Travel with Purpose: 10 Perfect Getaways for an Active Family Vacation

Grandpa wants to play golf, the cousins want to swim and you want to go for a scenic 40-mile bike ride — so how do you decide where to go for this year’s family vacation? From South Carolina to Alaska and Hawaii and everywhere in between, these resorts and adventures cater to active, multigenerational families, offering something for everyone.

Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa

Indian Wells, California

The ultimate family-friendly playground in the Greater Palm Springs area, the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation that includes redesigned penthouse suites and signature restaurant Lantana. But what really keeps active families entertained is the resort’s new onsite waterpark, which boasts dueling 30-foot waterslides (the tallest in Coachella Valley), seven pools, a 450-foot lazy river and a kids’ splash pad.

Roger Federer plays Tomas Berdych at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells. Photo by Billie Weiss/BNP Paribas Open.

Nearby, golfers can tee up at the Indian Wells Golf Resort; kids will enjoy the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens; and Joshua Tree National Park, about 40 minutes away, offers hikes for all levels of nature enthusiasts. March draws tennis fans to the area for the annual BNP Paribas Open, the sixth largest tennis tournament in the world. The resort makes it easy to take in all the action with shuttle service to the venue.

From $389, $600 during the BNP Paribas Open. 2023 BNP Paribas Open packages on sale now.

Giving Back: Saving Water in the Desert

As one of the most eco-friendly resorts in the greater Palm Springs area, Indian Wells completely eliminated the grass on their golf course and replaced with artificial turf to save water. They also compost all organic waste, which is used on neighboring golf courses, and donate soap to countries in need via the Clean the World Hospitality recycling program.

You can also enjoy locally-sourced California ingredients at the resort’s restaurants, and even indulge in citrus grown right on property.

Arizona Biltmore

ARIZONA BILTMORE

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix’s most elegant historic hotel is also one of its most family-centric destinations, offering everything from parachuting to family fitness classes to a giant 65-foot waterslide called The Twist. Families can also stargaze, play a lawn game tournament, take a treasure dive, run a potato sack race or meet the Biltmore Bernards, the hotel’s famous St. Bernard dogs.

Musical Instrument Museum

There are tons of places around Phoenix to keep the whole family busy, such as the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, where kids can touch absolutely everything, and the Musical Instrument Museum, where they can make noise on some of the museum’s over 8,000 instruments from over 200 different countries. If you’ve had enough of the indoors, let loose in the Sonoran Desert — get all the equipment you need for hiking, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding and more at the REI Co-op Adventure Center

For sports-loving families planning ahead, March is a particularly great time to visit as it’s Cactus League Spring Training time. It’s an affordable way to watch 15 major league teams, including the Chicago Cubs, play live in sunny Arizona.

The MLB spring training season normally runs from Feb. 26–March 29. Check their website for updates.

Giving Back: Environmentally Friendly Meets Luxury

In 2008, the Arizona Biltmore Resort stated that “adopting environmentally friendly practices is no longer an option but a necessity.” With a goal to significantly reduce the resort’s global footprint, their Green Initiative covered every aspect of their operations and every department of the resort, including their spas’s water-saving plans, biodegradable supplies and organic products in the spa.

The initiates were honored in 2011 with a Green Certification from the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association (AzHLA).

Mission Point, Mackinac Island, Michigan

Courtesy of Mission Point

Historic Mackinac Island, in the upper reaches of Michigan’s mitten, is just a quick 6 hours and 29 minutes (minus stops for gas and snacks, of course) away from Chicago. Once you reach Mackinac City, you’ll board a ferry to the blissfully car-free island boasting itineraries that everyone in the family will enjoy.

If you’re traveling with kids, Mission Point Mackinac Island, an award-winning resort on the shores of Lake Huron, offers free dining to guests under 12 and has a wide range of complimentary kids activities so parents can go…well, elsewhere. They even have family package experiences for the whole crew — dog included!

Mission Point Resort
Courtesy of Mission Point

Mission Point has a variety of dining options available, all utilizing the seasonal flavors of the island. “People never thought of Mackinac Island of being a foodie place but they have stepped up their game when it comes to food,” says VP of Travel Michigan David Lorenz. 

What is there to do on the island? From hiking and water sports, to wineries and horse-drawn carriages, the question might be what isn’t there to do on Mackinac Island. It’s a truly unique experience that all ages will enjoy.

“People want to go to a place where they’re not burdened with all the realities of life right now, and we offer that,” Lorenz says. “We offer that sense of normalcy where you can feel like the entire world hasn’t gone crazy.”

Giving Back: From Farm to Ferry

Mackinac Island has become one of the most sought after spots for a socially-conscious vacation. Along with the ban on motorized vehicles, there is ample green space to hike, bike, walk and roam. The island is also self-sustaining, growing crops and flowers (and even the horse “emissions” are used as fertilizer).

