Island Adventure in Aruba
Immortalized by The Beach Boys in their 1988 pop song “Kokomo,” the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba is more than just a romantic getaway for lovers, as the song implies.
A mere 20 miles long and only six miles wide, the relatively small island, just north of Venezuela, offers visitors a vast array of landscapes and attractions, including world-famous beaches, rocky desert, and a national park, all surrounded by lively culture and calm Caribbean waters. Due to its size and layout, the island is easily maneuverable, making it a great place for families to visit. But perhaps Aruba’s biggest draw is its consistent weather. Boasting a median 82-degree temperature year round, this tropical destination rarely sees bad weather, and just so happens to sit outside of the hurricane belt. The Dutch have been a governing mainstay here since the late 17th century, but Aruba’s rich culture speaks to its many inhabitants of the course of its history—most locals speak at least four languages, including Dutch, English, Spanish, and the native Papiamento.
Flying to Aruba is simple; a number of airlines offer direct flights from Chicago. The main airport on the island, Queen Beatrix International Airport, is just south of the island’s capital city Oranjestad, which makes for an easy transfer to a hotel. One of the more popular areas for resorts is Aruba’s Palm Beach, and the newest addition to the block is The Ritz-Carlton Aruba. Recently expanding its luxury brand to the island, the beachside resort has more than 300 guestrooms on-site. In addition to palatial accommodations, The Ritz offers a 15,000-square-foot state-of-the-art spa, two pools, and a casino, as well as four elite dining options.
While you could easily spend your entire time on the beach in Aruba, there are too many fun ways to “earn” your tan, including beachside yoga and Pilates classes at Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa located on Eagle Beach, recently voted one of the “Top 10 Beaches of the World” by TripAdvisor.
Aruba also offers a plethora of water sports activities, including windsurfing and kitesurfing, available at Fisherman’s Hut Beach. The constant trade winds from the Northeast and shallow water make it the perfect learning environment for beginners. Also off the coast is the world-famous dive site of the SS Antilla, a Dutch cargo ship that sunk during WWII. More than 400-feet long, the ship provides plenty of fodder for curious divers. JADS Dive Center offers guided dives and boats to the wreck and a variety of other dive sites on the island.
The diverse landscape on the island is the perfect environment for the explorer, and Arikok National Park is a great place to begin. The desert, which is protected by Dutch government, is truly a wonder to witness—it’s not every day that you see cacti next to the Caribbean Sea. De Palms Tours offers ATV, UTV, and Jeep tours (the latter of which is perfect for families.) Top off your visit with a sunrise horseback ride along the North Shore (ironic, right?) and take a dip in Aruba’s famous natural pool, Conchi, one of the stops on the trek. From one North Shore to another, it’s the perfect conclusion to your Aruban adventure. —Kendall McKinven
California Dreamin’ in Santa Monica
It’s always sunny in Santa Monica—well, technically, it’s almost always sunny. The beachfront city, located on the west side of Los Angeles, averages about 310 sunny days per year, making it the perfect location for a relaxing getaway. From the crystal blue Pacific waters located along the city’s west edge to its vibrant downtown shopping plazas, Santa Monica is the kind of laid-back place where everyone can find something to enjoy.
For a quintessential California experience, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, with its prime location overlooking the Santa Monica Bay along with a storied Hollywood history, is about as good as it gets. Once a private mansion owned by the founder of this seaside town, John P. Jones, the Fairmont Miramar was transformed into a celebrity beach retreat during the Roaring Twenties, when it played host to a number of celebrities, including Greta Garbo, who lived in the hotel’s beachfront Palisades Wing for more than four years. As its name implies, the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows features 32 poolside bungalow suites, which have recently been given a modern makeover by California designer Lynda Murray. But these ultra-private bungalows, surrounded by the hotel’s landscaped gardens, still ooze with Hollywood history—Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Paul Newman, and Steven Spielberg have all been guests. More recently, Denise Richard’s reality show, “It’s Complicated,” was filmed here.
The Fairmont Miramar has more to offer than just a fascinating history. Its Exhale Spa offers top-notch pampering services, ranging from body scrubs and facials to manicures and, of course, acupuncture, and Exhale Fitness Studio keeps guests California-fit with yoga, core fusion cardio, and barre classes. The hotel’s restaurant, FIG, named after its enormous fig tree, serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner using fresh, seasonal ingredients from the nearby, legendary Santa Monica Farmers Market. Be sure to drop by and stock up on California produce and other amazing treats.
