Every town has its story. Every state has its roots. One of the best parts about travel is the window we get into the destinations we visit. The places we experience, the people we meet and the food we eat give us a glimpse into that destination. My quick visit to the Olde English District in South Carolina opened my eyes to history and showed me how destinations are transforming to meet the demands of new visitors.
Where is the Olde English District of SC?
The Olde English District spans 7 counties in the North-Central area of South Carolina. I-77 cuts directly through the center of the district, but to see the heart of this area you’ll need to use the state highways and backroads. You will be treated to the landscape of the agricultural south and find small town gems along the way as you do. If you’re wondering why it’s called the Olde English District, consider the early settlement population of the mid 1770’s. There was a strong English contingency at the time, but as all things do; much has changed.
What to expect in the Olde English District
The diversity of the area lends itself to a number of ways to spend your visit, so if you camp or hike, there is plenty to keep you busy. There are some incredible dining options to keep your culinary interests alert and the brewery scene is spot on. There are places to stop to learn about and experience the history of the area including Revolutionary War history and Civil War history. Special events take place throughout the year as well and are a draw for many types of visitors.
When should you visit?
There is always something to do! This is the South, so summers are hot and winters are mild. But don’t let weather dictate your visit. I suspect the special events and the region’s offerings will give you an idea of when to travel. You may find yourself passing through with extra time. I highly recommend jumping off the interstate to grab a bite to eat and soak up some history.
My Recent Discovery of the Olde English District
In my most recent South Carolina travels, I spent several days in York County. It was December and the spotlight was on Christmas festivities. It never ceases to amaze me how little of my state I have seen. Even though South Carolina is small, she is mighty. Every time I’m given the opportunity to see more, the more I realize there is to experience. If you haven’t yet taken the time to Discover South Carolina, let this be the nudge you need.
Living History in York County
My first stop was to Historic Brattonsville where I had the pleasure of a private tour from site manager, Kevin Lynch. Kevin gave me a living history view of early South Carolina settlement and insight into the backcountry living of the 18th and 19th century. This historic site shows and teaches history from early settlement into the antebellum plantation era through the lens of one family. It was absolutely fascinating! The grounds are beautiful and offer nature trails beyond the historic buildings so give yourself a little extra time to stay outside longer.
Historic Rock Hill
In conjunction with the holiday festivities, Historic Rock Hill ran trolley tours throughout my stay. It was the perfect way to get my bearings and the story of the town. I learned the roots of Rock Hill came from the railroad that was awarded to the site in 1852. The town got its name from the rock hill that needed to be blasted out of the way for the railroad to be built.
As the trolley made its way through town I saw the transformations Rock Hill has taken over the years. There are special landmarks from when the 1961 Freedom Writers held a sit in at a local lunch counter mixed in with new developments of apartments in the urban center of town. These new developments are situated on top of original economic spots like Coca-Cola and Anderson cars that put Rock Hill on the map. I’m thoroughly impressed with the way Rock Hill has preserved history and paved the way for the future.
The Rock Hill of the Present and Future
Rock Hill is booming with growth and development. I enjoyed excellent culinary experiences and had fun checking out the local brewery scene and coffee shop spots. I have no doubt that if you have a child who plays year-round sports, you will find yourself in Rock Hill. Local developer Skip Tuttle has taken over the Bleachery property and installed an indoor sports arena that is supported by 13 other buildings that will house restaurants and shops.
Notable places not to miss include Kounter, located on Main Street, where the historic civil rights sit in occurred. They offer incredible fare and featured cocktails. The Flipside also located in the heart of downtown is a great option for finer dining that will flip your tastebuds. Old Town, located at the Bleachery property, is perfect for classic American food for lunch or dinner. Try the Farmer’s Salad! Three local breweries worth a pint are: SlowPlay, Rock Hill Brewing Company, and Dust Off Brewing Co.
Christmas in the Olde English District at ChristmasVille
Rock Hill sure does Christmas right! I filled most of my visit in December celebrating the Christmas season. I attended the opening ceremonies of ChristmasVille, a local annual tradition inspired by children’s illustrator Vernon Grant. Grant is most known for his Snap, Crackle and Pop illustrations on the Rice Krispies box. He is Rock Hill’s adopted son and that is evident especially during the holiday season. The entire town comes alive with charm and excitement. I also visited the craft market, I watched the lighting of the tree at Winthrop University, I marveled at the Christmas parade, and I even learned how to make a scented candle.
What else is happening in the Olde English District?
Chester County Highlights
Chester County has several water access points and state park activities for those who love the outdoors. Hike, fish, take a nature walk, shoot sporting clays and just relax outside! I don’t know about you, but my family is always looking for spots to step away from the daily life grind. Head to downtown Chester for antique shopping and lunch. You will find treasures of all kinds and fill your belly with bbq, burgers, or country cookin’.
Chesterfield County Highlights
When you find yourself on the way to Myrtle Beach, add a pin to your google maps for downtown Cheraw. Not only will you find this quaint town great for a bite to eat and some southern shopping-this is the hometown of the famous jazz artist Dizzy Gillespie! The cypress wetlands of Cheraw State Park are a refuge for outdoors lovers and if you have time for a round, check out the Tom Jackson designed 18 hole course along Juniper Lake.
Fairfield County Highlights
For the train lovers in your family, head to Winnsboro to the South Carolina Railroad Museum. Lake Wateree is the perfect summer destination where you can camp, boat, and fish to your heart’s content. Thrill seekers will love Carolina Adventure World for ATV and dirt bike experiences. For the more refined, make a reservation at Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway for an unforgettable afternoon. This area in the Olde English District is a hidden gem and unknown to even most South Carolina residents.
Kershaw County Highlights
I’ve covered this area in a previous post and still can’t say enough about it. I live quite close and so traveling to this part of the Olde English District is easy. The dining and shopping alone in the town of Camden make it worthwhile. When you add in the unbelievable tennis and pickleball complex with the stunning Goodale State Park and the war history, this is a spot not to be missed. It’s located right off I-20 so it’s a great excuse to stretch your legs and explore.
Lancaster County Highlights
Lancaster county is another hidden South Carolina gem well known for its art and nature, and the surprising way they can be combined together. Visit the Lindsay Pettus Greenway for a treat. Go on a hunt for galleries and seek out the collection of Catawba Indian pottery at the Native American Studies Center.
Union County Highlights
Union County is a gateway to the Upstate of South Carolina, known for Civil Rights history and the famous Midway BBQ. Have some fun watching the races at the Union County Dragway, too!
York County Highlights
Located just south of the sprawling metro of Charlotte, NC, York County is chock full of outdoor recreation as well as a vibrant restaurant and brewery scene. An absolute must is the living history site of Historic Brattonsville.
Special Events in the Olde English District of South Carolina
Check out these special events, spaced throughout the calendar year, that will no doubt draw you to travel to the Olde English District. These local festivities and treasures have really opened my eyes to all that South Carolina has to offer.
Many Saturdays from 10 am – 4 pm, Historic Brattonsville offers specialized programs showing daily life in an early settlement. These living history Saturdays focus on certain aspects like meat preservation, making soap, operating a cotton mill, and more. In December you can participate in Christmas candlelight tours with costumed interpreters sharing how the holidays were celebrated on an antebellum plantation. When you visit during the week, ask for a guide around the grounds to give you the history, not just of the time period, but of the family who settled there. It is incredible to be there and learn the history in a living history format.
MLK Blues Festival
For 30 years running, Chester, SC has held an annual blues festival in January to celebrate blues music and to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. For a calendar of several days of events including live music and philanthropy opportunities take a look at this.
Every year in April at the Springdale Racetrack is the annual Carolina Cup horse races in Camden, SC. This longstanding tradition of tailgates and spring fashion debuts is the the place to see and be seen. These nationally renowned steeplechase races are the official start to spring in South Carolina!
Each October in the birth town of Dizzy Gillespie, Cheraw, SC puts on a jazz music extravaganza where jazz floats through the streets. For 3 days straight you can listen to this incredible music and let the rhythms soak into your soul.
As mentioned above, ChristmasVille is a special way to welcome in the holiday season. Rock Hill does it all right when it comes to Christmas. Each year the town comes alive with horse drawn carriage rides, concerts, a parade, historic tours, gingerbread house contests, and more.
Discover South Carolina and the Olde English District
I just can’t say enough about my visit to the Olde English District. The wide open spaces for outdoor fun, the special events, and the bustling towns throughout give anyone reason to visit. My two days were hardly enough to scratch the surface. I can’t wait to take my family back to experience the outdoor recreation spaces! South Carolina has so much to offer and some of the once sleepy towns are making their way to the horizon. Get out there y’all and visit the Olde English District and discover South Carolina for yourselves.
Planning a trip for teenagers takes some extra research, but I have put together a list for you that will help make it easier. Each of these destinations come up regularly as the best places to go with teenagers in the U.S. The list will start on the West coast and move to the East coast. I will include activities in and around the destination as well as accommodations teens will love. My family has been to most of these places, but not all of them! If you haven’t done one for your family yet, you need to create a U.S. travel bucket list for teens.
Hawaii is a dream destination and consistently remains at the top of most lists as the best family vacation with teens, but the biggest decision is to decide on which island to visit. In my opinion this will depend on what your teens want to do and see.
If you have active teens, you will want to consider Maui and Kauai. You will find waterfall hikes and helicopter tours to die for. The Road to Hana on Maui is a must do to see things like black sand beach, to cliff jump or jump off waterfalls, short hikes among the rainbow colored eucalyptus trees and more. My teens also loved Haleakala National Park at sunset, but you could also see the cloud inversion at sunrise. Kauai has incredible hiking, kayaking, and snorkeling with unbeatable nature experiences.
The Big Island is rustic and wild and well known for Volcanoes National Park. You can see the incredible natural wonders of lava and its path of destruction all throughout the park along with epic views along the chain of craters road. The unique green sand beach is worth the hike, but if you want to hire a ride down you can choose that option. Kona, the Waipio Valley, Akaka Falls and more show off the rustic beauty of the island.
Oahu is a great spot for teens who love history and want to see the Pearl Harbor monument and visit the Polynesian cultural center. Of course, you can’t leave Oahu without taking surf lessons, visiting the famous Waikiki Beach, or participating in a luau. An amazing teen activity on Oahu is the Kualoa Ranch movie site ATV tour. If you’re there at the right time of year, whale watching is another hit.
Bucket List Lodging in Hawaii
There are so many resorts to choose from on the islands. Aulani Disney Resort is a favorite for kids of all ages, as is the Grand Hyatt Kauai. Check out Mauna Key on the Big Island further up the coast from Kona toward Kamuela. On Oahu, consider staying on the north shore away from the buzz at Turtle Bay. Each has amazing beach access and range from luxury to budget. Truth be told, teenagers just want great pool access, yummy shave ice and a place to relax and be kids for a bit. Hawaii has it all for a tropical destination with big ocean fun!
If you are looking for a balance of city fun and nearby incredible scenery, Seattle may just be the perfect family vacation with teens. My family is always looking for an escape from the sultry heat of summer, so the pacific northwest is a fantastic place to run to for us. The city itself will keep your teens busy for several days, or you can make it a weeklong trip by adding some outdoor adventure inside Olympic National Park or Mt. Rainier National Park.
