Room at the Inn for Family Travelers

Exploring our surroundings at the Little River Inn.

Exploring our surroundings at the Little River Inn.

For many family travelers, the notion of crashing with youngsters at a romantic inn is a recipe for an anxiety attack. What if they’re loud? What if they disturb the neighbors? What if efforts to control the kiddos trigger an all-out melt down?

Yes, these are all legitimate concerns. But in the right kind of atmosphere, the experience actually can be pleasant.

I came to this epiphany late last month on a solo road trip with my two girls. As part of our adventure, we spent two nights at the Little River Inn, a circa-1853 lodge-style spot along the Mendocino County Coast. A number of family-friendly amenities there made the stay palatable for all of us—and other guests, too. Here a closer look at those that made the biggest difference.

  • Suites. Standard rooms generally can feel cramped for a family of 3 or 4 (or more). Thankfully, the inn offered the Llama Barn Suite, a private one-bedroom cottage about a mile from the main lodge. The girls and I used the front room like a playroom, spending time there playing games, telling stories and horsing around. At night, when I put the kids to sleep in the bedroom, I used the front room as an office and workout space.
  • Kitchenettes. We family travelers don’t need a full kitchen with a stovetop and oven, but a refrigerator and, sometimes, a microwave, sure make things easier. At the Little River Inn, I stocked the Llama Barn Suite fridge with milk and fruit to give the girls as snacks. One night, I made us popcorn to snack on outside while we looked for the moon.
  • In-room dining. We tried meals out (one night in Mendocino, the other in the Main Dining Room at the inn itself), but after two debacles (L triggered the first; R the second), I gave up and ordered room-service breakfast on the last morning. This was a nice luxury, especially since the kids woke up early. It also saved me from the (inevitably hour-long) process of getting them ready.
  • Open (outdoor) space. Hotel lobbies are great places for letting kids burn off steam after a long day of travel. Open fields and/or meadows are even better. Our accommodations at the Little River Inn had two options for this: A patch of grass right off the patio of the front room, and the beach at Van Damme State Park, located just across Highway 128 from the main lodge. I set the girls loose (under supervision, of course) in both spots. They returned happy and tired.

The fifth and final element of a family-friendly atmosphere at a small hotel is one that’s challenging to define. I like to call it: the Wild Card.

This might be an on-site swing set or playground. It might be a waterfall just outside the room. Whatever it is, the Wild Card must be something that piques your kids’ curiosity. And it can’t ever get old.

The Llama Barn Suite had a few of these.

No. 1, of course, were the namesake llamas—four of them in all, housed in a pen just a short walk from our front door. Every morning the innkeepers Marc and Cally Dym left us with radish greens to feed the critters. And feed them we did; my girls were obsessed (and still excitedly pontificate on what types of greens and goodies would make for good llama snacks).

We also had access to a beautiful garden, a spot where the Dyms grew everything from Zinnias and Peonies to strawberries, raspberries and sugar snap peas. (A note in our room informed us we could sample the fruit, in moderation.)

Finally, of course, was Rosie, the Bernese Mountain Dog that patrolled the area between the Llama Suite and nearby homes. Even though the pooch was twice their size, my girls fell in love with her and showered her with attention pretty much every time we left the cottage. The dog became the de facto mascot of our trip; my kids drew cards for her before we left.

The bottom line: The notion of vacationing with young children at a romantic getaway doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. As I learned last month, a few tiny touches can go a long way.

Just make sure you pick accommodations from innkeepers who understand what kinds of touches those might be.

For what kinds of amenities and/or features do you look when you book accommodations on family trips?

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