Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
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
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 are 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 are 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 Elmer’s, a local institution since 1960 and a favorite for breakfast and other early morning treats. Check out Billy Q’s for pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and more.
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 kitschy 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!
Lastly, I adore VillageFest. Every Thursday night, Palm Springs sets up a street fair with entertainment, art, crafts, and lots to eat.
Year-round, Minnesota is a great place to take the kids. Yep, even in the winter. I’d probably rent a car, but it’s completely doable if you’re looking to travel car-free—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 Dunn Brother’s coffee shop, plus it’s near lots of great dining, the Mississippi River, and Edwards Dessert Kitchen in the North Loop because it’s s never too cold for ice cream.
If you need a fresh air fix, head to one of the cities’ many lakes. You can rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard in the summer and explore Bde Maka Ska Park. 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, which moves around to different lakes, so make sure to check which lake they’ll be on before you visit.
Check out Psycho Suzi’s Waterfront Lounge, a nationally recognized tiki bar, and a pizza spot. if you are a fan of leopard print, this is your place as they claim to “(probably) have the country’s largest collection of leopard furnishings and (definitely) have the most awesome fake wood carpeting in North America”.
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!
Did you know the Twin Cities theaters sell more tickets than any city outside of NYC? Check 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.
Minnesota has some great museums, too. The Walker Art Center offers Free First Saturdays, which not only means seeing cool is, 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 appeal to kids, but watching the little ones with their noses pressed up to the glass and watching tiny train whiz around the tracks is delightful.
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 are great). They’re hubs for different permanent food trucks, each serving their specialties—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 enjoy lunch together. At some point during the weekend, make the pilgrimage to Lick Honest 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.
This is going to sound 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/salad… you get the picture and take them along for an outdoor adventure.
Speaking of outdoor adventures, Austinites love to exercise al fresco, and there are 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!). Bring your suits along for a dip in iconic Barton Springs if it’s hot, and it probably will be.
Known as the Live Music Capital 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 for lunch, entertainment, and groceries. Now that’s some serious multi-tasking!
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: