Towns That Make Perfect Day Trips for Kids
These nearby small towns in Pennsylvania, South Jersey and Delaware offer plenty to do with the family for a day.
Kids play in the dirt at the John James Audubon Center, which can be part of a day trip to nearby Phoenixville.
Photo by Colleen Claggett
Towns to Visit in Pennsylania
In the heart of Bucks County, Doylestown Borough has maintained its charming small-town feel while its downtown blossomed with restaurants and shops. And thanks to the courthouse and surrounding law offices, it has a lively feel during the day too.
Along its outer edges are museums that will enthrall kids and their parents. Or take a short bucolic drive to other family-friendly venues.
Mercer Museum is a six-story castle filled with 50,000 tools and other objects that were part of early American life. You may have seen it featured as a category on Jeopardy! last month. Its collection is not stuffed into display cases; it hangs from the ceilings and walls and visitors can choose their own route to wend their way through the 55 rooms. And, yes, there are scavenger hunts. Print one from the museum’s website before your visit.
Peddler’s Village is a collection of small shops in a village setting that’s just a short trip up Route 202 from Doylestown. They have special events all year, from a strawberry festival to a scarecrow festival. But if that’s not enough to keep the kids’ attention, the Village is also home to Giggleberry Fair, an indoor play center with a carousel, a three-story obstacle course filled with foam berries, a game room and a play area just for kids under 6.
A little farther up Route 202 is New Hope, which is worth a day trip of its own. But if you have young children, a visit to its Bucks County Children’s Museum could easily be part of your Doylestown day. Designed for toddlers through age 7, it specializes in pretend play, including a hospital with an ambulance; a turn-of-the-century town square; and a “Big Dig” for budding archeologists and more. The typical visit last 90 minutes, which leaves time to walk through New Hope’s downtown for a bite to eat or a souvenir.
Philadelphia’s Fairmount section includes one of the most accessible and heavily used stretches of the Schuylkill River. You could take a whole day with the family to stroll or bike along Kelly Drive, stop for a picnic lunch and watch rowers glide down the river. But there’s more to Fairmount than a nice view.
Fairmount Water Works, between Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, offers exhibits for kids to learn how water gets to their tap and other aquatic environmental lessons. There is also a new mussel hatchery where they can see how the mollusks help keep rivers clean. If you’re up for a stroll and a boat ride after the tour, take the 1.5-mile walk to the Walnut Street dock, where you launch on a one-hour narrated cruise on the Schuylkill. Be sure to get your tickets in advance.
Across the river is another world, of sorts: Shofuso is a 1-acre Japanese garden that includes an island-dotted koi pond and a 17th-century-style teahouse, which creates the sensation of Japan in Philly. It has several festivals through the year, including the cherry blossom festival and Children’s Day in the spring. Make sure the kids have socks though, because neither shoes no bare feet are allowed inside the house.
Nearby is the Please Touch Museum, with two floors of interactive exhibits like River Adventures, Imagination Playground and the Rocket Room, to help kids develop skills through fun activities.
There is also a carousel and new exhibits pop up regularly to keep things fresh.
This town, which seemed on the verge of going the way of the steel mill that once supported it, has boomed along with the rest of the Route 422 corridor in Chester and Montgomery counties. Its walkable downtown is now bustling with restaurants and shops with many family-friendly adventures just a short drive away.
Upper Schuylkill Valley Park is a little-known gem across the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County, just 10 minutes from downtown Phoenixville. Its river access includes a fishing pier and walk-in boat ramp. But what makes it unusual for a county park is its Wildlife Center, which is home to foxes, wolves, owls, a bobcat, bald eagle and farm animals. There is also a butterfly garden, a turtle pond and an indoor Schuylkill Wilds display that features animals that can be found along the river. It’s the perfect spot for a quick visit and a picnic lunch.
If you have something grander in mind, Valley Forge National Park is just 15 minutes up the road from Phoenixville. You can make it an educational trip with stops at log cabins, cannons, monuments, the Visitor Center (a new one is set to open next spring) and Washington Memorial Chapel. Guided tours are also available.
Or just enjoy some time in the beautiful, wide expanses of fields crisscrossed with trails. You can rent adult- or kid-sized bikes at the park. Did we mention there is no admission fee?
Between Phoenixville and Valley Forge, not far off Route 422, is the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, which last month opened a $13 million, 18,000-square foot museum to display Aububon’s famous bird paintings as well as provide interactive exhibits for kids to learn about birds and nature. Outside, kids can build a giant nest out of pool noodles, play in a dirt pit stocked with gloves, rakes and shovels, or saunter on the five miles of trails.
Towns to Visit in New Jersey
The charming town of Haddonfield often shows up on Best Places to Live lists. If you don’t live there, it is near enough to visit, just 10 minutes from the Ben Franklin or Walt Whitman bridges.
The downtown offers more than 200 shops, with something to interest every member of the family. You could spend the whole day shopping, but history beckons.
The historic Indian King Tavern Museum became the first state-owned historic site in New Jersey in 1903. It runs several open houses throughout the year and makes history come alive with re-enactors and period music. If you can’t be there on one of those event days, it is open for tours Wednesdays through Saturdays.
You can also tour Greenfield Hall, the headquarters of the Historical Society of Haddonfield to learn from its collections devoted to local history. It’s open Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons, although it’s closed in August.
If you like your history to go really far back, make your way to the edge of town. There you’ll find Dinosaur Discovery Park, where dino enthusiasts can see where the first, almost-complete dinosaur skeleton was discovered in 1858. Two historical markers near the ravine indicate where the bones were found.
