Family Vacation Ideas

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello! It may be a bit early but my family has been researching xmas vacation spots! : ) It always takes us a while to decide so we'd love ideas please!

    Are you trying to experience some winter/snow or more looking to just relax in a different area that's more snowbirdish?

    If you're outdoorsy, we love going to Lassen National Park over the holiday. There's lots of homes to rent right outside the park that are totally affordable, the towns are cute and there's tons of stuff to see/explore. 

    Good luck! 

    A bit more info will be helpful as there are so many options: local, domestic, international, warm or cold, $ or $$$$, nature, city adventure, etc.

    Here are some of our family’s favorites:

    - All inclusive resorts in Mexico (Cabo or PV because of short direct flight from OAK or SFO)

    — Hawaii

    — a week in a cabin in Tahoe

    — Disneyland, Legoland type

    — Staycation with fun outings around the bay 

    — Vacation rental near Monterey, Santa Cruz, Paso Robles

    There are so many options, so it really depends on what type of experience you are looking for. Do you want a classic holiday experience, playing in the snow/cold weather? Are you interested in adventure and activities, or would prefer a more low key experience where you can relax together as a family? Galapagos is a perfect family vacation -…. Have fun planning your trip!

    It would help to have an idea beyond "family vacation." Time, budget, interests (sightseeing, lazing about, adventure), ambition (how far do you want to go? is international on the table?), climate (warm, or is cold okay?) . But in the absence of that...

    My family met up Thanksgiving week last year at a vacation rental on the Oregon Cost just south of Newport, in the Surfland neighborhood. Low key, had a great time. 

    Not very far, but I have been to Asilomar in Pacific Grove (just south of Monterey) many times, including around Thanksgiving. Beautiful, calming, lots of stuff to do in the Monterey area. Beach, tidepooling. There's a social hall with activities and a dining hall where I at least eat breakfast.

    I love Hawaii's Big Island. The west side is great for beach lovers with swimming, snorkeling, and boogie boarding. It has an active volcano with many associated sites including the main crater. Opportunities for short an long hikes. The east side has waterfalls and a botanic garden and great farmers markets and is a lot less tourist focused. By chance I went to a youth rodeo in Waimea. Twice I have been to the top of Mauna Kea which is amazing (once driving, which is challenging, and the 2nd time with a tour). The Big Island has 10 of the world's 14 climate zones, including below-freezing temps at the top of Mauna Kea (often). 

    I did a late November trip a few years ago to Munich and enjoyed the Christmas markets that are everywhere in Germany during the season.

    I spend a lot of the pandemic fantasizing about travel. Places I've thought about include New Mexico (Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos), New York City, New Orleans, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Iceland, Scotland, Norway, and Portugal. So I have not shortage of ideas, just time and budget.

  • Does anyone know of any hotels in California (could be in the Bay Area or southern CA) that have a kids’ club or childcare? We’re looking to take a vacation somewhere where the grownups can get a little bit of a break to enjoy some swimming or quiet time, even if it’s just for a few hours a day. 

    Omni la costa has childcare for 6 months and up all day and some evenings. The pool area is amazing for kids. Its not cheap but may be what you are looking for

    Consider Family Vacation Center at UCSB. It's not luxury accommodations; it's university dormitory suites. But the kids' and family activities are top class. You can't beat the location. You can use my username if you decide to sign up.

    Hyatt Huntington Beach 

    Montage Laguna Beach and they have one in Healdsburg

  • Are there vacation type spots within a day's drive that have activities for preschool age kids so that they can get their play time in for the day, away from their boring parents? One model for this is Tahoe, where the kids can go to all day ski school - are there other places around here that have a similar structure? We would love to get away for a bit, especially during all the school holiday weeks that are coming up, but know our only child will probably want more in the way of activities than this tired mom can provide on her own. Thanks for any recommendations!

    I don't know of an option like this during the school year, but for summer, family camp is a great option. There are a bunch - Cal's Lair of the Bear, Berkeley and Oakland city family camps, you can search on here for more info about each one. We have been to Lair of the Bear and Feather River and both were great but pretty different from each other. The kids' activities during the day are the big sell - kids go off and do fun things, you get to relax! It isn't a full day, they typically have a couple of hours in the morning and then you meet for lunch, then a couple of hours in the afternoon. 

  • Looking for recommendations for spring break locations (April) - looking for within driving distance (3-4 hours max) since we have a young child who may or may not be vaxxed by then.  We would love to do something with a heated pool.  We were hoping for Sea Ranch but the pools are not open to kids and unclear when that will change.  We can do a rental house or condo that has a pool in the community, housing for 6.  Prefer not a hotel since we want to stay for a week.

    Thank you!!

    Hi, we own a house at Sea Ranch and at least some of the pools are open to kids at this time. Our house is near the Del Mar rec center (on the northern end of Sea Ranch) and the pool is available for open swim every day after 1pm. Hope that helps!

    Lots of house rentals in Tahoe (especially the Truckee / Donner area) have access to a health club with a heated pool. It could be across the street or a drive away depending on the rental. 

    Monterey, Lake Tahoe/Reno, If you can drive a bit longer Santa Barbra, Santa Monica or Palm Springs.

  • Some good friends of ours asked if we wanted to go on vacation with them for a week after Christmas. There will be 4 adults and 7 kids ages 7-15. We probably want somewhere warm with things to do. Probably better at this late date to go within a (long) day's drive than a flight. Ideas about where to go? We've been kicking around San Diego (Wild Animal Park, zoo, tide pooling) and Las Vegas (shows, good pools, maybe a (long) day trip to the Grand Canyon). Ideas about where to go and where to stay?

    I have heard that Death Valley is nice, especially that time of year. 

    If you end up going to Vegas, take your day trip to Zion National Park instead of to the Grand Canyon. Zion is absolutely gorgeous and there are a lot of beautiful hikes (e.g., Emerald Pools, the Narrows if it's safe, Angel's Landing if you want more of a challenge, and the West Rim if you really want to push it) that are accessible from the road. My experience with the Grand Canyon is that there's very little to do there if you don't actually go down into the canyon (an extremely arduous hike). Basically you park the car, look into the canyon, comment on how grand it is, and then go have an overpriced, fairly crappy lunch. I've been to the north rim (Jacob's Lake) a few times and was happy to see it but bored quickly. Maybe the south rim is more fun but I kind of doubt it. Zion, on the other hand, is gorgeous and accessible. Springdale has become a pretty trendy town and there's shopping and restaurants once you're done with the park. It's about a 3 hour drive from Vegas to Zion but so worth it. If you're really lucky it will have snowed. I've never seen a more beautiful sight than the red rock walls of Zion with snow piled on the ledges.

    Those are both long drives, but between the two I would absolutely pick San Diego over Las Vegas. It's beautiful, it has a variety of activities to suit all interests and age groups, and proximity to other interesting destinations. There are neighborhoods with Airbnb options in San Diego where the older kids could walk around on their own (South Park, Little Italy, North Park etc) and you'd have easy to access to the gardens, zoo, and museums in Balboa Park plus a good location to drive to beaches in Coronado, La Jolla, and Pt Loma (my favorite tidepooling is at Pt Cabrillo if the tide charts are in your favor) plus you have the Safari Park (newish name for Wild Animal Park), Julian, Anza Borrego Desert and Tijuana as possible day trips.  If you wanted a day or two of resort experience, the greater San Diego area has plenty of options for that (Loews in Coronado, Paradise Point in Mission Bay etc). Las Vegas in December could be quite cold, which would make the pools undesirable, and I wouldn't feel as uncomfortable with kids on their own. Las Vegas has fun, but you need to pay for all of it, and it can be overwhelming for kids. That said, I know some people LOVE it. But I wouldn't choose that for a group vacation unless I knew for sure it was everyone's cup of tea.

