In many ways, the Mid-Atlantic region is the heart of the U.S., home to the U.S. capital and an array of bustling major cities, including Baltimore, New York City, and Philadelphia (all three of which once, briefly, served as the nation’s capital too). Some of the nation’s – even the world’s – pre-eminent museums are all located within the mid-Atlantic states. There is history to be found at every turn in this region, as well as outdoor activities, and no end of culture to immerse your family in. Plus, it’s very drivable, since it’s filled with smaller states with major cities just a few hours away from each other. Because this region is so densely-packed, trains and other public transportation are often a quick and affordable alternative for your family travels.
Delaware: Rehoboth Beach & Boardwalk
Why we Love it? Named by some guidebooks as ‘The Best Family Beach on the East Coast’, the quaint and charming mile-long boardwalk in Rehoboth, Delaware is full of eclectic shops, restaurants, and family amusements. The boardwalk has also received accolades from National Geographic, Coastal Living Magazine, and others. And then, of course, there’s the 30 miles of beach, which includes State Parks and plenty of kayaking, nature cruises, ferry rides, walking trails, and water activities.
Best time of year to go? Certainly, summer is ideal, although that’s when the crowds will be at their worst too. Ideally, your family might be able to slip in at the very beginning or very end of summer, when the local kids are just starting or ending their school year.
Best thing to do with kids: Get them in the water! Have them try stand up paddle boarding or, for older kids, skimboarding or surfing.
Why we Love it? One of Delaware’s first state parks, the pond in Laurel, Delaware was originally created in the late 1700s to power a sawmill. Now families can rent rowboats, pedal boats, canoes, and kayaks, or take a pontoon boat tour narrated by park interpreters. There’s also a wilderness canoe trail and fishing is allowed.
Best time of year to go? Later spring, summer or early fall are ideal times for your family travels here.
Best thing to do with kids: Rent a cabin or yurt and spend your days paddling through the cypress trees.
District of Columbia: National Air & Space Museum
Why we Love it? It’s a fact-filled, engaging, often hands-on, inspiring romp through the entire aviation history of the United States, from The Wright Brothers to modern rocketry. Kids delight in running amuck around the biplanes, spacecraft, military fighter jets, and satellites – and they won’t even realize that they’re learning about aeronautics, physics, and other sciences in the process. Don’t forget that there’s a second museum by Dulles Airport now as well.
Best time of year to go? While generally a great place to visit year-round, summertime in Washington, DC can be brutal with both humidity and the crowds. The week of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival is another very busy time there as well but worth the beauty and sites if you’re up for the crowds.
Best thing to do with kids: Get them engaged with flight simulators that put them right in the cockpit of various aircraft. Better still, make the whole family feel like they’re flying with various IMAX films about flight and the Albert Einstein Planetarium will have you all exploring the cosmos.
Why we Love it? Delve into a truly vast collection of U.S. historical items, trinkets, treasures, and memorabilia, from a Revolutionary War gunboat to Fonzie’s jacket, Abe Lincoln’s hat to Dorothy’s slippers from The Wizard of Oz, from the original American flag that inspired the writing of the Star Spangled Banner to locomotives and automobiles from various eras.
Best time of year to go? Fall and spring are great times, especially to avoid the Washington, DC summers (which are packed with both crowds and humidity). Spring is probably DC’s prettiest season but the Smithsonian can get packed around the annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Best thing to do with kids: From a collection of dresses of the First Lady’s to information on how shipping tankers work, there’s bound to be something within this vast and intricate museum that will inspire your child. Plus all of the Smithsonian museums are free! Plan for a full day (or more) if you really want to see it ‘all’.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Washington, D.C. With Kids
Maryland: Inner Harbor
Why we Love it? Because it’s a bustling hive of museums, history, family-friendly restaurant, and other urban adventures, all pretty much within walking distance of each other. There’s a science center, aquarium and children’s museum nearby historic ships to explore, interactive harbor cruises, and an observation deck atop The World Trade Center Baltimore in Baltimore, Maryland. And historic Fort McHenry, the site that inspired the writing of The Star Spangled Banner, is just across the harbor.
Best time of year to go? Summer can be delightful, but humid. Late spring or early fall are ideal times.
Best thing to do with kids: The exhibits and experiences in the Port Discovery Children’s Museum are designed to inspire a child’s imagination and allow for learning through play. There are three floors of educational and interactive experiences designed for kids ages 2-10.
Why we Love it? A National Historic Park headquartered in Hagerstown, Maryland, the Canal runs for nearly 185 miles through Washington DC, Virginia, and Maryland, it’s a pathway to discovering historical, recreational, and natural treasures. For nearly 100 years, the canal was the commercial gateway to the west, as donkeys trod along the towpath, pulling barges laden with goods from Washington, DC into what was then the interior of the country. Now you can explore five different visitor centers along the length of the park to use as launch points for biking the towpath, nature walks and living history demonstrations.
