RECOMMENDED: The best family vacations from NYC
When the family starts itching for an adventure, look no further than these parent-approved vacation spots right outside the city. We've ranked our 13 favorite nearby destinations for weekend getaways from NYC, including everything from all-inclusive resorts and amusement parks to outdoorsy escapes involving ferry boats and hiking trails. Many even boast swimming pools for kids to splash around in—a must for summer vacations with little ones. A few of these locations are close enough for summer day trips, but trust us—you'll want to stick around for a few nights!
Weekend getaways from NYC
Cape Cod, MA
Travel time: at least 5 hours by car
The seaside mecca needs no introduction, but warrants a bit of guidance. First, it's a hike, so perhaps best for a three-day weekend. Beach lovers adore the sunny strands of the Cape's famed National Seashore, with 40 miles of sand and surf, six swimming beaches and stunning scenery. Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro is great for young kids; tweens gravitate to the scene at Nauset Beach in Orleans ($15 vehicle fee at each beach). On a low-sodium kick? Leave the National Seashore and head for the salt-free waters of Long Pond ($15 vehicle fee), which straddles the towns of Harwich and Brewster and has two beaches, each with roped-off swimming areas and lifeguards. Your home for the weekend is posh yet unpretentious Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club (2907 Main St, Brewster, MA; oceanedge.com, 888-509-4600. Rooms from $225 per night). Bask on the bayside beach or splash around in one of five pools. At Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar (3580 State Hwy, Eastham, MA; 508-255-2575, arnoldsrestaurant.com), the fried clams, raw bar and lobsters—steamed, baked, rolled and bisqued—pack 'em in. Bonus: the 18-hole mini-golf course with mist-spraying fountains ($7.50 per person).
Rocking Horse Ranch, Highland, NY
Travel time: 1 hour 50 minutes by car
Leave the Nintendo DS and Nook at home and get ready for some old-school bonding at Rocking Horse Ranch (600 State Rte 44/55, Highland, NY; 800-647-2624, rockinghorseranch.com. Rooms from $299 per adult per night, children ages 3–15 from $45, children 2 and under free). The all-inclusive resort, reminiscent of an upscale sleepaway camp, sports a laundry list of activities—horseback riding, shuffleboard, bungee jumping, mini golf and waterskiing. There's also an indoor water park and a giant outdoor water slide. Families can play softball and volleyball with other guests or show off their singing talent during karaoke nights. Magic acts, ventriloquists, jugglers and other entertainers take to the stage after dinner. There's no chance of going hungry here—three all-you-can-eat meals are served daily. Kid favorites include the build-a-burger bar at lunch and the sundae station. Parents will go for the bagels with gourmet cream cheeses at breakfast. Sound exhausting? Rocking Horse also offers a variety of facials and massages (from $90 per hour), so grown-ups can decompress while the kids are off enjoying the country air.
Sesame Place, Langhorne, PA
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes by car
Sesame Place (100 Sesame Rd; 215-752-7070, sesameplace.com. Tickets from $55, children under 2 free) is, of course, nirvana for Elmo-loving toddlers. But the park also has plenty to offer kids who are more into iCarly than Abby Cadaby. Sure, you can do it as a day trip, but there are enough playful attractions and family-friendly activities to make a weekend of it. Get there when the gates open at 10am, and head straight for the most popular water attractions: Big Bird's Rambling River, which lets you and your progeny float around the park on inner tubes, and Sky Splash, where you climb six stories to a giant rubber duckie—so high that you can sometimes see Philly from it—then descend on a family-sized rubber raft into a plunge pool. When those lines get insane, try Cookie's Monster Land, which introduced five rides, a three-story net climb and a soft play area to the kiddie wonderland last spring. Before leaving, take a stroll through the life-size re-creation of the Sesame Street set, and watch the Neighborhood Birthday Party Parade in celebration of the park's 35th birthday. Crash at the Radisson in nearby Trevose, Pennsylvania (2400 Old Lincoln Hwy; 215-638-8300, radisson.com. Rooms from $150 per night after discount). Kids under 12 get a free breakfast buffet and you can cash in on other special deals if you're planning a weekend with Elmo.
