Family vacations are a beautiful and worthwhile endeavor. Kid travel can be many things in one: educational, bonding for the family, horizon-broadening, team building, character building, and of course, fun! With such a big, wide world, it is hard to know where to start in terms of where to go and what to see. A quick peek on Pinterest overwhelms even the most travel-savvy parent with all the opportunities there are for adventure.
Deciding where to go with kids is a delicate balance of family-wide interest, as well as logistics. The task can seem quite daunting. Fortunately, there are things every parent can do to pare down the list of destinations, one of which is to consider age into the decision-making process.
Age is a great filter to put in place when planning a trip. While this is not to say that a child could not appreciate a particular location by a certain age, there are fabulous locations that intersect with prime developmental benchmarks that will make the adventure all the better.
While traveling at any age should be encouraged and celebrated, traveling with children under the age of ten has a certain brand of magic, as the whimsy and simplicity of childhood still lingers. A child’s imagination can still envision a princess sleeping in a castle, a sailor swaggering the decks of an old ship, or a mermaid swimming in the deep waters of a blue-green lake. The wide-eyed wonder does not stay for long, and parents should take any opportunity to let their children explore the world through that wondrous lens.
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The sea is an amazing equalizer. People of all ages will find enjoyment in the sand and surf of an oceanside vacation.
1. Coronado Island, California
The Southern California coast is a readily accessible beach vacation for many. Surf and beach culture is ever-present in this part of the United States and no place sums up the experience quite like the tiny island of Coronado, just off San Diego. It is a drive-on island that has resisted the typical California urban sprawl and has retained a rare mid-century charm throughout the decades.
Coronado has beautiful public beaches, a lovely boardwalk with beach cruiser bike rentals, and independent coffee shops. Of course, Coronado Island is home to the famous Hotel del Coronado. The historic, red-roofed hotel was built in 1888 and remains as iconic and beautiful as it ever over a hundred years later. Even if visitors aren’t guests of the hotel, it is still possible to walk around the gardens, explore the lobby, and even grab an ice cream cone at the creamery on the hotel grounds.
2. Kailua Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
It is hard to go wrong with the beach when visiting Hawaii. However, some beaches are better suited to families than others. Located on the windward side of Oahu, Kailua Beach is one of those perfect stretches of beach with powdery white sand, rolling shallow surf, and a laid-back vibe, thanks to the residential area that surrounds it. Locals and visitors alike can be found enjoying this location. The palm trees lining the beach and Flat Island sits a quarter of a mile away from the shore, making for the perfect beach experience.
Dramatic Rock Formations
While the typical tropical beach destinations are a delight for everyone, few things spark the imagination quite like dramatic rock formations jutting up from the churning surf of the ocean.
3. Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California (Keyhole Rock)
This beach is hidden away deep in the heart of the dramatic Northern California coast. Pfeiffer Beach is a State Park that is fully equipped with toilets, parking, and a ranger’s station. Once visitors have made it down the narrow, bumpy road (no trailers or RVs are allowed on the road) and paid the entrance fee, there is a short path down to the beach.
The trail opens up to a breathtaking cove of sand, surf, and towering rock formations that have been beaten by waves into beautiful sculptures. Keyhole Rock is a photographer’s dream at sunset, and kids will enjoy exploring the craggy rocks and tidepools.
4. Canon Beach, Oregon (Haystack Rock)
The Oregon coast is well known for its unique beach experience. Long gone are the typical images of powdery, white sand and rhythmic waves of the tropical sea when visitors visit the Northwest Seaboard of the United States. Canon Beach in Oregon is a beautiful public beach that is peppered with cute boutique seaside hotels along the sandy shore. Haystack Rock is an iconic feature of the beach: A gigantic rock that towers over visitors as the surf envelops around its base. Like Keyhole Rock in Big Sur, this beach at sunset is not something to miss.
Nautical experiences aren’t exclusively reserved for long, relaxing days at the beach. There are plenty of water-related activities that serve to be both educational and fantastical all at the same time.
