New Trip Ideas for ROAMing Families

Most traveling parents I know aren’t lacking for ideas of where they want to go next: They don’t have the time and money to go all the places already on their family vacation bucket list.

Keeping this reality in mind, Pearl, Kate and I spent a day at the 2016 Travel and Adventure Show in Santa Clara. The show is an annual don’t-miss, almost-too-much weekend of speakers, events and exhibitors for travel freaks of all ages. (Industry luminary Rick Steves spoke of the need for more “curated travel content”– information we hope ROAM is helping to provide…)

travel adventure show collage

After talking with dozens of exhibitors, I whittled the conversations down to the following list of the most interesting and newsworthy family adventures – in locales far and near.  I apologize in advance for making your must-do family trip list a little bit longer 😉

Fiji Anyone? Wanna have your kids plant coral on a new stretch of reef? How about letting them accompany local kids to a day at the village school? Maybe take part in a marine biology program at a Costeau resort? Or draw faces on a volleyball on the beach where they filmed “Castaway?” Fiji could be the destination for you.

fiji river normal

AirFiji will begin flying a direct “red eye” from SFO-Nadi twice a week during the high tourist season of June-August. Your visit will help Fijians continue to recover from February’s Cyclone Winston – the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere – which killed 42 people and caused tremendous damage to some of the outer islands but miraculously avoided a direct hit on the most populated ones.

Families considering Fiji have great options on both land and sea. Captain Cook cruises enable visitors to see a variety of islands. Its boats spend more time in port than at sea, which gives cruisers more water-, beach- and village-time. If you prefer to sit still at (or dream of) something more five-star-ish, Jean-Michel Costeau Resort on Savusavu, Vomo Island Resort, Mana Island Resort & Spa and Malolo Island have bures and programs that cater to keeping families happy (not to mention, amazing opportunities for second honeymoons and other parental escapes.) All of these resorts, and others in Fiji, are recovering from the cyclone to varying degrees and tourism will be one of the main ways to speed recovery.

Consider the Cooks – Wish you could have visited Hawaii during the 1950s? You can – sort of. Travel to the Cook Islands and you’ll experience Polynesian culture and landscape that hasn’t been overdeveloped. You can now fly a red-eye on Air New Zealand direct to the capital of Rarotonga once a week from LA. Here you’ll find the best beaches for families: They’re rimmed by a reef that enables safe swimming and epic snorkeling in the crystal clear lagoon.

Easy Panama – and Beyond! Sick of flying to Houston, Miami – even Atlanta or Washington D.C. – to get to Latin America from California? Copa Airlines hopes so. The Panamanian national carrier began nonstop service from SFO to Panama City last year. The overnight flight takes 7 hours. (Read Chris Mc Ginnis’ review of the service here.) The best part? Copa offers connections to Brazil, Colombia, Peru and other Latin American destinations, most within one hour of arrival. And the Panama City airport is compact so you won’t be sprinting between flights.

Back to Baja?  – How many years has it been since you drove south of the border looking for sun and fun (or vice versa)? Intrepid parents might consider a return to Baja California and even a trip (parental escape?!) to the Ensenada wine country. Five hours south of Los Angeles just outside Ensenada, Cuatro Cuatros offers “glamping” cabañas within sight of the ocean and a variety of activities, including wine tasting, zip lining and horseback riding.

“Jucy” Up Your Road Trip – For as little as $45 per day, you can turn your ordinary drive into something extraordinary. Jucy’s mini RVs – a common sight in their native New Zealand and Australia – are really tricked out minivans.

girls in jucy van

The pop-top sleeps two and the inside table folds down to sleep two more. The back hatch opens to reveal a food prep area. Their U.S. operations are up and running in the Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas areas, which enables some nice round-trip and one-way itineraries for families.

More for Less in Morro Bay – The Family Adventure pass helps you get the most out of your stay in the central California coast destination of Morro Bay. Just $90 gets four people into the activities of their choice – from kayaking and SUP-ing to harbor cruising and surrey bike riding – or bring bikes for a spin on the new kid-friendly mountain bike trail. Book the Inn at Morro Bay and choose your swim spot – beachfront pool or white water Pacific. If kites are your thing, visit during the famous festival in April.

Classic Catalina – “Twenty-six miles across the sea…” Santa Catalina Island is easy to miss when you’re looking for a SoCal family beach holiday. But Old California families know the pleasures of Catalina and holiday here year after year. The Catalina Express leaves from San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point to dock at Avalon, a lovely town where visitors ride bikes, drive golf carts and stay in nearby rental houses, VRBO condos and hotels. Days on Catalina are spent snorkeling, scuba diving, sun worshipping, golfing (maxi and mini), shopping and touring the interior of the island to see eagles, boar and bison. These days, the big attraction for families is the Zip Line Eco Tour that ends at the Descanso Beach Club right on the sand in Avalon.