Travel time: 2 hours 50 minutes by car or train
Start with breakfast at Kitchen Little (36 Quarry Rd; 860-536-2122, kitchenlittle.org). The Mystic Melt—fresh lump crabmeat and cream cheese scrambled with two eggs for $9.95—is a favorite, and great fuel for exploring this marina town. Dine on the patio so kids can watch boats traveling up and down the river. At the Mystic Aquarium (55 Coogan Blvd; 860-572-5955, mysticaquarium.org. $34.99, children ages 3–12 $24.99, children 2 and under free), you'll find African penguins, sea lions and beluga whales. Pirate-loving tykes get a real taste of 19th-century maritime life at the Mystic Seaport Museum (75 Greenmanville Ave; 888-973-2767, mysticseaport.org. $25, children ages 6–17 $16, children 5 and under free). Don't forget to check out the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world. When tummies start growling for lunch, head to Sea Swirl (30 Williams Ave; 860-536-3452, seaswirlofmystic.com), a roadside burger and fries dive that also serves top-notch fried seafood, or Mystic Pizza (56 W Main St; 860-536-3700, mysticpizza.com), the eatery made famous by the 1988 Julia Roberts movie. Save room for dessert: The best ice cream in town is just down the street at Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream (2 W Main St; 860-572-7978, mysticdrawbridgeicecream.com). The local favorite serves up house-made flavors like chocolate truffle and Mystic Mud. Spend the night at the Inn at Mystic (3 Williams Ave; 860-536-9604, innatmystic.com. Rooms from $150 per night). Before heading home, make a pit stop at Mystical Toys (4 E Main St, 860-536-7131)—the perfect place to pick up a memento of your weekend adventure.
Travel time: 3 hours by car
It doesn't get any sweeter than Hershey for waterpark lovers. Before your busy day, fuel up with house-made baked goods and omelets at the Hershey Pantry (801 E Chocolate Ave; 717-533-7505, hersheypantry.com). The Boardwalk at Hersheypark (100 W Hersheypark Dr; 800-437-7439, hersheypark.com. $61.95, children ages 3–8 $38.95, ages 2 and under free; includes theme park) features more than 10 aquatic rides, most of them soakers. Tamer types should seek out the Intercoastal Waterway, a lazy river that gets a zero for thrill factor but still cools you off. And the diaper brigade can waddle into Sandcastle Cove, a climbable structure with mini water slides and easy-does-it water jets. Checking in at an official park hotel is a splurge, but hey—it's the land of indulgence. The sprawling Hershey Lodge (325 University Dr; 717-533-3311, hersheylodge.com. Rooms from $339 per night) offers indoor and outdoor pools, a game room and, of course, Hershey's Kisses at turndown.
Watch Hill, RI
Travel time: 3 hours by train or car
This seaside community is out of another era: quaint homes, a 19th-century lighthouse and the Flying Horse Carousel, a National Historic Landmark built in 1876. Stay at the no-frills, bargain Sand Dollar Inn in nearby Westerly (171 Post Rd; 401-322-2000, sandmotel.info. Rooms from $155 per night, children under 12 free) and use your savings to splurge on a picnic lunch of lobster rolls—complete with a hot fudge sundae made with homemade ice cream—from St. Clair Annex (141 Bay St; 401-348-8407, stclairannexrestaurant.com). Spend the day at Napatree Point, a barrier beach with the remnants of an old fort at its tip. At sunset, tie a hot dog to a line and fish for crabs.
