Introducing the minimal-stress, maximum-fun getaway: an escape long enough for you to have a great time but not as costly as a whole-week trek. Our fave spots to make memories in as little as a day:
Amelia Island, FL
If you've got just a day Head over to the Amelia Island Plantation (Aipfl.com) for a family Segway (motorized scooter) tour, culminating in a panoramic salt marsh teeming with teeny, cute (really!) crabs. Kids younger than 8 can take the tour with a parent in a jaunty Island Hopper, a golf cart of sorts, also a blast. Then savor a homemade ice cream in a rocker on the porch of Marche Burette, an old-fashioned general store. End the day on a river cruise (Ameliarivercruises.com), snapping pics of wild ponies, dune turtles, egrets, and, just maybe, dolphins.
For a weekend, add... Nosh and shop your way through Fernandina Beach, the picturesque town you can tour by carriage, too. Stop at Happy Tomato (Happytomatocafe.com) for lunch; the adorable courtyard café caters to families. Known for succulent southern barbecue, it also has plenty of equally yummy, less-messy options. Explore Fort Clinch State Park (Floridastateparks.org/fortclinch), home to a Civil War-era fort with reenactments, as well as nature trails, picnic spots, a fishing pier, a beach, and a perfectly manageable museum.
New Haven, CT
If you've got just a day The Peabody Museum of Natural History houses things kids obsess over, from mummies to dinos. One hour is enough time to hit the highlights. The interactive Discovery Room has live animals from around the world. The first American pizza was introduced here...go for it! A slice from Frank Pepe's (Pepespizzeria.com) is heaven -- there are 18 toppings to choose from, including fresh clams. Then chase down the delights of The Cupcake Truck. Check Followthatcupcake.com for its location on any given day.
For a weekend, add... Yale University (right in the heart of town) sponsors a free Architectural Treasure Hunt tour for kids. (Call 203-432-2302 to book a spot.) The students who give the tour know how to keep kids' interest. And don't forget to talk some trash: The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (Crra.org) gives tours of its recycling facility a short ride out of town. Kids can look on from the oversize windows as bottles, cans and newspapers are mashed and reconfigured before their eyes. Awesome!
Corpus Christi, TX
If you've got just a day Frolic on the Gulf beaches, then make your way over to Pier 99. Munch a po' boy (a scrumptious, classic southern sandwich on crispy, airy bread): shrimp for you, roast beef - or, okay, french-fry- for them. Then head to the aquarium (TexasStateAquarium.org), where kids can pet stingrays. The behind-the-scenes tour of animal feeding and care will captivate kids who like marine life.
For a weekend, add... Check out the world's largest undeveloped barrier island at the Padre Island National Seashore. Michelle Horine, a mom of two and vice president of nature tourism and communications at the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau, says it's worth the trouble ot plan your trip around the release of Kemp's Ridley sea turtle into the wild on South Padre Island. (They're the most endangered turtles in the world.) Go to Seaturtleinc.org for info.
If you've got just a day Splash around in a naturally heated mineral-water swimming pool, like the one at nearby Harbin Hot Springs (Harbin.org). It's toasty all year round and said to have healing qualities, such as reducing stress and relaxing muscles. Then check out the Castello di Amorosa Winery, where Adam Sandler's Bedtime Stories was filmed. It's built to resemble an authentic medieval castle, complete with a dungeon and moat.
For a weekend, add... Rent bikes (those with toddler seats or tag-alongs are available) at Calistoga Bikeshop, and spend a morning popping around the friendly little shops and restaurants in town. At the Safari West African Adventure, take a tour out to see more than 600 giraffes, gazelles, zebras, and other Serengeti animals. The beasties interact freely while a funny guide brings you up to speed on their habits and entertains you at the same time.
If you've got just a day Junior adventurers go wild for the Pink Jeep tours (Pinkjeep.com), which take you way off the beaten path and are like an amusement-park ride through ruins, gulches, and ancient rock art.
For a weekend, add... In Oak Creek Canyon, you'll find amazing natural waterslides at Slide Rock State Park. For a peek at what Native American life was really like, visit the 1.5 million-acre Hopi Reservation 100 miles north. Don't miss the stacked pueblos (hand-made high-rises) and the brightly painted Katsina dolls.