Recently my friend Daphne (not her real name) told me that her friend Velma (likely not her real name) wanted to know where the travel pros go in winter, because Velma really needed to get away with her kids, so did I have any great family vacation ideas?
Daphne is a former travel writer, so she knew this wasn’t a simple question. “Where should I go?” is what I get asked first and most often when people hear what I do.
The thing is, asking “Where should I go?” is like asking me what’s my #1 favorite food or which of my three children do I currently love the most. Can I answer those questions? Of course. But the answers are unique to me just as what you consider to be a great family vacation destination is likely unique to you.
And then when I do answer the question — which this time of year is often a variation of, “well there are some lesser-known places in Florida I like” — I will sometimes get this:
“Oh. Florida. Huh. Well. Is there anywhere else you like?”
Just so you know: If you’re a stranger and give me “Oh. Florida. Huh. Well,” that’s like asking to bum a cigarette off me and then upon seeing the brand remarking “Oh, these?” I don’t smoke, but I once saw this very exchange go down between a couple dudes and the cigarette giver viciously flipped out at the cigarette bummer, who apologized profusely as he puffed away.
Travel Pros Share Their Family Vacation Ideas
As it happens, when I suggested to Daphne that Velma might like a place in Florida I’d visited recently, she explained that Velma was “off Florida” for a while. I didn’t flip out because this was my old friend Daphne asking, plus I only get psycho about certain things that have nothing to do with spurned trip ideas.
To make a long intro shorter, despite being “off Florida,” Velma loved one of my Sunshine State family vacation ideas, included in the round-up below. And this whole “Where should I go” thing also got me thinking that since I have the family vacation experts of the Traveling Mom/Traveling Dad network at my disposal, why not ask them where they think the Velmas of the world should vacation this winter?
So I did. Herein, 11 very family-friendly vacation ideas in the United States and beyond, along with handy why-go information and travel tips, because in addition to getting my thoughts on human behavior I figured you’d want some actual travel information, too.
Alabama: Sweet Home of Southern Cooking. But Also Culture.
Why Go? “On a road trip to Alabama, we loved visiting civil rights museums, learning inspiring civil rights history, and dawdling in wonderful bookstores,” says World TravelingMom Sarah Ricks. “And of course, eating great Southern food along the way.”
Hot Tip: “Despite the name,” Ricks says, “corn pudding is delicious and will change your life.”
Read More: A Personal Journey into the Deep South
A three-hour tour. A three-hour tour.
Amelia Island: Kayaking, fishing, and good eats
Why Go? Laid back and perfectly manageable for leisurely exploring Amelia Island Resort and its environs, which includes the quaint family-friendly city of Fernandina Beach and more broadly the Atlantic Coast, should you want to indulge in kayaking, and you should.
Hot Tip: The preponderance of golf courses aside, don’t let your possible complete lack of interest in golf dissuade you from booking some time here for a family trip; there’s just enough to do between enjoying the sand and surf, biking, kayaking, solid food scene, and shopping in Fernandina Beach. Plus, there’s petanque as well as mini golf if that’s more your thing than golf golf.
Bermuda: Much More than Beaches
Why Go? “Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, Bermuda is easy to visit for American tourists,” explains Credit Card TravelingMom Yvonne Jasinski. “It could be reached by a two hour flight from most of east coast major airports. Famous for its pink beaches and pastel-colored houses and a pleasant weather all year round, it is a perfect escape from American winters.
Hot Tip: “Bermuda is much more than the beaches,” Jasinski suggests. “You’ll find plenty of activities like hiking, golfing, fishing, and whale watching and there are also botanical gardens and museums worth visiting.”
Read More: What You Need to Know about Visiting Bermuda
Costa Rica: Zip Lines, Hiking, Rafting, Monkeys.
Why Go? “Costa Rica is a perfect winter escape,” Jasinski says. “Its tropical climate invites beach goers, but visitors seeking adventure will find plenty to do there too, like ziplining, cliff jumping, whitewater rafting, and hiking in the national parks. Add great accommodations, tasty food, monkeys, iguanas and you’ve got a complete winter escape!”