The city itself offers great walking tours like the beneath the streets tour and food tours. If you’re looking to get views from above visit the Space Needle and ride the Great Wheel. Don’t miss the iconic Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks-you can do both in 30 minutes which includes waiting in line for your coffee. Two museums worth making time for are the Museum of Pop Culture and the Museum of Flight, which can each be done in about 1/2 day. A large part of the allure to Seattle is the waterfront. Take a ferry to one of the nearby islands or go whale watching.
For outdoor fun, take your teens up to the San Juan Islands for some serenity and time off the grid. Active teens will want to do some hiking in the stunning Olympic National Park and/or inside Mt. Rainier. Nature here is all around and even if you’re not super outdoorsy, you won’t be able to resist being in it. Check out my favorite spot to take teens on Lake Crescent in the northern section of Olympic National Park or hike up Hurricane Ridge for amazing views of the Salish Sea and Vancouver Island.
In Mt. Rainier choose from Silver Falls Trail, walk amongst the big boy trees in the Grove of Patriarchs, or meander the Skyline Trail for up close views of Mt. Rainier itself. My daughter claims so far that Washington state is the most beautiful state she’s seen.
Bucket List Lodging in Seattle
In a major metro area like Seattle, there are a lot of hotels to choose from. I personally think it’s best to avoid the touristy areas. My family enjoyed staying in the business district, which is still walkable to all of the hot spots. The Hyatt at Olive 8 is an excellent choice for families with teens. Another option with a hip vibe that teenagers will love is the South Hotel in Bellamy; it’s within walking distance of everywhere you will want to go.
In full disclosure we haven’t made it to San Diego yet, but it’s on our list. Although I think all teens would love this city, I’m considering reserving it for a mother-daughter getaway. I can envision boutique shopping and outdoor dining with lots of instagram worthy spots to snap pics.
Beaches like Coronado beach and La Jolla are a draw for teens for obvious reasons, but teens may also want to explore taking surf lessons. For other outside activities, check out the beach volleyball courts or bike riding along the boardwalk. Balboa Park is an iconic landmark in San Diego with a variety of parks, trails and gardens. If you are looking for old time beachfront amusement, check out Belmont Park with rides and arcades. Admission is free, just pay as you play! Two other noteworthy attractions include the U.S.S. Midway museum for history lovers and Petco Park to enjoy a major league baseball game.
Bucket List Lodging in San Diego
For a bucket list stay, look into Hotel Marisol Coronado. This historic boutique hotel is within 5 walking minutes of the beach. If you are looking for something a little more homey check out the Redwood Hollow Cottages in La Jolla, also close to the beach. Another option for great teen vibes and those who love music is the Hard Rock Hotel with an incredible rooftop pool located in the Gaslamp district.
Jackson Hole, WY
There is something so alluring about the national parks of the wild west. Teens love the idea of experiencing wide open spaces with jaw dropping scenery. When you add in some great adventures, you have the perfect fit for fun vacations for teens.
In summer your teens can canoe on Jenny Lake and kayak or motor boat on Jackson Lake. Take a hike to Paradise Falls and Inspiration Point near Jenny Lake as well. For more adventure, find a whitewater rafting tour or a wildlife jeep tour to see things from a different vantage point. If your teens enjoy being in the backcountry, do a horseback riding day or even an overnight. At Teton village you can take the gondola up to Rendezvous mountain, but bundle up even in summer! In town hit up the rodeo for a memorable family night. Mormon Row is one of the best spots for sunset photography.
In winter, Jackson Hole is known as one of the most epic ski areas in the U.S. The challenging terrain and the homey feel of the town itself make for an awesome winter vacation with teens. Also, the opportunity to snowmobile inside Yellowstone National Park would be a huge pull for teens, which is why it should be on your bucket list.
Bucket List Lodging in Jackson Hole
There are a lot of accommodations in Jackson Hole that range from luxury to budget and most of them cater to families. In summer consider staying in town at Cowboy Village Resort, which offers rooms with several beds and easy parking within walking distance of all the town attractions and restaurants. In winter, staying up in Teton Village will make skiing easier. Check out Hotel Terra or the Alpenhof for a quintessential ski lodge experience.
Denver is frequently mentioned on outdoor lovers bucket lists, but I’m also impressed with the amount of indoor activities available. It’s a great city to visit year round with pro sports fun, stuff for outdoorsy teens, and activities for adventure seekers.
Active teens will enjoy the outdoor skateparks, and theme parks like Elitch Gardens and Water World. Just outside of Denver, teenagers can find zip line tours, hiking, and whitewater rafting. Ruby Hill Rail Yard is an awesome spot for winter thrill seekers in an urban setting. If you are willing to drive, about an hour and a half away is Rocky Mountain National Park. The incredible views and hiking opportunities are well worth the trek.
Your teen can try iFly Denver for indoor sky diving fun. Or, they can be the hero in their very own hunger games at Archery Games Denver. If you have a bad weather day, head to an IMAX show or find a hotel with a spa such as The Four Seasons for a wellness day.
Bucket List Lodging in Denver
If you want to be in the heart of the professional sports complexes in Denver look into staying at the Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown. Another great location that people love and has great amenities like a rooftop pool is The Jacquard. They offer free bikes and you can do a rental car right from this location, perfect for a day trip.
The heart of the midwest is in the windy city where you get all of your big city vibes, but it’s just a little easier than NYC. Teenagers love Chicago (maybe not in winter-ha!) because there is so much to do. Teens will love doing a food tour and indulging in deep dish pizza. If your teens love professional sports, you must do a tour of Wrigley Field or catch an afternoon Cubs game.
If you have sketchy weather there are plenty of museums to choose from. Your teens can have their very own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off moment at the Art Institute of Chicago! If it’s views you’re after, make your way up to the Skydeck or 360 Chicago. Depending on your level of tolerance and openness, you could also check out some comedy shows that are mostly appropriate for teenagers.
Outside, make your way to the lakefront of Lake Michigan for bike riding or roller blading. Stop by Millenium Park and take pics by The Bean and then make your way down to the riverwalk along the Chicago River. Do not miss the architectural boat tour! I highly suggest taking the last tour of the evening so you can get the best sunlight on the buildings along the river. The tour will end with a look back at the city when all the city lights come on for the night. If you want something active, check out kayaking on the river during the daytime.
Bucket List Lodging in Chicago
In a big city like Chicago there are handfuls of properties great to choose for an overnight stay. Sable at Navy Pier offers incredible views of Lake Michigan. In the Loop, I would suggest The Wit, which is a super hip boutique style property that gets your teens hyped to be in the city. Hyatt also has an incredible property called The Chicago Athletic Association which is a great property to book with points if you are playing the points and miles game.
Another midwest city with a great waterfront and active food scene is Louisville. Waterfront Park and Waterfront Botanical Gardens will lure everybody outside. In nearby outdoor areas your teens will love the treetop obstacle course, and Jefferson Memorial Forest. An absolute must is Mega Cavern, an underground ropes course and adventure area, but at Christmastime the cavern is transformed into a magical wonderland.
Louisville draws horse lovers from all over the world. Churchill Downs not only offers fun horse races, but an amazing museum full of history of the Kentucky Derby. It’s something iconic, and even if your teens aren’t into horses they will love this for its uniqueness. Plan at least a half day there. Take a walking history tour of the old Louisville homes and neighborhoods to learn more.
Bucket List Lodging in Louisville
Stay in the throng of downtown at The Grady and enjoy the masterful renovation of a historic property or the Cambria Hotel on Whiskey Row. Both are in excellent locations and offer a fun atmosphere for teens.
Charleston, South Carolina
This historic city drips with southern charm…and heat. This destination is best visited outside of summer. In the South that means, avoid June-September so you don’t melt. Charleston is a walking city, but there are lots of options beyond the peninsula. Learn all of the history and let your teens absorb the reality of slavery in the south. It’s important and something they should experience.
Evening ghost tours are fun for teens and also a good way to get some history of the city and families that founded the peninsula. Another way to see the homes and gardens is on a carriage tour. Yes it’s cheesy and a tad expensive, but our teens love it. Check out the urban adventure quest to make the learning more engaging-great for tweens too. Foodies will not be disappointed in the unending options for southern delicacies and shopoholics will be in heaven on King Street.
There are several beaches to spend time at, all within 30 minutes driving distance of downtown. I know many families that stay at the beach and make their way onto the peninsula for day trips or for a night of fun. Head on over to Mount Pleasant, across the Thomas Ravenel Bridge to SUP or kayak on Shem Creek. If you go around sunset, you are likely to see dolphins! Teens will also love doing an Outer Banks Film locations tour or an ebike tour of filming spots. If they are die hard fans you can do a self-guided tour, which may be necessary due to spread out locations. The black swamp offers excellent kayak tours that are perfect for outdoorsy teens. A favorite for us!
Bucket List Lodging in Charleston
It’s tough to decide whether to stay downtown or to stay at the beach. We’ve done it all and they each have their benefits. Do a vacation rental at the beach if you want a relaxing trip with just a touch of Charleston during a day trip or two. If your teens are looking forward to being in the action, then stay down in the peninsula at either The Hyatt House downtown or the Francis Marion Hotel.
If your kids have already done this city when they were younger, I would challenge you to re-visit. Teens learn so much in 8th grade U.S. History and again in high school civics or APush that this city really comes alive with the teenagers. D.C. is one of our favorite cities on the east coast because it’s so easy to navigate and is walkable. The foodie scene is packed due to all of the international influences.
Of course there are all of the Smithsonian museums. Remember that you don’t have to spend all day there. They are free, so if you only pop in to check out your must do exhibits it’s totally worth it. The spy museum is something teens enjoy, and although there is an entry fee teens stay engaged. I highly suggest the nighttime monuments tour for teens. Seeing the city sites lit up at night is such a treat! Pro sports events are always a hit and the metro makes it easy to get to them. If your teen is in the marching band definitely make time for the Marine Corp sunset parade. It is awesome even if your kids don’t play an instrument.
Bucket List Lodging in Washington D.C.
D.C. can be rather expensive, but one way to save money is to stay out further and use the Metro to get to the must see locations. If you’re looking to stay on a strict budget, consider The Omni Shoreham Hotel or The Homewood Suites in Arlington. For closer in look at CitizenM for all the artsy vibes. Stay at Thompson if you’re in town for a Nationals baseball game!
New York City
I know this goes without saying, but NYC has to be included. There’s not a group that NYC doesn’t fit, but teens find the city so exciting with a variety of things to do. It’s a city your family can return to at just about any age. There are the obvious activities like shopping in SoHo, taking a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, and visiting the 9/11 Memorial the the OneWorld Observatory. Also, there are some less obvious choices that will appeal to teenagers.
Walk the Highline North to Chelsea Market after you’ve worked up an appetite. Make your way to Hudson Yards and the Beehive for a photo opp. End your time at The Edge for some incredible daytime city views. Another daytime activity is the Hip Hop Bus Tour for teens who love music and the music industry.
One of the best parts about traveling with teens is all of the nighttime activities. Visit SUMMIT One Vanderbilt for sunset views and interactive fun. Broadway never disappoints for an evening show. Afterwards, walk around Times Square for people watching during the late night hours because it’s much more fun at night than during the day. Brunch is perfect for teens who love to sleep in after a late night in the city. Try one of the hot spots like Sidney’s Five, Tre, or Alma. Walk off the brunch calories by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to the Dumbo neighborhood for a few hours.
