This list of 30 great places takes your kids beyond the summer movie blockbusters and bowling alleys to places that they will remember when they grow up. You can't ask for more than that! There's a mix of outdoor adventures, museums, and hands-on experiences to choose from. The common theme is that these places are a lot of fun!
I published the nine top places for summer daytrips for kids a few years ago, but since then I've discovered some really great places to bring kids. It's time for an update! I've been to all these places, which is why I can recommend them.
These are the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog's Top 30 Summer Daytrips for Kids for Summer 2018, offered in no particular order:
30. Phipps Conservatory -- Pittsburgh, PA
For you there are the variety of garden rooms throughout the 14-room Victorian conservatory. For your kids, there are surprises, including, when I was there a couple years ago, a display of Rube Goldberg-inspired interactive contraptions that pleased and amazed the kids I saw at the gardens, including one little toddler who simply (and eventually vocally) didn't want to move on. Although the exhibits rotate in and out, this is a great place to awaken your child's excitement about nature and plants.
29. Valley Forge National Historic Park -- King of Prussia, PA
Learning about history is even better when you get to see where that history happened. There are multiple ways to explore this expansive park, but I recommend taking the trolley tour, which brings you to all the major sights, provides great narration, and gives you a chance to get out and explore. You'll see the primitive huts the Continental Army lived in, see the various breastworks and fortifications George Washington and his army made in the winter of 1777-78, and hear the story of how that long winter probably saved the Revolution.
28. Fort Necessity -- Farmington, PA
Discover the history and the place behind the only time George Washington ever surrendered -- but also how he may have single-handedly started the French and Indian War! Washington built Fort Necessity because he feared he was about to get attacked by the French in retaliation for a battle a few days earlier, and he was right. The present day reconstruction is close proximity to what Washington had built, a few logs put up encircling an unimaginably tiny center cabin. The park also offers a playground and picnic tables in a lovely setting.
27. Museum of Fine Arts -- Hagerstown, MD
One of the kid-friendliest arts museums I've ever been to, this museum isn't so large that a child will develop an irrevocable hatred of art if you insist on seeing every gallery, plus there's lots of art there that will appeal to children as they start to develop art appreciation.
My favorite was the gallery of school children art, which may not be there over the summer. There's even a kids room to help children on their artful journey.
The birds are incredible -- and several exhibits allow you to walk through, with the birds flying loose around you. Pretty cool.... just sayin'. The National Aviary's collection features birds representing every continent except Antarctica. Many of these species are showcased in free-flight mixed species exhibits, to allow the birds to demonstrate natural behaviors. It was in one of these free-flight rooms where I was swooshed by the gorgeous pigeon.
It's colorful, educational, and gives your kid a chance to tinker with some of the cool exhibits. A relatively recent addition to the area, the National Museum of Industrial History, just opened in late 2016 and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution; it seeks to preserve, educate, and display the industrial history of the nation. The museum has four exhibitions, each focusing on a different aspect of industrial history that affected both Pennsylvania and the rest of the country. The museum showcases the nation's industrial past by highlighting the machinery and the lives of workers at that time period.
This is a great museum for kids -- just don't linger too long on any one artifact. The colors will fascinate them, and there are cool stuff for them to tinker with (that is allowed and encouraged) throughout the museum to keep their interest.
The Discover Kayak lessons through River & Trail Outfitters began out of Brunswick, MD and took us on a guided excursion 6 miles down river to the landing point at just past the U.S. 15 bridge across the river at Point of Rocks. The guide for our trip was knowledgeable, patient, and understanding when my youngest asked for a "breather," during which we didn't paddle but simply floated down the river, letting the current do all the work. Along the way we saw many heron, a few ospreys as well as cormorants by the dozens.
The Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens and its more than a dozen themed gardens, including a Healing Garden, Asian Valley, a rose Garden, a wetland garden, a Victorian garden, and a children’s garden -- with plenty of opportunities to get wet -- offers plenty of other opportunities to see the wonder around us. Not to be missed is the lovely, classical domed Conservatory, which the Gardens claim is the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic, with changing displays, a variety of orchids, and tropical plants.
Not to be missed is Butterflies LIVE! -- where kids and adults alike may walk around while literally hundreds of tropical butterflies flutter around you. Butterflies LIVE! is an indoor exhibit in the Conservatory geared for all ages. You don't even need a kid along as an excuse!
20. Grice Museum -- Clearfield, PA
You and your kids have to love cars for this daytrip, but if you do, then you'll spend the afternoon happily occupied! There are historic and vintage cars and vehicles of all ages to explore -- and more, because, oddly and amazingly, this is also a museum of taxidermy.
Like the vehicles, there are animals of all sizes and shapes to see and appreciate. Even though the animals are stuffed, this presents an opportunity to discuss wildlife and wildlife preservation as well as safe and legal hunting (the museum only accepts legally acquired animals). A few of the specimens are touchable, so where else could you pet a moose?
Develop your kids' love of hiking by bringing them to this amazing green oasis, right in the heart of suburbia. The payoff is a sweet little waterfall as Scotts Run joins the mighty Potomac River. There are lots of safe opportunities to get your feet wet and do some wading, so come prepared with bathing suits and towels! The hikes aren't strenuous, so even the littlest ones can do them.
