1. Cape May, NJ
Travel time: 2 hours 45 min by car from NYC
Hurry! You'll want to visit Cape May before the Jersey Shore becomes packed over the summer. This beachy destination, located on the southern tip of New Jersey, is full of great spots for families and curious kids. In addition to strolling along its white sand beaches, families might check out the remnants of the unusual S.S. Atlantus (made of concrete, one of 12 built during WWI), or ride the waves on a Cape May Whale Watcher tour (capemaywhalewatcher.com) Mar–Nov. Don't miss the animals at the Cape May County Park & Zoo (capemaycountynj.gov), which has free admission and parking (you are also welcome to bring your strollers and wagons). Last but not least, if you’re in Cape May on a day with clear skies, pack a picnic lunch and climb the 199 steps to get to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse. For lodging, consider hanging your hat at the family-friendly Beach Shack (caperesorts.com; reopens March 29).