For my family, riding bikes on vacation is like sprinkles on an ice cream cone: the finishing touch that makes it perfect. Not all bike paths are created equal, however, particularly when you've got kids in tow (or tandem). Here's a list of top biking spots for families -- places that promise tame trails and great vistas as well as fun stops along the way. Whether you're planning a day trip or a longer biking getaway, these five sites are sure to get your wheels spinning.
Acadia National Park on Mount Dessert Island, Maine
Craggy cliffs, choppy waters and 45 miles of packed-gravel carriage roads make this northerly national park an especially breathtaking spot for bike riding. The roads were conceived almost 100 years ago as a system of motor-free byways around the island, ideal for horse-and-buggy travel. Today, the roads remain car-free -- and horses command the right of way. The best bets for family biking are the loops around Eagle Lake or Witch Hole Pond, each about a six-mile circuit. Starting in late June, bike shuttles from Bar Harbor take you directly here.
Where to rent: Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop offers a range of standard and specialty bikes, as well as racks for hauling them into the park, starting at $22 a day. See more at barharborbike.com.
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Watch for: The speedy peregrine falcons that return to their home in Acadia every spring.
Before or after: Enjoy a scoop of ice cream at CJ's Big Dipper, on Main Street, not far from the Bar Harbor Bike Shop.
To learn more: nps.gov/acad/index.htm
New York City
Yes, really! New York City's Hudson River Park offers miles of bike paths (no street-riding) fronted by playgrounds, art installations, even grassy patches. The stretch from West 12th Street to Battery Park City (about two miles) is especially suitable for families with young kids and affords striking views of Lady Liberty and Ellis Island.
Where to rent: At Bike and Roll, rentals start at $12 an hour and include tag-alongs and tandems. See more at bikeandroll.com.
Don't miss: Kids will get a kick out of the Pier 51 playground, and also the serpentine sculptures on the esplanade around Pier 25 in TriBeCa. If you've got time, check out the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, located at Pier 86.
Take a break: Stop off at Pier 45's Organicoa, where you'll find grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, cookies and more -- all made from organic ingredients.
To learn more: www.nycgo.com
Santa Monica, Calif.
Head west from car-centric Los Angeles, and you're in for a pleasant surprise: miles of flat, manicured bike trails that hug the sparkling Pacific.
From the Santa Monica Pier, it's just more than three miles to Venice's carnivallike skate park -- a sight to see, whether you skate or not.
Where to rent: Check out Perry's, where bikes and specialty gear, including tag-alongs, tandems and trailers, start at $10 an hour. They've got four locations along the ocean trail, and you can stop for service at any one. See perryscafe.com.
Don't miss: The solar-powered Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier offers a different kind of ride, as does the West Coaster, the pier's giant steel roller coaster.
Take a break: Perry's beach-side cafes serve up organic fare, including kids' meals and smoothies, right on the sand.
To learn more: www.santamonica.com
Hilton Head, S.C.
Twelve miles of beach-side trails dotted with playgrounds and snack stands make Hilton Head Island particularly family-friendly. You can ride your bikes right on the sand, so be sure to rent the wide-wheeled beach cruisers, which better can handle that terrain.
Where to rent: Pedals Bicycles offers free delivery and pickup for rental bikes, equipped with baskets and locks. Rentals start at $12 a day at pedalsbicycles.com.
Don't miss: Singleton Beach, located midisland, is a fun place to stop for a dip. Kids will enjoy the adjacent playground, too.
Take a break: Marleys Island Grille -- outside the Sea Pines main gate, a short spin off the beach -- boasts a yummy kids' menu and a range of frozen treats.
To learn more: hiltonheadisland.com
Beautiful riverfront paths make Portland a prime locale for biking. You can pedal the 1.5-mile Eastbank Esplanade along Portland's Willamette River for dramatic views of the city, and then connect to Waterfront Park via the Steel Bridge to complete a three-mile loop.
Where to rent: Bikes start at $9 an hour at Kerr Bike Rental. Check out their canopied surreys, which can seat four. See more at www.kerrbikes.org.
Don't miss: The Salmon Street Springs Fountain in Waterfront Park is a great spot for a splash during a warm-weather ride.
Take a break: The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's OMSI Cafe gets top marks for tasty, affordable eats. Stop in for a snack, then return later to explore the exhibits.
To learn more: www.travelportland.com