50 Places You Must Take the Kids Before They Get Too Old
When I was younger, my parents' idea of 'roughing it' meant waking up at 6 a.m. & hopping a flight to Florida. No road trips and certainly no RVs. Don't get me wrong, we did tons of fun activities, but we were only outdoorsy in that we started with the beach and ended with a barbecue. We don't camp, don't fish, we don't own a tent, and that is TOTALLY fine -- we're just not the camping kind of clan.
But some of you folks out there love to pack up the ol' RV, sing singalongs, and head westward for summer to explore. And if you're already planning to scope out the US city by city, let us offer a helping hand.
We've done the UNTHINKABLE (seriously!) and mapped out 50 kid-friendly sites to see all throughout the United States that are perfect for every family.
Now, this cross-country adventure has got to start somewhere, so let's just begin with the North since there's so much to see:
Niagara Falls, NY. If you're daring and willing to get a little, er, a lot wet, catch a ride on the Maid of the Mist. If you don't pack accordingly, you'll need to purchase a poncho and a pair of water shoes, so make sure you slip 'em in your bag. Campgrounds and hotels stretch out for miles, just make sure to make a reservation soon!
Acadia, ME. Catch a glimpse of the tallest Mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast at this awesome National Park. This is a true camper's playground, with boating, hiking, fishing, and exploring ready at every turn. You can even sign up for a horse-drawn carriage tour!
North Conway, NH. You and your kids are in for a total treat. Santa's Village is a MUST see for a wet 'n' wild water adventure. But if you're in the mood to stay dry, check out Story Land and Monkey Trunk's Extreme Aerial Adventure for an afternoon of high flyin' fun! When the parks get crowded there's mini-golf, beaches and shopping galore! PS -- This is a Stir staffer #1 pick!
Salem, MA. If you've got a witch or wizard in your lot, make sure you take before the courts! The home of dozens of witch trials, Salem is a must-see for kids at all ages! Sign up to see the punishments the doomed faced at the Salem Witch Museum and for an extra spooky treat, visit the haunted happenings at the House of Seven Gables.
Plimouth, Plantation, MA. Visit the dock that's home to the Mayflower II for a glimpse of what life was really like for some America's earliest settlers and then travel back in time to 1627 Plymoth County to farm with the Pilgrims and ask questions about early life on settlements.
Freedom Trail, MA. No trip to Boston is complete without a chance to walk the infamous Freedom Trail. Parents, this is a great stop for school-aged children. Take a two-mile hike down some of early Bostonians most significant sites. But before you go, make sure you to check out this printable walking map so you don't miss a thing!
Cape Cod, MA. If you're a Great White lover like me, then Cape Cod is a serious go-to destination on your summer adventure! Sign up for a day on the water full of deep sea fishing or whale watching and who knows what animals might swim up to great you.
Lexington and Concord, MA. For all you history buffs, stop by and check out the Minute Man National Historical Park for a chance to revisit the battle grounds that started the Revolution. Reread the letters written by civilians and walk the grounds where brave soldiers once stood.
Adirondack Park, NY. Even though this destination is a bit out of the way, it's a beautiful site to see and should be on any road trip rendezvous. Get lost in the wilderness for a day or two or visit the Battle of Plattsburgh at the awesome, kid-friendly Adirondack Park. If all that walking has left you too tired, spend the day fighting back waves as you whitewater raft downstream!
Baseball Hall of Fame, NY. Before you jump to any conclusions, this is a great stop for guys AND girls, trust me! With events happening all summer long, Cooperstown is fun for every age. Really want to get in the baseball mood? Pop in A League of Their Own before headed out to this stop.
Cedar Point, OH. Gather round! It's the roller coaster capital and your kids definitely DON'T want to miss this! Visit Planet Snoopy and Camp Snoopy or just stick it out on dozens of sky soaring roller coaster and thrill rides!
Kings Island, OH. After exiting the thrill-seeking roller coaster ride heaven, you know what you need? Another adventure! The largest amusement park and waterpark await you on Kings Island and it features the best play area for youngsters. Uh, yeah!
Howe Caverns, NY. If your kids are interested in the underlying layers of the earth, or taking an earth science class once they're back in school, Howe Caverns is definitely a destination you don't want to miss! Travel through underground mines or sign up for a ziplining adventure that brings you sky high!
