Traveling to far away places (or even spending a few nights at a hotel) isn’t in the cards for many families this summer. But don’t let the pandemic rob you of a vacation completely! Before school is back in session (in whatever form that may be) make a deal with your family that you’re going to step away from the computer, let those emails wait, and get out of the house together … even if it’s just for the day. (Keep this list in mind for fall weekends, too!)
Here are a few ideas of places to go and things to see that are open and within a few hours’ drive from home:
Learn Something New at a Museum/Indoor Attraction
We’re probably all guilty of some extra screen time these days, so we could all use some intellectual stimulation. Luckily, many local museums and other similar indoor attractions have started reopening these past few months, so you can find something to appeal to any member of the family.
Suggested Spots: Michener Art Museum, Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle (Happening List Finalists) are all located in Doylestown, so you could even make a day out of museum hopping and then get dinner at a local spot. The Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, and Adventure Aquarium are always family favorites. And Wonderspaces Philadelphia, an interactive family-friendly arts venue that had just opened in January 2020, just recently reopened in August. For younger kids, take the drive out to Easton for the Crayola Experience.
Visit a Local Farm
There are plenty of small farms that are open this summer for activities such as pick-your-own, animal visits, wagon rides and even a few festivals. Many of the farms also have their own markets and outdoor tables, you you can enjoy the farm in the morning, and then enjoy lunch before heading out.
Suggested Spots: Shady Brook Farm in Yardley is known for its wagon rides out to the pick-your-own fields and Uncle Dave’s Homemade Ice Cream. Tabora Farm in Chalfont just opened a brand new farm partnership called Rustic Valley Orchard, just down the road. Hellerick’s Farm in Doylestown has a little of everything with animals, an aerial adventure park, obstacle course, activities and more. And Ryerss Farm in Pottstown is a peaceful spot where you can visit retired horses.
See the Animals at the Zoo
(Left) Elmwood Park Zoo, Photo by Lauren Stites, wildkidswander.com.
“The minute @elmwoodparkzoo announced they were re-opening, I made sure to make a reservation to visit! Just to get out of the house and see some animals felt so nice. Several attractions and activities are still closed inside the zoo, but it was still worth the visit to see those friendly, furry faces.” – @wildkidswander
There’s always something new to see at the zoo! While many exhibits are closed at local zoos to limit gatherings of people, you can still have a fun day checking out the animals. At the Philadelphia Zoo, there are even new babies to see! The two most exciting additions include a baby sloth bear that was born in April and a Caribbean Flamingo Chick born in July.
Suggested Spots: In addition the the always-popular Philadelphia Zoo, you could also visit Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown. (Tip: Ask your local library about free passes!) And if you’re headed to the shore, consider a stop at the Cape May County Zoo, which is free. (Though donations are always welcome!)
Take a Day Trip to the Beach
While some families might not feel comfortable staying at a hotel or rental this summer, we’re lucky enough that it’s possible to drive to the beach just for the day.
Suggested Spots: For quieter beaches, try Point Pleasant, Spring Lake or Brigantine. Belmar is another great option, but it seems to be more popular than usual this summer. So if you go, go early! And if you’re missing the boardwalk fun, Ocean City is always a family favorite. Many businesses are open this season, but with precautions.
Take at Ride at a Theme Park
(Above) Six Flags Great Adventure, Photo by Kim Rinella.
(Below) HersheyPark, Photo by Jen Hearn.
“It was definitely still a good experience! I’d say 99% of people had masks on and were being respectful. We had bough season passes in January because we had a few spring/early summer trips planned for concerts, etc. I was going to get a refund but then my husband’s coworkers went and said it wasn’t scary (covid wise), so we figured we’d try it!” – Jen Hearn, on HersheyPark
After a quiet start to the summer, several theme parks have reopened the gates. If you cancelled your trip to Disney World, at least you can hop on a few rides to hold you over. (And you can get a feel of how your family does riding while masked, before rescheduling!)
Suggest Spots: Always a local favorite for families with little kids, Sesame Place reopened both its dry and water rides. Likewise, HersheyPark has both dry and water rides open. Six Flags Great Adventure and Hurricane Harbor in Jackson, New Jersey are open. (You can also opt for the socially distanced drive-thru safari only.) Dorney Park in Allentown is open. (Wildwater Kingdom remains closed.) Please note that most of the parks are opening under limited hours/days and require advance reservations.
Get Out on the Water
Getting out on the water can be a relaxing way to enjoy nature and cool off on a hot summer day. Depending on the ages of your crew, there are a variety of ways you can spend the day. Go fishing, kayaking, or take a ride on a tube!
Suggested Spots: Bucks County River Country has been a local favorite since the 60s – the original tubing company on the Delaware River. Yellow Dog Paddle (a 2020 Hunterdon Happening List Finalist) offers certified instructors, new equipment and a variety of activities such as kayaking, fishing and offsite rentals. Delaware River Tubing just north of Frenchtown is another favorite offering excursions between Frenchtown and Stockton. They even have their own private island where you can stop midway for a free BBQ meal from “The Famous River Hot Dog Man.”
Explore an Outdoor Destination
(Left) Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, Photo by Olga Chernov-Gitin.
“I have an almost 10-year-old a two-and-a-half-year-old, so finding places that interest them both is sometimes a challenge. The Magic Gardens was not only a “cool” place for both of them, it gave them both age-appropriate challenges and art appreciation exercises. My son and I discussed if there was rhyme or reason to the mosaic, and my daughter loved finding and identifying letters and finding ceramic animals scattered throughout the medium. The kids took turns picking our path, and it was a place both would like to visit again.” – Olga Chernov-Gitin
Getting outside is always a great way to entertain both the young and old. If you’re tired of your usual parks and playgrounds, try visiting someplace new. If you usually go by foot, try biking this time. (If you’re near Hunterdon County, HERE‘s a great article about that.) Print out a scavenger hunt before leaving, or take a long a picnic. There are plenty of ways to switch things up for a fun day out of the house. You can also check out our 2020 Summer Guide for more ideas of things to do in the Great Outdoors.
Suggested Spots: If you’re looking for more of an outdoor attraction, there are some incredible options for that, too. Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens features a bi-level outdoor sculpture garden covered in mosaics. Longwood Gardens in Chester County is almost completely open, including the Conservatory, Treehouses, Grotto, outdoor Children’s Corner, Chimes Tower, Fountain Performances, and more. And Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey is a museum, sculpture garden and arboretum all in one.
Go For a Stroll
There are plenty of charming towns and destinations that you and your family can go for leisurely strolls, do some shopping, and grab a bite to eat.
Suggested Spots: If you enjoy quirky shops, antique stores and waterfront dining, spend an afternoon in New Hope and Lambertville. Go for a walk over the bridge and snag a pic while straddling between 2 states at one time. You can even catch a free cabaret outside the Bucks County Playhouse on the weekends. Peddler’s Village is another spot that’s now open for shopping and both indoor and outdoor dining. They’re celebrating peaches throughout the month of August, and then the fall favorite Scarecrow Festival begins in September.