1) Clearwater Beach, FL
Things to do in Clearwater:
Nothing. And that’s exactly why you should visit. I lived here for a summer absolutely loved learning how to do nothing. Like an audition for The Jersey Shore, days consisted of work, gym, beach. When I brought my kids for a visit, the first question they asked was, “What’s there to do?”
My answer? “Nothing.”
And it was the most glorious vacation we’ve ever had. Quality family time just hanging out on the beach with incomparable sunsets and sugar-soft sands. Your soul is at ease, the worries carried away by the warm ocean waves.
Of course, if doing nothing isn’t your cup of tea, there are actually things to do in Clearwater. Pier 60 is a colorful conglomerate of street vendors and performers. Even if you aren’t interested in purchasing anything, the walk along the dock provides a compelling look at local art and a magnificent view of the Gulf of Mexico.
Friday nights are family friendly, with movies in the park on the big screen. Bring a blanket, some snacks and enjoy the show after sunset. Mandalay Bay is the busy main street, full of eateries and shops. If you’re looking for ice cream, search out family-owned “Mint Fox,” home of the Serious Cookie Sundae: one-half-pound warm cookie topped with two scoops of ice cream, hot fudge & whipped cream. Cookie dough is made fresh in-house daily and the Fox family couldn’t be nicer.
If you’re interested at all in marine biology, there is a plethora of wild dolphins and manatees that frequent the beaches and docks. Daily sightings are not uncommon. Paddleboarding and kayaking are available.
Pack a lunch, because if you’re sticking consistent to our theme, you’re going to kayak, sit on the ocean, and do nothing.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium houses rescued dolphins Winter, Hope and Nicholas – made famous by the movies “A Dolphin Tale” and its sequel. This rescue hospital and animal sanctuary works to provide visitors with an educational view of conservation and preservation. Wildlife boat cruises with beach stops for the family support their vision with hands-on practice. Several local boat tours of the ocean are available, our favorite being “Captain Memo’s” pirate ship, because who doesn’t want to booze cruise in a pirate hat at sunset?
2) San Diego, CA
Things to do in San Diego:
On complete polar opposite of our spectrum from Clearwater is San Diego - the place to go for everything!
Whether you are looking for outdoor sports or prefer to spend your time inside at museums, San Diego offers it. Balboa Park is a combination of both, with serene landscaping surrounding multiple exhibits, including the San Diego Zoo.
You will appreciate the Spanish Colonial architecture seen in many of the buildings, including the Spanish Village Art Center and Casa de Balboa. Other features include the San Diego Air & Space Museum, the Balboa Park Carousel and the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater.
Outside of Balboa Park, San Diego has plenty of opportunities to keep busy. History buffs will appreciate the USS Midway Museum which allows you to tour the ship and learn about America’s involvement in WWII. Plan to take a full day for this museum as it packs a lot of incredible information into every inch of available space.
The outdoor enthusiast is going to be like a kid at Christmas in San Diego. Bay cruises, bike tours, and kayaking adventures are available from Mission Bay down to Coronado. Take your pick – your day is going to be packed full of active adventure.
Nightlife picks up in the Gaslamp Quarter, the Historic Heart of San Diego. Dining, music, beer gardens and dancing abound, with food choices ranging from Southern style to Greek to burgers and fish. You can enjoy an abundance of fabulous food and not worry about the dreaded weight gain of vacation because you are destined to keep moving in San Diego.
3) Reno, NV
Things to do in Reno:
If you’re looking for the Vegas feel, but in a more family-friendly environment, Reno is the place. Nestled under the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Reno is a high desert location offering four seasons throughout the year. In addition to plenty of gambling - which is available in a more subdued setting than all the glitz and chaos of Vegas - Reno has family events year round, including the Best of the West Rib cook-off, the Reno Air Races, the Great Reno Balloon Race, Hot August Nights and Artown.
There isn’t a bad time of year to bring the family. A short thirty-minute drive brings you to Virginia City, which is a legitimate ghost town, having been featured on “Ghost Adventures” on the Travel Channel.
Mark Twain’s old hometown still has a lot of Wild West flair, from underground mine tours to drinking and gambling. Souvenir shops line the main street, and locals can tell you all about the history of the silver boom in Nevada, while pointing out some sweet spots to eat, like The Cider Factory on B Street.
The city itself is surrounded by wild mustangs, and although it is illegal to touch them, pictures are pretty cool.
A thirty-minute drive in the other direction leads you to beautiful Lake Tahoe. Offering a stunning view and rated as one of the ten most beautiful lakes in the world, the water is clear, the summer sands hot. Paddleboarding, kayaking and parasailing are among just a few activities available aside from lounging on the beach. For a dose of summertime culture, Shakespeare on the Beach performs every year at Sand Harbor during the summer months.
In the winter, you’ll want to ski or snowboard at any of the resorts offering a sky-high view of the lake. Northstar and Heavenly ski resorts cater to the bolder snow athletes, with both offering half-pipes, rails and boxes, along with scenic trails through the pine trees.
In the summer, there are some wicked hikes up Mt. Rose, Mt. Tallac, Eagle Falls and down to Emerald Bay, where there is an honest to goodness Scandinavian house, Vikingsholm. You can rent kayaks to paddle your way to the island in the bay and see the accompanying tea house.
A visit to Reno is only boring if you are REALLY trying to make it boring. It is a geographically placed mecca for the outdoor enthusiast, with countless activities to do in and around the city.
4) Hilo, HI
Things to do in Hilo:
On the opposite side of Kona on the Big Island, you’ll find a quaint, small town of Hilo. Most businesses in this city are run by families, and the food trucks and corner cafes do not disappoint with authentic food. Don’t be afraid to go downtown where the locals go. If you want the best sushi in town, you eat where the locals eat. Large portions, good company, and great fish.
Overrun by feral cats (which are the friendly and adorable kind, not the annoying kind), Hilo looks like an uneventful town with thriving Banyan trees growing everywhere. But for the adventurous, there is a plethora of new activities to try. Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots are nearby hikes that offer views of beautiful waterfalls. Bring a lunch, enjoy the view, burn some calories. Mauna Kea is a short drive inland, and those hoping to reach the top of the tallest volcano will need to stop at the gift store halfway up and get elevation acclimated. The view from the 13,803 ft. peak is indescribable. It feels like walking on air, clouds beneath your feet, and every picture will look like you are literally on top of the world.
Even more amazing is the view at night, where you can see the Milky Way and almost every single star in the night sky. Pull the car over, lean back on the hood and enjoy the constellations in the darkest darkness away from city lights.
The Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is the only rainforest zoo in the US, and offers a 12+ acre reserve with over 80 species on display. Early morning visits are when the animals are most active, and the trip should take a few hours. There is no cost for admission, so please leave a donation for the care of the critters.
Lastly, and obviously, there are surfboard and paddle board rentals and lessons available along the beach. If you’d rather adventure down under the waves, you can opt for scuba or snorkeling gear and swim with the turtles, fish, and occasionally, the friendly dolphins. Remember they are wild animals, so respect their space and admire them from a distance.