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The 20 Best Places To Take The Kids

America's Top Spots

 

How to read the ratings

C = Child Appeal

A = Adult Appeal

P= Public Facilities

S = Service

(Each category has a maximum rating of 30.)

 

$ The cost icon reflects the price for one child and one parent during high season.

I = inexpensive ($15 and below)

M = moderate ($16-$30)

E = expensive ($31-$60)

VE = very expensive (above $60)

 

1. Magic Kingdom Walt Disney World Resort Lake Buena Vista, FL 407-824-4321

(C)29 (A)26 (P)27 (S)27 ($)VE

It's pure "magic" at this undisputed crown jewel in Disney's 47-square-mile empire (encompassing theme parks, water wonderlands, and hotels), thanks to fireworks, parades, rides, and meals with Mickey that "bring out the kid in everyone." "No matter how many times you go," there's always more to do, eat, and explore, so you'll "need two days to really see" everything. Shrewd use of the free FastPass system helps you navigate more quickly. Guests at on-site lodgings get in an hour early on Sunday and Thursday.

 

2. Discovery Cove 6000 Discovery Cove Way (Central Florida Pkwy.) Orlando, FL 877-434-7268

(C)27 (A)27 (P)28 (S)27 ($)VE

Just a couple of miles northeast of Walt Disney World, a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" awaits (adjacent to big brother SeaWorld Orlando). Although swimmers must be 6 or older to realize the "fantasy" of frolicking with "playful," "kissing" dolphins (the main attraction), this "daylong treat" is "enjoyed by all ages," since visitors can "interact with stingrays" and "other creatures of the sea," not to mention "beautiful birds in the aviary." Yes, it's "expensive," but "everything is included" [MDASH] from the "awesome eats" to the keepsake photograph. Rates vary by season.

 

3. Monterey Bay Aquarium 886 Cannery Row Monterey, CA 831-648-4888

(C)29 (A)27 (P)28 (S)25 ($)M

"One would have to be a very cold fish not to love" this aquarium. "Beautifully set" on California's "rocky," "gorgeous" coast near Carmel, this attraction is a favorite, thanks to "stunning exhibits" ranging from touch pools for toddlers to "big shark tanks." With so much to keep both kids and adults engaged, your biggest challenge may be "getting the children away from the sea otters to see the rest" of the "fabulous" displays. Just outside, you can watch sea lions, whales, and more swimming in their natural environment.

 

4. St. Louis Zoo 1 Government Dr., St. Louis 800-966-8877

(C)29 (A)27 (P)28 (S)24 ($)I

Not only is this "wonderful facility" "a great way for families to spend an entire day," but "constant improvements" mean there's "always something new" to love each time you visit (the "excellent Penguin & Puffin Coast exhibit" is already "very popular"). Helpful hint: General "admission is free," but parking isn't, so "get there early" and stash your wheels on the street.

 

5. Disneyland 1313 Harbor Blvd. Anaheim, CA 714-781-4565 

(C)29 (A)25 (P)26 (S)25 ($)VE

Approaching its 50th anniversary, "Walt's original wonderland" is "older than kids, older than parents, but still a hoot." "Powerhouse attractions" include Peter Pan's Flight and Pirates of the Caribbean, plus "dazzling" fireworks, "don't-miss parades" and the "breathtaking" Fantasmic! "spectacular." Although it's "crowded" and "astronomically priced," the place has such "timeless appeal," they should dub it "Foreverland." "Use FastPass" and "stay on-site" to rest before "heading back out for more."

 

6. Cedar Point 1 Cedar Point Dr. Sandusky, OH 419-627-2350

(C)27 (A)26 (P)28 (S)24 ($)VE

"One of the roller-coaster capitals of the world," this amusement park on the shores of Lake Erie anchors an area flush with nature preserves, nautical villages, and small coastal islands. Accompanying "some of the largest, highest," "lunch-churning thrills" on the planet (there are a few that children under 48 inches can't ride) are shows and revues, along with a Riviera-like setting.

