Spring break is on its way, and parents around town will soon be searching for ways to keep the kids entertained during those unstructured, school-free days. You’ll want to organize activities that mix fun and learning, without being too obvious in the learning department. Here are six car-free spring activities for kids—from a science festival to a Crayola Factory outing and a pinball museum—that should keep the wee ones smiling. As an added bonus, these trips will tire the kids out so that when you get home, they’ll tumble into bed peacefully, leaving you with some well-deserved grown-up time.
When: Saturday, April 15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., rain or shine
Where: Benjamin Franklin Parkway, near Logan Circle, Philadelphia
Why: 2011 ushers in the first annual Philadelphia Science Festival. The festival runs from April 16-28, with numerous events around town. April 16th’s carnival is shaping up to be a scientific wonderland, tailor-made for families. Your junior Marie or Pierre Curie will get a kick out of the multitude of science-themed performances, demonstrations, hands-on exhibits, live animals and entertainment, all enjoyed en plein air, free of charge. Climb aboard the carbon neutral Biobus and enter the world of research science. This is the place to be for informal learning opportunities, such as extracting DNA from a strawberry, checking out the inner workings of a robot or testing a crime scene for forensic evidence. If your curious child’s thirst for scientific encounters is still not quenched, the carnival takes place a few steps from the granddaddy of all science museums, the Franklin Institute. Drop in to take a walk through a giant replica of a human heart that everyone, big and small, should find fabulous.
How to get there: See oM’s Philadelphia Travel Guide. It’s about a 15-minute walk from 30th Street Station. Go down JFK Blvd. to 20th Street, turn left and walk two blocks over to the Parkway and the Logan Circle fountain, which is the center of the carnival.
When: Open daily
Where: 1000 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park, NJ
Why: Located on the boardwalk, Silverball is home to 200 pinball machines and assorted arcade games, some from as early as the 1930’s. You pay one price for unlimited play, so leave the quarters at home for your laundry. Silverball has several pricing options and lots of discounts, including kids play all day for $5 on Tuesdays. If anyone ever does tire of the flashing lights and flippers, head outside to stroll the boardwalk. Steal glances at the fortune-tellers that have set up shop here, where they can breathe the sea air and hear the waves crash as they gaze into their crystal balls. If the weather is fine, rent a canopy bicycle from Brielle Cyclery to explore the boardwalk on wheels.
How to get there: NJ Transit from Penn Station to Asbury Park in an hour. The station is about a 15-minute walk from the boardwalk, or call Surf Taxi at (732) 774-5500 for a fast and cheap lift.
When: Open to the public from April 1- November 15, Wednesday-Sunday
Where: Mountainville, NY
Why: If your kid refuses to be corralled inside a museum but you are craving culture, no problem. Storm King is an outdoor sculpture park in the Hudson Valley, where works of art are integrated into a 500-acre natural setting of rolling hills and fields. Kids can run, jump and skip around great works by influential artists such as Alexander Calder and Henry Moore. There are many large, abstract works with loads of kid-appeal. Pack a picnic to consume at one of the picturesque outdoor tables. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for kids, kids under five are free.
How to get there: Coach USA/Short Line Bus has a package that includes round-trip transportation and admission, costing $45 for adults, half price for children ages 5-11, free for under fives. The bus departs from Port Authority at 10 a.m., and will get you back at 6:12 p.m. The ride to Storm King is approximately 80 minutes long.
When: Closed Mondays until Memorial Day, open daily in summer, check the website for hours
Where: Two Rivers Landing, 30 Centre Square, Easton, PA.
Why: Junior’s creativity can run wild, with no mess for you to clean up afterwards. Dozens of interactive art projects and activities are at your kid’s disposal, including sculpting, bookmaking and painting. Parents whose energetic kids crave movement should know large motor skills are not neglected. Create art by moving your body with the Cool Moves exhibit. A psychedelic kaleidoscope records your child’s movements and then projects it onto a giant screen in colors and patterns to design one-of-a-kind art. There is a live demonstration illustrating how the crayons are made. All this costs $9.75 per person, kids under three are free. Easton is a terrific town to explore on foot if your little Picasso is not too exhausted. When hunger strikes, walk across the street to the spacious Pearly Baker’s Ale House. It offers a good selection of beer on tap, tasty burgers and sandwiches for you, and an inexpensive kid’s menu for the little ones.
How to get there: Trans-Bridge Lines bus from Port Authority. A round-trip ticket is $38, Kids 2-12 pay 60% of the adult fare. The Easton bus stop is located one–half block from Crayola.
When: April 23 and 24, activities from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: 53-51 111th Street, Flushing, in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Why: Celebrate spring’s favorite animal, bunnies. Romp with the zoo’s Flemish giant rabbits, as you get tight with jumbo- sized Herman, who weighs in at 20lbs. An Egg Quest hunt will have you roaming the zoo, searching for colorful eggs. Top it off with a round of Egg Jeopardy, as your tyke’s knowledge on eggs is put to the test. Arts and crafts and photo hop-portunities with the Easter Bunny will keep kids happy throughout the day. $8 for adults, $5 for children 3-12, kids under three are free.
How to get there: Take the #7 train to 111th Street. Walk south to Park. Bear right through the Hall of Science parking lot to the Zoo.
When: Open daily
Where: 131-10 11 Ave., College Point, Queens
Why: You may not think of going to a spa as a family activity, but in Korea it is a typical way for the generations to revitalize together. This Korean-owned spa has an authentic atmosphere, and welcomes guests of all ages. There are dozens of saunas and pools at varying temperatures, so that even the pickiest kids will find something just right. There is an all season outdoor spa, and the pools are so warm, the kids will want to splash out here even if the air is a mite chilly. There are loads of casual on-site dining options, so you can get your fill of kimchi while the kids enjoy a plate of pasta with a yummy (healthy) smoothie. The entrance fee is $35 weekdays, $45 on weekends. Babies under one are free of charge, toddlers between 12-24 months are charged $20 weekdays, $25 on weekends. No cheating here, you actually need to bring a copy of your tot’s birth certificate to score this discount. Bring bathing suits and bath towels if you plan on using the outdoor hot pools.
How to get there: 7 train to Main Street Flushing. Time your journey to connect with the complimentary shuttle bus, departing from the Flushing municipal parking lot on Union St. & 39th Ave., across from the Woori America Bank.
Photos: Courtesy of respective properties; Crayola by Jessica Kerchner, Queens Zoo shots by Julie Larson Maher WCS
Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.