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3 Unexpected Weekend Getaways for Families

There are a few standard weekend getaways for families.

Orlando is probably one of the first places to come to mind. I adore Disney, but I also love introducing my kids (and myself!) to a new destination. In my mind, the key to great family travel hinges upon easy in-and-out airports, great casual food, low-key hotels (preferably with a pool) and activities that allow parents to walk around and enjoy themselves with kids in tow. Here are three cities you might want to consider for your next long weekend.

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs - Samantha Brown

This desert oasis is no longer all about retirees. These days, hipsters flock here just like the Rat Pack did decades ago—they host one of the biggest music festivals in the country (Coachella).  Don’t worry, you won’t need a mountain man beard or crochet romper to fit in—it’s also a great destination for kids.

First, I love their small, super manageable airport that’s close to the action. If you love hot, dry weather, done! If you’re more into the temperate mountain climate, that’s here, too. There’s tons of stylish hotels with fun pools and activities to keep the kids occupied while you catch some much needed Z’s by the pool. There’s plenty of reliable options in town, like La Quinta, the Westin, and Renaissance Indian Wells Resort and Spa. Conversely, you can find your own mid-century digs via AirBnB or VRBO. The Movie Colony neighborhood is packed with history and within walking distance of Palm Spring’s main drag.

For dining, there’s no shortage of delicious, casual food. Try King’s Highway, the quintessential mid-century diner housed in a former Denny’s. For pizza, pasta, sandwiches and more (plus tons of gluten-free options!), check out Appetito Deli.

Joshua Tree - Samantha Brown

Take advantage of the dry heat with an outdoor adventure or two. It’s a short drive to Joshua Tree National Park, and the Cabazon Dinosaur Museum, located just outside of town, does not disappoint. The dinos are more kitchy than terrifying (no nightmares!) and your kids can do great things like climb into the mouth of a T-Rex and dig in a Dinosaur sand pit for a prize.  Adults may recognize the “museum” from the classic Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure, one of my all-time favorite movies!

Cabazon Dinosaurs - Samantha Brown

Lastly, I adore VillageFest. Every Thursday night, Palm Springs set up a street fair with entertainment, art, crafts and lots to eat.

The Twin Cities

Year-round, Minnesota is a great place to take the kids. Yep, even in the winter. I’d probably rent a car, but if you’re looking to travel car-free, it’s completely doable—especially since the Twin Cities’ light-rail offers inexpensive transportation directly from the airport to downtown Minneapolis, St. Paul and the Mall of America. I love staying at the Renaissance Depot Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. They have a seasonal indoor skating rink, Dunn Brother’s coffee shop, plus it’s near lots of great dining, the Mississippi River and one of the areas best scoop shops, Izzy’s. It’s never too cold for ice cream.

In my mind, the key to great family travel hinges upon easy in-and-out airports, great casual food, low-key hotels (preferably with a pool) and activities that allow parents to walk around and enjoy themselves with kids in tow. Here are three cities you might want to consider for your next long weekend.

If you need a fresh air fix, head to one of the cities’ many lakes. In the summer, you can rent a canoe, kayak or paddle board and explore Lake Calhoun. In the winter, the lake action doesn’t stop. There’s a well-maintained ice rink on Lake of the Isles (featuring a warming house with free skates), a big pond hockey tournament on Lake Nokomis and even an ongoing ice shanty art show on White Bear Lake, one of St. Paul’s nearby suburbs.

art shanty project - minnesota

This northern city does great food, too. Your kids will adore Betty Danger’s Country Club, serving Midwestern Tex-Mex (it’s not healthy, but it’s delicious) in a campy country club atmosphere. There’s a mini-golf course open in the summer, and a full-sized Ferris wheel that operates year-round (must be 50” tall or over… sorry, I didn’t make the rules). Bring a blanket and sip a warm drinks as you tower over the chilly city. Ah, only in Minnesota.


Another great option? Tilia in Minneapolis’ charming Linden Hills neighborhood. It’s a popular place with a great kids’ menu (and even better food for adults!), so get there early, put in your name, then take a stroll around the block. A few doors down, you’ll find Wild Rumpus, a children’s bookstore that houses free-roaming cats and chickens. I am dead serious. Chickens, just walking around the store!

