iPad loaded with movies and games? Check. Car stuffed with snacks and music that appeal to adults and kids alike? Double-check. The kids are on vacation, and you want to keep them busy, learning and having fun. Prepare for the ultimate family road trip with our guide to cool routes to take and great places to stop, stay and dine—all on a dime.
EXPLORE NEW YORK STATE
With its bright lights and big-city dreams, New York City is the premier destination on the East Coast. During summertime, catch Broadway and off-Broadway shows, spread a blanket for free concerts on the piers, visit museums, watch Shakespeare in the Park and nosh on world-class cuisine in every borough—think flavorful Indian food in Jackson Heights, Queens; tasty Caribbean cooking in Brooklyn; authentic Italian fare in the Bronx.
But the rest of the state is no slouch. Filled with millions of acres of protected wilderness, lakes and more than 2,000 miles of hiking and biking trails, the countryside of New York State is where your family can retreat from the hustle and bustle of New York City and nestle into the serenity of nature. Now, before you think your road trip could turn into a scary scene from Us meets, well, every movie ever made about pitching a tent in the woods, think again.
…plenty of opportunities to explore the meaning of the Empire State’s mantra, I Love New York.
With glamping—a vacationing hybrid that combines the luxuries of a posh hotel (fluffy beds, sheets with high thread counts, charging stations, room service) with the thrill of the outdoors—you can put all those concerns to bed. Just a five-hour drive north of New York City takes you to the Adirondacks, where you can embrace a glamping experience at Lake Placid. Or stay at Lake George, home of more than a dozen private islands that you can rent for a very rustic time. Either way, the Adirondacks, with its more than 8.1 million acres of parkland and mountains, provide plenty of opportunities to explore the meaning of the Empire State’s mantra, I Love New York.
ROUTE TO TAKE: I-87 north.
WHAT TO DO: World Awareness Museum ($5; children under 3 years get in free), parasailing, hot-air balloon rides, tubing, children’s museum, kayaking, sailing, Great Escape Six Flags.
WHERE TO EAT: Mirror Lake Inn’s The View Restaurant at Lake Placid (a 48-hour reservation is required and a dress code of no flip-flops, baseball caps or athletic wear is enforced). Or wear what you want and get some of the best catfish in nearby Schenectady at a little place called YaYa’s House Southern Cuisine (518-382-9292).
WHERE TO STAY: Adirondack Safari on the Schoon River ($169–$300 per night, adirondacksafari.com) or find more locations online (glampinghub.com). For no-frills campgrounds, try Bass Island ($28–$48 per night, reserveamerica.com/explore/glen-island-lake-george-is/NY).
If glamping in the Northeast isn’t for you and your family, then head south
FIND THE FUN BETWEEN PHILLY AND WASHINGTON,D.C.
If glamping in the Northeast isn’t for you and your family, then head south into Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love and birthplace of The Roots and Jill Scott. It is also where portions of the movies Creed and Rocky were filmed. You and the kids can spend a few days steeped in African-American firsts: the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the first museum created to preserve Black history, and The Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest newspaper to tell our stories.
Cruise through the Germantown Historic District and see where Harriet Tubman stayed during her stops along the Underground Railroad, and visit The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Free Library of Philadelphia, both designed by Julian Abele, the first African-American to design buildings in the city and the first to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture. Change things up the next day with Elmo and Big Bird at Sesame Place, which is celebrating 50 years of Sesame Street (kids under 23 months get in free); take a tour of Herr’s Snack Factory for fresh potato chips, then grab some hoagies or Philly cheesesteaks to hold you over until you arrive in Washington, D.C., two hours later.
Once in D.C., settle into a midrange hotel from your favorite chain where breakfast is complimentary for you and your crew. You’ll want to rest up to see all the sights—in particular the breathtaking National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian. Begin at the top floor for fun, interactive experiences that allow you to learn how to step, trace destinations in the real Green Book and see 3-D models of museum artifacts. It’s a lighthearted way to start the museum tour. If you begin on the first floor, be prepared for emotionally moving depictions of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We suggest breaking up your visit into two days as timed passes are good for three hours on weekends only. If you get hungry, nibble on soul food from a menu created for the museum by chef Carla Hall.
Sharon Pendana, a D.C. native and author of Secret Washington, D.C., offers another itinerary: Visit the U Street Corridor area of the District, “once known as Black Broadway because of the theaters and who came to town to perform there,” she says. This community shows off the culinary diversity of the diaspora, with its large Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant options. In the same neighborhood, you’ll also find the renowned Busboys and Poets, which offers standard American fare, music and poetry performances and a bookstore all in one. If you feel like something quick and native, get some half-smokes—hot dogs with chili—from the historic Black-owned Ben’s Chili Bowl, a favorite of locals. If you’re looking for something more upscale, go by the Wharf area for dinner at Kith+Kin.
ROUTE TO TAKE: I-95 south.
WHAT TO DO: Step Afrika (open June 8–16); MLK Monument, National African American Museum of Art & Culture (nmaahc.si.edu to request timed passes); Herr’s (800-284-7488).
