When you have little ones, a vacation isn’t really a vacation. Consider these ten landmarks, locales, events as an investment in your child’s future, for is a life really complete without realizing just how small you are while standing under the canopy of a 300-foot tree or feeling true American pride while watching a grand slam at Fenway Park? If you approach it right, they might not even realize that it’s educational. Here are our top ten places every kid should see before they leave for college.
10. New York City
Yeah, we know, it’s crowded and expensive, but imagine the awe radiating from your child as they stand amidst the lights of Times Square. Buy a sandwich from the deli across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theatre, rent bikes in Central Park, and let them try to figure out the subway map in Grand Central Station. During the holidays, skate at Rockefeller Center or crowd the streets for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. ‘
9. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
It’s a bit “heavy” but kids slacking in history class will find a new appreciation for one of the most important events in America’s history. Hit up the National Riding Stables to saddle up for a ride along the battlefield. Make sure to stop at Gettysburg National Cemetery where more than 3,500 Union soldiers are buried.
8. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
The land that was once home to the toughest prison in America doesn’t sound very kid-friendly, but we guarantee nothing but good can come from a child learning that there are consequences for crimes, even if it’s a bit extreme. Depart via ferry from San Francisco’s Pier 33 to stroll the dark, musty, and cramped quarters of Alcatraz. To really get a feel for what life was like for hardcore criminals in the 40s and 50s, purchase the audio tour narrated by former inmates and guards who spent time in the prison.
7. Redwood National Park, California
Of all the wonders inside the U.S.’s 393 national parks, nothing quite compares to feeling ant-like standing at the roots of an ancient redwood tree. It’s a good way to give kids some perspective on how large the world actually is. If you have the time and the equipment, stay overnight in one of the park’s four campgrounds. At $35 per night, it’s much cheaper than a hotel room.
6. Niagara Falls, New York
If there’s ever a time when kids are stunned to silence, it would be when they stand wrapped in a yellow poncho looking out at the nearly 3,000 tons of water that flow over the falls every second. Many more active tours are offered, like helicopter and boat rides, but we think the Cave of the Winds tour is sufficient. After suiting up, an elevator takes your family down 175 feet to the Hurricane Deck, just 20 feet from the falls. The sprays from the falls are an intense sensation, much like standing in the way of a tropical storm.
- Bring your passport; you’ll now need it to cross the border.
- Traverse Horseshoe Falls via the 2.5-mile-long Rainbow Bridge, but don’t forget to wear a raincoat.
- On the U.S. side, get a close-up of the falls at Cave of Winds. An elevator ride brings you down into the Niagara Gorge, where you can walk within 20 feet of gushing Bridal Veil Falls.
- Don’t miss the shark-feeding shows offered every other day at the Aquarium of Niagara. The aquarium is located on the U.S. side of the falls.
5. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida
Go on and feel the magic of America’s most-popular theme park. Yeah it’s kitschy and a bit overpriced but it’s an American legend and a memorable experience for even the teens. To keep the cost down we suggest watching for online deals, going during the off-season, packing your own lunch, or going to one of the park’s buffet restaurants.
4. A Game at Wrigley Field (Chicago) or Fenway Park (Boston)
Regardless of what your team of choice is, you have to admit that the thrill of catching a game at one of America’s classic ballparks is irreplaceable. See history play out in front of your eyes, for one day your kids are likely to be doing the exact same thing with their kids.
3. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York City
No better place to give a U.S. history lesson than the place that the ancestors of nearly 40 percent of American citizens have once crossed over. At Ellis Island make a stop for the immigration museum to give your kids a chance to search through millions of names to find the exact date and ship relatives came over on.
- Reopened in 2004. Lookout from the 16th floor.
- To enter the statue, you must have a separate Monument Pass; otherwise, you only have access to the grounds.
- Monument Passes are free from the ferry company, but you should definitely order in advance as only a limited number are available each day for walk-up visitors.
- Ferry lines can be more than an hour long.
2. Grand Canyon, Arizona
Yeah, sure, it’s a bit oversold but it’s the Grand Canyon! It’s all about how you approach it—don’t force them into a cross-country carpool in the back seat of a minivan, and don’t expect them to stare in wonder from the edge for longer than five minutes. Book a mule ride (but do so early, they fill up months in advance) or tickets to the Skywalk, a glass-bottomed observation deck 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. And if you have teenagers in tow, look into a three-day rafting trip down the Colorado River.
- Stroll part of the South Rim Trail.
- Hike, if you can, even a small section of the inner canyon.
- Catch the views of the canyon and the Painted Desert from the Watchtower.
- Go on flightseeing trip above the canyon.
- Raft the Colorado River.
1. The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
This is where it all begins and ends, literally. Rent bikes and cruise past the Lincoln Memorial, around the Tidal Basin, out to the Arlington Cemetery, and then back down to the White House. Kids will come alive standing at the foot all of the monuments they’ve seen in their school text books.
- 10. New York City
- 9. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
- 8. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
- 7. Redwood National Park, California
- 6. Niagara Falls, New York
- 5. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida
- 4. A Game at Wrigley Field (Chicago) or Fenway Park (Boston)
- 3. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York City
- 2. Grand Canyon, Arizona
- 1. The National Mall, Washington, D.C.