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11 Best Museums in Boston

Boston is a museum-lover’s dream. Where else can you visit the former haunts of the Founding Fathers, feed penguins, and see the works of French impressionist painters all in one day? So, whether you want to follow in the footsteps of revolutionaries or check out the site of the largest art heist in history, here are 11 must-see museums in Boston.

If you can’t get enough U.S. history:

Naval ship USS Constitution in Boston
Old Ironsides is alive and kicking—er, floating. Photo © Suse Schulz/Dreamstime.

Paul Revere House

Away from bustling Hanover Street, the gray wood Paul Revere House (19 North Square, 617-523-2338; seasonal hours, $5 adults, $4.50 students/seniors, $1 children) on a quiet cobblestone square was the home of midnight rider Paul Revere at the time of the American Revolution. The home, built around 1680, is the oldest building in downtown Boston. The Revere family lived in the building from 1770 to 1800; the building’s chimney was an addition made during their occupancy. It became one of the first historic home museums when it opened its doors to the public in 1908. Today, exhibits cover the Midnight Ride and Revere’s work both before and after the Revolution.

Old South Meeting House

The Old South Meeting House, (310 Washington St., 617-482-6439; daily 9:30am-5pm, $6 adults, $5 seniors/students, $1 children) which originated as a Congregational church at Milk and Washington Streets downtown, is where church and state mixed. Angry colonists met outside the building in December of 1773 to protest unpopular taxes thrust upon them by Britain. The protests grew into the Boston Tea Party. Today it’s a museum and still attracts politicians like Hillary Clinton who wish to speak about hot-button issues amid a historical backdrop.

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

No taxation without representation! Maybe it’s the historical reenactments and full-sized replica of an 18th-century ship, or maybe it’s the fact that you get to cathartically dump barrels of tea into Boston Harbor—the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum (306 Congress St., 617-338-1773; daily 10am-5pm, $28 adults, $25 seniors/ students, $18 children) feels like a true taste of revolutionary America. It offers an immersive take on the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party with engaging actors playing parts of those involved, and even houses one of the surviving tea chests from the actual day. Take time after for tea and refreshments in the tea room, which includes samples of the most popular kinds at the time of the Boston Tea Party.

USS Constitution Museum

The USS Constitution launched in 1797 as one of the original six ships commissioned for the then-infant United States Navy. The ship won over the hearts of the American people after defeating five British warships and repelling countless enemy shells during a battle in the War of 1812. Spared from scrapping due to her everlasting popularity, she is now the oldest commissioned vessel in the world. You can see her at the USS Constitution Museum (Building 22, Charlestown Navy Yard, Charlestown, 617-426-1812; April-October daily 9am-6pm, November-March daily 10am-5pm, suggested donation $5-10 adults, $3-5 children), where, after a three-year restoration, the Constitution is back on water and ready for visitors. The onsite museum offers an interactive exhibit showing what life at sea entailed during the ship’s famous fights, while other exhibits detail the ship’s history and life in early America.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

John F. Kennedy and his family have been viewed as the closest thing to an American royal family, and nowhere is it more apparent than Boston. While the Kennedy brand isn’t a major political machine anymore, Camelot roars on at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester (Columbia Point, Boston, 617-514-1600; daily 9am-5pm, $14 adults, $12 students/seniors, $10 children). Designed by star architect I. M. Pei, the Columbia Point complex was built after Cambridge residents opposed the project opening in Harvard Square due to the projected heavy volume of tourists. Seven permanent exhibits walk visitors through the Kennedy years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There isn’t much nearby the museum, but it’s worth the detour.

If you’re with the whole family:

the outside of the museum of science building in Boston
The Museum of Science is fun for the whole family. Photo © Chicco7/Dreamstime.

Museum of Science

Located in Science Park in Boston’s West End and home to 700 exhibits, the Museum of Science (1 Science Park, 617-723-2500; daily 9am-5pm, $25 adults, $21 seniors, $20 children) draws schoolchildren from across the region to its planetarium while nighttime events like the “Beyoncé Experience” draw a decidedly more adult crowd to the same venue. Also an accredited zoo, the museum is home to over 100 animals—many of them rescued from precarious living situations. Currently undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion, the museum was the recipient of a $50 million donation by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2016, the largest gift in the history of the museum.

New England Aquarium

Whether it’s a brutally cold New England day or the peak of summer, it’s never a bad time to visit the New England Aquarium (1 Central Wharf, 617-973-5200; Mon.-Fri. 9am-5pm, Sat.-Sun. 9am-6pm, $27.95 adults, $25.95 seniors, $18.95 children). Over a million visitors stream in each year to see the four-story Giant Ocean Tank, which once held the crown as the largest circular ocean tank in the world. A replica of a Caribbean coral reef and hundreds of fish populate the tank and will be sure to pique interests of all ages, though those under the age of 12 seem to be the most prevalent!

An onsite IMAX theatre features a variety of ocean-themed films and gives the most lifelike experience short of walking outside and jumping into Boston Harbor. Be sure to save time for sea lion and penguin feedings. Longer visits should also include a whale-watching cruise, which sails from neighboring Long Wharf to the Stellwagen Bank marine sanctuary.

