Location Location Location
By island, by desert or by mountain, here are three excellent choices for your upcoming family adventure.
- Written byDarren Elms
Where: Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in O’ahu, Hawaii
Why: Whether Disney fan or Hawaii enthusiast, this spacious resort on the quiet Western end of O’ahu provides the perfect mix of playtime and paradise for all ages.
How: Many major airlines offer direct flights to O’ahu 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. 92-1185 Ali’inui Drive in Kapolei, 866-443-4763, resorts.disney.go.com/aulani-hawaii-resort
When: You can’t beat Hawaii’s year-round climate, but non-school vacation months like September, October, January and February could be less crowded. The annual Honolulu Food & Wine Festival is October 14-30, with many top chefs and foodies descending on the resort for events.
What: If you’re worried a trip to Aulani will be one character breakfast after another, don’t fear the Disney brand in the name. Entertainment and ambience is one of Disney’s staples, and this piece of tropical paradise is no exception. Are you likely to run into Mickey and Minnie in Hawaiian shirts? Yes (not necessarily a bad thing, especially for the youngsters). Should you expect the kid quotient to be overwhelming? No. Just a sprinkling of pixie dust here, and the effect is enchanting and education for everyone.
One of the best amenities at the resort is the accommodations, which range from standard rooms to three-bedroom villas … so the more the merrier. Dining is also diverse and delicious, with many local specialties blended with family fare and fine dining options for the adults. With much of the action happening both poolside and oceanside, there are also a shaves 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, snorkeling reef and more. If the Pacific’s more your style, you can walk your gear to sandy white beaches on the Ko Olina Lagoon. If you need a break from outdoor activities, visit the Laniwai spa and enjoy a few hours of pampering and polishing.
And no trip to Hawaii is complete without a luau. Aulani’s take on this tradition comes in the form of a Starlit Hui, an evening celebration of Hawaiian traditions and modern entertainment with island-inspired music and hula—along with unique storytelling from “Uncle,” Disney characters and magical touches.
Where: The Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage
Why: A dramatic 2014 remodel to the property puts this celebrated hotel back on top with gorgeous desert views at all corners.
How: An easy two-hour drive from the South Bay via the 10 Freeway beyond Palm Springs. 68900 Frank Sinatra Way in Rancho Mirage, 760-321-8282,
When: Steer clear of the summer months from June through September. Things start to average out in the fall and stay lovely through spring. The weeks around Easter and spring break get a bit hectic and pricey in the desert cities due to the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals.
What: No longer a stuffy stalwart of yesterday, the hotel is 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, providing just the right amount of outdoor space and indoor escape for lucky visitors.
With two pools and plenty of places to lounge, the milder months draw the sun worshippers outdoors. For those in need of a heat retreat, the spa calls with beautifully appointed lounges, treatment rooms and a lush menu of services. The kids will have plenty to keep themselves busy, including nature hikes, stargazing on a clear night and s’mores roasting on the private first-floor fire pits.
Dining highlights a stay at the Ritz with two notable venues: State Fare Bar + Kitchen and The Edge Steakhouse. While the former shines as an optimal family meal gathering spot any time of the day, the service and selection at The Edge helps it stands out as an exceptional culinary experience for mom and dad.
Perched right at the tip of the property overlooking the twinkling valley below, you just might get distracted by the sights and smells on your table—some of the best in the area.
Don’t be surprised if this restaurant, with its own dry-aging room and international wine list, becomes the hottest seat in the desert.
HERE COMES THE SUN
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: Fly LAX to Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN) on Alaska and United. 1 Sun Valley Road in Sun Valley, Idaho, 800-786-8259, sunvalley.com
What: Once a preferred spot for the likes of Warren Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood and Frank Sinatra, the iconic, 108-room Sun Valley Lodge has undergone a major renovation (brought completely down to the original studs) with upgrades including expanded guestrooms—some with dual-sided fireplaces—and bathrooms with walk-in showers and bathtubs. Rooms feature flat-screen TVs flashing the iconic film Sun Valley Serenade, 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 lined with historic black-and-white photos. Treatments range from the Cloud Nine Massage (customized to target specific tight or sore muscles) to the detoxifying Green Tea Wrap to help promote immunity. Sign up for a private ice skating lesson with local pro and Disney Ice dancer Natalia Zeitseva.
Book a walking tour of Ketchum with husband-and-wife duo Jim and Wendy Jaquet ([email protected]) and explore history, art galleries and must-see sights such as the Sun Valley Museum of History (comlib.org), where exhibits have included a Ski Hall of Fame with hometown heroes including Picabo Street and a display of ski gear through the decades.
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, aptly named for Olympic Alpine medalist Gretchen Fraser—the first American to win a gold medal in skiing in 1948, serves organic steel-cut oatmeal; egg white frittatas with cherry tomatoes and spinach; “Power Bowls” with quinoa, edamame and baby kale; and cinnamon bread pudding French toast drizzled with walnut and brown sugar.
For a leisurely afternoon lunch or dinner après skiing, take the gondola to the top of Bald Mountain to Roundhouse. (Comfy Pendleton-style blankets are included for the ride to and from the base.) Lunch options range from fondue paired with apple slices, bread and pears to duck salad, while dinner offers items from apple cider bisque with cardamom to branzino with celery root velouté.