Some people fear heights, others snakes. I fear Disney. Land and World. Quite frankly, nothing sounds less appealing: scorching heat, endless lines, cranky kids and obligatory overpriced souvenirs (which, in less than two weeks, will never be used again). Thanks, but no. Parents looking for non-Disney options', take heed: These cities offer zoos, museums, parks, great food and lots of other kid-pleasers.
The City by the Bay has it all, like the urban appeal of museums and art, and the proximity to the ocean and mountains for outdoor adventures.
Visit: You could spend a full week exploring Golden Gate Park’s kid-friendly attractions, including the Children's Playground and Carousel, the California Academy of Sciences, the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden. On Sundays (noon to 5 p.m.), don’t miss the Roller Disco Party hosted by David Miles, founder of the California Outdoor Rollerskating Association and known locally as the "Godfather of Skating." And be sure to take the kids to the beach at Crissy Field and to feed the ducks at the Palace of Fine Arts.
Eat: Just outside Golden Gate Park, you’ll find Park Chow, a home-cooking institution kids and adults will both genuinely enjoy. Be sure to check out the Old Skool Cafe, a youth-run, jazz-themed supper club that hosts a gospel brunch on Saturdays. Grab an ice cream at the Bi-Rite Creamery across the street from Mission Dolores Park, which happens to have a brand-new playground.
Chicago boasts breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and activities sure to delight kids of all ages—plus, one of the best dining scenes in the country.
Visit: Millennium Park has a fabulous playground and lots of mesmerizing fountains—you know, the kind with water spurting out of the walls and rotating photo displays. Don't miss The Museum of Science and Industry; Brick by Brick, its spectacular Lego exhibit, features more than a dozen giant constructions, including a 60-foot Golden Gate Bridge.
Eat: At Little Goat, Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard serves breakfast all day, along with burgers and sammies, and—in what is perhaps the most kid-friendly restaurant move ever—there's an entire section of the menu devoted to tater tots. For dessert, Scooter's Frozen Custard does toddler cones for free.
With cool museums that encourage kids to touch and explore, the birthplace of our nation is one of the most family-friendly cities out there.
Visit: No trip to Philly would be complete without a visit to the Franklin Institute, which has a maze room and a planetarium. Also check out the The Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel, the country’s first natural history museum, where kids can pet hundreds of live animals and watch an actual paleontologist work on dinosaurs. Younger kids will love the Please Touch Museum, a wonderama of interactive exhibits that encourage kids to use their imaginations and hands.
While the Big Easy is best known for its music and food (and Mardi Gras debauchery), its kids attractions are equally robust.
Visit: Take a stroll along the Mississippi River and explore the amazing Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Little ones will love the enchanted Storyland in New Orleans City Park, where they can climb aboard Captain Hook’s pirate ship or follow Pinocchio into the mouth of a whale. Don’t miss the Audubon Zoo, with its Cool Zoo Splash Park. And on rainy days, head to the Louisiana Children’s Museum, where kids can make giant bubbles, shop in a life-size supermarket and play restaurant.
Andrea Strong has been writing about food for the past 15 years. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two kids and big appetite. Find her on Twitter at @strongbuzz.
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