6 best fall break destinations for family fun
I'm quite jealous of my children because fall break did not exist when I was a kid and they are lucky enough to have two weeks off school in late September into early October. But I'm also grateful because it's easy for us to plan a quick fall getaway when summer vacation is far enough in the rearview mirror that my wanderlust itch needs a good scratch.
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My favorite fall break destinations have a mix of fun outdoor activities, cool temperatures and dazzling fall foliage, but I threw in a sunny beach destination for you, too. Here are six of my favorite fall break vacation spots for families.
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Conveniently located in the heart of the Midwest, Branson is within a day's drive (or a short flight) for nearly half of the American population. Fall is an ideal time to visit for colorful leaves and mild temperatures that are practically begging you to come outside and play.
It's always a good time to visit Branson's 1880s-themed amusement park, Silver Dollar City, but there's even more to explore when you visit between late September and the end of October during the park's annual Harvest Festival. The festival features crafts by local artisans, fall foods, a path of glowing pumpkins and eight giant pumpkins you have to see to believe.
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You can visit an even bigger playground over at the 10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. You can more than fill a day with its selection of outdoor activities, including fishing, horseback riding, wildlife tram tours and hiking. You're sure to see some animals during your visit, but you can guarantee an up-close critter encounter every weekday in the park's nature center, where educators hold meet-and-greets with snakes, turtles and other animals.
Where to stay
There is no Branson hotel as iconic as the Chateau on the Lake. This lakeside resort offers views of Table Rock Lake and the surrounding Ozark Mountains and brings that same view indoors with waterfalls, greenery and babbling brooks in the lobby. Most rooms sleep four guests, but the property also has suites that sleep up to six. Room rates start at around $175 per night.
The Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing is right in the middle of Branson Landing's many shopping and entertainment options. Starting at noon daily, you can view a fire-and-fountain show that takes place at Branson Landing and some guest rooms have fountain views. Standard rooms, suites and condo-style accommodations are available, with room rates starting at around $160 or 45,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
South Padre Island, Texas
Texas may not be the first place that comes to mind when you want to visit a tropical paradise, but that's only if you've never visited South Padre Island. With 34 miles of sugar-soft white sand and turquoise waters, this barrier island off the southern tip of Texas lets you hang on to summer just a little bit longer, especially if the weather has already started to turn cool back home.
Building sandcastles is an essential part of any family beach vacation and South Padre Island takes sandcastles very seriously. For 34 years, the island has held its annual Sandcastle Days celebration, which is a qualifying event for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting and boasts live music, art booths and food.
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When the sun goes down and the sand has been sculpted, you can view fireworks from the pier at Clayton's Beach Bar & Grill. Fireworks shows take place nightly through the end of October. Both Sandcastle Days and the nightly fireworks are free.
Where to stay
Isla Grand Beach Resort is a beachfront property with a veritable boatload of activities for families. You can take surf lessons, learn to build sandcastles from an expert or visit the resort's two pools for a swim. Standard rooms are available in the resort's two-story building and condo-style rooms are available in the high-rise building at the center of the resort. Rates start at around $70 per night.
Courtyard South Padre Island is a beachfront property with spacious rooms, beach access and a large outdoor pool. You can even see the nightly fireworks that run through the end of October from the hotel. Room rates start at around $140 or 16,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
While the bitterly cold temperatures are certainly on their way, they haven't quite reached Chicago in September and October. With two major airports, Chicago is easy to get to by plane from most major cities and there are plenty of family-friendly activities to keep your brood busy. And just in case the Windy City lives up to its name during your visit, many of those activities are indoors and safe from blustery winds.
Chicago is home to some of the top family attractions in the country. You could easily spend a full day exploring the animals at the Shedd Aquarium or the natural history exhibits at the Field Museum. Navy Pier has grown into an entertainment hub with rides, a children's museum, dining, shopping and more. If you are in town during September or early October, you can cheer on the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the country's oldest National League ballpark.