Boston Children’s Museum

Find Arthur the aardvark waving from a rooftop along Fort Point Channel, and you’ll have reached the Boston Children’s Museum (308 Congress St., 617-426-6500; Sat.-Thurs. 10am-5pm, Fri. 10am-9pm, $16 all ages, children under 1 free). This facility for the young and young-at-heart is the second oldest of its kind in the United States. From learning the inner workings of heavy construction to interactive exhibits like the bubble room and a real two-story town house from Kyoto, Boston’s sister city, the museum is a fine place to spend an afternoon indoors. Visit on Friday evenings after 5pm for Target Friday Nights and enjoy $1 admission.

Harvard Museum of Natural History

Harvard’s natural history museum (26 Oxford St., Cambridge, 617-495-3045; daily 9am-5pm, $12 adults, $10 seniors and non-Harvard students, $8 children) features permanent galleries with dinosaur fossils and other species as well as a variety of touring exhibits. The museum is extremely popular for its Glass Flowers exhibit: Over the span of fifty years, a father-son team from Dresden created 4,200 glass flower models representing more than 830 plant species. This and fifteen additional galleries offer a truly one-of-a-kind museum adventure.

If you’re an art aficionado:

inside look at the museum of fine art in boston
From Monet to Murakami, the Museum of Fine Arts has a canvas for every artistic interest. Photo © Wenling01/Dreamstime.

Museum of Fine Arts

Home to a permanent collection featuring the likes of Renoir and Van Gogh, the Museum of Fine Arts (465 Huntington Ave., 617-267-9300; Mon.-Tues. 10am-5pm, Wed.-Fri. 10am-10pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-5pm, $25 adults, $23 students, $10 children) is one of the world’s top museums. Over a million visitors pass through the neoclassical space each year to see contemporary, Egyptian, and Asian art—to name a few. The contemporary wing houses works that push the envelope just enough in this famously provincial city. The Art of the Americas wing is accented by a glass-enclosed courtyard featuring the museum’s New American Café—one of four onsite dining options. Plan to visit on a nicer day, as the Japanese gardens are serene spots to reflect on the MFA’s masterpieces.

Admission after 4pm on Wednesdays is free, and your ticket gets you $2 off at the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum within two days of your visit.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

One would be hard-pressed to find a greater story and character than the late Isabella Stewart Gardner and her eponymous museum (25 Evans Way, 617-566-1401; Mon. 11am-5pm, closed Tues., Wed. 11am-5pm, Thurs. 11am-9pm, Fri.-Sun. 11am-5pm). Housing art collected by the socialite and her husband from their 19th-century travels around the world, the Gardner Museum was built to look like a Venetian palace. Its three floors of galleries and lush courtyard have become Boston’s nod to idiosyncrasy, as none of the collection can be rearranged or added to—or else everything (including the building) goes to Harvard, per Mrs. Gardner’s will.

Home to the empty gold frames from the largest art heist in history, the gallery also houses works by John Singer Sargent, Titian, and Rembrandt. Because of Mrs. Gardner’s affinity for the Red Sox, anyone wearing team memorabilia will get a discount on admission. Those named Isabella or visiting on their birthday get in for free!

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Things to Do in Rome with Kids

Rome is enjoyable at any age and will appeal to toddlers, kids, teenagers, and parents. It’s hard not to be amused by cobblestones, gladiators, ice cream, fountains, bicycles, horses, toy stores, parks, and tech museums. These suggestions for things to do in Rome with kids will keep all members of the family smiling.