    San Diego Zoo is amazing.  Can eat Mexican food / shop in the Old Town (I think that's what they call it).  There's museums.  The beach.  There's a ship.  It would be fun, we went once during the winter several years ago.  I would check out a guidebook to see if you want to go.

    We have vacationed in San Diego the week after Christmas multiple times with our 3 school age children.  Always had a great time.  Weather is usually good and lots to do.  In addition to the things you mentioned check out Balboa Park, Old Town and La Jolla Shores and LegoLand.  

    I would do Palm Springs, condo or private rental home with a pool.

    Those are good ideas... I'm not sure how warm are those areas in winter...I guess if you go to San Diego, you could always go to Mexico ( you would need passports) Tijuana, Rosarito, Ensenada and the wine country of Valle de Guadalupe.

    Palm Springs could be also nice, restaurants, shops,bikes, pools, hikes, Joshua tree...

    Have fun!

  • Hello! I am considering taking my 7 year old-who loves reading/books, animals, art, shopping, and dancing-on a weeklong vacation abroad. What are some fun vacation spots that you would recommend? Any survival tips and specific lodging and tour recommendations would be appreciated! 

    I went to a conference in Paris years ago and stayed with my PhD supervisor who had 7-year-old twins. In exchange for staying with her family I babysat the twins for two days - and it was a blast. We took the metro and explored the city, tasting ice cream and crepes and macroons, had a picnic under the Eiffel Tower, ran around the Jardin du Luxembourg (where they pushed wooden boats around a big pond and played in a huge playground), took a river boat tour, and climbed up to the Sacre Coeur to check out the views. I spent about 7 years living in Europe (in Ireland) and have travelled in Europe quite a bit - but Paris with kids was very memorable. It was easy and enjoyable, not exactly 'off the beaten track', but that made it a bit more relaxing for me (I spent two summers traveling through Turkey, Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Romania - lots of beautiful places but communication was more complicated, I spent time lost or trying to figure out transportation and feeling overwhelmed, and the roads were hectic! I spent one night on the roof of a guesthouse because I took the last ferry to an island where the hostel had given my room away and literally everything was booked up. Memorable experiences, gorgeous locations - but I'd be stressed with a kid on these adventures). Also the family rented a car after and spent a few days in Brittany (Saint-Malo I think, about 4 hours away), and I have heard good things. 

    My aunt just took her 10 year old grandson to Germany last year and they went to Christmas markets - which sounded like a very wonderful winter trip! 

    Enjoy your trip and 

    We had a great time in Stockholm when our daughter was that age. There's the Astrid Lundgren (Pippi Longstocking) museum (  ). Skansen, is an open-air museum with miniature buildings and also a zoo. Also, pretty much everywhere you go has part set up for children with places to play. Even the parks have equipment like stilts children can check out. We were there in the summer, I'm not sure how it would be other times of year.

    Second the Stockholm recommendation.  Your 7 year old will love it!  We took our kids when they were 1.5 and 2.5 so a little too young but we loved Junibaken, the Vasa Museum, Skansen (animals here), the Nobel Prize museum and the ABBA Museum.  There's a playground around every corner with lots of cool things like in-ground trampolines, ziplines and large slides.  We had a blast and it's an amazing city!

    Ireland is also amazing and you could do the Dublin Zoo, Natural History Museum and drive to Fota Wildlife Park where they have lemurs and wallabies roaming the grounds.  Then you could drive cross country to the west (about 3 hours) to see some beautiful landscapes - I would recommend the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands (take a ferry for a day trip) and Ailwee Caves and Birds of Prey Center. They have lots of fun department stores - I would recommend Dundrum Shopping Center where there are several department stores, a great bookstore and a bunch of stores that carry children's clothing (Next, Zara, Monsoon, etc.) and I would also highly recommend the Avoca Handweavers store - they sell beautiful handmade items.  And the food there is delicious.  

    Hi I would just throw in Berlin to the mix. I have lived here for years raising my kid and in my opinion traveling around europe that Berlin is uniquely kid friendly.  First there are amazing playgrounds - interesting, imaginative and you'll find one about every 2 or 3 blocks in most neighborhoods - sometimes tucked into places you'd never guess. Even at 7 your kid might find some of these interesting enough to try out - trampolines in the ground, extra tall slides, climbing structures - which means you can fit a 20 minute pit stop to refresh between other things. And no not those generic concrete ones we have in Calif that all look the same.

    Berlin is very affordable - hotels, airbnb, restaurants are all quite affordable compared to many European cities. It is particularly lovely during the summer - green canopied streets, filled with sidewalk cafes. Restaurants are very friendly towards kids and it is even common for offices to have a little "kid corner" for kids to play. 

    There are too many historical sites to see to name here, the city is filled with interesting things that even a 7 year old might fight interesting. If you are hesitant about exposing your child to the sad past of WWII, you can focus on the Berlin Wall - lots of kids find that interesting and there are many interesting kid friendly museums some with kid specific activities.

    It is super easy to get around with public transportation. Buy a visitors pass - that will work on the 4 forms of transportation - S-bahn (above ground); U-bahn (subway); Metro (M-car a street-train) and bus. All by honor's system (they DO check randomly so be prepared - but no going through ticket-stalls or scanning tickets. Just hope on!)  Most of their buses are double-decker which kids love. If hot, lots of great lakes nearby too - crystal clear and clean, sandy bottom and wonderfully warm. 

    Here are a couple of places you might want to check out.  Machmit Museum - a must! This huge 3-d maze is built in an old church. Kids LOVE it. Costs about $8 per person to enter. Plan on spending at least 3 hours there - as besides this maze, there is a mirror room, an interesting exhibit downstairs and about 8 tables of activities kids can just sit down and join in - I think they switch them around but they are hands on craft stuff oriented toward old ways of creating - soap, chocolate making, etc. And right there where you can watch your kids is a nice little coffee area for you to sit and have a snack. All located in a charming kid friendly neighborhood. A few blocks away is playground for kids 6-16 called Kolle 37. Here every spring the kids build but these 2 story forts - exactly how they want. The framework is there, then they just grab hammers, nails and build away. There is (or was) an old car, which they could smash away out, there is often a big bonfire they can roast brotwurst or even put bread dough on a stick and bake bread. And crafts. So much fun for the kids.

    Here are a couple of links

    Oh just a couple of other tips about Berlin Neighborhoods to stay - Mitte (Center) is of course most central. Anything close to the S-bahn line that cuts through the center. The Melia Hotel is right in the center, right on a canal and across the street from a main station - and it's affordable! Of course depends I suppose when you book. Had friends stay there and loved it. 

    Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood (just a little east) is completely set up for kids and charming. But most areas are of Berlin are charming, depending on how much they were destroyed int he war. I would suggest try to stay within the "ring" of the s-bahn ring.

    If you stay in a hotel, definitely make sure you buy the "breakfast" package - these are lovely healthy european buffets and not the reconstituted powered, microwaved scrambled eggs we see in the States. Of course you may want to book an airbnb and these are affordable and handy when traveling with kids. On one hand you get to feel you are part of a neighborhood, and have the ease of making snacks and so on. On the other hand, I think there is a charm with European hotels that for a week should not be missed. And since the cafes are relatively affordable, you won't save that much making your own meals. One last thing, not so important but I think most people don't know about it, in central mitte, the new shopping mall (Mall of Berlin) has the tallest indoor slide - it's just randomly put there with no real fan-fare so people don't realize it's there, no fees, no lines just a super tall slide and worth the couple block walk to get there from the numerous historical sites nearby. Here's the link

    I would also recommend a boat trip on the canal, they can be as little as an hour and you can order a ice cream for it for the kids. Bring your bathing suit in case it's hot and there are some nice pools.