Bronx Zoo, NY. For a fun-filled relaxing day, make sure you stop by the famous Bronx Zoo for an afternoon of petting, feedings, and absolute animal-cuteness. This summer there are tons of attractions to lure you into the lion's den, but make sure you check out the Madagascar attraction!
Ellis Island, NY. This is the perfect trip for the whole family -- grandparents included! Search for names on the Wall of Honor and after you've finished, head on over to the Statue of Liberty and climb the stairs to the top.
Mystic Seaport & Mystic Aquarium, CT. Head to Mystic Seaport and line up to see the wooden boat show that's in town all summer long. You can walk through the boating museum and the grounds and then jump over to the Mystic Aquarium to check out all the water animals an ocean can hold!
Wildwood, NJ. If all the sights get too much for you tikes, why not spend a weekend on the beautiful New Jersey shore soaking up the sun? When night hits, you and your crew can strut your stuff on the jam-packed boardwalk stuffed with shopping, games, rides, and sweet treats -- yum!
Hershey Park, PA. Head on over to Hershey, Pennsylvania and let your sweet tooth feed! How yummy this destination sounds, huh? Spend a weekend swimming, jumping, splashing and soaring high and don't forget to sit in on the chocolate making tour -- you'll be so glad you did!
Crayola Factory, PA. Want to spend the day coloring away? If so, you're in the right place! Head to Easton, PA for a bright adventure your kids will love! Not only will you tour all the ways colors are created you'll also get to sample crayons and test 'em out!
Liberty Bell, PA. Hear ye, hear ye! Gather round for one of the most important lessons on liberty you'll ever know! Spend a scorcher inside the Slate House watching videos on our nation's liberty and be truly amazed by everything we've accomplished so far.
Gettysburg, PA. If this wasn't on your list, you better check again! Definitely marking your descent into the south, you'll near to walk that grounds that held one of our nation's goriest battles. Visit the Battlefield of the Unknown and witness reenactments on the battle grounds. Don't head out without taking along this exciting travel guide.
Hooray! You've made it to the south! Now you've just got to see:
Washington, D.C. Give yourself a few days in to frolic through D.C. and take in all the sites. Stop by the White House to catch a chance glimpse of Bo-Bama and then head to museum mile. Must-see stops? The Smithsonian, the Air and Space museum, and if you think you're children are ready, definitely try the Holocaust museum -- it's one they'll never forget. My personal fave? The Spy museum!
Colonial Williamsburg, VA. More history here! See colonial life come alive and visit Historic Jamestowne, catch a show at Kimball Theatre, and relive the revolutionary city's fight to defend its freedom!
Monticello, VA. If you've got kids that love Jefferson, this is a go-to on your getaway! Tour the famous Monticello grounds and sip on sweet tea as you learn the gentle southern way. If you can, take the Behind the Scenes tour of the house and grounds.
Outerbanks, NC. Ah, finally, some relaxation! What better than a chance to hang around and be lazy after weeks of travel? With so much seeing and exploring, it's nice to kick back, relax and put your feet up. Visit lighthouses, go fishing, spend a day at the spa -- your choice!
Kiawah Islands, SC. If you and your fam want to escape it all for a little down time, then Kiawah is your newest retreat! Time to do some hardcore family bonding at this family-friendly beach escape. No distractions, just you and your crew!
Georgia Aquarium, GA. Known and loved as the best and biggest aquarium in the United States, it wouldn't be worth it to skip over this must-see spot! The best part? You can even have an aquarium sleepover with the animals -- HOW COOL!
Walt Disney World, FLA. Come on, parents! This is the perfect pit-stop on a summer long adventure. Visit Epcot, Animal Kingdom, or stop by Hollywood Studios for a death-defying ride on the Tower of Terror! No matter your age, this is a crowd pleasing trip!
Universal Studios, FLA. Wave your wands high! It's time to enter the magical world of Harry Potter! Spend a day at Hogwarts or head on over to Universal's Islands of Adventure for a slippin' and slidin' good time.
SeaWorld, FLA. Maybe you didn't catch a glimpse of a whale while you were touring Cape Cod, but don't worry, you'll definitely see a whale up close and personal at SeaWorld! You can see them all throughout the country, in San Diego and San Antonio toom but we recommend stopping for a BIG treat while in Orlando.
Kennedy Space Center, FLA. Get your helmets ready for a two-day space adventure. An exciting shuttle launch experience is a great attraction for the whole family and it sounds like there's smooth sailing all the way to the moon!
