Location, Location, Location

By island, by desert or by mountain, here are three excellent choices for a family adventure.

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  • Written by
    Darren Elms and Jennie Nunn

Island Enchantment

WHERE: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Oahu, Hawaii

WHY: Whether Disney fan or Hawaii enthusiast, this spacious resort on the quiet Western end of Oahu provides the perfect mix of playtime and paradise for all ages.

HOW: Many major airlines offer direct flights to Oahu year-round, including Virgin Air, which recently debuted service to Honolulu. From the island capital it’s about 20 miles to the resort by car or shuttle. 866-443- 4763, resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort

WHEN: Non-school vacation months like September, October, January and February are typically less crowded. The annual Honolulu Food & Wine Festival is in October, with many top chefs and foodies descending on the resort.

WHAT: If you’re worried a trip to Aulani will be one character breakfast after another, don’t fear. Entertainment and ambience are Disney staples, and this piece of tropical paradise is no exception. Are you likely to run into Mickey and Minnie in Hawaiian shirts? Yes. Should you expect the kid quotient to be overwhelming? No—just a sprinkling of pixie dust here and there.

Accommodations range from standard rooms to three-bedroom villas. Dining is also diverse and delicious, with many local specialties blended with family fare as well as fine dining options. There is also a shaved ice stand, snack shop, pool bar and that famous Dole Whip for Disney diehards.

The resort is built around a giant aquatic zone full of pools, waterslides and snorkeling reef. If the Pacific is more your style, you can walk your gear to sandy white beaches on the Ko Olina Lagoon. For a break from outdoor activities, visit the Laniwai spa to enjoy pampering and polishing. 


Desert Comeback

WHERE: The Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage

WHY: A dramatic 2014 remodel to the property puts this celebrated hotel back on top with gorgeous panoramic desert views.

HOW: An easy two-hour drive from the Valley via the 10 Freeway, beyond Palm Springs. 760-321-8282, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/rancho-mirage

WHEN: Steer clear of the hot months from June through September. Things start to average out in the fall and stay lovely through spring. Beware of the weeks around Easter and spring break—also the time of Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals. Things get a bit hectic and pricey in all the desert towns.

WHAT: The hotel is now much less Gerald Ford and more Tom Ford following the seven-year-long redux. Sleek, modern and unfussy, the new design lets the sweeping desert vista take center stage.

With two pools and plenty of places to lounge, the milder months draw the sun worshippers. For those in need of a heat retreat, the spa calls with beautifully appointed lounges, treatment rooms and a lush menu of services. Kids can take nature hikes and roast s’mores on the private first-floor fire pits.

There are two notable dining venues: State Fare Bar + Kitchen and The Edge Steakhouse. While the former is terrific for family meals, The Edge is an exceptional culinary experience for mom and dad or couples. 


Mountain High

WHERE: Sun Valley Lodge in Sun Valley, Idaho

WHY: Sun Valley celebrates 80 years with a newly refurbished lodge and spa and a plethora of restaurants and year-round activities. The historic mining town was ranked #2 Ski Resort by Ski Magazine, with two major ski resorts: 9,150-foot-high Bald Mountain, or “Baldy Mountain,” for intermediate and advanced skiers, and 6,638-foot high Dollar Mountain, geared more for beginners.

HOW: Both Delta and United offer direct service to Boise, about a three-hour drive to Sun Valley. 800-786-8259, sunvalley.com

WHAT: Once a preferred spot for the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra, the iconic, 108-room Sun Valley Lodge has undergone a major renovation with upgrades including expanded guestrooms—some with dual-sided fireplaces—and bathrooms with walk-in showers and bathtubs. Rooms feature flat-screen TVs, crisp white linens, writing desks, and Keurig coffee and tea makers. (Ernest Hemingway penned part of For Whom the Bell Tolls in the office of the Hemingway Suite.) The property, originally built in 1935 by Stanley Underwood, also boasts an updated fitness center, a heated outdoor swimming pool and Jacuzzi, a refurbished bowling alley and arcade, and a 20,000-square-foot spa.

Sign up for a private ice skating lesson with local pro and Disney Ice dancer Natalia Zeitseva. Or book a walking tour of Ketchum with husband-and-wife duo Jim and Wendy Jaquet (wendyjaquet@yahoo. com) and explore history, art galleries and the Sun Valley Museum of History (comlib.org).

From Trail Creek Cabin—a rustic, log cabin-gone-restaurant accessible via a horse-drawn sleigh ride—to an Austrian-inspired bakery recalling a ski chalet, there are plenty of restaurant options around town. Start early with a hearty breakfast at Gretchen’s at the Sun Valley Lodge. The recently revamped eatery serves everything from “Power Bowls” with quinoa, edamame and baby kale to a bread pudding-style French toast, drizzled with walnut and brown sugar.

For a leisurely afternoon lunch or dinner, take the gondola to the top of Bald Mountain to Roundhouse. (Comfy Pendleton-style blankets are included for the ride.)