Vail with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

by Tamara Miller, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Sep 14th 2010 04:26 PM

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With its ski slopes, hiking trails, gourmet restaurants and trendy shopping, Vail, Colo., can seem like paradise for adults. But the resort town also attracts thousands of families each year who want to share a love of adventure and the outdoors with their kids. Vail is a pedestrian village, a feature which makes it particularly stroller-friendly for families with young kids. For those who don't want to hoof it from point A to point B, take advantage of the town's free bus system.

Here is a suggested itinerary for the perfect family vacation day in Vail with kids:



Morning


Breakfast will help you fuel up for a full day's exploration of Vail. With kids in tow, one of the best breakfast options is the Westside Café, which has a lengthy menu with eight different types of eggs benedict. Each breakfast item on the kid's menu is under $5. If you are feeling indulgent, order some 'Cap 'n Crunch' french toast for the whole family to share. Mom and dad can tip down a large cup of Vail Mountain coffee.

Westside Café is under the same roof as the Holiday Inn, at 2211 N. Frontage Road (exit 173 off I-70) in Vail. Call 970-476-7890 to check opening hours. Insider tip: If you are eager to start your day and don't want to wait for a table, skip the dining area and order breakfast sandwiches to go at the nearby walk-up counter.

After breakfast, the first stop on your family vacation in Vail is Imagination Station, a learning and discovery center for kids owned by the Vail Recreation District. The museum is the result of an ongoing effort by the town's recreation district to improve activities for young children. Check out the hands-on science and art activities, or let your little ones get out their wiggles in the toddler playroom. The black-light room, which lets children "capture" their shadows, is particularly popular.

Find Imagination Station at 395 E. Lionshead Circle, Vail. The museum is a bit hidden - it's located in the Lionshead parking structure just above the Subway restaurant. It's open 10AM-2PM on weekdays and you can book your space at 970-479-2292. Admission is $5 for children older than two and free for younger kids and adults. Parents looking for a little alone time can drop off potty-trained children ages three and older, for up to three hours, for $10 per child per hour.

From Imagination Station, walk into Lionshead Village, one of the three base areas around Vail Mountain. Lionshead Village is chock full of shops and restaurants and is a springboard for exciting things to do in Vail, with kids or without them. Head straight to the main attraction: the Eagle Bahn Gondola, a fully-enclosed tram that will take you from the base of Vail Mountain to the top. As you ride up, take in views of the Gore Range, the mountain range to the east of Vail. Tell the kids to keep their eyes open for wildlife, too - while riding the gondola, you often see deer traversing the mountain. Once you reach the top (elevation 10,328 feet) enjoy a panoramic view of snow-capped mountains in every direction.

Tickets for adults generally run around $22 in the summer. Children under 12 are free if accompanied by a paying adult.

Insider tip: With Vail's high altitude also comes a greater risk of dehydration and sunburn. Be sure to slather sunscreen on the whole family and pack water bottles for everyone.


Afternoon


Exploring Vail with kids is best done on a full stomach, so exit the gondola at the top of the mountain and follow your nose to Talon's Deck at Eagle's Nest, an outdoor barbecue restaurant. After noshing on smoky pork or chicken sandwiches, walk over to Wedding Deck and look east to see Mount of the Holy Cross, a 14,000-foot peak adorned with crevasses that form a cross.

Insider's tip: Consider purchasing a Lift & Lunch package when buying gondola tickets. The package includes a $15 food and beverage credit that can be used at Eagle's Nest.

At this point during your family vacation day, it's time to ride the gondola back down to Lionshead Village. If your kids require naps, now is a good time to settle them into the stroller for a pleasant, sleep-inducing walk. Head east along the tree-lined path, where signs will direct you to Vail Village, the second of Vail's three mountain bases.

In Vail Village, let the kids cool off in the Children's Fountain, which is outside Lancelot Restaurant on East Gore Creek Drive. From there, follow the signs to Ford Park, where the path runs along the cool and tranquil Gore Creek. If the children are still sleeping, mom and dad can make a side trip to the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens at 183 Gore Creek Drive, named for the former First Lady and part-time Vail resident. It's open from dawn until dusk and is completely free; the demonstration garden is home to a variety of high-altitude plants.


Evening


Wind down your best family vacation day by heading back towards Vail Village on the path. If your kids' legs are growing weary, hop aboard the free public bus instead. There's a bus stop near the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. But before settling down for dinner, stop by the aptly named The Toy Store and let the kids tinker with toys, play with dolls and try on dressing up clothes. The store is located at 291 Bridge Street in Vail Village and can be contacted on 970-476-4731.

If fast food is allowed as part of your family vacation, kids will love Pazzo's Pizzeria. Spicy food lovers will enjoy the Azteca, topped with pepperoni, chopped garlic, cilantro and fresh jalapeno slices. Pazzo's is a favorite among locals and tourists alike, so be sure to get there early if you don't want to wait. Find it at 122 E. Meadow Drive in Vail Village, 970-476-9026.

Pizza is an economical choice for families, but if you are looking to sample a taste of one of Vail's award-winning (and expensive) restaurants, make a reservation at Sweet Basil at 193 Gore Creek Drive in Vail Village. The restaurant has a surprisingly family-friendly atmosphere as well as a menu that has earned accolades from Zagat's, Gourmet and Wine Spectator magazines. The menu is ever-changing, but almost always includes local ingredients such as Colorado lamb or locally grown peaches.

There is no kid's menu, so consider having your child eat off your plate instead, or order them a starter. Main dishes cost between $30 and $40. To reserve a table, call 970-476-0125. Insider tip: If you want a high-class meal but don't want to pay the high dinner prices, consider trying Sweet Basil for lunch. The portions are still generous and the check is a bit easier to stomach.

Tummies (and cameras) now full, it's time to head back to your hotel for a well-earned night's rest: the kids are guaranteed to dream of the wonderful time they've had on your best family vacation ever in Vail.


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