When it comes to family travel, it’s often a multi-gen affair. Mom, dad, the kids, grandparents, and sometimes the kids’ kids. After a year or more when many families didn’t see each other at all, as much as they wanted, or only via Zoom, there’s a longing for quality time together.
To make this trip more about memories than mistakes, plan. Start with choosing the best destination. Ideally, it satisfies the interests of your family, from the youngest to the oldest. Activities should be plentiful. You want to choose to do as much or as little as you want.
Where to go depends on what you all like. Are your family members amusement park fans, beach or golf lovers, adventure junkies? Go where most of your hearts lie. Here is a curated list of some of my favorite places that are perfect for a family trip. I’ve had the pleasure of going to all but one — which I’ve heard amazing things about.
1. Copper Mountain, Colorado
Copper Mountain is known for skiing. I took a ski lesson not so long ago after swearing to never touch a ski pole with still-fresh memories of a disastrous attempt at skiing 40 years ago. But it’s great during the summer, too. The entire family can enjoy hiking, biking, and chairlift rides with scenery worthy of oohs and aahs. For the thrill-seekers, there is the Rocky Mountain Coaster, the Woodward Wrecktangle climbing wall, quad power jump, and other activities. For something quieter, hit the Copper Creek Golf Course or go to the nearby historic town of Frisco. The accommodations at Copper Mountain resort include multi-bedroom condos with kitchens, dining, and living room spaces. There’s a brand-new hotel at the base of Copper Mountain: Element 29. It has an outdoor patio along West Ten Mile Creek plus fire pits and hot tubs.
Pro Tip: Copper is bringing back its 10 Barrel Backcountry Brew Pub. On select Saturday afternoons, trek up to the pop-up location at the base of the Timberline lift. Grab some food, listen to music, enjoy lawn games, and more.
2. Whidbey Island, Washington
Drive about two hours north of Seattle and discover Whidbey Island with its beach and forested trails. A bonus is all the outdoor art. There’s a new 16-acre outdoor museum, the Price Sculpture Forest, with art from trees or hidden behind foliage. Earth Sanctuary is a nature retreat and sculpture park on 72 acres. For action for all ages, scale a tree with AdventureTerra. With the help of ropes and a guide, climbers ascend Coastal Douglas Firs to reach the top of the forest canopy and view the Deception Pass Bridge and San Juan Islands. Choose to stay at Fort Casey Inn and enjoy the comforts of home in historic former officer’s quarters. Consider the Captain Whidbey Inn in nearby Coupeville with cabins and historic inn rooms. The restaurant is over-the-top with water views. Tasting the PNW (Pacific Northwest) oysters is a must, as is downing a Big Yellow Taxi, which features Whidbey’s Cadee gin. They brag about the Captain’s Chowder; see if you agree.
Pro Tip: To sample local specialties stop in 3 Sisters Market for island chef-prepared meals like a pot pie from The Oystercatcher, produce, wine, and more.
3. Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana, Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
This destination is for the family who wants the ease of a luxurious, all-inclusive resort. It’s a plus that Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana shares a waterpark with Hyatt Zilara Cap Cana. Enjoy kayaking or a catamaran ride. It’s not until you get way out in the middle of the ocean that you realize that a catamaran is really not much shelter. Exhale, you’ll be ashore soon! You don’t have to stress about mealtime with six restaurants and seven lounges with vegetarian, vegan, and Keto options. The young ones can hang out at the KidZ Club and teens their club, with its virtual reality simulators, Formula 1 racing, and more. Grownups can make their way to the fitness center with Zumba and spinning rooms or the ZEN Spa. Take your pick of yoga, dance classes, and cooking lessons, or relax with cocktails at one of the infinity pools.
Pro Tip: Venture out. The concierge has information about trips you can take for additional fees from vendors for deep-sea fishing, zip-lining, and other adventures.
4. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is much beloved for its fab food, history, and culture. Simplify your itinerary with the Essential Charleston Passport, a digital ticket to travel back in time and discover the city’s cultural mainstays by hopping between the Old and Historic Districts. The young ones will love the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry with its interactive exhibits. They’ll climb to the top of a medieval castle and command a pirate ship.
What’s new? Tempest, a South Atlantic seafood restaurant housed in a boarding house originally constructed in 1916 for merchant marines. The latest addition to the Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms is the Sweetgrass Inn. Enjoy the ocean, spa, poolside restaurant, and bar. With Charleston just 30 minutes away, you get a city-beach vacay.
Pro Tip: While you may want to take a horse or walking tour, also grab a map and explore on your own Charleston’s homes, alleyways, and gardens.
