Surprisingly Kid-Friendly Vacations

by Matt Villano

Surprisingly Kid-Friendly Vacations

Las Vegas for kids? Check out three grown-up hot spots that are fantastic family finds these days!

You know that dream vacation you’re postponing until the kids are in high school? We’ve got a surprise for you! Here’s the lowdown on why you can—and should—go right now.

Pinot your way around

Where: California dreamin’ in wine country

Why you and the kids will love it: Stunning scenery and enough outdoor activities to keep restless children busy for months.

Drink up (sort of): As moms and dads seize the reins at wineries in both Napa and Sonoma counties, many of these destinations are becoming kid-friendly. In Rutherford’s Honig Winery (, owners Stephanie and Michael set up a special tasting area for parents, complete with toys, puzzles, and arts and crafts. Produce and purring are the unexpected perks at Preston of Dry Creek (, outside Healdsburg, where vintners/farmers/friendly folk Lou and Susan tend to a year-round organic garden, as well as about a dozen family cats. Tasting the fresh fruits and veggies and romping with the child-loving felines will occupy the little ones long enough for you to savor a glass of their sauvignon blanc. Their fresh-pressed olive oil is worth taking home. New to the area, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery (, in Geyserville, boasts a heated pool, four bocce courts, and changing rooms (dubbed “cabines”) to rent by the day.

Peddle and paddle: In Napa, paddle the Napa River with sit-on-top (beginner) kayaks from Napa Valley Adventure Tours ( and scan the riverbanks for otters and herons as you float by. Change of Greenery (, also in Napa, rents electric bikes. Baby trailers and tagalongs are available.

Snooze: At the Safari West ( wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa, all 30 luxury tents offer private patios that overlook a spacious giraffe enclosure. In downtown Napa, the ultramodern AVIA Napa ( is within walking distance of the river, and has a second-floor roof deck with porch swings beneath a wooden pergola. For a low-key (and budget-conscious) good time, rent a camping “kabin” at the San Francisco North KOA campground in Petaluma; the property has a water slide and rock-climbing wall.

You can bet on it

Where: Vegas, baby!

Why you and the kids will love it: To most visitors, counting the three watermelons and two cherries on the slot machine is about as kid-friendly as Vegas gets. But Sin City actually has a gaggle of G-rated experiences for underage tourists.

Mall in one: On the Strip, inside Crystals ( at the hulking CityCenter, public art installments include Glacia, water sculptures composed of giant ice columns that melt and change shape throughout the day, and Halo, interactive multicolored light sculptures that visitors can walk through and around, touch, and just be enveloped by. There are also funnels that spin water into liquid tornadoes. But a stroll through this über-high-end megamall is a treat in itself. Window-shop (sigh!) at Harry Winston and Cartier on your way to Wolfgang Puck’s Pizzeria and Cucina: margherita with burrata mozzarella for them (shh…it’s just pizza) and penne carbonara with English peas and crisp pancetta for you.

Nature calls: Off-Strip, get your nature fix at the Springs Preserve (, where you’ll find different attractions depending on when you go. In the late winter/early spring, check out the nocturnal-wildlife walk-through exhibit “In the Dark.” In the spring, “Wild Things at the Springs” in the amphitheater brings you and your kid face-to-snout with exotic critters such as lemurs, armadillos, and two-toed sloths. And all year long, little kids can take part in a pretend archaeological dig.  Off-off-Strip, marvel at man-made magnificence on a day trip to the Hoover Dam. Various tours are sold,  but free gaping is available on the drive across the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, linking Nevada and Arizona. The bridge was opened last October; before then, you needed to shell out for a helicopter ride to enjoy that view.

Snooze: Recent renovations made Tower Rooms inside Circus Circus ( some of the nicest on the Strip for the price. The on-site Adventuredome theme park, home of the Canyon Blaster double-loop, double-corkscrew coaster, can eat up a whole afternoon. Off-Strip, all the Tower Junior Suites at the Signature at MGM Grand ( include full kitchens. Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa ( boasts a 16-screen movie complex, a 72-lane bowling alley, and a massive pool that’s (usually) free of thumping bass.

Miami Spice

Where: South Beach

Why you and the kids will love it: Steel-drum bands on Ocean Drive, tourists buzzing down Washington Avenue in three-wheeled Scooter Spyders, locals who let you hold their iguana or macaw for a buck: When viewed through a kid’s eyes, South Beach must seem like an alfresco theme park. Thankfully, this destination, which is synonymous with nightlife, has worked hard in recent years to sharpen its daytime rep.

Beach cruisin’: Pedal around town with help from DecoBike (, a new rental service that lets families pick up or drop off bikes at stations all over town.  The New World Center, the Frank Gehry-designed home of Miami’s New World Symphony (, transmits free live performances from inside the venue onto a 7,000-square-foot white wall of an adjoining park, through 167 speakers. They screen movies, too—watch in peace while the kids romp on the grass! Jungle Island ( is home to a pack of ligers, which are just what you think they are (surprisingly, the guy in Napoleon Dynamite did not coin this term), and a resident flock of flamingoes, which may inspire preschoolers to stand still on one leg as long as they can. A cost-cutting bonus: October is Miami Attractions Month, with two-for-one admission at zoos, museums, and aquariums.
Evening antics: Every November, Sleepless Night Miami ( features an eclectic troupe of more than 150 artists, from trapeze pros to conga players to dance teams. It’s free, and while the little ones won’t last all night, most make it long enough to ensure they conk out on command back at the hotel.

Snooze: At Loews Miami Beach (, kids who won’t even try a tuna wrap at home race each other to the free SushiSKool every Saturday, where they make, order, and devour raw fish.  Nearby, in Sunny Isles Beach, the Acqualina Resort & Spa on the Beach ( offers a free marine biology program that teaches its youngest guests about dolphins, manatees, stingrays, turtles, and other native sea denizens.