    Re tips, the important thing is not to get to worked up about planning or worrying about your kid. You could come to Berlin with nothing planned but your hotel reservation and you'd have a blast and easily figure out fun things to do every day. TV screens on the back of the seats in planes have made a huge difference for traveling with kids. There are no direct flights from SFO to Berlin, we prefer to use BA via heathrow (great mall like airport), KLM through Amsterdam, or Lufthansa/United thru Munich. There are 2 airports but you'll be flying to Tegal. Take a taxi from there to where you are staying - they have a taxi stand with rows of nicely maintained mercedes waiting. The cab drivers view it as their career and have pride in their work. In all my years of using them I have never once been cheated. It will cost you about 25-27 euros to get from TXL to Prenzlauer Berg. Less to Mitte. Berlin is cash based (as is much of Germany) expect to pay with cash (or a european debit card). Credit cards are becoming more accepted but not regularly used even in restaurants! But taxis do take credit cards.

    We took our then 7 year old to Singapore last Christmas. There are SO many things to do for kids there, everything is super safe and clean. The only downside is that it’s hot and humid all year round. But the food...the food is amazing. If you go, definitely check out the water park in Sentosa Island. I thought it was a waste to go to a water park abroad but it was so clean, so fun, so well organized, and so nice and cool as it was super hot. 

    A couple of last things, just in case you are considering mentioned animals - there are 2 large zoos (many things are double in Berlin due to the wall) but I love the one on the former west it's very central, like finding a huge beautiful zoo in downtown SF. But more importantly are several little "farms" scattered around neighborhoods

    For touring, Rick Steves suggests bus 100 or 200 to save $ instead of the Hop on/off tours but both are good and double decker (public transport here is clean, safe and frequent - wait time is usually 2-10 minutes tops so it doesn't feel like a hassle). Go down Unter den Lindon, the main street to see all the big historical buildings (both the 100 & 200) will do so.  Eating - Clarchens Ballhaus in Mitte has charming outdoor eating in a cute neighborhood. Museum Island area is lovely. Walk thru Hackescher markt and grab a snack. Hang out in a lounge chair in James Simon park in mitte next to museum island or better yet, also close to Melia hotel is Monbijou Bridge, beautiful at sunset, listen to street musician, watch the dancers at the sand bar next door. Go to the impressive 6th fl food floor at the KaDeWe dept store (5 min from the Zoo) and grab a snack.

    The one suggestion I have about Berlin is because it is not a medieval city, instead mostly built between 1880-1920 and then heavily destroyed, it lacks medieval flavor. I would suggest one night in Bamberg, one of the prettiest little cities in Germany, and easy to get to. If you are staying in mitte, you will be about 5 min from the main train station (called Berlin Hbf/or central station) there you pick up a train to Bamberg a 2.5 hour direct ride. The trains are comfortable, great scenery. Don't miss going down to the cafe car for a coffee and sit in the little cafe seats. You get off at the Bamberg central station. Walk the 10 min or hop in a cab to the old section. You can see most of it easily one afternoon and the next morning. Then back to Berlin that afternoon. Here is train ticket link - have your hotel help you buy the tickets, second class is great, but I suggest you reserve seats. Sometimes you'll find people sitting in them because they don't realize but no problem, just point out they are reserved. Not usually full except during the holidays. The trip is less difficult than walking from a Union Square hotel to pick up BART to go to Walnut Creek, really. If you arrive in Berlin on a Saturday, I would wait til perhaps Wed morning to head to Bamberg, then spend that afternoon, night there and leave the next afternoon back to Berlin. Definitely stay in the medieval center - I have stayed here before but there are a lot of choices.

    Aim to visit May-Sept, it's definitely the prettiest time. My kid is now a teenager so I'm a little rusty with suggestions, best to search for kids activities. The one thing I would caution you about is you may get swept up in - I could do this, or maybe I should include that city, or we'll be so close to this... and everything will begin to be appealing and just remind yourself, next visit I'll do that, but now I focus on just 1 or 2 places.

    We took our then-7and 5 year old daughters to Italy last summer and had an amazing time. We spent a few days in Rome (did a walking food tour, a kid-friendly Colosseum tour, and just explored the city), a couple nights in Florence, and then a week in Tuscany at an agriturismo (specifically, Al Gelso Bianco). I can highly recommend all aspects of the trip since we got a great mix of city + country, activities and relaxing. Italians are incredibly warm and welcoming of children and food is obviously easy -- who doesn't love pizza, pasta, and gelato?? We even did a pasta-making class while in Tuscany which was a favorite of our girls.

  • Baby #2 is coming in June.  My  husband and I are overlapping our maternity and paternity leaves at the end and would like to take a vacation with our daughter (age 3.5 at the time) and infant (3 months or so) in September.  Our thinking is that if we having to be feeding the baby every three hours, we may as well do it someplace warm where we can swim and relax in between.  Likely to bring a set of grandparents with us.  We will be flying out of SFO.  Europe is too far for us.  Any other suggestions of great places for a 3.5 year old and a baby in late September?  Many thanks!

    I would go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico.  We went to Puerto Vallarta with our then 2 and 6 year olds and it was fabulous - no having to figure out meals/restaurants as they were all on site and almost always open, pool right there (find one with a large shallow area), ocean right there, beautiful, warm, lots of different room/suite options, nightly entertainment that turned out not to be awful.  Flight is only 4-5 hours.  I thought I would hate all-inclusive but we went to the Melia, which was mostly Mexican nationals on vacation along with a smattering of people from other countries (very few Americans), and it was simply awesome.

    I would highly recommend Chatham, MA in Cape Cod. When our kids were younger we rented houses there several summers. It was an easy place to go with young children. The beaches are nice, and there is no rough surf, so you don’t have to worry about waves crashing down on toddlers. The kids would play for hours on the beach, and then we would head home and have a relaxing evening. You pay more for a house near the beach and within walking distance to Main Street, which were worth it to us. It depends on what you want. The rates drop after Labor Day. September would probably be a great time to go. Good luck.

    We did something similar (our oldest was only 2 at the time though) and considered East Coast (Maine, Outer Banks), Canada, Europe. Ultimately we decided we probably wouldn't actually see much of the place we were visiting so we opted to stay close. We rented a beautiful house in Sonoma for a week. It had a pool, an extra room for friends/parents to stay and visit, and we got to enjoy good food and wine, and amazing weather. Tahoe may be another similar option. We're big travelers so it felt hard to not choose a new and far destination but we ended having the best time with minimal stress. Good luck and enjoy!! 

    So many possibilities! Hawaii would be at the top of my list. But you might also want to consider  San Diego, Tahoe or Florida. 

    All-inclusive resorts in Mexico (Puerto Vallarta or Los Cabos due to proximity). Southwest has direct flight from Oakland. If you can book a hotel with swim-out room and are willing to watch the toddler carefully, it's amazing. When the baby sleeps, you can slip out to swim right from your room and have the baby monitor out with you. We just booked a week at Hyatt Ziva in PV but Grand Velas in PV is very nice, too. If you are willing to fly to East Coast, Karisma Azul is a nice all-inclusive boutique hotel with swim-out rooms. Club Med resorts have "kids clubs" that take younger ones. If you are willing to fly to Jamaica, there is a all inclusive resort that comes with a nanny -- your very own nanny that comes with the room! 

  • Hello all! I'm pondering our next vacation. What has been your favorite family vacation spot/activity (preferably outside of Northern California, but somewhere in North America)?

    We have a 3 and a 4 year old. We can be adventurous with them though, so it doesn't necessarily have to be an overly-kid-centric destination, although we are open to those ideas too :)  Happy with beaches, or mountains, or... anything that sounds cool & fun!

    Thank you!

