As the weather becomes crisp, you and your grandchild can gear up for some snappy fun with a quick weekend escape that should also be easy on your gas tank. Many areas will be featuring the bonus of free fall colors.
DESTINATION: Austin, Texas
What to Do: Stake out the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk for the mind-boggling sight of up to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerging in gigantic clouds from under the bridge. They do this nightly from late March into November as they head west to hunt insects for food.
Where to Stay: Opt for a room with a lake view at the well-situated Four Seasons Hotel; you can see the bats from some rooms. The grandchildren can frolic on the green, grassy grounds, while you stake out a comfy garden chair and order an iced tea, or something stronger.
Where to Eat: Austin is touted as the "Live Music Capital of the World," and you can experience why during a down-home meal at Green Mesquite. Everyone sits outside at picnic tables listening to a live band while chowing down on dry-style barbecue (you add your own sauce), Cajun dishes, and pecan pie.
What to Do: Get up close and personal with a goat at Harley Farms. A behind-the-scenes tour includes meeting some of the 200-plus curious American Alpine goats, milking one, and learning how to make goat cheese. Cheese tasting occurs in a rustic hayloft.
Where to Stay: At Costanoa Coastal Lodge & Camp, you can bring your own sleeping bag and stay in a tent, or stay in a canvas cabin equipped with bedding that includes a heated mattress pad and down comforter. Still another option is a comfortable conventional cabin with a fireplace, an expansive pastoral view, and a private deck with porch swing. Bathrooms are communal, very warm and comfortable, and sort of out in the woods. A few lodge rooms are also available with convenient private bathrooms for those who require that amenity.
Where to Eat: Sam’s Chowder House serves up fresh local seafood and a killer lobster roll sandwich, and everyone gets an ocean view. A kids' menu offers fish and chips as well as macaroni and cheese and a hot dog, but far and away the favorite item is soft-serve ice cream.
DESTINATION: Cape May, New Jersey
What to Do: At the nation’s oldest seashore resort area, you can romp on the very clean beach, climb 199 steps up the cast-iron spiral staircase of the town’s 1859 lighthouse, and comparison shop in the village for fresh saltwater taffy.
Where to Stay: The luxe, Tuscan yellow Congress Hall features plenty of potted palms and white colonnades. It was once the summer White House for President Benjamin Harrison. In addition to exposing your grandchildren to this bit of history, you’ll enjoy relaxing in glossy black wicker chairs and maybe even find time for the pool or spa.
Where to Eat: Cape May is known as the “restaurant capital of New Jersey.” Try Congress Hall’s casual Blue Pig Tavern, which offers an eclectic menu in a spare, colonial-style decor. Drinks include Yuengling traditional lager from America’s oldest brewery. A well-priced steamed lobster special is available some evenings. Kids love the baked macaroni and cheese.
DESTINATION: Lafayette, Louisiana
What to Do: Explore this area’s beautiful swamps in a high-speed boat with the family-owned Atchafalaya Experience, a swamp tour. Visit Vermilionville, a folk-life park, to see costumed interpreters living and working in period Acadian/Creole homes. The rope-pulled ferry is as close as you’ll get to a thrill ride.
Where to Stay: The well-located Hilton Lafayette is right on the scenic banks of Bayou Vermilion.
Where to Eat: Famous for its 14-foot stuffed alligator standing guard over the center of the dining room, casual atmosphere, and live Cajun music, Prejean's is a must. The children’s menu has fried crawfish and rib-eye steak, as well as chicken fingers and a burger.
DESTINATION: New Hope, Pennsylvania
What to Do: Float down the Delaware Canal in a mule-drawn barge through the beautiful Bucks County countryside. Take a short drive to Doylestown to visit the six-story Mercer Museum. It's housed in a concrete “castle” filled with more than 50,000 tools and objects from the pre-industrial age. One guide calls it “the museum of stuff.”
Where to Stay: The delightful Wedgwood-blue Victorian Wedgwood Inn is best enjoyed with older children who might appreciate the extensive collection of Wedgwood china and the Saturday afternoon tea service. It's positioned on two park-like acres, an easy walk to town. Of historical interest, General George Washington and 1,200 soldiers camped across the street in December, 1776, just before the famous Christmas Eve crossing of the Delaware River that took place a few miles away.
Where to Eat: Dining in the atmospheric 125-year-old stone church that holds Marsha Brown Refined Creole Kitchen & Lounge is the stuff of dreams, and it makes for wonderful memories. Kids especially will want to save room for the Comfort Custard.
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