When the Wilson family needs a break from their everyday life in Orlando, they often embark on one of the most storied road trips in America: a 212-mile route from the Everglades to the Florida Keys. Along the way they’ll kayak through mangroves and past alligators, see rare orchids, and check out buccaneer muskets at the Pirate Soul Museum in Key West (eye patches sold separately).
“I always give the kids a journal before each trip and a camera,” mom Julie Wilson says. “When they’re older, they look back at things they’ve done and think it’s the funniest thing ever.”
The Wilsons are among the hundreds of thousands of families who take classic family vacations every year. And more than 90 percent of those families who get away during the summer months do so in a car or RV, according to Bureau of Transportation statistics.
It seems that as the economy struggles, more and more clans are putting emphasis on memorable life experiences—trading glitzy trips for the quieter and sometimes more satisfying thrills of vacations from a bygone era.
For example, who can forget the majesty of America’s grandiose national parks? One of the country’s most iconic—Yellowstone—teems with buffalo, elk, and the occasional bear, inspiring awe in children and adults. The only downside is the crush of tourists who pack the park each summer. But take heart: according to public affairs officer Al Nash, there’s an easy way to avoid crowds (especially when seeing the gushing geyser known as Old Faithful): “Get up at dawn,” he says. “You’ll be practically alone.”
Of course, the classic family drive never fails to inspire. One can’t-miss journey is California’s Highway 1, a coastal route from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Stopping at Hearst Castle is a must: celebs like Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin used to hole up in the 115-room palace overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Kids especially love the indoor Roman Pool, with its 23-karat-gold-leaf tiles (no cannonballs allowed, obviously).
For a languorous vacation, seaside towns hit the mark. New England families flock to Edgartown, Mass., on the eastern edge of Martha’s Vineyard—a former whaling port that draws history buffs and lighthouse lovers of all ages. Stay at the Harbor View Hotel & Resort, a colonial grande dame that organizes beachcombing and kayaking trips for kids.
So whether your interest is swimming with ponies, checking out ghost towns, or just getting some fresh air, these are trips that your kids—like Julie Wilson’s—will look back on happily for the rest of their lives.