Davis for Days – You’ve spent the winter driving past it on 80 to get to the Sierra slopes. Now take a couple days to stop in and explore what Yolo County has to offer families. You can start at one of the Friday evening Art Walks or at the Saturday morning Davis Farmer’s Market, one of California’s very best. Follow it up with a ride on the 12-mile bike loop that surrounds the college town, a.k.a. “The Bicycling Capital of America.” From Davis, move towards Woodland, the Capay Valley or Winters for more extraordinary produce, wine and beer shopping and tasting opportunities.


Raft the Stanislaus – Drive 90 minutes east of Sacramento to Knight’s Ferry, jump in a raft, and splash through El Niño-fueled Class I and II rapids for one of the best adventures you’ll have as a family. Stanislaus River Journeys runs a variety of trips – for one day and multiple days – on several California Rivers and offers camping too.

Something More in Yosemite – Feeling like you have hit all the popular spots in Yosemite? Drop David Furry a line. His Yosemite Family Adventures specializes in giving visitors a new and different experience in our most beautiful national park. Just name your interest – hiking, fishing, stargazing, gold panning, or ? – and David will craft you a custom itinerary and guide you through it.

The Other Side of South Tahoe – Just 15 minutes east from Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, Nevada’s Carson Valley offers visitors an entirely different experience. Enjoy natural hot springs and a reasonably priced stay at 1862 David Walley’s. From there, take your pick of once-in-a-lifetime activities, including soaring over Lake Tahoe in a glider, or following an expert tracker on a photo safari to shoot the area’s wild horses. Wrap up your day at one of the valley’s famed Basque restaurants.

Boulder Bishop – If you’re looking for a spot to have your family all to yourself, head to the eastern Sierras. Inyo is the most sparsely populated of all California counties, with 98 percent of its area run by the Bureau of Land Management. That translates to endless open space and epic Sierra and high desert vistas dotted with Old West outposts.

Spring in Bishop is the time for bouldering. Base yourself in a tent cabin in Keough’s Hot Springs for climbs, hikes, bikes, dips and trips to some interesting area museums. The Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine documents the region’s long history as a shooting location for everything from John Wayne westerns to Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.”

The Other Gold Country – Two-and-a-half hours north of Sacramento, Plumas County offers families much of what the central California Gold Country offers with far fewer visitors. Not only can your kids can pan for gold in any unstaked spot in the national forest (check first or visit during the Plumas-Eureka State Park’s gold panning days), they can learn to drive a real locomotive at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum (When’s the last time you drove a real train?!) Hiking, fishing, horseback riding and lake splashing opportunities abound, and the beauty of the Feather River and Sierra Buttes are nearby.

Mountain Biking for Everyone – Plumas County also has an adventure for those who have seen and done it all near Tahoe: A solar-powered electric bike tour of the gorgeously rugged Sierra terrain.


The three-hour guided Eco Bike Adventure ride takes place on double-tracks on a 1,800-acre ranch one hour north of Truckee. It’s a great activity for families and groups because the electric action helps the slower riders keep up with the speedier ones. The rides are included in the high-end “stay and play” packages at the Nakoma “Live Elevated” Lodge.

Lake Living – While it Lasts – El Niño has resurrected the state’s houseboat industry. If you want to enjoy the water while we’ve got it, head north to the Trinity Alps for one of the best houseboating lakes in California. The Trinity Lakes Resort offers a variety of boats accommodating 4-12 people – all with slides off the back! The resort itself is a fun spot with hiking, fishing, kayak and pedal boat rentals, and movie nights.

Crater Lake Calls Crater Lake has changed a lot since we visited when I was a kid. There’s a ton to do now at the deepest lake in the U.S. besides feeding peanuts to the chipmunks. Ziplining, water sports and trips to Wizard Island in the middle of the lake, to name a few. It is easily combined with a trip to Lake of the Woods or the Rogue River Valley in Southern Oregon or the Lava Beds National Monument just over the border in California.

Sit and Stay in Sitka – If your idea of seeing Alaska doesn’t involve a cruise ship, consider basing your family in Sitka. Only two hours by ferry from Seattle, nature surrounds the island city – it’s so compact you might not even need a car. In town, you can visit rehabilitation centers for bald eagles and brown bears, and an aquarium with touch-tanks full of sea life. In the bay, you can see whales and sea otters. In the Tsongas National Forest – America’s largest – you can book an isolated cabin from the Forest Service or stay in one of the world-class fishing lodges. Near Juneau, you can hike a volcano or see a glacier. One thing is for sure: You won’t run out of things to do.



by Maryann Jones Thompson, March 2016

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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, travel and adventure show, family vacation ideas


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