Looking for an out-of-the-box trip? We have a little bit of everything on this list. History, the Wild West, city attractions, natural wonders and our nation’s capital – here are some of the things you might want to experience.

Williamsburg, VA

Located about 40 minutes east of Richmond and one hour west of Virginia Beach, Virginia, Williamsburg has a great variety of experiences. The colonial area is free to walk through, or you can buy a pass to go into the buildings and interact with the interpreters. There is a maze at the governor’s mansion that is very fun. There are a variety of shops and restaurants on Duke of Gloucester Street that will add to your experience. If you happen to catch a performance of the Fifes and Drums, either in Williamsburg or Yorktown, you are in for a treat. Yorktown and Jamestown are all within an easy drive from the Colonial area. Yorktown boasts great restaurants, ice cream and a wonderful visitor’s center with live interpreters. Jamestown also has live interpreters and interactive displays in the visitor’s center.  

If you want to get some exercise, water sports are available close by the Jamestown visitor’s area at the Jamestown City County Marina. Rent a canoe, kayak or bike and explore. Also in Jamestown, the free ferry ride from Jamestown to Surry is a chance to see birds and some beautiful scenery. 

While in Williamsburg, Busch Gardens offers beautiful landscaping, an array of animals, Sesame Street characters and rides for all ages. An array of dining options is available on site, along with shopping and a painting pottery studio. Their sister park, Water Country, provides a full day of fun in the sun. Water slides, a wave pool and a lazy river, as well as multiple splash pads, give an experience for all.

If you are looking for lodging and an adventure together, Great Wolf Lodge has an indoor water park, laser tag, build a bear on-site and an arcade. It is located within an easy drive of Busch Gardens and the Colonial area. While in Williamsburg, don’t overlook local favorites like Go Ape ziplining park and Go-Karts Plus.

New York City

New York City can provide any kind of experience you want. From rolling parks to the bustle and crowds of Times Square, it has it all. We are proud to give you some of the uniquely New York experiences that you can enjoy with your family.

The Empire State Building offers self-guided tours highlighting the construction history and the building’s appearances in media (King Kong, anyone?). It also provides a fantastic view of New York City from above.

The One World Observatory, on the site of the World Trade Center, is the tallest building in the United States, and it has the fastest elevators in the world. It has a 14 ft wide glass disc made of high-definition screens projecting a video of the streets 100 stories below using real-time footage.

A free attraction that has great learning potential is riding the State Island Ferry, which takes you to and from Staten Island via Manhattan. It provides a great view of the Statue of Liberty from the harbor and only takes 25 minutes each way. And did I mention that it is free?

Take time to visit an important national monument, the Statue of Liberty. You can get there via a ferry ride from Battery Park, and there are audio tours available.

If you want to get the bustling New York feel, make your way to Times Square, where you will enjoy giant digital billboards, flagship retail stores and all kinds of street entertainment.

For museum lovers, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, Children’s Museum of Arts, the Museum of Ice Cream (Yes, there are samples!) and the National Museum of Mathematics all have interactive experiences that will thrill kids of all ages.

For animal lovers, the Bronx zoo is a must-see. The Chelsea Pier Sports and Entertainment Complex has swimming, billiards, a bowling alley, a year-round skating rink and more. The Brooklyn Bridge Park houses a vintage carousel, playgrounds and food and beverage options. Central Park boasts a zoo, boat rental, carnivals, skating in the winter and some great street musicians.

Hershey Park

Imagine streets that smell like chocolate. Hershey Park is a magical place with sights, sounds, tastes and smells that won’t disappoint. The Chocolatier Restaurant is a treat, as are the 12 acres of outdoor attractions. Your family can enjoy more than 50 rides, a waterpark, ZooAmerica wildlife park and Hershey characters throughout the park. Be sure to take the free Hershey’s Chocolate Tour and end the tour by indulging in some sweet shopping.

Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital city is a great place with wonderful experiences. The monuments and memorials offer a great experience to learn about our past presidents, past wars and more. Most of the monuments are free to visit. Many are within a three-mile walk around the National Mall, with others a short car or metro ride away. The best time to see the monuments is before 10 a.m. or in the evening. Wear your walking shoes, eat before you go and bring water. There is a National Mall App that can aid you, and the Circulator is a great way to get around. This bus is only $1 to ride and goes around the National Mall (www.dccirculator.com). The Smithsonian offers 20 museums and zoos in Washington. Admission is free of charge at all museums and the zoo. Their website, si.com, has the latest information on what is open and when and if you need to reserve advanced passes.

Other fun attractions include Planet Word. This is the world’s first voice-activated museum, housed in the historic Franklin School. The National Building Museum has a Play, Work, Build exhibit with an impressive playscape for future engineers and kids who like to be hands-on. The National Children’s Museum encourages kids to touch, explore and flex their brains.

Kennedy Center has wonderful youth-focused events, and within it, The Reach, which makes performance art interactive and accessible.  

When you are hungry, Georgetown offers a beautiful waterfront and great dining. The Union Market has over 40+ food vendors with food from around the world.

