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Traveling with little ones can be tricky for all the parties involved: the parents, the kiddos and, perhaps most importantly, the travel advisor who’s tasked with planning it all.
Although an agent must consider each family’s interests when choosing the perfect domestic vacation spot, encourage clients to pass up obvious choices — New York City, Washington, D.C., and the like — for cities that are a little less mainstream, but equally rich in family-centric offerings.
Arts and Culture EnthusiastsPass Up: New York CityHead to: Santa Fe, N.M.
There’s no question that the Big Apple is home to one of the most thriving arts and cultural landscapes in the country. But multigenerational groups interested in visiting a U.S city that’s known for its own distinct scene should look no further than Santa Fe, N.M., also known as “The City Different.”
This capital city (fun fact: it’s the oldest in the country) features a complex mix of traditional and historic attractions blended with contemporary and emerging art forms. Here, three cultures collide — Native American, Spanish and Anglo — and permeate every part of the city, from its 250 art galleries to its unique fusion of pueblo/adobe-style architecture and design.
Maria Johnson, owner of SantaFeSelection.com Travel Guide and Concierge, offers personalized itinerary-planning assistance in addition to an online travel guide and maps to travel agents, families, groups and individuals visiting Santa Fe. She says the city is a must-see for families in search of arts and culture thanks to its “authentic, immersive and educational adventures and activities."
Most of Santa Fe’s museums offer free admission to kids aged 16 or younger, including the New Mexico Museum of Art, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Museum of International Folk Art and Santa Fe Children’s Museum. Because of Santa Fe’s smaller size, many attractions are within walking distance to each other (but in a case of tired feet, families can hop onboard the city’s free Santa Fe Pick-Up shuttle).
“The museums are smaller than you would find in a larger city like New York or Washington, D.C., so they are more manageable,” said Joanne Hudson, public relations manager for Tourism Santa Fe. “Parents won’t feel like they wasted admission because they only see a small portion of a museum before the kids get fussy.”
Additionally, in the summer, kids can fill their own Santa Fe “Youth Culture Passport,” a seasonal initiative from the city’s Arts Commission. Passports can be picked up at a visitor center or downloaded to a smart phone. They come stocked with itinerary ideas and deals for a variety of venues, including Adobe Rose Theatre, Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe and the New Mexico Museum of Art.
Also on the list? The House of Eternal Return, an interactive art exhibit located within the Meow Wolf art collective.
“Meow Wolf provides an Alice in Wonderland-type exploration through its amazing, interactive art installation,” Santa Fe Selection’s Johnson said. “An hour or two at Meow Wolf is fun for all ages and is sure to pique families’ sense of the unexpected and extraordinary.”
Johnson also steers multigenerational groups toward local operators and encourages agents to reach out to her for specific tour and guide recommendations. Two of her favorite companies incorporate the city’s art scene: A tour with Santa Fe Cultural Treasures includes an art demonstration in a local’s home, and a tour with Santa Fe Art Tours takes clients along historic, art-centric Canyon Road and can be customized to suit any age.
Where to Stay: La Fonda on the Plaza, a member of Historic Hotels of America, sits on the site of the city’s first known inn, established by Spanish colonists in 1607. Families booking the property’s House of Eternal Return Adventure package receive four free tickets to Meow Wolf’s interactive exhibit; accommodations in a historic guestroom; complimentary breakfast; and six passes to The Harrell House Bug Museum.
History BuffsPass Up: Washington, D.C.Head to: Richmond, Va.
Virginia isn’t only for lovers, as its iconic tourism motto might suggest — it’s also an ideal place for families to learn more about Revolutionary- and Civil War-era U.S. history.
A State Capitol building designed by former president Thomas Jefferson? Check. Historical re-enactments of former Virginia governor Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death” speech? Check. A hotel garden known as the former playground of a young Edgar Allan Poe? Check.
“Virginia’s history spans 400 years, so there is plenty to see and do,” said Meghan Gearino of Richmond Region Tourism. “And Richmond is a great city to learn about many different aspects of American history.”
Here, there’s no shortage of historical sites for visiting families to explore. And they can see them in a variety of ways, from walking, biking and Segway tours to historical trolley tours with RVA Trolley. (Richmond was home to the very first trolley system in the world, which debuted in 1888.)
Gearino suggests families start their historical tour at St. John’s Church, the site of Henry’s iconic speech. The church is one stop along Richmond’s Road to Revolution Heritage Trail, which links various historical sites in the city, including former U.S. president James Monroe’s birthplace as well as Colonial Williamsburg, located about an hour outside the city and home to regularly scheduled Revolutionary War re-enactments. She also recommends a stop at Hollywood Cemetery, which is the final resting place for Monroe and fellow former U.S. president John Tyler.
If kids are studying the U.S. Civil War in school, suggest the group visit Richmond National Battlefield Park, which comprises 763 acres of federally protected land and includes Gaines’ Mill, Malvern Hill and Cold Harbor battlefields. (Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy during most of the Civil War.)
