Written by Brandy Centolanza
Gather the family, pack up the car and leave your home in the rearview mirror—these nearby locales are calling your name
Looking to spend this summer exploring with the family? These weekend destinations are sure to be fun and memorable for moms, dads and kids alike.
There is plenty for families to do in the nation’s capital, from the National Zoo to the various museums of the Smithsonian to tours of the White House, Capitol and U.S. Mint—and it helps that a lot of places offer free admission, too. Attractions at the zoo include panda bears and gibbons, who like to put on a show as they swing on ropes and vines both indoors and out. Children will enjoy the National Museum of Natural History for its collection of dinosaur fossils, the American History Museum for its pop culture collection and the Air and Space Museum for its interactive displays. Flower and garden lovers may also wish to drop by the U.S. Botanic Gardens. Tours of the White House and Capitol are also available, but perhaps you should push that off until fall—ticket requests must be made through a congressman at least three months in advance. Additional information: nationalzoo.si.edu; si.edu.
This city’s Inner Harbor offers up a plethora of family activities. At the National Aquarium, visitors can view 16,000 kinds of marine life, take in a dolphin show, or learn more about jellyfish at the Jellies Invasion exhibit. The aquarium
is a popular attraction, so ordering advanced tickets online is recommended. Children will also love the dinosaur fossil exhibit and the planetarium shows at The Maryland Science Center, as well as playing, climbing, making music, crafting and wandering around the Port Discovery children’s museum. For moms, shopping abounds at Harborplace along the water, while dads may want to grab a hot dog and catch an Orioles game at Camden Yard. Additional information: portdiscovery.org; aqua.org; mdsci.org.
In Western Virginia, Roanoke offers up tons of family fun. Mill Mountain Park features a zoo and discovery center, hiking trails and picnic areas, as well as the famous landmark the Roanoke Star atop the mountain. At the zoo, a “Breakfast with the Animals” event allows parents and kids to get up close and personal with the animals (reservations required). Afterward, head downtown, where several restaurants, shops and museums are located. Science enthusiasts will appreciate the displays at Science Museum of Western Virginia, while train aficionados will love the locomotive collection at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. For art lovers, there is also the Taubman Museum of Art. Additional information: mmzoo.org; downtownroanoke.org.
Outer Banks, NC
Beyond the beach, families can enjoy a visit to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head, N.C., which features the largest natural sand dunes on the East Coast. Here, guests can picnic, hike, fly a kite or even take a lesson in hang gliding. Or, spend the day in Manteo touring the Elizabethan Gardens at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, or watching scuba divers interact with the sharks at the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island. Other museums worth a look include the Wright Brothers National Museum in Kill Devil Hills and, for the younger set, the Outerbanks Children At Play Museum. Several lighthouse tours are also available from Corolla to Hatteras. In Corolla, families can also catch a closer view of the wild horses along the beach. Additional information: ncaquariums.com; outerbanks.org.
Shenandoah National Park
Nature lovers should head to this national park in East Luray, Va. to soak up some breathtaking scenery. Cruise along Skyline Drive and discover all the sites and sounds of the forest. For a longer stay, tent camping and cabin rentals are available at several sites along the way. Picnicking, horseback riding and hiking are popular here, with the Dark Hollow Falls trail near Big Meadows a must for families. Summer entertainment within the park includes dance shows and Shakespeare plays, cooking demos and wine tasting for moms and dads, painting workshops and twilight hikes. On July 21, the park will also host Blackberry Delight, where folks can sample foods made from the blackberries that grow here. Be sure to also check out the nearby Luray Caverns and Luray Zoo. Additional information: nps.gov/shen; luraycaverns.com.
Beach lovers may wish to head to Chincoteague and Assateague for a taste of island life. Assateague, split between Maryland and Virginia, is home to a national seashore and wildlife refuge where families can catch a glimpse of the wild horses. In Chincoteague, come for the Blueberry Festival on July 20 or the famous pony swim and auction on July 25. Families should also be sure to stop at Island Creamery for some sweet indulgence during their visit. Kiptopeke State Park can also be found along the Eastern Shore. Here, families can camp, hike, swim, picnic or bird watch. Additional information: chincoteague.com; nps.gov/asis; dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/kip.shtml.