 

7. Grant's Farm 10501 Gravois Rd., St. Louis 314-834-1700

(C)27 (A)25 (P)27 (S)26 ($)I

For a "relaxing, pastoral" "getaway," try this "beautifully maintained property" operated by Anheuser-Busch, with "something for everyone." Tour General Ulysses S. Grant's cabin; take the tots to the "cute petting zoo"; ride the "excellent tram" through open terrain to "view antelope, deer, and other grazing animals" ("look for the Oreo-cookie cows"); and "don't miss" those "world-famous Clydesdale horses." Not only is admission free (parking's not), but so is the "beer that adults can sample." Closed November through March.

 

8. San Diego Zoo 2000 Zoo Dr., San Diego 619-234-3153

(C)29 (A)27 (P)26 (S)24 ($)E

"Happy animals" make for one of the "world's most amazing zoos" just north of downtown San Diego, where "natural settings" affirm "a profound concern for the welfare" of a "huge variety" of inhabitants. The sun gets "really hot" in summer, so "pack water"; "take the bus tour to see large" creatures; and "save the walking" "up and down hills" "for close views of elusive cats, playful otters," and the panda cub Mei Sheng. "Allow two full days," and take the toddlers to the "outstanding" children's area for "educational shows and hands-on activities." There's even fine dining next to the Gorilla Tropics.

 

9. National Air and Space Museum 6th Street and Independence Ave. Washington, DC; Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Washington Dulles International Airport, 14390 Air & Space Museum Pkwy. Chantilly, VA 202-633-1000

(C)28 (A)28 (P)26 (S)23 ($)FREE

The Smithsonian's "not-to-be-missed" aviation branch, in two locations, is "packed" with everything from Charles Lindbergh's "[I {Spirit of St. Louis}] to a space vessel you can walk through." "Inanimate objects come to roaring life" in "fantastic exhibits." Other area attractions [MDASH] from the host of museums on the Mall to the White House -- are mere steps away from the DC site.

 

10. Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Park Walt Disney World Resort Lake Buena Vista, FL 407-824-4321

(C)28 (A)26 (P)26 (S)25 ($)E

The popularity of this "laid-back" sloshfest "for all sizes, ages, and physical abilities" proves kids really like to get wet. The Ketchakiddee Creek is made for toddlers, while exhausted parents can "veg out in the cool water" of the Lazy River. Courageous older children can enjoy "snorkeling with sharks" (above) and "fast water slides." Plan to spend the day, but "bring sunscreen, a picnic lunch" (dining options are limited), and your own towels to avoid the dollar-per-rental charge.

 

11. San Diego Zoo's Wildlife Animal Park 15500 San Pasqual Valley Rd. Escondido, CA 760-747-8702

(C)28 (A)27 (P)25 (S)24 ($)E

The San Diego Zoo's "fantastic free-range" counterpart (40 minutes northeast of the city) is "like a trip out of the country" -- watching "animals run free in vast areas" is "the closest you get to an African [or Asian] safari without leaving North America." Plan for a full day (with lots of walking), or visit during "cooler" evening hours. There are also "kids' programs, like camping" (reserve in advance), plus "a photo caravan" (for an extra fee).

 

12. Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park Walt Disney World Resort Lake Buena Vista, FL 407-824-4321

(C)25 (A)27 (P)27 (S)26 ($)VE

"Dreams become reality" as you "live out your favorite movies" and TV shows at this theme park "for film buffs and media- savvy" kids who "get a kick out of" "thrills" like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror elevator drop, plus such "educational" features as "the animation studios and back-lot tour" and the [I {Who Wants to Be a Millionaire}] attraction, all of which can be "seen in one day."

 

13. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 3400 Vine St., Cincinnati 800-944-4776

(C)28 (A)25 (P)27 (S)24 ($)M

"The perfect size for a family outing," this "beautifully laid out" and "easy-to-navigate" site with "lush botanical gardens" is big enough to have "something captivating and fun around every manicured corner" but "small enough to be manageable in a day." Visitors "come face to face with underwater polar bears," "spooky vampire bats," elephants, white tigers, hissing cockroaches, and more. "One of the oldest zoos in the country," it's a National Historic Landmark.

