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In my child-free 20s, I was teaching in Los Angeles and saving my pennies so that I could backpack abroad during my summers off. My love for travel started then — riding in the back of a pickup truck from Latacunga to the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador, marveling at the size of China’s Great Wall as I traversed it at Mutianyu, and wandering snowy alleys of Takayama, Japan, in search of incredible ramen.
Looking back, I see what a wildly charmed decade of my life that was. And once I had children — two daughters, now 10 and three — I was determined to keep some of that charm around. You’d be hard-pressed to find a mother who thinks travel with kids is easy, but ease isn’t the goal, is it? For me, the fun is in discovering who you are in a new place, among new people, learning about cultures around the world, and going for something even if it scares you a little. I love seeing who my daughters are when they’re out of the comfort of their home: inquisitive, brave, flexible, and outgoing.
So, take the trip, whether it’s near or far. Here are 25 incredible places for a mother-daughter vacation.
Monteverde and Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica
There may be no better place in the world to zip line than the cloud forest of Costa Rica. During my visit, we couldn’t see the opposite end of our 5,000-foot zip line, due to the thick clouds blanketing us, so we flew through a magical gray, trusting we’d make it to the other side. (Note that there are age limits here; usually guests must be at least 10 years old.) Try a nighttime tour in the nearby wildlife refuge to spot animals like sloths, kinkajous, toucans, tarantulas, and vipers. Then, make your way approximately three hours west to the beach town of Tamarindo — great for surfing lessons (the tide is low and ideal for beginners), leatherback turtle sightings (which nest here from October to May), and beautiful sunsets. It’s also a fantastic place to snorkel.
The red rock peaks of the American Southwest are stunning, and Sedona, Arizona, is my favorite place to experience them. Known for its vortexes, or places of more intense earthly energy, Sedona is also the place to feel the earth’s vibrations. You can tackle easier hikes with children of all ages, like the riverside trail to Cathedral Rock (which is a vortex). Boynton Canyon (another vortex) is a gorgeous playground for nature lovers; drive in for a hike here (about 20 minutes from town center), or stay right in the canyon at Enchantment Resort, where meals and pool time come with stellar views of the canyon. Mii Amo spa recently reopened after a major expansion — if your daughter is 16 or older (spa age minimum), this might make for the ultimate hike and self-care vacation destination.
Puerto Rico, Caribbean
On tropical walks in El Yunque National Forest, you are surrounded by lush vegetation, wild fauna, and waterfalls, making Puerto Rico yet another destination for mother-daughter pairs wanting to recharge in nature. Leap into a swimming hole to cool off, or book a zip-line tour to get your adrenaline going as you soar through the forest canopy. Then, get to one of the three bioluminescent bays — Lajas, Fajardo, or Vieques — for a kayaking trip illuminated by glowing dinoflagellates. And cruise the streets of Old San Juan, snacking on piraguas (shaved ice) prepared by local vendors.
Lake Tahoe, California
Lake Tahoe is the ultimate alpine lake, its shores speckled with world-class ski slopes, casinos, and forested hiking trails. In the winter, my daughter goes ice skating or takes a ski lesson at resorts like Palisades Tahoe or Northstar. And you’re never too young for some après-ski — a bloody mary in the midday sun for adults, and hot chocolate for the young ones after a couple hours on the mountain. In the summer, tube down the Truckee River (you can DIY it or go with an outfitter) and spend lots of time in the woods. Try Tahoe East Shore Trail (three miles) for a paved walk right along the water, or pick from many paths in local favorite Emerald Bay State Park. For lakeside fun, picnic and play at Pope Beach on the south shore or Kings Beach on the north shore. If the kids paddleboard or kayak, gear up for that on Tahoe’s crystal-blue waters.
Mendocino County, California
Come here to spend time under California’s singular redwood trees, and to revel in the beauty of the Golden State’s coastline. A ride on the historic Skunk Train (it’s a remnant of a retired rail system used for logging) will take you through the woods, or walk the three-mile loop trail in Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve. Then, hunt for sea glass at Glass Beach and enjoy gorgeous sea views and wildflowers as you wander in Mendocino Headlands State Park.
North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
There are no bad days in Hawaii, but the most serene ones might be those spent on Oahu’s North Shore. Long protected from major development, there are no malls or modern complexes here, so come for respite and wildly gorgeous waters. Turtle Bay Resort is a great accommodation option, close to the white sand of Kawela Bay. Snorkel at Three Tables, Shark’s Cove, Turtle Bay, or Kuilima Cove — the latter two are best for beginners. Hike through lush rain forest to Waimea Falls, then save time for quintessential (and kid-friendly) local snacks. Roadside fruit stands are bright with lychees, rambutans, and guavas, and Matsumoto Shave Ice and Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck in Haleiwa are required eating on the island.