After New York, the Twin Cities theaters seats per capita than any other American city. Take advantage by checking out the Children’s Theatre Company.  It’s a rarity to have a professional theater devoted to children. This winter, they’re doing a live performance of The Snowy Day, a total classic that both kids and parents love! St. Paul’s Stepping Stone Theater also showcases excellent theater for kids.

Walker Art Center

Minnesota has some great museums, too. The Walker Art Center offers Free First Saturdays, which not only means seeing cool are, but a slew of events and activities for kids. Great sculpture garden, too! Another less crowded but equally awesome option is the Twin City Model Train Museum at Bandana Square. I don’t know what it is about trains that appeals to kids, but it’s delightful watching the little ones with their noses pressed up to the glass, watching tiny train whiz around the tracks.

Austin, Texas

Austin, Texas

The Texas State Capitol is known for being weird, and what kid doesn’t like weird? What’s lovely about this exploding metropolis is its attitude—everything is just a little more fun and adventurous.

If you’re traveling with picky eaters, head to one of their many food trailer parks (the South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery at 1382 S 1st Street is great). They’re hubs for all sorts of different permanent food trucks, each serving their own specialty—like tacos, mac-n-cheese, gussied up hot dogs and more. Everyone orders what sounds best, then grab a table somewhere in the middle and enjoys lunch together. At some point during the weekend, make the pilgrimage to Lick Ice Creams on South Lamar, an artisan ice cream shop made with local ingredients. Your kids will swoon over their Hill Country honey-vanilla bean; and I guarantee you won’t stop thinking about their more sophisticated flavors, like Too Hot Chocolate (chocolate with cayenne pepper, chipotle and cinnamon) or goat cheese, thyme & honey.

Lick Ice Creams - Austin, Texas

This is going to sounds crazy, but I love grocery shopping in Austin. Whaaa?! I know, but hear me out. Whole Foods is headquartered here, and their flagship store downtown is truly a must-do experience. They have tons of prepared foods available to-go, so pick up a coffee/smoothie/breakfast taco/sandwiches/salads… you get the picture, and take them along for an outdoor adventure.

Speaking of outdoor adventures, Austinites love to exercise al fresco, and there’s loads of bike and hiking paths around town. Burn off some energy with a bike ride along the 10-mile gravel path at Lady Bird Lake. Mellow Johnny’s bike shop offers bike rental (free kids bike with an adult rental!). If it’s hot, and it probably will be, bring you suits along for a dip in iconic Barton Springs.

Known as the Live Music Capitol of the World, you’ll find bands playing everywhere—in cafes, on the streets and even in the supermarket. I know, I know. There I go about the grocery store again. But I adore Central Market on North Lamar. They have a playground, outdoor seating and live music Thurs-Sun. If you’re Airbnb’ing it, you could hit it up lunch, entertainment and groceries. Now that’s some serious multi-tasking!

Austin Congress Ave bats - Peter Potrowl

Of course, no trip to Austin would be complete without experiencing the Congress Avenue bats. From March through November, these flying mammals emerge at dusk for their nightly feeding frenzy. It’s truly spectacular, and one of those things that keeps Austin weird.


What are some of your favorite unexpected family getaways? Share in the comments!

Other family-friendly travel info:

6 Essential Family Travel Tips
Family Travel: Amelia Island, Florida
The Best Vacation for Kids

the key to great family travel hinges upon easy in-and-out airports, great casual food, low-key hotels (preferably with a pool) and activities that allow parents to walk around and enjoy themselves with kids in tow. Here are three cities you might want to consider for your next long weekend.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. My absolute favorite family vacation spot is Hershey, Pennsylvania. I used watch your show all the time and I never forgot the segment on Hershey. Years later my husband and I took our kids there and we loved it! We ate at The Circular, played in the amusement park and before we travelled home we stopped in Gettysburg for the day. It was so much fun!

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3 Unexpected Weekend Getaways for Families
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