Local ingredients are displayed throughout the island’s restaurants, and anything Mission Point can’t get on the island they import from Michigan local farmers via “farm-to-ferry.” The resort also uses the island compost, has an expansive recycling program, offers plant-based mean options, uses a Aquanomic low-temp laundry program from ECOLAB and has partnered with Planglow USA for the production of 100% biodegradable compostable to-go containers.

Wylder Hope Valley

Wylder Hope Valley, Photographed by: Ren Fuller
Wylder Hope Valley, Photographed by: Ren Fuller

Hope Valley, California    

Situated in a remote, aspen-ringed valley surrounded by towering peaks, 12 miles away from civilization but a mere 30 minutes from South Lake Tahoe, Wylder Hope Valley offers adventurous families the chance to explore the High Sierra surrounds while bedding down in luxuriously appointed lodgings: meticulously renovated 100-year-old cabins, custom yurts or a vintage Spartan trailer — or, opt to stay in the resort’s campground.

Wylder Hope Valley, Photographed by: Ren Fuller

On-property, active families can partake in the resort’s cross-country skiing and moonlit snowshoeing tours in winter or hike Popo’s Trail in warmer months and cool off with a swim in the West Fork Carson River. Nearby, there’s also downhill skiing at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, plus plenty of mountain biking and hiking trails to scenic alpine lakes. Post-adventuring, sup on Sorensen’s Cafe’s legendary beef burgundy stew and berry cobbler before enjoying a nightcap by the outdoor fire pit and a session in the wood-fired sauna.

From $340.

Giving Back: Reconnecting with the Outdoors

The Wylder allows a socially-distanced vacation where you can cut all digital-ties. Combine that with the natural environment, farm-to-table seasonable dining using local ingredients and the numerous outdoor adventures, and you have the ultimate sustainable luxury vacation.

Kaanapali Beach Hotel 

kaanapali beach

Kaanapali, Maui, Hawaii 

Lauded as Hawaii’s most “Hawaiian” hotel, this oceanfront property was one of the first resorts built on the iconic three-mile stretch of Kaanapali Beach and boasts a prime location next to the legendary Pu’u Keka’a, also known as Black Rock, the iconic spot for jumping into gin-clear waters and the home to world-class snorkeling. Kaanapali Beach Hotel has also been awarded top family and top value hotel by Hawaii magazine for many years in a row, and recently completed a yearlong renovation.

Family fun activities range from golf and hiking to surfing and snorkeling, all within walking distance of the property. And, don’t forget the luau, the perfect opportunity to see Grandpa on stage doing a hula.

Giving Back: Preserving Hawaiian History, Culture and Natural Landscape

At Hale Ho’okipa, the property’s cultural activity center, guests of all ages can enjoy enriching and authentic Hawaiian activities, including learning about the importance of hula in Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian language and its rich history (ʻŌlelo), the development and history of Hawaiian music and songs (mele), lei-making and its significance in Hawaiian culture, traditional weaving using Hawaiian fibers (maʻawe) and much more.

Also on Maui, the Hawaii Land Trust offers the opportunity to help restore wetlands and coastal dunes in areas both easily accessible and intriguingly remote. Close to Kahului, volunteers help with conservation efforts every Friday and the third Saturday of the month at the 277-acre Waihee Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge, which also holds significant cultural sites. On the backside of Haleakala, near Kaupo, the nonprofit hosts volunteer workdays four times a year at its 81-acre Nuu Preserve, popular with native birds and local fishermen. Donations are also welcome.

Alaska, Disney Cruise Line

Keeping several generations of travelers happy on vacation may seem like no small feat, but Disney Cruise Line has found a way to make multigenerational travel seamless for extended families and no destination gets families outdoors and up close with the natural world quite like Alaska.

After a pandemic pause, Disney Cruise Line resumed sailings to Alaska on the Disney Wonder out of cosmopolitan Vancouver, Canada. Views on Alaska itineraries are unmatched — jaw-dropping fjords, waterfalls, and glaciers can be seen right from the ship’s balconies (this is definitely the time to spring for your own private verandah).

To take in all that Alaska has to offer, “Port Adventures” take you straight from the ship to some truly incredible experiences. Fish for crabs and spot orcas and bald eagles in Ketchikan, take a thrilling dogsled ride in Juneau, visit the breathtaking Dawes Glacier, pan for gold in Skagway, and see the unforgettable site of humpback whales breaching in Icy Strait.

Disney Cruise Line: humpback whales
Humpback whales breach during a whale-watching expedition in Icy Strait. (Photo by Brooke Geiger McDonald.)

On board, kids will want to hit the pools and waterslides, meet up with favorite Disney characters, or hang out at one of the kids-only zones like the Oceaneer Club and Lab (ages 3-12). While the kids are occupied, parents can socialize at a mixology class, kick back at the adults-only pool, or decompress with a treatment at Senses Spa & Salon.

Oceaneer Club on Disney Cruise Line. (Photo by Brooke Geiger McDonald.)