  • Many Roman museums have special activities and workshops for children. The Vatican has created a Family Tour (06/6988-1351) for 5-12-year-olds. It includes an audio guide and map that explores 32 stops from the Pinacoteca to the Sistine Chapel. The kit is available in English for €5 and can be rented from the Antena International office near the entrance to the museum.
  • Roman parks are full of fun activities, and Villa Borghese is the safest bet for keeping children amused. There are playgrounds near the entrance at Via Veneto where bikes are available to rent and toddlers can go for pony rides. The park also has a zoo, boat pond, and miniature carousel.
  • A family in a small boat rows across a pond at Villa Borghese.
    Villa Borghese is great for families with activities that include a boat pond. Photo © Alexei Cohen.
  • Once they’ve visited the Colosseum, boys and girls may want to be put to the gladiatorial test. The only way to do that is at the Scuola Gladitori Roma (Via Appia Antica 18, tel. 06/5160-7951, daily 9am-5pm) where they’ll learn about the everyday life of these ancient heroes and practice wielding a sword in a small outdoor arena. The instructors are part history teachers, part sparring partners who passionately re-create ancient Rome.
  • Older children may enjoy the challenge of climbing to the top of the Gianicolo Hill, cupola of St. Peter’s, or the Vittoriano monument. All three come with satisfying views.
  • Kids can take part in fun, quick traditions, such as sticking a hand inside the Mouth of Truth, tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain, and looking through the Buco di Roma in Aventino. They can also watch the changing of the guards every hour at the Presidential Palace (Piazza del Quirinale). The ritual lasts about 10 minutes and is more elaborate on Sundays at 4pm when the mounted Corazzieri regiment takes part in the pageantry. Even using a simple fountain and collecting different denomination euro coins can be fun and form the basis of a treasure hunt-like adventure.
  • Explora (Tridente, Via Flaminia 80, tel. 06/361-3776, Tues.-Sun. 10am, noon, 3pm, and 5pm, closed Aug. 13-19, €8), Rome’s children museum, is located in a former tram depot and is filled with hands-on activities about nature and science. Most kids are attracted to the water and fire engine exhibits, and tots can tumble in total safety in the upstairs play zone. On weekends reservations are required to ensure a place in one of the designated time slots, but the museum is less crowded during the week and throughout the summer.
  • Zoomarine (Torvaianica, tel. 06/91534, weekends Apr., May, Sept., daily Jun.-Aug. 10am-7pm, €28), on the outskirts of the city, is a combination water park and animal preserve with hourly shows that may not be on par with SeaWorld but still delight young audiences. Dolphins, penguins, and parrots all have their dedicated areas in a park that’s easy to navigate, but crowded, in summer. Shuttle buses depart from the Visitor Center (Termini Station, Via Marsala) from 9:30am and round-trip tickets cost €10.
  • A pillar stands amongst the ruins of Ostia Antica.
    The ancient harbor city of Ostia Antica is a family-friendly day trip. Photo © Dreamstime.
  • At Via Appia Antica, Rome’s ancient road, bikes can be rented at the visitors center and horses are available to mount from the nearby stable. No previous riding experience is necessary and the stable also provides picnic lunches. Ostia Antica is another good half-day excursion that will stimulate young imaginations and help them understand what a Roman town was like.
  • CamilloB (Vatican, Piazza Cavour 21/A, brunch Sat.-Sun. noon-3:30pm, tel. 06/683-2077, €18), a block from Castel Sant’Angelo, serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. In addition to the wide variety of items available, there is a dedicated fun zone for kids, overseen by a qualified “brunchsitter.” Try your hand at table soccer or Ping-Pong between bites.

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Things to Do in Rome with Kids text atop a photo of the elaborate Trevi Fountain.

Visiting Hawaii’s Big Island with Kids

I was several months pregnant and already imagining where I’d visit with my newborn son when the proofs for the latest edition of the Moon Big Island of Hawai‘i guidebook arrived. As a travel writer, my reviews are subjective in part based on my personal preferences and experiences of a place. I always bring someone else with me to a hotel or a restaurant or a beach for a second (or third) viewpoint, and take every opportunity to ask other locals and visitors their opinions as a way to achieve what academics call “data saturation”—when the researcher begins to get the same responses over and over again.

In my guidebook, I make lots of suggestions about places that are keiki-friendly (the Hawaiian word for child) and even kid-fun, but until recently I hadn’t seen those places through the lens of a parent with a five-month-old baby. My recommendations haven’t changed, but now I better understand what makes a place baby-friendly and what makes for a rough afternoon for the parent.

Kid-Friendly Beaches

I’ve brought tents to the beach, umbrellas, and even made a fort—but the best solution to keeping your little one out of the sun is a beach with lots of big trees.

My top choice for a beach that offers lots of shade and shallow water is Richardson Beach in Hilo. I’ve spent hours sitting on this quaint beach overlooking Hilo Bay without breaking a sweat (a definite perk for breastfeeding moms).

On the Kona side of the island, Spencer Beach Park offers large covered seating areas as well as a grassy area in case you’re trying actively to keep your keiki from eating sand.

People at Spencer Beach on the Big Island
Spencer Beach on the Big Island. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Best Bet for Hiking

For the most part, strollers won’t work on Big Island trails thanks to the beautiful uneven lava that makes up most of the island. If you’re a baby-wearing caregiver, a good option for a hike is Kilauea Iki trail in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. It takes between two and three hours (a good length for a breastfeeding mom) and at least half the trail has shade.

Stairs on the Kilauea Iki trail in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
Hiking along the Kilauea Iki trail in Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Dining Out with Kids

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time during a meal pushing a stroller back and forth to ensure your sleeping baby stays asleep. Some restaurants on the Big Island are very small with tables only for a few people, which isn’t very stroller-friendly.

Look for restaurants with large outdoor eating areas that are perfect for fussy babies and parents who have to take turns getting up with the baby during the meal. Kona Brewing Company is an ideal spot: it’s loud and has lots of outdoor space. Likewise, Daylight Mind Coffee Company in Waikoloa serves lunch and dinner and provides a lot of outdoor space for comforting your keiki.

Family Accommodations

If you like staying at bed and breakfasts, check before you book to see if they allow babies. Some might allow babies, but not younger kids (who can run around and break things) and asking the owner if they have a portable crib or other items can save you some room in your suitcase.

Hotel Sheraton Keauhou Bay on the Big Island
The Sheraton Keauhou Bay is popular with families. Photo © Bree Kessler.