Gillette Castle, East Haddam, CT
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes by car to the Essex Steam Train depot
A mansion tour isn't at the top of most children's must-do lists, but this isn't just another rich family's house: Among other novelties, you take both an antique train and a ferry to get here. Kids used to jam-packed subway cars will love settling into their comfortable seats on the Essex Steam Train (One Railroad Ave, Essex, CT; 860-767-0103, essexsteamtrain.com. $19, children 2–11 $10) for an hourlong trip through the Connecticut River Valley. Disembark and, after a brief walk, hop aboard the Chester/Hadlyme Ferry ($2 per person). As you approach landfall, keep an eye out for the medieval-style stone structure atop a hill. That's Gillette Castle (860-526-2336; $6, children ages 6–12 $2, children 5 and under free), and it's just a short (though not stroller-friendly) hike from the shore. Once you're there, tour guides will take your crew through two dozen wood-and-stone–clad rooms. Built in the early twentieth century by the then-famous actor and Sherlock Holmes portrayer William Gillette, the mansion is like a mystery-movie tableau where ghosts and evildoers might lurk at any turn. Gillette was also a stage manager who invented many trick props, and a bit of a prankster: He devised a series of mirrors to allow him to spy on visitors, and a hidden staircase so that he could sneak up on guests—or escape from them. Before or after your ferry ride, fill up at the Trackside Cafe, a converted dining car at the steam train depot. Overnight visitors can relax at the outdoor pool at the former Sandpiper Inn in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, now an Econo Lodge Inn and Suites (1750 Boston Post Rd; 860-399-7973, econolodge.com. Rooms from $85 per night), which retains much of the old inn's charm.
Minerals Resort & Spa, Vernon, NJ
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes by car
Sure, you want the kids to have fun on vacation. But getting a little adult R&R would be pretty sweet, too. For a getaway that will sate the offspring yet also allow you a little self-indulgence, Minerals Hotel (1 Stonehill Dr; 973-827-5996, crystalgolfresort.com. Rooms from $294 per night), should do the trick. The very kid-friendly place (it sounds swanker than it is) is 90 minutes from New York, so you'll be pulling up to the sprawling grounds in no time. Seven indoor and outdoor pools allow for splash time no matter the weather. You, meanwhile, can kick back on a lounge chair with a cocktail from the poolside bar, or take turns watching the kids while one of you sneaks away for a massage in the on-site Elements Spa or a round of golf on the adjacent course. In the evening, head to Pioneer restaurant in nearby Warwick, New York (49 Oakland Ave; 845-986-6500, warwickinfo.net/pioneer), for take-out burgers and fries, then hit the Warwick Drive-In (5 Warwick Tpke; 845-986-4440, warwickdrivein.com. $10, children ages 4–11 $7, children under 4 free) for a first-run double feature. After breakfast the next morning at Kites, the resort's restaurant, kids will no doubt want more pool time. That will leave them refreshed for a hike along the Canal Road section of the Appalachian Trail before you head back to the city.
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes by car
Rejoice: This Jersey Shore town is more family-friendly than MTV-camera ready. Stay at El Coronado Resort (8501 Atlantic Ave; 609-729-1000, elcoronado.com. Rooms from $120 per night) and enjoy poolside barbecues, movies and live entertainment. Morey's Piers (3501 Boardwalk; 609-522-3900, moreyspiers.com. $36, children under 48" $28) offers two parks for one price: Raging Waters and the Ocean Oasis Waterpark and Beach Club, a ten-minute walk or five-minute tram ride away ($44, children under 48" tall $36). Those who want to remain on dry land can hit up carnival rides and other attractions at three amusement piers ($55, children under 48" tall $45) though combo tickets are available if your little ones can't decide. Happy hour at Sunset Bay (400 W Spruce Ave, 609-523-0411, sunsetbayrestaurant.wildwood.com) is a must: Kids can dig in the sand near a faux shipwreck while adults enjoy live music and, with luck, a picture-perfect sunset over the bay.
