Travel

Activities to Round Out the End of Summer Break

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In LA, tickets to the made-for-Instagram Museum of Ice Cream may be sold out, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of other activities to occupy the homestretch before kids and tweens head back to school. We’ve put together a refresher course, including some of our favorite go-to, foolproof sources for entertainment—and education—in New York, LA, and Chicago to get your wheels turning.

New York

  • American Museum of Natural History

    American Museum of Natural History

    Central Park West & 79th St. | 212.769.5100

    Just across the street from Central Park, this sprawling space—established in 1869—is home to more than 32 million specimens: Enormous dinosaur fossils, a stampede of elephants in the main hall, and a host of gorgeous dioramas are just the start. Currently on view through January 2018 is a pretty comprehensive “Mummies” exhibit, which was originally developed at the Field Museum in Chicago. Here, the focus is on the mummification process in ancient civilizations in Peru and Egypt, but one of the coolest experiences is the interactive tables where guests can unwrap virtual mummies. Note: tickets for the “Mummies” exhibit are timed, so they need to be booked in advance. Post-visit, head to Shake Shake across the street for grilled cheese and milkshake.

  • Brooklyn Grange

    Brooklyn Grange

    63 Flushing Ave. | 347.670.3660

    Perched on an unassuming rooftop of the Standard Motor Products Building in Queens, this small-but-mighty urban farm churns out some 40,000-plus pounds of organic produce from eggplants to breakfast radishes. (There’s also an awesome flower CSA add-on available from June through September.) From May through mid-October, on the first Saturday of every month they’re open to the public; the third Saturday of every month they team up with City Growers for a special family day full of free workshops and activities for littles. It’s worth checking out City Growers’ site too, as they offer deeper dive workshops for kids and teens K-12 at the farm covering a range of topics from what it means to be urban farm to the importance of beekeeping.

  • Brooklyn Museum of Art

    Brooklyn Museum of Art

    200 Eastern Pkwy. | 718.638.5000

    One of the largest and oldest art museums in the country, the Brooklyn Museum is housed in a gorgeous Beaux-Arts building at the top of Prospect Park. Besides being one of our favorite Brooklyn landmarks, the exhibitions are great (and sometimes quite splashy). The colorful African exhibitions rooms and American design galleries are pretty spectacular. Don’t miss the ongoing, “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum,” a catchall for a variety of programming and exhibitions featuring the works of boundary-pushing female artists like Georgia O’Keefe, Judy Chicago, and Marilyn Minter. As part of the museum’s monthly First Saturdays program, there’s an activity-packed calendar of events including hands-on painting sessions for littles and live music for tweens.

  • Brooklyn Children's Museum

    Brooklyn Children's Museum

    145 Brooklyn Ave. | 718. 735.4400

    When it comes to children’s museums, this one is OG, having opened in 1889 and subsequently setting the bar for children’s museums across the country. In 2008, it got a colorful revamp by architect Rafael Viñoly; the building’s green-friendly design features a two-story layout, bamboo flooring, and solar panels. To this day, it remains one of the only children’s museums with its own permanent collection, which includes everything from a shark’s jawbone to an Egyptian scarab. Currently on deck: “MakerYard,” an interactive exhibition where kids use cardboard, tape, fabric, and recyclables to design their own structures.

  • Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Metropolitan Museum of Art

    1000 Fifth Ave. | 212.535.7710

    This beloved institution—reigning supreme on NYC’s Upper East Side—has been shepherding millions through its halls since 1880. There’s ample programming here for families—of particular note is the Children’s Classes series (for ages 2-12), which covers everything from storytelling to painting labs and drawing workshops that take place in the viewing galleries. It’s also home to the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, which dates back to 15 BC. (It’s big hit with littles because they can walk through its doors and hallways.) For grown-ups, the Costume Institute’s Rei Kawkubo/Comme des Garcon exhibit spotlights 140-plus elaborate clothing designs considered artwork in their own right.

