Your sweet little baby might be the best adventure you’ve ever embarked on, but parenthood shouldn’t keep you tethered to your hometown. Going on vacation may be intimidating, but if you can manage the actual traveling (by car or plane) to and from your destination, the rest of the trip will be just as enjoyable (if not more) as your pre-baby sojourning days.
Photo: César Rincon via Flickr
Charleston, South Carolina
America’s oldest city is just a quick hour and a half flight from DC (one hour from Atlanta, two from New York and 2 and a half from Chicago). It’s often noted as the country’s most romantic destination, but we don’t think it gets enough credit for being one of the best kid-friendly places, too.
What Baby Will Love: What child wouldn’t enjoy the bright and whimsical houses that neatly line the streets of downtown Charleston; they look a lot like colorful toy blocks. Your tot will also enjoy the horse and carriages that make a loop around their historic route. For a hands-on experience, head to the petting zoo at Magnolia Plantation. On rainy days, duck into the South Carolina Aquarium.
What You’ll Love: There’s no doubt, this is a passionate city. With gas lights and cobble stone streets setting the stage, you’ll fall in love (all over again) with your newly expanded family. Take a moment to enjoy your freshly minted clan on a swing built for four at the Waterfront Park. After you cuddle, enjoy an evening walk along The Battery. Charleston is known as a culinary capital, so don’t forget to sample the low country food at a family-friendly eatery, or if your baby is young enough, time a fancier dinner to enjoy while baby sleeps at the table in a car seat or take advantage of a babysitter at your hotel after Baby’s bedtime.
You Might Also Like: New Orleans, LA
Photo: Eduardo Merille via Flickr
If you’re counting down the days to take your new family addition to the happiest place on earth, why wait? In addition to oozing the glee-factor, Walt Disney World is probably the most baby-friendly place on earth. And if you need a break from the parks, there are a number of beaches about an hour away. Orlando is a two and a half hour flight from New York and Chicago and a six hour drive from Atlanta (1.5 hours by air).
What Baby Will Love: Visual and auditory stimulation abounds at a theme park that was designed to engage and entertain at every turn – Disney World. Everything is vibrant, colorful and interactive — and there are both live and animated song-and-dance shows to help foster healthy synapses in the brain. With a baby in tow, your day won’t be filled with long lines; instead opt for attractions like Enchanted Tiki Room and the Country Bear Jamboree, catch a parade or enjoy Main Street’s street performers.
What You’ll Love: For starters, kids under 3 are free. And all that gear you’re worried about dragging through the airport? You can leave it behind. If you stay on property, Disney provides free cribs, high chairs and refrigerators for rooms (refrigerators are a nominal $10 charge at value hotels). You can rent strollers at the park ($15 a day), or have a stroller delivered to your hotel. And if you choose to fly with your child as a lap baby, you can skip car seats all together (Disney offers a free bus shuttle from the airport). You’ll be hard-pressed to find a destination better suited for the smallest of travelers; each Disney park even has a Baby Care Center with rockers, swings, high chairs, toys and videos to keep little ones busy.
Photo: Matt Tillett via Flickr
Cannon Beach, Oregon
Just an hour and a half drive from Portland, a four hour drive from Seattle and a quick, 1.5 hour flight from San Francisco (plus the drive to the coast), this beach destination is conveniently located while feeling primitive, remote and sparsely populated.
What Baby Will Love: The rocky terrain around Haystack Rock fosters the perfect environment for tidal pools, brimming with sea stars, anemones, muscles and more. Little ones will love peering into these miniature ecosystems to discover sea life up close. Look up, and your little will delight in one big baby mobile, with kites perpetually dotting the sky (April heralds in a kite festival but with three local kite shops you can almost always count on a diamond-shaped toy flying in the wind). If you visit during summer months, little ones will delight in the green glow of the wet sand created by tiny, microscopic plants.