Bucket List Lodging in NYC
With so many choices for accommodations it can be tough to pinpoint the right spot, so it will depend on your agenda and tolerance for using the subway system. We have loved staying at the Hotel Bowery 50 located in Chinatown. You can find everything from uber luxury to super budget, but location is the most important factor in NYC.
Miami & The Florida Keys
Fun in the sun is always a win for teens. If you can make it to Miami for the boat show teens really enjoy wandering around checking out all the swanky boats. Head on down to South Beach for people watching or rent bikes to ride along the boardwalk. Join in a beach volleyball game and catch some rays. The art deco architecture is well worth a walking tour for a few hours as well. There are so many shops and restaurants for fun late nights or people watching with your teenagers. For the art lovers make a stop at Wynwood Walls and the walk the neighborhood for some of the best murals we’ve ever seen.
There are two U.S. National Parks in the Miami area. The Everglades are an expansive marsh-like wonderland ripe with wildlife. Definitely schedule an airboat tour. It’s best to visit there in the early spring or late fall through winter for an optimal experience. Biscayne National Park is mostly water so you will want to get out away from land to truly absorb it.
For teens who love to be in the water and on the water, make sure to spend some time down in the keys. Active kids who love to kayak, fish, and stand up paddle board will love the keys. There are even spots to take kite surfing lessons! Sombrero Beach is great because there are bathroom facilities and easy parking is available. Snorkeling spots are dotted along the keys, but it’s best to get further out from them to have the best experience. If you don’t have your own boat, rent one for the day. Hire a guide for a half day of deep sea or inshore fishing.
There are several state parks throughout the keys that offer small beaches and places to explore. The entrance fees are pretty nominal and they are great stop offs if you want to drive all the way down to Key West.
Bucket List Lodging in Miami & The Keys
Honestly, finding a rental home or condo in the keys is the best way to go. Look for somewhere in the middle like Marathon Key to give you access North and South. One of our favorite family hotels in Key Largo is Baker’s Cay, perfectly set up for families with kids of all ages. It’s worth it to pay a little extra for a fancy spot in South Beach so you can be around all the action. Check out the Kimpton Angler’s South Beach hotel for an awesome rooftop pool.
Technically Puerto Rico is still a U.S. destination. It’s easy to get to and no passports are needed! Your teens can get the Caribbean vibes without having to provide a passport making this destination one of the best vacation spots for teens. This island has it all from beaches, to culture, to food, to history, as well as a host of outdoor adventures.
Make sure to spend some time in Old San Juan. The cobblestone streets and squares with local fare restaurants and shops is fun for a few hours. Visit the historic site of Castillo San Felipe del Morro to check out the fort and channel your inner child with kite flying.
Rent a car to visit some of the impeccable beaches. Consider taking a water taxi to Cayo Icacos where your teens can scuba, snorkel or paddle board in stunning turquoise waters. The next day make your way to El Yunque National Park for hiking and waterfall jumps. For teens who are night owls (I think they all are) try a night kayak excursion in a bioluminescent bay because it will be unforgettable. Another high energy activity is to do an ATV tour through the rain forest to get the adrenaline pumping.
Bucket List Lodging in Puerto Rico
First you will need to decide if you want to stay on the beach or in town. Personally I think there are too many good options at the beach to pass up. You can always take a taxi or ride share to town. The Wyndham Grand Rio Mar is an exceptional property for families with teens. There are 3 swimming pools, over 1 mile of beachfront access and plenty of activities to keep everyone busy.
Bucket lists are meant to inspire and help us dream, but the truth is mine are ever changing. I’ve got a variety of lists going, too. I have really specific outdoor adventures I want to do (like snowmobiling in Yellowstone), and I have restaurants are really want to try (Copenhagen I’m looking at you!), and more. I share these bucket lists to get your wheels spinning. Every family will have different goals and different ways of ticking things off. So this is your start-get to making your bucket lists…and get your teens involved to make their own! My oldest wants to ski and surf in the same day. Maui anyone?!?!
Have you always wanted to visit Greece? Does your family like to travel together with a bit of adventure and excitement in the mix? A family sailing vacation in Greece is the way to go! We spent two weeks total in Greece and spent one week sailing in the Cyclades. We loved island hopping around to some of the lesser known destinations. I want to use this post to give you a good understanding of what a family sailing vacation in Greece is like and why it’s the best way to visit the islands in the Cyclades. I will also give you alternative ways to travel to the Greek islands to enjoy the beauty.
Why Sailing in the Cyclades is So Incredible
The best way to vacation in Greece includes visiting the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. Not only are the islands beautiful, but they each have their own personality. A family sailing vacation is the perfect way to experience Greece. The time on a sailboat while working together make it unforgettable. Your kids will get to be a part of another culture through food, they will talk to locals, and see the sights of each island.
A sailing trip in Greece will give your family a unique perspective and allow you to get off the beaten path to avoid the crowds. You can tailor your Cyclades sailing itinerary to fit the needs and desires of your family. Island hopping in the Cyclades will give you a taste of each individual island and you can stay as long or short as you prefer.
Cyclades sailing will also include incredible swimming spots and give you access to some of the best beaches in the Cyclades. Your family will see places that would be difficult to see any other way and the pace will be more relaxed while you choose your own adventure.
What to Expect While Sailing in Greece
You can expect real sailing in the Cyclades. This will not be like a cruise. Sailing around Greece in the Cyclades islands will be adventurous and thrilling at times. Your skipper will be using the sails and very little of the motor, which means there is a lot of action on the boat. Although you will be able to see land almost at all times, you will be crossing open waters that can be rough.
Sailing holidays in Greece are very popular among European families, but we crossed paths with only one other American family. This was really fun for our teens because it opened their eyes to other cultures and languages.
Another unexpected value in family sailing vacations is the applied physics lessons. It will be natural for your kids to be curious about how it all works to get from one place to another by wind and sails.
Weather in the Cyclades
There is one specific reason that sailing during the summer in the Cyclades is so popular. The summer Meltemi brings a growing thermal wind as the land heats up from May to August. The winds can grow to over 30 knots, which makes for some awesome sailing. The islands also create channels for the winds to increase in speed. These winds also help to keep the temperatures well below what you would experience in Athens.
Greece has all four seasons, but the island climate is quite dry. Sailing weather in Greece is most optimal from May to September. Take advantage of the high winds and strong sunshine for the best Greece sailing vacation. Mornings and evenings will be cool, but the middle of the day will be filled with warm sun.
What you need to Sail in the Cyclades
I have a complete list of items to take with you for an optimal family sailing experience. Less is more. There is not a lot of space on a sailboat to store items so choose wisely. The islands are very casual and there is no need to get dressed up unless you want to snag a nice family photo. A few things I recommend especially for sailing the Cyclades are:
Waterproof lightweight jacket for splashes on board while sailing
Seasick meds-even if you think you won’t, you very well may get seasick
Great music playlists for your time at sea
Water bottle with filtration-most islands do not have clean drinking water unless you purchase bottled water
A pair of shoes dedicated for land use only so you don’t track sand and dirt onboard
How to Get to the Cyclades
There are several ways you can get your family to the Cyclades islands in Greece. There are pros and cons to all of them. Several of the islands have small airports that offer both domestic and international flights to Cyclades. Mykonos tends to be the best for international flights, but there are also plenty that originate in Athens for a quick jaunt.
Another way to get yourself to the port of embarkation for your sailing vacation is to take a high speed ferry from Athens to Cyclades. There are a lot to choose from and some are direct. You can expect a high speed ferries to Cyclades to take about 3-5 hours depending on where you are headed. Ferries in Cyclades are much shorter routes, usually less than 2 hours between them.
One final option to start your charter sailing Greece adventure is to sail from Athens down to the Cyclades. This option would take out the hassle of catching a ferry and spending a night on an embarkation island. However, keep in mind that this means a very long first day of sailing (probably about 8-10 hours of sailing) that will eat into your sailing week.
Best Islands in the Cyclades
There are a host of islands in the cyclades to choose from that can more than fill up a week long sailing adventure. Take a look at the map of Cyclades below for a frame of reference.
Each island has its own personality. Some are big enough to offer many restaurants, hotels, beaches, and outdoor activity choices. Others have very few. What they lack in choice, they make up for in charm. You can have the experience you want without having someone dictate where you have to go.
We by no means visited every island, but would like to highlight a few. For a more thorough list, check out our full family adventure in Greece. The best Greek island for families is Paros, which has the best mix of beaches and activities without being too overrun with tourists. The largest island in the Cyclades is Naxos, which is another great family friendly Greek island. If you have teenagers, you won’t want to miss Ios where lots of young people hang out.
Charter a Sailing Boat in Greece
Charter sailing in Greece is the only way you will be able to sail in the Cyclades. If you have your own captain’s license with the required amount of sea hours, then you MAY be able to rent a boat. I truly believe the best way to enjoy charter sailing Greece is with a hired captain. We had an amazing experience with Blue Water Sailing and our captain, Rita, on a 51 foot monohull named Albatross.
Many people choose to do catamaran sailing in Greece as their family sailing vacation, but my opinion is that it is too windy to use a catamaran. You might feel more unstable in a monohull, but it will be able to withstand the winds much better and allow you out to sail more than the catamarans.
The majority of sailboat rentals embark from either Mykonos or Paros. From either of those locations you can get a full week of sailing in without having to sail for longer periods of the day to get from island to island.
You can expect to spend some nights at anchor in the bays and some nights docked up at the island’s marinas. Sailboats have a kitchen, so you may choose to cook food onboard or bring provisions for small meals. I suggest eating dinner on the islands to get the full experience of Greek island life.
Costs of Chartering a Sailboat
Of course the costs will depend on how long you sail for, how many people are in your party, and what type of boat you charter. In general there will be a fee for the boat rental itself, which covers the beds and bedding needed as well as basic needs on the boat such as water and fuel. A large part of your cost will be to pay your skipper/captain, but expect also to add extra to that for tip if you were pleased.
Your meals will not be covered unless agreed upon in advance with your charter company. If you require extra staff such as a hostess, your costs will also increase. Activities, transportation, shopping, and meals on land will all be on your own as well.
Have you ever explored the opportunity to combine vacation and service in one trip? You have probably heard of service trips and, of course, vacations. But there are trips out there that include both. Through a friend, I was able to find a trip that included deep cultural experiences alongside service opportunities while still enjoying local food and wonderful accommodations. Read on for the full experience of the way I did a vacation and serve in Guatemala.
Travel to Guatemala to Vacation and Serve
Guatemala is located just south of Mexico in Central America. To the east is Belize and to the south is El Salvador and Honduras. It’s a small country with a population of around 18 million people. The easiest way to get into the country is to fly into Guatemala City, but many also cross the boarder from Belize to see the northern areas of the country. You can find a number of flights each day into the capital, Guatemala City.
You will need a passport to enter the country. In March 2022 you need proof of covid vaccination as well as a negative covid test, but check current conditions and regulations for updated information.
