originally appeared in USA Today:
With winter on its way, it's time to start planning a sunny family getaway. But don't limit your escape to a familiar resort or theme park, says one of the founders of TheVacationGals.com blog. She suggests the surprise of a new place on vacation is something that's so wonderful.
Palm Springs, Calif.
This desert getaway appeals to all ages, Williams says. For adults, there are spas, golf, shopping and restaurants, while kids will love the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the hands-on Children's Discovery Museum of the Desert, or a family hike to 49 Palms Oasis at nearby Joshua Tree National Park.
You may not need a passport, but this Caribbean island offers an exotic international getaway close to home for families, couples or singles. There's plenty of natural appeal from kayaking in a bioluminescent bay where microscopic algae glow in the dark, to jungle hiking in El Yunque National Forest, Williams says. Or soak in history wandering the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. Visit on a Sunday and watch kite fliers at Fort San Felipe del Morro, a stone citadel.
Lake Charles, La.
Celebrate Mardi Gras family-style at this southwestern Louisiana city, where the parades and festivities play up tradition more than titillation. There's also opportunity for beaches, biking, and exploring marshland along the 180-mile Creole Nature Trail All-American Road. The food is so good, and the scenery is just pretty with Spanish moss and big oak trees and swamp land.
Island of Hawaii
It's volcanoes that draw Miner to the Big Island of Hawaii. You can go and see the lava flowing into the ocean and the island getting bigger. One of her favorite excursions is hiking through Thurston Lava Tube at Volcanoes National Park. For kids who have a little bit of Indiana Jones in them, it's an incredible place. And for beaches, the island's Kohala coast can't be beat.
This northern San Diego County town attracts families to its Legoland theme park, but for Miner the appeal goes further. This is a beachy community, it has a nice small-town feel. You can watch surfers tackle the waves, and even sign up for surfing school to try it yourself.
Lots of folks switch planes in Atlanta, but it's also a great place to spend some time. Family favorites include the massive Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca Cola Museum, which has a giant tasting room where visitors can try scores of the company's beverages sold around the world. Tip: Watch out for Beverly, the bitter Italian soda that's so bad, it's good. For an active outing, Stone Mountain offers hikes, a tram ride and even a ropes course. Although the city occasionally gets snow, it quickly disappears.
Turks and Caicos
This Caribbean nation with powder-white sand keeps sun lovers happy, but there's also enough variety to break up beach days. Activities include a conch farm a former cotton plantation and humpback whale watching. But the common denominator is a laid-back pace. You go with the flow and relax.
Sanibel Island, Fla.
You'll get a beach vacation, but so much more at this Gulf Coast Island near Fort Myers. The island's location makes it one of the best places to find seashells in the country. Who wouldn't love shelling on the beach and wading in the mellow, mellow waters? Biking's easy on the flat island, and so is kayaking at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
You get a feel for Mexico and the Wild West in this laid-back Arizona city. One suggestion is to start with a visit to Old Tucson Studios, which celebrates the movies filmed here with sets, cowboy gunfights and stunt shows. Another day, visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a combination zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden. It's an environment that's so unique and so different.
The West Coast megalopolis is already on many vacation lists, but one of the city's residents says LA is more than Hollywood and beaches. One of her favorite stops: La Brea Tar Pits, where saber-tooth cats and mammoths emerge from archaeological digs while city traffic zooms by. It brings home the fact that our time is just on a dot on the planet, she says. Other favorites: Universal Studios theme park and sprawling Griffith Park.
Friday, December 14, 2012
originally appeared in USA Today: