Summer day trips from NYC
Travel time: 1 hour 15 min by car
For an upstate getaway, head to Bear Mountain State Park (enter via Route 9W/Route 202 just south of the Bear Mountain Bridge; $8 per car; nysparks.com)—the scenic spot is just far enough from the city to escape the mugginess and get some fresh air in your lungs. Learn about local fauna by meeting them firsthand at the 40-acre Trailside Museums and Zoo (Seven Lakes Pkwy, Appalachian Trail, Bear Mountain, NY; 845-786-2701, trailsidezoo.org. $1 donation per person, parking $8.); the menagerie of rescued animals includes an orphaned coyote, a fox that was hit by a car and a bald eagle struck by a bullet. The four small museums house a variety of reptiles, a geology display and an American Indian exhibit. Families with strollers can admire the sylvan surroundings while they circle Hessian Lake on the paved (albeit hilly) path, and those with older kids can cover a section of the Appalachian Trail. The wooden Bear Mountain Merry-Go-Round ($1 per ride) has 42 animals, so bring enough singles for a bunch of rides.
Travel time: 1 hour 30 min by car
At tropical-themed Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (1 Six Flags Blvd, Jackson, NJ; 732-928-1821, sixflags.com/hurricane
harbornj. $42.99, children under 48" $32.99, children 2 and under free), open May 23 through September 7, wee ones will want to tackle Discovery Bay, which has enough waterfalls, overflowing buckets and slides to tucker them out for a good stroller nap. Older kids can pile into rafts and shoot down the Big Bambu or Reef Runner water slides, where they’re met with a six-story drop. The whole family can catch waves in the Blue Lagoon one-million-gallon wave pool, then take a breather in the (somewhat ridiculously named) Taak It Eez Ee Creek, a 700,000-gallon lazy river with rapids and geysers. The park offers the usual food options, or you can hit the Burger King outside the Six Flags gates—you'll save bucks, and the kids will be just as happy.
Travel time: 1 hour by car
This Gold Coast hamlet is a true gem for families visiting Long Island. Junior history buffs will relish a stop at Sagamore Hill (20 Sagamore Hill Rd; 516-922-4788, nps.gov/sahi; re-opens July 13 2015), the picturesque "Summer White House" of President Teddy Roosevelt. Set among 80 sprawling acres, this inviting home's woodland setting lets kids experience nature firsthand, enabling them to earn a Junior Ranger badge upon completing one of several hands-on activities. Little train lovers will surely have to make a stop at the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum (102 Audrey Ave; 516-558-7036, obrm.org. Free), where they'll be able to ring an old train bell, try their hand at managing a miniature train yard and experience travel in the days before the MTA. Cap off the day with lunch at Canterbury's Oyster Bar & Grill (46 Audrey Ave; 516-922-3614, canterburyalesrestaurant.com). Adults can sample the local briny bounty while kids chow down on chicken fingers and pasta.
Travel time: 1 hour 30 min by car
If you have a young fan of Elmo, Bert or Ernie at home, consider a day trip to Sesame Place (100 Sesame Rd, Langhorne, PA; 215-752-7070, sesameplace.com. Tickets from $55). Once inside, don't miss Blast Off, which launches kids and parents to Planet Elmo, and Grover's World Twirl, which takes little ones on an internationally themed teacup ride. On hot days, head straight to the Count's Splash Castle, a combination of slides, water wheels, bridges and an eight-foot-tall bucket that dumps a thousand gallons of H2O on the folks underneath it. Be sure to check out 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.
This spot is close to home, but a visit will make you feel a million miles away. Governors Island (Governors Island Ferry at Battery Maritime Building, 10 South St near Staten Island Ferry; govisland.com), a 172-acre former military base, reopens for the season on May 23, when families can hop on a ferry from Brooklyn or lower Manhattan to browse art installations at Liggett Terrace, run wild on the 14-acre Play Lawn, and explore Hammock Grove's 50 prime napping spots. The best way to explore is with a free, hourlong bike ride (weekdays betweem 10am and noon), when you and the kids can whiz along the paved paths on rented sets of wheels from Blazing Saddles. Creative tots will want to jump in on weekend projects offered by the Children's Museum of the Arts' Free Art Island Outpost. Drop by Buildings 11 and 14 to see what hands-on workshop is on offer, and get a peek at the beginnings of Slide Hill, a 38-foot slope with four toboggan runs, coming (we hope!) later this year.
Travel time: 2 hours by car
If you're torn between an outdoor water park and an amusement center, consider heading to Sahara Sam's Oasis (535 NJ-73, West Berlin, NJ; 856-767-7580, saharasams
.com. Tickets starting at $29.95 per person, kids 2 and under free.), outfitted with surf-and-turf entertainment for families. Hydrophilic kids can zip down slides, float through a lazy river and even hang ten on the FlowRider surfing simulator at the indoor splash center year-round, or soak up the sun while paddling in outdoor wave pools and H20 game areas, open May through September. Just last summer, the lot behind the watermark transformed into Diggerland USA (100 Pinedge Dr, West Berlin, NJ; 856-768-1110, diggerlandusa.com. Tickets starting at $24.95, kids under 36 inches free.) where landlubbers can operate and drive real backhoes, tractors and dump trucks. In addition to the obstacle courses and rock-climbing wall, try carnivalesque rides made from construction vehicles, like the Spin Dizzy, which spins passengers up, down and around on the arm of a 20-ton excavator.
Travel time: 2 hours 50 min by car
Youngsters who aren’t quite big enough for the coasters at Six Flags will love Dutch Wonderland (2249 Lincoln Hwy E, Lancaster, PA; 866-386-2839, dutchwonderland.com. Tickets start at $31.99 per person), a tame amusement park in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, boasting over 30 rides, a water play area, walk-around characters and live entertainment. Families can make their way through themed attractions like the Panda Party ride, dino-themed Prehistoric Path and on-water Gondola Cruise, many of which are appropriate even for little ones. Kids can join Princess Brooke on a brand-new Bon Voyage Balloon Chase this season—an attraction that takes rides 20 feet above ground in eight hot air balloons. The balloons rise, fall and rotate clockwise according to the passengers’ controls via a wheel in their balloon’s basket. Make sure to catch daily theater shows and storytimes when the tots need some time to rest their feet. Get to the park early on Fridays and Saturdays to enjoy a buffet breakfast with Merlin and other medieval characters (9–10am, $14.49 per person). The park will be open on weekends from May 2 until May 23, when it will be open daily through the summer season.
Travel time: 55 minutes by car
On weekends from May through September, families with children ages three and up can head to Beczak Environmental Education Center (35 Alexander St; 914-377-1900, beczak.org. Free), and discover what's hiding in the Hudson River. Free admission isn’t the only draw—kids can check out a permanent 300-gallon tidal tank with a cutaway view of the river and it’s critters, see live blue crab and American eel up close and check out a garbage gauge to measure how much trash washes up on the Hudson shores every day. Cap off the outing at the Science Barge (99 Dock St; 914-375-2151, groundworkhv.org. $5 suggested donation, children 10 and under free), where kids can feed fish, pick basil and touch worms aboard a solar-and-wind-powered floating museum and sustainable farm.