    Not sure what time of the year you are going, but we did a road trip through Oregon this past summer and the kids (5&2) loved it. We went to Corvallis, the beach cities, Portland then back down through Bend. Great beaches, hiking, biking, Tillamook cheese factory, river activities. Lots of options in Oregon

    When our kids were that age we really enjoyed spending a week at a family camp in the Sierras. Swimming, hiking, campfires, meals provided, kid independence, low parental stress. Here are some that have been recommended on BPN:

    Family camp!! It will instantly become an annual tradition that your kids will love. Try to rope in at least one other family with similar age kids. 

  • HI all, I'm looking for advice for a fun road trip to take with my 1 and 4 year old over winter break.  Requirements:

    -not more than 4-5 hour drive

    -easy with little kids, ie lots of stuff to do and a nice place to stay with maybe an indoor pool and activities, bonus if a suite where kids can sleep separately.

    -either warm beach (unlikely in a 4-5 hour drive) or winter without feeling like a fancy ski resort.

    -wont break the bank

    Send me your thoughts!  

    Off the top of my head, Reno.

    It’s 3-4 hours away and some of the big casino hotels have indoor pools. There are tons of good, cheap restaurants... you don’t have to go near overpriced hotel food. The kiddie arcades are annoying for adults but fun for kids.

    You can get kids in the snow without having. To ski near Mt. Rose.

    Bear Valley for a "winter" experience.  It's a very down-to-earth ski resort with a great old lodge that have family suite rooms and a number of low-key dining options on site.  Plenty of snow play options if you don't ski.  Our family loved it when the kids were younger.

    Monterey area. There's an Embassy Suites in Seaside with an indoor pool, a wonderful little kids' museum (MY Museum), and lots of beaches for strolling and playing in the sand. (Obviously not swimming, this is chilly CA!) You could skip the aquarium and still have a great 2-3 day mini-break in the region.

  • Hi parents,

    I’m looking for a peaceful, beautiful, reasonably-priced and family-friendly place to spend an August week within a half-day’s drive from here. We’d like to rent a place with 3 bedrooms within walking distance to a warmish swimming beach and interesting activities within driving distance. I have elderly parents who can’t drive too far away and a couple of sports-obsessed kids who need to get more comfortable in the water. Don’t need any tech bells and whistles as we like to unplug during that time. Would welcome any suggestions. Many thanks!

    Pinecrest, CA.
    Pine Mountain Lake area of Groveland, CA
    Check them out.

    Highly suggest the western Russian River valley in Sonoma County - Guerneville, Monte Rio, that area.  The western part of the county is much cheaper than eastern (e.g., town of Sonoma, Kenwood etc) or even the northern part (Healdsburg).  The towns of Guerneville and Monte Rio are small and funky, with lots of full-time residents so it feels more real than the Disneyesque quality of downtown Healdsburg or Sonoma.  The river is great for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, etc, and reasonably priced vacation rentals abound.  Check out  This area is less than 1/2 hour from the Pacific coast (Jenner) in one direction, or wine tasting in the Healdsburg area in the other direction, plus it has Armstrong Woods State Park with old growth redwoods and tons of hiking, lots of small country roads for bicycling, great downtown as well as smaller neighborhood beaches, and a relatively quiet country vibe.  Guerneville is 1.5 hours from either SF or the east bay - it's a somewhat unknown gem.

    Serene Lakes would be a great choice. It’s off 80, just before Truckee. You’d have to rent a house for your family. The lakes are beautiful and quiet - nothing motorized allowed. There’s lots of swimming, biking, sailboating, etc. It’s a good place for multigenerational family time. 


    Guerneville, Jenner, Bodega Bay, Mendocino, Tomales Bay, anywhere near Pt Reyes... Sebastopole is also gorgeous, though not coastal.

    Try any of them, you can't go wrong!!

    Have fun :)

    A swimming beach within a 4 hours' drive of the Bay Area is a tough call. The Pacific is too cold without wetsuits until you get closer to LA, and that's more than the half day's drive you're looking for. So you would need to target lakes and rivers, which you already got good suggestions for. If a swimming pool would do, we like Sea Ranch, which is peaceful and beautiful, about 3 hours away, and has swimming pools and lovely walks along the rocky coast suitable for all ages. There are rental houses in a range of prices (I suggest instead of airB&B for Sea Ranch.)  The interesting activities within an hour's drive include the Russian fort, the skunk train, Mendocino, Ft. Bragg, some breweries, some wineries. Or heading south, what about Santa Cruz or Monterey? Not so much for swimming unless you're in a hotel, but there are many interesting activities in Carmel and Monterey including free or cheap things like lighthouses, tide pools, pick-it-yourself farms. The central coast is about 4 hours away - Pismo beach is sort of swimmable and fun for kids, depending on how old yours are. Cayucos has a big broad flat beach and inexpensive houses to rent but it's a sleepy beach town with not a lot of activities, although on the Central coast, the Hearst castle is a fun activity (reserve ahead), elephant seals, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo and wineries are nearby. Hope that helps!

    I just booked a cabin at Redwood River Resort in Mendocino. Haven't been yet but it looks really fun. They have cabins and tent sites in the redwoods, a pool, playground, rec room & outdoor games, hiking trails and it's just a short walk to the Eel river for tubing & swimming ( they're also rumored to have an awesome rope swing!) You could take a day trip to the coast.

    Santa Barbara is about five hours away and may meet your criteria. The ocean is noticeably warmer and there are opportunities to try surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking. I'm not sure if you'll find a three bdrm rental within walking distance to the beach, but it's worth checking out your usual sites. 

  • My husband and I want to leverage our parental leave to go on a month-long "vacation" with our two year old and infant, and are brainstorming where we could go. We're planning to go in November and want to get a long-term rental in one place, versus traveling to multiple places. Given that we'll have a 3 month old, we don't want to go anywhere too rustic or exotic. We want to opt for a relatively easy experience versus tons of culture. (We've both done a fair amount of traveling ourselves.) We also don't want to deal with inclement weather, so cities in Europe could be limited. Any thoughts or recommendations? I know we're rather limiting in our parameters but I'm hopeful we can find a place we're excited about. Thanks!

    Hawaii!  Get a condo (with kitchen) near somewhere that had tidepools, or a resort with kiddie pool.  Look for places where there are other people with small kids.   Oahu/Honolulu may be kind of crowded and intense.  Look at west side of the Big Island, or Kauai, or Maui.  Have fun!

    Somewhere that is a vacation but has the toddler and baby resources that you need - I'd recommend So Cal, such as Newport Beach or San Diego. New Zealand? Chile?

    Rent a condo at the La Jolla shores. Plenty to entertain in San Diego ( newish children's museum) and a gentle, family friendly beach. 

    Hi - try southern Spain, eg. Granada, Seville, etc. good food. relatively warm weather.relaxed. fun. Cheers 

    How about renting a small house or apartment at Pacific Beach in San Diego?  Great weather, walkable neighborhood (especially by the boardwalk) so you would not need to get in a car unless you wanted to, by the beach, and many great family options for the 2 year old (Balboa Park, Zoo, etc.)

    First of all- congratulations, and thanks for the great question:  I’m interested in the responses you get.  We were in the same decision-making point where you are, having just gotten back from HI for 3 wks with a 1yo and 5yo.  I still have time off, and with the kids back in day care/pre-school, the real vacation begins ;-) 

    We were in 3 places in HI- 2 during the 1st week, and spent 2 weeks in the last place, with AC and steps from the pool and hot tub, which was just great.  What was challenging for us when we first arrived was being the midst of sleep training the infant, dealing with the heat and humidity w/o AC, and jet lag.

    We also realized that we needed a place where we could accommodate the baby’s 2 naps and still do things with our 5 yo (who has 1 nap or none usu.).  The last place with the pool was perfect for that.  After a bit of experimentation, we spent most of the morning with our infant napping and one of us with the 5yo in the pool, or a nearby beach.  Then around late morning we’d go do something including lunch; we’d drop off one of us with the baby for his afternoon nap and continue with a visit somewhere.  And in the late afternoon and early evening we might be able to do something together as a family.

