With temperatures rising and kids out of school, now is the time for family vacations. But if you aren’t near the beach or don’t want to sit in traffic, there are plenty of other options across the country for you. Family travel expert and contributing writer Kerri Zane shares 25 of her favorite activities you can do with the kids over summer break in her June Window Seat or Aisle Seat Column.
Summer season is upon us. While the typical default family holiday includes a large resort on a beachy locale with a crystal blue swimming pool, you might want to try something different this year. There are a host of unique, out-of-the-box activities for you.
Here’s my list of 25 super cool family fun things to do. No swimsuit is required.
Alaskan Dream Cruises, a Native-owned small-ship cruise line, based in Sitka, Alaska offers a family cruise that makes science come to life. Activities range from cultural classes teaching traditional arts and crafts, geocaching expeditions in the rain forest, kayaking, all-terrain vehicle rides, Zego sports boat excursions, and nature hikes. You’ll also be able to spot whales, eagles, bears, and other wildlife in their natural environment. This year’s nine-day family cruise departs Sitka, Alaska on July 19.
2. The Inn at East Hill Farm, New Hampshire
Located at the foot of Mt. Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire, The Inn at East Hill Farm combines a working farm with a relaxing all-inclusive vacation resort. City kids get hands-on time collecting chicken eggs, milking the cow and goat, feeding the animals, grooming the ponies, hay jumping, and helping the farmers with their chores. Horseback riding is available, as well as riding lessons and pony rides. You can participate in cheese making, fiber crafts, bread making workshops, a talent show, water skiing, and great nighttime activities too!
3. Field Station: Dinosaurs, New Jersey
Nine minutes away from New York city in Secaucus, New Jersey is a host of active dinosaurs. They live at Field Station, a 20-acre outdoor Jurassic learning venue. The park allows kids to get up close and personal with 32 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs. There are interactive shows starring a 15-foot juvenile T-Rex, game shows to test dinosaur knowledge, a dig site, 3D movie, and hands-on workshops. Check out nighttime events throughout the summer season including Dozin’ with Dinos and Dinosaurs After Dark. Each of these experiences allows you an overnight campout adventure amongst the dinosaurs.
At the eco luxury Inn by the Sea in Portland, Maine innkeepers will hook you up with the quintessential Maine experience. You and your family will be able to venture out onto Casco Bay in a lobster Boat. You’ll learn the ins and outs of lobster fishing, don slickers, bait the traps, and haul your lunch. Captain Tom and his crew will teach you to measure a lobster and toss him back if he’s a “short,” or notch the tail of a “breeder.” Then at the end of the day you’ll come back to the dock and take your catch to the Portland Lobster Company where they will cook it up with sides as you watch the fishing boats come and go in Portland Harbor.
5. The Stanley Hotel, Colorado
For a bit of spooky fun, visit the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Its haunted halls served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s book The Shining. The Hotel also features a Butterfly Encounter. You and your children can help a local team release butterflies into the Rocky Mountains, helping to repopulate the dwindling monarch butterfly population in this natural habitat. The town is surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park, which hosts an abundance of other family-friendly activities from hands-on seminars in the park to zip lining and more.
6. Triple J Guest Ranch, Montana
In Search Of A Digital Detox? Ranch Rider, at Montana’s Triple J Guest Ranch, has organized eight weeks of natural fun this summer, so you can trade technology for a taste of the cowboy lifestyle. Reignite your passion for the outdoors with cattle drives, team penning, trail rides, and rodeos. There are also fossil hunts, roping lessons, and a Cowboy & Indian adventure day. The programs run from June 15 through August 16.
The TimberTrek Aerial Adventure Park in West Virginia is part ropes course, part canopy tour, and part circus school. This is perfect for active families, as you can run courses that offer a variety of obstacles including bridges, swings, and zip lines, all across rugged terrain. The courses are ranked like ski slopes with yellow and green courses marked as the easiest and blue and black courses as the most difficult. After a great morning adrenaline rush, cross the world’s highest BridgeWalk to view the New River Gorge National River.