The Fairmont Miramar is within easy walking distance of many attractions, starting with the beautiful Palisades Park, just across the street—a great place to snap some family pics. Stroll over to 3rd Street Promenade, an outdoor shopping center that’s touristy and fun, complete with street performers and a variety of eateries. For more serious shopping, head to Santa Monica Place on Santa Monica Boulevard for upscale stores like Nordstrom, Burberry, Coach, Jonathan Adler, Kate Spade New York, Tory Burch, Michael Kors, and that trendy L.A. chain Kitson. For chic boutique shopping, head over to Montana Avenue, where you’ll find Michael Stars, Jill Roberts, ABS by Allen Schwartz, The Blues Jean Bar, and more.
But Santa Monica is all about the beach, and the iconic Santa Monica State Beach offers something for everyone. The highlight is the 100-plus-year-old Santa Monica Pier, where kids and adults alike will enjoy rides on the historic carousel and the solar-powered Ferris wheel. Just below the pier is Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, where the kids can touch and feed creatures from the sea. Just south of Santa Monica Pier is the original location of Muscle Beach, known as the birthplace of the physical fitness boom of the 20th century. A bodybuilding landmark dating back to the 1930s (fitness guru Jack LaLanne once trained here), Muscle Beach was restored in the late ’90s, and now offers an extensive training area for gymnasts, a jungle gym for the kids, and a sign that presents a good photo opp. Perhaps the ideal way to experience the Santa Monica coastline is on a bike. Perry’s Café, located on the beach, offers a Legends Historic Beach Bike Tour, an entertaining tour that takes you past the homes of Hollywood’s biggest stars and the landmarks of a bygone era. When it’s over, you may leave wishing for just a few more sunny days in Santa Monica. —Jenna Schubert
Miami Beach Glamour in Bal Harbour
South Beach is fun and easy to get to, but let’s face it, it’s not the most family-friendly destination for spring break. Luckily, there’s Bal Harbour, a quick 15-minute drive from frolicking South Beach, just up Collins Avenue—but a world away. Located on the northernmost tip of Miami Beach, Bal Harbour offers a welcome refuge from the nonstop party atmosphere of South Beach, not to mention a stunning, rarely crowded beach with a landscaped bike and walking path.
Whereas chic Art Deco boutique hotels abound in trendy South Beach, in Bal Harbour, you’ll find an array of luxurious hotels that cater to families. One of the things families need is space, and the Bal Harbour Quarzo’s roomy waterfront suites, complete with sleek, full-sized kitchens, can accommodate up to six people. While this may feel like your very own condo, you won’t be on your own here—the Quarzo offers everything from in-room dining to beach and poolside food and beverage service, grocery delivery service to personalized concierge service.
Another great option is ONE Bal Harbour Resort & Spa, a favorite of wealthy South American families. In addition to ONE’s prime beachfront location, which translates to panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Miami’s Intracoastal, the hotel’s unique design offers tons of privacy, with semi-private elevators that lead to only two accommodations per floor. Kids are treated extra-special here—they’ll love the “unlimited ice cream pass” they’re given upon arrival, plus their own customized mani/pedis at The Spa, and complimentary surfboards at the beach. And no need to leave the family pet at home: ONE Bal Harbour’s VIP (Very Important Pet) Program features special plush pet beds, food and water bowls, treats, and even dog walking services.
If there’s a hotel that encapsulates Bal Harbour in all its glamorous glory, it has to be The St. Regis Bal Harbour. Dressed in a refined palette of soft gray and silver, and bejeweled with plenty of Art Deco opulence, this world-class resort manages to walk that fine line of over-the-top luxury without plunging into bad taste territory. Perhaps that’s because there’s still a laid-back feel here, especially when you head outdoors. The hotel’s pool area, just steps from the white sand beach, is the kind of place where it’s easy to imagine spending the entire day, especially if you’re relaxing in one of the hotel’s stunning cabanas. Either way, you will be waited on like royalty (poolside foot massages are one of the many perks). But for the ultimate in pampering, head to the hotel’s breathtaking 14,000-square-foot Remède Spa, where treatments are augmented with chilled champagne and Jacques Torres truffles. When you’re ready for a real meal, head to the hotel’s oceanfront J&G Grill, where Chef de Cuisine Bradley Kilgore will prepare Asian- and French-inspired dishes sure to be the highlight of your entire trip. Wine is part of the experience here—J&G Grill boasts one of the largest wine collections in South Florida. Another not-to-be-missed culinary experience is at Makoto, located just across the street from The St. Regis, in the Bal Harbour Shops open-air mall. Featuring out-of-this-world Japanese cuisine and equally great ambience (we especially enjoyed the courtyard dining), Makoto is the perfect respite after a day of shopping at what is the most lucrative shopping mall in the entire country. Featuring everything from Chanel to Oscar de la Renta, Dior to Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci to Bottega Veneta, you may just bump into a Russian oligarch, a Saudi princess, or Jennifer Lopez, all of whom are known to enjoy the glamorous enclave of affluence known as Bal Harbour. —Kerrie Kennedy