5 Summertime Family Traditions

By: Linda C. Brinson

Summer means a traditional family getaway -- but where should you go?
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Do you spend all winter daydreaming about what you'll do in the summer? Come fall, do you spend time lamenting all the fun things you meant to do but didn't? One of the hard truths about growing up is that most adults don't really have summer in the same way we did when we were kids. Adults don't get two or three months of time blissfully free of most responsibilities and deadlines.

But don't despair. Instead, figure out a way to work the best, wonderful summertime family traditions into your schedule. Keep up the traditions you remember from childhood. If your family doesn't have summertime traditions to live up to, establish some. You'll give your kids memories for a lifetime – and have fun in the process.


Keep reading for ideas about some of the best tried-and-true family summertime traditions.

5: Family Reunions

Go to a park during the summer and look for the matching T-shirts. You're bound to run into a family reunion eventually. They're fun and serve a particularly traditional function as grownups renew acquaintances and kids meet new relatives. Everybody compares notes on births, graduations, weddings, jobs, trips and more. And there's food. Lots and lots of delicious food.

Summertime is ideal for family reunions outdoors, in a backyard or at a park, giving youngsters room to romp with newfound cousins.


There are many ways to have a family reunion. Some families gather at the same place each year, maybe at or near Great-Grandpa's farm.

Reunions may last just part of a day, centered on lunch. The meal can be potluck, catered, a cookout or a gathering in a restaurant's meeting room.

Others turn a reunion into a weekend adventure, with a different destination each year. Some families go camping together.

If the numbers attending your reunion have dwindled, maybe it's time to revitalize. Reach out to the siblings and cousins you grew up with if they haven't been attending. Organize a reunion that will be fun for them and their families.

Here are some organizing tips:

  • Compile a good address list. At the reunion, have a signup sheet for addresses of those who are attending. Ask for e-mail addresses as well as snail mail. Have people add names and addresses of relatives who aren't present.
  • Have someone send "save the date" notices out well in advance.
  • Take up a collection for postage, plates and cups, soft drinks, site rental and other expenses. Organize volunteers for setup, cleanup and other chores.
  • Offer prizes for the oldest and youngest family members, those who traveled farthest and other accomplishments.
  • Take pictures!
  • Enlist a volunteer to set up a family website. Add genealogical information, family health information and biographies. Encourage members to send updates.

4: Amusement Park Trips

Stay close to home and take the family to the amusement park.
Stay close to home and take the family to the amusement park.
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A trip to an amusement park can be a chance for everyone to relax, laugh and play. If you can't swing a full-fledged vacation trip, a day at an amusement park can make a memorable "stay-cation."

If there's an amusement park close by, you might make enough daytrips to warrant a season pass. Or you might take a weekend getaway – staying at a hotel or campground – and spend one day at a park, trying one you haven't visited before. The biggest parks have accommodations. A family can spend days visiting Mickey and friends every summer.


Make the most of your visit:

  • Explore the park before you go. Most have websites. See what attractions are offered. Make sure they'll be operating.
  • Park concessions are pricey. Take water bottles and snacks if you can. Don't go in hungry, but don't overeat before riding the rides.
  • Take a backpack or fanny pack, not a purse.
  • Wear comfortable, safe shoes.
  • Take raingear, light jackets and dry clothes, especially if there are water rides.
  • Choose a park with attractions suited to your kids. Younger children can feel left out if rides are closed to them.
  • If you have an only child or a big gap between kids, let the kids invite a friend.
  • Get in line in time for the attractions you care about. Go on a weekday if possible, and start as early as you can.
  • If you let older children freelance, set meeting times and places.
  • Don't buy souvenirs until it's time to leave. You won't have to carry them all day, and the kids can decide what they really want.

3: Beach Vacations

Beach vacations are among the most honored family traditions. Many families go to the same beach year after year, and they wouldn't have it any other way. This is especially true for those who own or have access to a beach house or condo, but plenty of families head for the same beach at least once every summer even if the cottage, motel or campground varies.

There are lists of "best" beaches in the U.S. and in the world, and some people like to try different ones. But for many families, the best beach anywhere is the one they visit every year.


Beaches come with their own set of traditions. Some beach areas are developed resorts with entertainment, shopping, amusement parks, hotel pools and every imaginable restaurant. Others are quieter, with more emphasis on the beach itself.

Families with children of varied ages may enjoy a combination. It's great fun to play in the waves, build sand castles, hunt for shells, walk on the beach and try your hand at fishing. Walking on the beach at night, after the crowds have left, is especially fun. Take a flashlight and look for crabs scurrying on the sand. Turn off the light and scan the sky for constellations and meteors. Build a campfire on the sand. Leave time to sit on the porch or deck, listen to the surf and enjoy your family's company.