Both the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the Sheraton in Keauhou Bay with their waterslides are meccas for kids, but these kid-saturated establishments might not work for all families looking for a quieter getaway. A condo rental, like Hali‘i Kai at Waikoloa presents a good option for families who like to have a kitchen, and extra bedrooms for the keiki you’re trying to sleep-train out of your bed.

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The Burning of Zozobra

Moon Southwest Road Trip: The Burning of Zozobra

Every fall a raucous chant fills the air in Santa Fe’s Fort Marcy Park: “Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!” It’s not a witch hunt, but the ritual torching of Zozobra, a 50-foot-tall marionette with long, grasping arms, glowering eyes, and a moaning voice. Old Man Gloom, as he’s also known, represents the accumulated sorrows of the populace, as in the weeks before the event, he’s stuffed with divorce papers, pictures of ex-girlfriends, hospital gowns, and other anxiety-inducing scraps. Setting this aflame purges these troubles and allows for a fresh start.

This Santa Fe tradition sounds like a medieval rite, but it dates only from the 1920s, when artist Will Shuster—a bit of a local legend who’s also credited with inventing piñon-juniper incense and starting the tradition of citywide bonfires on Christmas Eve—wanted to lighten up the heavily Catholic Fiesta de Santa Fe. Shuster, who had moved to Santa Fe in 1920 to treat his tuberculosis, was inspired by the Mummers Parade from his native Philadelphia, as well as the Yaqui Indians in Tucson, Arizona, who burn Judas in effigy in the week before Easter. A 1926 Santa Fe New Mexican article describes the spectacle Shuster developed, with the help of the Kiwanis Club:

Zozobra … stood in ghastly silence illuminated by weird green fires. While the band played a funeral march, a group of Kiwanians in black robes and hoods stole around the figure…. [Then] red fires blazed at the foot … and leaped into a column of many colored flames…. And throwing off their black robes the spectators emerged in gala costume, joining an invading army of bright-hued harlequins with torches in a dance around the fires as the band struck up “La Cucaracha.”

Old Man Gloom through the years.
Old Man Gloom through the years. Photos courtesy of Zozobra.

Shuster oversaw Zozobra nearly every year until 1964. In the late 1930s, Errol Flynn, in town with Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan to film The Santa Fe Trail, set Zozobra aflame. A few years later, during World War II, the puppet was dubbed Hirohitlomus. In 1950, Zozobra appeared on the New Mexico state float in the Rose Bowl parade and won the national trophy.

Although Zozobra (aka O.M.G.) has a Twitter account these days and accepts worries-to-burn online, the spectacle is roughly unchanged, with dozens of white-clad children playing “glooms,” followed by a “fire dancer” who taunts Zozo until he bursts into flame; fireworks cap it off. It’s a fine sight, and a great cross section of Santa Feans attend. But anyone leery of crowds may prefer to watch from outside the perimeter of the ball field.

Zozobra is packed full of the sorrows of the populace.
Zozobra is packed full of the sorrows of the populace. Photo © Andreas Maestas.

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Kid-Friendly Activities in the Hudson River Valley

Young travelers find many opportunities for entertainment and recreation in the Hudson River Valley, from hiking and swimming to apple and berry picking to tours of historic homes and museums. In particular, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture (Mon.-Fri., free, Sat.-Sun., $20 ages 16+, $10 ages 2-15; 630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills, 914/366-9600), a farm in Westchester County, offers a plethora of activities all through the year.

Kids meeting a flock of laying hens in a green field.
At Stone Barns Center, kids can get up close and personal with the livestock and participate in a variety of hands-on experiences. Photo by Ben Hider, courtesy of Stone Barns Center.

On a Saturday or Sunday visit to Stone Barns, you can participate in any or even all of the day’s planned seasonal, hands-on activities and drop-in tours with the price of your one-day admission ticket. A weekend day on the farm might look like this:

Farm Chore: Egg Collecting 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
Meet the Expert: Blue Hill Chefs 11:00 – 11:30 am
Farm Chore: Pepper Harvest 11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Getting Grounded Tour (for adults) 11:00 am (45 minutes)
Hands-on Activity: Flower Printing 12:45 – 1:45 pm
Meet the: Piglets on Pasture 1:00 – 2:00 pm
Making the Rounds Tour: Greenhouse 1:30 pm (20 minutes)
Listen: Story Time (recommended for ages 2-6) 2:00 – 2:20 pm
Farm Activity: Tomato Tasting and Evaluation 2:00 – 3:00 pm
Hands-on Activity: Cilantro Pesto 2:30 – 3:30 pm
Meet the: Chicks in the Brooder Barn 2:30 – 3:30 pm
Getting Grounded Tour (for adults) 3:15 pm (45 minutes)
Farm Chore 3:45 pm – 4:15 pm
Making the Rounds Tour: Greenhouse 4:15 pm (20 minutes)

If you’re planning on a weekend visit, it’s a good idea to purchase your tickets ahead of time, as they frequently sell out. Tickets are available on the website up to six weeks prior to your visit. If you visit during a weekday, admission is free and you can take part in free tours, but there are no scheduled activities.

