Looking for kid-friendly adventures for the summer?
Below is MidAtlanticDayTrips’ curated kid-friendly daytrip destinations for Summer 2019, pulling from places I’ve visited in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC! Although there are some “obvious” destinations — the National Zoo comes to mind — I’ve looked for lesser known daytrips, such as the living history museum that recreates George Washington’s childhood home (Ferry Farm) and the AnnMarie Sculpture Garden, which introduces your children to the whimsical world of art.
These are the daytrips that will keep your kids’ imaginations active and expand their horizons, maybe even educate them a little without their even realizing it. Most of all, these are the places they will remember you taking them to, 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!
These are the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog’s 2019’s 30 Days of Summer Daytrips for Kids, offered in no particular order:
The landscape surrounding the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center still looks very much like the landscape Harriet grew up in. Inside, the Visitors Center immerses you and your kids in her world through 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 literally changed her life. As you learn about the importance of her faith, family and community, complete the Junior Ranger Badge project!
2. Martins Potato Chip Factory Tour — York, PA
Factory tours are a great way to entertain inquisitive children! Have you ever wondered how the food you eat — a potato chip, for example — goes from being a potato to a chip?
You can find out on the Martin’s Snacks Factory Tour.
For children and adults alike, factory tours demystifies the manufacturing process and you can see the entire process, from trucks dumping potatoes to the packaging and shipping of the end product. One of the best parts? Sampling product made just minutes before.
3. Ferry Farm — Fredericksburg, VA
The house and most of the outbuildings are an interpretive replicas of what existed when Washington grew up there. The house was rebuilt on its archaeological footprint, reconstructing the kitchen and outbuildings, and recreating the period landscape.
It’s run as a living history museum, and it’s a great place to take the kids so they can experience a little of what it would have been like to live in colonial times.
What makes this so fun for kids is that you can handle everything. Tired? Go sit on one of the chairs — you won’t break it! Curious? Pick up one of the plates or quill pens. Go ahead, open drawers, open the chests, look under the mattress. The furniture is being recreated based on inventories and what was listed in the wills. This is a cool opportunity to experience the type of furniture our forebears lived on and with.
4. Westmoreland Museum of American Art
The Westmoreland Museum of American Art is a delightful art museum devoted to American art, with a particular concentration on the art of southwestern Pennsylvania. The museum’s collection includes the works of famous American artists like Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and many others.
The Center for Creative Connections offers an opportunity to create landscape layouts that explore how areas within southwestern Pennsylvania developed from rural to industrial societies, a build-a-bridge activity that challenges you to build some of Pittsburgh’s common bridge styles, and a stop-motion animation activity that allows you to make artwork come alive by animating a selection of backgrounds and characters from our paintings. There’s even a large drawing glass that inspires you to be an artist and create fun, full-length portraits of your friends and family.
5. Apothecary Museum — Alexandria, VA
It’s not every day you can go into an old-time apothecary shop and see it, exactly as a customer in the early 1900s would have experienced it. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop Museum in Alexandria, VA’s historic district has been preserved as a museum. Today, most of the artifacts inside the museum are authentic and date to its closing.
Think Harry Potter on steroids, because there really are ingredients named Unicorn’s Root and Dragon’s Blood that were used. and if you think superstition and magic didn’t figure into the equation, think again, because a turkey leg, believed to bring good luck or a ward against evil, was nailed to the lintel of the workroom’s door.
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.
7. National Museum of Industry History — Bethlehem, PA
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.
8. Sail on the Skipjack Nathan of Dorchester — Cambridge, MD
The skipjack is a traditional fishing boat used on Chesapeake Bay for oyster dredging and was the predominant oystering boat in the Bay — there used to be thousands of these boats working the oyster beds — so it was a real treat to get to see one sailing near Tilghman Island one summer, and an even bigger treat to get to sail on one! Although that way of life is fast disappearing, some of the boats that still sail today also provide tours for the public. During the 2-hour tour on the Nathan of Dorchester, the crew demonstrated dredging for oysters.
Introducing your kids to a potential new hobby and helping them see a lake-centered park from a different perspective — from the water level itself — is a great way to help nurture an appreciation of nature.
Piney Run Lake is big enough to entertain your kids for a great afternoon’s paddle. The water is clear, inviting you to look down to see the underwater life. The kayak launch makes getting in and out of the lake incredibly easy, and if you don’t own your own kayak, the regional park rents them by the hour.
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!
11. Grice Museum — Clearfield, PA
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?
