We don't usually go far, but have travelled around the northeastern US quite a bit. Here are some of the best places we've found that are fun for both parents and children as well as nurturing creativity, curiosity, and an appreciation of nature:
1. Longwood Gardens (Philadelphia Area)
Longwood Gardens is a beautiful arboretum spanning over 1,000 acres and including a huge variety of plants and garden types. It is not only a fabulous place for gardening enthusiasts, but the kids had a blast there. There are a number of tree houses for climbing and viewing of the surrounding area, and the conservatory houses a super-fun water garden. Unfortunately, we did not leave ourselves nearly enough time to see it all and plan to return the next time we are in the area to spend some time in the kids' garden, the chime garden, and the giant topiaries!
2. Please Touch! Museum (Philadelphia Area)
Our other fantastic Philly find was the Please Touch! museum, right in the outskirts of the city. It is a very manageable size and had fun things for both my two-year-old and my five-year-old, including an Alice in Wonderland area, an indoor water play area, and a beautiful carousel. They offer a ticket deal where you can buy two day passes for a discounted price, but you have to use them within ten days of each other.
I realize this doesn't sound like a great place for kids, but trust me, it is! They have a fantastic children's garden called Weezie's Garden where they can climb a tree tower, pretend to be baby birds, check out the fish pond, and play in a sand pit, but the entire grounds are full of rich areas for play. My kids especially loved the herb garden, where they wandered the paths and smelled the different aromas. This is a great place to bring a picnic and blanket, pack a football or Frisbee, and plan to hang out on a nice day.
4. The Wild Center - Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (near Lake Placid, New York)
This LEED-certified museum is not technically a children's museum, but it was definitely designed with young guests in mind. All the exhibits are accessible to even very young children, and there is a hands-on children's room where the kids can spend hours reading, playing and exploring. Bess especially loved the pond organ, where each key plays a different sound you might hear around the water. There is a small lake outside with trails for exploring, and you can rent snowshoes in the winter to explore the grounds.
5. New Jersey Children's Museum (Bergen County, New Jersey)
This museum is about an hour from our home and near my grandmother's house, so we visit it frequently and never get tired of it. The museum often hosts special events, but even on the average day there is so much to do that we could spend hours exploring the different rooms and pretending to be construction workers, paleontologists, Medieval royalty or just playing house (because we can't do that at home, right?).
We're always looking for new places to visit, so I hope you'll share your favorites in the comments section!