In the evenings, families can catch new-release films or live productions of Broadway-esque shows like “Frozen, a Musical Spectacular,” or attend a themed deck party. For some grown-up fun, drop your littles at the kids’ club and head to a nightclub or lounge in the adults-only entertainment district.

VIP character breakfasts, an adults-only coffee bar, an expansive buffet, a poolside grill, and an all-day serve-yourself ice cream station are just a sampling of the elaborate dining options available on the ship. For dinner, indulge in nightly specials like rack of lamb, lobster tail, and chateaubriand as you rotate through three different dining rooms. For an even more elevated culinary experience, drop the tots at the kids’ club and head to sophisticated, adult-exclusive restaurant Palo. Don’t feel like leaving the room? Hit up the 24-hour room service menu (at no additional charge!) for breakfast in bed, a late-night snack, or a cheese plate to enjoy with wine on your verandah.

Giving Back: Disney Cruise Line’s Environment and Conservation Initiatives

In December 2020, The Walt Disney Company announced ambitious 2030 environmental goals targeting net zero greenhouse gas emissions for direct operations, reducing waste, building more sustainably, and developing packaging and products that lessen the company’s environmental footprint. An example of this process is action is the installation of solar arrays at Disney’s Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas.

Since 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund has invested more than $120 million to help protect more than 1,000 species, recognize the efforts of conservation champions, and giving children and adults around the world access to meaningful nature experiences and education. Through Disney Conservation Team Wildlife, Disney cast members have taken important steps in support of biodiversity, including restoring coral reefs at Disney’s Castaway Cay.

Alisal Ranch, Santa Ynez Valley, California

Photo courtesy of Victoria Pearson
Photo courtesy of Victoria Pearson

Horses are almost as ubiquitous as vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, and exploring 10,500-acre Alisal Ranch by horseback on a scenic trail ride is an experience not to be missed. This luxury dude ranch goes all-in on the theme, with authentic Western-themed digs, barbecue cookouts, a twice-weekly rodeo extravaganza during the summer, morning breakfast rides and wrangler-skills workshops, plus a Lil’ Riders program that introduces kids to ranching, wrangling and riding in a controlled environment.

There are plenty of other activities for active families at Alisal, too: Play a round of golf on one of two private, 18-hole courses; go fishing or boating on Alisal Lake; play tennis or pickleball; or join a guided cycling tour. Recuperate with an indulgent massage at the onsite spa.

From $725, including accommodations (double occupancy), daily breakfast, dinner, beverages and some activities.

Giving Back: A Luxury Dude Resort that Pays Homage to Traditions

In our hectic world, The Alisal offers its guests a respite from technology and hectic schedules, allowing them to create new family traditions in their legacy-rich ranch. They also strive to honor the people that inhabited the land before 1810, the Chumash people, who called the land “Nojoqui,” or “Honeymoon Place.” They do so by respecting the land and decades-old practices, embracing ranch-style cooking (local ingredients, low impact), and embrace horseback riding as much as possible.

Grand Geneva, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Courtesy of The Grand Geneva

Just north of Chicago is a gem of a tourism destination: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Centered by Geneva Lake, the area looks and feels like one of those storied resort communities on the east coast, with comparisons regularly drawn to Newport, Rhode Island, for its prime shoreline and magnificent mansions, yet it’s only a two-hour drive from Chicago. 

Among the many resorts surrounding the Lake Geneva area is the expansive Grand Geneva Resort & Spa, perfect for hosting your midwest family vacation. With 1,300 acres of activities near or on property all year-long, including skiing, golfing and a world-class spa, there are endless opportunities to make memories that will bring the family together.

Courtesy of The Grand Geneva

The Grand Geneva boasts amazing dining, including Geneva Chophouse and Leinenkugel’s Mountain Top Lodge, but if your group wants to head into town, it’s only a three minute trip. Lake Geneva’s robust city center features shopping, entertainment and dining, including several spots for a classic Wisconsin Old Fashioned.

The resort also has some unique history: built in 1968, it was the Lake Geneva Playboy Club Hotel, the first of its kind in the United States. In 1993 the property received a complete update that included 335 guestrooms, 29 Villas, 225 Suites and the Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark, making it the perfect year-round escape for families.

Giving Back: Grand Geneva Resort’s Go Green Program

Grand Geneva is a member of Travel Green Wisconsin, and takes efforts to preserve Wisconsin’s natural resources, wildlife and culture diversity. The resort has earned 79 points through the program, more than double the required 30 points for certification. 

The resort’s best practices include:

  • Local fish, meat, bread and produce are purchased when available. Local partners include Simple Bakery, Yuppie Hill Poultry, Lake Geneva Country Meats, Carr Valley Cheese, The Farmstead, River Valley Farm, Milwaukee Pretzel Company and Lester Bison Farm
  • Strawless drinking cups available
  • Recycling program
  • Highlands golf course has tens of thousands of square feet restored to native grasses & forbs
  • Energy-efficient compact fluorescent and LED lighting are in place

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