Another point of interest, Gearino says, is a tour of the American Civil War Museum and Historic Tredegar, which explores the war from a Union, Confederate and African-American perspective.
Where to Stay: Linden Row Inn, a 70-room boutique historic property, features mid-1800s row houses. Its biggest claim to fame is its on-site garden, which was a frequent play spot for writer Edgar Allan Poe.
Families should bypass massive metropolitan areas in favor of lesser-known family-centric cities, such as Richmond, Va.Credit: 2018 Visit Richmond
Boise is known by its apt nickname: "The City of Trees."Credit: 2018 Idaho Tourism
Sports-loving families should opt ot stay at the 300-room Omni Frisco Hotel in Frisco, Texas.Credit: 2018 Visit Frisco
An art-focused tour with Santa Fe Art Tours visits historic Canyon Road in Santa Fe, N.M.Credit: 2018 Santa Fe Tourism
History buffs in Richmond, Va. should head to the Gaines’ Mill Civil War battlefield.Credit: 2018 Visit Richmond
Outdoor AdventurersPass Up: Denver, Colo.Head to: Boise, Idaho
Although Boise is Idaho’s state capital and most populous city, it’s also known by a rather apt nickname: The City of Trees.
Straddling the wooded Boise River and surrounded by foothills of the Boise Mountains, this city has long lured outdoorsmen to its high-desert plains for easy access to whitewater rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, skiing and more.
Boise doesn’t share the remote feel of popular tourist areas such as Jackson, Wyo., or Big Sky, Mont., and its size pales in comparison to Denver’s mile-high metropolis. However, outdoorsy families looking for a unique blend of heart-pumping options paired with big-city benefits will be plenty happy here. Another perk: Boise Airport is located just 10 minutes from the city’s downtown.
“Boise has a lot of amenities that larger cities have, but it still retains that small-town feel,” said Danielle Stephens, a travel advisor with Boise-based Harmon Travel. “Although families would want to get a rental car to get around the mountains and lakes, for the most part, everything is pretty close. From downtown, you are only a few minutes away from the great outdoors with hiking and biking trails, fishing, paddleboarding ponds, rafting rivers, ski hills and much more.”
The best way to take advantage of the city’s 234 sunny days per year? Stephens suggests families start by whitewater rafting in the Payette River or surfing in the man-made Boise Whitewater Park. Or, if they prefer to stay dry, she recommends a hike within Bogus Basin ski area or at Table Rock, a mountain pillar just 20 minutes outside of downtown Boise.
Have a crew that moves at a slower speed? An itinerary that includes MK Nature Center, Boise Zoo or the World Center for Birds of Prey might be just the ticket.
Where to Stay: The Riverside Hotel, located on — you guessed it — the Boise River, lies just outside the hustle and bustle of the city’s downtown. Family-friendly activities include a giant chess/checkers board; an outdoor pool with a kiddie splash pad; and easy access to Boise River tube, raft, canoe or kayak rentals.
Sports LoversPass Up: BostonHead to: Frisco, Texas
Sports spectators are an intense bunch — just ask any Bostonian or New Yorker on the wrong side of a ballgame. And then there’s the crowd that flocks to Sports City U.S.A. — also known as Frisco, Texas.
Although Frisco is not a major metropolitan hub, it’s growing at a striking clip. This year, the U.S. Census Bureau named it the No. 1 fastest-growing “large city or town” with a population greater than 50,000. Located about 30 miles north of Dallas, the city skews young: Of its 177,000 residents, the median age is 37 years old, and children 17 years old and younger are found in more than half of all households.
Ample sports offerings — including four professional-grade venues and a handful of golf courses — are located no more than 15 minutes away from each other by car, says Marla Roe, executive director of Visit Frisco.
“On any given day, there is an opportunity to experience sports in Frisco, whether it be a game, tour, practice or visit to one of the many world-class facilities and parks we have in the city,” she said. “Along with these elements, as well as the prestigious medical and sports rehabilitation centers, national and international athletic organizations and an emerging e-sports community, Frisco is the ultimate sports destination.”
Have baseball-loving clients? Send them to Dr. Pepper Ballpark, which features the 400-foot-long on-site Choctaw Lazy River set just off right field. It’s the largest body of water in any professional sports venue in the country — which, in case you were wondering, means it can hold up to 1,267,973 baseballs — and is reserved for families during Sunday home games.
Or, suggest families take a VIP tour of “The Star,” a 91-acre multi-use special events facility that is home to the Dallas Cowboys football team. And come October, soccer fanatics will be able to visit the brand-new National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Plus, there’s good news for kids who prefer e-games to real ones: Just a 10-minute drive from Dr. Pepper Ballpark lies the National Videogame Museum — game on.
Where to Stay: Players gonna play, play, play, but they also need to sleep, sleep, sleep. The 300-room Omni Frisco Hotel, which opened in 2017, is located within Frisco’s The Star complex, which encompasses 51,000 square feet of restaurants and retail.
The Dallas Cowboys World Headquarters and Training Facility is also on-site.