Courtesy of One & Only Palmilla
Relax: One & Only Palmilla, Los Cabos, Mexico
Why go: In the race to be the family-friendliest posh beach resort, One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos is a leader of the pack.
Why it's relaxing: There's major help with the kids. As soon as you walk through the puerta, they're handed a beach bag stuffed with a T-shirt, hat, and Mexican toy; in your room, you'll find a crib (plus a menu of bedsheets) and a bathroom stocked with adult and baby products from Lady Primrose's. Come bedtime, a bunny or chick shows up to read a story over milk and cookies.
Winning detail: At the free children's program (ages 4 to 12), los chicos make piñatas, learn Spanish, and perfect their downward-dog pose, while you hit the spa or the adults-only pool.
Info: One & Only Palmilla; doubles from $550.
Courtesy of Fort Lewis Plantation/Richard Boyd
Relax: Fort Lewis Plantation & Lodge, Virginia
Why go: You and your young pioneers can glimpse life in olden times—without enduring the slightest hardship—at the Fort Lewis Plantation & Lodge, a 200-year-old cattle farm on 3,200 acres in Virginia's Allegheny Mountains.
Why it's relaxing: By day, you'll pitch horseshoes, fish for rock bass, and float down Cow Pasture River in an inner tube. After dark, there's the viewing platform, where you can marvel at a sky lit by a million stars. Guests sleep in the farmhouse, silo, or log cabins; meals made with ingredients from farm and forest are served family style in a renovated grist mill.
Winning detail: Just ask, and the owner will build a bonfire to order.
Info: Millboro, Va.; 540/925-2314; www.fortlewislodge.com; family suites from $210, plus $45 for each kid 2–12, $70 for kids over 12, including breakfast and dinner. Open April through mid-November.
Courtesy of Kiawah Island
Relax: Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Why go: Not one, not three, but five top-rated golf courses blanket Kiawah Island off the coast of Charleston, SC. Yet, golf clinics and family tee times are just some of the perks.
Why it's relaxing: Kids aged six and up can spot alligators on nature walks, explore 10 miles of packed-sand beach on a bike, or learn about the island's loggerhead turtles and other critters on one- or two-hour hikes; sibs as young as three attend Kamp Kiawah ($35-45 half day; $60 full). The Sanctuary, the island's only hotel, has all the requisite swanky-digs amenities, or you can rent your own place (villas and houses are available via the resort and private agencies, such as www.kiawahisland.com and www.resortquest.com).
Winning detail: When evening rolls around, head out for ice-cream socials, seaside movies on an inflatable screen, and campfire sing-alongs.
Info: Doubles at the Sanctuary from $461, two-bedroom homes from $220.
Courtesy of Loews Philadelphia
Why go: Smack in the middle of Center City, in a landmark skyscraper, the Loews Philadelphia Hotel offers just-refurbished suites within walking distance of some of Colonial America's greatest hits—the Liberty Bell and Betsy Ross's house, anyone?
Why it's relaxing: It's all mapped out for you. Follow in Ben Franklin's footsteps from the site of his former abode on Chestnut Street to his printing shop on Market. Grab lunch inside the Reading Terminal farmer's market, then meander along Elfreth's Alley, lined with 18th-century houses, that look like they were sized for elves. More must-sees: the Franklin Institute Science Museum, currently hosting the King Tut show; Al Capone's one-time home, Eastern State Penitentiary, now an astonishing museum; and, if you have intrepid teens, the Mütter Museum of medical oddities (home to Grover Cleveland's mouth tumor!).
Winning detail: The eye-level view of William Penn's statue atop City Hall from Loews' 33rd floor. In 1932, city regulations demanded nothing be higher than the founding father—so they built to the very top of his hat.
Info: 215/627-1200; www.loewshotels.com; doubles from $199.
Courtesy of Cooking Vacations
Learn: Cooking Vacations, Italy
Why go: Take a trip with Cooking Vacations for a delicious week in Florence, Positano, Sorrento, or Rome.
