Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Q&A Tuesday: Favorite Family Vacation Spots

Today's questions is from KB:
I am wondering if you could tell me where your families favorite place to go on a trip is? We are looking at places to go for spring break and summer break and your family seems like they enjoy the same things that ours does. You might be experts in this area! We have 6 kids ranging in age from 14 to 2. We haven't traveled much, so we haven't been to most of the places that you have been. Tell me your top picks. Thank you! 
How fun for you to be traveling with your kids!  You are right that we've been a lot of places and I'd love to talk about some of them.  Without knowing budget or time constraints, it's hard to give specific advice, but I'm happy to share our favorites to give you some ideas.  Besides our one favorite spot in California, we really have found fun things to do and see everywhere we've been, so either we're just easy to please, or the Western United States has a lot to offer.  Probably a large part of both.

Here are a few of our favorite places, along with some suggestions for what to do and see while you are there.  For a gal who doesn't like to drive long distances, I think it's funny that the first three on my list are nine hours away from us.  I don't like to go that far for a short trip, but when we can stay a week, I'm all for it.

1.  Newport Coast, California.  

We own a time share at the Marriott in Park City, though we hardly ever go there.  Instead, we use it to trade into Marriott's Newport Coast Villas.   We love going here in January, when Utah is cold and dreary, in October, when the kids are out for fall break, and any other time of the year.  In fact, we've been here once or twice a year for about a decade and we have yet to get bored.

The views are awesome, as are the sea breezes!
The location is great, just across the PCH and up the hill from a State Park called Crystal Cove, where there are several miles of trails and some of the most amazing tide pools we've ever explored. There's a shuttle from the resort down to the beach, or you can drive the short distance.

Just five miles away are our other favorite beach hangouts, Laguna Beach and Diver's Cove.  There are also great, accessible tide pools there (my kids love to explore the creatures they find), plus Diver's Cove has the best snorkeling in southern California.  We've rented boogie boards in the past and Santa gifted us some for Christmas, so we bring those as well.

We've spent entire weeks at this resort, hanging out at the beach, doing the resort activities (various crafts, games, etc.), and swimming in their pool.

But we've also done some of the nearby attractions.  There's a small (and I mean small) little carnival-type attraction in nearby Newport Coast, and a short ferry there the kids thought was cool.  There's often surfers there that are fun to watch.

For a more spendy trip, Disneyland is only a twenty minute drive away.  It's pricey, but for us, we make it more affordable per trip by saving up and getting annual passes every five years or so.  The price of the annual pass in the past has been less than the cost of buying two three-day passes, so as long as we go six times or more in the course of the year, we get our money's worth.

We've also ventured a little further afield, into L.A. to see the La Brea Tar Pits, visit the various museums, and enjoy Universal Studios.  San Diego is a little over an hour south and we've sometimes gone down there for Sea World or the Zoo, though we prefer to go to those places when we stay in San Diego itself.

2.  San Diego, California 

San Diego has a lot to offer.  We love the Zoo and the Wild Animal Park, and my husband has taken the kids to Legoland on a Daddy Trip before.  Then there's beaches and waves and crabs to catch. In Balboa Park are lots of museums and we get into several of them free with our Thanksgiving Point pass.  

We haven't found an especially amazing place to stay there, probably because we're too cheap to spring for places closer to the beach.  We usually trade our time share into the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido, which is a nice place with great pools and waterslides and fun activities.  For activities, it's the best place we've been.  They have crafts and ceramics anytime you want and a big room for playing games and doing puzzles.  But the fact that it's 30 minutes to the beach is a bit of a pain.

3.  Phoenix, Arizona

It's been several years since we've been able to go to the Phoenix area, but we have loved every trip we've taken.  There's Indian ruins and ghost towns to explore, our favorite children's museum, a science museum, and usually, plenty of great swimming at whatever hotel or resort we stay in. Again, we love to go here in December or January during the height of winter in Utah.  It's so nice to take a break to a land of sunshine and swimming when home can be cold and miserable.

We've never been in the summer, when temperatures are stifling hot, but we have been in the spring, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees every day.  It worked out great for our family, as we'd do our hiking and exploring in the morning, then head back to the hotel for naps and quiet time in the heat of the afternoon, then we'd head back out for swimming and night hikes in the evening.

And I think desert landscapes are underrated.  I was amazed at how much flowering the desert does in May.

4.  Southern Utah

There's so much to explore in Southern Utah and if it were warmer there in the winter, it would probably be one of our first choices because of how close it is.  We've stayed several places and everywhere we've been we've loved exploring.  It's mostly a hiking and outdoors destination, with not a lot of museums or other attractions.  Just stunning red rock, cool arches, and beautiful scenery. We've loved hiking the St. George area and visiting Zion's and Snow Canyon nearby.  We've also stayed near Cedar City (in Brian Head), and enjoyed Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon.  Capitol Reef is a lesser-known park that is really stunning, and of course, the Moab area is an awesome jumping-off point for exploring Arches and Capitol Reef.  

The nice thing about southern Utah is there are plenty of places to camp and it's close enough to us that we can go down for just a few days and then head back home.  

