Whether you want to fuel your family’s four-wheeled version of the American Dream like Dean Moriarty in “On the Road,” or you are just looking for a little family bonding time like the Griswold family in “National Lampoon's Vacation,” hitting the open road on your next school break can be an educational experience for your kids.
If you’re looking for fun ways to fill vacation times, here are some destinations that will get the whole family learning something new:
Washington, D.C. can teach your kids about our nation’s past and spark their realization that they have the power to change the world. Here are some highlights you won’t want to miss:
There are 13 Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, and the variety of topics they cover means that they’re great for all ages and tastes. Some well-known highlights include the ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” at the National Museum of American History and the command module from Apollo 11 at the Air and Space Museum. The museums — all of which have free admission — include dozens of interactive programs, and both kids and adults will leave having discovered something new.
You can get to the Library of Congress from the Capitol Visitors’ Center without even going outside. After the British burned the original collection, Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library to fill the shelves, and the items that remain are a true national treasure (yes, you can snoop around and pretend you are Nicolas Cage in the “National Treasure” sequel). Tip: Call or visit your representative’s office to see if you can get congressional tickets or even set up a congressional tour.
Channel your child’s inner Walter Cronkite at the Newseum, an organization that seeks to teach the public about First Amendment rights through programming and exhibitions. The artifacts take you through important historical moments and illustrate the media’s role in shaping history and perspectives. This is the only museum in the world that can say it houses both a section of the Berlin Wall and Pharrell’s hat from the Grammy Awards.
The City of Brotherly Love will give you and your children many opportunities to learn about the creation of our nation. Best of all, you can complement your intellectual adventures with gastronomical ones — learning American history is all the more satisfying when you can get a cheesesteak a few blocks from the room in which our country was founded. Here are some highlights you won’t want to miss:
Travel back to the founding of the nation by taking your kids to the Assembly Room, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were created and signed. Imagining what occurred within those four walls during the summer of 1776 is enough to ensure that your child will emerge informed and inspired.
Dostoevsky wrote that “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.'' Never does this ring more true than at Eastern State Penitentiary, which opened in 1821 with a revolutionary idea that prisons should strive to reform and not just punish. In addition to having held infamous prisoners like Al Capone and “Slick Willie” Sutton, this prison was the first to employ solitary confinement.
After you take the obligatory sprint up the Rocky steps, head inside and introduce your child to Cezanne, Rodin, and Duchamp. The museum also offers family-friendly programming that makes art accessible to children of all ages, from stroller tours to drawing galleries.
Santa Fe, NM
With adobe buildings that exemplify Spanish and Pueblo architecture and act as a perfect complement to the high-desert natural beauty, it is easy to see why Santa Fe has the third-largest art market in the country. A city steeped in American Indian, Spanish, and Mexican history, Santa Fe boasts an array of points of interest. Here are some highlights you won’t want to miss:
The oldest public building in the U.S. and home to New Mexico’s first Spanish governor in 1610, the Palace of the Governors and the adjacent New Mexico History Museum house more than 400 years of sources and artifacts relating to American Indian history, the Santa Fe trail, and the race for the atomic bomb at Los Alamos.
Acclaimed painter Georgia O’Keeffe described her works as testaments to the “wideness and wonder of the world.” When you walk out of the museum doors after viewing the vast collection of paintings, drawings, and sculptures, you and your children may have a new perspective on nature and art. Be sure to check the website’s event calendar before your visit, since the museum hosts workshops and other programs for families.
With more than 100 galleries lining the street, Canyon Road is a living art museum full of beautiful works that you can buy. Walk in the shade of the chestnut trees, and explore a variety of mediums: sculpture, jewelry, paintings, crafts, antiques, and rugs. There are also plenty of benches where you can take a break from your browsing and people-watch.
San Francisco, CA
Mark Twain once said, “I have always been rather better treated in San Francisco than I actually deserved.” The city, which was originally a Spanish colony, has become famous for its multiculturalism. It also boasts beautiful vistas as well as an impressive network of streetcars and cable cars. Here are some highlights you won’t want to miss:
The 1.7-mile Art Deco structure is an engineering marvel and a true symbol of the ingenuity of the modern era. Once you are there, you can explore outdoor exhibits about the bridge’s history, take a free walking tour, or hike in the surrounding Golden Gate National Park. Getting a photo of yourself in front of this famous bridge is an essential part of the San Francisco experience.
You and your child can rocket to outer space in a planetarium, deep-dive underwater in an aquarium, and travel to a four-story rainforest with three distinct ecosystems. The museum also has an earthquake exhibit that will teach your child the seismic science behind what can make the earth shake. Be sure to check out the Academy’s Parent Tips page for suggestions on which exhibits kids of different ages will enjoy best.
Poet Lawrence Felinghetti founded this bookstore/publishing house in 1953. After Ferlinghetti was tried for obscenity for publishing Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl,” the bookstore became a literary landmark. City Lights is not only one of the few remaining independent bookstore institutions, but it is also an epicenter of independent thought. Grab a book off the shelf, and engage your children in scintillating conversation.
Want to explore a few more destinations over the break? Check out the supplement to this guide, which covers educational road trips for the whole family.