back up to the top, I wasn't the only overgrown child who was loving it. If tennis is your game (and it is mine), you'll love both the top-notch courts and the junior classes, which are headed up by Tim DiDonato—a new dad who's a natural with kids. The Camp Menehune children's program is also popular with little ones.
As hard as it is to drag your family away from all the resort has to offer, you've really got to explore the island. It's one of the rare places where you can go snow skiing and then swimming in tropical warm waters within the same hour.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Diane Dragan, executive producer, Parents.com
Club Med is known for its all-inclusive tropical getaways, but I was really excited to find out that it had opened a new ski resort in Colorado (clubmed.com). The snow-covered mountains are spectacular, and there are ski runs available for every skill level (which is essential for families and beginners). You can spend the day snowboarding or skiing with the kids, or take them to the MiniClub, where trained instructors will teach them the basics.
If your children aren't into winter activities, they can do loads of other fun stuff here, like playing arcade games, making crafts, or taking part in the club's weekly variety show. Make sure to sign up for the babysitting service for at least one night so you and your spouse can get some alone time in town. We had dinner at the Timberline Restaurant (timberlinerestaurant.com) and followed it up with a romantic horse-drawn-carriage ride.
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Kate Lawler, executive editor
When I was little, my family went to the Sea Pines Resort (seapines.com) for our first-ever spring-vacation trip, and we loved it. I returned there recently and discovered that it's still as wonderful as I remembered. The resort isn't your typical palm-filled property; it covers the whole southern tip of the island and includes miles of beaches, a forest preserve, a charming town and harbor, and three famous golf courses. Renting a condo is the way to go for families, and Sea Pines has an enormous selection, from inexpensive to swanky.
The beaches are really great for small kids because they're wide and flat with warm, calm water--perfect for splashing around, building sand castles, and hunting for shells and sand dollars. If you want to play golf or take a tennis lesson, you can drop your little ones off at the kids' camp, where they can spend an afternoon playing pool games or mini golf.
At night, make sure you bring your family into Harbour Town to climb to the top of the famous red-and-white striped lighthouse and take in the views. Stick around to hear some great music under the Liberty Oak tree. My parents have a picture of me and my three brothers listening to a children's musician named Gregg Russell--and I was amazed to find on my recent trip back that this wildly popular guitarist is still leading kiddie sing-alongs every evening.