Plan on Pennsylvania for Family Fun and Learning (page 3)
- Family Fun and Learning in New York
- Family Fun and Learning in New Jersey
- Family Fun and Learning in Ohio
- Fun and Learning in Florida!
- Kid-Friendly California Fun and Learning
- Must-Sees in Michigan for Family Fun
Anchored in the east by Philadelphia, birthplace of the US, and in the west by a revitalized Pittsburgh, with rural countryside inbetween, Pennsylvania has a lot to offer a family on vacation. There are numerous historic sites and battlefields from the Revolutionary War and Civil War, but also peaceful valleys, quiet farmland and too-cute small towns that welcome visitors. The western part of the state used to be considered frontier in Colonial times, and still retains a bit of that restlessness and bravado.
1) Independence National Historical Park and Liberty Bell Center – The Declaration of Independence, the postwar convention for our Constitution; it all started here in this cluster of buildings in Philadelphia. Stop by the Visitor Center for free, timed entry tickets for Independence Hall, look for “Once Upon a Nation” storytelling sessions and tours, see interactive exhibits about the Constitution, watch Colonial crafters at the Betsy Ross House and stand in awe before the cracked Liberty Bell that pealed the news of independence in 1776.
2) Carnegie Science Center – One of four Carnegie museums in Pittsburgh, the Center not only features a planetarium, Science of Sports activities, fun Science Stage demonstrations, the science of food in the Kitchen Theater and 8000 square feet of interactive fun, but also some state-specific exhibits. Walk through a detailed miniature railroad & village depicting early 1900s western Pennsylvania, and examine how Pittsburgh has become a leader in eco-friendly, green building technology.
3) Gettysburg – The turning point of the Civil War, this four-day battle across 250 acres was, at the time, the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil (50,000 killed or wounded.) To understand the scope and impact of the different skirmishes and President Lincoln’s famous two-minute Address, see the Visitor Center scale-model map or the giant Cyclorama display, and consider the park’s Licensed Battlefield Guide Service for seasonal private battlefield tours in your car or with a guide on a tour bus. Huge groups of costumed reenactors bring key moments to life during annual July Civil War Heritage Days.
4) Pennsylvania’s Maritime Heritage – Two different museums offer a look at history through actual vessels; the War of 1812 Brig Niagara at the Erie Maritime Museum in Erie, and Commodore Dewey’s Spanish-American war cruiser Olympia (plus submarine Becuna) at Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum. Both offer special in-depth programs like the Niagara’s Day Sails underway on a square-rigger, and the Seaport Museum’s Teen Boat Camp wooden boat-building class.
5) Brandywine River Museum – American artwork from three generations of the famous Pennsylvania Wyeth family is housed in a 19th century gristmill in Chadds Ford; it includes painter N.C .Wyeth’s illustrations for the books Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Last of the Mohicans. The museum’s Explorer Mornings program is geared to children ages 3-14, and there are a variety of summer workshops.
6) Washington Crosses the Delaware – Every year on Christmas Day (and also for a dress rehearsal on the second Sunday in December) Revolutionary War uniformed reenactors cross the Delaware River in wooden boats to boldly attack Hessian troops. Washington Crossing Historic Park also has numerous Family Programs year-round, cooking programs, farm demonstrations and a summer history camp.
7) Laurel Highlands – Southeast of Pittsburgh, this pretty part of Pennsylvania has attractions that run the gamut from the three miles of natural passages in the state’s largest cave, Laurel Caverns, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic home built over a creek, Fallingwater (plus two other Wright homes in the region.) There are numerous covered bridges using a variety of construction techniques, several historic roads including part of the first transcontinental highway, the Fort Necessity National Battlefield from the French and Indian Wars, the Johnstown Flood (1889) Museum and the Mountain Playhouse, which is the state’s oldest professional resident summer theater and performs in a 200 year-old grist mill.
