Summer vacation will be here before you know it! Stymie the lazy-day choruses of “I’m bored...” before they start with a visit to one (or more) of these 10 spots that every kid should see. Ticking off this treasure-trove checklist of close-to-home U.S. sights – each within the scope of a weekend getaway – is sure to mount childlike wonder in kids of all ages, with each destination offering enriching experiences that are both educating and entertaining. From iconic emblems to engineering marvels, and natural wonders to theme park fantasy lands, these attractions for kids promise to spark the imaginations of young dreamers. Perhaps the only better alternative to seeing these sights as a child? Seeing them through the eyes of one. Catch a sneak peek at our 10 picks with the Spots Every Kid Should See Slideshow.
1. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York City
Sailing past Lady Liberty (www.nps.gov/stli) is a must for any visit to the Big Apple, and combining the trip with a stop at neighboring Ellis Island (www.ellisisland.org) packs the iconic image with new meaning. More than 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. through the country’s first federal immigration station between 1892 and 1954 (maybe great-great-grandma was one of them!), and the historic island’s museum vividly demonstrates what life was like after crossing the Atlantic. A top attraction for kids is the carefully restored Main Building's computerized Passenger Record, which lets visitors trace loved ones’ lineage as far back as 1892 (for free). Map out the family tree before circling back to Liberty Island for an up-close-and-personal look at the country’s most famous statue. Access to the pedestal can be reserved through Statue Cruises (www.statuecruises.com) day of (note the company monopolizes access to the isles), but the crown is currently closed while Lady Liberty undergoes a major renovation; the reopening date has not yet been announced. Cruises leave from Battery Park daily from 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. (until 4:30 starting Memorial Day weekend); $13 adults, $5 ages 4–12.
2. Fenway Park Baseball Game, Boston
Boston is home to a handful of must-see historic sites, but there’s none quite as kid-friendly as the oldest operating ballpark in the country – legendary Fenway Park (redsox.mlb.com/bos/ballpark). While the baseball greats that have played here may have changed over the years (Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Jim Rice), the venue itself hardly has since its 1912 debut, still maintaining a manually operated scoreboard and keeping in place a ladder that was long used to retrieve home run balls from the net above the Green Monster (the aptly named 37-foot-high green wall in left field). Diehard fans and curious spectators alike fill the ballpark every game to root for the home team, known in Boston as "The Sawx," and the intense energy that fills the park makes this one attraction for kids that no youngster will soon forget. Fenway’s small size means there’s really no bad seat in the house – if you’re lucky enough to get one. Plan ahead – single-game tickets typically go on sale in late January (though if you can't score tix, tours of the park are also available). Buy some peanuts and crackerjacks, and let the all-American sports revelry begin. IBaseball season runs March–Oct.; ame tickets start at $12. Fifty-minute stadium tours are held daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; $16 adults, $12 ages 3–15.
3. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska
For the best views of Alaska’s frozen wonders, take the youngsters to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (www.nps.gov/glba), where glaciers cover over a quarter of the 3.3-million-acre park, located about 50 miles northwest of Juneau. Sailing along the preserve’s coastline, you’ll enjoy close encounters with the icy behemoths; also be on the lookout for a variety of majestic sea creatures, including humpback whales, orcas, and sea lions. (Eight-hour day cruises depart daily from Glacier Bay Lodge from May through early September; tickets are $185 for adults or $92.50 for ages 3 through 12; www.visitglacierbay.com). One way to make the experience more impactful for kids: participate in the Junior Ranger program (available May through September for ages 6 through 12; kids ages 2 through 6 can become a Pee Wee Ranger) – after exploring the park and filling out an activity book, participants receive their very own ranger badge. Sadly, Glacier Bay is one attraction for kids that might not be the same for future generations. Though glacier melting here is not directly linked to global warming, the frosty namesakes of Glacier Bay have steadily retreated over the past 200 years. Today, there’s still plenty to see and do, but note that the only way to reach the park is by boat or “flightseeing” tours, so odds are you’ll visit with a cruise ship or tour company. Be sure to dress the kids in layers, as summer temperatures average in the 50s during the day. Glacier Bay is open 24 hours a day year-round, though winter services are limited. Visitor center is open daily late May–early Sept., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Park entrance is free.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Spanning 277 miles and plunging to depths of close to a mile, the Grand Canyon (www.nps.gov/grca) rightfully earns its spot as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. It’s also a spot every kid should see, thanks to abundant wildlife (think California condors and unusual tassel-eared squirrels), remnants of thousands of years of human settlement, and fascinating geological features. The attractions for kids aren't limited to the scientific, either. Appeal to little ones' adventurous spirits with plentiful outdoor activities, from hiking to whitewater rafting to mule rides down into the canyon (book ahead through www.grandcanyonlodges.com). The park offers two types of Junior Ranger badges year-round (one for all enlistees and a special badge for those who venture to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon) for children ages 4 and up, with additional programs in the summer months to spark kids’ interest in hiking and nature. When off exploring, be sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen – summertime temps soar into the 90s and above, especially inside the canyon. The South Rim is open 24 hours a day year-round, the North Rim is open mid-May–mid-Oct. Visitor center hours are 8 a.m.–5 p.m. (until 6 p.m. for North Rim). Entrance fee is $25 per car for a seven-day period.
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An Alberta clipper storm will lay a swath of snow and slippery travel in the Northeast into Tuesday evening.