  • Whitney Museum of American Art

    Whitney Museum of American Art

    99 Gansevoort St. | 212.570.3600

    The splashy new-ish Whitney in NYC’s Meatpacking District is not without its star architect: Renzo Piano’s asymmetrical feat of steel and glass yields four enormous, light-filled galleries, not to mention a series of terraces and outdoor stairwells on which to take in views of the city and the Hudson river—making it a great place to bring littles who need the extra space to roam. Right now through the end of of October, Alexander Calder’s “Hypermobility” shows off the artist’s work as they were intended, in motion. A bonus: Musician Jim O’Rourke created an original composition inspired by the exhibition, which is available on Spotify and meant to be listened to as you walk through the space. On Saturdays and Sundays, the museum’s Open Studio welcomes kids of all ages to create their own artwork inspired by what’s currently on view. When you’re done, while away the rest of the afternoon at the High Line, which is a stone’s throw from the museum’s entrance. Photo: Courtesy Whitney Museum.

Chicago

  • Art Institute of Chicago

    Art Institute of Chicago

    111 S. Michigan Ave. | 312.443.3600

    Hands down one of the city’s oldest treasures, this epic gallery is also a gem for children–and free for those under fifteen. The Artist’s Studio in the Ryan Learning Center is open daily for kids (with an adult) to drop in and create an art project to take home, while artist Cauleen Smith offers a more intimate, interdisciplinary approach to learning with her summer open studio on Fridays and Saturdays. The Modern Wing–designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano–is worth taking littles to, if only to see the huge windows (this newer wing is also home to the Elizabeth Morse Touch Gallery that allows kids–and adults–to touch the sculptures). A Chicago CityPass will get you access in tandem with the Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Skydeck Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Photo: Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago.

  • Field Museum

    Field Museum

    1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. | 312.922.9410

    Your inner nerd will thank you for going here–and so will your kids. This entire museum was founded on curiosity and the pursuit of knowing the latest and greatest in the scientific world. You’ll find the largest found T-Rex and more than 30 million geological and biological specimens from across the globe. Don’t miss the Jurassic Park and Underground Adventure exhibits (the latter allows you to “shrink” to bug size and explore the soil, crickets, and spiders). The museum is huge and can be slightly overwhelming, so plan ahead for meals (the Field Café and Explorer Bistro are a touch underwhelming but solid options). Photo: Courtesy of The Field Museum.

  • Museum of Science and Industry

    Museum of Science and Industry

    5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. | 773 684-1414

    While the museum generally skews to an older audience, the Idea Factory alone makes this a worthy kid-friendly visit. Here, young “scientists” can engage in the whys and hows of physics and other theories, including testing floating objects, pressure, and light. It’s a good lesson in question-asking; it’s also an empowerment builder. For the weather-curious, the Science Storms exhibit explores tornados and other natural phenomena. Consider the Chicago CityPass, which gets you access in tandem with the Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, Skydeck Chicago, and The Art Institute. Photo: Courtesy of Museum of Science and Industry.

  • Chicago Botanic Garden

    Chicago Botanic Garden

    1000 Lake Cook Rd. | 847.835.5440

    This is one of our favorite public gardens for its seemingly endless natural habitats and display gardens, which include a bonsai collection and waterfall garden (a hit with kiddos). There’s plenty here for kids–including daily activities in the Regenstein Learning Campus through August 31, with special evening additions including a Dancin’ Sprouts, a live music dance-a-thon, and the Kite Festival. Be sure to check out the Butterflies & Blooms exhibit–and bring a blanket and snacks and stay for the free summer concerts through Labor Day.

  • Shedd Aquarium

    Shedd Aquarium

    1200 S Lake Shore Dr. | 312. 939.2438

    Part of the same Museum Campus that includes the Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum, Shedd is perched on the water’s edge just below Grant Park. Here, you can expect all the trappings of a world-class aquarium—sharks! dolphins! sea otters!—plus, stunning views of Lake Michigan and an ultra-friendly staff. Ticket lines can get unbearably long over the summer, so to avoid standing outside in the heat, it’s definitely best to buy online a day in advance to get priority entry. Photo: Shedd Aquarium.