    So it was helpful to be near things to see and do; and to have a good situation where you’re staying (our 5yo would’ve been happy spending all day at the pool and hot tub...).

    We also stayed in places that had a high chair, and where the eating areas were not carpeted.  That way we didn’t have to bring our booster; and could clean easily.  All AirBnB or VRBO.

    Lastly people suggested that we get childcare- we never did, but that's something definitely worth looking into.  Where we were we weren't confident we could find someone in such short amount of time that we'd trust our kids, say, at the pool or beach...

    Just some considerations.

    Mexico, Costa Rica? Or 3 wks somewhere and a last week in Club Med?

    Have fun!

    What a wonderful idea! If I were in your shoes, I would consider Hawaii and Costa Rica. Hawaii is probably easiest, but may be pricey. Southern parts of Spain and Italy could still be nice in November, too. Enjoy!

    Thank you everyone! We landed on Hawaii... got a two bedroom condo decently priced in Ko Olina on Oahu. We're super excited! Thanks for all of these suggestions, keeping them in the back pocket for future vacations.

  • Hi folks,

    I'm looking for suggestions for a place to spend a week or more this mid-August with a family of four and one set of elderly grandparents (probably 3BR 2Ba). I'm hoping for something within several hours' drive of Berkeley where the pace is slow, there is natural beauty, lots to do, an abundance of reasonably-priced vacation rentals,  and finally, a calm, warm-enough-for-swimming beach on a lake or river for shaky swimmers. Is this pie-in-the-sky? So far we have already tried Pinecrest Lake. I'm wondering if the Russian River would be a good choice? We may not be able to commit until July, to further complicate things.

    Thanks in advance for any tips.

    Look to Arnold or Dorrington.  There's the lovely White Pines Lake with a sandy beach and no motor boats.  Most of the homes up there are in HOAs with private lake access or pools.

    The Russian River Valley is perfect!! A bunch of cute towns very close together; about 1.5 hours from Berkeley (without traffic); tons of adorable vacation rentals, many of which are on the river; the coast and coastal towns like Bodega Bay and Jenner only about 20 minutes away; Armstrong Redwood Grove in Guerneville, which is a must-do- so peaceful and beautiful; tons of wineries, many of which are family friendly (we had a great time at Martin Ray recently); and last but not least, the river! Perfect for wading, kayaking, tubing, light swimming. It's truly one of our favorite areas and we recommend it to everyone looking for an easy getaway from the Bay Area. If you go take River Road near the end of the drive for beautiful scenery. Russian River Getaways is a good rental website, along with air bnb. 

    Tahoe! I love Tahoe in the summer.... and there's lots for everyone up there. We are spending a week up there this summer with granparents and I can't wait!

  • Since I'm not a Bay Area native, I'm wondering if there are any vacation communities near here (summer cottages or similar) where families tend to go year after year for generations. I'd like to find a place where my kids can grow up seeing the same kids every summer (and/or winter) throughout their lives. Ideally it'd be less than 6 hours drive from the East Bay and have swimming, sports, etc. I know about the various family camps, but wondering if there are other places with homes available for purchase or rental.

    We used to rent in Catskills in NY from 4th of July till Labor Day, so our oldest had the true summer house friends . When we moved to East Bay we tried to recreate that tradition, but it is not as common here. There is Tahoe, and Tahoe Donner. There is also Pine Mountain Lake, which is a gated community on a man made Lake. People rent there all the time, though not for the whole summer. It is just so expensive and there isn't the same motivation to get the kids out of the city like in NYC. The summers here can be hot, but not unbearable, but the prices for rentals are by the night or by the week. In short, I have not found the same experience as a renter. If you are able to buy your experience might be different. Good luck!

    Check out the western Russian River area, particularly the Summerhome Park neighborhood of Forestville.  That neighborhood, in particular, attracts families that come for the whole summer and have been doing so for generations.  Complete with snack bar, movie amphitheater, and members-only beach, it's definitely a slice of  yester-year.  There are a lot of great areas around the Russian River, not just this neighborhood.  Check out the small towns of Monte Rio and Guerneville, which, along with Forestville, generally comprise the vacation destinations at the river.  For a "resort" area it's remarkably down to earth (not Disney-fied like Napa), yet close to the ocean and wine tasting, so if you choose to buy in the area, you can rent out your house as a vacation rental when not using it, if you want.  It's also only 1.5 hours from the Bay Area, so a really easy commute. 

    Serene Lakes, in Soda Springs - about 15 minutes south of Truckee. 

    During the winter it is fantastic for skiing at Sugar Bowl (and cross country at Royal Gorge), but during the summer it is like a magical trip back to childhood, with a great lake for swimming & kayaking, hiking & biking galore, and a wonderful location. Everything about Serene Lakes is Old School, from the snack bar at the beach, to the quiet of a lake that doesn't allow engines, and families who have owned their homes for generations. Plenty of house rentals in this mountain community, which is our Happy Place.

    You might consider buying or season-leasing a home in Dorrington/Camp Connell.  The Big Trees Village community may offer what you seek (   We season-leased before buying and are very pleased with the choice!  The neighborhoods in Arnold (Blue Lakes, Fly-In, and others) probably offer a similar community but we chose to buy above the snowline for easy cabin-side winter play.

    So, the weather in the Bay Area is so pleasant that people don't really escape for a month to cooler parts - there's too much fun stuff to do here in the summer. But there are a bunch of places that are popular for a week of vacation with the fam where you'll find other kids running around.

    1. Family Camps:  A lot of people I know go to family camps at the same time every summer and see the same families year after year. This is probably the closest thing we have to the Catskills. The cities of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, as well as UC Berkeley and others all built camps in the early 1900's during the "back to nature" movement.  They are mostly in the beautiful Sierras and near Yosemite. Some of them are so popular you have to sign up almost a year ahead of time.  These range from fairly rustic tent cabins to more modern abodes and typically serve 3 meals, have a river or pool, and optional activities for kids and for adults.  These camps are open to all, not just residents or alumni.  We used to go to Berkeley Tuolumne camp until it burned, sadly, in the Rim Fire a few years ago. (But it will be back, and so will we!) Look on BPN for reviews of some of these camps.  

    2. Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast:  We also really like to go to Sea Ranch, but there, it's more like comfortable houses with hot tubs and fireplaces nestled in the cedar trees and spaced far apart, so it's a great place for quiet and solitude, not so much for communing with your fellow Bay Areans.  But it's fun for kids. There are swimming pools, playgrounds, beaches, and flat empty roads for bike riding.

    3. The Seaside: Some people do a week near the ocean.  Inverness has been a popular getaway for more than a century, and is very beautiful and ideally situated near Pt. Reyes and Tomales Bay (oysters, kayaking, etc.)- look on AirB&B or similar. It's more adult oriented in the sense that it's all about food, wine, fog, and views but it's close to the ocean for the kids. Then there are the more beachy spots popular with families where you rent a house for a week, like Stinson Beach, Dillon Beach, further south near Monterey and Santa Cruz, like Aptos and Capitola, Pajaro, Pismo, etc.

    Lots of options!  

    When my kids were little we'd take a place in Arnold for a week. Close, very neighborly, lots of kids.

    Arnold, CA!  We are on the peninsula, so it would be even closer for you - I think a 2 hour drive or less.  We know multiple families who own cabins there - there are a few separate communities that each have their own lakes (with lifeguards and swim platforms), some have pools. The families we know do what you describe - go multiple times a year, make friends that they see and meet up with.   It's a beautiful small town in the woods, gets some snow each year (about a 30 minute drive to Bear Valley ski area) and is only 10 minutes from Murphy, which is a cute little town with tasting rooms and family-friendly restaurants and shops.  Close to hiking and gold country too.  We are recent transplants to the area and took a week vacation there last summer and were totally charmed.