On top of all that, Stone Barns also offers annual and seasonal festivities, such as a fall Harvest Fest (happening in 2015 on October 3rd, from 3pm to 5pm) which includes hands-on farming and food activities like on a usual weekend, plus live music, a farmer’s market with seasonal fare, hayrides and more. Check their website for upcoming events.

For more great family-friendly destinations in the Hudson Valley, check out:

  • Children’s Museum of Science and Technology, Troy: In Rensselaer County, view the 75-foot-long Living Indoor Hudson River exhibit, which models the river from the Adirondacks to the Atlantic. (250 Jordan Rd., Troy, 518/235-2120, 10am-5pm Mon.-Sat., $5)
  • Museum Village at Old Smith’s Clove, Monroe: In Orange County, you can experience life in the 19th century; learn to make a candle, and tour the blacksmith, printing, and pottery shops. (1010 New York 17M, Monroe, 845/782-8248, 11am-4pm Sat.-Sun., adults $10, seniors $8, children 4-12 $8, under 4 free)
  • New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site, Valatie: Columbia County offers the opportunity to imagine what it was like to be a soldier in the Revolutionary War as you walk the grounds where George Washington’s troops spent their final winter and spring. (374 Temple Hill Rd., New Windsor, 845/561-1765, 10am-5pm Wed.-Sat., 1pm-5pm Sun.)
  • Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, Chatham: Also in Columbia County is a chance to stop by and help feed the sheep at 3pm daily. (155 Shaker Museum Rd., Old Chatham, 518/794-7733)
  • Zoom Flume, East Durham: Cool off in the pools and slides of the area’s biggest water park. (Shady Glen Rd. off Rte. 145, East Durham, 800/888-3586, 10am-6pm June-Sept., some weekends until 7pm, adults $27.99, kids 7 and under $20.99, infants 2 and under free)
  • Taconic Outdoor Education Center, Cold Spring: Located inside Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Putnam County, the center offers a variety of summer and winter programs for kids as well as adults. (75 Mountain Laurel Ln., Cold Spring, 845/265-3773)
  • Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum, Poughkeepsie: Set on the banks of the Hudson in downtown Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County, the museum has a mastodon skeleton, solar and wind energy exhibits, and a horizontal rock climbing wall. (75 N. Water St., Poughkeepsie, 845/471-0589, 9:30am-5pm Mon.-Sat., 11am-5pm Sun., $8)
The Hudson Valley & The Catskills
The Hudson Valley & The Catskills

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The Best of Family-Friendly San Diego

Whatever your kids are into, there’s probably a little something to keep them entertained. The question you need to ask yourself as a parent is: how much can you handle? Fortunately, a few of these family-friendly San Diego attractions are (comparatively) parent-friendly, too.

See the Animals

The San Diego Zoo is a no-brainer. However, its sister park, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, offers the opportunity to ride along in an off-road vehicle to see lions, tigers, and elephants in something closer to their natural habitats. SeaWorld delivers dolphins and killer whale shows where you’re likely to get doused with water, while the smaller, drier Birch Aquarium exhibits fish that actually live in the region.

A giant panda eating bamboo at the San Diego Zoo.
There are plenty of animal attractions in San Diego including its famous zoo. Photo © f8grapher/123rf.

Ride the Rides

For action-packed theme-park experiences, check out the rides and games at Belmont Park, right by beautiful Mission Beach. Or make the drive north to Legoland, which smaller kids will especially love. In the summer, bigger kids will enjoy the water slides and wave pool at SeaWorld’s Aquatica San Diego.

Water Sports Camps

If your kids are ready to go beyond the wave pool, sign them up for surf camp days with Surf Diva in La Jolla or Ocean Beach Surf Lessons. To really get ’em going, sample the wakeboarding, kayaking, windsurfing, or sailing at camps offered by Mission Bay Sportscenter.

The tallship Star of India on its 150th anniversary sail in 2013.
The historic Star of India is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum. Photo © Port of San Diego, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Planes, Boats, and Trucks

To see life-size versions of the toys kids love to play with, start at the San Diego Air and Space Museum and USS Midway Museum. The ships of the San Diego Maritime Museum skew older, though kids are just the right size to squeeze through a submarine. The Firehouse Museum offers fire trucks galore to explore.

Learn Something Fun

The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center teaches science lessons in the most fun way imaginable. Across the courtyard is the San Diego Natural History Museum, where the learning often involves dinosaurs. The New Children’s Museum engages kids with interactive art installations that stimulate different parts of the brain.

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon San Diego.

Visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The first aquarium of its kind in the country, the Monterey Bay Aquarium (886 Cannery Row, 831/648-4800, daily 9:30am-6pm, adults $40, seniors and students $35, children $25) is still unique in many ways. From the very beginning, the aquarium’s mission has been conservation, and they’re not shy about it. Many of the animals in the aquarium’s tanks were rescued, and those that survive may eventually be returned to the wild. All the exhibits you’ll see in this mammoth complex contain only local sea life.

