Real Simplereaders divulge their best vacation spots, from cozy family campsites to far-flung beaches. (You might want to grab a pen—or, hey, even your passport.)

By Real Simple
Updated June 30, 2011
Christopher Silas Neal

About 20 years ago, my husband, Bob, and I boarded a cruise ship to Antarctica. I’ll never forget the day we anchored near a hill covered with black rocks. As I walked to shore, I realized that the rocks weren’t rocks at all—they were penguins! It was an astounding sight. Since then Bob and I have avoided mainstream getaways, instead opting for the world’s most obscure destinations.
Cheryl Sparks

San Francisco has more physical beauty than almost any other city I can name: The hills, the ocean, and the bay views make up a stunning landscape, and the architecture—especially the Victorian gingerbread houses—pro-vides endless delights. In 2003 I was lucky enough to pay a visit during the annual Bay to Breakers race, a seven-plus-mile run. It’s a must-see: By tradition, the competitors don elaborate and hilarious costumes. I saw one participant dressed as a tiki bar, another as a Viking ship.
Emily Hertler
Red Bank, New Jersey

Two years ago, when our sons were little (one was three, the other 18 months), my husband and I rented a cottage in Eastbourne, a small seaside town in southern England where he had grown up. For a month, the four of us spent long, lazy days visiting farms and villages and exploring the shore. We felt as if we were living in a 19th-century British novel. Life was so simple and carefree.
Melanie Watson
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Ever since the age of five, when I learned about koalas, I wanted to go to Australia to see one. Decades later I finally had the money to pay for the adventure. In 2006 my husband and I drove nearly 2,500 miles along that country’s east coast. I will never forget my visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, in Brisbane, where—at last—I got to hold a koala, who was named Donatella. I was over the moon. How many people actually get to fulfill a childhood dream?
Jana Crawford O’Brien
Bradley Beach, New Jersey

My dad had always wanted to see Germany, because his mother was born there. So in 2004 my husband and I decided to make his wish come true. We surprised him with the news on Father’s Day and a few months later took him to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The three of us wore beer-shaped sunglasses to Oktoberfest and had a ball. It was wunderbar!
Sandee Lammers
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

When I was a child (back in the 1950s), my family took a trip every year to Lake Tahoe, California. For 10 days, we would live in a tent by a white beach. There was no home work, no hurrying—just swimming, hiking, eating hot dogs, and reading stacks and stacks of Archie comics.
Barbara J. Bell
Galt, California

On days when I’m feeling low, I think back on an amazing trip I took to Bali about 15 years ago. At the time, I was in my early 20s, and I had never traveled a great distance by myself before. After a few days of exploring the island solo, I joined up with a tour group. On bicycles, we took in Bali’s astounding scenery and met its people. I came home with the knowledge that I could be independent and accomplish anything I wanted to.
Nancy Schulz Preston
Wilmington, North Carolina

My family had a blast visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York, three years ago. There were so many joys, but my favorite was watching my nine-year-old—a true Red Sox fanatic—go bonkers over displays filled with the team’s memorabilia.
Sara Cronin
East Greenwich, Rhode Island

Paris, France—on my honeymoon! My favorite part was the hotel bellhop. Every day, he said, “Good morning, Mrs.” Mrs! I just love the sound of that word.
Cherie Burbach
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Last May my husband and I visited our daughter, who was serving in the Peace Corps in a remote northern village in Namibia. It was such an honor to meet the family who had welcomed her into their home—to visit their multiple huts, see their crops, and sit with them under a tree. The experience taught me that as different as cultures can be, people are still people. Ever since that trip, the world has seemed much smaller to me.
Pat Heffron-Cartwright
Dayton, Ohio

Ten years ago, my husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a surfing vacation to Costa Rica. We spent all our time in the country’s Pacific northwest, where the land was untouched and the waves were abundant. The trip was such a joy that we built our retirement home there. We can’t wait for the day (in three years, we hope) when we can enjoy longer stretches in the sun.
Susie Giambalvo
Narragansett, Rhode Island