5.  Sedona, Arizona

This is a place we've only been to once, but we keep talking about going back.   It's a quirky little town roughly between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon, and it doesn't have the huge variety of a larger city.  What it does have, though, is lovely red rock vistas, yummy restaurants, quirky art shops, and lots and lots of hiking.  You can visit nearby mining towns as well.

6.  South Dakota 

Surprisingly, for being several states away, Mount Rushmore is "only" an 11-hour drive.  I've yet to go, but DH has taken our kids there twice on Daddy Trips and they've loved it every time.  There are amazing National Parks there with lots of wildlife to see.  Custer State Park was amazing, and the Badlands very interesting.  There are also pioneer and Oregon Trail sites to see along the way.

7.  Idaho

I grew up in Idaho, and I have fond memories of places there that we don't often get to take our children to.  My favorite place as a child was going to McCall, Idaho, for backpacking and staying at Ponderosa Park on Payette Lake.  We like to go visit my parents in Meridian, but I also took a fun exploring trip through the Eastern and Southern Part of the state last summer.  While I didn't make it over to Yellowstone, I did see some pretty fun things that were definitely worth the drive.  Craters of the Moon was a really interesting site, though you probably would only want to see it for a day on your way somewhere else.

The Twin Falls area also has fun things to see, such as the Snake River Gorge, Fish Hatcheries, and Shoshone Falls.  The waterfalls are not far from the main freeway, so we've stopped there quite a lot on our way to and from the Boise area.  Depending on the time of year, the water levels can be stunning or just interesting.

One place I want to visit sometime is the City of Rocks National Preserve.

8.  Yosemite, the Redwoods, Mammoth Lakes, Eastern Sierras, San Francisco, Yosemite, and everywhere else in California

California is pretty awesome, with a huge variety of landscapes and things to see.  Though northern California is a bit more difficult to get to and a farther drive for us, it's definitely been worth visiting and exploring.  We love San Francisco, with the Jelly Belly factory, museums, and Alcatraz.  My husband grew up in the Central Valley, so he knows all sorts of great places to visit. We've been to Yosemite and all the other sites listed above.  Daddy trips are perfect for this kind of thing, because DH likes to take a tent trailer and hop from one fun place to another.

We've been to Palm Springs in the fall before and it was also a fun destination, with Joshua Tree National Park right there ready for exploring, a fun gondola, and a lot of desert landscapes.

Pictures from a San Francisco Daddy Trip:

9.  Oregon Coast

This one is really far from us, but pretty stunning.  The Oregon coast is colder than southern California, but the wildlife and the stunning rocks are certainly worth seeing.  When my husband took his Daddy Trip here, they stayed at Crater Lake, then headed over to the coast to explore.

10.  Park City/Salt Lake City, Utah

These places are only an hour or less from our home, but we don't visit as often as we should.  But when we do, we find plenty to do.

In Park City, there are hikes and alpine slides and sledding in the winter (no skiing for us).  We also enjoy watching the ski jumpers practice in the pools at the Olympic Park there.

In Salt Lake, there's the zoo, temple square with its multiple interactive museums, and Discovery Gateway.  Further south, down our way, are Thanksgiving Point and its museums, and Timpanogas Cave.

Places We Still Want to See as a Family

With all that we've explored, there's still so much we haven't seen, starting with the obvious one: Yellowstone, just a six hour drive away.  We've avoided it so far partly because we wanted to wait until our kids were older and less likely to run off into a bubbling sulfer pit.  We're also not big into crowds and so we're hesitant to go here in the summer.  We're looking into it for this fall or next, though, and I'm excited about it.

Also on our bucket list is the Four Corners Area, with the multiple Indian ruins and Mesa Verde National Park.  DH really wants to do this as a Daddy trip.  We've been to the Petrified Forest, in Arizona, which is a few hours from there, and it was amazing.  I want to go back there, too.

Another place we talk about visiting is Colorado.  We've been to Vail, which we found kind of boring, and to Telluride, which the kids adored because of its free gondola and beautiful setting.  But we haven't made it further east yet, and DH is looking at a Daddy trip through the several national parks and other fun places here.

We're not interested in paying for airline tickets for our whole family, so we tend to stay within driving distance, but we would love it if we could do an epic three or four week trip through the United States, heading south and east, through Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, then heading north along the coast and then back west, hitting Nauvoo, Illinois, and other fun sites along the way back.  Our oldest is almost 16, so ideally, we'd do this in the next two years.  I'm not sure whether it will happen or not, but it's fun to think about.


So there you have it, our top ten destinations (did I cheat on #8?), plus a list of the places we really want to visit.  Traveling and exploring have been a wonderful bonding experience for our family, built into our family identity.  We've been blessed to visit so many places and create so many memories.

What are your favorite destinations?  Any suggestions for places we still need to visit or things to do?


KB said...

Thank you so much for putting this all together! It must have taken you a lot of time. It was way more than I expected! We now have some fun ideas and are looking forward to planning our next vacation.

Christine said...

We love Bear Lake. It's not a long drive and has good sand for playing in.
We also like Yellowstone, and haven't lost any kids yet.
It was nice to read your list!

Kelly said...

Denver, Golden & Breckenridge are all worth the drive to CO. Since we drive there from MN you know it's worth it;-)


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