Thinking of starting a family tradition? We've found four spots in four states to suit four budgets. Each is a great place to spend a memorable week with the kids and the grandparents. The goal: Nobody gets bored, and everybody's batteries get recharged for another year.
HISTORY MEETS MODERN CONVENIENCES
OCEAN EDGE RESORT & GOLF CLUB ///Brewster, 800-343-6074, www.oceanedge.com.
Driving along Route 6A in Brewster, it's hard to miss Boston banker Samuel Nickerson's turn-of-the-century mansion. Today, it's the centerpiece of the sprawling Ocean Edge Resort, a new kind of Cape Cod landmark. While the main estate no longer houses overnight guests (it's used for meetings and wedding receptions), there are plenty of places to stay at the resort, with more than 300 guest rooms and town houses. The latest addition, 88 one-bedroom villas, over-looks the golf course. There are also lodgings closer to the water, some just a short walk from the resort's beach on Cape Cod Bay.
No matter where you're staying at Ocean Edge, there's no better way to start the day than a brisk stroll along the shore. After that, it gets more complicated. With its six pools, 18-hole Geoffrey Cornish-designed golf course, and 11 tennis courts, this is not a cozy little hotel where you can just grab your ice bucket and walk to all the amenities. You'll want wheels (bring your skateboards or scooters or rent bikes) just to get to many places on the grounds.
To help families negotiate their many choices - say, if the grown-ups need a little time away to play - the resort offers supervised programs for children ages 4 to 12. Counselors lead groups in age-appropriate activities, such as walks along the tidal pools looking for shells, turtles, insects, and other critters. There are also movie-and-pizza events for kids at night, in case parents want to sneak away for dinner in town, just a half-mile down the road. Summer rates range from $329 to $475 per night.
Resort bike paths connect to the Cape Cod Rail Trail, 23 miles of smooth, flat bikeways through towns and parkland. Or drive to nearby Nickerson State Park, once a private game preserve, which has three of the Cape's 300-plus kettle ponds, freshened with rainwater and perfect for canoeing (rentals are available). The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster is a favorite for families on soggy days. Just bring your bathing suits and towels in the trunk of your car. If the rain subsides, you can take the John Wing Trail from the museum through a forest of oaks and pines and over marshland to a quiet beach.
THE CLASSIC: COTTON CANDY AND FIREWORKS
SEASIDE VILLAGE RESORT /// North Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, 603-964-8204, www.seasidevillageresort.com.
The resort community of Hampton Beach has served as a welcome mat to ocean lovers for more than a century, and in a few places it's starting to show. Not only is the beach large enough to hold some 200,000 people on a scorching summer day, but the boardwalk is overrun with arcades, T-shirt vendors, and taffy shops.
But that's the fun of it, born out by the fact that at Seaside Village Resort, repeat guests account for most of the business in July and August. Families go there, love it, and decide to book the next year's vacation before they leave. (Don't let that discourage you: The owners do their best to accommodate new guests, especially if you're flexible with your schedule.) It also helps that Seaside's town houses, cabanas, and motel rooms are the region's only accommodations directly on the sand and that rates start at $725 per week.
During your stay, carve out some time to enjoy the boardwalk and its old-fashioned temptations. Besides classic beach treats like cotton candy and arcade games, there are fireworks every Wednesday night in the summer and special events such as a sand-sculpting competition (June 17 to 30) and a children's festival (August 15 to 19), with magic shows, ice cream, and a costume parade.
BACK TO NATURE IN WILD ACADIA
SEAWALL CAMPGROUND /// Acadia National Park, Maine, 207-288-3338, www.nps.gov/acad.
Sitting atop 680-foot Acadia Mountain, peering down at the lobster boats anchored in the town of Southwest Harbor, is the best way to introduce yourself to New England's only national park, 35,000 acres of Mount Desert Island near Bar Harbor, Maine.
Everything in the park is on a human scale, like the hourlong climb up the mountain. Acadia is home to some of the only mountains on the shore of the East Coast and has vast pockets of evergreen forests and a landlocked fiord. And, of course, there's always the Atlantic Ocean.
Don't bother with Acadia's popular Blackwoods Campground, situated off the congested Park Loop main road. Instead, go directly to Seawall, 4 miles south of Southwest Harbor on Route 102A. Primarily tent sites nestled in the woods, the campground is a 10-minute walk to a cluster of tidal pools on the shoreline. Availability is on a first-come, first-served basis, and park rangers arrive for check-in at 8:30 a.m. To get a space, you'll want to line up an hour or two earlier, especially in late July and early August. Campers are limited to 14 days in the summer season, 30 per calendar year.
Once you've paid the $20 for your overnight drive-up accommodation, climb Acadia Mountain or rent canoes and paddle Long Pond, the largest body of water in the park. If you plan to bike some of the 43 miles of carriage roads, hard-packed gravel paths that cross the entire eastern half of Mount Desert Island, try the remote Amphitheater Loop. North of Northeast Harbor, off Route 198, the 4.4-mile trip is an exhilarating up-and-down ride through dense woods and over historic bridges, with glimpses of the ocean around every bend. Afterward, head to Beal's Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor for a lobster roll and some clam chowder. National Park Service rangers offer programs for families in the summer, from guided climbs to storytelling sessions. No matter how you spend your days, in the evenings, it's back to Seawall to walk the rocky shores, soaking up enough clean air and ocean breezes to sustain you for an entire winter.
FANTASY ISLAND, NEW ENGLAND STYLE
CHAMPLIN'S /// Block Island, Rhode Island, 800-762-4541, www.champlinsresort.com.
Block Island is a wild chunk of land 12 miles south of mainland Rhode Island where residents have planned wisely to limit development and preserve natural resources. The place must be overrun with wedding parties and honeymooners staying in charming Victorian B&Bs, right?
Right. But it's also home to Champlin's, a service-packed hotel on the edge of a large marina that has become a summer destination for families. The 45 air-conditioned rooms are spread over three buildings, none taller than two stories. Each room comes with two important things that people on vacation somehow always seem to forget at home: a refrigerator and a microwave. To seal the deal, add the resort's private beach, large swimming pool, tennis courts, playground, ice cream parlor, pizza joint, and a theater that plays first-run movies.
The casual resort is perched on Great Salt Pond, a giant bay where guests can play in kayaks and motorized bumper boats. Summer rates range from $185 to $475 per night.
The hotel also serves as a great base camp - there's pizza, so, no, you don't actually have to leave - for daylong adventures like biking around the pork-chop-shaped island.
Early in your visit, circumnavigate the island (it's only 13 miles around the perimeter) to orient yourself. Head in the direction of Oak Harbor, the island's only town. You'll pass the larger motels there and can check out some restaurant choices away from the resort. Then continue to 3-mile-long Crescent Beach. Ferry day-trippers jam the beach during summer weekends, so plan a return visit for swimming and sunning during the less-crowded week.
Keep going, and you'll see weathered houses on hillsides bordered by old stone walls and bluish-green ponds, as well as moors and a cliff-gouged coastline that make it feel more like the Scottish Highlands than Rhode Island. Just don't leave everything back at the hotel. Lemonade stands dot the island, so carry lots of change to support the next generation of excellent hosts.
Stephen Jermanok's latest book is New England Seacoast Adventures.