  • Millennium Park

    Millennium Park

    201 E Randolph St. | 312.742.1168

    It’s hard to believe that Cloud Gate (aka “the bean”), has only been a presence in Chicago for little more than a decade: The massive, stainless steel sculpture is as wondrous in person as it is iconic. The Art Institute-adjacent park has a full calendar of summer events, but if none appeal, it’s worth a quick stop just so littles can circle the reflective structure and marvel at their changing reflections. If you decide to wander through the rest of the grounds, you’ll also stumble upon a Frank Gehry-designed amphitheater and five acre Lurie Garden.

  • Wendella Boat Tour

    Wendella Boat Tour

    400 N Michigan Ave. | 312. 337.1446

    Sometimes to appreciate a city’s beauty, you have to see it while on the water–and there’s no better city to do this than in Chicago. It adds a magical note when pointing out the astounding architecture to kids (they may not revel in the details, but they’ll love the combo of the tall buildings, sky, and water). Wendella has been a go-to in the tour business since the 1930s, and while the tours vary according to taste, we recommend the shorter Chicago River Experience (its 45-minute length is more suitable for kids, compared to the 90-minute architectural tour). Bring a jacket in case it gets chilly on the water–and try to arrive at least twenty minutes before your scheduled tour.

  • Maggie Daley Park

    Maggie Daley Park

    337 E. Randolph St. | 312.552.3000

    Aptly named after the former first lady of Chicago, who was an advocate for building a strong community and enhancing the lives of children, this park draws kids and their families from all surrounding areas. Located just east of Millennium Park, it includes a climbing wall, playground, tennis courts, and mini golf. While the food in the immediate vicinity is very basic, there’s ample restaurants nearby to grab lunch or dinner.

Los Angeles

  • Annenberg Community Beach House

    Annenberg Community Beach House

    415 Pacific Coast Hwy. | 310.458.4904

    Sitting on the site of what was once a giant mansion that Randolph Hearst built for actress Marion Davies in the 1920s, this is now a five-acre, completely public beach house, complete with the home’s original Olympic pool (the house was irreparably damaged by an earthquake, which led to its demolition). When it’s not pool season (Memorial Day through Labor Day), there’s still a lot to do, including a toes-in-sand café and beach volleyball for kids.

  • The Broad

    The Broad

    221 S Grand Ave. | 213.232.6200

    Although advanced tickets are fully booked for The Broad, it is so worth waiting in line to see. The museum houses Eli and Edythe (aka Edye) Broad’s collection of contemporary art, which is one of the largest and most significant worldwide–and most of which is appealing to littles. Even the outside of the building exudes a sense of mystery for them (and us, still). From Murakami’s anime-included work to Jeff Koons bright sculptures to Robert Therrien’s Under The Table exhibit—a huge hit with young kids, trust us—there is much to entertain and awe at this noteworthy space. Photo: Iwan Baan. Courtesy The Broad.

  • Books & Cookies

    Books & Cookies

    2309 Main St. | 310.452.1301

    One of those places you wish you had on the corner of your own block growing up, this Santa Monica children’s center has such a laid-back, cool vibe that it makes both kids and adults instantly feel at home. Owner Chudney Ross, a mom and children’s book author, puts everyone at ease with her welcoming demeanor. Go for the variety of activities, from daily story times to music classes to arts & crafts. The three rooms, including an Outdoor Learn and Play area, allow for ample space for kids to play and adults to hang (needed, as it gets busy). The team also hosts birthday parties. Photo: @booksandcookiesla

  • Aquarium of the Pacific

    Aquarium of the Pacific

    100 Aquarium Way | 562.590.3100

    Driving to Long Beach is somewhat of a time commitment, but it’s worth it for one of the best aquariums in the world. The viewing experience doesn’t just stop at (myriad) fish: There’s also a very friendly flock of lorikeets, along with sea birds, seals, and sea otters. Several permanent ‘Galleries’ alongside the temporary exhibitions show what life is like under the Californian waves; Kids will enjoy the chance to pet the rays and sharks, and budding veterinarians will be fascinated by the chance to watch real-life procedures on the resident animals in the new Molina Animal Care Center. While most of the day camps are sold out for the season, there are still a few spots open, as well as a Saturday Family Fun day.

