Adulting can be overrated. Adults-only getaways? Those we can get behind. But in this pandemic-rattled world, many travelers are looking for twofer trips—itineraries that let them spend time with their kids and have some sophisticated experiences, too.
We went looking for destinations that can keep the whole family stimulated. All offer a mix of urban and nature attractions year-round, fine yet fun lodging and dining, style and culture.
It may be called Space City, but a big reason to visit Houston with kids these days is its museums. At the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s new Kinder Building, you can journey through the trippy “Cromosaturación” light tunnel and watch as images of your family spiral like magic on an interactive video wall. Encounter dinosaurs and—in the new “Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs” exhibit—mummies at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Give your children a pre-pre-med education with the Health Museum’s body-part themed interactive displays. Through April 3, take a virtual reality trip to the International Space Station with The Infinite. For some outdoor time, stroll or pedal through Texas-sized Hermann Park and along Buffalo Bayou Park’s waterway that cuts through the city. Hotel ZaZa Museum District makes for a fun home base with free candy, quirky artworks and a festive dining terrace.
Golf and spas aren’t things that tend to get kids excited. But sunny Scottsdale also offers lots of outdoor adventures—not to mention art. Get acquainted with this desert fashion capital by walking two miles along the Arizona Canal from splashy Arizona Falls to Scottsdale Waterfront’s bridges, artworks and eateries. Rise early for hot-air balloon rides, McDowell Sonoran Preserve’s mirage-like desert trails and Camelback Mountain’s easy hike past curious cacti, palo verde trees and valley panoramas. In Old Town Scottsdale, you can hop free trolleys, browse cool shops and dive into light-sound experiences at Wonderspaces (buy tickets online) in Scottsdale Fashion Square. Join unique daylight and after-dark family tours. Overnight at new Senna House; the sleek decor provides a mind-massage between adventures, and indoor-outdoor Cala serves Mediterranean fare.
St. Petersburg, Florida
Think beyond college spring break—St. Pete is an artsy, outdoorsy destination for the whole clan. Begin with a bargain cruise: The Tampa Bay Watch Eco-Tour thrills with big water, bird-covered islands, fish and dolphin sightings and ecosystem research activities. Afterwards, check out its Discovery Center, then walk and eat surrounded by water on the new 26-acre St. Pete Pier. Day and evening, play on cool pier-side playground equipment beneath an illuminated art canopy. Bicycle or stroll the safe, paved Pinellas Trail, which passes parks and wildlife-filled waterways. Make art-spotting a game with scores of murals featuring magical lands and animals. Downtown, explore the new James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, then indulge in an around-the-world food safari at the new restaurant Social Roost. Looking for Gulf-front lodging? The Don CeSar, built in 1928 and recently updated, offers swimming pools, watersport rentals and an ice cream parlor.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas might be the last place you’d think of for a kid-friendly getaway. But there’s great food and lots to look at. Revamped during the pandemic, the Strip makes a terrific fitness trail, studded with sights from flashing faces to Bellagio’s dancing fountains. Indoors, Cirque du Soleil’s “O” showcases acrobatics as spellbinding as the lake they dive into on-stage. Lodge beneath a sky-high amusement park—including the 108-floor SkyJump—at the STRAT (the transformed Stratosphere casino-hotel). For thrills without fear, chow down in the hotel’s revolving Top of the World restaurant. For a wild family dinner, new Superfrico serves “Italian American Psychedelic” dishes like the Mortadella Pizza amid wall-to-wall eye candy at the Cosmopolitan. (It’s produced by sassy Spiegelworld, so expect some PG-13 elements.)
An influx of millennial entrepreneurs has elevated the Mile High City for families, too. Downtown rocks with a restored train station packed with shops and restaurants, delicious-nutritious eateries like record-themed Sunday Vinyl, conversation-starting street art, casual-classy hotels, and even a free bus system. The just-renovated Denver Art Museum has newly reimagined native and indigenous galleries and stunning views from the seventh floor. Great choices for family hikes include Red Rocks and Independence Mountain, where a pretty two-mile hike leads to jaw-dropping Rocky Mountain vistas. Kimpton Hotel Born near Union Station makes for a cheerful, pet-friendly basecamp with mod decor, artworks by Denver artists (check the interactive bird wall) and loaner bicycles.
Charleston, South Carolina
It’s possible to have a blast in Charleston without setting foot in a single antiques shop (unless, of course, your kids like that sort of thing). Spend sunny hours strolling shade tree-lined streets, stopping at waterfront parks and stunning period homes. Board a pirate cruise of the historic harbor. Take younger ones to the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry to play in seven different gardens and produce a theater show.
Go island-hopping—Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island are 20-minute drives from downtown. Built in 1763 by a signer of the U.S. Constitution, the handsomely restored John Rutledge House Inn pairs charming rooms with home-cooked breakfasts served in the ballroom or courtyard.
Ok, we cheated: Many people think of Orlando as the ultimate kids’ destination. But the whole family can also have a luxury experience there, too—with or without a theme-park visit. The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, which recently reopened after a $30 million renovation, offers the indoor-outdoor Ritz Kids Club, a train that loops the 500-acre resort, an 18-hole championship golf, kayak tours, subtropical forest bike trails, pools and new chef-driven restaurants. Ten minutes away is a stress-relieving alternative to mega-theme parks: the expanded ICON Park, where you can see for miles during spins on the 400-foot-tall Wheel, ride StarFlyer high-rise swings, take selfies at ridiculously fun new Museum of Illusions and picnic with boxed lunches from Gordon Ramsay Fish & Chips.