Take your family to the water now: an expert guide

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By Christopher Elliott

Even though I call Arizona home, I never waste an opportunity to take my family to the water. And there’s never been a better time of year than now, in the final, fiery throes of summer.

Beach getaways rank as the third-most popular type of family vacation, behind family visits and theme park vacations, according to the latest NYU research. Some 58 percent of family vacationers have taken a vacation on the water and 52 percent want to in the future. So if you’re seeking refuge near an ocean or river, chances are, so are a lot of other people.

Families love vacations by the water
The Ottawa Locks on a warm summer day in 2015.

Go north, then find water

At this time of year, my advice is simple. Go north — then take your family to the water. It’s a little bit of a cliche — go north in the summer, south in the winter — so let me just say this for the record: I love Canada year-round. Whether we’re braving sub-zero temperatures on a black-diamond run in Alberta’s Sunshine Village or seeking refuge from the heat in a Quebec City cafe, my kids and I love Canada.

One of our favorite places for that is Ottawa, Canada. There are plenty of excellent walking areas along the Ottawa River, and, of course, there’s the historic Ottawa Locks, which connect the river with the Rideau Canal.

We visited Ottawa during the late spring, when temperatures were still comfortable. But it wasn’t too difficult to imagine a blazing hot August day when the only relief could be found in one of the Canadian capital’s many outstanding restaurants or along the river.

Enjoy the water with your family
At the docks in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Head to the ocean (but mind the toll)

For even more relief from the heat, may I recommend Prince Edward Island? That is, if you don’t mind paying the $47 toll to cross the eight-mile-long Confederation Bridge. (Related: Houston with kids: A far-out adventure in Texas.)

We checked into a cute Vrbo rental in Charlottetown just as summer started, and guess what? You couldn’t tell summer had started. At Basin Head Provincial Park, home of the famous singing sands, it was cold and foggy. (It’s called the “singing” sands because it squeaks when you walk on it, thanks to the silica and quartz in the sand.) During our stay, we heard rumors that A-list Hollywood celebrities preferred Prince Edward Island because of its cool climate and seclusion, but we couldn’t find any. Too cold to venture out and look for them.

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A family enjoying the water on vacation.
Iden Elliott in Bar Harbor, Me., in 2015.

You can get a summer water experience here, too

If you don’t have a passport, no worries. You can still take your family to the water and have a similar experience. Bar Harbor, Me., is a perfect place to get away from the summer heat. Things get a little busy at this time of year. After Labor Day, prices for hotel rooms and vacation rentals plummet (along with the temperatures, but in September, the average daytime high is still 71 degrees).
Bar Harbor is a nice walking town, but for some incredible hikes, head into Acadia National Park, which offers some of the most postcard-perfect coastal trails in North America. If you wait long enough, you can also start to see Maine’s incomparable fall foliage. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. (Here’s what you need to know about summer travel.)

Family vacations on the water
Erysse and Iden coming aboard in Monhegan Island, Maine.

If Bar Harbor is too conventional or crowded, then try Monhegan Island, located 12 nautical miles off the coast of Maine. This island is “out there” in more ways than one. You can check a lot of boxes, from quirky locals to its “standing stones.”

Monhegan is also a terrific place for day hikes, but mind the cliffs that plunge into an unforgiving Atlantic. If you have little kids, you might want to keep a safe distance from the edge.
OK, so here are my pro tips for you if you want to take your family to the water:

  • Make sure everyone can swim. Obvious, right? But I live in Arizona, where it seems as if there’s a 1-to-1 person-to-pool ratio. You’d be shocked by how many kids end up on the evening news because they fell into a pool and drowned. Tragic.
  • Dress the part. Once you get near the water, everything cools down. So if your kiddos are used to wearing short sleeves and refuse to bring their sweatshirts, be the parent. Insist that they take something warm with them.
  • Have fun on the water. You don’t have to swim or surf to have fun near the water. Collect shells, take pictures, go bird-watching, threaten to throw your kids in the water — there’s so much to do. I’m kidding about throwing your kids in the water. No, don’t do that. But seriously — have fun.

OK, that’s the last summer-themed family travel story, I promise. Fall is just around the corner, and we have a long road ahead of us. I’ll see you out there.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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