A sea otter holds its paws up to its face.
A sea otter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Derek Wolfgram, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

[pullquote align=right]When you come to visit, a good first step is to look up the feeding schedules for the tanks you’re most interested in.[/pullquote]The aquarium displays a dazzling array of species. When you come to visit, a good first step is to look up the feeding schedules for the tanks you’re most interested in. The critters always put on the best show at feeding time, and it’s smart to show up several minutes in advance of feeding to get a good spot near the glass. Check the website for current feeding times.

The living, breathing Kelp Forest is just like the kelp beds outside in the bay, except this one is 28 feet tall. Between the swaying strands of kelp, leopard sharks glide over the aquarium floor and warty sea cucumbers and starfish adorn rocks. Try to time your visit for the feeding times, when the fish in the tank put on quite a show.

The deep-water tank in the Open Sea exhibit area always draws a crowd. Inside its depths, hammerhead sharks and an enormous odd-looking sunfish coexist. The aquarium has even had one of the ocean’s most notorious predators in this tank: the great white shark. The aquarium has great whites infrequently, but if one is on display, it’s definitely worth looking at this sleek and amazing fish up close.

A striped orange and white nautilus at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Chambered nautilus on display in the special exhibit “Tentacles” at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Tyson V. Rininger

The Wild About Otters exhibit gives visitors a personal view of rescued otters. The adorable, furry marine mammals come right up to the glass to interact with curious children and enchanted adults. Another of the aquarium’s most popular exhibits is its Jellies display, which illuminates delicate crystal jellies and the comet-like lion’s mane jellyfish.

The aquarium is a wildly popular weekend destination. Especially in the summer, the crowds can be forbidding. Weekdays can be less crushing (though you’ll run into school groups during much of the year), and the off-season is almost always a better time to visit. The aquarium has facilities for wheelchair access to almost all exhibits.

map of Downtown Monterey
Downtown Monterey

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon California Road Trip.

Kid-Friendly Activities In and Around Utah’s National Parks

Hikers climb up stone in Arches National Park.
Older kids will love climbing the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park. Photo © Paul Levy.

Utah is famously family friendly, and the national parks all have programs for children (generally Memorial Day-Labor Day). Junior Ranger programs are essentially workbooks that will keep kids occupied.

  • Zion National Park: The Zion Nature Center offers daily programs on geology, animals, and ecosystems; short hikes on weekdays may include lessons on using a global positioning system (GPS) unit. Horseback riding is a hit with kids ages seven and older; trail rides start at the corrals near Zion Lodge. Or spend an afternoon or evening at the Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theatre.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park: Fantastically sculpted rocks give even the stodgiest hikers a child’s sense of imagination. Wander down the Queen’s Garden Trail and make up your own names for the rock formations.
  • Canyonlands National Park: The short Cave Spring Trail, in the Needles District, gives hikers a chance to scamper across slickrock, scale ladders up cliffs, examine pictographs, and visit an old cowboy line camp. Stop by the visitors center for an Explorer Pack loaded with binoculars, a hand lens, a notebook, and other naturalist tools.
  • Arches National Park: A ranger-led hike in the Fiery Furnace requires a bit of hiking experience and agility; children under age five are not permitted, but older kids will enjoy the scenery and the scrambling.
  • Moab: Cap off a visit to canyon country with a raft trip down the Colorado River. Rent rafts and life jackets for the put-in at Fisher Towers, 23 miles north. With quiet stretches punctuated by white water, it’s a good bet for families.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Zion & Bryce.

Kid-Friendly Activities at U.S. National Parks

On February 19th, 2015, President Obama introduced the “Every Kid in a Park” initiative that provides all fourth grade students and their families with free admission to National Parks for a full year. According to a White House press release, “In the lead up to the 100th birthday of the National Park Service in 2016, the President’s Every Kid in a Park initiative is a call to action to get all children to visit and enjoy America’s unparalleled outdoors.”

To ease the planning process and to make sure children get the most out of the experience, Moon Guides authors have compiled their top kid-friendly activities at National Parks.

Glacier National Park

The crystal clear water of Lake McDonald lets visitors see the colorful smooth ancient rocks that formed the mountains. It also lures kids for swimming in the shallows on sunny days, and families for paddling from Apgar or Lake McDonald Lodge.

Paddling on the calm surface of Lake McDonald on a sunny day.
Paddling in Lake McDonald. Photo © Becky Lomax.

Families can bicycle the 1.5-mile Apgar Bike Trail to enjoy the pine forest, spot deer, hear varied thrush whistle, and see the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

At Logan Pass, walk an interpretive loop made for kids with hand-cranked vocal descriptions to accompany panels on alpine wildlife, and then hike 1.5 miles to Hidden Lake Overlook to see mountain goats and bighorn sheep.

—Becky Lomax, author of Moon Glacier National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Visit the Junior Ranger Cabin at Madison Junction to learn about bison and other wildlife in naturalist presentations for kids. Kids can check off one of the required activities there to become a Junior Ranger.

Kids love visiting Mud Volcano, where bubbling, gurgling mud pots look like storybook witch’s brews. Dragon’s Mouth belches noisily, and Black Dragon’s Cauldron bubbles a dark soup with the stench of hydrogen sulfide. They’ll learn about volcanic activity on the interpretive boardwalk.