Where to stay
The InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile is a quintessential Michigan Avenue hotel. Its location makes exploring the city by foot simple, or you can stay in for a swim in the Junior Olympic-size pool. Room rates start at around $260 per night.
Loews Chicago Downtown participates in the brand's "Loews Loves Families" program. It provides pool toys, board games, iPads and other amenities that appeal to kids and has a curated city guide for families with places to go, things to do and where to eat. Room rates start at around $220 per night.
Cooperstown, New York
Do you (or your kids) love baseball? Do you love beautiful fall weather? Then there's a decent chance you'll love a visit to Cooperstown. The fall colors are gorgeous, the crowds are beginning to dwindle and there's more baseball history than you can shake a stick (or a bat) at.
First on the list, of course, is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. In addition to plaques honoring past Hall of Fame members, there are interactive exhibits that let families explore every facet of America's pastime. You can bring home a bat of your own from the Cooperstown Bat Company, or stop by its factory just outside of Cooperstown and see the bats being made.
Where to stay
The Otesaga Resort Hotel is a lakeside luxury resort that's all about rest and relaxation. You can take up residence in a white wooden rocking chair on the resort's large porch, take a canoe or rowboat out on the lake or borrow a bike to explore the town. Room rates start at around $260 per night.
The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Cooperstown is less than a 10-minute drive from downtown Cooperstown and gives families room to spread out with suites that have separate living and sleeping areas and kitchenettes. Rates for suites start at around $180 per night.
While most destinations on this list are just beginning to cool off in early fall, San Francisco's climate is known for being unseasonably warm (and less foggy). It's prime weather for all of the city's outdoor sites and activities. Just bring along a light jacket or cozy hoodie for mornings and evenings and you'll be good to go.
Certain San Francisco experiences just can't be skipped. At Fisherman's Wharf, you can watch the sea lions sunbathe, go for a boat cruise on the bay and get a sundae from the world-famous Ghirardelli Square. Disneyphiles can make a trip out to the Walt Disney Family Museum to see exhibits about Disney's history, films and theme parks.
Where to stay
While the luxurious Ritz-Carlton may not be the first hotel that comes to mind when you are looking for a family-friendly stay, it truly does roll out the red carpet for kids. The hotel's Ritz Kids program includes a welcome kit for kids with a coloring book, colored pencils and a personalized welcome letter; a scavenger hunt; and a special treat in your guest room. Room rates start at around $450 or 79,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.
The Hyatt Centric Fisherman's Wharf is close to Pier 39 and within walking distance of all wharf attractions. The hotel has an outdoor pool, two restaurants and a marketplace for grab-and-go items. Room rates start at around $150 or 17,000 World of Hyatt points per night.
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts and leaf peepers alike. Though some activities like driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and exploring the expansive Biltmore Estate may not scream "kid friendly" on the outside, both of these activities cater to families in a big way.
The Biltmore Estate actually has a variety of kid-friendly activities and programming. There's a playground, an audio tour geared toward kids and nearly 22 miles of hiking and biking trails. Parents may better enjoy driving the Blue Ridge Parkway than kids, but there are lots of stops along the way where you can mine for gems, go for a short hike or stop at a scenic overlook for a picnic. Asheville's Navitat zip lining provides a more adrenaline-pumping way to explore the colorful canopy if you're up for an adventure.
Where to stay
Hotel Indigo Asheville Downtown is a boutique IHG property with colorful decor and local touches. Room rates start at around $140 or 21,000 IHG One Rewards points per night.
Omni Grove Park Inn is a historic hotel nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains. The hotel has indoor and outdoor pools (great for cool fall weather) and an 18,000-square-foot subterranean spa. Room rates start at around $290 per night.
If your child is lucky enough to get a short fall break from school, don't let the opportunity for a quick family getaway pass you by. Whether you want to squeeze in one last round of fun in the sun or prefer to soak up the cozy fall colors, you'll enjoy the time away and break in routine at these family-friendly destinations.