8. Baseball Stadium Sleepovers, New Jersey
A great fun activity for you and your kids to try this summer is a sleepover at a baseball stadium. Jeryl Marcus recommends the two stadiums she and her family have stayed at, the Lakewood Blueclaws in Lakewood, New Jersey a minor league team that sits right next to Adventure Aquarium. Makes for a perfect 24 hours of activity. The other is the Camden Riversharks, an independent league team in Camden, New Jersey. The sleepover at the Riversharks includes the game ticket, vouchers for dinner, a movie, a snack, breakfast, and a baseball clinic the day after, all for about $30.00 a person. Check out your favorite minor league teams’ websites, as many offer these type of summer sleepovers.
9. Golden Stage Inn, Vermont
Remember Bee Movie? Now you and your family can get up close and personal with the black and gold beauties. Golden Stage Inn in Vermont has a honeybee hive tour. You and your kids can learn all about the life of a honeybee and how to keep bees and harvest honey. If you are nervous about getting stung you can watch the tour from the comfort of the Inn’s solarium room. The best part is the tasty honey straight from the hive. In the fall, Golden Stage Inn hosts the only honey festival in Vermont—which is incredibly important since the honey bee is Vermont’s state mascot.
The Aquarium of the Pacific, in my hometown of Long Beach, California, prides itself on offering many unique experiences that go beyond the typical zoo or aquarium visit. Families with children 10 years and older can book an Animal Encounters experience which includes Aquarium admission, a behind-the-scenes tour, access to your favorite animal exhibit area, and the chance to talk with an animal care staff member. Or, you can try a Summer Family Sleepover, which includes a scavenger hunt, fish feeding, souvenir T-shirt painting, plus the option to touch marine animals like sharks, sea stars, and sea jellies. A pizza dinner, light snack, and cereal for breakfast will keep your bellies happy.
13. Pechanga Resort and Casino, Southern California
For a truly authentic pee-wee golf experience, Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California offers golf lessons especially designed for 3 to 5 year olds. They are one of only 2 properties in Southern California which offers this kind of program. If you visit June 21 through July 3rd, go to the Annual Pechanga BBQ Competition. The best grillers from SoCal show up to vie for the $20,000 prize. Or, stop in July 11 through the 19th and attend the Annual Pechanga Pow Wow. It’s a free interactive festival filled with Native American dancing, singing, food, arts, and crafts. It’s one of the largest Native American powwows in the country.
Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa located just outside of Albuquerque in Bernalillo on the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico has great family offerings. There are kid’s landscape classes, geocaching, and hot air ballooning where you take off right from the resort. Every Saturday during the summer the resort offers on property rodeos that you and your kids can either participate in or just watch. With the resort located on the Santa Ana Pueblo you can also join members in traditional bread baking sessions using authentic huruna ovens.
15. BLEND Custom Parfum, Georgia
The owner of BLEND Custom Parfum in Atlanta, Georgia invites families into her facility to create their own custom scent. Many of the properties in the city can hook you up with BLEND. You can experience this on location at your resort, or at her atelier in Atlanta. This is a by appointment only opportunity. Can you picture your kid designing his or her own celebrity fragrance? Very Beyonce.
16. Snow Mountain Ranch, Colorado
Just outside Winter Park, Colorado, Summer Tubing Hill will open mid-July at Snow Mountain Ranch. The Ranch is offering traditional family winter activities throughout the spring, summer, and fall. They’ve got a Snowflex® tubing slope. This is only the third tubing hill of its kind in the United States and the first ever in Colorado. The Hill will allow for up to eight tubes to run at a time. The best part….as a Snow Mountain Ranch guest you can use this tubing hill free of charge.
17. Cumberland Caverns, Tennessee
How about a summer spelunking adventure in one of the world’s largest natural wonders? Visit Tennessee’s largest cave, Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville. This definitely takes camping to new depths. There are three opportunities to enjoy. All Around the Mountain includes a hike plus underground tour and overnight camping. Squeeze through tight spaces, tricky and sticky passages with Rocky Topper, or crawl, climb, and admire during a 3.5-4 hour adventure with Higginbotham’s Revenge.
There are some great out-of-the-box experiences in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania. In Easton you can visit The Crayola Factory for the Crayola Experience. There’s lots of high-tech family fun, such as melting Crayola Crayons to make special shapes and trinkets. Specialized cameras doodle in the dark, and your kids can create their very own crayon with his or her name on it. The Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown has a two-story exhibit floor filled with engaging experiences that connect kids with the wonders of science.
19. Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, New Hampshire
My favorite unique summer family activity is the Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel‘s signature Paws-N-Paddles package. Located in Raft, New Hampshire, this experience combines rolling dog sledding and whitewater rafting. The rafting trips include safety gear, comfort gear, experienced guides, a light river side snack, a late lunch and transportation to and from the river. This is open to families with children ages 6 and up. Then, after a fun morning and afternoon on the river, you’ll visit the kennel in Jefferson for an evening of rolling dog sledding. The facility currently houses 100+ rescue and second chance sled dogs. Revenue from this adventure supports the pups with the high level of care they deserve.
20. Sleep Afloat, Various Locations
SleepAfloat boat rentals offer you and your family a fun and unique houseboat or yacht experience. They have listings for overnight accommodations in a variety of cities throughout the U.S. There are rentals in Boston, Key West, Key Largo, Cape Cod, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, to name a few. Boats range in size from 1 to 3 bedrooms. You can relax on board with spectacular waterfront views from your very own private roof deck. Vessels are pet friendly too!
21. Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Georgia
Motorcycle Safety Foundation is one of Alpharetta, Georgia’s fun family-friendly attractions. They allow children as young as six to take lessons. The campus has everything you need, including gear and a bike that fits each person’s size perfectly. Riders only need to bring socks. The instructors are very friendly and help even the most uncoordinated people make figure eights by the end of their day.
Do you love putt putt golf? Then you’ll truly enjoy the recently opened Urban Putt. It’s San Francisco’s first and only indoor miniature golf course, restaurant, and bar. A one-stop food and fantastical, high-tech mini-golf course, the design is part Jules Verne, part Rube Goldberg, that could be described as steampunk. Steve Fox, along with an impressive dream team of local designers, robotics engineers, welders, and artists, has created a technically-sophisticated playground for you to let your imagination have free reign.
23. Lost River Cave, Tennessee
An hour north of Nashville, Tennessee is Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It offers Kids’ Discovery Cave Crawl tours and several geocaching options. On the cave crawl tours, kids will learn the Civil War-era history and significance of the cave, along with the nature of karst environments and the underground world. Guides will explain the recent sinkhole cave-in at the National Corvette Museum that swallowed 8 Corvettes. Lost River Cave also offers several geocaches hidden inside its 66-acre property. Spend the whole day starting with the only underground boat tour in Kentucky, then a wild cave tour, hunting treasured geocaches, searching for winged friends at the Butterfly Habitat, and end the day at the new Arbor Day Foundation-certified Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.
Stone Mountain Park in Georgia offers a variety of one of my favorite active family activities: Geyser Towers. It’s the first and only adventure of its kind in the U.S., featuring multiple levels of suspended rope bridges and net tunnels connecting to towering platforms that overlook a gushing geyser. With sporadic eruptions and multiple offshoots, your kids can play in the spray or stay high and dry. Stone Mountain also offers Sky Hike. Here you can trek through the treetops on one of the nation’s largest family adventure courses. You have control of your trek, as you pick the difficulty level. If relaxing is your family’s mantra, then just chill on the Summit Skyride. It’s a high-speed Swiss cable car which provides views of the Confederate Memorial Carving, as well as views of the Atlanta skyline, the Appalachian Mountains and more, up to 60 miles away.
25. Mission Point Resort, Michigan
Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island, Michigan, has some great old school Americana activities. There are no cars on the island, so your kids can roam freely. Fly kites on the Great Lawn, ride bikes, or take a spin around the Island in a horse drawn carriage. There’s a real-grass 18-hole putting green that overlooks the Straits of Mackinac and Lake Huron to practice your golf strokes. The resort offers a class in the lost art of flower pressing, plus kid-friendly scavenger hunts and lawn games like croquet and bocce.
For more family-friendly travel ideas, check out:
- 5 Family-Friendly Safari Camps in Zambia & Zimbabwe
- The Best Travel Package Deals for Single Parents
- 6 Unique Sleepovers Across the Country
By Kerri Zane for PeterGreenberg.com. Kerri Zane is a family travel expert and author of It Takes All 5: A Single Mom’s Guide to Finding the REAL One, on sale now. For more advice on health, parenting or Kerri’s exclusive MomEscapes, visit her at KerriZane.com.