5 Trips That Teenagers Will Love
These destinations are great fun for older kids and grownups alike
En español | Traveling with older children can be more challenging than taking little ones on vacation: It's no joke that many preteens and teenagers can be a bit moody, as any parent can attest. But they're also likely to have well-formed interests, so you can choose your destinations based on their love for nature, or history, or architecture, for instance. That's why it's important to include them in the trip planning.
Here are a few wonderful destinations to consider if you're planning a trip with your older kids or grandkids.
1. Miami, Florida
When to go: winter or spring
How to get there: Check flights into both Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (the latter is about 45 minutes north of South Beach, but sometimes has cheaper fares).
What to do: Miami offers so much for all ages: quality beach time, city attractions and the chance to immerse in the swirl of cultures that gives the city its nickname as the capital of Latin America. Kick things off downtown with a visit to the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, where you can ogle aquariums whirling with sharks and catch a planetarium show before enjoying sweeping city views from the rooftop terrace ($29.95 per person; $20.95 for children ages 3 to 11; free for kids under 2, with prices discounted an additional $2 when you book online).
And dive into Miami's Cuban culture in Little Havana, a 15-minute drive west from downtown, where the kids can try new foods like ropa vieja or paella while hearing Spanish all around them at the area's iconic restaurant for Cuban exiles, Versailles.
Getting out on a boat is a must and gives you a good shot at wowing hard-to-impress teens. Jetboat Miami offers thrilling tours past celebrity homes (and palatial yachts) from downtown ($29.95 per person; $19.95 for children 3-11).
Then everyone can get a little dressed up for dinner (or even just dessert), at a restaurant such as Habitat, on Collins Avenue, where the delicious sustainable fare and unpretentious setting are perfect for a special-occasion grand finale together (pan-seared king salmon is $35, though they have kid-focused specials such as a Wagyu beef burger for $15). It's also good for a fancier brunch (Belgian waffles and chilaquiles are each $18).
Where to stay: Miami is not cheap when it comes to hotels; on the more affordable side, Palihouse Miami Beach has rooms starting from $250 per night. It's in a circa 1940s art deco building and fronts the river in the Faena District of Miami Beach, just a short walk from the beach. The hotel has complimentary bicycles for guests and they'll even set up chairs and umbrellas on the beach for you at no extra charge. Another option: A new hotel opening in March 2020 across the street from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, THesis Hotel Miami, has rates starting at $159 for a room with two queen beds (get up to half off this spring).
2. Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia
When to go: summer or fall
How to get there: Many flights from the U.S. fly direct to Vancouver. The Sunshine Coast, just north of Vancouver in British Columbia, is a 40-minute ferry ride from the city. While it's technically part of the mainland, it has a wilderness island feel similar to nearby Vancouver Island.
What to do: This trip combines urban adventure with the great outdoors — the perfect mix for older kids. Start in Vancouver and base near the waterfront so you can easily rent a bike to pedal around if you're up for it or just stroll the city's flatter areas nearby.
Get excited about Canada's incredible nature at the FlyOver Canada ride (roughly $19 U.S. per person; $9 for children 12 and under), an enormous spherical screen where mind-blowing landscapes unspool with special effects that make you feel like you're hang-gliding through it all. After that adrenaline rush, take one of the ferries (less than $6 per person) — catch one at different locations along the False Creek waterway that cuts through the city — to Granville Island to explore the public market and window shop along streets lined with galleries and boutiques.
One you've done the city sights, hop another ferry in West Vancouver at Horseshoe Bay with your rental car for a road trip to the Sunshine Coast, a part of mainland British Columbia that's just a 40-minute ferry ride from the city and where you'll want to spend a few days to fully immerse in nature. Highlights here include making the short hike to the Skookumchuck Narrows (free admission) in Egmont to watch kayakers paddle the whirling rapids, visiting the gorgeous Princess Louisa Inlet, and enjoying lunch in the beautiful village of Gibsons at the rustic chic Drift Cafe, which has a lovely outside terrace.
Where to stay: You can find Airbnb offerings near the waterfront in Vancouver for around $120 per night for two bedrooms, or splurge and spend about $100 more (though rates can vary widely) at the Fairmont Waterfront, which offers some of the best views around. On the Sunshine Coast, West Coast Wilderness Lodge is a serious but, depending on your budget, worthy indulgence right near the Skookumchuck Narrows. The sprawling deck offers 180-degree water and island views. The lodge operates boat trips to Princess Louisa Inlet and other activities (all-inclusive rates from around $500 per person for a two-night stay that include lodging, breakfast, a three-course dinner and a full-day boat trip to the inlet).
3. Asheville, North Carolina
When to go: spring, summer or fall
How to get there: There's a small airport in Asheville, but you might find better fares into Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina (about 75 minutes away by car) or Charlotte Douglas International Airport (about two hours).