Yellowstone’s rivers are prime places to catch wild trout. Teach kids to fish on the Madison River while bison hang in the area.

—Becky Lomax, author of Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Grand Teton National Park

Kids of all ages can hike the 2-mile Colter Bay Lakeshore Trail around Colter Bay Peninsula. The trail connects with several beaches for play stops and best of all, ends at the picnic and swimming area on Jackson Lake.

A picnic table on a pebbled shore next to a deep blue lake in Grand Teton National Park
Picnic at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park. Photo © Becky Lomax.

The 16-mile Multi-use Pathway offers a safe place for families with kids to bicycle since it is off the roadway. Rent bikes at Dornan’s in Moose, Jackson, or Teton Village to bike a portion of the trail.

—Becky Lomax, author of Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Acadia National Park

Ocean and lakes, granite peaks and rocky headlands, sandy beaches and tidal pools, carriage roads and hiking trails: Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island has it all. Acadia is a bona fide treasure chest for families, a collection of unique and authentic experiences that blend fun with education and adventure with awareness.

When planning your family vacation, register either online or by phone forAcadia Quest, a free, experiential, family-oriented scavenger hunt that immerses participants in the park. All kids who complete the hunt earn a Quest Patch; each team (family) that finishes earns a park pass for the following season and is entered into a drawing for a grand prize. You might also consider enrolling in the College of the Atlantic’s Family Nature Camp, a weeklong program that includes housing and meals as well as guided nature programs in the park.

Once on the island, stop at the visitor center to sign kids up for the Junior Ranger Program, and then peruse the park calendar to select ranger-led activities that met your family’s interests and abilities and help fulfill the requirements for earning the Junior Ranger patch.

The following hiking trails are easy and family-friendly: Ocean Trail, Jordan Pond Nature Tail, Ship Harbor Nature Trail, and Wonderland Trail. Pedal the magical, car-free carriage roads that web the park’s heartland, and pass over and under 17 unique and historical stone bridges. Perhaps even pony-up for a horse-drawn carriage ride up Day Mountain.

A ranger talks to a group in Acadia National Park.
A ranger-led nature program at Acadia National Park. Photo © Hilary Nangle.

Join a ranger-narrated, kid-pleasing adventure with Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater Boat Cruise aboard the Starfish Enterprise. Diver Ed goes overboard with a video camera and a bag of touchable specimens, giving kids a chance to pet some slimy creatures, which return to the depths after show-and-tell.

Visit the George B. Dorr Natural History Museum, which has a “please-touch” philosophy allowing kids to reach into a tidal tank and to feel fur, animal bones, and even whale baleen. Also, check out Islesford (a.k.a. Little Cranberry Island) home to the park-owned Islesford Historical Museum.

Some folks skip Sieur du Monts Springs, off the Park Loop Road, but this oasis has a number of fun finds. It’s home to the ranger-staffed Nature Center, with hands-on exhibits and programs; the original Abbe Museum, highlighting Maine’s Native American history; and the Wild Gardens of Acadia, a one-acre microcosm of Mount Desert Island’s natural habitats.

—Hilary Nangle, author of Moon Acadia National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

From its dazzling star-studded night skies to the geological story told within its depths, Grand Canyon National Park is a treasure trove of discoveries for budding young scientists. Families in search of learning experiences (like the weeklong Star Party each June) can start with the park’s event calendar, or sign up for an outing with the Grand Canyon Field Institute. But no matter when or how you visit, here are three sure-fire ways to help your kids connect with the canyon.

Kids (and adults) are fascinated by Grand Canyon’s geological story, a two-billion-year-old tale that unfolds one rock layer at a time. To see and touch samples from each of these colorful pages in history, take a stroll along the 1.2-mile Trail of Time, an easy paved trail that leads from Grand Canyon Village to the Yavapai Geology Museum. The Trail of Time makes a good introduction to the museum’s afternoon ranger programs and geology-focused displays. Bonus: This rim-side route has plenty of perches for snapping photos of central canyon features like Zoroaster Temple and Plateau Point, and the nearby ponderosa pines offer shady relief for wildflowers, birds, mule deer—and humans.

View of the striated rock of the Grand Canyon.
Kids (and adults) are fascinated by Grand Canyon’s geological story, a two-billion-year-old tale that unfolds one rock layer at a time. Photo © Kathleen Bryant.

Travel map of Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails in the Grand Canyon
Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails
The “best” Grand Canyon hike is the one best suited to your family’s schedule and abilities. The Rim Trail (13 miles one way) can be hiked in shorter sections—most are paved and relatively level, good options for hiking with smaller children. Too tame? The steep, dirt-surface South Kaibab Trail that leads to the bottom of the canyon also has kid-friendly day-hike options that offer young explorers a taste of how it feels to enter the canyon’s rocky fortress. Two good turnaround points are Ooh Ah Point (1.8 miles round trip) and Cedar Ridge (3 miles round trip). Begin at Grand Canyon Visitor Center, where you can learn more about trail conditions and catch the free shuttle to the trailhead at Yaki Point. Be sure to bring plenty of water and beat the heat by hiking early.