  • Hello BPNers!  Preschool is out first week of Apr, and we could use advice on where to go with our 4yr old and 2.5yr old.  We have done Hawaii a couple times, though in all honesty I am not sure that the money and efforts are worth it.  We are thinking ideally a place we can drive to, where we have a chance at renting a place with two bedrooms where we'd chill for a week, and ideally with some decent food options, and maybe near some kiddie diversions(beach? park?). We did a trip last Aug to Marina Del Rey and had a townhouse one block from the beach and had a great time.  We could do it again, but are there other places we should consider?  Down the coast - Santa Barbara?  Pismo Beach?  Up wine country?  Could also go into the mountains though not sure about weather or food or two bedrooms.  

    Thank you for your advice!

    Monterey/Pacific Grove (although could be rainy), San Diego (brutal drive) for Legoland, beach, science museums?

    We go to Santa Barbara frequently since we have family there. We always have a good time, but there's not a lot for toddlers there particularly. There's no "signature" playground in San Diego a la Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey.

    I cannot imagine spending a week in Pismo... it is a small town! I think you'd get bored, and it's easily a half hour to SLO for their kids' science center & restaurants.

    Ashland OR is 5 hours, has cute little downtown, nice playgrounds, and kids science museum. Again, for an entire week though, I think you're best off going to someplace that's big with a good sized tourist infrastructure like LA or San Diego. If you edit down your trip to 4 days, you could have a great time in monterey, SB, or Ashland.

    My personal pick would be renting a 2-bd in Pacific Grove for 3-4 nights. One day at MY Museum in Monterey, one day exploring the coastline in PG/Monterey (rent a 4-person surrey bike), *maybe* one day at the aquarium (not my favorite place on earth, always too crowded), and definitely a long visit to Dennis the Menace. Then back home to normal schedules!  :)

    I second Monterey.  We just went there with a 18 month old and loved it.  (Despite having been many times before, with a toddler it was different and we appreciated it more).  We went for three days and didn't even have time for Dennis the Menace Park - next time!

    We spent a recent holiday in Carmel, CA. We rented Medicine Cottage, which was a charming and ideally located two bedroom / 2 Bath home. We walked to the beach and to Ocean Ave. We spent a lot of time reading in front of the gas fireplace. We spent a day at the aquarium with our little ones. We ate out and got and prepared food from Whole Foods in Monterey. There is so much to do there, and it's so close, and I highly recommend this spot.

    Disneyland, LEGOLAND, and Sea World (depending upon your ethics. . .we used it as an opportunity to lecture ala Blackfish) are also doable with a full week off with children you kids' age.

    Have fun wherever you go!

    Avila Beach is great for families -- beach is very kid friendly (no waves). You can rent motorized bicycles and ride up and down Bob Jones trail. There is even a little farm at the end of it. The downtown is small and cute. 

    I'd recommend Santa Barbara. There's a unique, wooden sprawling playground at Alameda Park. Adjacent is the lovely Alice Keck Garden with winding pathways, turtles and ducks. On the pier is a small aquarium with neat exhibits and across from the beach is a carousel. We enjoyed the gem and mineral exhibit and a hands-on discovery room at the Museum of Natural History. There's a variety of shopping and dining options and an easygoing vibe in general. Since you have a whole week, you could explore beaches and towns up the coast like Pismo Beach or visit quaint Solvang. 

    If a short flight is an option, I second the idea of San Diego/OC. There's so much to see (assuming no rain).

    In San Diego: San Diego Zoo, San Diego Wildlife Park, Sea World, Balboa Park, etc. I would suggest to skip Legoland as the ride options available for a 3-4 year old are VERY limited.

    If you fly to the SNA airport (in OC) you also have multiple options in the area: beach, visiting the Queen Mary (Long Beach), the aquarium (in Long Beach too), Pretend City would be heaven for that age (Irvine) and if you happen to go to Disneyland try Disney California Adventure which is less crowded and offers more options for 3-4 year olds (e.g. Carsland, Bugsland, Disney Jr. show, lots of musical mini-shows on the plazas, Ariel's Grotto, etc).

    good luck!

    I think with young kids on a week-long trip it's nice to be near a body of water, but in Northern California it's cold in April!  Santa Barbara is nice, San Diego has LOTS to do, and of course LA has endless entertainment options such Disneyland.  Driving to Southern California is not so bad, depending where you're headed. You could even turn it into a 2-day drive and stay overnight someplace on the Central Coast. The kids might enjoy staying in a cave room at the Madonna Inn near San Luis Obispo!  Monterey Aquarium is really great for little ones too (but only for a day), and there are a ton of elephant seals to look at near San Simeon,though unless you're touring Hearst Castle, not great for little kids, there is not much there. 

    For a getaway a bit closer, I like Sea Ranch, which is 2-3 hours drive north in Sonoma County on Highway 1.  You can rent a nice house with a view of the ocean, or not, if you're on a budget! There is a variety of sizes and costs, and all the houses are very nice, many with hot tubs and fireplaces, and they are spaced far apart with trees around them so you don't feel like you're in suburbs-by-the-sea. There is a large playground for the kiddies, lots of easy flat walking trails through the cedar trees and along the coast where you can see seals, a couple of walk-on beaches with hardly any other people on them, and some swimming pools you can use.  It's very relaxing,  and we go up there at least once a year. Food-wise, you are better off cooking most meals at your house.  There is a restaurant in the Sea Ranch lodge for lunch and dinner, but it's a little pricey and more adult-oriented. Up the road about 10 minutes in Gualala there are various restaurants, take-out pizza and Mexican, and my favorite, Surf Market, which has a great deli as well as produce and meat and seafood that make you want to cook. 

    Check out Twain Heart/gold country.  Columbia and the caves are well worth it.  Highway 88 is beautiful that time of year.  Jackson, Pioneer and the old mining towns along 88 and 49 are worth visiting.  ​Not sure how far you want to drive, but Santa Cruz, or up highway 1 to the Redwood forests is spectacular. 

    ​Death Valley is a must see in a lifetime.  As are many places along 395 between Lee Vining and Ridgecrest. Other places around there are Searles Valley, Joshua Tree, Red Rock Canyon, Fossil Falls, Palm Springs, (but it can be in the 100s.) 

    Hope this helps.

    OP here - thank you everyone!  We will research!  Would love to also get advice on a couple of thoughts that have not come up so far:

    - Morro Bay?  

    - any snow/sledding possibilities left for the first week of April (we don't ski)?  We had heard about Granlibakken or Donner but have no idea if either might be suitable or has sledding that late in the season. 

    Thank you!

  • A dear family friend left us a bit of money in her will, specifically intended for a special trip or experience. I am now trying to decide how to use the money to take a 1-2 week vacation with my family. We have two young daughters who will probably will be 3 and 6 at time of travel (or we might put it off until 4 and 7).  I've been considering somewhere in the US, Europe, or Latin America. We would probably stay in one city/area the whole time and do a couple of day trips. Although we like beaches, we're not really looking for a beach vacation, but just a new experience that both kids and adults can enjoy. I used to travel extensively, but that last real trip I took was my honeymoon, so I feel as if I'm starting from scratch. We know some Spanish and French. Did you have a great vacation destination with young kids that you can recommend? 

