Pedestrian-friendly, family travel destinations?
January 10, 2007 10:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations on vacation destinations that are family-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, and have a great public transportation system. Also looking for package deals, guided tours, etc. anything that will make planning this vacation as easy as possible! (Will be travelling during spring break, but we don't want to go to the beach.)

Last year I dragged my mom and my younger brother to Washington DC on vacation. We had lots of fun, but it was a pain for me to try to organize and plan the entire trip, as well as play tour guide. I want to take them on vacation again this year, during my brother's spring break, but I really have no idea which destinations would be best for us, given what I learned on the DC trip:

1.) We need a place that has a good public transportation system, so we can easily get around to the tourist spots/restaurants. We won't be renting a car (this is not an option, at all) so we have to rely on the bus, subway, or cabs.
2.) Tourist spots shouldn't be focused on the outdoors-type. We like parks and zoos, but we like air-conditioned comfort better.
3.) There should be attractions interesting to all of us: 50-yr old housewife, 15-yr old teenage boy, and a 25-yr old yuppie-ish daughter.

I'd also love to find guided tours or package deals that'd take care of mostly everything, or things like cruise packages and amtrak vacations. (We'd be leaving out of Houston, TX.) And of course, since I'm going to pay for us three, the cheaper the better.
posted by lychee to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Um, how about NYC? I thought the Metro was good (though I prefer DC Metro myself), there's plenty of guided tours, there's plenty of air-conditioned type stuff, and there's something for your whole family.

And I'd say that NYC is very pedestrian friendly.
posted by champthom at 10:26 PM on January 10, 2007

Chicago would fit the bill. Good public transit, lots of things to do for everyone, air conditioning. There's lots of options to get here: all sorts of planes, plus Amtrak.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:41 PM on January 10, 2007

I think your specific needs and precise requirements would best be met by talking with a real live travel agent.
These professionals have access to excellent resources, fresh ideas, and realistic prices.
Set aside an hour or two on a Saturday, take the entire family, browse the brochures and posters and itineraries TOGETHER.
Make this a delightful game!
Everyone has a hand in it, each member feels empowered, and you all get a chance to bond months before you leave for the airport.
Expectations, dreams and excitement are half the fun of getting there!
posted by Dizzy at 10:41 PM on January 10, 2007

Chicago! Great public tranportation in the Loop (plus cabs are easy to find), very walkable, and tons of stuff to do -- seriously, within a couple of square miles you have absolutely world-class museums (art, natural history, aquarium, planetarium), architecture (take the river tour!), food, parks/lakefront (go to the hothouse in Lincoln Park!), shopping, etc. Bonus: Chicagoans tend to be among the friendliest big city people I've ever met in my life.

(Also, if you're going during spring break, you probably won't need to worry too much about air-conditioned comfort -- I know most of the country's having a warm spell right now, but unless something truly freakish happens, Chicago shouldn't be out-and-out hot in March.)
posted by scody at 10:41 PM on January 10, 2007

Limiting yourself to places that have tourist friendly public transit (or a huge set of things to do that are centrally located will cut down on the number of places you could go dramatically. In my mind, its probably DC, NYC, Chicago, maybe Atlanta and Philly. Note that for my definition of pedestrian friendly public transit I include places where you can spend most of your trips on trains or subways with an ocassion trip on a bus). San Francisco kind of fits into my definition and kind of doesn't but it has a huge tourist infrastructure that can cater to people who don't have cars so that would work well for you also. In fact, that would be my vote.

If you can find cheap flights, London and Paris both have excellent public transit as well.

Also, for all the northern cities on the list above, none of them should be too hot during spring break to require respite from the heat.
posted by mmascolino at 10:43 PM on January 10, 2007

Key West, Florida. It's not really "the beach", it's a cool little town with beautiful architecture and lots to do. Very easy to get around via bicycle, foot or trolley.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:07 PM on January 10, 2007

posted by loiseau at 11:11 PM on January 10, 2007

Seconding Vancouver. Beautiful city, nice public transportation (although a wee on the pricey side). I would be remiss if I didn't also suggest Seattle, though.
posted by rossination at 11:35 PM on January 10, 2007

Honolulu? Extensive bus transit system, indoor and outdoor attractions (you mentioned beaches), stuff for seniors and yuppies... er... and not as far away as London or Paris?

