While millennials continue to book vacation rentals, demand for family boutique hotels has increased for short stays and road trips. We all know you can book the major chains’ “boutique” products such as Hilton’s Curio, Hyatt’s Andaz or Unbound Collections and Marriott’s Autograph Collection. That’s because the major chains always welcome families and — a big plus — you can often pay in loyalty points.
Yet, when researching family vacation ideas, many travelers favor the independent, hyper local and offbeat places. This is where it’s hard to tell if these hip lodgings are really family boutique hotels.
What Makes Family Boutique Hotels Family-Friendly? It’s Up to You!
To find out, we examined hotels we consider true offsprings of the boutique hotel pioneers. Bill Kimpton, who opened the Clarion Bedford Hotel in San Francisco 40 years with a hosted wine reception — a revolutionary idea at the time — launched the popular Kimpton chain and its Manager’s Cocktail Receptions. We also admired the stylish boutique hotels pioneered by Ian Schrager — the hotelier who began with the Studio 54 disco. He famously asked fashion designers to style Morgans in New York City and the high style outcome revolutionized the decor of small hotels.
Today, many small hotels would say their quirky style, social lobby spaces and celebrity chef restaurant make them family boutique hotels. Yet demanding millennial families also expect personalized service and access to local experiences.
Here are six family boutique hotels whose managers get that and more; they deliver an authentic ambiance and unique amenities for an ideal family getaway with kids.
This venerable hotel, opened in 1928 as the Hotel Durant across from the UC Berkeley campus, is part of the Graduate Hotels chain. It’s a fun place to stay. Each of their boutique hotel’s taste in humor, nostalgia and collegiate aesthetic clicks with local students, parents and alumni. Graduate’s sales team told us: “We play the Game of Know here, looking up every guest online before arrival so we can greet them with a meaningful personal note.” In some Berkeley rooms, find sport varsity plaques, art done by alumni or a movie poster from “The Graduate” or locally filmed classic. At our visit, compact dorm rooms got extra credit for using custom glass bongs as bed lamps. The Graduate Berkeley website provides room and bar discounts and seasonal club promotions. Study hard and you can check into Graduate Hotels (“where smart never goes out of style”) all over the country, in Cambridge and Oxford in the UK — all in the hippest college towns. They even have a ‘campus’ on Roosevelt Island in New York City, next to the Cornell Tech Hub.
The design-driven, pet-friendly The Bradley opened in July 2021 to celebrate Fort Wayne’s hometown hero, Barbara Bradley Baekgaard, co-founder of the famously floral-patterned brand producing Vera Bradley handbags, totes, backpacks and more. Mom and daughter shopping teams don’t have to wait for the legendary Vera Bradley Outlet Sale to stay at the hotel; families can be immersed in her style any time. Ms. Bradley Baekgaard collaborated with Provenance Hotels, who truly believe in local. “Our property is a true reflection of the city, channeling the genuine spirit of community, industry, and creativity that abounds beyond its own walls,” says the Provenance Hotels team, who manage 14 U.S. hotels. Show your artsy kids the in-house art gallery and rooms featuring botanical-inspired letterpress prints and work by artists associated with Purdue’s local design campus. Take selfies in front of murals by local street artist Phresh Laundry. Rooms and the suites named after cities in Indiana boast colorful wallpaper and patterned fabrics, plus there’s a restaurant and rooftop bar with city views. Look at The Bradley as your base for entertainment at The Landing, a freshly revitalized historic neighborhood near Pomenade Park packed with bars, restaurants and playspace. Don’t want to work out on the Peloton bike or MIRROR in the fitness room? Grab complimentary bicycles to explore Fort Wayne’s 8 miles of nearby downtown riverfront.
Among the New England beach resorts which are summer family getaways, the traditional Inn by the Sea is a standout. A classic clapboard estate on the dunes 7 miles from Portland, Maine; it’s known for its mile of private beach (approached by a secluded nature trail), LEED certified environmental initiatives, spa, heated pool, award-winning wine cellar and fine regional cuisine. For families, the appeal is a luxurious and authentic Maine experience where they can take kids out on a real lobster boat, join guided tours of local food purveyors or microbreweries, garden, kayak or canoe with Audubon guides and watch wildlife in the Audubon sanctuary. On property, hotel guides lead Great Pond and Beach Walks and Garden Tours. Families get up close to butterfly gardens and bird nests. Pick blueberries or hunt down monarch larvae on milkweed plants; plus learn about the rabitat and the Inn’s effort to help the New England Cottontail bunnies struggling to survive in Maine.” To accommodate the many multigenerational guests, there are several two-bedroom luxury suites. The Inn’s notion of family is also forward-thinking; it’s so pet-welcoming that dog massage is available and visiting families may adopt the foster dogs that the inn cares for.
