Sure, Disneyworld, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon certainly come to mind as essential family trips, but have you ever considered taking your youngsters somewhere that doesn't hold the same kid-friendly reputation? Adults-only playgrounds like Las Vegas and Amsterdam aren't necessarily known for their family-oriented activities, but we've uncovered plenty of entertainment options -- from zoos to museums -- that appeal to all ages. So, whether you're interested in admiring fanciful architecture in Barcelona's Parc Güell or swimming with dolphins and sharks in Cancún, keep reading to discover eight unconventional -- but unforgettable -- family vacation destinations. After all, the joy of travel heeds no age requirement.
[In Pictures: Places You Never Thought to Take Your Kids]
Despite its reputation for non-stop revelry, New Orleans still knows how to entertain even its youngest visitors. While the annual Mardi Gras bacchanalia may be a bit too boisterous for the under-21 crowd, it doesn't mean kids have to skip the spectacle entirely. Mardi Gras World offers a behind-the-scenes look at the history, the intricate floats and the costumes that define the city's most cherished celebration. If your kids are a little too young to appreciate the backstage work and craftsmanship, head to Storyland instead. Located in City Park, this playground features 25 life-size sculptures of famous storybook characters, like the Three Little Pigs, Little Bo Peep and Humpty Dumpty. Plus, City Park features a small amusement park, a 36-hole mini golf course and a botanical garden. Audubon Nature Institute also provides family-friendly attractions, like a zoo, aquarium and insectarium, not to mention an IMAX Theater and golf course.
Napa Valley, Calif.
In a place renowned for its wine tastings and vineyard tours, kid-appropriate to-dos can seem few and far between. But there are a handful of vineyards that cater to kid-toting parents. Frog's Leap Winery offers ample space for kids to run around, along with fruit and vegetable gardens to explore. Sterling Vineyards begins every tour with a tram ride that dazzles with spectacular views of the valley. When you step off the tram, you'll be greeted with a glass of wine while your children are treated to grape juice. If you and your brood need a break from the grapes, head to the Old Faithful Geyser of California. Just one of three geysers in the world with the designation "old faithful," this particular geyser erupts with a burst of steam and water every 30 minutes. Along with this natural wonder, the site also boasts a large picnic area and a petting zoo that holds sheep, llamas and Tennessee fainting goats. You'll find the geyser about 28 miles northwest of Napa's city center.
With a nickname like "Sin City," it's easy to see why you might dismiss Las Vegas for a family getaway. But beyond the risqué attitude that defines this metropolis, this riotous city actually boasts a variety of kid-friendly attractions. Cirque du Soleil's Mystère show at Treasure Island Hotel & Casino is a nonstop parade of vibrant sets, high-flying acrobatics and larger-than-life characters. For a more interactive learning experience, head to the Shark Reef Aquarium in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Here, two walk-through tunnel exhibits allow you and your youngsters to experience a diver's view of the more than 2,000 animals that call this aquarium home. Afterward, venture to the touch pool for a more up-close-and-personal encounter with stingrays and horseshoe crabs. When you need a break from the Strip, consider a day trip to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Sitting about 23 miles west of the city center, this area houses spectacular rock formations, plenty of hiking trails and enough Mojave Desert flora and fauna to captivate any budding geologist.