The twin towns of Lambertville and New Hope are connected by a short bridge over the Delaware River, which means it’s easy to visit both of these riverside hamlets (and two states!) in a single day.
Both towns have a theater, but if you time your trip right, you and the kids can take in a show at the Music Mountain Theater in Lambertville, which has six children’s shows scheduled throughout the summer, from Robin Hood to Aladdin Jr.
Nearby, the Howell Living History Farm, replete with live animals, takes families back to the 1730s, when the area was a rural farm tract. In the fall it boasts New Jersey’s longest running corn maze with four acres of paths. If you have young ones and a few hours, you can register children ages 3 – 5 for a three-hour hatchery program where they learn about farm animals, crops and farm life.
Across the river, New Hope hosts the Bucks County Children’s Museum. (See description above)
A little bit farther inland, Medford offers a combination of history, shopping and nature practically flowing through the middle of town. The historic area of Medford Village and Main Street has many small shops and boutiques along its sidewalks lined with gaslights and Victorian-style homes.
After a stroll on Main Street, grab your paddle and make your way up to the Medford Canoe Trail, a two-mile stretch of Rancocas Creek from Medford Park to Kirby’s Mill. It takes about an hour to float from the park to Kirby’s Mill, passing right by Medford Village on the way. Before you put your canoe in the creek, though, check with Medford Township to make sure conditions are suitable.
Now that you’ve worked up an appetite on the water, return to the village and stop at The Pop Shop, a modern soda fountain shop with 1950s charm, complete with a jukebox. It offers new spins on traditional 50s fare in four dining areas, each with retro décor.
After lunch, head out to the countryside to pick some fresh fruits and vegetables at Johnson’s Corner Farm. At the Discovery Barnyard children can pedal go carts on separate tracks for small and big kids; go rock climbing and cool off in three splashpads. If you take a hayride too, tickets for the Barnyard are half off.
Towns to Visit in Delaware
Hockessin is a small town on the Delaware–Pennsylvania border with a charming collection of museums, shops and restaurants. It is a good starting point for a day trip that can include shopping, trains and history and ends near the Wilmington suburb of Greenville.
First stop is the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights, which has open houses on the first Thursday and third Sunday of the month. But the best time to visit is on Steamin’ Days, which are held on select Sundays. This is when kids (and adults) can ride one of the mini locomotives or take a spin in one of museum’s antique cars.
Next stop is Delaware Museum of Natural History, where kids have the chance to investigate nature and science indoors and out. Home to Delaware’s only permanent dinosaur collection, the museum features natural history exhibits, a STEAM trail, a replica of a giant squid and a hall of mammals. At the Nature Nook, young children can meet live animals, make crafts and borrow a backpack with everything they need to be a budding naturalist as they tour the museum and its grounds.
The last stop is Hagley Museum and Library, the site of the gunpowder works founded by E.I. du Pont in 1802. It has indoor and outdoor exhibits, including restored mills and the family’s ancestral home. In the Powder Yard, kids can see a 16-foot tall water wheel, experience the sight, sound and smell of a steam engine, and see a black-powder explosion demonstration. Boom!
Lewes is where the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet at Cape Henlopen, so of course water-themed activities are a big part of its character. But it is also a very walkable half-square mile town with shops, restaurants, inns, museums and an historic district. Inevitably, though, you’ll find yourself on or in the water.
Examine Delaware’s maritime, military and social history at Zwaanendael Museum, named for the first Dutch colony in the region. After enjoying the artwork and exhibits, kids can play in the park grounds.
Cape Henlopen State Park, one of the nation’s oldest public lands, has picturesque beaches and bayside walking trails.
Families can also visit Fort Miles, a key point in coastal defense during the Second World War.
Lewes offers easy access to Cape May beaches via the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. There’s plenty of shopping and things to do with the kids in Cape May too. But the ferry ride itself is as much a draw as the destination. Offering scenic views of the Delaware Bay, it includes a buffet, lounge and bar for a fun and memorable voyage.
Cape Water Tours and Taxi is another way to tour the shore from the water. Board at Fisherman’s Wharf in Lewes or Rehoboth Bay Marina in Dewey. Cape Water Taxi offers narrated and non-narrated tours, Eco Tours, sunset cruises and charters.
Home to the University of Delaware, Newark is more than a college town, thanks in large part to the parkland that surrounds it. Take the kids for a walk through the picturesque campus, which connects to Main Street with its compact collection of shops and restaurants. Then head out to explore.
The Iron Hill Science Center and Museum hosts please-touch exhibits that document the First State’s natural history including the dinosaur-like creatures that roamed the area. Make sure to stop by the glowing-rock section and learn why, when the lights are turned off, the minerals light up. Admission is only $2 and children under 6 are free.
To the north of Newark, White Clay Creek State Park has 3,600 acres, but it also has one very significant spot: The place where Mason and Dixon began their survey for the boundary line that bears their name. They started the line at “a post mark’d west” which is located in the park. Today the park, which was pulled together over decades in response to the growth that was gobbling up land in the northern part of the state, offers options for fishing, hiking and biking.
Glasgow Park, south of Newark, has paved trails, playgrounds, including a H!gh5 Autism Park, skate park, fishing pond, dog park, and farmers market on Fridays in season. In winter, however, it might be best known for Bear Mountain, which is near the east entrance and is believed to be the biggest sledding hill in the state.