5. The Wreck of the Peter Iredale, Oregon
The Graveyard of the Pacific is a stretch of coast that runs up the Oregon coastline into British Colombia, Canada. The rough seas and strong currents were the bane of many a sailor’s venture when sailing these waters. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted ship that ran aground back in 1906. While the bulk of the vessel has deteriorated over time, the stately steel frame remains firmly in the sand.
Visitors are free to get up-close and personal with the ship’s skeleton. The wreck is located in Fort Steven’s State Park in Northern Oregon. Visitors would be wise to check with the tide schedule and visit at low tide, otherwise, the ship could be inaccessible.
6. Monterrey Bay Aquarium
Observing sea life in an up-close and personal way is more or less reserved for researchers who have vast amounts of funding and scuba diving licenses. The general public is typically at the mercy of a museum curator when it comes to what facets of sea life that gets to be seen. Fortunately, at Monterey Bay Aquarium, researchers and aquarium curators have worked tirelessly to create “the sea” for visitors to observe.
The facility is perched on the dramatic shores of the Central California Coast and is dedicated to educating the general public about sea life. Vast, intricate water tanks give visitors a glimpse into an otherwise unknown world. The experience is so immersive, so unmatched, that any other aquarium experience will feel small and cheap compared to this. Monterey Bay Aquarium is a non-profit organization and proceeds from ticket sales go straight to the care of the animals as well as conservation efforts.
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7. Stand-up Paddle Boarding Cranberry Lake in Deception Pass State Park, Washington
Is it a surfboard or is it a kayak? Perhaps it is both? Stand-Up Paddle Boarding or SUP has been a water sport that has taken the world by storm. It is a low-impact and versatile activity that can be enjoyable for the entire family. While SUPing on the ocean sounds like a great idea, riders will soon learn the hard way that waves and currents can make for a very stressful experience. Small, calm lakes are the best place to really enjoy the sport.
For those that would like to experience the benefits of cruising in the ocean without any of the drawbacks, look no further than Cranberry Lake in Deception Pass State Park, Washington. It is a glacial, freshwater lake that is separated from the Pacific ocean by a small stretch of sand. There, paddleboarders can enjoy the smooth, calm waters of the lake while also enjoying the views of the rolling waves. Stand-Up Paddle Boarding is a water sport. Please wear a life jacket at all times and obey state and local regulations with this activity.
8. Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington
The Puget Sound of Washington State is a remarkable area for many reasons. The tiny islands throughout the sound are each unique and beautiful. Several hours north of Seattle, plus a gorgeous ferry ride, lies the island of San Juan. The island boasts of lavender farms and whale watching, however, the main town of Friday Harbor is the real star of this place. Friday Harbor is a charming nautical town a short walk from the ferry terminal. There, visitors can walk along the marina, eat at any of the delicious local restaurants, and shop at an independent bookstore that looks like it came straight out of a movie.
9. Belfast, Maine
Another nautical town that looks like it came out of a storybook is Belfast, Maine. It is a very cute, walkable town along the Atlantic Coast. Independent toy shops and yarn stores make this tiny fishing village a treat for any city-weary traveler. After spending a day walking along the coastal trail and bridges of the town, travelers would enjoy taking the ferry over to Islesboro and checking out the lighthouse on the island.
When adventures take us further inland, there is plenty to see and do. Deserts, mountains, monuments, parks, and historical sights offer plenty to do for travelers of any age.
10. Cherry Blossom Bloom, Washington, D.C.
There is nothing that delights the senses quite like the soft pink blooms of the cherry blossom tree. Every spring several thousand cherry trees burst into bloom along the Potomac Waterfront in Washington, D.C. Originally the trees were a gift from the Mayor of Tokyo in 1912, and after many years and many trees, the tradition of the cherry trees has continued. Today, visitors can enjoy the blooms in early spring, although peak bloom times do vary from year to year. There is an annual Cherry Bloom Festival that keeps tabs on when the best time to visit is.