Don't forget the fresh seafood. And sunscreen, of course, is a must. Too much sun on the first day can ruin the whole vacation before it really starts.

2: Road Tripping

Take the family on a summertime road trip.
Take the family on a summertime road trip.
Bellurget Jean Louis/Getty Images

Road trips may not be all that new and interesting to you: Maybe you drive to the same destination each summer to visit extended family, or travel to the same place for fall getaways. Don't reject the concept out of hand, though. Try varying the route, stopping at different parks, museums, historic sites and other attractions along the way.

Road trips make it easy to add variety to your summer excursions. Visit the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and tourist attractions in Cherokee and Asheville, N.C., and Gatlinburg, Tenn., one year. Or see how many of the national parks in Utah, Arizona and Colorado you can hit. Wander among Mississippi River Civil War battlefields, ending with a stay in New Orleans. Is your time limited? Explore your state's parks and historic sites. Is time no object? Take the family on a cross-country expedition.


Campers have their own version of a road trip. Families perfect the art of rolling into a campground, setting up camp and starting an easy supper. Public parks usually have better prices and settings, but they fill up quickly and sometimes have fewer amenities. One strategy is to stay at public parks when possible, but work in stops at commercial campgrounds with full bathrooms and laundry facilities every few days.

Whether you camp or stay in hotels, plan well. Make reservations when possible. If you don't know how far you'll travel in a given day, wait until you have an idea, then call ahead. Don't focus solely on covering distance. Take time to see the sights along the way -- even the unexpected ones.

Think of educational ways to amuse the kids. Print copies of an outline map of the United States, minus state names. See how many state license plates you can spot, and have the kids write each one on the appropriate state.

Summertime traditions don't have to mean travel. Read on for more about making memories closer to home.

1: Cookouts and Picnics

Road trips, family reunions, theme parks, beach trips, camping trips – all these summertime traditions have their charms.

But think back to childhood. What memories come to mind and bring a smile? Chances are, some of your fondest memories were made close to home, maybe in your own backyard. Remember playing outside as twilight turned to dark? Chasing lightning bugs (or fireflies, depending upon your region)? Or taking a short drive to a nearby park or lakeshore where you feasted on yummy food and then had time to toss a football or Frisbee, wade in the cool water, or hike to a waterfall?


You can keep family traditions alive, or create new ones, without traveling long distances or spending lots of money.

Staying close to home doesn't have to mean having a boring summer. Make a backyard cookout an occasion. Instead of rushing back indoors to the TV and computers after you cook, linger outside and enjoy one another's company. Don't have a backyard, or want a change of scenery? Find a park or other spot close to home where you can throw burgers and hotdogs onto a grill or unpack a picnic meal.

The menu for a cookout or picnic should be whatever your family loves – as long as it's not too much work. In parts of the southern U.S., a traditional picnic might mean fried chicken, ham biscuits, potato salad, deviled eggs, tomato sandwiches and sweet iced tea. Wherever you are, make up your own recipes. You'll be creating delicious memories that have to do with a lot more than food.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Better Homes and Gardens. "Reunions." (Feb. 1, 2012) http://www.bhg.com/health-family/reunions/
  • CBS News. "Amusement Park Survival Guide." July 21, 2006. (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/07/21/health/webmd/main1824657.shtml
  • Cicero, Karen. "Best Family Beach Vacations." (Feb. 4, 2012) http://www.parents.com/fun/vacation/ideas/best-family-beach-vacations/
  • Cohen, Marisa. "Tips to Survive Theme Parks with Your Kids." Redbook. (Feb. 7, 2012) http://www.redbookmag.com/kids-family/advice/parenting/theme-park-tips
  • Disney Family Fun. "20 Great Family Beaches." (Feb. 3, 2012) http://familyfun.go.com/vacations/activities-and-attractions/beaches-vacations/beach-vacation-ideas/20-great-family-beaches-712481/
  • FamilyVacationCritic. "Amusement Park Vacations." (Feb. 8, 2012) http://familyvacationcritic.com/amusement-park-vacations/art/
  • Reunions Magazine. "Family Reunion Planning." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://www.reunionsmag.com/familyreunions/family.html
  • U.S. News Travel. "Best Family Beach Vacations in the USA." (Feb. 2, 2012) http://travel.usnews.com/Rankings/Best_Family_Beach_Vacations_in_the_USA/