Northwest Florida Gulf Coast
Distance from Charlotte: 543 miles
You'll find a lot of Georgia and Alabama families around these parts, but not too many North Carolina ones. And that’s a shame, because it’s really just an easy ninety-minute nonstop flight from Charlotte to the Northwest Florida Regional Airport, where you can rent a car to drive forty miles across Choctawhatchee Bay to one of these three South Walton beach towns. Once there, you really won’t need that car anymore, as Seaside, Rosemary, and Alys are all set up so you can walk or bike to everything you need — not in an all-inclusive-resort kind of way; instead, think of them as idyllic little beach communities. All three will appeal to parents who appreciate architecture, as they were all designed by the new-urbanist planning firm DPZ. Seaside — the oldest of the three — is all pastel colors and picket fences. Rosemary has a Dutch and West Indies vibe. And Alys — which is still coming out of the ground — has a stunning all-white stucco theme. (Expect to pay a minimum of $350 a night to rent a two-bedroom cottage here.) Of course, while you’re ogling the architecture, your kids will be endlessly entertained at a variety of ice cream shops, pools, playgrounds, and, of course, the beach. — Jen Pilla Taylor
The Seaside Repertory Theater (seasiderep.org) always includes several family-appropriate selections — such as Charlotte’s Web and Go, Dog, Go! — among its summer season offerings and a holiday classic in the winter. Based out of Seaside’s seventy-five-seat Meeting Hall Theater, they stage productions all summer at outdoor amphitheaters along the coast, and the crowds follow.
Rent bikes from one of the many rental shops in the area and explore at least part of the eighteen mile trail that runs alongside Highway 30A, the main drag through the area. Stop for one or more of the shopping and eating opportunities along the way.
During the busy season, Seaside, Rosemary, and Alys all sponsor kids-only day camps where the little ones can enjoy traditional summertime activities such as swimming, canoeing, sand castle making, and arts and crafts.