Don't be fooled by Vancouver's "Hollywood North" nickname. Canada's buzzing west coast metropolis offers a bevy of outdoor pursuits for you and your clan. Stanley Park alone offers enough kid-friendly attractions to fill an entire vacation itinerary. To make the most of your park visit, consider renting bikes at Stanley Park Cycle. You can bike around the entire Seawall with plenty of fun stops along the way. Cool off at the water park at Lumberman's Arch or at the heated outdoor pool at Second Beach. If it's a rainy day, spend the afternoon at the Vancouver Aquarium and catch a glimpse of the much-loved beluga whales. When your kids are ready for more play time, head to Granville Island. While the Granville Island Public Market houses enough snacks and goodies to satisfy even the pickiest eater, it's the Kids Market that will really enchant your little ones. The market's Adventure Zone, which spreads across four levels, features climbing structures and nets, slides, tunnels and a ball pit. You'll also find a handful of toy and magic shops within the market. If your youngsters are a little too old to enjoy the Kids Market, we suggest making a trip to North Vancouver to the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
Barcelona's whimsical architecture is enough to captivate any young traveler, but this Catalonian capital also houses enough attractions to keep them occupied for hours. While Parc Güell's streets aren't necessarily stroller-friendly, the park's mushroom-shaped chimneys and kaleidoscopic mosaics look like a page taken straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. If your kids need a little more entertainment, head to Las Ramblas. This open-air streetscape provides the best snapshot of the city's sights, sounds and smells with rows of street performers and food vendors flanking the bustling pedestrian walkway. Just make sure you save dessert for Museu de la Xocolata (The Chocolate Museum). Here, youngsters can do just about anything with chocolate, from painting to sensory experimentation. And what kid wouldn't want to bury their hands in liquid chocolate? But a trip to the museum doesn't just provide a sugar rush: Visitors can see amusing chocolate sculptures, learn more about Barcelona's cocoa history and discover how the confection is produced. When you need a break from the museum, release that burst of sugar-induced energy at Tibidabo, an amusement park perched on the top of Mount Tibidabo. And you can admire the spectacular vantage point while your kids explore the park's various attractions.
Amsterdam's kid-friendly to-dos are often overshadowed by the city's illustrious adult entertainment found in the Red Light District. But you don't have to go far to find plenty of must-see family-friendly attractions. The Van Gogh Museum offers activities specifically designed for children, like drawing competitions, workshops and treasure hunts, while the Anne Frank House presents Frank's story with an uncomplicated approach. If your kids start getting antsy, head to NEMO, the Science and Technology Center. Here, amateur scientists can play with interactive exhibits that focus on topics like electricity, gravity and DNA. Amsterdam also provides plenty of outdoor activities that cater to children. Vondelpark offers an abundance of playgrounds, walking paths and cafes while Artis Zoo boasts more than 900 animal species. And no trip to the 'Dam is complete without some pancakes. The Pancake Boat, which is docked in Amsterdam-Noord, offers all-you-can-eat pancakes with a cruise along the picturesque canal.
Miami's post-sunset parties may beckon to night owls, but the city also has plenty of outdoor attractions for vacationing clans. Everglades National Park, which sits about 45 miles southwest of the city, offers 1.5 million acres to meander and plenty of Florida wildlife to spot along the way. If you and your brood aren't up for the drive, you can still get up-close-and-personal with the city's flora and fauna at the Miami Zoo, where more than 2,000 animals roam freely across its 740 acres. (For cautious parents: Animals can be safely observed from the elevated walkways.) But if you're looking for something a little tamer, skip the zoo animals and head to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Located about 10 miles southwest of Miami, this garden offers plenty of space for your kids to let loose -- 83 acres to be exact. Don't miss the "Wings of the Tropics" exhibit, where more than 3,000 butterflies soar through an enclosed conservatory, creating a dazzling display of colors.
Legions of college co-eds have solidified this city's standing as a premiere spring break locale, but parents shouldn't be too quick to dismiss Cancún. Escape the sun-bathing crowds along the Hotel Zone by taking a trip to Xcaret, an eco-archeological park nestled on the Caribbean coastline about 47 miles southwest of Cancún's city center. Here you'll find more than 40 attractions, like the Coral Reef Aquarium, the Tropical Jungle Trail and the Living Museum of Orchids. While visiting, you can also swim with dolphins and sharks, snorkel in the inlet lagoon and sneak in a history lesson at the Xcaret ruins, once a significant Mayan ceremonial site. (Save Chichén Itzá for when your youngsters are a little older, and won't mind traversing this well-preserved metropolis under the stifling Cancún heat.) After all the eco-adventure, take a load off at one of Cancún's signature white-sand beaches. Playa Langosta, located about 2 miles northwest of the Hotel Zone, is ideal for younger swimmers thanks to its calm, shallow waters.
[In Pictures: Places You Never Thought to Take Your Kids]
-- Ann Rivall
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