While we can’t jet off on a plane right now, we can take a trip down memory lane. Whether you spent your childhood vacations camping, road-tripping or building sandcastles by the sea, these nostalgic snaps will transport you through the decades. Buckle up and get ready for a ride back in time.
1940s: a family camp out in the forest
This was a decade shaped by the Second World War and, even post-war, most families spent their holiday time close to home. Trailer parks and campsites were top places to escape, with destinations such as the Adirondacks, in New York, proving popular with outdoorsy types. Here a mother serves dinner cooked over a campfire to her family, perhaps after a long day of hiking.
1940s: sunbathers on the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey
1940s: a family buys cotton candy at Coney Island, New York City
Farther up the coast, Coney Island – with its theme parks, sandy beach and family-friendly amusements – was another place that thrived towards the end of the decade. Cotton candy is the snack of choice here and, in this nostalgic shot, a child gladly takes a sweet candy cloud from a smiling vendor.
1940s: children play on a Florida beach in 1943
1940s: beach-goers at South Sands in Devon, England, in 1944
1940s: vacationers on a beach in Bognor Regis, England
1950s: a beach-ready family pack into a car in Florida in 1957
The automobile industry boomed in the post-war decades and the great American road trip had its heyday. Many Americans would likely spend at least some of their vacation time on the road, winding up in beachside resorts where they’d while away a week or so. This clan from Tallahassee, Florida are loaded up with beach balls and water donuts, ready for their family escape.
1950s: a family enjoy the view in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
1950s: a family water-skis at Cypress Gardens, Florida
Tourism boomed in the Sunshine State in this post-war decade, with sun-seekers flocking here from all over America. Top destinations included Miami, St Petersburg and St Augustine. This water-skiing family was snapped in Winter Haven’s Cypress Gardens, often tipped as Florida’s first theme park. Now see Florida’s incredible transformation from swampland to vacation paradise.
1950s: crowds throng before Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, California
In 1955, tourism in the States would change forever, as Walt Disney opened the first Disney park in Anaheim, California. It soon became the yardstick by which all future theme parks would be measured, drawing visitors from all over. A trip to Disneyland was the dream vacation for many families across the country and beyond. Now check out more glorious vintage images of Disney’s magical parks.
1950s: vacationers on Chicken Bone Beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey
1950s: Sammy Davis Jr. and friends bask on Chicken Bone Beach
1950s: holidaymakers ride a buggy at Butlin’s holiday camp, England
In Britain, vacation camps such as Butlin’s, first established in the 1930s in Skegness, on the east coast of England, gained in popularity. Here, pleasure-seeking holidaymakers could expect snug chalets, a swimming pool, family-friendly games in the daytime and nighttime entertainment. In this photo, two women enjoy a buggy ride at the now shuttered Butlin’s camp in Clacton.
1950s: children play on the beach in Angmering, England
1960s: sunbathers on the beach at Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava, Spain
By the 1960s, Spanish seaside resorts such as Benidorm in Costa Blanca buzzed with people, attracting tourists from Britain and beyond. Package holidays grew in popularity during this decade too. In this Sixties snap, holidaymakers bask on a beach in Tossa de Mar, Costa Brava in northeastern Spain.
1960s: vacationers on a beach in Miami
Back on American shores, Florida remained the destination of choice through the 1960s. New hotels, resorts and amusements continued to spring up near the coast, and the Sunshine State was flooded with people each summer. Here sun-worshippers relax beneath the palms on Miami Beach in southern Florida.
1960s: families relax around the pool at a resort in the Catskills, New York
Resorts weren’t just blossoming in the Sunshine State, though. They were shooting up all over the country, from way out west in California to up north in top vacation states such as New York. Popular spots included Tony Leone’s Resort in the mountainous Catskills region – the families here are unperturbed by the clouds as they crowd around the on-site pool.
1960s: skiers gather in the foothills of a mountain in Utah
This was also the decade that skiing began to open up to the mass market, and ski resorts popped up across the States. Here skiers gather around buses provided by the Utah Parks Company, ready to ski in the northern mountains of the Beehive State. Find out more about Utah here.
1960s: families watch a puppet show on Blackpool Beach, England
The northwest of England laid claim to one of Britain’s most popular holiday spots in the 1960s. In summer, Blackpool Beach, with its piers and promenade, would play host to throngs of holidaymakers, who rode donkeys, ate ice cream and lazed on the sands. It’s still a popular spot today, and in this heartwarming 1960s shot Blackpool Tower is the backdrop for a family puppet show.