The Virginia Air & Space Center (VASC) is the official visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center. Its mission is to educate, entertain and inspire explorers of all ages. And that’s an important point. The VASC is great for kids — but it’s not just for kids. There’s plenty of fun to be had for the adults as well, which is why this is so highly recommended! Check out the cockpit of the DC-9 or learn how wind and air drag can help or hurt airplanes.
The Space Challenge exhibit allows you to become a NASA rocket engineer. This interactive exhibit brings you on a journey through the world of space exploration by offering the opportunity to learn about the history and future of space flight.
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.
14. Cushwa Basin, C&O Canal — Williamsport, MD
Fort Ligonier is a French and Indian War-era British fortification that served as a staging area and a post of passage for fortifications further west, such as Fort Pitt. Native American and French forces attacked the fort just once during the French and Indian War. In the Battle of Fort Ligonier, also known as the Battle of Loyalhanna, on October 12, 1758, the British successfully repulsed an attack on the fort, which was still under construction at the time.
You’ll want to plan on spending about two hours at Fort Ligonier, which has been lovingly reconstructed, as there are a number of buildings and sections to explore. Today you can see the reconstructed fort and adjacent museum, which has exhibits about and artifacts from the French and Indian War, putting it into the perspective of the entire British/French conflict in Europe; about life in the fort; and about the hardships of living on what was then the western frontier. It’s not so intense as to be too boring for kids (and if it is, simply move through a bit faster). The fort itself is furnished and explained and has lots of doors and rooms and hidden places to explore, which makes it fun. Keep an eye out for the annual Ligonier Days, when re-enactors help bring the fort to life!
16. Air Mobility Command Museum — Dover, DE
If you’re looking for a great summertime daytrip for the kids or family — this one is for you! The Air Mobility Command Museum is truly a hidden gem of a museum — interesting for all for its aviation and military history, or simply the wonderment of these amazing planes. Best of all? It’s free. (Although, consider offering a donation.) For lack of a better description, this museum is an airplane petting zoo. You can explore many of the planes, inside and out (with the guidance of a knowledgeable tour guide), which makes it loads of fun for kids and adults (and those are, really, the best kind of kid-friendly daytrips!).
17. 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.
18. 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)!
19. Make Soap at Sunrise Soap Co. — York, PA
For some clean fun and a great hands-on experiencing, check out one of York County’s favorite factory tour locations, Sunrise Soap Company. You and your kids can pick out scents, colors and shapes, and the kind folks at Sunrise Soap Co. 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!
20. 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.
21. Phipps Conservatory — Pittsburgh, PA
For your kids, there are surprises throughout this 14-room Victorian conservatory, 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. For you, there are the Chiluly glass sculptures interspersed throughout the gardens. Check out the butterfly room, but don’t forget to challenge your kids to see how many different shapes, colors and smells the flowers come in!
Although the exhibits rotate in and out, this is a great place to awaken your child’s excitement about nature and plants.
22. 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.
23. 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 — so mysterious, so much fun for you and the kids! Plus, there’s an interesting zoo located right on the premises, so there’s something for everyone!
24. 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, located near Solomons, 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, have lunch (or dinner) at nearby Solomons.
25. 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.
26. 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 this huge fort is even 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!
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 at picnic tables and benches, or spread a blanket out on the grass in the shade.
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.
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. Walks and trails throughout the park make this a great place to burn off some kid energy!
30. Learn how technology drives the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Factory — York, PA
Even if you’re not into motorcycles, taking a factory tour of the Harley-Davidson Vehicle Operations Factory in York, PA is fascinating. If you’re into motorcycles, and especially if you’re into Harley-Davidsons, then even better. This is also a great tour for your teen-aged children.
Two tours are offered: a free, 1-hour tour that brings a view of Harley-Davidson’s assembly line and fabrication areas and the Steel Toe Tour, which lasts 2 hours, and allows you to learn Harley-Davidson history and get up-close and personal with the Touring, Trike and CVO™ model families. The Steel Toe Tour route has been expanded for smaller groups to provide a more personalized tour experience. The Steel Toe Tour takes you through the manufacturing of fuel tanks, frames, and fenders, as well as many ‘employee only’ areas in paint and polish.
31. Jamestown Settlement — Jamestown, VA
Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia. If you’re looking for a way to introduce kids to American history, start here. With a recreated James Fort, Powhatan Village, and the ships the English settlers arrived on, built to scale, history is, quite literally, brought alive.
There’s plenty to see, and the history lessons are snuck in, presented in a variety of different ways, so there’s little chance anyone will get bored. It’s great for kids, but also worth visiting for adults.