2. Oxford, England
Why does your favorite 10-year-old have Oxford on her bucket list? Two words: Harry Potter. The eight-movie series was filmed throughout Christ Church, and the college now offers something I'm sure no scholar back in 1546, when it was founded, thought would be possible — a movie tour.
But Harry Potter is not its only experience with children's literature; Christ Church also was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland.
Hollywood may have put this on a New World map, but Oxford is a city that dates back to the ninth century and is known for its beautiful colleges, churches and pubs, some of which have been around since before Christopher Columbus set out on the Santa Maria.
The whole family will enjoy a walk and sleuth. The Brits are known for their love of a good walk and a great mystery, and in Oxford they've combined the two in a brilliant form of tourism known as the Treasure Trails. These are themed, self-guided tours where you take in the sites of the city while discovering clues and solving mysteries at the same time. The Treasure Hunt and Spy trails are the most popular with families.
Or you could consider a picnic and float. At only 200 years old, the Covered Market is a relative freshman in this city but is still the place to experience small purveyors selling delectable cheeses, meats and fresh baked goods. Grab a sandwich and other picnic fixings and head to the River Cherwell to rent a punt, those flat-bottomed boats that are easy to maneuver (sometimes with great comical effect). On weekends, the river becomes one big party, though not too rowdy, with the locals and their families as well as students enjoying a leisurely float down the river.
And if you're looking for an affordable place to stay, go when classes are not in session and the University of Oxford turns its colleges' dorm rooms into a ($45 a night) bed-and-breakfast.
3. Amelia Island, Fla.
Amelia Island is an enchanted place that reminds me of vacations past, when families slowed down and relaxed together, when color TV was the hot amenity advertised on the signs of motor lodges and a "tween lounge" was simply the local dairy bar.
With 13 miles of pristine white sand beaches, a history of pirates and buried treasure and some serious golf, this little island in northern Florida has been a perfect getaway for many generations.
Fort Clinch dates back before the Civil War, and while there were no battles fought here, the buildings are so well preserved your kids could stage their own. So pick up some plastic sabers and storm the battlements! If that doesn't wear the young ones out, this sprawling, 1,100-acre state park also has a beach for swimming and miles of trails to hike or bike.
Back at home base, and with the kids properly exhausted, the adults can now enjoy a quiet glass of wine together and discuss the Spanish-American War.
Ban the cellphones and video games and get in a kayak for the day with the Shell Hunter and Island Hopper — Family Kayak Tour. It's an easy paddle to sandbars where you can search for shark teeth and shells. In a kayak you can explore the many watery paths through the verdant and healthy marshlands and, if the grandkids are older, there are overnight kayaking/camping trips to nearby Cumberland Island, home to one of the largest maritime forests in the United States.
If kayaking doesn't float your boat, consider bird-watching. Florida has the third-largest number of different species of birds in the U.S., and Amelia Island is considered the east gateway to the Great Florida Birding Trail. Birding trail maps can be picked up at Fort Clinch state park.
A tip for accommodating the whole family: Search Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO.com). It often has a huge selection of oceanfront condos, villas and beach houses starting at about $100 a night. Also, although Amelia Island feels as if it is worlds away, it is just about 30 minutes from the Jacksonville, Fla., airport — easy for family members from different parts of the country (or world) to fly into.
Samantha Brown, a TV host and blogger, is AARP's travel ambassador.