1970s: families aboard a Boeing 747
In the decades leading up to the 1970s, air travel – and therefore vacations abroad – had been reserved for the very wealthiest in society. But the Seventies saw the invention of the Boeing 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, leading to cheaper plane tickets. This opened up air travel to America’s middle classes and here families enjoy the cabin of this new kind of plane. Discover more about the world’s groundbreaking planes that changed the way we travel.
1970s: tourists exploring Athens’ Parthenon, Greece, in 1971
Greece became one of Europe’s most popular vacation destinations from the 1960s onwards, joining ranks with the likes of Spain and France. It offered the prospect of culture and ancient history for middle-class travelers, who previously may have been unable to afford the airfare here. Some chose to bring their whole family along for the adventure too. In this 1970s photo, international tourists drink in the Parthenon, part of the Acropolis of Athens.
1970s: passengers enjoy the sunshine onboard a cruise ship
1970s: children ride with Goofy at Walt Disney World, Florida
Another milestone in the history of family vacations came in 1971. It was in this year that Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (and a handful of accompanying resorts) opened in Florida. The larger-than-life site set the bar for future theme parks, and many family getaways in this decade involved Mickey and the gang. Here, Goofy accompanies a group of delighted kids on the Mad Tea Party Ride at the Magic Kingdom.
1970s: a young family picnic on a New Jersey beach
1970s: a young family makes a splash in the Atlantic
1980s: a crowded beach in Palamós, Costa Brava, Spain
1980s: a tourist group ride a boat in The Bahamas
1980s: throngs of sun-seekers at Coney Island, New York
Back on American soil, the shores were busier than ever too. Here, at the tail end of the decade, Coney Island’s sandy strand swarms with people. Rubber rings, umbrellas, beach towels and balls add splashes of color to Brooklyn’s humming beach, as families enjoy their vacation time.
1980s: kids and families play in Lake Michigan, Chicago
It’s not all about the seaside, though – America’s Great Lakes have long been a vacation spot for beach bums too. In this 1987 snap, sun-seekers splash in Lake Michigan at Chicago’s Margaret T. Burroughs Beach (formerly 31st Beach). Now a diverse city strand, this beach was once segregated and designated for black visitors. And in contrast to the peaceful scenes shown here, a black teenager named Eugene Williams was killed in these waters, when he unknowingly drifted into a “white zone”, triggering the Chicago race riot of 1919. A memorial for Williams is held on the beach each year.
1980s: tourists in front of Epcot’s famous dome, Florida
Theme parks remained a staple fixture of many a family vacation during the Eighties. The Disney parks in both California and Florida thrived and, in 1982, Walt Disney World enjoyed another glittering addition. Epcot, a land dedicated to innovation and the future, gave families another reason to visit the mammoth Sunshine State resort in this decade – here tourists walk before Epcot’s famous geodesic dome and fountain. Now see some stunning historic images of theme parks in full swing.
1980s: park-goers at Efteling in the Netherlands
1990s: crowds of holidaymakers at Disneyland Paris, France
In 1992, Disney came to Europe with the opening of Disneyland Paris (then Euro Disney Resort). Brits and holidaymakers from the Continent flocked to the magical park throughout the decade, and a trip to Euro Disney became the vacation of dreams for the Nineties kid. In this 1997 photo, the park is filled to the brim as colorful celebrations for its fifth birthday are in full swing. Love this? Now discover how air travel has changed in every decade from the 1920s.
1990s: a young family on a beach in Mauritius
1990s: a tourist resort in the Canary Islands
Still, though, Spain’s popularity showed no sign of abating and by the Nineties its shores were jam-packed with vast hotels, timeshare resorts and villas, which drew tourists for fly-and-flop breaks in summer and beyond. This aerial snap from 1993 shows a white-washed holiday resort in the Canaries.
2000s: passengers enjoy the deck on a Virgin Islands cruise
2000s: families on Four Mile Beach in Australia
The world continued to shrink in this decade too, with families who were wealthy enough making bucket-list-style trips and exploring all corners of the globe. Here families and couples sunbathe on Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas, Queensland, a jumping-off point for the Great Barrier Reef. Inspired? Check out these incredible places you won’t believe are in Australia.
2000s: a little girl enjoys an ice cream on Bournemouth Beach, England
Even so, for many, still nothing compares to the nostalgia of a seaside escape on home shores, whether that’s the windswept coast of Britain, or the powder-white sands of the Sunshine State. Taken in 2000, this throwback snap captures a little girl enjoying an ice cream on Bournemouth beach in southern England. It’s the British seaside summed up in a single shot. Want more? See what vacations looked like in every decade since 1900.
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