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Top family summer vacation getaways

Looking for fun with a capital F? These summer family vacation ideas are just the ticket. | By Joanna Tweedy | August 20, 2021

Looking to get away for a family vacation this summer? These summer vacation destinations put adventure, kid-friendly resorts and beautiful sights at the top of the list. Get excited for memory-making fun with ideas like:

  • Water-fall in love: You’ll be captivated by the countless gorgeous waterfalls and hiking trails on offer during your trip to Iceland.

  • Hang out: Whether you’re hanging 10 while surfing a Gold Coast wave or walking along a Costa Rican Hanging Bridge, the best part of the trip will be spending time with your family.

  • Delectable delights: Your food adventures, like the gelato in the Amalfi Coast or cookies (from Granny!) in Canada, might just be your sweetest memories of all.


A family summer vacation trip to Iceland doubles-up as a geology masterclass. This otherworldly island country in the Atlantic Ocean invites visitors to swim in the magical, milky waters of the Blue Lagoon (free for children younger than 13). You can also spot whales and dolphins aboard one of the many family-friendly boat tours (go in April to early October for the best viewing chances).

Reykjavik, the capital, is a fascinating base to strike out from; it’s quirky, friendly and easy to stroll around. The thundering waterfalls at Gullfoss and the famous Strokkur geyser, which blasts water skyward every 10 minutes, can both be found about 90 minutes east.

Famous falls

Skogafoss is another well-known waterfall that is just a 2-hour drive from Reykjavik. You can climb to the top for breathtaking views of the coastline.

Take a coach tour to admire Iceland’s geological spectacles, but renting a car is a great option for families with young children who want more flexibility on schedules.

Gold Coast, Australia

As family summer vacations go, Queensland is hard to resist. Try its 250-mile (400 km) stretch of sun-baked sands, water parks and countless wildlife attractions. Visit in August if you can, as Australia’s winter means fewer crowds. However, you’ll be pleased to know that Gold Coast winter temperatures comfortably hover around 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius).

Water, water everywhere

Which beach should you pick? Try Surfers Paradise for friendly board lessons for every age group, or walk along the sands from Greenmount Beach to Rainbow Bay Beach and take in the panoramic coastal views.

You’ll spot humpbacks and dolphins dipping and diving on the horizon from many of the Gold Coast beaches but a boat tour gifts a closer look. June to October is the best season to spot them; choose a bigger boat if you have smaller children, while teens might prefer the faster ‘wind in your hair’ RIBs (a type of inflatable boat).

Florida Panhandle, U.S.

Ticked off those famous theme parks on a previous vacation? Then consider a swoop to northwest Florida for a family summer trip this year.

A clutch of Panhandle towns promises alabaster sands, tangerine sunsets, untouched state parks and Cajun food galore. We recommend a family-sized portion of gumbo — a rich, lightly spiced stew — for an authentic taste of the region’s cuisine.

Pristine Seaside — all picket fences and pastel colors — and Panama City have attractions galore.

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Take to the air from the ground in a flight simulator at the National Naval Aviation Museum. Older children can try lagoon swimming at St. Andrews State Park where you can snorkel and hire a pontoon boat. Meanwhile, the younger crowd can while away a perfect Panhandle afternoon combing for pretty treasures on Shell Island.

Amalfi Coast, Italy

This classic summer family vacation on the soul-stirring Amalfi Coast, at Italy’s heel, never gets old.

Start in Sorrento, which hangs on a clifftop and promises lazy days, winsome Mediterranean views and wood-fired margherita pizza. Hiring a car lets you gently meander through the show-stopping towns, including ”’grammable” Positano and Amalfi.

Italy’s reputation as friendly for little ones — bambini — isn’t a myth; they’ll spend days splashing in gentle shallows and enjoying gelato. Order a limoncello ice cream — infused with the region’s famously punchy lemon liquor — for you, and a chocolate for them.

San Diego

Essentially a collection of pretty villages that make up America’s eighth-largest city, San Diego is awash with family-friendly beaches, including Mission Bay (great for picnics), Moonlight Beach (which boasts a brilliant play area) and Coronado Beach (young children will love the rock pools).

Get wild

Other ways to raise a smile include San Diego Zoo, home to more than 3,000 animals, and Balboa Park, with its Japanese Friendship Garden and model railroad museum.

