The iron-hulled Elissa, on Galveston Island — Photo courtesy of greenguy21
Galveston Island is a family-friendly barrier island near Houston, on the placid Gulf of Mexico. The island is about 27 miles long and definitely worth the trip if you have the time. The island has boatloads (literally!) of outdoor activities and watersports, plus lots of beaches to enjoy. Kids will love making a splash at Schlitterbahn, or watching a movie at the 4D Special FX Theater. There's also the wonderful Moody Gardens Aquarium. Little boys especially love stepping aboard the historic Elissa, an iron-hulled sailing ship from 1877, moored at the Texas Seaport Museum.
The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad — Photo courtesy of Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
All aboard! The way to get to Silverton, Colorado is by train! Park your car in Durango and get your tickets to the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway trip to Silverton, just 45 miles north. In operation now for 128 years, your kids will love the old world charm of a real steam locomotive making its way through the San Juan Mountains along the Animas River on its way to the historic and charming silver mining town of Silverton. Concession car and restrooms available on board. Have lunch at one of many western eateries in town, shop along the boardwalk-lined stores, then catch a ride back on the bus if you prefer not to extend the day more. The train ride is about 3 1/2 hours.
The Magic House, St. Louis, Missouri — Photo courtesy of The Magic House, St. Louis Children's Museum
Who knew that in the heart of St. Louis was the nation's top family attraction, rated above Disney's Magic Kingdom (according to Zagat's U.S. Family Travel Guide)? The Magic House, St. Louis Childrens Museum, is a beautiful early Victorian mansion, and home to hundreds of exhibits, providing fun and education for the entire family. Since 1979, more than 10 million visitors have enjoyed such favorite exhibits as the electrically charged ball (watch your hair stand up!), the giant kaleidoscope wheel and the recently added Magic Tree House exhibit (based on the childrens book series). There is even a section for those under 2, "For Baby and Me."
The U.S.S. Cod in Cleveland — Photo courtesy of technochick
In downtown Cleveland, at the North Coast Harbor, you and your kids can set foot on a real submarine from World War II, the USS Cod. Launched in 1943, it saw 5 tours of duty and sank 12 enemy ships. Your kids will be fascinated with its history (it's the only sub of its kind to be kept intact) and the wow factor of being able to climb up the ladders through its hatches, just like its original sailors did. On the shore nearby are a real torpedo and vintage working periscope, along with a 2,080 pound propeller, just like the one on the Cod. Open every day between May 1 and September 30, adult admission is only $6 and children under 6 are free. Older kids might appreciate the nearby Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with its 7 floors of fascinating music legend exhibits and 5 movie theatres, one showing U2's live concert in 3D.
Onboard the U.S.S. Constellation — Photo courtesy of T. Browne Smith
Baltimore's Inner Harbor is the city's one-shot stop for food, entertainment, lodging and family fun. Developed and revitalized by the city in the 1970s, the Inner Harbor is home to Maryland's most popular attraction, the National Aquarium and serves as the hub for child-friendly activities. Historic ships reside in its waters all year round while pirates come a-sailing in the warmer months. If your brood is a group of land-lovers, keep their feet dry but their imaginations wet at the Maryland Science Center or Port Discovery, where interactive displays offer a more hands-on museum experience for younger minds.