All Ages

Go Here, Not There: 6 Alternatives to Popular Family Vacation Destinations

See recent posts by Jeff Bogle

It’s tempting to follow the crowd, to have common experiences we can share with friends and family. But the road less traveled is far more curious and intriguing when it comes to family vacations. If you’re looking for something new, here are six alternatives to popular family vacation destinations.

Oslo, Norway.

Skip Iceland, Go to Norway

Iceland is no doubt a stunning place, but the price of everything from food to bottled water is equal-ly as stunning. Plus, isn’t everyone rushing to Iceland these days? It sure seems that way, so let’s zig while other family travelers zag. Norway isn’t that much farther away than Iceland; in fact, you’ll spend only 120 minutes more in the air to reach Oslo than you will Reykjavik. Once on the ground and traveling around Norwegian fjords, you’ll discover similar arctic landscapes, equally friendly people, mind-blowing northern lights, and a much better value for your dollar than in Ice-land. Plus, you’ll have a thoroughly ‘you’ story to tell to your friends and family in person and on social media.

Crater Lake National Park.

Skip Yosemite, Go to the Redwoods and Crater Lake

It’s glorious, no doubt, but it takes forever to actually reach the Yosemite Valley Ansel Adams once made famous. It’s also teeming with people coming and going in the summer months. This year, bypass Yosemite and go north to stand among giants, hike down into Fern Canyon and let your kids run wild on Gold Bluff’s Beach, located on the remote and wild coastline of Northern Califor-nia. Then head a bit more north (and east) for the most underrated national park in the entire system, Crater Lake. Hike down, boat over, and hike up the switchbacks to the top of Wizard Island. Bring a water bottle and when it’s empty, leap into the lake, submerge the bottle and cap it under the water. Then enjoy cold, immaculately clean drinking water straight from the deepest lake in the country.

Related: 10 Best National Parks for Families

Badlands National Park.

Skip Mount Rushmore, Go to the Badlands

Hot take: The four stone president heads in South Dakota is the most overrated, overblown experi-ence in America. Skip it. Spend more time among the bison in Custer State Park to the south and then go east to the baddest lands in all the land. There are no presidential faces here, but there are countless, massive, mind-bending rock formations far more speculator in Badlands National Park. Nowhere else, save for the moon itself, feels as other worldly as this dreamlike place. Until SpaceX starts shuttling our families into space, the Badlands will have to do — and it will do nicely.

St. Louis, Missouri.

Skip Disney (Gasp), Go to City Museum in St. Louis

We understand this might be both the most absurd and most controversial of these alternative family vacation viewpoints. But you’ve got to see this place in St. Louis to believe us. City Museum, not Disney World or Disneyland, is the best place to be a child in America. It’s a real palace continuously being built, inside and out, for the authentic princes and princesses of childhood. Bonus: it costs less than $15 per person to enter this wondrous 600,000-square-foot kingdom of playtime and imaginative fun for children, truly, of all ages.

Related: 10 Best Cities for Family Vacations

Richmond, Virginia.

Skip Colonial Williamsburg, Go to Richmond

I drank out of a pewter mug and ate from a pewter plate in Colonial Williamsburg when I was a kid. It felt like a manufactured experience back then, too. I took my youngest child to Virginia for the first time recently, for a dad and daughter road trip, but we weren’t interested in living in a pre-served, acted-out past. Instead, we spent time in Richmond, exploring the quirky shopping and food scene of the Carytown neighborhood, the strong soccer culture surrounding the Kickers of the USL (second tier of the U.S. Soccer pyramid) and we still got our history fix at the Jefferson built state capital in Richmond and at Jefferson’s stately home of Monticello, a short drive away in Charlottesville. In short, Richmond blends American history with America’s future better than Williamsburg.


Skip Aruba, Go to Bonaire

I’d been hearing about Aruba since I was a boy some 30 years ago. Back then it was barren, mostly, and a bit untamed. Today the small island near the coast of Venezuela is the opposite, with more discount jewelry outposts than midtown Manhattan. Unless you’re on a cruise that will hit both is-lands, float past Aruba and spend a family holiday exploring the wild and wonderful Bonaire, with goats in the street, donkeys on the beach, and flamingoes everywhere in between. This hospitable sandy beach haven feels like one of the last great wild places on Earth – wild with some truly wonderful resort accommodations! Bonaire offers families the perfect mix of developed, but still unspoiled destination.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
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