Okay, it's not as vibrant as New York or as modern as Chicago and I personally would pick a neighbor island for a Hawaii trip, but it could be an option.
posted by pzarquon at 11:46 PM on January 10, 2007

dizzy, I'm not actually in the same city as my family, and they...don't really want to think about these things, they leave it all up to me. I'm okay with being limited in my choices, I just want to get my family out of the house! My mom's never travelled in her entire life, and my little brother just sits in front of the computer all day. I want them to see the world before my mom gets "too old" (her words) or my brother turns into a lump!

But Chicago and Vancouver sound good; I'm leaning towards Chicago because I just remembered my mother has a sister who lives around Chicago. That might entice her to get on board 100%. (Seriously, you'd think a free vacation paid for by a devoted daughter/sister would be enough, but there's always "complications.")

Thanks all!
posted by lychee at 12:27 AM on January 11, 2007

You just described Disney World.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:37 AM on January 11, 2007

a safe, clean, diverse city that has
a great zoo,
a great big art gallery,
a ton of small galleries,
a vibrant theatre scene,
lots of ongoing cultural events,
a cool museum,
a lame museum,
a pretty island to have a picnic on,
food from every corner of the globe,
lots of shopping,
a cool science centre,
the CN tower,
a castle,
and a very easy to manage subway system, which is about $2.50 a ride (using a pretty identical currency system- ie, no big exchange rate to think about).

in fact, almost everything i just mentioned is available less than 20 minutes from the downtown core, by public transit (the zoo and the science centre are maybe an hour by transit; everything else is around the downtown core).

you can also take a fun and pretty affordable day trip to niagara falls (maybe a 2 hour bus ride from any downtown hotel).

toronto is, in general, pretty tourist friendly, and the people are generally nice and helpful.
i love toronto.

(ps, i do not work for the city of toronto. i just like it.)
posted by twistofrhyme at 1:26 AM on January 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Toronto's an excellent idea.

So's Ottawa, if you liked DC. Similar capital-city attractions, but no slums. The public transportation isn't as good as Toronto's, but still quite serviceable; I've lived in Ottawa for most of my life and have yet to really get around to learning to drive. Cabs are cheap. It's also close enough to Montréal that it's easy to head there and back in a day.

The CDN$ is heading back down, so -- anything Canadian, really.
posted by kmennie at 4:14 AM on January 11, 2007

I second Walt Disney World. My wife and I own a Disney timeshare, and we go at least twice a year.

If you stay on the resort property, there is free transportation via bus to everything. They'll even pick you up and drop you off at the airport (Disney's Magical Express). The temperature in April should be in the high 70s to low 80s, but all of the stores, attractions, and restaurants are air-conditioned so it's not really noticeable if it gets too hot. Finally, you can be sure that there are tons of fun activities for all ages.

Here's a great site for information if you're interested: All Ears Net
posted by flyingcowofdoom at 6:08 AM on January 11, 2007

Toronto, absolutely. (I don't work for the city; I just live here and I love my city.)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:30 AM on January 11, 2007

Second Ottawa. Just got back from there with my (mobility limited) partner. There are all kinds of museums, from the small to the huge. The museums we were in had children's sections. The buses are everywhere (pick up day passes if you'll be using them a lot, tickets if you won't). The free tour of Parliment Hill includes a lot of fascinating stuff including the gorgeous library. Plus the food was great (if you can afford at least lunch at Sweetgrass Aboriginal Restaurant, go!).

I don't know about guided tours, but the tourism office across from Parliment Hill would.

We were there for over a week, and have a list of at least another week's worth of stuff we want to do next time we go back. It's really an amazingly cool city.
posted by QIbHom at 7:53 AM on January 11, 2007

What dirtynumbangelboy said.
posted by SassHat at 8:58 AM on January 11, 2007

Did anyone mention Boston? It's America's best walking city with an excellent public transport system. Extremely easy to navigate. There's also great shopping and if the weather's nice enough, I'd recommend the Duck Tour which will give you a quick and dirty history of the city.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 9:55 AM on January 11, 2007

Washington D.C. has a great transportation system, is walkable, and is a great place to take your children. The National Mall has free museums with something for everyone (art, history, science, popular culture) and loads of monuments.
posted by kellygreen at 5:59 PM on January 11, 2007

nthing Ottawa- great for range of activities, transit, etc. You can take a bus or the train to Montreal for a day or 2 (it's only 2 hrs. away). Both excellent cities for your circumstances.

FYI West to East (approx. train/bus times):
4 hrs.
2.5 hrs.
Quebec City
posted by kch at 6:23 PM on January 11, 2007

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