When this classic 1960s Waikiki hotel was reborn as the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in 2016, the mosaic pool became an Instagram star thanks to the “Wish You Were Here” inscription seen from upper floor guest room lanais. Surfjack’s winning combination of warm Aloha spirit, rattan and denim design and vintage Hawaiian kitsch make it great fun for families who don’t need supervised activities. And while not slavishly devoted to children’s needs, the staff is genuinely friendly and helpful, offering fresh baked cookies at check-in, fat tire bikes, a cozy lobby nook with board games, free poolside cabanas or chairs for Waikiki’s nearby beach, and smart guidance on shopping and special events for all ages. The General manager notes, “The property’s Director of Experience curates monthly happenings [such as] our Aloha Friday workshops, and surf lessons with special pricing for children.” Another family perk is the lobby level field-to-fork Mahina & Suns (also available with 24-hour room service) from Honolulu celebrity chef Ed Kenney. They run scheduled tours for guests to visit their source farms in the Oahu countryside. More than half of Surfjack’s 112 beach-casual rooms are configured as one- to three-bedroom suites that appeal to multigenerational groups and larger families. Most of the hotel reviews also note Surfjack’s outstanding service and family-welcoming staff.
“We see that today’s parents are willing to pay a premium if they get quality,” noted Chitra Stern, co-owner with her husband of the young Martinhal brand. Their four family-friendly luxury resorts in Portugal are all about service, with a baby concierge who reaches out with whatever amenities, organic toiletries and snacks guests need. The unique Martinhal Chiado Family Suites in Lisbon’s hippest downtown district is the first city hotel in the Kinder Europa Hotels portfolio. Each of the 37 homey apartments has a washer dryer, different size potties and a step stool to make parenting easier. Kitchens are stocked with complimentary breakfast supplies; only refills are billed. The hotel’s family cafe has a car body inside that kids can climb on. “We listen to what our guests say, whether it’s among our 135,000 Facebook fans, or on TripAdvisor or Instagram,” Stern adds, “so we can adapt every day.” Martinhal Chiado has a supervised camp for ages 6 months and older and an evening Pajama Club. After all, you want to confident your kids are being take care of when you head out to enjoy Lisbon nightlife or take in a Fado performance.
At Kinder Hotels, strict standards and inspections certify family-friendly luxury hotel members. “As select family boutique hotels,” Werner Bilgram, former managing director, told us, “you must offer everything, so that parents have a choice to do what they want at any time.” Brand standards include connecting rooms, expert swim lessons at pools, and family rates at all properties; smiley faces are used to rate children’s facilities and services. The Hotels Löwe & Bär in Serfaus, Austria are an example of just how far sophisticated Family Select Hotels go to please young clients. At these four-star mountain resorts known for traditional European spas, children have a menu of a dozen wellness treatments, including a Goat Butter Cream Pack designed to soothe skin allergies. Both the hotel’s spa and swimming pools are among facilities which are adapted to kids use. At Hotels Löwe & Bär, expect indoor waterparks and outdoor heated pools, a sand beach, softplay rooms for toddlers, snowplay slopes, a climbing wall and myriad playgrounds. Websites boast of child safety locks, petite bathrobes, computerized sound monitors, childcare, kid-height toilets and washbasins, afternoon snacks, and a supervised kids’ dining table so parents can have a romantic meal. Guests can use mountain buggies, back carriers and a baby seesaw at no charge during their stay. Alongside Serfaus, the Tyrol resorts of Fiss and Ladis invested in infrastructure for families and, between them, offer three amusement parks, car-free zones, a summer attractions pass and an underground railway for quick movement.
Our experts agree that today’s families look for healthier food, connecting rooms so that adults and kids have their own privacy, and easy access to city sightseeing at any price. The family boutique hotels industry has concluded that people will pay more because they get what they want.
And a parting thought echoed by several: “Families are very demanding.”
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