There are a number of ways to get around while you vacation and serve in Guatemala. You can rent your own car, hire private transfers, or you can use the bus system. We avoided the chicken buses (although it would have been SO fun and culturally immersive), but we were advised not to use them this time due to covid. Next time! Every town we came across also offered tuk tuk rides for short distances. At Lake Atitlan there are public ferry taxis or you can hire a private transfer to take you around the lake from town to town.
The local currency is the Guatemalan Quetzale and can be withdrawn from local ATM’s at hotels, but make sure your credit card has a pin attached to it prior to travel! Some hotels will accept US $ for tips, but they are not widely accepted in general. I found American Express not as usable as my Visa, but even the remote shops had card readers for an extra charge.
The language in Guatemala City is primarily Spanish, but as you wander further outside of the main city there are many indigenous languages that also have several dialects within. When you are in the marketplace you will need to rely on hand motions with lots of smiling and patience to communicate. I had just as much fun practicing my Spanish in Guatemala as when I visited Costa Rica.
What Does it Look Like to Combine Vacation and Service?
I think there is always an opportunity to add in volunteer work to any part of our lives. Having said that, I also think it’s important to get away from the daily coming and going of regular life. So, how do you pair the two and make it work? It’s all about intentionality. Take the trip you want and then add in days or hours to give back while you enjoy.
Below is a list of practical and easy to incorporate ways to open your eyes and your hearts to the needs of the world.
Choose an organization that is meaningful and aligns with your priorities and contact them prior to your travel to see how you can serve while there or assist in bringing them donations, etc.
Slow down and listen. Talk to people in the community and non-profits that are up and running in the area to learn what the true needs of the community are.
Purchase your souvenirs from locals and seek to get as close to the source of the goods as possible.
Stay in a hotel that gives back to the community. Let your money go to work while you enjoy your stay. Best of both worlds.
Choose your tour operators consciously, with an eye to make an impact on the local economy.
Don’t skimp on tips. It is meaningful to tip generously, knowing that money is going right into the hands of a local person.
Spend one hour or one day with a working organization that gets you into the lives of real people in the area you are vacationing.
How to Vacation and Serve in Guatemala
There is not one single right way to vacation and serve in Guatemala…or anywhere for that matter. This is the type of thing you need to customize for your own family. It surely will look different for everyone. But, I encourage you to step outside of your typical vacation and incorporate some service, especially when you visit a destination that has real needs. And here is a little secret-everywhere has real needs. My next step is to get the kids to do a trip where we vacation and serve together. Stay tuned!
The Vacation and Serve in Guatemala Itinerary
I left my home airport and had a short layover in Atlanta before heading to Guatemala City. It was a 3.5 hour easy flight. Getting through immigration was painless, only having to show passport, vaccination card, immigration form and negative covid test.
After fighting through traffic, our driver delivered us to the colonial city of Antigua. We stayed at Casa Santo Domingo, a beautiful hotel built into the ruins of a convent. After a quick moment to freshen up we met up with our small group of women to do a historical walking tour of the grounds of the hotel and the city. It was the perfect way to start our trip.
Elizabeth, with Antigua Tours, gave us a two hour tour chock full of the history of the town and the earthquake that destroyed it. We learned a lot about the mixing of cultures, the colonial influences of Spain and the indigenous Mayan civilization. To our delight we encountered Lent celebrations and throngs of locals out with family. The Latino spirit was in full swing as we explored on foot and soaked in the culture. Do not miss this rich introduction to Antigua!
After a quick coffee and breakfast sandwich to go, we loaded up in a van with our tour guide, Willie. We took off for a volcano hike at Parque Nacional Volcan de Pacaya y Laguna de Calderas. I love to hike and seek to enjoy the outdoors while traveling, so this was fun for me. It was a 5K hike with some healthy elevation gain and steep sections. The starting altitude was about 6000 feet above sea level, so for those of you who live “low” be warned that you will lose your breath quickly. If you don’t want to hike, there are horses for hire with a trained guide who will stay with you the entire hike. You can also rent a walking stick from the young boys waiting at the base of the hike. I couldn’t resist! And I was glad I didn’t.
The hike itself was beautiful with lovely views and ample shade. And when we reached the top, it felt so good to have a full view of Pacaya before we started downward toward the calderas to “roast” marshmallows in the volcano vents. While we rested our legs, we enjoyed an epic picnic. We “skied” down the volcanic debris to end our hike and ran for the showers when we returned to our hotel.
The afternoon was filled with shopping and wandering through the cobblestone streets of Antigua. We enjoyed the shops filled with jade, Guatemalan textiles and pottery, and people watched to our hearts content.
We packed up our luggage and left Antigua for Lake Atitlan, about a 3 hour drive. On the way, we stopped at Iximche, a Mayan ruins. We were able to hire an English speaking guide who taught us how the Mayans developed their calendar. Let’s just say that they used their fingers and toes! Ten fingers, ten toes, and 13 major joints in the body multiplied together made 260 days in a year for them. That also coincided with the corn crop so it worked! We also learned the correct way to scaled the narrow steps of the ruins. Take them at an angle so that your back is neither toward the sun, nor toward the moon.
After lunch at a farm to table spot, we continued on toward Lake Atitlan in pursuit of pottery. We stopped at a roadside stand that had some nice options, but there was a specific co-op that we wanted to spend time at. In the town of San Antonio you can find location of the original Guatemalan teardrop design pottery. While you are shopping and selecting from the beautiful pieces you can wander upstairs to watch the men and women painting and crafting the pottery. I was able to speak in Spanish to ask a lot of questions about the firing process and the passion and joy in those conversations was precious.
We arrived at Casa Palopo, our hotel for the next two nights and we were welcomed with the most beautiful hazy sunset and the tastiest welcome drink ever! We took a dip in the pool before our dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant and then fell fast asleep after a beautiful day!
We awoke to gorgeous sunny skies on Lake Atitlan and hopped into a private ferry taxi to head across the lake for a full day over in San Pedro. On the docks at San Pedro we met up with Anita who was our cooking instructor. She gave us options for a menu and then we walked up to the market to make our food purchases. It was an incredible experience that everyone should do at least once-visit a local market where you don’t speak the language. It was a very rewarding cultural experience.
After the market we went to Anita’s home to begin our cooking. It was completely hands on with us doing all the chopping, stirring, mixing and more. While we handled our tasks, Anita gave us cooking tips and new techniques. While we sat to eat our meal Anita shared her life story with us. After lunch we went downstairs to the textile co-op that Anita helps run. We shopped and watched the weavers do their work. The cooperative is keeping women employed for a livable wage so they can support their families. It is a day I will never forget. These types of experiences are what travel is all about.
With a bumpy ferry ride and an exciting tuk tuk ride we made our way back to the other side of the lake to relax and absorb the day before we ate dinner again at the hotel.
We started the day with a nice brunch and a visit from the director of Fundamaya, Zoe. Fundamaya is a local organization helping with food insecurity, elder care and education for indigenous people who live around Lake Atitlan. We heard about all the ways Fundamaya is helping meet the needs of the Mayan people and the different ways we can support the organization monetarily as well as through action oriented service.
After brunch we left Lake Atitlan and Casa Palopo to head back toward Antigua to visit and serve at Kids Alive International. Kids Alive International is committed to rescuing children from hard places, redeeming their stories and restoring the hope of Christ in the hearts and minds of vulnerable children. Kids Alive Guatemala provides holistic care for children who have been victims of sexual crimes.
We had the best time meeting the staff, touring the campus, attending their chapel, and eating dinner. We played games and did arts & crafts with the girls and they asked us a million questions and made us practice our Spanish. It was loads of fun, but there is a no photo policy for the protection of the girls there so you’ll have to just believe me that their smiles were huge!
For our last day in country we were up early to walk up to the Cerro de la Cruz for epic view of Antigua. After we got our sweat on, we stopped for a coffee and a pastry before meeting up with tour guide Willie again. He brought bikes with him this time and we pedaled out of cobblestone streeted Antigua to a coffee farm nearby. It was a little dicey, but so worth the experience.
We learned all about the roots of coffee growing and the farm processes it takes to get that delicious cup when we wake up in the morning. We sampled and rode our bikes around the farm and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. When back in Antigua we made our way to a local chocolate making class at Fernando’s. Let’s just say that our bellies were full and our tastes were satisfied. We finished our day walking the streets of Antigua and a last special dinner.
Resources to Vacation and Serve in Guatemala
In the interest of the why behind this trip, I want to take a moment to connect y’all with the people and organizations. I first learned about this trip from a friend that I met through Instagram, and as crazy as that sounds it feels like it was always meant to be. There is no doubt that it takes a little extra work to make a destination work for vacation and to serve, but this was a great introduction to the possibilities out there.
Travel On Purpose
My Instagram friend, Dianne, is the founder of Travel On Purpose. Her aim is to connect travelers with organizations doing good. Not only does Dianne lead group trips that she plans herself, but she also customizes travel for families or groups who want to incorporate service with their travel. She offers everything from full-service trip planning to brainstorming consulting on a trip you already have planned.
Go and Do Good
Another friend from Instagram, Meg, founded Go and Do Good, a comprehensive directory of hotels that are intentionally giving back to their communities. When you stay at one of these hotels, you are also contributing. During my trip to Guatemala we stayed at a Good Hotel, Casa Palopo. I can’t say enough about the beautiful property, the incredible service, as well as the dedication to impact the Maya Kakchikel people nearby who are no longer able to sustain themselves economically in the traditional Mayan ways. Check out their project here.
Fundamaya’s mission is to strengthen their communities by promoting education, well-being, and empowerment. The organization is a US accredited 501(c)(3) operating in the Lake Atitlan area of Guatemala. They provide elderly care, install energy efficient wood-burning stoves, give local school support, provide water filters to villages, gift holiday food baskets for the food insecure and more. Individuals and groups can volunteer in short-term and long-term capacities.
Kids Alive Guatemala & International
The work and call of Kids Alive Guatemala is to provide a safe haven for girls who have been victims of sexual violence. Their desire is for every child in Guatemala to experience the love of God and the beauty of being raised in a loving family. Kids Alive International has a mission is the call of Isaiah 1:17, to serve these children by constantly learning to do good, earnestly seeking justice, standing up to what oppresses them, and advocating for their rights.
Eden por Salud
Edén is a social enterprise in Antigua, Guatemala, dedicated to creating all-natural, wellness products using top-grade, organic essential oils. Each Edén product is handcrafted by, and provides an accessible income, to a local entrepreneur with a disability. Edén recognized the need for a not-for-profit business that could create accessible income opportunities for people with disabilities in Guatemala.
Our market visit and cooking class in San Pedro on Lake Atitlan with Anita was an absolute highlight. I cannot recommend this experience enough. Please reach out to Anita for a cooking class at her Mayan Kitchen for a close look at Guatemalan cuisine and local experience. Not only will be enriched in the culture, but you will be wowed by the personal story and touch of Anita. It is special.
An often missed coastal town in South Carolina is the historical city of Beaufort, perfect for a weekend getaway with the family. You are going to want to explore this great spot on foot and from the water. Those of you who are looking for a family fun destination that has a strong focus on the outdoors will love a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC.