Key West, FLA. Head as far south as you can go and then it's time to keep going. Imagine just how cool your kids will feel telling all their friends back at school that they've been as far south as they can go in America? Mom and dad of the year, anyone?
Time to figure out how the west was won. While you're riding through, check out:
The Trail of Tears, TN. You can just about pick up this trail anywhere in the southwest, but what a special way to start your western adventure, following in the same steps as the exiled Indians. A touching memorial to those that lost their lives and their loved ones, remind your kids just how important tolerance and family can be.
Dinosaur World, TX. With over 100 lifesize dinos to stand beside, it'll be hard to tear your tots away from these cool prehistoric beasts. Though you can visit a few different locations, they say everything is bigger in Texas for a reason!
Texas Dude Ranch, TX. Though these dude ranches pop up all over Texas, cowboys and cowgirls have more fun in Texas! Saddle up, partner!
Cowboy Rodeo, TX. Bring your family along and witness one of the southwest's favorite pastimes. Tour the Rodeo Museum and gush over past Hall of Famers. Who knows, maybe you'll want to hitch a ride!
Roswell, NM. Got an interest in extraterrestrials? Well, this is the place for you! Stalk through the spook-tastic museum of the hush-hush UFO findings and give your children's imaginations a whirl! Keep up with a list of UFO sightings while you're on the drive.
Even though it's quite a drive, lets head to the northwest:
Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. Feel like your flying on top of the world amongst the breathtaking views of the Rockies! But prepare for any kind of weather and bring warmer clothes for the higher you go! And just a tip, bison are like family here, so be nice!
Willis Tower (Sears Tower), IL. Have your kids climb on up and get lost in the windy city! The Willis Tower boasts some of the best views around and you can gladly send your kids on a scavenger hunt to the top of the SkyDeck.
Lake Geneva, WI. Another Stir staffer favorite getaway, you can escape to peace and tranquility with this family-friendly trip. Invite your friends and fam to meet you on your journey and spend a long weekend soaking in the sun and swimming in the lake! Enjoy boat cruises and live entertainment along Wisconsin's waters.
Noah's Ark, WI. Okay, I know I've said this a few times but this is SERIOUSLY America's largest water park and you've seriously got to see it! Go, right now! Go!
Mall of America, MN. Moms are you listening? A FULL DAY OF SHOPPING and your kids won't get mad at you! That's right, I said it and I mean it! The Mall of America has something for everybody: hang out at Nickelodeon Universe, shop at American Girl, or swim with the fishes at the Sea Life Aquarium.
Mount Rushmore, SD. We haven't had any history in awhile and what's a family vacay without a little history lesson? In the Black Hills of South Dakota, visit the home of some the most famous heads of our time. You'll be swept away by the views!
'Craters of the Moon', ID. This is one of the most sweeping views in all of America. See how the earth has transformed over the years and how much she'll continue to change. It's amazing how much the earth's terrain resembles that of the moon and your kids will get a kick out of walking all over it.
WOO HOO! We made it to Cali! Bathroom break, anyone?
Lego Land, CA. Though you might have been tempted to stop along the East Coast and while you were at the Mall of America, aren't you glad you waited? It's no surprise your kids could spend a day building, destroying, creating, and imagining and you'll soon find you can do it, too!
Redwoods, CA. Feel how small you really are in the midst of 300-foot-tall trees. Your rascals will get a kick of our playing hide and seek throughout the forest, or maybe they'd prefer a quiet walk under the serene beauty.
Alcatraz, CA. Misbehaving kids? Take 'em here! Maybe this isn't the place to take your youngest, but it's truly a thrilling place! Listen to audio tapes of former inmates and even stand in the jail cells.
Venice Beach, CA. One of the most amazing things your kids will get out of traveling the country -- or stopping by any of these stops -- is a sense of culture and diversity. And Venice Beach is truly one of the best stops for that!
Disneyland, CA. Yeah, yeah, you saw Disney in Florida, why do you need to see it again? That's what you're thinking, isn't it? Uh, hello! It's Disney! And there is a Cars themed adventure. Score!
San Diego Zoo, CA. We. Made. It. To the last stop! Yee haw!! Pet the giraffes, feed the baby pandas, oogle at the long list of cute animals. Really, what could be more perfect?
Are you taking any kid-friendly trips this summer? Where to?
Image via Linus Henning/Flickr