Some of America’s best choices for a family vacation reside in the sunny south. With a little looking, a variety of wonderful experiences are in places that don’t require the family to do a pilgrimage to corporate tourism. Think about these five great places:
The Palm Island Resort, Cape Haze, Florida
This is one place I shouldn’t write about, because I don’t want just anyone to know about it. AAA members have known about Palm Island for years and come home with smiles on their faces. Take a car ferry to a private reserve on a barrier island, then leave your car and your troubles at the entrance! Incredible gulf beaches await right outside your rented condominium. Find a kayak, or dock your own boat at the pier. Play some tennis on some wonderfully maintained courts. Or, just walk together down the crushed shell roads while the kids are on patrol for pirates! The child-friendly day activities make for a great time for them, and a even better chance for the adults to re-connect by themselves. Grill a burger, watch a sunset. What can be better? And yes, the front office has been known to book extensions on your stay, once you arrive.
Why not play in a whole city? Find a spot to stay, and try to find enough time to see everything. We have friends there who don’t mind us camping in their living room. You might want to camp out at Stone Mountain. But by all means, spend time in the city itself. Buy an F.O. (Frozen orange) at The Varsity. Catch a Braves game. See one of the best newer collections of sea life at the aquarium. Go pay homage to Coke at the Coca-Cola Museum. The Olympic venues around the Georgia Tech campus make for good modern history. Then go walk on history at Underground Atlanta. The Georgia history museum and the Fernbank natural history venue put it all in perspective. Yes, it’s a concrete jungle and can give you a great slow tour of the interstates. But if you want your family to understand the south while having a great time, you can’t go wrong.
Ever more popular since the publication of “Midnight in the Garden of Good an Evil,” there are few places better suited to opening up a novel and pointing out the landmarks in a book. Those who don’t like the crowds of Atlanta will like the gentility of Savannah. The city is organized around different garden squares that give an air few other cities have. There are some “musts” here that the kids and adults will love. Find the fudge shops near the old docks! And if Mrs. Wilkes is still serving family-style chicken dinners- go find her place! She didn’t ever advertise when we were there some years ago. She didn’t have to. Ask a local about directions. If you’re looking for more accessible landmarks, find a girl scout troop! The founder of the Girl Scouts was born in Savannah, and it has become a shrine to all the best in the American girl. Give yourself enough time to let Savannah reveal her secrets to you, and you too will find stories to tell others about.
Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida
The bay area is giving Orlando a run for its money, without the monotonous kitsch and queue lines of the Magic Kingdom. If you want a more intimate version of Mikey-ville, try Busch Gardens in North Tampa. The Lowry Park Zoo is a great venue for kids, the parking lot often a yellow mass of school buses, and the grounds inside a rainbow of exotic animals. The Tampa Bay area excels in performing arts, with the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center complex downtown, and the Mahaffey Theatre across the bay. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is a fun plunge into surrealism. Afterward, find lunch at the pier. The Tampa Musem of Science and Industry (MOSI) is guaranteed to entertain the kid in everyone. Sports fans will find a full array of pro teams; I’m partial to Tampa Bay Lightning hockey. And not least, the beaches of Pinellas county are world-class, from the powdered sugar of Treasure Island, to Fort De Soto Park, “it’s all good!”
As Randy Newman once sang, “There ain’t no place like Birmin’ham.” Once, years ago, my wife and I were dragging ourselves off of the interstate, exhausted from a day’s driving. We decided to stop in Birmingham, right before restaurants began to close for the night. It might have been our hunger in a restaurant whose name I’ve forgotten, but we had the best food, and were treated to the best jazz over dinner! All this in a night spot that could just as well have packed it up and let us be! We have been in love with Birmingham ever since. Excellent accommodations, and a lot of unexpected family tour spots can be found throughout the area. Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute if social history is a priority for you. The city zoo and area botanical gardens are first rate. Brierfield Ironworks and Historical Park is just one of many places that speak to the city’s past as a center for ironworking. Of course, if dad is a race fan, the Talladega Superspeedway is a must-see. The Birmingham Children’s Theatre is a treat for kids. The Alabama Farmer’s Market offers a free year-round chance to sample local goodies. The Magic City is called that for good reason!
Many other places offer family fun, but these stand out above the rest in the south for my family. Grab your camera, find a travel agent, and pick a place! For cheap accommodation, save up to 50% on discount hotels at Reservations.com. You won’t be disappointed.