Grand Canyon, AZ

Located in Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 277 miles of the Colorado River and adjacent uplands. The immense Grand Canyon is a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. Layered bands of colorful rock reveal millions of years of geologic history with unmatched vistas from the rim. The South Rim is open year-round and has lodging and activities for the whole family.

Some ideas that you won’t want to miss include seeing a Native American Dance Performance. Check the sign at the Hopi House for times.  

The trip down to the bottom of the canyon is only for the advanced hiker, but by taking a helicopter tour, you can see the sights without the time and body commitment. Some tours even land on the canyon floor. Havasupai Falls is a great feature to visit, but you have to plan ahead. Only a limited number of people are allowed. It must be accessed by either a helicopter flight or a horse or mule ride.  

Mule tours are available at the South Rim. They last three hours, and the riders must be at least 9 years old.  

For the train enthusiasts, the Grand Canyon Railway Train leaves Williams, Arizona, on a three-hour trip to the canyon. Get a car with dome windows and a glass roof for amazing views. There are even lighthearted re-enacted robberies with actors as bandits on horseback.  

White water rafting on the Colorado River is available for the adventurous ones. Children 8 and over can go on a motor-powered raft, and children 12 and over can go on an oar-powered raft.

Last time I was at the Grand Canyon, we had the pleasure of seeing elk. We hiked the edge of the canyon, taking advantage of the shuttle bus when we got tired. We stayed in a hotel on the park property, which made it very convenient to get up for a truly inspirational sunrise.  

JJJ Wilderness Ranch, Augusta, Montana

These all-inclusive Montana ranch vacation getaways are for anyone, from the beginner to experienced rider, hiker or fisherman and include excellent meals, private log cabin lodging and unlimited outdoor activities. Responsive horses. Friendly staff. Fantastic Kid’s Program. Great for multi-generational families.

Enjoy tall-tale-telling in the great outdoors of Montana’s Big Sky Country, western cookouts and evening campfires with cowboy poetry, singing and marshmallow roasting. Without the distraction of city lights, the mountain skies become a stargazers’ paradise.

Activities include horseback riding through still pristine wilderness, high mountaintops or a day on the open prairie. Fly-fishing with instruction begins on their stocked trout pond, then move to the Sun River or plan an all-day adventure to the Bob Marshall Wilderness via horseback. Fishing is optimal from late June to early August. They have guided or self-guided hiking. Trade your horse in for a shotgun and work on your aim by trap shooting. They will teach you how to use a bow and hit a target. Learn how to rope, climb a mountain, swim in a lake or soak and relax in the hot tub. Play horseshoes, volleyball, basketball, corn hole or kick back and relax with a good book in a lounge chair on the deck.

Niagara Falls, NY and Canada

I would recommend packing your passport for this trip so that you can go from the NY side to the Canadian side and experience the full Falls experience. This trip is close to my heart since my Great Great Great Great Aunt, Annie Edson Taylor, was the first woman to go over the falls in a barrel and survive. It is one of my favorite places to visit.

When in Niagara Falls, the stars of the show are the waterfalls. At night, they light the falls – they are beautiful and awe-inspiring. To get a closer look, there are boat rides – Hornblower Niagara Cruises and the Maid of the Mist, the Journey behind the falls, which is a walking tour and the Falls Incline Railway.

Once you have experienced the falls, check out the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark or the Niagara Speedway Go-Karts. Niagara Speedway has an elevated outdoor go-kart course spread out across four acres. There is also WildPlay, with ziplining and fun obstacle courses, and don’t forget the Niagara Skywheel, a giant Ferris wheel with amazing views. Clifton Hill Amusements also provides a fun day.

If you want to enjoy a bit of nature, the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory is one of the largest glass-enclosed butterfly conservatories in North America. The Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory features over 2,000 vibrantly colored butterflies fluttering freely throughout winding pathways adorned with lush vegetation and trickling waterfalls. Your self-guided walking tour begins with a short, informative video presentation.

**************************

Great resources for all of these destinations can be found on the internet. All travel has the opportunity to be educational, form lasting memories and create a family bond. I have fond memories of walking Williamsburg hand in hand with my then boyfriend, and 17 years later, watching our daughter perform on those same streets with the Fifes and Drums of Yorktown. My other daughter was a peer interpreter at the Jamestown Settlement in her teen years. Hershey Park is where my love of factories and engineering started. I went to Washington D.C. with my 9th-grade class and have great memories of the museums of the Smithsonian, and I returned there on my honeymoon. We have been taking our children to Niagara Falls since they could walk, and their wide eyes as they witnessed the spray coming off the moving water were amazing. We took our girls to New York City when they were in their middle school years, and the long car ride and exciting attractions made for great connections that wouldn’t happen if we had been home. Use your vacations to connect your family to new experiences and with each other.

You may also like:

Nancy Gonzalez, Volusia County Schools
Nathalie Orlando, RN
Carla Defuria , Health Coach and Registered Dietician, Flagler Health+
Trisha Howell MSH, RD, LD/N, IFMCP, CEO of Smart Wellness LLC
Bookelicious
Dawn Sapp Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, St. Johns County School District
Barbara C. Holley