One of the things I love about traveling is discovering new things. When planning a trip, there’s always a strong urge to jam in as much vacation fun as possible. But packing your days too tight can be a recipe for disaster. When kids get tired, they get cranky and cranky kids take all of the fun out of even the best family adventures. I always plan trips with the thinking someday I’ll be back. It sets the tone for more relaxed, better vacations.
At Ciao Bambino, we all have long “must go back to” lists. The destinations that top our lists are there for a variety of reasons: great sights and activities, culture, scenery, even weather. Visiting them all (my goal) will take you around the globe. The locations differences are great, but they all have one thing in common – the makings of a fabulous family trip.
If you’re not traveling, I think reading about great trips is the next best thing. Once you’ve got the knowledge and the inspiration you can make one of your New Year’s Resolutions planning a great trip for your family!
Amie’s Must Visit (Again and Again) List
Biking the walls of Lucca. Photo by Amie O’Shaughnessy
I never get tired of visiting Lucca – with and without kids! It looks, feels, smells, and of course, tastes, Italian through and through. In a relatively small area, you can experience incredible history and enjoy dramatic, diverse architecture. The fortified walls are the highlight where families walk and bike together, followed by a gelato stop and shopping. Heaven!
The Matterhorn in Zermatt never fails to leave gaping in wonder. How can a mountain be that striking? Tourists aside, Zermatt has done an excellent job of preserving an old-world Swiss Alpine feel. No cars are allowed in town which makes strolling a pleasure. In the summer months, you can ski in the morning on the glacier and then hike in the afternoon. We love working our way to a hot lunch (and cold beer for Mom an Dad).
Dana’s Taste for Adventure
Guilin at night. Photo by Dana Rebman
As my girls get older, our trips get more adventurous. Three weeks in China with kids is not at the top of the average family’s vacation list, but it should be. My entire family, Grandma included, fell in love with Guilin, China the moment we arrived. The destination for many travelers visiting the Li River, Guilin has wonderful mystique that kids school age and older will be awed by. If the sheer wow factor of the Li River weren’t enough, the city of Guilin will surely sway you.
At night, the city comes to life. Locals and visitors crowd the night market. Children (and adults) play in open spaces with light up whirly gigs. (We bought as many as we could fit in our suitcase. About a dozen were just a few dollars.) Walking, or wandering is simply fun because you never know what you might find like a neon replica of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, or a crowd of folks with a radio who turn a road into a dance floor. Don’t plan on getting to bed early, they’ll be plenty of time to sleep on the plane flight home.
Nerja, Costa del Sol, Spain
A vacation is truly a vacation when there’s warm water and sand involved. I think that’s why I love Spain’s Costa del Sol. We landed in Nerja for a couple days of down time in the middle of an action packed Spain itinerary. By day, the beach serves as a playground, compliments of Mother Nature. I had to pull my 8-year-old out of the Mediterranean Sea to eat, while my 10-year-old collected beach rocks and polished off a great book.
When the sun sets, local families turn out in spade for their evening paseo, or stroll through town. Kids run and play close by, while mom and dad shop, socialize and maybe enjoy dinner out. Don’t go hunting for early bird specials.Folks in Nerja and Spain in general eat late. I never would have thought my kids had it in them, but when the pizza arrived on our table at the stroke of midnight, I became a believer. Next time we go, I’m setting aside a week to have fun doing a lot of nothing in Nerja.
Long Beach Island, NJ
There’s no place like home, especially when home is a popular summer vacation destination. I have a California address now, but I set aside a chunk of time every summer to take my family to the Jersey Shore. No your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you, I said New Jersey. It’s where I grew up, so I admit some bias right off the bat. But Long Beach Island has a little something for everyone, no matter how young or old. Families can rent a home on or near the beach, and spend their days searching for sea shells in the ocean surf, or catching minnows in the warm, gentle bay. At night, a round of mini-golf or a walk to get ice cream (or both) is the perfect ending to a perfect summer’s day. The kids may get to bed late (are you noticing that seems to be the norm for my trips) but everyone can sleep in.