5. Pensacola, Florida
What’s to love about Pensacola? The beach. The splendor rivals what you might expect to see in the Caribbean with its white sand beach and sparkling waters. You can rent a house on the beach for a price that won’t make you cry. This small town is big on arts, culture, cuisine, and nightlife downtown. As a group, do a dolphin cruise or go to a Blue Angels practice. Feeling adventurous? Rent a crystal-clear LED-lighted kayak for an evening ride. Explore the city via electric bikes. When hunger calls, the Garden at Palafox is an outdoor food hall, home to food airstreams including E-saan Thai Street Food, Boca Latin Kitchen, and more. Summer brings the Bands on the Beach outdoor concert series at the Gulfside Pavilion overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
Pro Tip: The Oyster Bay Boutique Hotel is the new luxury place to stay downtown. The property has three outdoor venues, including the New Orleans-style Fountain Courtyard.
6. Cape Neddick, Maine
Cape Neddick is all about hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, golfing, sailing, swimming, or immersing yourself in Maine culture on a lobstering excursion. Kennebunk is nearby with its galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. The place to stay is the Cliff House, especially if you need TLC. The Spa at Cliff House takes wellness seriously. Indulge yourself with energy, therapeutic, and salt stone therapies. Rustle folks up for an early guided beach walk on the Marginal Way Walkway. It’s just over a mile of coastline that connects Perkins Cove to Ogunquit Beach. If the younger generation wants a bit more excitement, Portland, Maine, is a short drive.
Pro Tip: Don’t leave Cape Neddick without having dinner at Walkers Maine. It’s fine dining at its best in these parts.
7. Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Riviera Maya, Mexico
The music and memorabilia up the fun factor here. With designated adults-only and family-friendly areas, the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya is ideal. The Woodward Riviera Maya is for all ages and all skill levels. Ready, set, action, be it skateboarding, BMX, scooter, parkour, gymnastics, cheer, dance, or indoor dryland snowboarding and skiing with ParkBoard and ParkSki training equipment. Note that these activities seem best suited for kids and teens, but adults seem to enjoy them as well! There are also select private experiences like a beachside fire pit, guitar workshop, Latin dance, and fitness classes. The Hard Golf Club awaits you as does the Rock Spa.
Pro Tip: Complete your experience with an excursion to zipline in the jungle or to swim in a cenote.
8. Charlotte, North Carolina
Charlotte captures your heart with its small-town charm. You expect fantastic barbecue and fried chicken, but there’s more. Take for example Optimist Hall, a former historic mill that was transformed into a food hall with retail, office space, and eateries like Ava with its wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, Bao and Broth, Asian street fare, and cocktail bar Billy Sunday. It’s the largest food hall of its kind in North Carolina. It’s not fussy — just enjoy your grub. Walk off all the eating at Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and Mint Museum Uptown. What ups Charlotte’s cool factor is its neighborhoods. Don’t miss NoDa, It’s colorful, and it’s not only the murals and street art. You’ll find breweries and one-of-a-kind shops, like vintage clothing store The Rat’s Nest. There’s the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Olympic-level whitewater rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center among other activities. Where to stay? The Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel is chic and has the Merchant rooftop bar.
Pro Tip: Venture 20 minutes beyond the city and check in at the AAA Four-Diamond Ballantyne. Pamper yourself at the luxurious spa and enjoy the signature afternoon tea.
9. Red Reflet Ranch, Ten Sleep, Wyoming
Would you like to stay in a private chalet on this 28,000-acre working ranch and all-inclusive luxury resort? Same, and while this is the only place I recommend but haven’t visited personally, I’ve heard good things about it. Spend your Red Reflet Ranch days horseback riding, fishing, hiking, four-wheeling, and taking gourmet cooking classes or yoga. If that’s not enough, hit the rifle range, enjoy the tennis and basketball courts, or rock climb. Refresh yourself with a swim in the natural waterpark and enjoy the beach, canoes, and water slide. Dinner time is all about dining with the owners and other guests. You have options, be it dinner at the Mountain Cabin, cowboy-style barbecue in the outdoor Cantina, or a private dinner in your chalet.
Pro Tip: Make your way to Ten Sleep Brewing Co. with its beer, views of the Big Horn Mountains, food trucks, and music.
10. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Enjoy the beach, boardwalk, golf, the SkyWheel, water parks, boat rides, kayaking, paddleboarding, Ripley’s Aquarium, and all the liveliness of the strip in Myrtle Beach. But go beyond the usual. I was blown away by the Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet just south of Myrtle Beach. It’s a national historic landmark with the largest collections of American figurative sculpture in the U.S. in a garden setting, with a zoo, butterfly house, children’s sensory trail, picnic area, and ponds. About an hour’s drive south of Myrtle Beach is the historic waterfront city of Georgetown. Stop by the River Room. You’ll love the Cajun gumbo, shrimp and grits, and everything else on the menu at this dockside restaurant.
Pro Tip: You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find in the 11 galleries at the Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum in Myrtle Beach.