Summer's a great time to explore something new. If you live in the area, or are just passing through, check out one of these favorite family-friendly destinations for an unforgettable day. Whether it's studying marine life or the old wild west, or screaming down a roller-coaster, here are five top destinations for family fun:
Cannon Beach, Portland OR
Take time to explore the West Coast's great outdoors. Just 80 miles west of Portland, Cannon Beach offers 9 miles of accessible – and beautiful – beachfront, which is perfect for kite-flying, castle-building, and beachcombing. One of the more famous images of the Oregon coast comes from Haystack Rock, near downtown Cannon Beach. It's over 230 feet tall, making it the third-tallest "sea stack" on earth. During low tide, you can walk all the way out to Haystack Rock and investigate the interesting sea life in the tidal pools around it. Cannon Beach also has a "downtown" area with fun craft shops, art galleries, cafes and restaurants where visitors can watch saltwater taffy being stretched, and buy beach toys. Be sure to stop on the way to take in the world's tallest Sitka spruce tree (216 feet high, 52 feet in circumference), located just off Highway 26.
The Apache Trail, Phoenix AZ
This is one of Phoenix's oldest, best, and most popular attractions. The Apache Trail, or AZ 88 as it is officially known, links Apache Junction at the edge of the Greater Phoenix area with Globe via Theodore Roosevelt Lake, through the Superstition Mountains and the Tonto National Forest. It offers courageous drivers 40 miles of steep, winding and mostly unpaved roads. Why all the hype? The Trail provides one of the most scenic drives in the Phoenix area and offers visitors incredible views of canyons, geologic formations, desert plants and trees, lake views, and wildflowers in season.
Stephanie Heckathorne, Media Relations Manager for the Greater Phoenix Visitors and Convention Bureau, says "A great driving tour down the Apache Trail is a fun-filled family getaway. It sounds a little kitschy, and it is, but the kids I see go along that trail and just love it. Kids can mine for gold, and eat prickly-pear ice cream."
Along the trail Goldfield, a resurrected ghost town that is now loaded with charm, offers a taste of history with its Museum and a chance to witness an old west gun fight. Other attractions include an underground mine tour, a full size narrow gauge railroad, panning for real gold, a live reptile exhibit, carriage rides, jeep tours, horseback riding and unique shopping.
Tortilla Flats, with its population of 6, is an authentic remnant of an old west town and provides another interesting stop along the trail, as well as a chance to enjoy a cold beer atop real saddle barstools in the Superstition Saloon.
The Superstition Mountain Museum, which collects, preserves and displays the artifacts, history and folklore of the Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction and the surrounding region, also provides an interesting stop along the way.
Lincoln Children's Museum, Lincoln NE
The Children's Museum comes highly recommended by Lincoln's Visitor's Bureau and Convention staff. With three floors and 45,500 square feet of exciting hands-on exhibits, the Museum offers a fun environment in which a child's imagination can really take wing. Committed to the idea that children learn best through play, exploration and discovery, the Museum blossomed from its small start in 1988 to its current $6 million facility which opened its renovated doors in 2000, and welcomed around 133,000 visitors last year. Now, the Museum offers children the chance to explore what it's like to be an astronaut, firefighter or football champ, or practice shopping in a child-size grocery store.
Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, GA
As the world's largest aquarium, with more than eight million gallons of fresh and marine water and more aquatic life than found in any other aquarium, kids and adults alike are guaranteed to see many things here they've never seen before. From African Penguins to Goliath Groupers, from Longsnout Seahorses to Red Piranhas, there is guaranteed to be something exciting around every corner. The Aquarium's Kid's Corner offers a variety of fun activities that you can do before, during and after your trip to the Aquarium, and more ambitious visitors can even experience the world's only guaranteed opportunity to swim or dive (safely!) with 'gentle giants' including the largest fish in the world, the whale shark.
Cedar Point Amusement Park, Cleveland OH
An easy hour and a half's drive from Cleveland finds you in Sandusky, home to Cedar Point Amusement Park – the roller coaster capital of the world. Located on a Lake Erie peninsula, Cedar Point is the second oldest amusement park in North America, and boasts a gut-wrenching 17 roller-coasters – the most found in any amusement park in the world. For those who might be scared off by the 420 foot tall "Top Thrill Dragster", Cedar Point offers many other tamer options. It also has beautifully landscaped gardens with lake views, a museum, water rides, and 4 children's areas including a brand-new "Planet Snoopy," with a Peanuts-themed environment.