Fun Is Always In Season At These Empire State Attractions
Between the Statue of Liberty and Niagara Falls, New York state offers an array of adventure, learning and cultural experiences. Curiosity and wonder are front and center at these five options that will inspire all ages.
1. Take Playtime to the Max
Rochester is home to The Strong National Museum of Play (One Manhattan Square, Rochester, NY). The 100,000 square-foot museum engages the generations in the joys and value of playtime. Here you'll find the world’s largest collection of toys, games, dolls and video games in the National Toy Hall of Fame and Video Game Hall of Fame. It’s 22 permanent and changing exhibits awakens curiosity in the young and takes grown-ups back to childhood. Shoot selfies with life-size Berenstain Bears at Reading Adventure Land. Walk through a giant kaleidoscope at the Field of Play. Be a superhero at the American Comic Book Heroes display. Among its fun features are the lab’s “gamma rays,” which give superhero wannabes an illusion of super strength. The museum is open daily. Young families can count on saving a bit of green with free admission for kids 2 and younger. Museum parking is also free, but is on a first-come, first-served basis, so the lot fills quickly. You may want to visit later in the day when the museum is less crowded.
2. Be a Treasure Hunter for a Day
Garnet Mine Tours (1144 Barton Mines Rd., North Creek, NY) offers rock hounds and treasure seekers access to a rich cache of ruby red garnets, New York State’s gemstone. The scenic drive up the Gore Mountain leads to the family-friendly operation. Drive or hike the half-mile from the shop to the old mine site where guides explain mine history and give treasure-hunting instructions. Small garnets are plentiful and simple to find, a plus for young rock hounds. Pay for finds by the pound, or purchase choice specimens from the gift shop. Gem-cutting demonstrations and a rock exhibit add an educational aspect to the experience. Pack a picnic before you go and make a day of it. The facility is open seven days throughout the summer. Kids 6 and younger enter free. Seniors receive special rates.
3. Talk to the Animals
It’s a squawking, howling world at the Buffalo Zoo (300 Parkside Ave., Buffalo, NY) where mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians reside in exhibit areas that replicate natural habitats. As the nation’s third-oldest zoo founded in 1875, it has the visitor experience down. Spanning more than 23 acres, the zoo is home to exotic and endangered creatures from around the world, as well as New York state native critters. Special events create animal-to-human connections. Families with children 6 and older can get a behind-the-scenes look at zookeeper life at the Wild Workshop, where hands-on experiences and live animal contacts provide insights into the the care and feeding of the zoo population. Zoo perks include discounted admission in January and February. Ask at the Zootique about stroller rentals. Also, in July and August, visitors can take advantage of the zoo shuttle from downtown hotels to focus solely on the fun ahead.
4. Plan an Artful Outing
An uplifting blend of art and nature creates an inspiring cultural experience at OMI International Arts Center’s Fields Sculpture Park at Ghent (1405 County Route 22, Ghent, NY). The outdoor art exhibit sits on 60 acres in the Hudson Valley, offering the opportunity to experience 80 large-scale works by internationally recognized artists. There’s plenty of space for youngsters to romp among the art while adults take in the contemporary and modern pieces. It’s a casual environment where bikes, pets and picnics are always welcome. During the winter months, the paths are groomed for cross-country skiing through the art. It’s all cost-free fun as there is never an admission fee to this year-round facility.
5. Explore Underground Wonders
Descend into the Earth’s belly at the 6 million-year-old Howe Caverns (255 Discovery Dr., Howes Cave, NY) where kids and adults discover geology is pretty cool. Year-round tours through limestone corridors and giant boulders lead 156 feet beneath the surface to an underground lake. The 90-minute Walking and Boat Tour takes you into the depths for a close-up look at the cave formations. The two-hour Lantern Tour offered on weekends provides an extended experience. For families with children 5 and older, the two-hour Flashlight Tour on Sundays adds a sense of intrigue to the adventure. Kids feel like true explorers wearing head lamps through the cave. The monthly Photo Tour gives photographers a bit of free reign to explore and capture the cave’s unique beauty. It’s a bit chilly underground, so bring a sweater or sweatshirt for touring. Above ground, kid-friendly activities include sluicing for gems, fossils, arrowheads and minerals. Buy a geode and have it cracked open to reveal its hidden treasure. The Outdoor Park offers physical challenges for those 5 and older with a zip line, ropes course and climbing wall. Try the homemade fudge from the Sweet Shop to top off the day.
Sally Barber is a 20-year veteran of the publishing industry. A specialist in business, travel, sustainable tourism and the environment, she has written for Virgin Atlantic Airways, the "Detroit Free Press," "Great Lakes Seaway Review" and various websites. Barber is also the author of three books.