WHERE TO STAY: Midrange hotels like Residence Inn by Marriott ($183–$249 per night, marriott.com) or Homewood Suites by Hilton ($266–$349 per night, homewoodsuites3.hilton.com); bed-and-breakfasts like Akwaaba Mansion ($205–$255 per night, dcakwaaba.com).
WHERE TO EAT: Kith+Kin for a fusion of African and Caribbean cuisines; Busboys and Poets for fresh American food.
FEEL A CULTURAL VIBE IN THE SEA ISLANDS
More than 100 sea islands dot the Atlantic coast, from South Carolina to Georgia to Florida. Visit the white sand beaches of Hilton Head, South Carolina, which are among the top family beaches in the country. Book a guide to explore the island and its wildlife, go bicycling and golfing, and shop at quaint boutiques. Then experience the region’s living history with a two-hour Geechee/Gullah tour. As the only region in the U.S. where traditional West African customs have been preserved from our ancestors, the Gullah Islands are home to the Geechee people, who offer oral histories from the time we first landed until now.
Choose from the Gullah Heritage Trail Tour on Hilton Head, the Sallie Ann Robinson Gullah Tour on Daufuskie Island (the entire island is considered an historic district), the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, the Gullah Geechee Visitor Center in Beaufort, or the Gullah Guide to Charleston.
As the only region in the U.S. where traditional West African customs have been preserved from our ancestors, the Gullah Islands are home to the Geechee people
Gai A. Spann, founder of Spanning the Globe Travel Tours in Atlanta, found the Gullah tours to be the most comprehensive. “They do not downplay the role that South Carolina played in the slave trade,” she said after visiting this past spring. “I realized this when I took a traditional tour in the morning and the Geechee tour in the afternoon. I knew some of the tour guide’s data from the morning tour was incorrect, but I didn’t know the facts well enough to correct her. When I took the Geechee tour, I realized just how inaccurate the first tour guide was.”
ROUTE TO TAKE: I-95 south to I-287 east to Hilton Head, then a boat to the other islands.
WHAT TO DO: Nature, wildlife and historical tours; dolphin watching, biking, kayaking and golfing. (Gullah/Geechee tours cost $20–$32 for adults, $12–$20 for children).
WHERE TO STAY: Rent a home or condo (from $55–$415 per night, airbnb.com or vrbo.com).
WHERE TO EAT: Gullah Grub on Saint Helena for soul food; Poseidon Coastal cuisine on Hilton Head for seafood; The Dog House in Beaufort for hot dogs and lobster rolls. BYOB to the other restaurants on the islands.
ENJOY THE HIGH LIFE IN CALIFORNIA’S BIG SUR
Stretching for over 163,000 square miles, the state of California offers family-friendly destinations to satisfy every interest. While Los Angeles is California’s most famous city, one of the prettiest road trips runs through Big Sur, located along the state’s central coast. Cali abounds with great getaways. That’s what Yvette Davis Gayle, head of communications and engagement at the Africa Creative Agency, and her husband, Colin, realized while living in Los Angeles. Every spring and summer break they would hit the road with their now 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter for a quick trip. “We’d drive up I-10 east to Palm Springs,” Gayle says. “It’s an easy two-hour drive, making it far enough to get away but not so distant that the kids become uncomfortable.”
While Los Angeles is California’s most famous city, one of the prettiest road trips runs through Big Sur
Another scenic drive, 130 miles of highway known locally as Palms to Pines, takes you through the San Gorgonio Pass, where mountains soar thousands of feet above the road. Along the way you’ll find must-stop taco trucks and kid-friendly roadside attractions. From Palm Springs, you can do a day hike through the Joshua Tree National Park, which bridges the ecosystems of the Mojave and Colorado deserts. “We typically rent a really nice two-bedroom villa when we go,” Gayle says. “This allows us to cook, barbecue and spend more on the local activities.”
The drive from Palm Springs to Oakland is about seven hours and is probably better suited for travel with older children. Take in the history of Black resistance at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland. The first floor houses 12,000 volumes by or about African-Americans. The second floor is host to original and traveling exhibits, so check what’s showing during your visit.
When you’re ready to eat, Oakland offers a wide variety of hearty traditional, ethnic and vegan fare. Choose from Ethiopian, Cambodian, Latin, Caribbean and traditional soul food places to chow down. For a quick day trip, drive about two hours from Oakland to Monterey for the magnificent coastal views. While in Monterey, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium; the state beach for swimming, surfing and scuba diving; the Steinbeck’s Spirit of Monterey Wax Museum; and George Washington Park, which provides superb natural bird and butterfly viewing.
ROUTE TO TAKE: I-10 east to Los Angeles.
WHAT TO DO: On the way to Monterey, shop at the Cabazon Outlets and visit the Cabazon Dinosaurs, a campy roadside attraction. While in Palm Springs, visit the Joshua Tree National Park for picnics, the Living Desert Zoo and the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert.
WHERE TO STAY: Rent a villa or a private home (innclusive .com or airbnb.com).
WHERE TO EAT: In Oakland, check out Brown Sugar Kitchen, Everett and Jones BBQ, Souley Vegan and Suya African Caribbean Grill.