51 Mini Family Vacations
Sulphur Springs, Arkansas
From late February to the end of March, Fairbanks is a wintery wonderland; kids can burn some energy on a playground complete with ice slides, a frozen train, and lighted sculptures at the World Ice Art Championships at the Kid's Park. If you have time, drive out to Chena Hot Springs Resort to warm up.
Junior adventurers go wild for the way-off-the-beaten-track Pink Jeep Tours. It's like an amusement park ride through ruins, gulches, and ancient rock art. In Oak Creek Canyon, Slide Rock State Park has some amazing natural water slides. For a peek at what Native American life was really like, visit the 1.5 million-acre Hopi Reservation 100 miles north of town. Don't miss the stacked pueblos (hand-made high-rises) and the brightly painted Katsina dolls.
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Splash around in a naturally heated mineral-water swimming pool at nearby Harbin Hot Springs (toasty year-round!), then check out the Castello di Amorosa Winery, built to resemble an authentic medieval castle, complete with a dungeon and moat. If you feel like being active, rent bikes (toddler seats or tag-alongs are available) at Calistoga bike shop, and cruise around the friendly little shops and restaurants. Don't miss the educational (and funny, actually) Safari West African Adventure tour, where 600 giraffes, gazelles, zebras, and other Serengeti animals interact freely.
Set in the north Georgia Mountains, Dahlonega was the site of the first U.S. gold rush. Take a mining adventure 60 feet below ground at the Consolidated Gold Mine, where you can try your hand at panning for gold. Check out the nearby Baby Land General Hospital, the birthplace of Cabbage Patch Kids. Kids can witness the "birth" of a Kid at the Magic Crystal Tree and adopt a newborn on the spot!
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A mountain community named for its waterfalls, Cascade is the perfect place for a day trip. Go horseback riding through the Garden of the Gods or see the waterfall at Heizer Trail in Cascade Community Park. At Santa's Workshop, a Christmas-themed amusement park complete with the Candy Cane Coaster, the kids can meet Santa in his element!
New Haven, Connecticut
Since the first American pizza was introduced in New Haven, head to Frank Pepe's for lunch (get the fresh clam topping). Then chase down the delights of The Cupcake Truck (followthatcupcake.com reports its daily location). And since this is a college town, there are a lot educational activities, too. Yale University sponsors a free, student-led Architectural Treasure Hunt for kids. Call 203-432-2302 to book a spot. Or you can learn all about recycling. The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, just a short ride out of town, gives tours of its recycling facility. Kids can watch from oversize windows as bottles, cans, and newspapers are mashed and reconfigured before their eyes. Awesome!
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Gulf Shores, Alabama
Gulf Shores is an under-the-radar gem with turquoise waters reminiscent of the Caribbean. Wake up early and go deep-sea fishing, spend an afternoon on the beach, or play a round of miniature golf at Pirate Island Adventure Golf.
In the riverfront town of Wilmington, tucked midway between New York City and Washington, D.C., take the family for stroll on the boardwalk or a ride in a water taxi. Kids will love the chance to board the Kalmar Nyckel, a recreated 17th century Dutch ship, where you can actually walk the plank. Arggh!
Amelia Island, Florida
Head over to the Amelia Island Plantation for a family Segway tour through a salt marsh teeming with teeny, cute crabs. Kids younger than 8 can take the tour with a parent in an Island Hopper (like a golf cart). Savor homemade ice cream in a rocker on the porch of Marche Burette, an old-fashioned general store. End the day on a river cruise, where you'll see wild ponies, dune turtles, egrets, and -- just maybe -- dolphins. Whether strolling or by carriage, nosh and shop your way through picturesque Fernandina Beach. Hit the Happy Tomato Cafe for a southern barbecue lunch. Then explore Fort Clinch State Park, home to a Civil War-era fort with reenactments, as well as nature trails, picnic spots, a fishing pier, a beach, and a museum.