How to Get to Beaufort, SC
Beaufort is located on the coast of South Carolina, along the Beaufort River nearly halfway between Charleston and Savannah. If you look at a map, you will realize that island surroundings make this city almost completely encompassed by waterways. The most direct way to get there would be off of I-95 connected to some smaller state highways. You may also enjoy a coastal road trip through South Carolina, and can string together a series of cities and towns by utilizing SC-17. The nearest airports can be found in Savannah, GA or Charleston, SC.
When to take a Weekend Getaway to Beaufort, SC
You will find Beaufort to be quite busy in the summer months, even during the week. However, if you choose to visit in the shoulder seasons of spring and early fall, you will still experience wonderful weather with sleepier streets and less crowded restaurants. The lesser humidity will also make spring and fall a great time to visit for a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC.
Where to Stay during your Weekend Getaway
Stay in the immediate downtown area if you want to be able to walk everywhere with ease. Parking can get tricky if you stay outside of downtown Beaufort. The city was designed along the waterfront and there is no shortage of small inns along the tree lined streets. If you do a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC as a family look into the Best Western Sea Island Inn, which is directly across from the marina and within walking distance of the shops and restaurants. The rooms are set up for a family and a really nice continental breakfast is offered each morning, as well as free parking for guests. They offer pet friendly rooms and have a quiet curfew of 10 pm, which makes this particularly perfect for families. For a super romantic getaway consider the Rhett House Inn. You can find the chain hotels just a short drive away from the action, too.
What to Do in Beaufort, SC
Do a carriage tour with Sea Island Carriage Company to learn the history of the city and learn all about the historic homes in downtown Beaufort while you learn your way around.
Get out on the water with a boat tour from Coastal Expeditions who will give you access to Beaufort in a different way. You will hear all about the development of Beaufort from the sea perspective while you experience the local wildlife.
Shop the downtown stores filled with local southern treasures and support the small businesses of Beaufort, SC.
Walk along the waterfront admiring the beautiful scenery and boats in the marina.
Play on the playground and open green spaces along the waterfront to burn some energy.
Go fishing: fly casting or sight casting for cobia, reds, jacks, trout and more!
Ride bikes or go for a run along the Spanish Moss Trail which has 10 miles of paved trails open to the public from dawn until dusk.
Play golf at a nearby course on Fripp Island or Dataw Island.
Spend the day at Hunting Island State Park hiking, playing on the beach, and climbing the lighthouse.
Weekend Getaway Eats in Beaufort, SC
To get your Saturday started right, make sure to grab a cup of coffee and pastry or breakfast sandwich at Common Ground and enjoy the back patio waterfront views. This is a great spot for a quick to-go brekkie for a day that’s filled with activity. For a slower, but heartier start to Sunday stop in at Blackstone’s Cafe for a full breakfast. Get there for a special surprise at 8:00 am so you can take part in the pledge of allegiance with the entire restaurant.
The hottest spot for lunch is definitely Lowcountry Produce Cafe. You will enjoy all the lowcountry fare including fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, and amazing salads. Don’t worry about the wait-you can wander the market while your tummy grumbles! If you want burgers and water views, head over to The Fillin’ Station across the bridge.
There are so many great restaurants to choose from in Beaufort. Most of them are family friendly and you can find a wide variety of plates depending on your tastes. We opted for casual, but delicious at Q on Bay. We can’t resist great BBQ and the wings and brisket did not disappoint! Another popular family spot is Old Bull Tavern for excellent gastro-pub food.
Make the Weekend Getaway Happen
Weekend getaways can seem impossible during the teenage years. Busy schedules and academic work eat up so much time and there is little free time. Let me encourage you that two nights away as a family can do wonders for building up memories. We all need and a break from the grind. So, whether you are making your way along the southeastern coast of the U.S. or you are a South Carolina resident, make sure to include a weekend getaway to Beaufort, SC.
The winter glums have set in and my family is on the hunt for a vacation with magical moments. We are desiring another getaway to step out of the normal grind and into a refreshing and recharging long weekend. Where can we go for sunshine, full days of water and wildlife that has all the elements for a family with teens to reconnect? We have found the perfect destination to experience ordinary magic. It’s in Gulf County, Florida. Let the magic begin!
This post is in partnership with Gulf County, Florida. Although I am compensated for my work with them, all opinions are my own.
How Gulf County is Helping us Plan Magical Moments
Did you know that Pinterest and Google aren’t the only tools to help you plan your next getaway? Visit Gulf County has incorporated an incredible tool on their website to kickstart my next family trip, and they can do it for you too!
The online tool is designed to pair your family with a concierge who helps you plan the perfect itinerary for your time in Gulf County. This free service gives you the opportunity to play more and plan less.
How to use to the planning tool
I love the simplicity of this online concierge program. All that was required of me was to head over to the Gulf County link to start my personal form. I entered my contact information and answered a few questions about my family dynamics and preferences. Then I clicked the submit button to await contact from my concierge and anticipate the magical moments she is planning for us!
What to expect from the concierge
After I submitted my form, I received a PDF directly to my inbox with an itinerary full of suggestions suited just for my family. My 5 minutes of work granted me a nearly complete vacation experience at my fingertips.
I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to have a local provide the up front research and suggestions. With the concierge tool from Gulf County, we are sure to have a well balanced family vacation with plenty to look forward to and plenty of down time in between. It’s simply magical.
Getting to the Magical Moments in Gulf County
Gulf County is located in the panhandle of Northern Florida with over 200 miles of shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico. Get to Gulf County by car 2 hours southwest of Tallahassee, FL or less than an hour east of Panama City, FL.
Both Panama City and Tallahassee international airports have services if you need them. We will travel by car from South Carolina for a long weekend getaway and road trip in pursuit of ordinary magic.
Why Gulf County has Ordinary Magical Moments
For a family like ours that looks to get outside and enjoy the natural world around us, Gulf County is an obvious choice. This area of Northern Florida, along the gulf coast has a westward facing sunset view. It is surrounded with nature including white sand beaches, inland waterways, wildlife, and the calm gulf waves. This purposely underdeveloped area is a dream for families who are looking to adventure outdoors while stepping away from daily life.
From water activities like boating, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling and diving to wandering the beautiful beaches to coastal cultural activities Gulf County has a multitude of family fun activities. You can spend your vacation days relaxing or adventuring, and you can do it together.
My teenagers like a mix. So, we typically look for a full day activity with a recovery day afterwards. Or, we look for a morning activity and free afternoon. Other times we take it easy in the morning and let our teens sleep in and find an after lunch adventure. We always prioritize down time and we love to sunset chase. Do you see why we are so excited to spend our family time pursuing ordinary magic in Gulf County?
The Magical Moments in Our Concierge Vacation Plan
In the PDF was a recommended vacation rental home. Gulf County specializes in single-family vacation homes, which is perfect for families looking to connect more. I envision meals together, and late night games for our crew. Our teens still love to play board games. Now I just need to build in a nap so I’m ready when they want to start a game at 10:00 pm!
Also included were two restaurant recommendations. We enjoy getting a taste of the local flavors when we travel. This took all of the research time out of the equation for me as a mom. We look forward to indulging in some local seafood as well as some solid family food favorites like burgers and pizza, perfect after a day of exploring.
The itinerary comes with two wildcard activities, which would not have occurred to me in planning a vacation. One is an activity my teens would love anywhere, but we may not make the time for here at home. It’s genius to include something like this in a travel itinerary when families have dedicated time to spend with one another.
Last, but definitely not least, our concierge included two adventures. Our teens enjoy the slow beach time, but now that they are older they want to have more experiences. Adrianne did not let me down in this category. She suggested two outdoor adventures that encompass a variety of activities perfect for our family. I know she would do the same for you!
Are You Looking for Magical Moments?
I know how busy you all are. You are constantly leveraging your free time for the biggest impact. This is true for me, as well. Isn’t it wonderful that a vacation destination understands that and can assist you in the planning? That way you can enjoy the magical moments with your family. The beautiful, serene, nature encompassed Gulf County, Florida has you covered. Head on over to the concierge input page to begin your next family adventure and start building up those memories!
When it comes time to plan trips, it can be difficult to come up with epic family vacation ideas with teens. I have one destination that’s a for sure win with teens, but not every vacation can be epic. However, I would argue that a good old fashioned U.S. road trip in the Pacific Northwest can really fit the bill. An adventure from Seattle to Olympic National Park not only pairs city with the outdoors, but you can also make this trip very friendly on the budget.
Adventures in Seattle with teens
Use this as a quick travel guide to Seattle. Plan at least two full days to explore and experience all of the coolest things to do in Seattle with your teens. Like any big city, you may not see it all in one trip, but you can get a great feel. This classic West coast U.S. city should be on every family’s bucket list for travel.
Getting to Seattle
Traveling to Seattle is not complicated at all. You can fly into Sea-Tac International Airport and rent a car with ease. If you don’t think you will need a car while visiting downtown Seattle, wait to rent a car from inside the city. Public transport is plentiful. We found driving in Seattle to be pretty easy to navigate, but did have to pay overnight parking fees at our hotel.
Staying in Seattle
Every major hotel chain and their subsidiaries have lodging in Seattle. Choices abound and you are best off selecting a hotel that is centrally located to how you want to spend your days. Or, like we did, choose to stay at your favorite chain where you have loyalty and/or status. We had an incredible experience at the Hyatt Regency, perfect for families who may need two rooms. Another family friendly option is the Embassy Suites located at Pioneer Square. You can find everything from budget options to luxury stays.
What to do in Seattle
I’m not kidding when I say that you will need to make a Seattle bucket list before you visit. There are so many things to do, places to see, and restaurants to try. Below is a list of ideas that should work for teens and families together. I’ve included a few unique things to do in Seattle that make this vacation with teens one to remember forever. Don’t underestimate the things to do in Seattle at night. Teens love to stay up later and explore cities after dark for extra fun!
Pike Place Market and the original Starbucks: Get there early and enjoy selecting breakfast from the food stands and gawk at the incredible fresh flowers.
Space Needle: Buy your tickets ahead of time to skip the line. The history and the views are worth a one-time visit.
Seattle Underground Tour or Beneath the Streets tour: This is a popular group tour that gives the history of how Seattle developed into the city that it is. It keeps the teens engaged with humor, too!
Seattle Great Wheel: Lines can get long, but the views are incredible. Try to choose a day without much fog or cloud cover if possible.
Do a Savor Seattle Food Tour: through Pike Place Market
Museum of Pop Culture: If you are a GenX parent, this will be a lot of fun to take your teens and teach them some 80’s and 90’s pop culture.
Take in a pro sports game at T-mobile Park or CenturyLink Field: This can eat a big chunk of your time, but teens love to experience a city through pro sports!
Kerry Park: for amazing city views perfect for sunrise or sunset.
Do a Seattle waterfront cruise: awesome late in the day OR do a Seattle Locks Cruise that takes you to Lake Union to see the floating home community.
Rent scooters: through an app on your phone you can pick up a scooter just about anywhere in downtown Seattle, but for a great experience, scoot around the pro sports complex when there is no game planned. It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground and have fun while doing it.
Don’t miss the Museum of Flight outside of the downtown area. Extremely well done with tons of aircraft including outstanding space exhibits.
