Every summer, UC Santa Barbara’s hard partying co-eds abandon their dorms and dining halls…and are replaced with hard-partying parents (and their kids)! From late June through mid-August, the campus becomes home to the Family Vacation Center, an all-inclusive camp-style vacation destination complete with room, board, shows, activities and – best of all – both daytime and evening child care.  It’s kind of like a cruise ship, but without the teensy-tiny cabins and seasickness. In other words: way better.  But you’d better book now – these spots go fast.  It’s time for the whole family to go to camp.fvc1

Welcome to College!
With its laid-back surfer town vibe and picturesque mountain views, UCSB is almost ridiculously idyllic (especially for those of us who attended college in landlocked locales) and provides the perfect setting for a summer “family camp” that everyone can enjoy. The first thing you’ll notice upon arrival at the dormitory where the Family Vacation Center sets up its home base is the abundance of enthusiastic, good-natured, college-age counselors eager to attend to your every need. (Actually, the first thing you’ll notice is the pervasive aroma of eucalyptus and salt air – UCSB’s signature scent – but those fresh-faced college kids come in a close second.)

Fun for All and All for Fun!
The dorm suites where each family stays are no frills but roomy, but it doesn’t matter much because you’ll all be too busy to spend much time there. The menu of adult activities changes daily and features options that are included in your package price, such as group hikes in the Santa Ynez mountains, downtown Santa Barbara art walks and bike trips (bikes are provided), as well as add-on adventures such as surf lessons, kayaking, wine tasting tours and horseback riding.fvccamera

And where might your children be while you’re enjoying all of this carefree fun? Having their own whale of a good time, of course! Each morning after breakfast (more on meals in a minute), they head off to join other kids in their age group (from babies/toddlers on up to teenagers — each group led by a couple of ebullient counselors) for their own scheduled events, which may include a visit to the campus marine center, a field trip to the beach, or even a day at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Parents and kids reconvene for lunch in the dining hall (that someone else made!), followed by some afternoon “family time,” either relaxing at the pool or the beach, or joining in all-ages activities such as arts and crafts, Frisbee on the lawn, basketball, dance class or a pie-eating contest. If this is all sounding almost comically adorable, that’s because it is: The folks at the Family Vacation Center are devoted to creating the ideal family trip, and they’re very good at it.fvcpie

Fuel Up for More Fun
A note about meals at UC Santa Barbara: they’re pretty awesome. Breakfast, lunch and dinner usually take place in the Carrillo Dining Commons, where there is an ungodly number of menu items to choose from, ensuring even the pickiest individual in your family will find something he or she likes. A few types of pizza are usually available, along with plenty of vegetarian selections made with fresh produce. Beyond that, the menu changes daily and encompasses many different types of cuisine. And there’s always dessert, of course – this is vacation, after all!  (And did we mention the best part?  That you don’t plan, shop for, cook, serve or clean up a single meal or dish.  Heaven.)

Mom and Dad Need to Be Alone Now
On some evenings, kids can choose to attend a pajama party or other scheduled activity with those jovial counselors, bless their souls, allowing mom and dad to attend a mixer-type event with the other adults such as a pub trivia night, or a fancy dinner. Other nights feature all-ages activities like beach campfires and family bingo. But if you grow tired of being social, you can always hire a counselor to babysit (just 10 bucks an hour!) so you can hit the town, take a stroll on the beach, or do something you haven’t done since college (we won’t tell) with your honey.

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Insider’s Tip: Family Vacation Center’s Summer 2016 dates always book up fast, but as of May 2016, there are spaces available for several weeks this summer, so visit its website today to make a reservation and take advantage of special offers such as the UC Alumni discount.

Learn more and book your spot online: familyvacationcenter.com

Where do you take your family vacations?  And have you every done a family camp?  Let us know about it in the comment section.

—Erin Harris

All photos by UCSB Family Vacation Center