With summer in full-swing, families across the country are packing up and shipping out. Yes, folks, it’s that time of year—family vacation. For many of us, this means one thing: the beach. But there are more options out there than holing up in a house for a week of nothing but sand and water. Before you dust off your floaties and load up the mini-van, I’d like to suggest some destination alternatives for fresh trip ideas and a more active vacation.
1. Oaks Amusement Park: Portland, Oregon
Hidden away in Southeast Portland, Oaks Amusement Park is one of the oldest continuously operated amusement parks in the United States. The park was first conceived as an attraction timed to accompany the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. Its rich history and dedication to tradition while embracing new attractions, is what makes the Park stand-out among other amusement parks.
Now operated as a non-profit, Oaks Park is home to just over two dozen rides, midway games and the Pacific Northeast’s largest skating rink. The wooden skating rink is accompanied by a Wurlitzer pipe organ moved from its previous home at Portland’s Broadway Theater. The pipework hangs over the skating floor on a mounted platform, much to the delight of skaters. Another unique feature is the Park’s beautiful picnic grounds on the Willamette River. If that wasn’t enough, the Park’s dance pavilion is a piece of history in itself and often hosts events for the whole family.
And when you’re not at the park, you can still enjoy this area of Portland. The river setting is quaint and relaxed, perfect for a summer vacation. So if you’re looking for a break from the generic, cookie-cutter, shopping-mall type amusement park, this is definitely the place for you!
2. Grand Canyon: Arizona
Mother Nature’s amusement park, the Grand Canyon was carved out by the Colorado River and is contained in Grand Canyon National Park. The Canyon is known for its visually overwhelming size and colorful landscape.
You certainly won’t be at a loss for entertainment at the Grand Canyon. The South Rim and Desert View are open year-round and the North Rim is opened for the summer. Kids can become Junior Rangers and learn about the nature, science and history of the Canyon with a park ranger, or hike the Rim Trail with their families. Real adventurers can even backpack overnight below the South Rim or go whitewater rafting on the Colorado River.
Other must-see spots include Hermit Road and Desert View Point where you can climb the stone Watchtower for an indescribable view. There are plenty of museums, visitor centers and programs to take advantage of to really learn about the history of the area. A summer trip to the Grand Canyon won’t soon be forgotten!
3. Smithsonian National Zoo: Washington, D.C.
The National Zoo, in the heart of Washington, D.C., is definitely a family favorite. The zoo houses over 2,000 animals from 400 different species in a variety of indoor and outdoor exhibits. The Zoo prides itself on being on the forefront of animal knowledge and research, thus the animals live in natural groupings rather than as individuals. As a part of the zoo’s dedication to conservation, rare and endangered species even breed and raise their own young.
Some highlights of the zoo include: the Asia Trail series of exhibits which is home to the famous giant pandas and six other Asian species, the Kid’s Farm exhibit where children have the chance to do some hands-on learning, and the multitude of daily programs and demonstrations on everything from elephant training to octopus feeding.
Admission to the 163-acre zoological park is free and open to the public year-round. And when you’re not visiting the zoo, there is plenty to see and do in the nation’s capitol; there will certainly be no shortage of entertainment when you take a trip to the Smithsonian National Zoo!
4. Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls, NY
North America’s most powerful waterfall is definitely a place you need to visit at least once in your lifetime. The waterfalls are situated on the Niagara River which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario and forms the border between Ontario, Canada and New York. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are on the American side and are renowned for their beauty.
You can view the waterfalls from land or from the deck of the famous boat, Maid of the Mist. On Goat Island, you can hike to Cave of the Winds beneath the Bridal Veil Falls and literally feel the spray from the falls. For aerial views, you can catch a helium balloon or helicopter ride. If you want to take it easy, there are a multitude of museums—featuring everything from science to wax figures—parks, art centers, theaters, an aquarium and even a casino.
Summer is the perfect time to visit Niagara Falls State Park in New York. In addition to the normal attractions, there are many free outdoor concerts, festivals and events to entertain the whole family. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed by a visit to Niagara Falls!
Bottom line, whether your summer travels take you to the beach or to a skating rink in Oregon, enjoy the special time with your family and wear your sunglasses!