Pair Seattle with a trip to Olympic National Park
Seattle Olympic National Park Day Trip
If you are running short on time, but want to make sure you get in some Seattle outdoor activities, you must visit Olympic National Park. You can drive from Seattle to Olympic National Park, which takes about 2.5 hours. For efficiency on a Seattle day trip is to use the ferries to Olympic National Park. Use the Washington State ferry site for schedules and pricing. For a day trip, you will most likely use the entrance to Olympic National Park closest to Port Angeles. Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle and can be purchased in advance online. Of course, you may also use your America the Beautiful annual pass.
Give yourself a full, long day (as much daylight as possible) to get a good day trip experience. Pack lots of water and snacks so stopping for meals doesn’t take up too much time. Check out my super day trip packing list for some extra tips. It’s worth it even just for a day. If you’re struggling to get your teens to cooperate with outdoors time, I’ve got a few tips for that. Mine typically start with pushback and end the day happy and feeling accomplished.
There is no best time to visit Olympic National Park, as there are things to enjoy about each season. However, you will have the most options for access during late spring to late fall months (April-November). If you only have one day to explore, my suggestion is to do some day hiking near Hurricane Ridge. Some of the best views in Olympic National Park are from the Hurricane Hill trail.
Road Trip Olympic National Park
If you have time, a multi-day trip to Olympic National Park is ideal. It is huge and the entrances to Olympic National Park are spread out. You will need to plan your visit based on places to stay due to the remoteness of many locations. There is a variety of lodging in Olympic National Park that includes home/cabin rentals and hotels. Camping and RV camping in Olympic National Park is also very popular. There is a lot of driving time if you want to see most areas of the park. I suggest planning your route in a loop. Either start from Seattle and head southwest toward the Washington state capital Olympia to drive clockwise around the Olympic peninsula or head across on the ferry to start from Port Angeles to drive counter-clockwise.
How long you stay in one location will depend on what your interests are. You know how much your family can handle with drive times, so consider how much you want to explore and what you are willing to drive. Some personal family favorite areas include the Hoh Rainforest, Ruby Beach, Lake Crescent, and Hurricane Ridge. Each of those locations will give you a completely different vibe and will showcase the diversity of the Olympic peninsula. I regret we didn’t get the chance to explore the Sol Duc valley, but will include it when visiting Olympic National Park next time.
A word to parents of teens and tweens. There is very little cell signal in these areas. We typically allow our kids to scroll a bit while driving, but that simply is not an option. We did this road trip with another family and had the teens switch up cars so they could have conversation and play games with peers. If that is not an option, consider an audiobook and car games to keep them occupied. They won’t miss the screens when they are out and about adventuring outdoors even if they do complain in the beginning.
Best activities in Olympic National Park
Like most parks, you can find what makes your family happy. Activities in Olympic National Park range from quiet walks to fishing to cliff jumping to multi-day backpacking. Don’t miss the easy fun with big impact like taking a walk through the Hoh Rainforest amongst the massive trees or alongside the Hoh River. You could spend hours exploring the tide pools, driftwood stacks and skipping rocks at Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park.
For the best hiking trails, check out different terrain from each entrance. Lovers Lane (6 mile loop) and Sol Duc Falls (1 mile) from the Sol Duc entrance are both in old growth forest. Hurricane Hill from Hurricane Ridge is a challenge and gives views with the range on one side and the water on the other. Use the Spruce Railroad Trail up at Lake Crescent to get to Devil’s Punchbowl for an afternoon of cliff jumping and swimming. The views there are out of this world!
If backpacking in Olympic National Park interests you, consider the Elwah River Trail, which is a moderate lengthy trail at lower elevation. It takes you down low to an incredible watershed and is full of quiet and solitude. If you plan to backpack and do multi-day hiking treks, some of the most popular are the Hoh River Trail and Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park. Both are at lower elevations and rated moderate and get you away from any crowds that may develop in the summer months.
Getting on the Water in Olympic National Park
Fishing in Olympic National Park can be a great joy for anglers. The park provides some of the most extensive runs of wild salmon, trout and char in the Pacific Northwest. Make sure to read and review all fishing regulations inside the park and remember that much of the Pacific coastal water areas are a part of of the park.
Kayaking and canoeing are favorite activities while inside the park. With the wide selection of rivers and lakes you are bound to find a spot to enjoy. Motorized boats require a Washington state license. We also saw people sailing on Quinault Lake, which is not technically part of the park, where we stayed over one night.
Places to Stay in Olympic National Park
Use your activities to choose where to base yourself in the park. Although you will inevitably do a lot of driving, you can find places to stay near Olympic National Park. If you begin your road trip from the Southern side of the park, you could stay in Olympia or Aberdeen, but you’ll have a morning before officially getting in to the park.
We stayed overnight in the Lake Quinault area where there are several lodges, motels, and vacation rentals. This is a good starting point to see Ruby Beach and Hoh Rainforest. If you plan ahead and aren’t traveling with 9 people as we were, I highly suggest Kaloch Lodge in Olympic National Park for proximity, amenities, and incredible views. The park offers two other lodging options at Sol Duc and Lake Crescent, which also require planning a year ahead.
Many people prefer camping in Olympic National Park. There are campsites on the coast near Kaloch and Ruby Beach, which fill quickly in the summer months. Keep in mind that some campgrounds are park operated and some are not. Many accept reservations, but some do not. And, of course, if you plan to camp in the backcountry, you will need a permit from the park before doing so.
Why Seattle to Olympic National Park is a great destination for families with teens
Vacationing with teens can be tricky. You need plenty of activities for teens, but you also need to make sure there is down time planned in. The best vacations for teens have a good balance. Pairing a big city with a National Park gives you the best bang in my opinion. Spend a few days on your trip to Seattle doing the city stuff, then head out into the wilderness. Teens need to get fresh air and they can discover the best hikes in Olympic National Park. If you only have a long weekend, make the park a day trip, but if you have a week or longer definitely make it a road trip.
Don’t make the mistake of trying to pack too much in. Remember that travel with teens is more about the memories created than it is about checking everything off the list. In our years of travel we have realized that we do best if we start with the more rustic outdoor section of our trip first. Our teens are good with being off the grid, but want to reconnect with friends after a few days. And, we try to have our last night or two in the city at a more upscale hotel. It’s those little things that make travel for teens totally worthwhile. One last tip for a family vacation with teens: do it with another family! For more tips on adventuring with your teens see this post. Happy adventuring!
Are you looking for the best visit to National Parks in spring? If so, this will be your best guide. Not every National Park is perfect for every season. And although I always suggest exploring the parks, there are times I like to avoid the crowds and get off the beaten path. Keep on reading for 16 of the best National Parks in USA perfect for Spring. Remember that most parks have an entrance fee per vehicle, but you can purchase the America The Beautiful annual pass for a one time fee of $80. If you plan to visit at least 3 parks in 12 months, then the pass pays for itself.
Best National Parks in Southwest USA
Early spring, before or after school breaks take place, can be an ideal time to visit the Southwest. The early morning and nighttime temps will still drop quite low, but the warmth of the sunshine will be wonderful for outdoors daytime. You’ll need to stay away from water activities in this region in the early spring, but these parks will be some of the best U.S. national parks for day trips or for longer backcountry camping trips. Many of these you can combine into a single road trip experience.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
This desert park is made up of huge wave-like dunes of gypsum sand. The park is open 364 days (closed on Christmas Day), with typical operating hours from 9:00 am-5:00 pm in the spring. Make sure to check the park closure page for inclement weather and missile testing that can occasionally close the road for safety. Park entrance fees are $25 per vehicle. There are also additional nominal fees for backcountry camping.
Speaking of camping, the only type of camping at White Sands is primitive backcountry camping that requires a permit. There are no hotels within the park either. You will need to stay in a nearby town or find BLM land near Alamogordo or Las Cruces. Check out Oliver Lee State Park or Lincoln National Forest for campsites as well. The only food you will find inside the park is a small convenience store within the gift shop. So, you will want to pack a soft sided cooler with plenty of snacks and water for your time there.
With five established hiking trails, the dunes drive road for vehicles and bicycles, and the fun of sledding down the sand dunes you will love spending endless hours outside. Use waxed plastic sleds for the best sledding. Remember to wear sunglasses and maybe even a buff if the wind is kicked up. Keep in mind there is almost no shade in the entire park. Pack lots of water and sun protection and avoid hiking in temperatures above 85 degrees.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Go explore the ancient sea ledges, deep canyons, desert flora and fauna, and the “big room” in the caverns for another unique park visit. Currently, the park requires reservations and fees are $15 per person. Hiking into the big room must be started no later than 2:30 pm. Get there for open time at 8:00 am and you will be able to experience everything this park has to offer.
When you visit in the spring, you can expect windy conditions and mild temperatures. This park is situated in the Chuahuan Desert, so don’t expect shade. Sun protection is a must. Be aware that food options are limited within the park with only a few hot food options. However, there is no lodging available inside the park. If you wish to backcountry camp, you will need a permit. There is no overnight RV parking inside the park. Carlsbad sits about 20 miles from the park and offers several lodging options.
Explore the caverns and do some desert hiking. For a wildlife experience check out the bat flight programs that happen starting the end of May. There are a few night sky programs held each year, but are typically done in the fall.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
If you want to be impressed by the desert, head down to see the mighty saguaro cacti. This National Park is split into two sections and separated by downtown Tucson. Both are worth visiting, but have a different vibe. Park hours vary slightly in each section, but for the most part are open from sunrise to sunset. Temperatures get uncomfortably hot in late spring through early fall so plan accordingly. No matter the season, drink plenty of water as the desert is very dry.
A weekly vehicle pass is $25 and the park prefers a prepayment so cash handling is minimal. Day hiking is the most popular outdoor activity in Saguaro. However, if you want to wilderness hike and backcountry camp you can find plenty of adventure. There are cactus gardens on both sides of the park with easy trails. Camping is unavailable for vehicles and you must have a permit for backcountry camping. I highly recommend watching the sunset from Gates Pass on the west side of the park for incredible views. For the history lovers, check out Signal Hill for the petroglyphs.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree is located in the desert of Southern California, just 3 hours from LAX and right next door to Palm Springs. Be aware that due to the location of this park, visitation peaks during the spring. Temperatures are perfect during the spring months and the skies will likely be clear and crisp. A weekly pass is $30 per vehicle, and you can purchase your pass ahead of time online for expedited entrance. This is one of the best national parks to visit in March.
You won’t finding any lodging inside the park, but there are places to stay in nearby towns. You also won’t find any restaurants or grocery outlets inside the park. There are, however, picnic areas spread throughout. Packing your food in for a full day inside the park is easy to do, but as with all desert parks make sure to pack plenty of water no matter the season. Inside the park are 9 campgrounds as well as the option to backcountry camp with a permit.
You will see that Joshua Tree is very popular for campers and climbers. In addition to bouldering, there are also options for technical climbing and slack lining. Other outdoor activities include biking, birding, horseback riding, photography, and night sky viewing. This park is small, but packs a big punch with desert cholla cacti and unique Joshua Trees showing off. By far this is one of the top national parks in California.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
Guadalupe, situated on the Texas – New Mexico border, can be paired with Carlsbad Caverns in the same day or weekend. Park hours are from 8:00-4:30 and are open year round. Pay the $10 entrance fee with the green envelopes at the entrance stations. This is a lesser known park, but it does fill up in the spring months due to the warm temps and blue skies.