What You’ll Love: Oregon’s coast is less crowded than California’s (and more accessible than the Washington coast). Cannon Beach is more touristy than most of the small towns that dot the coastline, but it also has a greater number of must-have conveniences (like diapers, should you run out!). If you enjoy hiking, or just want an easy stroll, check out Ecola State Park.
You Might Also Like: Yaquina Bay State Recreational Area
Photo: vxla via Flickr
San Juan, Puerto Rico
If your favorite new travel companion doesn’t have a passport yet, this island city offers all the appeal of a far-flung destination without the hassle. The flight is under 4 hours from New York and Washington, DC.
What Baby Will Love: Many babies love beaches – they provide sensory play at its best ater all (wet sand, dry sand, sea shells!), and Puerto Rico has plenty of them. When your little beach eater (literally) has had his or her fill, they’ll enjoy the ample amount of open, grassy ground at the Castillo San Felipe del Morro fort. A little under an hour drive from San Juan proper, El Yunque National Forest is a great place to play “I Spy” with tropical birds and reptiles (note: most of the hikes are quick and not steep, but many are not paved — you may want to bring your baby carrier or rent an all-terrain stroller).
What You’ll Love: Old San Juan lets you have the look and feel of a European city, which will leave you feeling like you got far, far away without logging the travel hours (plus, your little one will love all of the bright, colorful buildings), Puerto Rican rum, served in a fresh coconut shell, will have you feeling like you are on an adult-only vacation. Don’t forget to indulge in one of Puerto Rico’s most famous dishes, mofongo.
You Might Also Like: St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Photo: Ian D. Keating via Flickr
Santa Barbara, California
There’s something magical about Santa Barbara. Between the indigenous vegetation, the rolling terrain that gently slopes down to the sea and the red-tel roofs that blend in with the landscape. This destination feels entirely grown-up, but with plenty to see and do with a baby in tow, you won’t feel guilty. Santa Barbara is an hour and 45 minute drive from Los Angeles (and a quick one hour flight from San Francisco).
What Baby Will Love: Introducing your little bambino to new sights helps make their brain grow, and we can’t think of a place that has more unusual and out-of-this-world plants and flowers than Ganna Walska Lotusland, Babies also love airplane-like animals (yes, we mean birds!), so be sure to check out the Andree Clark Bird Refuge. Santa Barbara abounds with kid-friendly restaurants and activities. But there are plenty of beautiful beaches if you just want to take in the seaside.
What You’ll Love: Many have referred to Santa Barbara as paradise on earth. The lush landscape and picturesque beaches makes for an idyllic vacation. You’ll enjoy exploring all the city has to offer along the Cabrillo bike path, which winds past the Santa Barbara Zoo (make sure to point out the giraffes poking their heads above the brush). You can rent a taga bike — the original bike stroller — or a surrey for a family-friendly outing.
You Might Also Like: Carmel, CA
Photo: kansasphoto via Flickr
Make your first vacation as a family, your baby’s first vacation abroad! (Yes, even your infant will need a passport). Just over 2 hours from New York or DC and, under 3 hours from Atlanta, Bermuda is an international destination in easy reach.
What Baby Will Love: The North Shore beaches are protected by the offshore barrier reef, creating calm waters with little to no surf — perfect for baby to toddle into. Tobacco Bay is a favorite with first time parents. Horseshoe Bay is also a nice option. The Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo lets those that aren’t old enough to hold their breath under water get an up-close-and-personal look at some of the region’s sea life.
What You’ll Love: This is a stay-put-and-relax vacation at its best. You can’t rent a vehicle on the island, but a well-established public transportation system makes getting around easy, cheap and Siri-free. You’ll enjoy beautiful, Caribbean-blue waters (without the actual travel time to the Caribbean). And after a carefree day, our favorite thing about Bermuda is its phenomenal sunsets.
You Might Also Like: The Bahamas
Have you taken your baby on any fantastic vacations yet? Tell us about your favorite baby-friendly destinations below.