Best time of year to go? Summer is great, if sometimes a little humid, while spring and fall are brilliant. If you can go in the cooler winter months, you might very well have some of the attractions all to yourself.
Best thing to do with kids: Borrow a backpack for kids that’s stocked with binoculars, a map and compass, leaf rub kits, and more. Pick up the free rental backpack at the Great Falls Tavern Visitor Center and enjoy it for up to four hours as you find wildlife on a scavenger hunt, navigate trails, and identify local plants.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Maryland With Kids
New Jersey: Diggerland USA
Why we Love it? Covering 21 acres in West Berlin, New Jersey, this construction-themed adventure park (the only one in North America) offers visitors the opportunity to operate full-sized construction equipment that is engineered to allow children to safely dig, drive, and ride. There are 25 attractions, most of which are comprised of modified heavy construction equipment, including excavators, dumper trucks, and backhoes.
Best time of year to go? The park is open on weekends March-June and September-December and opens every day in the summer months.
Best thing to do with kids: Get your construction equipment-obsessed child on board one of the myriad excavators, diggers, excavators, and tractors and let them have at it!
Why we Love it? Discover how America’s greatest inventor changed our world by exploring his home and workshop. Edison earned more than 1,000 patents for his inventions, most notably including electric lights, the phonograph and motion pictures. Other patents included the alkaline battery, improvements to the telegraph, the telephone, Portland cement, and a rubber substitute.
Best time of year to go? This attraction in West Orange, New Jersey is great for family travel any time of the year.
Best thing to do with kids: While virtually all National Parks offer the opportunity to earn a Junior Ranger badge, this park is a unique environment to do so, one that inspires children to seek new solutions to current challenges.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: New Jersey With Kids
New York: The Strong National Museum of Play
Why we Love it? The Strong’s 480,000 items spread over 100,000 square-feet makes it the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of historical objects related to play. We’re talking about toys, dolls, board games, video games, various electronic games, books, documents, and other historical materials. The museum in Rochester, New York is also home to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, the Woodbury School, and the American Journal of Play.
Best time of year to go? It’s a great place for families to visit year-round.
Best thing to do with kids: All of it. Seriously, you can’t go wrong here with kids. Go play the pinball machines in Pinball Playfields, see the true classics enshrined in the Toy Halls of Fame, dress up as your favorite occupation in the Imagination Destination, or play your way through the history of video games.
Why we Love it? One of the world’s most preeminent scientific and cultural institutions, this museum in New York, New York has been awing and inspiring children since its founding in 1869. It’s also one of the largest museums in the world with 28 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibit halls, a planetarium, and a library. Their collection contains more than 33 million specimens of plants, animals, fossils, minerals, meteorites, human remains and cultural artifacts, of which only a small percentage can be displayed at any given time, even with more than two million square feet of space to work with.
Best time of year to go? This is a great place to visit year-round, but with five million visitors annually it can get mobbed during peak family vacation times.
Best thing to do with kids: Dig deeper into your child’s favorite natural subjects via the plethora of classes and events offered specifically for children and families. There are festivals, lectures, walks, tours and even weekend drop-in sessions in the educational lab.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: New York With Kids
Why we Love it? Originally created as a leisure park for employees of Hershey’s Chocolate Factory, the amusement park in Hershey, Pennsylvania now includes some 70 rides and coasters (14 of those fast-paced coasters actually), an entire water park, and an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals. There are accommodations on-site too, including a lodge, hotel, and a camping resort.
Best time of year to go? The park is open year-round and offers various programming specific to each season.
Best thing to do with kids: While amusement parks are often rather similar, the ‘sweet spot’ here is the connection to the Hershey empire. So be sure to take the free chocolate tour at Hershey’s Chocolate World. You can enjoy a tasting experience, take in a 4D chocolate movie and even make your own candy bar.
Why we Love it? Located just steps away from Independence Hall, this museum is the newest one in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, having just opened in 2017. It explores the dramatic, inspiring story of the American Revolution through an unparalleled collection of weapons, documents, works of art, and personal items from the revolution. Interactive digital elements, theater experiences, and various galleries bring to life the actual patriots that created a new nation against overwhelming odds. Notable items in the collection include personal items of Marquis de Lafayette, British and French swords, soldiers’ personal effects like powder horns and military discharge papers, and a variety of items from George Washington, including a mantel clock and his headquarters tent.
Best time of year to go? The museum is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, except for major holidays.
Best thing to do with kids: Immerse them into the interactive experiences to ensure that they develop a personal perspective of the American revolutionaries and that the historical lessons take deep root in their absorptive little minds. Learn how to load a cannon, climb aboard a replica privateer ship, and learn about life in Philadelphia at the time by visiting Revolution Place. Here kids can explore a military encampment, a tavern, a home, and a meeting house and enjoy experiential elements, reproduced objects, interactive touch screens, and special programs.
Find More Things to do With Kids In the Area: Pennsylvania With Kids