10 Best Winter Vacation Destinations for Families
Get rid of the winter blahs with a family-friendly getaway sure to please every member of your crew.
Feel a case of the winter blues coming on? It's time to start planning a family vacation. Whether you're eager for a ski vacation, a tropical escape or a week filled with water parks, we've got you covered. Here are 10 winter vacation ideas for families that have snow, surf and sand, even sailing and skating on their mind. Best of all, these winter getaways are just right for bonding as a family and escaping the winter doldrums, if only for a week.
For winter fun Canada-style, it's all about Winterlude, the annual festival in Ottawa that takes place over two-and-a-half weeks each year from late-January to mid-February. This gigantic celebration attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors yearning to see massive snow sculptures, participate in a winter triathlon (skate, ski, run), and of course, ice skate on the world-famous Rideau Canal Skateway. Warm-up inside the Canadian Museum of Nature where little ones can explore five floors of hands-on activities and galleries dedicated to fossils, marine life, birds and mammals. Book a stay at the Fairmont Château Laurier or simply pop in Zoe's for afternoon tea. A "Little Prince & Princess Tea" wows with hot tea (or hot chocolate), scones and jam, finger sandwiches and mini cupcakes.
Let the winter blahs drift away on sugar-white sands at Clearwater Beach, the top-rated beach in America according to TripAdvisor. Set out in search of bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico's emerald green waters on a two-hour catamaran cruise with Tropics Boat Tours. In the evening, Pier 60 is known for colorful sunsets and a nightly festival that features local artisans, live music, stilt walkers and magicians. Visit Winter the Dolphin from the Dolphin Tale movies at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Book a stay next door in a marine-themed room at the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach. For roller coasters, Busch Gardens Tampa is a short 45-minute drive.
For families who want to split their time between surfing and skiing, make your way to Southern California where it's possible to do both in one day. Catch a few gnarly waves on a longboard in Huntington Beach (a.k.a. Surf City, U.S.A.), then make the two-hour drive to Big Bear Lake for skiing, snowboarding and tubing at Big Bear Mountain Resort. Home to two mountains, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, there's plenty of outdoor fun to be had across 55 ski runs. Off the slopes, keep your eyes open for winter wildlife on a guided snowshoe tour or high-speed zipline tour through a forest of snow-covered ponderosa pines.
There's a lot to love about Tucson in winter, especially for outdoor-loving families. Take in cacti views aplenty all along the Milagrosa-Canyon Trail or hike Seven Falls at rugged Sabino Canyon. (Maybe even test your skills on a scavenger hunt.) Explore the architecture and alleyways of historic Tucson on a 10-mile bike tour across this desert oasis. Plan to spend at least a day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a massive attraction that includes 16 botanical gardens, a zoo, an art gallery, a natural history museum and an aquarium. It's the most popular attraction on TripAdvisor with an average five-star rating. Animal-loving littles will also enjoy feeding and petting the animals at Funny Foot Farm and Tucson Petting Zoo.
For splashes, soaks, spills and slides, head to Wisconsin Dells, the self-proclaimed "Water Park Capital of the World." More than two dozen hotels and resorts offer water-soaked activities, including Wilderness Resort, which is home to eight water parks. The resort's four indoor water parks thrill with more than 250,000 square feet of wet and wild fun, including America's largest indoor wave pool at Wild Water Dome. Nearby, Great Wolf Lodge wows with racing slides, raft rides and a lazy river, as well as a character breakfast, morning yoga for kids and bedtime stories. You may never need to step foot out in the winter cold.
Cancun has long been a top pick among families for its sun-drenched beaches and calm ocean breezes. It's also a wallet-friendly escape thanks to a plethora of kid-friendly, all-inclusive stays like Seadust Cancun Family Resort. Seadust boasts numerous water activities, including the Treasure Island Water Park where you'll find water slides, a pirate ship and a water playground. For action-packed fun, spend the day at Xel-Ha Park, an eco-water park where you can swim in cenotes, go snorkeling, swim with dolphins, fly on zip lines and explore jungle trails. Slow it down on a full-day catamaran cruise to Isla Mujeres from Cancun. Don snorkeling gear for a gentle swim to a coral reef teeming with colorful fish.
For a relaxing winter getaway, opt for the shores of spectacularly beautiful Lake Tahoe, which is split between California and Nevada. In Tahoe City, rent snowshoes to hike to the top of Eagle Rock for unparalleled lake views. Another must-do on the north shores is savoring the dreamy snow-covered scenery and crystal-clear lake waters at Sand Harbor State Park. On the south shores, plenty of winter family adventures await at Zephyr Cove Resort, like exhilarating snowmobile tours and guided horseback trail rides across forested trails. Set sail aboard the M.S. Dixie II paddle wheeler for picturesque views of Emerald Bay. Or take in Emerald Bay from the sky with Tahoe Helicopters.
Florida is a perennial family favorite, especially in winter. Look to Cocoa Beach along Florida's Space Coast for warm coastal breezes, fun in the sun, and, as a bonus, fewer crowds. Home to the original Ron Jon Surf Shop, this surfing capital of the east coast is the place to learn to ride waves. Wander the Florida Surf Museum and set up surfing lessons on a longboard. At the Brevard Zoo, gently paddle past rhinos and giraffes on a guided kayak tour of the Nyami Nyami River. Explore the history of the space program at nearby Kennedy Space Center and check the rocket launch schedule to see if one is taking off while in town.
For a family vacation in a magical, winter wonderland, head north to Jeffersonville, Vermont. Home to Smugglers' Notch, this kid-friendly ski resort goes above and beyond to ensure littles are all smiles when out on the slopes. Kids as young as two-and-a-half can learn to ski and pick up skills in no time. Beyond skiing, look for snow tubing, a winter zip line and snow cat rides, as well as indoor family activities, like bingo and karaoke. On-site childcare services let mom and dad sample the best of Vermont's craft beer scene on a popular tasting tour across four or five breweries in nearby Stowe.
Fly into Miami and revel in the gentle, ocean breezes as you drive the length of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. From Florida City to Key West, it's 113 miles of stunning cerulean views and swaying palm trees. In Key Largo, wade into warm waters and snorkel at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the nation's first underwater state park, before settling in for the night at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. Kids will love shooting water cannons at the Pirate Ship Pool, while parents savor the serenity of the adults-only Tranquility Pool. In Key West, take a guided bicycle tour to learn about the history of the island, then relax on a sailboat as you indulge in a world-famous Key West sunset.