Wishing for family travel to an exotic land? Luckily, we found a few closer-to-home dream trips your brood can still brag about, for a lot less cash
Fantasy: French Riviera, Reality: Laguna Beach, CA
They're both sun-soaked stretches of sand where the wealthy unwind. European glitterati take to hillside châteaus; stateside, celebs the likes of Tori Spelling and Reese Witherspoon power down in gated resorts perched along the bluffs. Main Beach, at Broadway and Ocean Avenue, hums with volleyball, basketball, and playground fun. Splash the day away here—breaking for a strawberry-lavender scoop at Dolce Gelato on Broadway (gelatobydolce.com)—before heading toward the tide pools at the north end of the beach. “My girls poke around the pools, squealing as sea urchins cling to their fingers or they catch tiny crabs,” says Wendy Velazquez, an Orange County mom of two preschoolers. Before the sun sets, continue north past the tide pools and take the paved walkway up to Heisler Park for a view of the coast that even artists can't quite capture. Since 1980, locals have obsessed over the burgers and date shakes at Ruby's Shake Shack (rubys.com). Look for the rustic yellow stand just north of Laguna Beach on Pacific Coast Highway.
Spy whales from a catamaran on Captain Dave's Safari (danapointharbor.com).
Wow the kids with the release of monarch butterflies on the terrace at St. Regis Monarch Beach (stregismb.com).
Fantasy: Amalfi Coast, Italy, Reality: Bermuda
The Amalfi Coast is a stretch of shoreline known for rainbow villas visited by stars like Julia Roberts and Kim Kardashian, and what the Italians refer to as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Off the coast of North Carolina…there isn't a ton to do on Bermuda. But that's the point. This English territory is also famous for pastel dwellings—and a killer afternoon tea to sub for Limoncello. Head first to Horseshoe Bay—a circular stretch of rosy sand and aqua water encircled by limestone cliffs. Walk the marked pathway just west to Port Royal Cove (the aptly named Baby Beach) for shallow water and shade. You may spot electric-blue parrot fish. When you've had enough sun, head underground to Crystal Cave (caves.bm). Find a subterranean lake and a stalactite-studded cavern. Then grab a rum swizzle at nearby Swizzle Inn (swizzleinn.com) while the littles sip a fruit shake.
At the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo (bamz.org), kids will go ape over the free-roaming lemurs and tamarin monkeys. And who doesn't want to pet a starfish?
Private beach and the best steakhouse on the island? Check us in at The Fairmont Southampton (fairmont.com/southampton).
Fantasy: Galapagos Islands, Reality: Puerto Rico
Charles Darwin—and, more recently, the Jolie-Pitts—put the Galapagos Islands on the map. You can explore another rare ecosystem, the U.S.'s only rain forest, in Puerto Rico. Both have a year-round flip-flop climate and a culture that welcomes children everywhere. Check out El Yunque rain forest (fs.usda.gov/elyunque) in the morning before the afternoon rains hit. Stroll Big Tree trail to La Mina Falls to cool your peds in the natural pool. Just outside the exit, grab empanadas and a piña colada at La Muralla. The owner's dog sits on the roof. Sail on La Laguna Grande, a bioluminescent bay (bioislandpr.com). With each swirl of your hand or darting of fish, the water glows fluorescent blue.
El Morro (nps.gov/saju) is the hilltop fortress in Old San Juan. “We spent a day exploring. The Spanish fort is surrounded by endless open grass and crazy views of the ocean below. My son thought it was cool that Sir Francis Drake landed there, as he was writing a report on him,” says Tiffany Romero, from Temecula, CA, of her 11-year-old. It's also the best place on the island to fly a kite. Buy one for about $5 from a street vendor. The trolley to Old San Juan is free.
Caribe Hilton (caribehilton.com) sits alongside calm, shallow water. Kids eat free; chow is delivered to the playground.
Check out tips on how to take your dream vacation with the little ones along.