Cambria with kids. Photo by Kristi Marcelle
Kristi’s Favorite Family Getaways
The central coast of California is often overlooked as a vacation destination in favor of more popular (and populated) California cities but the natural beauty and nearby attractions are not to be missed – wineries, elephant seals, Hearst Castle and the Big Sur coast are all within a 30-minute drive. Our family fell in love with this small town and it makes a great base for a multigenerational trip with attractions that appeal to all ages. Moonstone Beach, with its row of small hotels is my favorite place to stay. Every morning we walked out our hotel room door, crossed the street to the beach and walked the wooden walkway looking for sea life (binoculars are a great idea) or combed through the shells and small rocks on the beach searching for moonstones and sea glass – you will find them!
Door County, WI
Often called the Cape Cod of the Midwest, Door County is a peninsula dotted with small towns located on the shores of Lake Michigan. I grew up here and could never figure out why Chicagoans loved coming here in the summer – until I had kids and became a tourist too! Door County is naturally beautiful with several state parks, limestone cliffs, scenic lighthouses and acres of farmland and cherry and apple orchards. There is a thriving arts community with many galleries and several theater companies, including the oldest professional resident summer theater in the United States, Peninsula Players.
There are so many activities to do with kids but our favorites are climbing the Cana Island lighthouse in Baileys Harbor, kayaking over shipwrecks in Sturgeon Bay, riding bikes in Peninsula State Park in Fish Creek (we always see deer and wild turkeys), taking the ferry to Washington Island and art camp at Hands On Art Studio – no ordinary paint-a-piece-of-pottery art studio. And finally, don’t leave Door County without eating like a local – a Friday night perch fish fry, deep fried cheese curds and a brandy old fashion for the adults and a kiddy cocktail for the kids.
Nancy’sTop Vacation Spots
Jardin d’Acclimation in Paris. Photo by Nancy Solomon
Our first European trip was to Paris when our kids were 7, 5 and 3. To date, it’s our favorite European trip. The stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and delicious food were perfect for us grown-ups, while the lovely parks, kid-friendly entertainment and crepes kept my kids smiling. With plenty of local markets to assemble the perfect picnics, we found Paris easy to peruse with kids. The Parisians were more than friendly and delighted to share their city with us.From climbing to the bells at Notre Dame to cruising the Seine River on the Beaux-Mouches, Paris was a perfect place to start our European adventures. We can’t wait to go back.
Turks and Caicos
Unlike a city trip, a beach trip needs to be easy: easy accessibility, easy accommodations and easy lounging. When all of these things come together, you have the makings of a perfect vacation. That’s exactly what we found in Turks and Caicos. Being just a quick, direct flight from most East Coast cities and a small and laid back island makes sinking those toes into the gorgeous white sand beaches simple. Even the snorkeling, diving and fishing are easy because the reefs and drop-offs are just a short distance from the shore.
While there are plenty of beautiful accommodations to choose from, The Grace Bay Club certainly is one of the most decadent places we’ve stayed. The condo size rooms coupled with personalized one-to-one service, this place was amazing. It is a smaller resort, so the beach is quiet. The beach staff kept our drink bucket stocked full of ice and water and even came around in the afternoon with sorbet. The kids program was eco-focused and my kids loved it. All in, this is where my mind drifts when I need an all out break!
San Diego, CA
While the beach and sea are the real attractions in San Diego, there is no need to worry if you are not the type to spend hours sitting on the beach. San Diego offers plenty of outdoor family-friendly activities that will keep the whole family entertained. With amusement parks, museums, zoos and aquariums, San Diego is perfect for families. We spend a month here each year and we never tire of activities and still seem to find new ones each trip. Our favorites are The Zoo, Surf Camp, Sea World, Del Mar Beach, Lego Land, Mission Beach and La Jolla Cove. In addition, you can’t forget the ideal weather – consistently ranging from 65-75 degrees – is perfect almost all year long.