Summer is here, and there’s something about the warm (ahem…hot!) weather that automatically makes me ask, “When’s our next vacation?” I know road-tripping with kids can sound daunting – you may have heard the saying, “with kids, there are no vacations, just trips” – but with the right planning, preparation and research, hitting the road to a family-friendly destination can actually be fun for all! One thing that originally drew us to the Auburn-Opelika area was its proximity to so many wonderful and unique places. My family has loved mixing it up and trying out all different types of road trips, from cabins and mountains to the always-toddler-friendly beach. Here are a few of my favorite summer destinations, all less than a 4 hours drive from AO!
Carillon Beach, FL (3.5-4 hours)
Carillon Beach is a gated community sandwiched between Panama City Beach and the beach villages of 30A. With three pools, a playground, tennis courts, and a basketball court, there’s plenty of activities just out your front door. Several beach walkovers ensure that you’ll have a short (walkable) commute to the beach no matter where your rental is located within the community. And with panhandle beaches getting more crowded every year, I always appreciate just how much space my family has to spread out on the sand thanks to Carillon’s protected location near Philips Inlet. Carillon’s ‘Mayberry’ feel with beachy homes and cottages, wide sidewalks and even a bell tower is hard to beat when traveling with little ones. It truly is an easy way to do the beach with thoughtful family-friendly touches and access to so many fun, nearby beach towns.
Lake Blue Ridge, GA (3-3.5 hours)
Most people think of the mountains when they hear of Blue Ridge, but just to the east of downtown Blue Ridge (named for, yes, the mountains), is Lake Blue Ridge. In this area of Georgia, you can swim in the lake and hike the mountains in the same weekend! I also have found there to be a nice variety of hikes for all ages and ability levels. Blue Ridge affords you the opportunity to ‘get away’ by renting a cabin off the beaten path or up a mountain side while remaining close to activities, shopping and dining in downtown Blue Ridge as well as lake access just down the road. Our kids really enjoyed the lake beach in Morganton! Once you’ve gotten your lake fix, you can check out the ziplining, white water rafting, and tubing nearby, or take a ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. Our toughest challenge on a vacation like this is figuring out just how many outdoor activities we can fit into our getaway.
Huntsville, AL (3.5-4 hours)
If you’re looking for a more urban destination, Huntsville is a great option. As one of Alabama’s fastest growing cities, Huntsville also continues to grow its list of family friendly activities with some of the most popular being the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville Botanical Garden, and the EarlyWorks Children’s Museum. One of Huntsville’s most unique attractions, Campus No. 805 – a converted middle and high school – provides something for everyone with breweries, virtual golf, coffee shops, an arcade and more. This was a great rainy day activity for us, and we enjoyed treating ourselves to some grownup time at the breweries. If you’re blessed with good weather and would rather spend time outside, you can hike at Monte Sano State Park, paddle the Flint River, or bike one of the many greenways. One of my favorite activities from our trip to Huntsville was picnicking and feeding the ducks downtown at Big Spring International Park; just be sure to pack the water gear so the kids can cool off in the fountain at neighboring Bicentennial Park!
Once we’ve picked our spot, I usually take the lead in my family on selecting the lodging. House vs. condo. Cabin vs. hotel. Each option can be the right fit in the right situation, but the last thing you want is a tired and cranky crew while you’re exploring your destination. How much time will you spend at ‘home’? Does everyone need separate sleeping spaces? Is walkability important? We’ve rented houses and a condo at Carillon, a cabin in Blue Ridge and stayed with friends in Huntsville. Each had its pros and cons and provided different experiences for us. I’ve also recently been introduced to the world of camping and RVing which may be an option we explore in the future.
Then there’s the question of when to leave. Every time we roadtrip, my husband and I have an extensive conversation about this because we struggle to find the perfect solution. Our kids are generally good car nappers so we’ve had the most success leaving right before naptime. However, every kid is different and sleep schedules are ever evolving, so make your best guess at the ideal departure time for your family and just remember, always bring plenty of snacks!
These 3 options barely skim the surface of all of the awesome summer road trips that can be made from Auburn-Opelika. I hope the warmer weather or the activities mentioned here cause you to catch the travel bug and hit the road to one (or all!) of these sweet summer destinations!