I can't miss soccer," says my 12-year-old son. "I'm on the road so much for work, I just want to stay home," declares my husband. "Skip school?No way!" bellows my 10-year-old daughter.

Every September, when my crew shifts from all play to round-the-clock crazed, I get desperate for a family trip. After all, the minute school starts, it seems there's no time . . . or is there?Here, my fall survival guide: five ways to transform a weekend, or even a few hours, into something approximating a vacation.

Play Tourist in Your Town

Check into the nearest comfy hotel. The point: room service, a pool, and a chance to visit the sites that attract outsiders to your neck of the woods. In our case, that's the Bronx, but we'll take Manhattan, especially now that we're armed with advice from Tiki Barber and other in-the-know parents.

Seize the Season

As a native New Englander, I've always insisted on dragging my flock on a foliage drive, but my brother-in-law discovered a better way to leaf peep: a hut-to-hut trek through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Or if you're on the West Coast, take an all-ages jaunt through California wine country. From the Midwest?Make a beeline for the most extraordinary pumpkin patch.

Crash Your Mate's Business Trip

Live it up—your quarters are covered. My daughter and I recently got to see Baltimore this way. And I finagled two great tips from Ted's local colleagues: the eggs and grits at Pete's Grille, and the American Visionary Arts Museum, home to a car smothered in Noxzema jars.

Explore Foreign Lands

At Mitsuwa, a Japanese supermarket in Edgewater, New Jersey, my kids and I treat the candy aisle with the focus and adoration that the rest of the world saves for van Gogh exhibitions. Experiencing exotic pockets of America is, if you ask me, the way to go, until, of course, you really get to go.

Be Transported by Travel Planning

Just as some people pore over garden catalogues, I lose myself in the "T+L Family 50," our annual list of the best family resorts according to you. Peruse this year's reader's poll results—and plant the seeds of your next longer-than-a-weekend vacation.

— Margot Guralnick

On road trips, get everyone in your car to gaze out—and score points by spotting a weather vane or a vehicle with three bumper stickers. The card games Rubberneckers and Rubberneckers Jr. (Chronicle Books; $12.95; chronicle are simple, silly, and miles of fun.