8) Longwood Gardens – Thanks to the largesse of Pierre S. du Pont of DuPont Chemical, visitors can wander 1050 acres of plant life and imaginative exhibits. Pick up a special Kid’s Map and Guide at the entrance, and don’t miss Wednesday’s Kid’s Garden Adventures, with plant-related craft activities. There is an Indoor Children’s Garden with a bamboo maze, 17 fountains, water curtains and secret coves. In summer, finish the day with Family Ice Cream Concerts and a nighttime lighted fountain show.
9) Ride the Rails – Well-maintained historic steam engine railroad trains dot the state. The Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton has a working Locomotive Repair Shop, full-day train excursions to Moscow, Tobyhanna and the Delaware Water Gap, short rides around the Site on the Scranton Limited and the big annual steam locomotive celebration, the Lackawanna Railfest. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg is more focused on historic trains that operated in the state; there are over 100 mid-19th and 20th century locomotives and cars, with demonstrations and education programs.
10) The Franklin Institute – Ben Franklin’s curiosity and love of tinkering are honored at the Philadelphia-based Institute. Scientific objects that belonged to the famous statesman and inventor are on display in Memorial Hall (including his electrostatic machine and an odometer that he used to measure Philadelphia postal routes.) Never stuck in the past, the facility also provides insight into modern science and technology. Sir Isaac’s Loft, for example, combines art and science, showing how the laws of physics in action can result in beautiful patterns. Exhibits on aviation, astronomy, the human body, Franklin’s unique glass armonica musical instrument and a summertime-only outdoor high-tech playground keep kids enthralled.
11) Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life – Travel through thousands of years of time; from 16,000 years ago with the early American inhabitants who lived at the Rockshelter archeological site (the covered site preserves resident tools and campfire areas) to the Meadowcroft Village recreation of 19th century rural life, with costumed interpreters, a blacksmith shop, a barber shop and a schoolhouse.
12) Philadelphia Museum of Art – One of the nation’s largest art museums (with some of the most well-known entrance steps thanks to the movie Rocky) it is particularly appealing for young art lovers because of its many period rooms and “architectural assemblages” that meticulously recreate special environments from around the world. A Japanese teahouse, an English drawing room, a medieval cloister courtyard, a sixteenth-century temple hall from India and a French Gothic chapel allow kids to walk through history and enjoy artworks and decorative arts in their original context. Family Gallery Tours, downloadable audio tours and Tours for Tots are focused on children.
13) Little League Museum – Batter up! Organized baseball for young boys started in 1939 in Williamsport, PA and the Little League World Series is still played here at the hallowed ball field behind the Museum, which also includes softball. There are displays about the history of the game, including uniforms, equipment and famous players who started in Little League. Batting and pitching areas with instant replay allow swing analysis and the ever-satisfying crack of a ball against a bat.
14) Valley Forge National Historical Park – Continental Army soldiers were on the ragged edge of survival when they arrived here in the winter of 1777, then it went downhill from there as 2000 died during the encampment (mostly from disease rather than cold.) Still, with German General von Steuben to drill them starting in February 1778, the Army ultimately emerged from Valley Forge ready to fight. Today, many of the huts/shelters that they built have been re-created and staffed with living history interpreters. There are storytellers, guided trolley tours, downloadable audio tours, stories that you can access from your cell phone, and after hours tours with a campfire.
15) Mütter Museum – Housed in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, this highly unusual collection of medical artifacts is not for the particularly squeamish (its tagline is “Disturbingly Informative”) but it will be a huge hit for any future doctors or biologists in your house. Over 20,000 anatomic and pathological objects have been collected here since 1858, to educate future physicians about all manner of human body phenomena. Plaster casts of the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng (and their conjoined livers) and a tumor that was secretly removed from President Grover Cleveland are just a few of the highlights.
16) National Aviary – Hundreds of birds from around the world live in appropriate habitats like the Wetlands of America (the largest walk-through exhibit – full of terns, pelicans and flamingoes.) Numerous demonstration, feeding and educational programs attempt to include all ages and interests; the Little Peepers program introduces birds to children as young as 18 months, the FlightZone outdoor free-flight bird show is held daily in summer, and visitors can participate with the trainers in feeding programs.
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