Park rangers can inspire and support your child’s curiosity about the natural world (and help you field all those burning questions about ecosystems and constellations). Kids age 4 and up can earn a Junior Ranger badge by completing a free activity booklet and attending one of several daily ranger programs. Options include hour-long fossil walks near the rim and short ranger talks on the canyon’s critters or rock layers. New for 2015: In April and May, park rangers will lead day camps for kids age 7-14. Activities include guided walks and bus tours highlighting geology, plants, animals, and history.

—Kathleen Bryant, author of Moon Grand Canyon

Rent bikes (or bring your own) and ride the Rim Trail to Hermit’s Rest, stopping at the many overlooks along the way.

Hike a short way down the Bright Angel Trail and say hello to the mule trains passing by, or take a family hike on the half-mile Desert Discovery Trail. On this flat and paved trail, kids will learn all about the rare Saguaro Cactus and its many uses.

—Tim Hull, author of Moon Arizona & the Grand Canyon

Whether your kids are hikers, swimmers, or explorers, you can be sure that America’s National Parks will amaze and inspire them. Take advantage of the Every Kid in a Park initiative, and use these tips to plan your next fun, educational (and hopefully free!) park visit.

How to Find a Great Vacation Rental in Hawaii

In Hawaii, your destination will dictate the type of vacation rental available.
In Hawaii, your destination will dictate the type of vacation rental available. Photo © epicstockmedia/123rf.

With big advertising budgets, packaged deals, and oceanfront locations, hotels and resorts have seemingly cornered the market on accommodations in Hawaii. However, this is far from the case. There are thousands of vacation rentals across the islands that afford the luxury of a home away from home—think full kitchen, living room, multiple bedrooms, and laundry facilities—in many desired locales, sometimes where hotels just can’t be.

[pullquote align=”right”]If you don’t have a word-of-mouth reference for a particular vacation rental, start with the one of the trusted vacation rental websites, like and[/pullquote] Vacation rentals can take the form of stand-alone single-family homes, attached additions to homes, bungalows, condominiums, or apartments. They range in size from simple studios to multiple-bedroom mansions. They can be tucked away in a residential neighborhood or a cluster of privately owned bungalows and cabanas on a verdant slice of paradise—or they can form part of a condominium community, or a high-rise apartment tower. Like all accommodations, rentals with more bedrooms command a higher price. The décor of these properties can sway from modern, luxurious, and spectacular to outdated, cramped, and dirty. Vacation rentals are usually booked in weeklong increments. They speak to the Hawaii visitor that likes to stay in a particular locale and set up camp for an extended period of time. They are also great for families, as the full kitchen and laundry options afford the opportunity to entertain a family with ease.

So how do you navigate the myriad listings to find the right vacation rental for your stay? Research is the key. If you don’t have a word-of-mouth reference for a particular vacation rental, start with the one of the trusted vacation rental websites, like and On these sites you’ll find full descriptions, reviews, photos, availability, and nightly rates. If you’re like me, scrolling through the pictures of the rentals in your locale and price range will narrow down the options quickly. Most vacation rentals require a minimum stay of three nights, though some will only rent by the week. Some vacation rentals will include amenities like beach chairs, snorkel gear, bodyboards, umbrellas, and other beach accessories. There is also a one-time, non-negotiable cleaning fee, which varies from property to property.

Often in Hawaii, your destination will dictate the type of vacation rental available. If you’re considering staying on O‘ahu’s North Shore, most likely you’ll be looking for a stand-alone single family home or an attached structure to a home. The same goes for Kailua town on O‘ahu. In the upscale hamlet of Princeville on Kauaii’s north shore the majority of vacation rentals are luxury condos. Maui and the Big Island also have many condos available. And you’ll even find vacation rental apartments in Waikiki. For your search, select your destination first, then be flexible about what type of vacation rental is available, because you’re not going to find a bungalow in Princeville.

If you’re on a budget, yet would still like to take advantage of a the comfort and accessibility of a vacation rental, there are deals to be had—but expect the living situation to be a bit “funky.” Maybe the Hawaiiana décor will be faded from thirty years of afternoon sun. Perhaps the rental unit will be a converted garage and you’ll be running into the owners quite often during your stay. Or the unit might only have an electric burner and a microwave for cooking. Another way to save money with vacation rentals is to go in together on a big unit with several parties. That five-bedroom condo might seem pricey, but split between three families, the price can really even out.

It is illegal in Hawaii to rent out vacation rentals without the proper license, but this doesn’t mean that illegal vacation rentals are not available. Be aware that an unlicensed vacation rental owner could double book the unit, change the terms or not provide what is promised and there is little to no recourse for the traveler. If you’re searching for a vacation rental through a reputable vacation rental website or a licensed property manager, you probably are in the clear to find a great, legitimate rental for the going rate. On-island property managers ensure that the owner is fully licensed and that your deposit, credit card information, and other vitals are safe throughout the transaction. That being said, just because a vacation rental is not licensed does not mean you’re going to get ripped off, so once again, research is the key.

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