    We've always traveled with our young son on some exotic trips - and my top advice to you is, wait until they're older unless your idea of heaven is renting a house and staying put. Even 4 will be a slight nightmare. The fun travel for us started when he was 6. At that age you will still only have a couple hrs of activities you'll be able to do in a day, and you'll always be in parks even in the coolest city, and you'll never get to shop or go to dinner at a reasonable hour ........ but theyre way way more able to handle it than when they're younger. Remember that young children get exhausted by MENTAL stimulation - time in a new city will wipe them out. Major meltdowns will happen. No one will be able to walk long distances. What if you get lost? what if there's no food they'll eat? what if they get sick from just a change of diet? What if it's super hot and they can't handle the heat. It's all happened to us. 

    If you must go while they're under 6, just rent a house in a village somewhere and rent a car too - like in Italy. Have very modest expectations and low stimulation. The one other suggestion I'd have is Club Med - actually very fun for kids, with sitters, and not all of them on beaches.

    I have a couple of suggestions, depending on your family's interests.  If you love nature, animals, and a little adventure (mild rather than rugged), I would go for Costa Rica. We took our son when he was six, and we all had a fantastic time there.  We floated on a river raft with a guide, where we saw monkeys, a sloth, a caiman, amazing birds, and the most beautiful little jewel-like frogs.  We did a zip-line experience in the canopy of the rain forest, we ate lunch at a restaurant where huge iguanas slowly ambled around, we went on a dolphin watch and also saw whales and flying fish, we saw macaws and toucans up close. There were lovely and quiet beaches (though you have to watch waves and undertow). The people were friendly and so many spoke English that I was easily able to get along with my rudimentary Spanish. The country is well developed for green tourism, so the businesses tend to be small and personal.  We were based in Arenal and then at an eco-resort on Drake's Bay, and both places were great.  When my son was little we also traveled in Europe, and there I think that the mode of experiencing the place is more important than the choice of place.  By that I mean that if you go to Paris (or London or Madrid or Venice) you can have either a really awful time or a great time, depending on your pace and how you choose to explore. Going to a big European capital in the summer can often be very trying because of the heat and the sheer volume of tourists, all trying to see the same things. I took my son to Paris with my Mom when he was four.  We went in November. The weather was chilly and gray, but I enjoyed the city much more than I had when I had been there in the summer -- the heat in the city can be miserable in the summer, and in November the lines getting into the elevator for the Eiffel Tower, for instance, were a breeze. The Parisians were less harassed by tourists and thus more accommodating. And then selecting sites to visit is key... the Louvre is really just torture for kids, unless you do it in very small doses and pick your exhibits judiciously (mummies...). But the Rodin museum has an outdoor section where kids can run around. The parks are magnificent, and you can meet Parisian parents at the playgrounds. The big squares (like the one in front of Notre Dame or the Place des Vosges) are great for running around.  And living in an apartment rather than a hotel room is also key (air bnb and can both help with finding one). You can elect to live in a neighborhood away from the center of town: more bang for your buck and less touristic.  In the summer you might consider instead a small or mid-sized city as a base, like Padua in Italy or Dresden in Germany or Chichester in England or the like. Do a little research and find a town that has amenities (parks, pool, entertainment) with good train connections to other interesting places (from Padua to Venice or from Dresden to Prague are easy and fun day trips). Just living in a foreign place and getting to know the daily life can be more fun than sight-seeing. And I have to put in a word for Scandinavia, a very kid-friendly region. In Denmark there are islands with great little villages: one that I loved was Ærø, and the northern tip of Denmark, Skagen, is fantastic.  Happy travels!

    I would go to Sweden because they are very kid friendly and there are lots of things they can do .  

    Check out these ideas:…

    Another place I would go is Denmark and take the kids to  LegoLand    and the Tivoli Gardens which you have to see

    Hi! I am really happy for you. Have you thought of a cruise? Personally, with small kids a cruise maybe ideal because the flights can be so long and now with all the rules and airport security; it can take hoursI would think of a cruise. We lived in Australia, but that is 14 hours from LA. That is a beautiful place to visit and you can easily spend two weeks traveling thru Sydney and and the Great Barrier Reef. It is all kid friendly and we found the Australian people lovely. You could also fly to Australia and take a cruise from Sydney. The best time to visit in my opinion, would be about November, as summer starts Dec 1st. Also, when you book, make sure you look at school holiday's in Australia because that bumps up the prices. I am happy to provide anymore information if you are interested. If not, enjoy all your suggestions :) Amy

    It all depends on when you plan of traveling. Your money will go a lot father if you plan a trip on the off season. That doesn't mean it will be cold or undesirable, just less crowded and lower rates for airfare and accommodations. Also consider how long you'd like to be on the plane? maybe you're littles would handle a 8 hour flight okay or even a 4 hour flight would be a struggle. I would say get a taste of what your family would really enjoy and start there.  You could toss a day trip to a beach into the mix. Northern Europe is very kid friendly; and public transportation is very easy over there. The Caribbean can give you a taste of beaches, old world culture and country adventures. Best of luck, this is the fun part!

    When my kids were almost four and six, we took them to Costa Rica for 9 days. They were a little (or a lot) too young to appreciate the trip, but they had fun and enjoyed themselves. We went to the beach, swam at the pool, went on a river cruise to see animals, visiting a butterfly garden, walked in the tropical jungles, saw a pineapple plantation, etc. One day we hired a babysitter for an afternoon and my husband and I went zip lining. We stayed in three places - San Jose (capital), Arenal (volcano) and Manuel Antonio (coast/ national park). It was all perfect. My husband and I had travelled widely and we were ready for an international vacation!

    Spain is a wonderful country to visit with kids. Spanish people love children, amid they are welcome everywhere! In particular, look into Barcelona, which has delicious food, beaches, and tons to do.

    We've been all over the world with our daughter since she was a baby (she's 17 now).  I have 3 good ideas for you: 1) Barcelona, Spain - I'd recommend getting an Air BnB, live there, and take day trips to Granada (the Alhmabra!), and along the coast in the other direction towards Southern France, stopping in Nimes.  Barcelona has OK beaches, too, for when you want to chill a bit; 2) Sydney, Australia - Very similar to our California cities, with TONS to do with kids, beaches nearby, very friendly people; 3) New England/Quebec - Fly to Burlington VT, see sites there, drive directly to Quebec City (very pretty drive), lots to see and do there (recommend driving about 45 minutes out of town to a spectacular waterfall- forgot the name), then drive down through NH to Mt. Washington (drive of a lifetime!), see sights there, etc., and then drive to Boston and do Boston - tons of history and culture everywhere you look.

    If your kids are all interested in walking, I'd recommend renting a house in the Lake District in the northwest England.  We had great fun when our daughter was that age.  Mixed easy walks with harder ones, and the kid-carrying backpack made it all do-able.  Would depend on the older one's stamina.  A week there and then the train down to London for a week.  The pound is way down against the dollar, so your money would stretch a lot further.  Matinee shows, the huge Ferris wheel [if you're up to that], the Museum of Natural History [you can experience an earthquake if they've never felt one!]. 

    We have traveled every year with my son since he was 2. He's now 14! I think 4 and 6 are great ages to travel. One thing that makes it fun is your children will shift your experiences, so that you see things you might otherwise not visit - for example zoos or natural history museums.   Also, if they still nap, you and your partner can go off and sight-see on your own while one stays behind. One to two weeks is not long, so I would recommend Mexico or Central America. Other destinations will take two days out of your trip for travel and one to two more for jet lag. Costa Rica is good for the variety of landscape and wildlife. It's very touristed, so therefore very accessible. I did not find it very culturally rich. Belize is small like Costa Rica, and has a beautiful coast and a great rainforest. I loved the culture which is unique. Mexico has loads to offer. We traveled the Yucatán peninsula extensively when our son was very young. We all loved it. We also traveled the Pacific coast. BTW-my son's favorite destination was Queensland, Australia.  Happy travels. 

    Lair of the Bear in Pinecrest is great. All the cooking and cleanup is taken care of by college students, and there is free laundry, a pool, and age-specific kid activities (also run by the college students).

