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This story was published before Summer 2021, when we launched our new digital experience.

Where to Go for a Unique Summer Vacation

Theme parks and overrun beaches begone—this summer, take your family on the road less traveled. You can thank us later.


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Planning a family vacation come summertime can be a lot of coordinating. The kids are out of school, you’ll likely have to secure time off work, plane tickets and hotels need to be booked well in advance. The details pile up quickly, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed and opt for a run-of-the-mill tourist destination that may offer packaged planning, but likely comes with the summer travel crowds.

This year, we encourage you to think outside the box. Ditch the plans to take the kids to a theme park or an all-inclusive resort, and opt for something a little more unexpected. Take some time to hone in on your family’s passions and allow yourself to be creative—we have a feeling that navigating outside the usual family routine will make everyone feel more present on the trip, yielding some very special memories.

Go Camping in Big Sur

The stunning stretch of Pacific coastline that makes up California’s Big Sur is arguably one of the finest gems of the Golden State. If your family likes to camp, reserve a spot among the old-growth redwoods of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and pitch a big tent for a week. You can spend your days spotting humpbacks from the cliffs, photographing McWay Falls and the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge, and hiking along beautiful trails. Pro tip: End the trip with rooms (and spa treatments) at nearby Carmel’s Post Ranch Inn, an American Express Fine Hotel & Resort Property, or a visit to Monterey, about an hour drive from the park, to check out the esteemed Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Rent a Villa in Mallorca

If a Mediterranean seaside vacation a la The Vacationers by Emma Straub sounds like something your family may be interested in, renting an expansive seaside villa on this beautiful Balearic island is the right fit for you. It’s basically impossible to go wrong when choosing a town to settle into in Mallorca, but some are more appealing to families than others. We recommend booking a villa in the picturesque and historic northern town of Pollensa, where the charm is as rich and ample as the local shops and stunning cliffside views of the sparkling Mediterranean. However, if you’d rather skip the rental process and book at a hotel, opt for the Villa Cala D’or at Hotel Cala D’or on the island’s southern coast. The villa, less than 200 feet from the beach, features six spacious bedrooms (each with a terrace or balcony), a private swimming pool, and access to all the hotel services. The charming village center is just five minutes by foot.

Arrive via Yacht to a Kid-friendly Resort in the Maldives

How cool will the kids feel arriving at one of the most beautiful beach destinations in the entire world via luxury yacht? The One&Only Reethi Rah, an American Express Fine Hotel & Resort Property, described as “a vibrant island playground in a faraway sea,” offers a special experience wherein guests book either a luxury yacht or speedboat transfer and arrive at the resort (where one can promptly check into a private water villa) by boat. The resort is known for being very kid-friendly and even boasts a dedicated KidsOnly Club (ages four to nine) and OneTribe club (ages nine to 11) with signature experiences tailored to each age group, as well as activities for teens and the whole family.

Swim With Stingrays in Grand Cayman

Most people would think to book a trip to the Caribbean when most of the U.S. is experiencing wintertime; however, the island is a lot less busy in the summer months, and you can avoid the most brutally humid days by booking in early summer, like May or June. Grand Cayman boasts some of the best diving in the world, so that’s a great family activity. But if you’re not looking to go too deep into the waters, your family can reserve a catamaran trip with Red Sail Sports and join a delightful (and funny) crew for a four-hour ride into Stingray City, where you’ll settle on a shallow spit of sand and swim with stingrays (also known as Grand Cayman’s most popular residents). You can even give one a kiss! In terms of lodging, luxury resorts aren’t hard to come by around the picturesque Seven Mile Beach, but we recommend booking a spacious, home-away-from-home suite at the Caribbean Club, where you’ll find elegant yet cozy furnishings and stunning views of the aqua-blue ocean.

Vacation Von Trapp Style in Vermont

The hills are truly alive in Stowe Vermont at the Austrian-inspired Trapp Family Inn, owned and operated by descendants of the very family from the legendary story The Sound of Music. This European-style resort is a veritable mountain paradise and an idyllic location for a multi-generation family getaway. Here, you’ll find cozy rooms, 2,500 acres of sprawling fields and manicured gardens, and grounds surrounded by the picture-perfect mountains of Vermont. Your family can enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities like hiking and biking, dine on delicious farm-to-table cuisine, and sunbathe under a blue sky by the pool. For the 21 and over crowd, there’s an award-winning brewery and Bierhall on-site.

Learn to Sail on the Eastern Shore of Maryland

Calling all saltwater-lovers! Nestled along the storied shores of the vast Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore of Maryland is home to beautiful hotels and resorts, and happens to be an ideal place to learn how to sail. You can spend days out on the water and nights devouring fresh blue crabs with the whole family. And given the proximity to historical destinations like Annapolis and the Nation’s Capital, you can take a day to do some local sightseeing. Accommodations like the luxury American Express Fine Hotel & Resort Property, Inn at Perry Cabin, in charming St. Michaels offers all sorts of family fun like sailing instruction and pristine tennis courts—the chefs on-site will even prepare your day’s fresh catch.

Explore the Castles of Scotland (and You can Even Stay in One)

Harry Potter and Royal Family fanatics will rejoice at the prospect of visiting Scotland’s famed Castle Trail—but we’ll do you one better: how about vacationing in your very own castle? Tell your family to prepare for the royal treatment, because in addition to making your way through dozens of castles in and around Aberdeenshire and the highlands, you can book a suite in a hotel housed in a historic castle, like Inverlochy Castle, or rent an entire castle estate for yourself, like the exclusive Candacraig House in Cairngorms National Park. If you’ve got little ones with you, let them know that the opportunities for hide-and-go-seek are unparalleled!

Tour the Least Visited National Parks

...and discover some serious hidden gems. Don’t get us wrong—we love Yosemite, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone—all the big kahunas. However, booking travel to these parks in the summer months can be a hectic process, and you certainly won’t be the only ones visiting. Why not take the road(s) less traveled and experience some of America’s lesser-known parks, yielding a more intimate vacation? If the kids are trailblazers who want to do some serious back-country exploring, a remote park like Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (the largest national park, the size of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland combined) has 13.2 million stunning acres of wilderness, the largest tidewater glacier in the world. If your family is likelier to enjoy a warm-weather, Caribbean-style vacation, book a trip down to Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, where you can spend days adventuring (make-believe pirate chases, anyone?) among the protected islands and reefs. If you don’t want to camp, you’ll find luxury resorts like the island paradise of Sunset Key Cottages over in Key West (the national park is accessible by boat or seaplane, so we recommend chartering a boat, especially if you want to dive, fish, or sail your way there).


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