Lehigh Valley, PA
Travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes by car
Brave twisting roller coasters and high-speed water rides, encounter more than 30 life-sized, animatronic dinosaurs or take a spin on a Peanuts-themed attraction with little ones at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom (3830 Dorney Park Rd, Allentown, PA; 610-395-3724, dorneypark.com. $45, children ages 3 and up shorter than 48 inches $34, children under 3 free). At night, catch a double feature under the stars at Shankweiler's Drive-In (4540 Shankweiler Rd, Orefield, PA; 610-481-0800, shankweilers.com. $9, children 12 and under $6, 2 and under free), the country's oldest outdoor movie theater. Allentown Comfort Suites (3712 Hamilton Blvd; 610-437-9100, comfortsuites.com. Rates start at $199) offers reasonably priced accommodations—check for specials that include tickets to Dorney Park. The next day, take a guided tour of the Lost River Caverns (726 Durham St, Hellertown, PA; 610-838-8767, lostcave.com. $12.50, children ages 3–12 $7.75, children under 3 free). Kids will spot crystals, gems and minerals.
Travel time: 3 hours by train, 2 hours 30 minutes by car
A picturesque former whaling village, Greenport boasts a walkable downtown of shops, galleries, and restaurants featuring local seafood. At Preston's Dock, sign up for a cruise aboard the Glory (631-477-2515, greenportlaunch.com. $20, children 12 and under $10), a 30-foot solar-powered sailing vessel. Just 15 minutes away, kids can swim at Orient Beach State Park, which has a restored lighthouse at its tip, while keeping an eye out for wildlife like great blue herons and osprey. Back in Greenport, chow down at Claudio's (111 Main St; 631-477-0627, claudios.com), a favorite since 1870. Dine on the catch of the day while kids sample fish filet sandwiches. Bunk at the beachfront Silver Sands Motel and Beach Cottages (1400 Silvermere Rd; 631-477-0011, silversands-motel.com. Rooms from $150 per night).
Brandywine Valley, PA
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes by car
With both an indoor and outdoor children's garden, families can easily fill an entire day at Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Rd, Kennett Sq, PA; 610-338-1000, longwoodgardens.org. $20, children ages 5–18 $10, children 4 and under free). Kids can explore three tree houses, watch dancing fountains and make their way through a honeycomb maze. Afterward, stroll through the quaint town of Kennett Square—the "mushroom capital of the world"—and stop for lunch at Talula's Table (102 W State St; 610-444-8255, talulastable.com), a farm-to-table restaurant that specializes in everything from mac and cheese to pulled pork enchiladas. Stay over at Comfort Inn & Suites (1310 Wilmington Pike, West Chester, PA; 610-399-4600, comfortinn.com. Rooms from $110 per night) and the next day, tour the exquisitely decorated rooms at Winterthur (5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, DE; 800-448-3883, winterthur.org. $20, children ages 2–11 $5, children under 2 free), the childhood home of Henry Francis du Pont.
Bash Bish Falls, Mount Washington, MA
Travel time: 2 hours 45 minutes by car
The highest single-drop waterfall in Massachusetts—actually, it's a pair of falls—is just off the Taconic State Parkway in the southwest corner of the state, beside Mount Washington State Forest and accessible by an easy-walking trail. Kids will love clambering over the rocks and dipping their feet into the water at Bash Bish Falls (Falls Rd, RD 3 East St; 413-528-0330) and, though swimming is strictly prohibited, expect to see the rules flouted by local teens. After taking in the falls, older children can join parents for a more vigorous hike along the more than 30 miles of trails in the area. Recuperate at the Windflower Inn, 11 miles north of the falls in the Berkshires (684 S. Egremont Rd, Great Barrington, MA; 413-528-2720, windflowerinn.com. Rooms from $210 per night). The bed-and-breakfast has an outdoor pool—and offers homemade cookies with tea every afternoon. Before you leave town, try the burgers at Martin's (49 Railroad St, Great Barrington, MA; 413-528-5455, martinsgreatbarrington.com), where the staff displays the best crayon-decorated place mats on a wall of honor.