Hot Tip: Proof that Costa Rica is not so quietly claiming a place on traveler bucket lists is that “over a dozen airline companies fly there from international destinations, so getting there is easy.”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Southern Beauty, Family Fun
Why Go? Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a gorgeous place and – bonus – it’s free,” explains Ricks. “And nearby the Park is Gatlinburg, Tennessee, chock-a-block with family fun like ziplining across the mountains, authentic bluegrass music, chairlifts to enjoy the mountain views, and plenty of old fashioned arcade games.”
Hot Tip: “Stay on the main drag to walk to most Gatlinburg attractions.”
Read More: Romantic Fun in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Lake Tahoe: If You Know What Carving Powder Means, This is for You!
Why Go? Lake Tahoe has been “a family favorite for over 20 years” says National Parks TravelingMom Catherine Parker, who “loves to carve powder through an evergreen glade while grabbing glimpses of the pristine lake that never freezes. On a sunny day, the mountain snow and the water try to out sparkle each other at Lake Tahoe.”
Hot Tip: Parker recommends “a 4WD for your getaway since the area boasts a dozen ski resorts within an hour’s drive.
Read More: The Ultimate Winter Guide for Lake Tahoe
Memphis: Dry Rub, Banana Pudding. And Museums.
Why Go? “Grab your family and head to Memphis, Tennessee,” urges Ricks. “We loved visiting Elvis’s recording studio, the Rock and Soul Museum, a massive children’s museum, the inspiring national Civil Rights Museum, and walking the pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi River.”
Hot Tip: “Save time by staying downtown, walking distance from many attractions. Walking will help work off the Memphis dry rub barbecue, biscuits, and irresistible banana pudding.”
The Mississippi Delta: Birthplace of the Blues
Why Go? “The Mississippi Delta, birthplace of the Blues, is home to the Smithsonian’s Delta Blues Museum, where we enjoyed listening to great music,” Ricks recalls, adding that “we loved other things in Mississippi too, like the brilliant new civil rights museum in Jackson and inspiring civil rights history on the road along the way.”
Hot Tip: “Eat all the Southern food you can, including barbecue, fluffy biscuits, and sinfully sweet pecan pie,” Ricks says.
Read More: Six Unique Places to Visit in Mississippi
Pittsburgh: Hidden Gems for Families
Why Go? An East Coast city whose museums and other cultural offerings give Washington, D.C. and New York and run for its money, “Pittsburgh is full of attractions that are both educational and entertaining for both kids and parents alike,” says Traveling Dad Tim Burns, “making it a great spot for a family getaway. With its world-class Carnegie Museums — art, natural history, and science — one of the nation’s best children’s museums, and an incredible aquarium within the Pittsburgh Zoo, you’re guaranteed opportunities for discovery and good times no matter what the weather is like outside,” Burns says, adding, “no wonder they’ve started calling the place Kidsburgh.”
Hot Tip: “Not only is Pittsburgh an easy road trip from a number of states but flights there take 90 minutes or less for 70% of North America’s population.”
Saint Lucia: Lush Island Escape
Why Go? “Saint Lucia is the perfect destination for a family vacation,” suggests Fitness TravelingMom Jenn Mitchell. “Still relatively unknown, the lush tropical island is a true gem of the Caribbean. It is an island of district natural beauty with magnificent twin peaks, called the Pitons, rising 2,000 feet up from the sea. Families can find a variety of activities that will make both adults and kids happy.”
Hot Tip: “Most east coast cities have direct flights,” Mitchell advises.
Sandestin Beach: Florida. Huh.
Why go? If you’re not a beach person or golf person, and I’m neither, the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort and Spa still might have exactly what you need. Your first 20 minutes on the impossibly white sands here — even if it’s your only 20 minutes (like I said, not a beach person) is bound to feel serene given the quiet rhythmic drumming of the surf — the pacific nature of the Atlantic, if you will — and shoreline birds that don’t pester you.
Hot Tip: Make time for stand-up paddleboarding, a pursuit that’s both adult friendly and kid friendly. I had my first-ever SUP experience during my Sandestin getaway and it was successful largely due to the gentle tutelage of Barefoot Curt, who since my lesson started up his own Destin-based company.
P.S. If you happen to be an amusement park or water park aficionado and were expecting Walt Disney World Orlando to be on this list, permit me to note, especially if you’re new to Traveling Dad, that we are all manner of Disney experts here, so much so that we have what the kids still call vertical on it, Disney Dads, that you can check out to get your theme park on.