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Family Vacations: Four Fabulous Road Trips

Florida's Beaches
little girl child kid beach florida ocean vacationDay One: Start your trip in Tampa with a visit to the Lowry Park Zoo. Meeting the manatees and sting rays (along with hundreds of other critters) will help get the kids in the mood for the beach. Overnight in the Tampa area.

Day Two: Drive northwest about 45 minutes to Tarpon Springs, Florida's sponge capital. The local specialty is on display at Spongeorama, where kids can learn how sponges grow and how they're harvested. There's also a small aquarium in town, as well as a quaint downtown area and two public beaches. We like Sunset Beach, which has picnic tables and restrooms. Overnight in the Tarpon Springs area.

Day Three: Drive south about 30 minutes down the coast to Clearwater Beach. Soft white sand and plenty of nearby restrooms and snack bars make it a perfect place for a full day on the beach, but you can combine your swimming and sandcastle-building with a two-hour pirate cruise with Captain Memo. Overnight in the Clearwater area.

Day Four: Drive south about 1.5 hours to Venice Beach, where kids can do a little beachcombing. The beaches here are famous for their shark's teeth and other fossils, as well as shells. Our favorite beach for families is North Jetty Park, where facilities include playgrounds, a volleyball court and a concession stand. Overnight in the Venice beach area.

Day Five: Drive southeast about 2.5 hours to Everglades City, the gateway to Everglades National Park. You can take a narrated boat tour of the Ten Thousand Islands, or go canoeing or biking. Overnight in the Everglades City area.

Day Six: Drive northwest about an hour and 45 minutes to Sanibel Island, one of the best places in the state to collect seashells. Try Old Lighthouse Beach, which boasts a historic wooden lighthouse (not open to the public) and a wildlife refuge. Kids may also enjoy the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum. Overnight on Sanibel Island.

Day Seven: Drive north about 2.5 hours to Fort De Soto State Park, which has pristine beaches and a historic fort to explore. Once you're done playing, it's only about an hour's drive back to Tampa.

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Quirky Missouri: A Taste of Old Route 66
st louis arch skyline nightDay One: Spend your first day exploring St. Louis. The Magic House is a children's museum with a three-story slide and an electrically charged ball that makes your hair stand on end. There's also a special children's garden within the Missouri Botanical Garden where kids can climb into a treehouse or check out a 19th-century steamboat. And don't miss the City Museum, a wacky place constructed out of materials salvaged from elsewhere in the city. Our favorite part is an interactive play area called MonstroCity, which is a huge jungle gym made up of two Saber 40 aircraft fuselages, a fire engine, a castle turret and several 4-foot-wide wrought-iron slinkies. Overnight in the St. Louis area.

Day Two: Drive west one hour to Stanton and keep an eye out for the ubiquitous Meramec Caverns signs; these caves are where Jesse James and his gang supposedly once hid their loot. Families can go canoeing or rafting on the nearby Meramec River. Also in the area are the Riverside Reptile Ranch (where you can pet a snake!) and the Jesse James Wax Museum. Overnight in the Stanton area.

Day Three: Drive southwest about 45 minutes to Rolla, where you can check out a museum full of colorful classic cars at Memoryville, U.S.A. And don't miss the Stonehenge replica, which you'll find on the campus of the University of Missouri at Rolla. Overnight in the Rolla area.

Day Four: Drive southwest about two hours to Springfield. You'll want to take a detour past the three-story Big Fork sculpture, located downtown outside an ad agency called Noble & Associates (on W. Chesterfield Boulevard).

Have lunch and spend the afternoon at the Incredible Pizza Company, which offers a buffet of more than 30 varieties of homemade pizza, as well as the Fairgrounds -- a play land with miniature golf, go-karts, bumper cars and arcade games. Overnight in the Springfield area.

Day Five: Drive south about an hour to Branson. Quirky attractions here include the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Museum, whose facade is purposely cracked as a reminder that Missouri, not California, holds the record for the nation's worst earthquake. Among the exhibits are a two-headed calf and the world's largest ball of nylon string. Also nearby is the Hollywood Wax Museum, showcasing famous faces from Tinseltown. Overnight in the Branson area.

Day Six: Spend the morning in Branson visiting a few other quirky sights, including the giant banjo at the Grand Country Mall (on Highway 76) and the Titanic Museum -- a re-creation of the famous ship that sank in 1912. Then drive northeast an hour and a half to Lebanon and stop off at Nancy Ballhagen's Puzzles, where you'll find thousands of jigsaw puzzles -- including one made of 7,500 pieces. Overnight in the Lebanon area.

Day Seven: Spend some time hiking, canoeing or fishing at Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon. Then drive northeast about 2.5 hours back to St. Louis.

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For more family travel tips and ideas, see our sister site, Family Vacation Critic!

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    --written by Sarah Schlichter

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