    At one time it was only for U.C. Berkeley alumni, but now anyone can join the California Alumni Association and attend.

    London! We took our kids there when they were 3 and 5. The first time we stayed for a short sabbatical in late spring, which turned out to be perfect timing -- before the big tourist rush, but the weather was sunnier with much less rain than we expected (this was for the month of May). Our kids LOVED riding the double decker buses, pretending that we were locals, doing day trips to castles and estates, riding trains and the Tube, rambling around incredible was all so fun (and more affordable than one might expect, if you rent an apt and do most of your cooking at home, take the bus, etc.) and we were surprised to find that, even two years later, our kids STILL remember a lot of the trip, or at least very vivid impressions of their fun times there. There are also all kinds of concessions for kids (free transportation, kids meals, etc) and people were friendly and polite. Tube riders could teach Bart riders a thing or two about etiquette. Have a wonderful time, wherever you end up! And what a thoughtful gift for your friend to leave your family.

    Im surprised so many people are enthusiastic about travel with such young ones. That's great. I guess Im kind of like the first poster who said maybe hold off on a grand adventure until they are older, or go to a Club Med or something easy. It takes a certain temperament to want to travel with young ones and all that entails, and I think my husband and I just don't have those temperaments. We even waited til our kids were 7 and 8 to take them to Disneyland. Id see other families with 2, 3 and 4 year olds, the kids having meltdowns, being overstimulated and Id think, ugh, glad that's not me! We wanted to wait until they didn't need naps anymore, had the stamina for Disneyland, and to be able to stay up later without it wrecking them the next day. It was money well spent! We had a wonderful time! We also postponed Hawaii until they were old enough to be good swimmers--8 and 10--and be able to snorkel, hike etc. Again, glad we did. I saw kids having meltdowns because they hated the water, couldn't swim, cranky....I just didn't want to spend thousands of dollars and deal with those kinds of things. But again, I can see from this post that many, many people have done it, had a great time and encourage others to just do it.

    When our kids became 9 and 11 we traveled all over--France, Italy, Spain etc. And even then we dealt with stuff you just have to deal with when traveling with kids...if they get hungry, tired or bored, watch out! They will ruin half the day!

    With your kids being 3 years apart though you may have to go a little sooner than we did. Our kids are barely 2 years apart, so I can understand not wanting to wait another 2, 3, 4 more years to travel until your 3 old year reaches an age that makes traveling easier. So my vote would be a Club Med or an all exclusive place in Mexico.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Relaxing cheap winter vacation?

Oct 2006

We had to change travel plans last summer and couldn't cancel our plane tickets, so as a result we have credit that we have to use or lose by winter. We're trying to decide where to go during winter break. What we want is to relaxe, swim in warm water, snorkel, hike, with some more adventurous options for our teens. Oh, and we don't want to spend much money! We don't want anything fancy, we're really happy in rustic lodgings, but would love to find something near or on a beach. We have quite a lot of credit, so we can travel somewhere pretty far away. New Zealand? Costa Rica? Belize? Mexico? We'd love to get recommendations. ann

Last December we went to Akumal on the Yucatan Peninsula, and it was wonderful. We rented a bungalow with Hotel Akumal It was very reasonable, a few hundred yards from the beach. Not fancy but clean and wonderful, with a great restaurant right on the beach. There's swimming, snorkeling, and it was very relaxing.

Reasonable Family Summer Vacation 2-3 weeks

March 2006

Greetings - we have an unusual situation coming up - each summer, we have taken a family vacation somewhere fun, different, memorable, to expose the kids to the rest of the country and spend the vacation time wisely. Two years ago, we moved from the Bay Area to the country; there are limited options here and I think I'll have a nervous breakdown if I have to entertain the kids from June 17 to August 1 when they leave for summer camp. So the question is, with an especially limited budget this year, where to take a family of four for two or three weeks, for about $1000 - $1500? Since we live in the country, I must say I'm really not in to camping, which I know is the least expensive option. Somewhere drivable would be great, accessible from Northern California (that would be all of California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, perhaps even Idaho/Montana). The kids are now 9 and 11 and great travelers. I think having a destination would be great, rather than just a road trip for the sake of driving. Thanks for any ideas.
Preparing for a long summer

This is what my family is doing this summer -

This is a Lutheran retreat center (open to non-Lutherans) in the Cascade Mountains in Washington in an abandoned copper mining camp. It is only accessible by hiking or by boat. No TV, no internet, no phones - cell phones don't even work there - but great hiking, kids activites (half day childcare!), great food and VERY INEXPENSIVE.

The maxium rate for a week for a family of 4 is just over $1,000 - all enclusive. There are also discounts for those who volunteer on top of this.

This is an unapologetically Christian retreat center. But, bear in mind, Christian does not equal Christian Right. Holden is LGBT friendly, enviromentally engaged, and socially involved. Everyone in the community is required to worship together every night, but no one is going to force you to take communion or get baptized.

Check out their web site. Maybe we'll see you there. Katie

Last summer I went to Stinson Beach for a week ... (click for full review)

December trip with 12-year-old

June 2006

I wished to ask the recommendation to travel with a 12 yr old boy to Mexico, Cancun, Costa Rica or Hawaii big Island in January. When I compare the 3 for quality of water clearness, temeprature of water. Safety to drive and other attraction. Which is most recommended?

I can't speak to all your options, but I've been to Cancun and to the Big Island. I would not recommend Cancun: It seems to be geared toward young singles, with a spring break feel (even though I was there in September). The water is not clear and if you are interested in snorkeling or diving you will have to travel away from the city (Cozumel and the coast south of Cancun are supposed to have more to offer in this area; maybe other poster can offer personal observations). I would highly recommend the Big Island, particularly if you are into hiking as well as water activities. The west side of the island is dry and has extremely clear water and beautiful underwater scenery. Kilauea Volcano (SE corner of island) would be fabulous for a 12 year old. You may be able to hike out to view lava flowing, but even if Mother Nature does not cooperate, the hikes through the craters, the steam vents, lava tube, etc. are great. The east side of the island is lush, rainy and offers great scenery, waterfalls and hiking. I highly recommend the book Hawaii: the Big Island Revealed Carrie

February vacation resort for baby and toddler?

Jan 2006

I would like to get specific recommendations for a good resort to take my family to. We are planning a vacation sometime in February. My husband and I will have a 4 month old and 23 month old by then. We are looking for a warm climate, good swimming pool, and most important--good childcare! We are considering Mexico but open to any other suggestions including Hawaii. Thank you! sadie

We recently visited Santa Barbara with the toddler and baby and had a fabulous time... (click for full review)

Club Med Ixtapa !

Kid-Friendly (school age), Nature-Oriented trip?

June 2005

Hi - Can anyone recommend (based on recent experience) a nature- oriented destination for a mom & school-age girl, both of whom enjoy nature (but not ''extreme sports'' or anything). e.g., animals, bugs, plants, birds, more than rock-climbing or steep hikes. This could be a rental, or a guided-trip, or an all- inclusive place. Any place where the emphasis is more on the natural history than on rides/parks/commercial areas. Any and all ideas welcome! Thank you!
Seeking nature-oriented but comfortable places

Check out Michael Ellis, an amazing naturalist who leads everything from day hiking in Marin to a week in the Mojave/Death Valley to three week trips to Africa. When our kids were little (probably about 6 and 9) we went down to the Mojave with him and it was fantastic. He has kids (or maybe just one) and was great with ours. One of our best family vacations ever. You will see and learn so much. His website is
-nature lover

Week-long family vacation within California

August 2003

I would like some updated recommendations as to where we can take a week long vacation within California. We being myself, husband, two year old son and 10 week old son. We usually whittle away vacation by spending it with relatives - so this will be our first vacation (in a long while) where it will be just the four of us.

Recommendations received: