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The 20 Best Places To Take The Kids

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

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 FastPass system helps you navigate more quickly. Guests at on-site lodgings get in an hour early on certain days of the week.

2. Discovery Cove

Orlando, Florida

Just a couple of miles northeast of Walt Disney World and adjacent to big brother SeaWorld Orlando, a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" awaits. Although swimmers must be 6 years old or older to frolick with the playful, kissing dolphins, which are the main attraction, this daylong treat can be 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—from eats to the keepsake photograph. Rates vary by season.

3. Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey, California

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 displays. Just outside, you can watch sea lions, whales, and more swimming in their natural environment.

4. St. Louis Zoo 

St. Louis, Missouri

Not only is this 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. Helpful hint: General admission is free, but parking isn't, so get there early and stash your wheels on the street.

5. Disneyland 

Anaheim, California

"Walt's original wonderland" has been open for more than 60 years, so it's older than kids and older than parents, but still a hoot. Powerhouse attractions include Peter Pan's Flight and Pirates of the Caribbean, plus dazzling fireworks, parades and the breathtaking Fantasmic! Spectacular. Although it's crowded and high 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

Sandusky, Ohio

"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 (children under 48 inches can't ride a few) are shows and revues, along with a Riviera-like setting.

7. Grant's Farm 

St. Louis, Missouri

For a relaxing 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 petting zoo; ride the tram through open terrain to view antelope, deer, and other grazing animals (look for the Oreo-cookie cows); and don't miss the world-famous Clydesdale horses. Parking isn’t free but admission beer samples are. Closed November through March.

8. San Diego Zoo 

San Diego, California

Check out one of the world's most amazing zoos just north of downtown San Diego that boasts natural settings that affirm a profound concern for the welfare of a 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 to playful otters. Allow two full days, and take the toddlers to the 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 

Washington, DC

The Smithsonian's aviation branch, in two locations, is packed with everything from Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis to a space vessel you can walk through. Other area attractions—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 

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

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 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 rental charge.

11. San Diego Zoo's Safari Park 

Escondido, California

Formerly known as the San Diego Wild Animal Park, this free-range zoo counterpart is 40 minutes northeast of the city and is like a trip out of the country. You can watch animals run free in vast areas, which are the closest you can 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. Kids’ programs, like camping, can be reserved in advance, or you can participate in a photo caravan for an extra fee.

12. Disney's Hollywood Studios

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Formerly known as Disney MGM Studios, this theme park makes dreams become reality as you live out your favorite movies and TV shows. It’ll be a hit with film buffs and media-savvy kids who get a kick out of thrills and educational features, like the animation studios and back-lot tours.

13. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden 

Cincinnati, Ohio

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 around every 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. AT&T Park

San Francisco, California

At this 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 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 

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

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. It’s quite a feeling to swim in melted snow. Just get there early to claim a beach chair, and don't expect many choices for dining.

16. Museum of Science 

Boston, Massachusetts

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

17. Denver Museum of Nature & Science 

Denver, Colorado

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. Although the dinosaurs are the main event for many, there's a lot more, including the Hall of Life, the Discovery Zone, a top-rated planetarium, and the interactive Space Odyssey. Guides can help you get the most out of your visit.

18. National Aquarium in Baltimore 

Baltimore, Maryland

Kids will stare spellbound at the wide assortment of sea creatures in this multi-level aquarium on Baltimore's Inner Harbor. With a dolphin show, a walk-through rain forest, a shark tank, and more on the list to see, plan for a whole day. 

19. Fort Worth Zoo 

Fort Worth, Texas

Entertainment for all can be found at this menagerie, and it’s a better option for a half-day excursion than its counterpart in neighboring Dallas. You’ll feel like you're on safari as you stroll through the expansive layout, viewing a variety of animals in natural-looking settings, and kids will love the train ride as it transports visitors to the interactive Texas Wild! attraction, an eight-acre exhibit. 

20. Safeco Field 

Seattle, Washington

Home to the Mariners since 1999, this state-of-the-art stadium, conveniently located just south of downtown Seattle, boasts a brilliant design, city views, and a Puget Sound backdrop. Expect a wide selection of food, ranging from microbrews and espresso to garlic fries and sushi; a kids' play area; bathrooms everywhere for tiny bladders; 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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