There is no lodging or dining inside the park, but there are 3 year-round developed campgrounds trickled inside the park. Pine Springs Visitor Center is a great place to get your start with information about the park including maps and literature. This is the largest wilderness area in Texas with a diverse trail system, great for national park hiking. Guadalupe is a fantastic spot for night activities including star gazing and the nocturnal desert wildlife. There are a number of scenic drives worth scouting out to give you very different views and access to the park as well.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
This magical no-man’s land is close to nowhere, but the drives are well worth it for the big scenery and the wildness of adventure. Deep canyons and vast views make Big Bend one of the most beloved parks in the country. The Rio Grande serves as a natural international border between the states and Mexico. You will need a passport to cross the border. Mid-January through Mid-April is the busiest time to visit this park, but that’s due to optimal weather conditions. Plan ahead and keep a flexible itinerary.
The park is always open, no matter the time or the day with an entry fee of $30 per car, which is valid for 7 days. The park is very remote and there will be large chunks of time you will be without cellular service so download those maps! There are a variety of local outfitters to book horseback riding excursions, scenic flights, river floats (for partial day or multi-day adventures), shuttle service and more. Day hikes range from desert to mountain to river views.
Pets are NOT allowed on any of the trails. Backcountry permits and specific equipment rental are required for overnight river trips and camping. You will find people enjoying the park on bicycle, bird watching, stargazing, fishing, and participating in ranger programs.
There is only one lodge inside the park with reservations opening up on January 1st for the following year. Reservations fill up quickly for the spring months so this is a great park to plan a good old national parks road trip well in advance. In my opinion this is the best national park for spring break.
National Parks Out West
Not every park in the west experiences deep snows into the spring months. Although the higher elevations will still have beautiful snow scenes without terribly cold temps elsewhere in the park. A great way to beat the heat of the late spring and summer months, as well as the crowds, is to explore them during the early months of spring. These parks are most enjoyable in March and April as the Utah national parks can get really hot starting in May.
Death Valley National Park, California/Nevada
This is a park of extremes and what fun it is to experience them. Salt basins below sea level and peaks that soar into snow elevations give your eyes so much to absorb. Canyons, sand dunes and spring fed oases keep you guessing as to what you might experience next. This HUGE park has so much to offer and I would suggest at least 2 full days to explore. The park is open daily, year-round and with an entrance fee of $30 you have access for a full week. The easiest way to get to the park is via Las Vegas, but make sure you let yourself get off the beaten path in this vast park.
There are several campgrounds to choose from, some offering full hook-ups. You need reservations for Furnace Creek. Other sites rarely fill up and use automated machines for payment. Campgrounds are first come first serve and most higher elevation campgrounds are filled up on weekends even in the summers. There are 4 options for lodging inside the park, which are open all year. Or you may choose to daytrip to Death Valley from Las Vegas, which is about a 2.5 hour drive. Depending on where you are inside the park, you should be able to find breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, if you plan to visit the more remote parts of the park, pack in (and out) food for yourself including lots of water.
Death Valley is one of the best national parks for backcountry driving with hundreds of miles of unpaved roads leading to some incredible scenery and much solitude. There is no shortage of super spots for viewing the sunrise or sunset so make that a priority. Most visitors who love Death Valley love it for the night viewing. The star gazing is spectacular so make an attempt to visit during a new moon and bring your binoculars! During a full moon, have fun exploring the salt basin or even the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes at night for a real adventure.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
This central Utah park is right in the heart of red rock country, boasting cliffs and canyons with views to die for. There is much to learn about the geologic process while enjoying the great outdoors together. The park is open all day, every day giving you the opportunity to experience each of the seasons in a unique way. You will pay an entrance fee of $20, and although the park is open every day, the visitor center does have some holiday closings. There are no restaurants or lodging inside Capital Reef, however there is one developed and two primitive campgrounds available. Look to the surrounding towns for eating and sleeping.
Day hiking is the most popular activity inside Capital Reef with various trail lengths and difficulty. If you’re looking to get off grid, there are also backpacking trails. The Cathedral Valley in the North end of the park is remote and rugged, perfect for those who like to get off the beaten path. Driving conditions vary depending on the weather conditions, so be prepared to investigate before you leave. Check out the 6-8 hour driving loop tour in Cathedral Valley. You will need a special permit for rock climbing and canyoneering.
Check out the orchards in the Fuita section of the park. You are welcome to wander through at any time, but the park service will post “u-pick” signs when trees are reading to be harvested. Use the self-pay station to properly weigh and pay for your harvest. In the spring months, depending on the weeks, you can find apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and apples in the glory of their flowering. Harvest won’t occur until the summer months from June to October.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Canyonlands is split into 3 sections: Island in the Sky, the Maze, and the Needles all divided by the Colorado River and its tributaries. The Maze is the most remote and only accessible with a 4WD and high clearance vehicle. The park is open 365 days a a year, 24 hours a day, but beware of road closures during winter weather. The area this park is located is the high desert, which experiences wild temperature fluctuations and extreme heat in the summer months. In spring, you can expect up to 40 degree temperature swings in a single day. Entrance fees are $30 per vehicle.
There are no lodging or dining facilities inside the park, but you can find both in nearby Moab, closest to Island in the Sky, Monticello nearest the Needles and Green River or Hanksville closest to the Maze. There are two campgrounds inside the park, and there are extensive opportunities for backcountry camping. To get the most out of this national park, you will want to have a 4WD so you can see and experience incredible vistas and scenic drives.
Biking is a favorite activity in Canyonlands, but you must remain on designated roads. Pack and saddlestock horseback riding is allowed on all backcountry roads. There are varying degrees of hiking throughout the park to meet the desires of just about anyone. Technical climbing is allowed at the sandstone towers in Island of the Sky and no permit is needed. There are miles of flatwater boating perfect for canoes or kayaks. At Cataract Canyon there is a 14 miles stretch of whitewater rapids ranging from III-V if you’re looking for adventure. You must have a permit for all private river trips, which can be reserved up to four months in advance.
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah
This monument cover nearly 2 million acres of America’s public lands in southern Utah. Due to the remote areas of this park, it will be up to you to check road conditions, weather conditions, flash flood warnings, and wildlife sightings. There are 4 visitor centers to get your information with knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your questions. Most visitor center hours are 9 am – 4 pm, but are not open every day. Not only is Grand Staircase a wonderful place to recreate, but many scientists are there to explore and research as well.
Throughout Grand Staircase you will witness the preservation and conservation of outrageous geologic wonders as well as biological resources. Bold plateaus, multihued cliff and slot canyons aren’t the only contribution to this monument. This area is also rich in human history, and preserves this cultural historical ties to this land. One amazing feature of this land is that 90% of it has zero artificial light source. That means the night skies here are unparalleled.
In addition to primitive campgrounds, not suited for trailers larger than 25 feet, there are BLM areas for dispersed camping. Please check all rules and regulations and no matter where you camp, practice the Leave No Trace principles at all times. Other lodging and food can be found in nearby communities like Kanab, UT.
Something Special Inside Grand Escalante
One of the most popular hikes is “the wave”, but you must have a permit for day use to do it. Only 48 day use permits are granted per day for this strenuous 6.4 mile round trip hike. No campfires or overnight camping is allowed. It is up to you to recreate responsibly in this area. If the roads are wet you may need a 4WD vehicle with high clearance to get to the start of this hike. A popular off roading area is the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Great Sand Dunes is open every day of the year, so the only thing that may prevent you from exploring this amazing park is the weather. The early spring months still provide a lot of snowfall at these high elevations and the volatile winds in the afternoons can make the sand dunes less than ideal. Consider this park for May and visit the dunes in the morning for optimal conditions. Entrance fees cost $25 per vehicle and last for 7 days.
The campground is open from April-October and is by reservation, but there are no electric hook ups. There are no free in-person backpacking permits available. Purchase them online and it comes with an assigned parking lot. Follow all rules and regulations, noting specifically that campfires are not allowed. There is no lodging inside the park, but there are 4 nearby and many others within 45 minutes of the park. For picnicking there are 4 reservable day use sites and the Oasis restaurant and store are located next to the main park entrance, which is open April-October. It is the only food to be found within 25 miles of the park.
The most popular activities include hiking, sand boarding on the dunes and splashing in Medano Creek. In the spring the best hiking is on the dunes. If you are visiting in summer, you can find trails in the forests and alpine areas. For sand boarding and sand sledding, you will need to bring your own supplies or rent from an outfitter outside the park. Check out the Oasis store and Spin Drift. Have fun sliding down and climbing up, but stay away from any vegetation areas. Medano Creek will only have water once snow begins to melt, so expect the best conditions for flow in May. Beware of the no-see-ums that make their headline that time of year, though!
National Parks in the Southeast
If you are attempting to avoid the buggiest months inside the parks in the Southeast, your best bet is to visit in the early spring. The humidity is usually fairly low in the spring as well. Even in early March, I experienced 85 degree highs in the Everglades. Thankfully the muggy, steamy weather was nowhere to be found.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
This unbelievable park is actually a cluster of 7 islands found 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. It is one of the most remote parks and is only accessible by private boat, daily concession ferry, charter boats, or seaplane. The park is open all day every day, but your time is limited when you utilize the ferry or seaplane options. March is still part of the stormy season with higher winds and rougher seas. For optimal weather conditions try to visit in April and May before the temps and crowds rise and prior to hurricane season. The Garden Key Visitor Center is open from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm, which is located inside Fort Jefferson. There is no cellular or wi-fi service at Dry Tortugas.
There are no restaurants, hotels, fuel stations, marine supplies, fishing supplies or other rentable gear in the park. You must come prepared for yourself and your group. There are limited concessions available for purchase on the ferry if you use that method. Private boaters can stay overnight on their vessels as long as they are anchored in an approved area. The limited primitive campsites close to the dock are first come, first-served. If you plan to camp, you must do extensive planning and bring all your own supplies. You MUST carry out all trash upon departure.
Water Activities in Dry Tortugas National Park
Fishing is one of the beloved activities for the abundance of marine life. There are quite a few rules and regulations to follow, but they are well worth it for the experience. If you are older than 16, you must have a Florida fishing license purchased prior to arriving. If you bring your own boat to explore with, you must have a boating permit to enter the park. There is no anchoring allowed in the research areas and the mooring balls are for 2 hour day use only. Snorkeling and diving are also popular activities with the abundance of sea life to observe (never touch!) during your visit. Note that compressed air tanks are NOT allowed on the ferry, so bring those via personal or charter boat if you choose to dive. For those who are staying overnight, don’t miss the opportunity to night dive/snorkel!
Everglades National Park, Florida
Many people consider America’s Everglades to be one giant swamp, but it’s actually a subtropical wilderness with water as the lifeblood of the many ecosystems found there. Filled with natural habitats and incredible wildlife, this park is a dream in the early spring months. March is a wonderful time to visit before the high daytime temperatures become too oppressive. This park follows a wet/dry season pattern, with dry season ending in March. The 3 park entrances are NOT connected and 4 visitor centers are spread out. The entry cost is $30 per vehicle and lasts for 7 consecutive days.