Although many period forts were built of wood (George Washington's Fort Necessity comes to mind), wooden forts burned easily. A fort as far forward on the frontier as Fort Frederick would have to be made of stone to be secure. You and your child can experience life at the fort during the French & Indian War as there are often members of a recreated company "garrisoned" there. Musket and cannon demonstrations, hearth cooking demonstrations, military drills and uniform and clothing talks.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center immerses visitors in her world through informative, evocative and emotion-provoking exhibits, explaining how the landscape of the Choptank River region shaped her early years, including how she hunted muskrat in the local marshes and how a childhood head injury changed her life. You'll also learn about the importance of her faith, family and community. Learn all that and more about Harriet Tubman and complete the Junior Ranger Badge project!
The really little ones will love to discover nature and learn about the region's geology and plant life in the Childhood's Gate Children's Garden. And even if that's a little beyond their age, there're things to do that appeal to four out of the five senses. They'll love the statue of the resting bison, as well as all the other critter statues scattered across the garden. Best of all? It's free.
Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden is a unique space for exploring nature, fostering wonder, and celebrating the plants, animals, and geography of central Pennsylvania. Interesting for adults, it's magical for children, with flowers and shrubs, hardscape displays, and sculpture appealing to all the senses.
Located in the heart of Downtown York, Timeline Arcade offers dozens of classics like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Mario and many classic pinball machines. You don’t even need quarters - just pay by the hour and use your pass to play -- day passes are also available! With so many favorites from the 80s and 90s to play, even parents will get a kick out of Timeline Arcade.
13. Cushwa Basin, C&O Canal -- Williamsport, MD
10. Mercer Museum --Doylestown, PA
Where do I start with the Mercer Museum? First of all, it's in a castle. A CASTLE! Then, there's all this cool stuff just stuffed into the castle. Whale boats. Carriages (not one but at least three). Wooden Indians. And stuff that used to be familiar to boys and girls, and families, who lived 100 years ago. Today, all this stuff is just oddly foreign to us, but still really cool. You walk around the castle at your own pace, enjoying it, learning about what interests you and your kids, and moving on past the stuff that doesn't. You can't absorb it all -- I recommend just going and looking and enjoying. Nearby Doylestown offers some great restaurants that you can enjoy for lunch or dinner.
9. Calvert Cliffs State Park -- Maryland
Instead of going to a museum to look at fossils someone's already found -- instead go look for fossils on the Chesapeake Bay! Slip in a little hike, and at the end of the hike, wade and float on the Bay after looking for fossilized sharks teeth -- yep, that sounds like an all around great day for your kids, no matter what their ages (the hike isn't so far that little ones can't walk it)!
8. Make Soap at Sunrise Soap Co. -- York, PA
One of York County’s favorite factory tour locations, Sunrise Soap Company should be a stop to try out making soaps yourself. Pick out scents, colors and shapes, and they will walk you through each step along the process. For kids, this is a hands-on experience -- they pick the mold for the soaps they make, they get their fingers messy, they control the entire experience, which is both fun and educational. And then you get to bring the soaps they make home!
7. Fort Delaware -- Peapatch Island, DE
A boat ride and an old fort, which looks like a castle, to explore -- perfect for kids bored with summer. Afterward, grab an ice cream cone in Delaware City. There are also restaurants there if you're really hungry.
6. International Spy Museum -- Washington, DC
Your kids should be a little older to enjoy this very cool museum in downtown DC. This museum introduces you to some cool history that maybe you didn't know was going on around you! For you, there's 007's very cool car. For the kids, there's a great introduction to spycraft.
5. Penns Caverns -- Centre Hall, PA
Do you crave the cave? On a really hot or rainy day, or a really hot day -- what better place to be than underground, where it's always a cool 54 degrees? (So yeah, bring hoodies and sweaters!) Penns Caverns is unlike other caverns you've been to because it takes you on a boat ride, underground. Plus, there's an interesting zoo located right on the premises, so there's something for everyone!
4. Annmarie Sculpture Garden -- Solomons, MD
If you're looking for something that both adults and kids can enjoy, then you really need to check out the Annmarie Sculpture Garden, which is located near Solomons, Maryland, where the Patuxent River meets the Chesapeake Bay. Filled with whimsical as well as some incredibly lovely sculptures, the winding paths gradually introduces you and your children -- or your inner child -- to some amazing art. Enjoy the great outdoors as well as the art. Then, plan to have lunch (or dinner) at nearby Solomons.
3. Wolf Sanctuary of PA -- Lititz, PA
If your kids love dogs, then they'll LOVE the Wolf Sanctuary of PA -- only, there aren't any dogs there. Only wolves. You'll learn why wolves aren't like dogs, and you get to see a bunch of REAL wolves. And their fangs. From a safe distance! In fact, this is one of the only places where you can see wolves on the East Coast. This place was a hit with my kids -- both little and big -- and I'm betting it'll be a hit with yours as well.
2. Fort Washington -- Ft Washington, MD
I love Fort McHenry, in Baltimore, and that's certainly a great place to take kids. I bet you've even done it already! So that's why Fort Washington is so cool. You might not even have known about it -- but it's this huge fort, bigger and more grand than Fort McHenry, right on the Maryland banks of the Potomac, a few miles downstream from Washington DC. Sweeping vistas of the Potomac and a whole, huge fort to explore equals a fun day learning a little history and spurring big imaginations!
1. National Zoo -- Washington, DC
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And animals. Bunches of them, of all kinds and shapes, in a lovely park setting in a lovely part of Washington DC. I love the National Zoo, and each time I go, I see something different. The zoo is a great place to go, for kids no matter what their age is. If it's hot, you can cool down in the mist-ers they have set up. You can spend a whole day there and still have some zoo left to see. And it can be budget friendly if you pack your own food -- there are multiple places to sit and enjoy your lunch.