It doesn’t get the same kind of billing as mega entertainment parks like Disney or natural wonderlands like the Grand Canyon, but New York State is the proud home to many sights, both constructed and natural, that are ideal for family travel.
As a mom of two (soon to be three!), I’m fortunate to have the whole state as my big, bountiful backyard. Here are a few places my husband and I love to take our kids in various regions around New York. Each is perfect for a day trip or a quick weekend (or mid-week) getaway.
Rye Playland (Rye, NY)
Long before Disney, there was Playland. America’s only Art Deco-style amusement park was built in less than a year between 1927 and 1928; almost a century later, it continues to entertain kids and adults alike. Summer months see the park at peak operation, with all the kiddie, family, and thrill rides in service, and nights at the park are lit up with fireworks.
New York City
Coney Island (Brooklyn, NY)
There’s no place that’s so much a part of New York City and yet so seemingly far from it, both in geography and vibe, than Coney Island. From the annual Polar Bear Swim (led by the oldest winter bathing organization in the country) to the flurry of summer traditions like the annual Mermaid Parade and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, there’s always something unusual for kids to see. Of course, your kiddos will likely try to wheedle money out of you for Luna Park’s rides, many of which are new or restored. Older kids will likely enjoy the famous Cyclone; the wooden roller coaster opened in 1927 and still thrills riders today.
Watkins Glen, NY
The Finger Lakes region offers all sorts of family-friendly getaways, and you’ll have no shortage of fun activities to share with your kids on a quick trip. From visiting farms where cheese is made to taking a high-speed tour of the Watkins Glen NASCAR racetrack (or a slower, self-guided tour of the historic track), a weekend in Watkins Glen will fly by. Other activities include boat rides, hikes in the scenic and easily accessible Watkins Glen State Park, and a side trip to nearby Elmira, where the National Soaring Center features an amusement park and glider rides.
Erie Canal (Fairport, NY)
The Erie Canal is one of America’s great, historic waterways, and the fact that it cuts across the entire state means that there are plenty of points where you can access the canal and learn more about its history. If your kids aren’t confident, experienced kayakers, don’t worry; the water on the canal is calm and beginner-friendly. Take a day trip to Fairport and rent a boat at Erie Canal Boat Company—you can add a multi-day trip on a packet boat or houseboat to your family’s bucket list.
Corning Museum of Glass and Rockwell Museum of Western Art (Corning, NY)
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better pair of kid-friendly museums that weren’t actually designed with kids in mind than these two. Bonus points for the fact that they have a reciprocal agreement whereby you can buy a single admission ticket for both institutions at a discounted rate. A free shuttle service also runs between the two. Corning’s Museum of Glass has plenty of live glass-blowing demonstrations that will elicit wonder in younger kids, who can even learn how to make their own glass. (There are classes for kids as young as four!) The Rockwell Museum of Western Art (which has nothing to do with Norman Rockwell) gives kids their own discovery backpack upon entry, sending them on a treasure hunt of sorts. In 2013, the museum opened a drawing center specifically for kids.
Saratoga Springs, NY
Even though many of its grand dame hotels have shuttered over the years, there’s still something of a bygone era that you’ll feel in the air if you visit Saratoga Springs in the summertime. Take in the famous horse races during the day and stroll along Main Street in the evening, stopping for a sugar fix at Bettie’s Cakes Cupcakery Cafe, which feels like it’s been sitting there since the ’50s. Don’t leave town without soaking in the city’s famed hot springs or taking a turn with your kids on the carousel in Congress Park.