  • Griffith Observatory

    Griffith Observatory

    800 E Observatory Rd. | 213.473.0800

    Griffith Park is one of those spots where you think you’ll only spend an hour, and you end up staying for the entire day. Complete with the Griffith Observatory (one of the most visually stunning landmarks in the city), which includes a planetarium (there’s a live show every 60-90 minutes), and interactive science and space exhibits, it draws a crowd from across the city. Not to mention, the park has some of the best hiking in LA (it sits on more than 3,000 acres, and offers 53 miles of trails). On weekends, it’s packed, so prepare to potentially have to park far away and walk up a (steep-ish) hill.

  • The Hollywood Bowl

    The Hollywood Bowl

    2301 N. Highland Ave. | 323.850.2000

    Perhaps we’re biased, but the Bowl is inarguably one of the best outdoor concert experiences in the country. During the second weekend in September, it’s hosting the one and only The Muppets. Kermit and Miss Piggy will be there–and the show will close with a fireworks finale, no doubt giving your kids a night that they’ll talk about for months.

  • Petersen Automotive Museum  

    Petersen Automotive Museum  

    6060 Wilshire Blvd. | 323.930.2277

    Though it’s an equal draw for car-obsessed adults, this museum—located immediately across the street from LACMA—has huge kid appeal. For one, in the third floor Discovery Center kids can climb aboard a California Highway Patrol Motorcycle, a Ford Model T, and a race car. They can also race Hot Wheels and pick up a few tidbits about what makes a car tick. One of the highlights is the Disney/Pixar Cars Mechanical Institute, one of the museums’s newer interactive exhibits.

  • Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

    Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

    900 W Exposition Blvd. | 213.763.3466

    Since the early 1900s, LA’s Natural History Museum has been playing host to millions of artifacts from the past five or so billion years—and the collection keeps growing. In 2011, it unveiled Dinosaur Hall, which is worth the trip alone to see the more than 300 fossils and 20 complete dinosaur skeletons. There’s so much to see, so plan to spend at least an afternoon there. Pack a lunch, or visit the museum grill for made-to-order sandwiches, and have a picnic in the expansive front lawn.

  • Skirball Cultural Center

    Skirball Cultural Center

    2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. | 310. 440.4500

    The Skirball Cultural Center, a Jewish cultural institution that offers everything from exhibits to readings to recitals, is also home to architect Moshe Safdie’s Arc, an incredible installation that occupies an 8,000-square-foot gallery. Kids can climb aboard the wooden ship and interact with the animals, crafted with everything from rope, to recycled newspaper, to keyboards, and vegetable steamers. During the summertime, we particularly love spending time in The Park, an interactive outdoor space inspired by the exhibition “Paul Simon: Words & Music.” Photo: Grant Mudford courtesy of The Skirball Center.

  • Zimmer Children's Museum

    Zimmer Children's Museum

    6505 Wilshire Blvd. | 323.761.8984

    This two-floor play-centric museum is an easy place to spend the afternoon with kids of all ages, including those who aren’t yet walking. There are tons of separate zones that all have a help-the-world/social responsibility bent, including a water-way, a mini-theater, a construction zone, and a music room. The museum has two main program initiatives–a children’s museum for littles under eight and youTHink, a creative youth development program for middle and high school students–making it a hit with everyone. Photo: Courtesy of Zimmer Children’s Museum.

  • Studio City Farmers' Market

    Studio City Farmers' Market

    2052 Ventura Pl. | 818.655.7744

    There’s good reason why many in LA have deemed this the most kid-friendly farmers’ market in the region: face painting and glitter tattoos are on offer next to the organic produce, along with sno-cones, fresh juices, and baked goods galore (The Good Cookies’ offers gluten-free and vegan options). And that’s just the food: The market is also home to a petting zoo, pony rides, bounce house, climbing wall, and a train that offers rides throughout the market.

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