The Mighty Five, Utah
Traversing this set of national parks — Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion — makes for one of the grandest road trips in the U.S. Some even try to visit one park a day for a scenic, five-day adventure. Pack solid hiking gear, tons of snacks, and all your energy to tackle great trails and scramble wild rock formations. Or, just visit a couple of the parks to lessen the driving. In Zion, a smooth-running shuttle system makes getting to trailheads easy; try The Watchman or Emerald Pools trails here. In Arches, do the Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch hikes. In Canyonlands, find the iconic Mesa Arch. Capitol Reef is great for watching the sunset and spotting petroglyphs. And in Bryce, observe incredible hoodoo formations from Rainbow Point or along Queen’s Garden Trail.
Banff impresses with its turquoise alpine lakes, geothermal springs, and accessible glaciers. Stay at the castle-like Fairmont Banff Springs — perhaps the most majestic property I’ve ever slept in — so that you can return to excellent on-site restaurants and cozy beds after each long excursion. A hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse is life-changing; from Lake Louise, you climb a bit over two miles to the 1927-built structure, passing through a dramatic glacial valley on your way to house-made soup or biscuits and jam. Soothe your muscles the next day at Banff Upper Hot Springs or explore the shops and eateries of Banff and Lake Louise Village. Kayaking on Moraine Lake or Emerald Lake are other must-dos.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Hiking to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and an epic experience for a teen. While the Inca Trail is long — 26 miles — and sometimes steep, it’s not an insurmountable task when done over multiple days, which is the typical method. Book an expedition with a recommended outfitter that guides you for four days and three nights (or more), and get ready for spectacular views. Watching the sunrise over the ruins — set nearly 8,000 feet above sea level — is a bonding experience that will be tough to top.
This eco-resort destination is easily reached via Cancun and has a wondrous setting, where blue waters, white-sand beaches, and mangroves meet. There are four luxury properties here and all are ideal for a relaxing and tropical mother-daughter getaway. Should you want to venture off the property, take a motorboat to a neighboring hotel (you’re sure to see tons of bird species en route), book an excursion through your concierge to a local cenote, or take a day trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Known for its magical winters, this mountain resort’s fresh powder draws boarders and skiers of all levels. Book lessons for littles at Dollar Mountain, or enjoy the atmosphere at a slower pace with a snowshoe or cross-country ski adventure or a horse-drawn sleigh ride. In the summer, there’s perhaps even more to do, from hiking and biking to fishing (try nearby Redfish Lake) and rafting. And don’t miss the free-admission outdoor symphony performances (usually in August), as well as a burger at Grumpy’s, a local institution.
Giraffe Manor caught my eye years ago, and I’ve talked about it with my daughters ever since. Set in a suburb of Nairobi, this 12-room boutique hotel is also a Rothschild giraffe sanctuary — the immense creatures are known to stick their heads into your bedroom window for a snack. From there, we’d move on to a multiday safari experience in the Masai Mara National Reserve, where game drives regularly include elephant, buffalo, and wildebeest sightings.
East to West, Ireland
Dublin is a fantastic starting place for a mother-daughter driving tour of Ireland — catch an Irish dance and music show, cross the River Liffey via the Ha’penny Bridge, then start your adventure through stunning Irish countryside. (My eldest daughter and I joined Adventures by Disney for an epic itinerary in the country when she was just five years old). Her favorite stops were mine, too: picking flowers around the Rock of Cashel, shopping in Kilkenny, sleeping at Dromoland Castle in County Clare, and walking along the Cliffs of Moher, where puffins are often spotted. But an early evening visit to Rathbaun Farm was the ultimate highlight, where we made biscuits from scratch with the farm owners, fed baby sheep, and ate a home-cooked Irish meal to the tune of a live pianist.
Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara, Japan
Japan’s renowned rail system makes traveling within the country easy and pleasant (read: great with kids, who are nearly always enthralled with a train ride). Spend a few days in Tokyo, snacking in underground food halls and joining the fray that is Shibuya Crossing. Our family adores Japanese artists Yayoi Kusama and Hayao Miyazaki, so a mother-daughter Tokyo visit would include visits to the Yayoi Kusama Museum and Ghibli Museum. Then, take a train to Kyoto (a bit over two hours), where you can spend days strolling historic temples like Kinkaku-ji and Kiyomizu-dera and shopping for handicrafts in the zigzagging Chawan-zaka, or “Teapot Lane.” At some point, take the 45-minute train ride to Nara Park, where you can feed the protected (and sacred, according to Shinto beliefs) deer that reside here.
Greater Portland, Oregon
Start in Portland, fueling up at Pine State Biscuits and shopping at the gem that is Powell’s City of Books. After a day or two in town, head to two incredible natural features: Multnomah Falls (tackle the eponymous 2.6-mile out-and-back trail here) and Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (the 4.4-mile trek to Dry Creek Falls is great). Next, you can take the 35-mile Hood River Fruit Loop, driving past farm stands and vineyards with wild views of Mount Hood, or, if everyone’s over 21, head back to Portland, then south for wine tasting in Willamette Valley.
Even at a young age, kids can (and love to) identify iconic sites around the world. In London, listening to the chime of Big Ben is a thrill, as is walking Tower Bridge and riding the London Eye. If your child is a theater buff, don’t miss a show at Shakespeare’s Globe, then stroll the Thames and see what adventures arise. Make a reservation for Sketch, a teahouse known for its stylish pink interior and egg-shaped restroom pods. And, of course, if your kid is a Harry Potter fan, stop for photo ops at Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station.