On the syllabus: You and the kids will wander (to bakeries, pizza joints, farms), sightsee (Pompeii, the Uffizi), and, of course, measure, mix, knead, cook, and eat. In Florence, bake pizza in an outdoor oven; in Positano, pick lemons and make a big batch of fragrant granita (Italian slush). Participants are put up at inns and villas with plenty of outdoor play space.
Extra credit: Limited to eight, the tours are perfect for an extended family, and appeal to all ages (when a ball of sticky dough won't suffice, babysitters are available).
Info: 800/916-1152; www.cooking-vacations.com; from $1,995 per person, kids under 10 half price, kids under 6 free.
Courtesy of Sistership Sailing School
Learn: Sistership Sailing School, Tortola
What it is: With Tortola-based Sistership Sailing School, you and your gang (12 and older) will take the helm and tack into the breeze on a 45-foot sloop that sleeps a family of four.
On the syllabus: Working beside veteran captain Pat Nolan, you'll navigate the British Virgin Islands. Trips are tailored to suit your experience (none required).
Extra credit: Along the way, you can dive overboard to snorkel, or drop anchor for an island lunch.
Info: 284/495-1002; www.sailsistership.com; one week for a family of four $6,000, including meals.
Learn: Space Camp, Alabama
What it is: A trip to the stratosphere may be overambitious, but training with the kids for a shuttle mission at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, is a pretty cool substitute.
On the syllabus: At Space Camp's parent-child three-day program, kids 7 to 12 and their folks try out scaled-down versions of the flight simulator equipment astronauts use. That's right: they get to feel what it's like to tumble weightless. Trainees also build and launch two-foot rockets. For total ground control, students stay in a dorm (there's also a Marriott on campus).
Extra credit: NASA-issue jumpsuits in all sizes go for $80.
Info: Huntsville, Ala.; 800/637-7223; www.spacecamp.com; family of four from $998, including dorm and meals.
Courtesy of Sanibel Sea School
Learn: Sanibel Sea School, Florida
What it is: While you collapse on Sanibel Island's white sand, enroll your guppies at the brand-new nonprofit Sanibel Sea School, started by a marine biologist to teach kids 6 to 13 about animal life on this barrier island sanctuary.
On the syllabus: After a briefing on wading birds or mangrove crabs, children head out to get their hands sandy, often in parts of the island closed to the public.
Extra credit: Adults are encouraged to join in (though you might have to provide your own transportation if the school bus is full).
Info: Sanibel, Fla.; 239/472-8585; www.sanibelseaschool.org; one-day session $110, including lunch.
Courtesy of Nantahala Outdoor Center
Learn: Boat Paddling, North Carolina
What it is: At Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina, your group can choose between rafting, canoe, and kayak classes—watch for Olympians practicing in the next boat—or take off on a mountain-biking jaunt. The center's cabins sleep from four to 30.
On the syllabus: Seven rivers run through these hills, and you can sign on for a one-day white-water sampler ($95), or a weekend of activities.
Extra credit: Switch from water to air: Scale the center's 50-foot climbing structure or conquer its ropes course.
Info: Bryson City, N.C.; 888/905-7238; www.noc.com; four-person cabins from $88 per night.
Courtesy of CC Africa
Splurge: African Safari
What to do: Blue-butt monkey alert! CC Africa's 41 comfy lodges and camps—in 18 game reserves across six countries—are designed for daylong game-spotting. The company is noted for its community-mindedness: 80 percent of its employees are locals, and a percentage of its profits goes to conservation projects. A $10 donation sends an African child on a game drive.
The awe factor: Young guests go on mini safaris to collect frogs and bugs, and on "poo" walks to identify scat. Those over 11 take two daily jeep outings, one at sunrise, to watch elephants wake up, another as the sun sets, to view the nocturnal doings of mongooses and leopards.
Top this: Hyenas and lions permitting, guides serve dinner, complete with candlelight and linens, in the bush.
Info: 888/882-3742; www.ccafrica.com; lodges from $400 per person per night, all-inclusive.