10 (Surprising!) Family-Friendly Travel Destinations
It’s August. Labor Day looms like clouds ushering in a new cycle of Real Life—school lunches, schlepping to activities, homework, routine. Though your lazy summer days are numbered, cheer up: You have three full weeks to plan and execute a killer last-minute jaunt (or think ahead for your next getaway). We’ve rounded up ten fabulous destinations that will help you and the whole family grab that last stretch of summer fun, no matter what your vacation preferences. Some may surprise you—but all promise an unforgettable end-of-summer send-off.
Southern Comforts: Charleston, S.C.
It’s touted as having one of the most inspired food scenes in America, but Charleston scores high on the family-friendly scale for its beachfront offerings, architectural charm, and the fact that the city is a hotbed of living history. Visit the Heyward-Washington House (once inhabited by George Washington and Thomas Heyward, an officer of the American Revolution and signee of the Declaration of Independence), play in the Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park, channel the antebellum South with a horse and carriage ride, or ride the waves at the beach.
Stay: A two-bedroom suite at the sleek Restoration on King offers a prime location and an apartment-like set up with full sized kitchen.
Culture Vultures: Washington, D.C.
It’s every family’s summer struggle: parents want museums, kids want to be outside (usually doused in water.) A trip to the nation’s capital quells this generational tug-of-war with the perfect mélange of activities, many of them free. Here’s what to do: Visit the pandas at the Washington Zoo, check out the monuments and memorials, and visit at least two museums (all Smithsonian museum are free, but the International Spy Museum is a crowd-pleaser for all ages). Once you’ve gotten your culture fix, head over to the nearby Potomac River tidal basin, where you can rent kayaks, paddle boats and bikes.
Stay: The Mandarin Oriental is strategically located within walking distance of the iconic monuments and Capitol Hill. For a family of five or more, there are several spacious family suites.
Lake Luster: Minneapolis, Minnesota
It may not have the same draw as The Hamptons or Miami, but Minneapolis has a Midwestern charm all its own. It’s artsy with a great dining scene, and home to thousands of lakes that access visitors to an array of water sport activities. You can windsurf, canoe, sail, swim, or bike around your lake of choice. Then, explore the town. We recommend inhaling a signature Jucy Lucy cheeseburger at Matt’s Bar and getting tickets to the Children’s Theatre Company (it won a Tony Award in 2003 for Outstanding Regional Theatre) or a baseball game.
Stay: The Grand Hotel (on the site of the historic Minneapolis Athletic Club) has a pool and plenty of kid-appreciated amenities.
Altitude Adjustment: Park City, Utah
Park City is known for its powdery, perfect skiing conditions. But here’s a secret: For outdoorsy types, summer is as—if not more—divine on this mountain top retreat. Not only can you hike and bike every moment of the day, you can also visit natural wonders like the Homestead Crater, a 10,000-year-old geothermal basin filled with 96 degree mineral water, in which you can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, enjoy a therapeutic soak, or even take a paddleboard yoga class.
Urban Retreat: Chicago
When the wind dies down, the second city feels more like a lakefront community than a concrete jungle. Chicago is designed for easy navigation. Take in your museum outings in the morning, then seamlessly flow into afternoon adventures: canoeing the Chicago River, biking the lakefront, exploring Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park and, perhaps, a food walking tour. Whether or not you’re a sports fan, no Chicago experience is complete without a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.
Stay: The Virgin Hotel is playful, great for families, and close to Millennium Park.
Go International: Sicily
Good news for the daredevil parent who waits until August to think, “Italy—what a great idea”: Expedia, Adioso and Airbnb can supply last-minute travel deals to exotic international destinations. But why Sicily? Since it’s not a top-of-mind American destination, there are fewer crowds than, say, Florence. The dollar is powerful right now. And the tantalizing confluence of pristine beaches, gelato, pizza, pasta, island-hopping by boat, architectural marvels, and an active volcano will delight both parents and kids.
Stay: The beachfront Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea in Taormina is paradise.
Into the Wild (West): Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky, Montana
One of the best ways to force your children into digital detox is to plant them smack in the middle of a Montana dude ranch. Lone Mountain Ranch—strategically located just below Big Sky and near West Yellowstone—is the stuff of cowboy fantasies. Families can tour Yellowstone, hike, enjoy whitewater rafting, horseback riding, trout fishing, and evening cookouts. From this Rocky Mountain perch (the property celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year), the open wilderness will make snapchat feel like an annoying distraction
Stay: The cabins on site feature log furnishings, quilts, private decks, and mini-fridges.
Crazy-Cool Glamping: Clayoquot Wilderness Retreat, British Columbia
Imagine emerging from your rustically luxe safari tent (there are only 20 in the camp) to gaze out at Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO-preserved zone of ice-capped mountains and rain forest accessible by float plane from Vancouver’s International Airport or water taxi from Tofino. It’s all possible at the Clayoquot Wilderness Retreat, where your days will involve whale watching, exploring by helicopter, horseback riding, canoeing, and island hopping. Mellower activities include archery or the sporting clays course. Billiards and other old-school games are happening in the 19th century-inspired games tent. All food is locally sourced, naturally.
California Dreamers: Big Sur
It’s not hard to see why artists like Henry Miller, Ansel Adams, and John Steinbeck flocked to Big Sur. A misty, get-away-from-it-all vibe blankets the area’s rugged coastline like a dream. This is a place to hike and immerse yourself in the surrounding nature. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park offers breathtaking vistas and 3,000-foot ridges. The purple sand and rock formations at Pfeiffer Beach are equally stunning—a perfect spot to picnic and just chill out.
Stay: It’s about 25 minutes north of Big Sur, but the pool and spacious rooms at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands create the perfect oceanfront perch.
Charming Time Warp: Deer Isle, Maine
This remote New England fishing village on the Penobscot Bay feels like a wrinkle in time. There’s an ancient Opera House, hole-in-the-wall diners, thoroughly unglamorous but authentic shops—all of which creates the allure. Plan on hiking the Barred Island Preserve, kayaking, heading out on a lobster boat and visiting the crushed shell beach at Acadia National Park.
Stay: There are several inns and B&Bs in town, or consult VRBO or Airbnb for a house rental (there are very few hotels in the area).