At these historic seaside resorts, life is all about swimming, boating, croquet—and, on occasion, dressing up for dinner. Welcome to sandy, old-fashioned summer!
Calling All Naturalists
Greyfield Inn Cumberland Island, Georgia
John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette put secluded Cumberland Island on the map when they chose it as the site of their 1996 wedding, but in-the-know families have been heading to Georgia's southernmost barrier island for decades. The lure: wild horses, alligators, armadillos—and the Greyfield Inn, a plantation-style mansion that's the only accommodation (other than campsites) on this pristine, 17.5-mile seashore managed by the National Park Service. To keep clans coming back, the inn has just introduced two Family Weeks—starting June 23 and July 16—with special activities, such as trout-fishing trips.
Originally built as a summer retreat for a niece of Andrew Carnegie, Greyfield sits among live oaks on a 300-acre compound that includes a swath of shell-strewn oceanfront. Families can choose between two- and four-bedroom cottages or adjoining rooms in the main house. Dinners are formal, so pack suit jackets and dresses—even for the kids. Greyfield's kitchen will arm you with a picnic for a day of island exploring by bike or kayak. Staff naturalists lead outings to see the sea turtles—which themselves return year after year.
866/410-8051 or 904/261-6408; www.greyfieldinn.com; doubles from $350, including meals, activities, and round-trip 45-minute ferry ride from Fernandina Beach, Florida, near Jacksonville.
New England Sampler
Spring House Hotel Block Island, Rhode Island
One of the few notable old hotels remaining on Block Island (that beloved pear-shaped chunk of granite, beach, and rolling meadow 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island), the 1852 Spring House once played host to Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant. As always, guests stream off the ferry and climb the grassy 15-acre bluff where Spring House perches over Old Harbor Point. Among the 33 rooms in the shingled main building—look for the red mansard roof—are four studios and six suites, or, if you're lucky, you can snag one of four roomy cottages. Rock and R&B concerts take place on the lawn every other Sunday afternoon in July and August, a perfect cap to a weekend spent exploring lighthouses, splashing in tidal pools, and picking the hotel's own blackberries.
52 Spring St.; 800/234-9263 or 401/466-5844; www.springhousehotel.com; studios and suites from $350, including breakfast; three-bedroom cottages $3,500 per week.
The Endless Porch
Grand Hotel Mackinac Island, Michigan
After a ferry ride on Lake Huron, you can arrive at the Grand Hotel in grand fashion, by horse and carriage (no cars are allowed on Mackinac Island). The hotel, an 1887 High Victorian landmark, is a grown-up place with a decidedly playful side. There's croquet on the lawn, and a massive, hourglass-shaped pool named for Esther Williams, who filmed This Time for Keeps here in 1947. And while parents and grandparents are hanging out on the world's longest front porch, kids can join in organized scavenger hunts, hayrides, and visits to Fort Mackinac and the island's butterfly houses. If any of you feel the need to hit one of the tiny town's umpteen fudge shops (day-trippers are known as fudgies), be sure to time it right: the fancy five-course dinner back at the hotel starts promptly at 6:30.
800/334-7263 or 906/847-3331; www.grandhotel.com; from $210 per person, including breakfast and dinner. Kids up to 11 stay and eat free; ages 1217 $49 per night.
A World Beyond Miami
Fisher Island Hotel & Resort Fisher Island, Florida
The lavish manse that William K. Vanderbilt II erected in the 1920's on Fisher Island—that palm-fringed speck in Biscayne Bay, near South Beach—has morphed into the snazzy Fisher Island Hotel & Resort. Perfect for families: Vanderbilt-era two-bedroom cottages and junior suites with cool-underfoot marble floors. If waterside lolling doesn't sap your brood's energy, there's Kids Connection (arts and crafts, gymnastics, and softball), boating, nine holes of golf, and 18 tennis courts. There are also eight restaurants, including La Trattoria (pasta and pizza), the Beach Club (sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs), and City View Café (salads, grilled chicken, and fries). Miami and all it offers are just minutes away by ferry, helicopter, or seaplane, but the prevailing attitude is, Why bother?
800/537-3708 or 305/535-6026; www.fisherisland.com; junior suites from $500; two-bedroom cottages from $750.
San Diego Dreaming
Hotel del Coronado Coronado, California
Kids rule at this legendary red-and-white wedding cake of turrets and gingerbread on Coronado, the 13½-mile peninsula just off San Diego. There's a full schedule of pool parties, sandcastle contests, and luaus. Coronado's beach itself is one of the prettiest in the land (and has appeared on every Best Of list). Plus, Sea World, Legoland, and the San Diego Zoo are an easy drive away. The Del's 680 rooms and suites are spread throughout the old building and a nearby modern tower. Sunday brunch in the Crown Room is a San Diego tradition. If unlimited desserts aren't on your permissibles list, consider the Del's Sheerwater restaurant: its new health-conscious kid's menu has fruit kabobs with toasted-coconut yogurt dip. Okay, is everyone happy?
800/468-3533 or 619/435-6611; www.hoteldel.com; doubles from $335.
Four well-traveled parents share their secret beach hideouts
Founder of Annie's Homegrown
"Rob and I have been going to Martha's Vineyard since 1992—and now our daughters, Molly, 9, and Phoebe, 5, are part of the tradition. We rent a house from the Winnetu resort, so we get to use the pools and giant chess set. We grill a lot. And we bring a supply of Annie's Macaroni & Cheese, of course."
President, Liz Lange Maternity
"We love going to Elbow Beach in Bermuda for long weekends. My husband, Jeff, and I get a room with a separate area for our kids, Gus, 7, and Alice, 5. There's a beautiful beach and big pool, plus a million children at the hotel. We live in bathing suits and flip-flops. The best part: from New York, Bermuda is a short plane ride away."
Author of Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
"Every August we pack the kids—Patrick, 13, Conor, 12, and Colleen, 10—into our minivan and drive to a cottage near the town of Au Gres, on Lake Huron, in northern Michigan. There are no boardwalks, no T-shirt shops— just white-sandbeaches and very few people."
"We like to rent a house in Cutchogue, on Long Island. The town is tiny and cute, the sand is super-clean, and the waters are calm—perfect for our kids [Sofia, 5, Cecilia, 3, and 19-month-old twins, Jackson and Charlie]. We always get a peach pie at Wickham's Fruit Farm, then eat it with our fingers on the way home!"