My eldest daughter can’t wait to visit Paris, and we have a loose itinerary ready. Requisite stops include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Musée d’Orsay, home to must-see works by Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. A food tour along the cobbled streets of Montmartre will highlight artisanal cheeses and chocolates, plus pastries (and wine for mom). Feasible day trip destinations include Versailles for a palace stroll, Giverny to visit Monet’s garden, and the Loire Valley for castles and biking. And we won’t leave without a cruise along the Seine, an incredible way for kids to see the city.
My kids love dumplings, so we’d make the trip to Beijing just to eat this dish on every possible corner. In many shops here, cooks stuff and crimp dumplings behind glass walls or windows, and watching their artistry — and the speed with which they do it — is mesmerizing. Between meals, visit the Forbidden City (completed in 1420), Summer Palace (restored in 1886), and Great Wall (what you see today is an estimated 500 years old). A tween or teen can really appreciate the details and age of these structures, and that they’re a window into the country’s past. The most popular Great Wall exploration point is Mutianyu, located about a 1.5-hour drive from Beijing.
Mexico City, Mexico
This metropolis is a haven for art lovers and ideal for teens who like exploring urban landscapes. Tour Frida Kahlo’s house, be entranced by Diego Rivera’s gargantuan murals — the one in the National Palace is impressive, looming nearly two stories high — and visit the exhibits in the Palace of Fine Arts. The Museum of Modern Art and Museo Jumex are other top attractions. In between art walks, eat tacos. A taco tour by Club Tengo Hambre is fit for foodies of any age. Other kid-friendly musts include a meal at Panaderia Rosetta, churros at Churreria El Moro, and a half-day trip to the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan.
New York, New York
Watching a story unfold on stage is a true pleasure, and where better to do so than Broadway? Any child, tween, or teen with a knack for performance will be thrilled to see a show (or three) in New York. Follow that up with other classic New York experiences, from walks in Central Park and the High Line to a pizza tour to a ride on the Staten Island Ferry for Statue of Liberty views. Watch the chess players in Washington Square Park, wander the aisles of Strand Book Store, and eat a giant cookie from Levain Bakery before leaving town.
Two words: Stanley Park. Locals and tourists constantly cross paths here, drawn to the sprawling outdoor space’s beauty and varied activity options. With younger kids, ride the miniature train at Stanley Park Railway, visit Vancouver Aquarium (set in the park), or play in the many playgrounds and splash areas here — there’s even a giant public pool with waterslides and bay views. My daughters also delighted in themed afternoon tea at the nearby Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, as well as crossing suspension bridges at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Lynn Canyon Park, both in North Vancouver. A quick ferry ride to Granville Island brings you to a great food hall. And if you have the time, spend a day and night on Victoria Island and/or in Whistler (less than two hours north of Vancouver), the gorgeous mountain town that hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.
This trip could be all about gelato, pasta, and pizza — the primary food groups of the young, no? Dine on these delights as you stroll or people-watch alongside Venice’s famous canals, then board a gondola to see the city from the water. Next, get lost in the narrow, colorful roads of Burano and enjoy the incredible examples of Italian architecture at St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and the Rialto Bridge. A kid-friendly cooking class would even let you bring a bit of Italy home, in a way.
Biking in Copenhagen is a must — it’s how lots of locals get around, and an unbeatable way to explore this coastal city. Pedal the harbor for great water and neighborhood views (the whole route is about eight miles), making a special stop at the colorful Nyhavn canal district. If you’re feeling energetic, do the nearly 20-mile Six Forgotten Giants route, which gets you into Copenhagen’s suburbs as you “hunt” for fantastic wooden sculptures by local artist Thomas Dambo. And spend a day in Tivoli Gardens; this one-of-a-kind amusement park, open since 1843, offers rides for all ages and stunning on-site gardens.
Seattle and Whidbey Island, Washington
This Pacific Northwest duo provides easy urban and wilderness possibilities. Take in the city from the observation deck of the Space Needle, then eat your way through Pike Place Market; we always stop at Piroshky Piroshky for a savory handheld pie, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese for samples, and Ellenos for the best Greek yogurt around. In the summer, cool off in the splash area of Jefferson Park or even the Seattle Center International Fountain. And after your city adventure, stay a couple of days on Whidbey Island, where you can play or go whale watching on beautiful beaches, take forest walks, or enjoy berry picking at a local farm. The seafood here is unmissable, too.
At five years old, my first daughter could see the appeal of this city. We admired the pink granite of the state capitol building, then spent hours in Zilker Metropolitan Park (home to the Austin City Limits Music Festival), where activity possibilities include a ride on a miniature electric train, strolling the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, and cooling off in Barton Springs Pool — it’s a whopping three acres in size and fed by natural springs. Look for peacocks in Mayfield Park, and pick a way to get out on Lady Bird Lake, be it kayak, canoe, SUP, or river cruise. Then, sample incredible Tex-Mex cuisine at stops like Torchy’s Tacos and La Mancha and top-notch barbecue at local favorites like Interstellar BBQ or Franklin Barbecue.