 

14. SBC Park 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco 415-972-2000

(C)26 (A)28 (P)28 (S)22 ($)E

At this "magical ballpark," the "captivating" Bay setting makes the national pastime "even more fun to watch." It's not just for games though, since kids "enjoy the huge Coke-bottle slide," "softball on the mini-diamond," and having their picture made into a Giants baseball card, while parents relish "creative" eats including sushi, bratwurst, and "world-famous garlic fries." It's "pricey and sometimes hard to get into" for a game or other event, but you can "take a tour" if nothing's scheduled.

 

15. Blizzard Beach Walt Disney World Resort Lake Buena Vista, FL 407-824-4321

(C)28 (A)26 (P)26 (S)24 ($)E

Adults tolerate "standing in line half-naked and damp all day" so that their kids can enjoy this "cool" water park that simulates "a blizzard in 80-degree weather." "What a feeling" -- "swimming in melted snow!" "What a scream" -- plunging down "the fastest, wettest slide ever!" Just "get there early to claim a beach chair," and don't expect "much choice" for dining.

 

16. Museum of Science Science Park at the Charles River Dam, Boston 617-723-2500

(C)28 (A)26 (P)25 (S)24 ($)M

Even with so many attractions in Boston, respondents rave that this "venerable" yet "exciting" institution is worth a half-day, since it really "makes science fun." Explore such "eye-catching," "hands-on" exhibits as "interactive" "musical piano steps" and an "immersive virtual fish tank." "Enthusiastic staffers" present "great demos" ("watch lightning being created!"), while an "ample food court" serves up "first-rate views of the Charles River."

 

17. Denver Museum of Nature & Science  2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver 800-925-2250

(C)28 (A)27 (P)25 (S)24 ($)I

"Eye-popping" right from the entrance, this "first-class museum" has "so much" "to offer families" that you could "go for hours and still only see a small portion." Though the "terrific dinosaurs" are the "main event" for many, there's a lot more, including "the wonderful Hall of Life," the Discovery Zone, a "new, top-rated planetarium," and the "interactive" Space Odyssey. "Guides help you get the most out of your visit."

 

18. National Aquarium in Baltimore 501 E. Pratt St., Baltimore 410-576-3800

(C)28 (A)27 (P)25 (S)22 ($)M "Herds" of kids stare "spellbound" at the "wonderful assortment of sea creatures" in this "jewel" on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, a "gorgeous multilevel aquarium." "With tons to do" [MDASH] an "outstanding dolphin show," a "walk-through rain forest," an "impressive shark tank" [MDASH] "plan for a whole day." It can get "jammed," and there's "annoying timed ticketing" and a no-stroller policy, but they're expanding.

 

19. Fort Worth Zoo 1989 Colonial Pkwy. Fort Worth, TX 817-759-7555

(C)29 (A)26 (P)26 (S)23 ($)M

"Entertainment for all" can be found at this "world-class" menagerie, a "better option" for a half-day than "its counterpart" in neighboring Dallas. You feel "like you're on safari" as you stroll through the "gorgeous layout," viewing a "large variety of animals" in natural-looking settings, and the "train is fun for the kiddies" as it transports visitors to the "interactive Texas Wild!" attraction, a "so-neat" eight-acre exhibit. Toddlers will be tickled that "the movie Barney at the Zoo was filmed here."

 

20. Safeco Field 1250 First Ave. S., Seattle 206-346-4001

(C)24 (A)28 (P)28 (S)23 ($)E

Home to the Mariners since 1999, this "sparkling," "state-of-the-art" stadium, "conveniently located" just south of downtown Seattle, boasts a "brilliant design," "wonderful city views," and a Puget Sound backdrop. Expect "a wide selection of delicious food" (microbrews, espresso, garlic fries, even sushi), "a kids' [play] area," "bathrooms everywhere," and "not a bad seat in the house." Some say it's "the most fan-friendly ballpark in the country." The "sliding roof guarantees" "no rainouts!"

 

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