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Pack light: San Diego, dubbed America’s Finest City, enjoys more than 200 days of sunshine a year, with the temperature rarely dipping below 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius).

Bali, Indonesia

Bali is where eastern exoticism and beach life happily collide. This Indonesian idyll makes for a fascinating cultural family break with its exuberant markets, delicious food (try Sate lembat, a twist on satay) and great snorkeling — the whole crew can slip on a mask and spot colorful, tropical fish.

Families should head south to the chilled-out Nusa Dua; there’s 2 miles of soft beach perfect for building sandcastles. Don’t miss Bali’s volcanic, jungle interior, and your thrill-seeking teens will love white-water rafting on the Ayung River.

Costa Rica

There’s a dazzling array of colorful wildlife, beaches and jungle adventures for families in Costa Rica.

Little daredevils, ages 6 and older, will love Costa Rica’s many zip-lining opportunities, including hurtling through the country’s cloud forests.

Hang loose

Families with younger children can safely stroll through similarly lush scenery at the Hanging Bridges (suspended walkways) at Monteverde.

A champion of sustainable tourism, this Central American country boasts half-a-million species in its lush lands, so you’re bound to spot wildlife. Mini-vacationers will be left wide-eyed by encounters with toucans, howler monkeys and sleepy-looking sloths.

It’s entirely possible to go from city to steamy jungle in less than an hour if you’re based centrally in the lively capital, San Jose. For example, the verdant rainforest of Braulio Carrillo National Park is just a 45-minute drive away.

Don’t miss batidos — fresh fruit smoothies that are sold everywhere — and are often served up con leche (with milk) for preschoolers.

Cape Town and The Western Cape, South Africa

Table Mountain grabs your gaze from the moment Cape Town arches into view. Reaching its jaw-dropping summit by cable car is at the top of most visitors’ lists —simply because there isn’t a better view of the city than up here. Buy tickets online to beat the queue.

Cape Town’s natural beauty, including the honeyed sands and clear-water paddling at Camps Bay, remains the biggest draw for families. The Western Cape provides the wildlife thrills, with countless penguin colonies letting you see these handsome flightless birds in their natural habitat — budding young naturalists will be in their element.

Don’t forget Robben Island either, just a 30-minute boat ride from Cape Town. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years imprisoned here and children and adults alike can get a real-life history lesson standing in his tiny cell.

British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver puts fresh-air fun and cultural escapades on the same ticket, as Western Canada weather is reliably fair in the summer.

This shimmering metropolis holds a host of attractions to excite children of all ages. Curious little ones will love splashing at the water table in the Eureka! Gallery at Science World, while hockey and soccer-crazed kids will adore the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

Book a visit to Bloedel Conservatory, a hilltop indoor dome in Queen Elizabeth Park. Here you’ll find a mini jungle of tropical plants and 100 exotic birds. It also boasts beautiful views of the city, so unroll a picnic blanket and spend an afternoon here.

Soak up Vancouver’s melting pot of cultures at Granville Island’s market. Stop by Muffin Granny for a cookie; this cute shop has been here since the market opened in 1979. The Kids Market brims with stores selling quirky toys and the Granville Island Water Park, with two slides and lots of fountains, is a must (it’s also free).

Anchorage, Alaska

If only an active family summer vacation will do this year, then head to Anchorage to experience the Alaskan wilderness. Close-by Chugach State Park, which spans 500,000 acres, promises everything from challenging mountain bike trails to gentle walking loops. Byron Glacier Trail takes just an hour by foot, making it accessible for younger children, and promises views of both ice caves and glaciers.

When you’ve worked up an appetite, head back into this dynamic northern frontier city where an impressive dining scene awaits. Seafood is the star, of course, with creative restaurants serving up crab, salmon and shellfish.

Other fun activities include salmon fishing at Ship’s Creek or take the 2-mile (3 km) hike up to Flattop Mountain for a picnic with a view.

Make your next family vacation memory

Whichever destination you choose, your summer family vacation will build lifelong memories. From experiencing a new culture or exploring a new interest, you all will leave feeling relaxed and renewed.

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Joanna Tweedy is an award-winning travel writer and editor who lives in London.

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