11. NASA Space Center, Houston, Texas
Come and see where the origins of the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem” began. The NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas is as educational as it is historic. Here, visitors can see the actual craft used during the Apollo missions as well as the spacesuits from actual astronauts. Displays range from awe-inspiring to historical and often at the same time.
12. Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii
History is often seen as obscure facts written into a book. Memorials can obscure the reality of history for children, however, there are a few places that get it right in terms of art and reality. One such place is the Pearl Harbor Memorial. The site has been respectfully preserved where the USS Arizona rests underwater. Visitors can see the fish swimming among the wreckage as a tasteful floating memorial rests on top. People of all ages are sure to come away from that experience with a greater understanding of history and humanity.
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13. Monument Valley, Utah
Monument Valley is located on the tribal lands of the Navajo Nation. It is a vast swath of land that is red, dry, and windswept. Gigantic red rock formations called “buttes” jut up from the desert floor to make for some of the most striking landscapes ever. Movie enthusiasts will recognize this as the location where the opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed.
14. Vallea Lumina, Whistler, British Colombia
It is hard to describe the experience that is Vallea Lumina. To put it simply, it is an immersive nighttime walk through the picturesque snowy mountains of Whistler, British Colombia. To put it more complicatedly, it involves millions of twinkle lights, music, and aesthetics to tell a story as visitors walk through the trail. It is like Disneyland, but better. It is a breathtaking and memorable experience that the entire family will not soon forget.
15. Telluride, Colorado
Tucked up into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado lies the small ski town of Telluride. Don’t be fooled into thinking that skiing is the only option for visitors to this town. In the summertime, the snow gives way to beautiful meadows, wildflowers, and an entire litany of fun summer activities: mountain biking, gondola rides, hiking, and bathing in the local hot springs.
16. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Southern Utah boasts one of the most unique places in the American Southwest at Bryce Canyon. Towering rock spires made from millennia of wind and rain against the red sandstone, called hoodoos, fill this canyon. The canyon is nestled in the high desert forest, making for an even more enchanting experience of ponderosa pine trees and red rocks. There are plenty of hiking trails available for hikers of differing abilities, but all offer spectacular views of this unique place.
For families who would like to get out the passports and have an international adventure, there is a world of places that kids and parents will love with minimal travel stress.
17. Victoria, British Colombia
The city of Victoria in Canada is a wonderful “first trip” for any international traveler. Shared customs and language make this experience just “different enough” to test the waters of foreign travel and “the same enough” to not overwhelm visitors with culture shock or jetlag. Victoria is located on Vancouver Island in British Colombia and is the oldest city on the Western Seaboard. There are statues of Queen Victoria, hydrangeas, and intricate buildings that say “Europe” and King beds, compulsory ice in beverages, and wide roads that say “North America.” Parents and kids will love harbor cruises, tea at The Empress, and a walk around Butchart Gardens.
18. Princess Diana Memorial Park, Kensington, United Kingdom
A hop, skip, and a jump across the pond is a child’s playground dream in London, England. Parents will love being part of an interactive memorial to the late Princess Diana, and kids will love the playground that is unmatched in creativity and play.
19. The Palace at Versailles, Versailles, France
Further afield there is the infamous home of Louis XIV. The history and architecture are sure to be a hit with visitors of all ages. The iconic and historical Hall of Mirrors will spark awe in any visitor’s imagination, but it is really the sprawling 800 hectares of perfectly manicured gardens that kids will really enjoy exploring. Fountains, sculptures, flowers, and gravel paths make for a grand energy burn, as well as a fantastic history lesson.
20. Plaza de Espana, Seville, Spain
Wide-open plazas are a wonderful way to experience the culture and atmosphere of Spain. The Plaza de Espana in Seville offers just that, with its central fountain, carriage rides, and ornate bridges that run around the perimeter. Under the bridges is a small tiled canal with fish and rowboats that can be hired to enjoy the plaza in an entirely unique way.
The world is big and childhood is fleeting. Thankfully, there are many wonderful places that marry the wonder and adventure of travel. Get out there and see some of it!
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