Looking for a break from this dreary winter weather? You’re due for a getaway. Here are three beach vacations the kids will never forget.
Key West, Florida
Why It’s Awesome: This island isn’t your typical tropical destination, thanks to its small, rocky beaches. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, it’s perfect for waterside fun and exploring.
What to Do: Consider Old Town Trolley Tours or Conch Train Tours, both hop-on/hopoff excursions that stop at all the hot spots. See Ernest Hemingway’s former home, which is now a museum occupied by sweet polydactyl (aka six- or seven-toed) cats. Climb Key West Lighthouse’s 88 steps for a bird’s-eye view of the island. Visit The Harry S. Truman Little White House, where the former president spent his winters.
Snap pics at mile marker 0, which doubles as the start of Route 1 (follow it all the way to Maine), and at the giant buoy that marks the southernmost point in the continental US just over 90 miles from Cuba. Plan visits to The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, Key West Aquarium and Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum. On the water, you can parasail, jet ski, take dolphin tours, kayak and more. Shop for souvenirs on Duval Street and join the crowds at Mallory Square to see a spectacular sunset.
What the Locals Love: Visit Fort Zachary Taylor State Park for history and one of the island’s best beaches (a great spot for snorkeling). Spend a day aboard the Yankee Freedom III Ferry or a seaplane headed to Dry Tortugas National Park. There, swim with sea turtles, sharks and other critters. If you want to see the sunset crowd-free, head out on a catamaran cruise with Fury Water Adventures.
Where to Eat: Don’t leave the island without trying a piece of key lime pie, either a traditional slice at the 110-year-old Pepe’s Cafe or a frozen piece on a stick at Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. Duval Street is home to Sloppy Joe’s, where you can bring the family for kid-friendly fare (including the namesake sandwich that was invented there) and drinks at the bar. Stop at The Conch Shack for its famous fritters, too.
Where to Stay: Stay in the heart of the city at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Grand Key Resort, which has a pool and tiki bar, or venture out of the hustle and bustle to the Hyatt Centric Key West Resort & Spa, which has a small beach and Gulf views. If you’re looking to splurge on relaxing and pampering, head to the stunning Casa Marina Key West, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, which has its own private beach, oceanfront pool, spa and on-site yoga classes.
Why It’s Awesome: San Juan is back in the tourism business after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017. This capital city was once an impenetrable port town surrounded by stunning old-world fortresses. Today, its beach, city and rainforest landscapes stand side by side with what remains of the forts. Bonus: US citizens don’t need a passport to fly there.
What to Do: Snorkeling and SNUBA are popular, thanks to the many starfish, seahorses and reef fish. Head to Escambron Beach to explore the rock reef with Aqua Adventures, or take a beginner scuba class with Scuba Dogs Puerto Rico that’ll put you face to face with coral ruins. El Yunque National Forest is a tropical treasure with everything from hiking trails to camping. Take a hike on Angelito Trail to Las Damas natural pool for a swim with El Yunque Tours. Brave adventurers as young as 7 can zip line over the Orocovis mountain range or try an adventure course with ToroVerde PR. Hit Viejo San Juan for historic ruins, cobblestone roads, brightly colored houses and museums.
Pro Tip: An unforgettable experience awaits your crew in the most unlikely of places: A hotel parking lot. All ages can take a Night Kayak Tour on Condado Lagoon for breathtaking views of the city skyline. After a basic lesson, hit the water and see what’s lurking in the lagoon with the help of the kayaks’ clear bottoms and LED lights, like starfish, lobster, fish or stingrays.
Where to Eat: El Jibarito in Viejo San Juan is an authentic hole-in-the-wall with long communal tables and an affordable, no-frills menu. Start with alcapurria (a fried beef and plantain turnover). For an entrée, nothing beats the gorgeous whole fried red snapper. Be sure to ask for a bottle of mayoketchup. For your french fry-loving kids, try tostones (fried plantains) or mofongo (mashed cassava or plantains) on for size with a tropical smoothie.
Where to Stay: Caribe Hilton’s post-Maria repairs have put it back on the map as a popular spot. It’s situated on 17 acres of tropical beachfront with views of the ocean and historic forts. You’ll have access to a secluded beach, six swimming pools, a spa, tennis and fitness centers and a tropical garden and bird sanctuary. Daily activities, a fountain pool and playground will keep the kids busy (a kids’ game room and lounge are also in the works). The concierge can hook you up with a sitter, and you really might want to reserve one: This hotel is the birthplace of the piña colada, so you can have the original at the very bar where it was invented.
Why It’s Awesome: Located on the West coast of Mexico, this city is teeming with beautiful beaches, rich culture and culinary treasures. You’ll find cobblestone roads, quaint shops, street talent and local art, all easy to explore—minus the tourist crowds.
What to Do: Adventurers will love water activities like whale watching, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling and jet skiing. Bring the kids downtown to see historic monuments and stunning churches, like Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Take in lush greenery at the Vallarta Botanical Garden, or ride horses through the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. From late fall through May, check out the annual ArtWalk featuring local galleries with folk artwork, pottery and more. For a local history lesson, head to El Museo del Cuale or the Naval History Museum.
What the Locals Love: There’s no better place to be at sunset than El Malecón. This pier along the ocean has open-air restaurants, street vendors, breweries and iconic statues. Go on a Sunday to dance the danzón with locals while the city’s municipal band plays live music. Get an agua fresca (a drink usually made from water and fruit) or a paleta (like a popsicle; we loved the mango chile!) from La Michoacana while taking in a stunning sunset.
Where to Eat: There’s no shortage of authentic street fare in Puerto Vallarta. Get the Jalisco state’s signature birria taco (traditionally made with beef or goat) before heading home (we loved Tacos Cabrera; ask for a sip of consomé, savory juice from the bottom of the stew pot!). Be sure to only eat from food stands that use sleeves of plastic on plates. Street vendors don’t have running water, so reputable ones typically use reusable plates and toss the plastic between customers. Take the kids to Dulcería con Orgullo Azteca for real deal Mexican candy.
Where to Stay: Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is a 10-minute ride from the airport and has an infinity pool with a swim-up bar, beach, al fresco and indoor dining, a golf course, spa and fitness center. The kids club has a mini water park and an indoor play area (7 am-6 pm daily). While the kids are there, hit the Ceviche & Tequila Bar and choose from more than 180 tequilas, mezcals and raicillas (a native spirit). Reserve the magical Jalisco at Your Table seven-course dinner in the hotel herb garden for local flavors with a twist.
Editor’s note: Some resorts provided accommodations for review purposes, but opinions in the story are our own.