There are two campgrounds available from the Homestead entrance that can accommodate tents and RV’s. You may camp in the wilderness with a permit. Advance reservations are opened up on a rolling basis. You can also rent eco tents in advance as another adventure option.
There is no shortage of outdoor activities for every age and ability within the park. If you enjoy riding bikes, look in to the Shark Valley area and the Snake Bight Trail near Flamingo. Everglades is a bird watchers paradise during the dry season. Most of the park is water, so boating, kayaking, and canoeing are an obvious choice for exploring. You can also charter boats out of Flamingo for salt water or fresh water fishing. Guided boat tours get you deeper into the park with a wealth of information and unobstructed views. Trails for walking or hiking can be found throughout.
Thousands of people a year flock to the Everglades for an Airboat tour. There are 3 operators located between Miami and Shark Valley with daily tours varying in length. Some offer private tours as well. Bring your sunscreen and bug spray and enjoy the ride!
Biscayne National Park, Florida
In the same neighborhood as Miami, Biscayne National Park is a water wonderland of a park. The stunning teal and aquamarine waters, coral reefs, and tiny islands make this park a dream in springtime. This park is comprised primarily of water, and so it is open 24 hours a day every day. The visitor center, however, is open from 9-5 most days including major holidays. There are no entrance fees to this park, but if you wish to camp on Elliott Key or Boca Chita Key, you will pay a $25 overnight fee. Both require a boat to get there. This is a subtropical location, so know that hurricane season is from June-November.
There are no restaurants or lodging options other than remote camping as discussed above. The visitor center does have a few pick up food items, but you will need to come prepared. Boat tours and ranger tours are available for added enjoyment. Locals and visitors alike come for the fishing, snorkeling and diving. These undeveloped Florida keys give people the chance to explore in a more relaxed setting. The park preserves marine habitats and supports world class fishing such as spiny lobster, snapper, grouper, tarpon, and bonefish. The shorelines are mangrove fringed and perfect for kayaking. Snorkeling and diving around some of the parks shipwrecks is a favorite, as well as the coral reefs in the immediate area.
The Biscayne National Institute offers ecotours for snorkeling and exploring Boca Chita Key. The boat cruises are well worth the time and money for the views and the fresh air, getting out into some of the untouched areas of our beautiful country. Depending on the way you want to spend your time, you could do 1-2 days here and still want to return.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree is best known for the east coast’s largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest. Waters from the Congaree River and Wateree River sweep through with deep nutrients that nourish the ecosystems and create a place for champion trees to flourish. The park is open for exploration every day, all day and there are no entrance fees. The best times to visit are in winter, spring and late fall when the humidity dies down and the bugs aren’t AS bad. You do need to be aware that flooding can occur, which essentially makes the boardwalks unusable so check the Congaree River conditions near the park.
There is no lodging or food service in the park. Columbia, SC is just 30 minutes from the park where you can find hotels and restaurants and plenty of other outdoor activities. Front country camping is allowed through an online reservation only. There are no RV camping spots at the park, only tent camping. Feel free to backcountry camp with a free permit and reach those spots by foot or by kayak. Open fires are not permitted in the backcountry. As with all camping, practice the Leave No Trace principles.
The best way to experience Congaree National Park is on foot or by paddle. There are boardwalk trails as well as paths, both long and short. Enjoy the wilderness by getting out on a kayak or canoe for a serene paddle. You may fish in all areas of Congaree with a valid SC fishing license. There are regulations on what type of bait can be used in order to preserve the natural ecosystems already in place, so check that out before dropping your line. One of the coolest experiences inside Congaree National Park is to view the synchronous fireflies put on a show, which happens for about two weeks starting in mid-May. Like most other parks, there are ranger led programs that get you deeper into the park and into the history of what you are experiencing.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Located just 75 miles from our nation’s capital this park offers epic sunset views, waterfall hikes and quiet hollows to explore. There is only one public road that traverses North to South (or vice versa) called Skyline drive. It is well worth it to do the entire drive. Although the park is open year-round, most facilities open in March. Keep in mind that roads will close if the weather warrants it.
An entrance pass is required and can be purchase online prior to arrival or at one of the entrance gates for $30 per vehicle, which will last for 7 consecutive days. Springtime temps can vary drastically and while many days will warm up to 70 degrees, it is not uncommon for March to bring lots of snowfall. This park is glorious in April and May, though, and perfect for hiking conditions. Keep a raincoat with you and enjoy bursting waterfalls releasing all of that snow runoff! The wildflowers in spring are out of this world. The park boasts 862 species within its boundaries.
Inside Shenandoah National park in Spring
Hiking, biking, and camping are the favorite activities inside the park. You will find trails of every difficulty level. You can experience peak heights with incredible views or make your way down into the hollows for tucked away waterfalls and precious solitude. There are tons of opportunities for backcountry camping with permits and proper planning. Along Skyline Drive you will notice many cyclists challenging themselves around the twists and turns and the ups and downs.
Utilize the multiple waysides for quick food service that you will find along Skyline Drive. Or, take extra time to sit down at one of the in park restaurants. I recommend keeping a soft sided cooler with you for your adventures within the park. Pick up sandwiches and snacks at the waysides and keep on rollin’. There are 4 lodging options within the boundaries of the park ranging from premium hotel type rooms to rustic cabins. Five campgrounds with a variety of amenities are inside the park, but none offer electric hook ups. Campgrounds fill quickly in late spring and summer months, so make your reservations up to 6 months in advance.
Spring Travel Guide Tips
With any type of travel you need to consider and plan ahead. Before you leave to visit these beautiful, but remote National Parks, you must be prepared. Do your research ahead of time and be sure to pack all of the essentials you will need along the way. Spring brings all kinds of weather conditions, so be sure to check your favorite weather apps AND the main website page for each park for road closure and trail closure information. Wildlife can often be the best part of spring travels when all those babies are learning their new world. And most importantly, take the time to get off the grid and reconnect in nature. You will never regret that time away.
Did you know you don’t have to travel far to have a nice weekend getaway? The very idea of a break can be found in nearby adventures and driving distance destinations. The most important thing to remember is that this getaway is a break from the routine and the grind; it’s a chance to reconnect in the midst of a busy season. Camden, SC is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. I worked with Visit Camden-Kershaw County for this weekend getaway article. All opinions are my own based on the experiences I had personally.
How to Get to Camden, SC
Camden is a beautiful historic town rich is history and loaded with Southern charm. The town is located in what’s called the Midlands region, so it is more or less in the middle of South Carolina. Interstate I-20, which extends from Florence, SC all the way to Kent, TX traverses the outskirts of Camden and SC Highway 601 cuts directly through downtown. The state capitol of Columbia is located just 35 miles southwest. Getting there is a breeze and getting around is just as easy.
When to take a weekend getaway to Camden, SC
In fall, cool mornings with temperatures in the 60’s let you wake slowly. The warm sunshine of the mid-day with temperatures rising to the 80’s gives you ample time to play and explore outdoors. Day fades as the sun sinks down and a pleasant coolness returns. Fall break is the perfect time for a weekend getaway to Camden, SC with things for you to do from morning until night.
Spring in Camden, SC would also be an optimal time for a weekend getaway. With the temperatures starting to warm as early as March you can enjoy outside time comfortably. South Carolina is beautiful in azalea blooming season, which usually happens in April. Be sure to pack your allergy meds, though, because the oak and pine allergens will be out in full force!
One of the best seasons in the midlands of SC is winter. With light layers you can spend all day outside and be content. Although the daylight hours are fewer, the pleasant sunshine of the afternoon will feel like spring temps for many. Camden is a nice little escape for those of you who may experience a tough winter season.
Summer is hot, I’m not going to lie. Walking around downtown and spending time in the outdoor spaces can be sweltering with high temperatures in the 90’s and heavy humidity. The summer months are not Camden’s most shining. For those of you that live in the south you will know what to expect, seeking shade and moments of air conditioning to get you through!
Where to Stay for a Weekend Getaway in Camden, SC
While there are several chain hotels to use your hotel points and get exactly what you expect, part of the charm of Camden is staying in an inn. This may not be your first choice with kids in tow, but I would challenge you to give it a try. I stayed at Old McCaskill’s Farm with my two teenagers and we had a wonderful visit. More on that below. In town you can look into Bloomsbury Inn or Four Oaks Inn. They both provide gorgeous rooms and walkable convenience to downtown. There are places to RV camp nearby as well.
What to do on a Weekend Getaway to Camden, SC
You can expect a mix of history, great food, a bit of shopping, outdoor playtime and beautiful surroundings. The bustle of a downtown with shops and restaurants is juxtaposed with the wide open spaces beyond the town center. My teens loved having a place to eat out and shop, but enjoyed the outdoor spaces away from everyone else too.
For us, the best weekend getaway has a mix of movement, relaxation, and great food. Camden, SC has all of that. My teenagers enjoyed escaping home for time away from their typical day. Camden has a brand new Revolutionary War Visitor Center that is located just as you enter town. Here you will discover how South Carolina’s quest for independence turned the tide of the American Revolution. You can brush up on your history, and have your kids fill in blanks and answer questions. I personally did not grow up in the south and had different focus points on Revolutionary War history. My kids remembered SO much from their South Carolina History year in school. The facility is beautifully done and and keeps the learning fun. This stop will set up your context for Camden and its very important history. I suggest stopping at this visitors center first!
Conveniently located just next door is Historic Camden and the battlefield where hundreds of men died in a significant battle during the Revolutionary War. Both the campus and battlefield are on the National Register of Historic Places and offer incredible insight on the Southern Campaign and colonial life in the backcountry.
We finally had the opportunity to jump on a new trend on our visit as well. We learned how to play pickleball! Weekend getaways are all about connecting, and a great way to connect is to learn something new together. My youngest is a tennis player and had a little experience with pickleball, but we truly enjoyed taking lessons as a family. The bonus of this activity is that this can be multigenerational fun. The Tennis Center of Camden is an incredible facility with 16 lighted tennis courts AND 12 lighted pickleball courts. You can take private lessons, play with friends, and sign up for open play. What an incredible thing to pull your friends into and have an outdoor activity to do together. I can’t wait to fill my car up with a bunch of teenagers and take them down the road for more of this fun activity.
The outdoors is a huge part of a weekend getaway for me. Camden, SC has a delightful downtown, but much of the charm of Camden is in the wide open spaces nearby. Make sure you take time to get out in nature at Goodale State Park. Enjoy the walking trails around the water while admiring the cypress trees or rent a kayak or canoe to get up close. The reflections are mesmerizing! Take a picnic and a blanket and maybe a frisbee or football to let the kids play around. The solitude of nature is a nice way to get away on your weekend getaway. There is no better therapy for teenagers than nature therapy so I always seek outdoor places for us to add to our adventures.
Explore Historic Broad Street
One of the best things about a weekend getaway in Camden, SC is the charm of the downtown area and its historic main street, Broad Street. As you make your way up and down the heart of town, stop in the Camden Antiques Market for some unique finds, Camden Quilts to stay cozy for fall and winter, and Pink Stable for your next event dress. The kids most favorite stop, though, was Books On Broad. Not only can you pick up your next read, but there is a coffee shop in the back with delicious chai lattes and outstanding fruit smoothies. For obvious reasons, this is a great mid-morning stop or mid-afternoon stop.