Top Ten Family Vacation Spots in North America and Mexico

Our family-travel expert Steve Jermanok hones in on his favorite places to vacation with the entire brood.
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Panoramic of Prince Edward Island, Canada
GREEN GABLES: Bike, hike, and paddle at Prince Edward Island where the classic story Anne of Green Gables took place  (Kaz Chiba/Photodisc/Getty)

As a travel writer, I'm often asked to come up with my favorite spot on the planet. It's a difficult question, like asking a kid to name their favorite candy. So, I usually evade the question. Having been persuaded to reveal my top ten destinations for families in North America and Mexico, I'm yet again feeling a bit uneasy. There are so many places that deserve to be on this list, but just didn't make the final cut, like Sanibel Island, Amish Country, Bryce and Zion national parks, the Oregon coast, Chicago, and Lake George in New York's Adirondack Mountains.

I hate to sound cliché, but every one of the following trips was memorable for my family of four and often my extended family. Whether it's a child's first jaunt to Disney, whale watching along the majestic Alaskan coast, biking down a volcano at sunrise in Maui, or finding your own quiet beach on the dunes of Cape Cod, you won't be disappointed with any of these selections. So pack those bags and start checking these dream vacations off the list.

10. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Once you drive past the Cape's elbow, heading north up the forearm, congestion and commercialism subside, replaced by the long stretch of sand, dunes, and moors that make up the Cape Cod National Seashore. During his presidency, John F. Kennedy fought hard to designate the 40-mile stretch of fine, white beach that lines the Upper Cape a national seashore. Learn about the history and ecology of the region at the Salt Pond Visitor Center. Afterwards, rent bikes down the road at Little Capistrano Bike Shop and ride the 3.2-mile (round-trip) National Seashore Bike Trail through woods and marsh to Coast Guard Beach, where towering dunes back the beach. For more biking, head either north or south on the 25-mile (one-way) Cape Cod Rail Trail. One of the country's best known bike trails, the route recently underwent a $6.2 million refurbishment, so it should be a smooth ride. At the Fort Hill Trail, walk under a whale's jaw at the entrance to Captain Edward Penniman's dream home, and then head inland, over a swamp and through red cedar trees. Once the day's activities are finished, head to Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar and order your platter of fried clams, steamers, scallops, and lobster rolls.
Cape Cod Family Vacation Guide

9. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Sixty miles south of Cancun, the authentic seacoast village of Playa del Carmen was once a quiet outpost favored by European backpackers. Now it's the gateway to Mayan ruins, miles of pearly white coastline, and a surprising number of new all-inclusive resorts. Children will love Xel-Ha, a series of shallow calm lagoons where you can teach them to safely snorkel. Then head further south to the ruins of Tulum and view 60 ancient buildings perched on a cliff directly above a palm-fringed beach. Archaeologists estimate the beginnings of Tulum from 700 to 1,000 A.D., when the Mayan civilization had passed its peak. In town, dine on langosta (lobster), pollo pibil (chicken cooked in banana leaves), or poc chuc (spicy pork with onions and tomatoes), washed down with a cool Mexican beer at one of the many outdoor restaurants. Afterward, bargain with shop owners over the price of an embroidered dress, hammock, or quartz sculpture.
Riviera Maya Family Vacation Guide

8. Prince Edward Island, Canada
Prince Edward Island will always conjure images of that pony-tailed 11-year-old girl Lucy Maud Montgomery made famous in her book, Anne of Green Gables. Be sure to tour The Green Gables site and Lucy Maud Montgomery's home in popular Cavendish, near the miniature golf courses and water parks. Be forewarned that this banana-shaped island in northeastern Canada is no mere tourism hub. It's a bucolic chunk of green space, like a slice of Vermont plopped down in the middle of the Atlantic. On a week-long summer trip, you can bike on converted railroad beds through fertile potato farms and along the coast, kayak under rosy red cliffs, canoe across a large bay to 200-foot high sand dunes, and hike through dense forests of white birch, aspen, and spruce. Afterwards, treat the family to one of the island's famous lobster suppers, complete with mussels, seafood chowder, and lemon meringue pie.
Prince Edward Island Family Vacation Guide

7. New York, New York
Twenty years ago, when I lived in Manhattan, I would never step foot into Times Square, a seedy section of town known at that time for its adult book stores and XXX movies. Never in my wildest dreams would I believe that one day I would bring my precious nine-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to this part of Manhattan. And now they keep pleading with me to return! A walk down Broadway with the swelling hordes of humanity underneath the flashing lights is exciting for all out-of-towners, especially children. Artists who set up shop on the sidewalks and draw personalized names in a colorful pattern of dragons, pandas, and dolphins are extremely popular with kids. But the big draw, of course, is Broadway. Disney invested $34 million to restore the old Ziegfield Follies haunt, the New Amsterdam Theater, to stage The Lion King in 1997. It's still playing to packed audiences. The latest Disney extravaganza is Little Mermaid. Other popular family-friendly fare includes Mary Poppins, Wicked, and Hairspray.
New York City Family Vacation Guide

6. Canadian Rockies
Alberta's section of the Rocky Mountains is a glorious playground of waterways ringed by snowcapped peaks. Grab bikes and ride around that gem of water, Lake Louise, perched a mile high, and you'll understand. Then hike with rangers at Banff and Jasper national parks to see glaciers and grizzlies at a distance. You can paddle the shores of Maligne Lake or raft down the Sunwapta River, an exciting yet safe introduction to whitewater rafting. If the kids need a one-day reprieve from this outdoor wonderland, visit the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology, home to the most extensive display of dinosaur skeletons in the world.
Banff Family Vacation Guide

Published: 4 Jun 2008 | Last Updated: 29 Jan 2013
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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