What to do: Asheville, a town of around 90,000 people in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a great place for soft family adventures surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery on all of the East Coast. It's also known for its culinary scene (and what kid doesn't like to eat good food?).
If you're up for water sports and the weather's warm enough, French Broad Outfitters rents kayaks (tandems are $50 per day, singles $35) and inner tubes ($15 per day) for floating down the French Broad River, which runs right through town. And for one of the most scenic drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway, take the loop drive south of Asheville through the Pisgah National Forest, which is never more stunning than during the autumn months and offers lots of opportunities to pull over for a hike with the kids.
A visit to the historic Biltmore Estate is likely to interest your grandkids more when you splurge and do it with Outrider USA on recumbent electric tricycle tours ($100 per person) through the Biltmore's vast backyard. (As long as your back's in good shape and you can pedal a regular bike, you shouldn't have any trouble.)
And when it's time to eat, downtown Asheville's compact center is full of excellent casual restaurants, including Barley's Taproom, where the kids can focus on the pizza while you sample some of Asheville's excellent craft beers. 12 Bones Smokehouse, near the French Broad River, has incredible barbecue and chopped brisket platters for $11 and pulled pork sandwiches for $6.50. The jalapeño cheese grits are to die for.
Where to stay: Airbnb offers many two-bedroom options in and around town for about $100 per night. Holiday Inn & Suites Asheville is an affordable hotel option close to downtown, from $210 per night for two adults and two children.
4. San Diego, California
When to go: winter, spring or fall
How to get there: The airport is just 15 minutes from the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego.
What to do: With an ideal mix of theme parks, gorgeous coastline and a vibrant downtown — not to mention near-perfect weather year-round — San Diego is a fail-proof place to vacation with your older grandkids.
You could spend an entire day here just at the San Diego Zoo ($58 per person; $48 for children 3-11), often named the best in the world. You can upgrade the experience with photo expeditions and sunrise wildlife strolls before the zoo is open to the public. It's the experience of a lifetime for animal lovers.
The theme park SeaWorld San Diego ($73.99 and up) may or may not interest your teens. But if they are budding marine biologists and ocean lovers, a visit to the beach at La Jolla Cove may be even more rewarding (not to mention less expensive) than SeaWorld. You can rent snorkels, masks, fins and wetsuits ($30 per person) from Everyday California and enter the water right from the beach for the thrill of snorkeling with the resident sea lions and, if you're lucky, leopard sharks, too.
The city's lively Gaslamp Quarter is a fun place to stroll in the evenings, stopping for dinner or just an ice cream cone. You'll find everything from burger and barbecue joints to pizzerias and chain eateries in the restaurant mix.
Where to stay: Hotel Indigo in the Gaslamp Quarter has a rooftop bar with firepits for relaxing at day's end and is a short walk to the trolley (light rail) station, for easy movement around town (all buses and trolleys in San Diego have accessible systems). From $215 per night for two adults and two kids.
5. Chicago, Illinois
When to go: summer
How to get there: Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport have direct train connections into the city. The convenient and cost-effective train system, the L, can get you pretty much everywhere once you're here.
What to do: A big city that feels like a more affordable and more manageable alternative to New York City — with tons of wow factor in the form of skyscrapers and lake adventures — Chicago delivers.
If you're planning to hit a lot of the attractions with your family (and you should), the Go Chicago card (from $81 per person; $52 for children 3-12) gets you free and discounted admission off same-day ticket prices at many of the city's must-dos, and will save you lots of money. There are several passes to choose from, and among the discounted attractions are the Shoreline Architecture River Cruise and SkyDeck Chicago, where you can step out onto a glass deck attached to the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere — if you're not afraid of heights, that is ($26 per person; $18 for children 3-11, free for children 2 and under). There's also the Field Museum ($26 per person; $23 for adults 65 and older; $19 for children 3-11) and Navy Pier, where the Go Chicago pass gets everyone discounted rides.
During the warmer months, you can take a dip at one of the city's many public beaches or hit a grocery store for goodies and picnic together at one of the many fabulous city parks. The Lurie Garden in Millennium Park is a five-acre garden with a boardwalk that's plenty appealing. Also within Millennium Park, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion hosts a summer film series every Tuesday where you can lay out a blanket and enjoy a free screening.
Where to stay: For a hyper-central location on the Magnificent Mile, within a short walk of so many sights including Navy Pier and North Michigan Avenue shopping, check out the Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Downtown/Magnificent Mile. It has connecting rooms and an indoor pool, with rooms for two adults and two children from $270 per night.
Terry Ward is a longtime travel writer who has lived in Australia, New Zealand and France. She's now based in Tampa, Florida.