A cheetah sprints through the grass at Safari West in Santa Rosa, Calif.
At this 400-acre wildlife refuge and African tent camp in Santa Rosa, the rolling hills and wheat-colored grassland are home to 700 mammals and 70 species of birds. But there’s no need to give up creature comforts. Here, “glamping,” or camping with glamorous amenities, means bunking down in a cozy canvas tent cabin appointed with locally-crafted furnishings, electric blankets and heaters.
At this wine country retreat, you’ll spy zebras, giraffes and gazelles while on safari truck tours, hike around Watusi Lake, greet African warthogs on outings and feast on ranch-style barbecues. The privately owned reserve isn’t a zoo or drive-thru park. It’s an African adventure in Sonoma’s Serengeti.
Lake Tahoe, California
Many families think spring skiing is the best of the year in Lake Tahoe. That’s when nearly 200 inches of snow accumulate on six peaks that have 4,000 skiable acres in March and April.
On sunny days, families need fewer layers of clothing when they ski the Sun Bowl’s soft bumps near the top of Squaw Peak. You can relish a burger at a slopeside café and soak up panoramic views of the Sierra Nevada Range in an 80-degree mountaintop swimming pool. And if your family is all about spending as much time as possible on the slopes, you might want to stay at a ski-in/ski-out resort.
Since Walt Disney unveiled the Happiest Place on Earth in 1955, Disneyland Park, in Anaheim, Calif., has grown from an amusement park into an 85-acre entertainment colossus. These days, visit Sleeping Beauty Castle, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the original Disneyland Park, or sidle over to Disney California Adventure Park to watch World of Color, a nighttime water extravaganza. Plus, check out exciting new attractions such as Star Tours at Disneyland Park or The Little Mermaid—Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and Toy Story Mania! at Disney California Adventure Park.
For food of every flavor, specialty shopping and live music, stroll down the sprawling esplanade, Downtown Disney District. Disney magic even extends to your accommodations if you stay at one of the resort’s hotels.
The dark, deeply furrowed Ko’olau Mountains, remnants of a gargantuan volcano, look positively prehistoric from a helicopter. Through the mist, a waterfall thunders deep into a canyon and world-class waves uncurl by soft-sand beaches laced with palm trees. The airborne tour is one of many highlights on a trip to North Shore Oahu. Filming site for the TV series Lost, the North Shore lures those who wish to experience the “real” Hawaii. Families can learn to surf from the pros, spot sea turtles while paddling a clear-bottom kayak, hike past ironwood trees on a secluded ocean trail and relax on softly swaying hammocks.
There’s a reason Cancún is such a popular family destination. With its concentration of great hotels set against glistening turquoise waters and white-sand beaches, the resort town gives families access to just about every vacation activity you can think of.
Water is the main event. Here you can be adventurous, swimming with dolphins or trying your hand at sailing, windsurfing and kayaking. Or spend a day dozing by the pool or stretched out on pristine beaches like those in the Mujeres Bay area. Don’t miss the 30-minute boat trip to drowsy Isla Mujeres or Cozumel, a diving hotspot where guided snorkeling tours are popular.
A Disney Cruise
Disney Cruise Line® has found a way to make family cruising blissfully pleasurable, not to mention hassle-free. The cruise line schedules many seven-night sailings that make it easy for families to hop onboard ready to play. You can see original Disney musicals come to life featuring some of Disney’s most recognizable characters. Kids can play in spaces designed just for them at Disney’s Oceaneer Club. Tweens can try the latest video games or just hang out in Edge. While teens have Vibe— their own personal getaway with music and big-screen TVs. When Mom and Dad are ready to unwind, adults-only restaurants and bars provide much-needed grown-up time while Disney counselors supervise the kids. A fitness center and a world-class spa give parents some alone time when they take a break from activities with the kids.
Please contact your AAA Travel Counselor or go to aaa.com/offices to find one near you.
Additional reporting by Madelyn Smith.
Photography courtesy Disney (Disneyland Castle, kid with duck hat); Safari West (cheetah); Resort at Squaw Creek (dog sled)
This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.