Give your youngsters a dose of fresh air and introduce them to a variety of exciting East Coast cities this spring. These destinations, each just a short drive or train ride from the city, are bursting with family-friendly activities, making them the perfect spots for spring day trips from NYC. Make the most of the kids' time off school during their spring break or plan a quick weekend outing away from the hustle and bustle to explore awesome museum exhibits for kids, check out unique fairs and festivals and enjoy the great outdoors—NYC will still be here when you get back!
Spring day trips from NYC
Travel time: 2 hours by car
When warmer weather comes to the east coast, strolling through the streets of this historically significant city is a no-brainer day trip for families. Important landmarks from America’s past lay in plain view everywhere you look, and age-old architecture that remains on some storefronts and apartment buildings makes it easy to picture the likes of Benjamin Franklin riding through the narrow streets in horse-drawn carriages. If the kids aren’t so inclined to learn about the Constitution or Liberty Bell, however, the Philadelphia Zoo (Philadelphia Zoo, 3400 W Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA; 215-243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org) is reason enough to make the trip. America’s first zoo (it was founded in 1859!) houses an impressive variety of animals for families to get acquainted with, plus plenty of interactive activities each day. Kids will love making their way through the new Zoo360 network of exploration trails that allow up-close views of the creatures from above and below the grounds via see-through mesh walkways. Also, check out supercool art installations among the exhibits when “Junk Rethunk” opens on April 11, displaying works inspired by endangered animals and made entirely from recycled and repurposed materials. The 13-foot-tall blue gorilla sculpted from recycled car parts and five-foot-long alligator molded from chewing gum will make for especially awesome photos ops.
Travel time: 1 hour 15 min by car
Just a short drive to the Garden State yields a plethora of kid-friendly fun that parents can get on board with, too. First is Camden’s renowned Adventure Aquarium (1 Riverside Dr, Camden, NJ; 856-365-3300, adventureaquarium.com) where, in addition to viewing tropical fish, seahorses, sharks, seas turtles and sting rays, kids can learn about prehistoric marine reptiles via over 20 life-size replicas and a National Geographic film, Sea Monsters 4D in the limited-time exhibit “Dinosaurs of the Deep.” In the aquarium's KidZone, children ages 6 and under can make music with sea-inspired instruments, touch strange sea dwellers and crawl through a beach-themed maze. Your clan won’t want to miss daily feedings for many of the aquarium residents, especially the 3,000-pound hippos, Button and Genny. Afterward, get your hands dirty, hop on fun rides and learn about nature’s many plants, flowers and critters at the nearby Camden Children’s Garden (3 Riverside Dr; 856-365-8733,camdenchildrensgarden.org). You might want to continue the marine theme by hopping aboard the Battleship New Jersey (62 Battleship Pl; 866-877-6262, battleshipnewjersey.org) or catching an affordable Camden Rivershark’s ballgame at Campbell’s Field (401 Delaware Ave; 856-963-2600, riversharks.com) near the Delaware River waterfront.
Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes by car
Make your first stop in Norwalk the newly opened "My Sky" exhibition at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children (Matthews Park, 303 West Ave; 203-899-0606,steppingstonesmuseum.org). Created in collaboration with NASA, the displays let tots touch a five-foot-wide model of the moon, invent new constellations and get in on more activities delving into our solar system. The Energy Lab is another must-see spot for lots of hands-on, science-themed entertainment. Next, be sure to hit up the impressive Maritime Aquarium (10 North Water St, Norwalk, CT; 203-852-0700, maritimeaquarium.org) where kids learn about marine animals that live in the Long Island Sound, meet several varieties of real, live dragons and even touch the tops of jiggly jellyfish. Afterward, choose from a varied selection of epic IMAX films, including Island of Lemurs: Madagascar(through May 21) and Flight of the Butterflies (opens May 22) and settle in for a screening.
New Windsor, NY
Travel time: 1 hour 45 minutes by car
Families looking for a cultural getaway are free to traverse 500 grassy acres of large-scale sculptures at Storm King Arts Center, a modern art mecca located in the foothills of the Hudson Valley (1 Museum Rd, New Windsor, NY; 845-534-3115, stormkingartcenter.org). When the sprawling space re-opens on April 1, families can wind their way beneath and through the towering tall steel beams and stone columns, truly becoming part of each piece. Museum Hill has a stone indoor museum and restrooms—start there and then head to the South Fields, where your crew will encounter mountain vistas and unique pieces like Storm King Wall (an expansive, winding stone fence) and a new series of geometric, sculptural trenches made from charcoal by Luke Stettner. On Sundays, special craft activities and family strolls are offered. (Note: The installations are spread wide apart, so expect lots of walking. A tram does run around the grounds every 20 minutes.) For lunch, stop by the The Storm King Café, which uses locally grown ingredients in their salads, soups and sandwiches.
Jersey City, NJ
Travel time: 35 minutes by car
Moms and dads can keep the schlepping to a minimum by hopping across the Hudson for a hassle-free day out with their little ones. Jersey City boasts some amazing family-friendly entertainment that can be tackled while keeping the Manhattan skyline within view. Hours of awe-worthy entertainment await at the Liberty Science Center (Liberty State Park, 222 Jersey City Blvd; 201-200-1000, lsc.org) where curious kids will have a blast making their way through the varied exhibitions. Explore bodily functions through "Sesame Street Presents: The Body Exhibit," learn how honey bees harvest the sticky stuff or catch live demos and performances like the electrifying Tesla Lightning Show. Make sure to scale the brand-new Infinity Climber—a wacky webbed structure that lets little daredevils crawl through pathways as high as 35 feet above the museum floor. After a morning of exploration, treat the tots to an interactive "story theater" show at the Jersey City Children's Theater (83 Wayne St; 201-290-9202, jcchildrenstheater.org) or, to end the day on a sweet note, pop into the Cake Boss Cake Factory (631 Grove St between 16th and 18th Aves; 201-448-8400, carlosbakery.com) where families can watch the Carlo's Bakery team at work on their famed confections. Older kids (10 and up) can get in on baking classes in "The Kitchen," but little ones will be happy enough stuffing their face with a slice of cake from the bakery.
Travel time: 2 hours by car
Embrace the glory of springtime with outdoor adventures in Delaware. Start by browsing some seriously beautiful blooms on the grounds of the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library (5105 Kennett Pk (Rt 52); 302-888-4600,winterthur.org) where several features are geared toward kids. Duck into the enchanting woods, listen for frogs by the reflecting pool and play hide-and-seek along the scenic wooded paths. A tram ride gives little legs a break from walking while indoor tours and the touch-it room keeps them entertained if the weather goes south. For a dose of exercise, head out for a hike in Bellevue State Park (800 Carr Rd; 302-761-6963, destateparks.com) and stop for catch-and-release fishing on the pond or a picnic in one of the pavilions. If you can, plan your trip to coincide with one of the town's many family-friendly festivals, including the Wilmington Flower Market over Mother's Day weekend or the Great Delaware Kite Festival and Dover Days (complete with Maypole dancing and a Civil War–era baseball game) held nearby.