A 55-foot-tall whirligig made of old machine parts spins and clangs in front of this Inner Harbor institution, which was decorated with a mirrored mosaic by Baltimore’s school kids. The AVAM showcases outsider art: pieces made by self-taught creators who craft such things as a toothpick-sculpture Lusitania, an art car covered in bent forks and spoons, and robots conjured from tubing and discarded fans. Don’t miss the collection of automata, housed in a former whiskey warehouse next to the main building. The mechanical sculptures spring into action at the touch of a button—your kids will get a kick out of the wooden man lapping up a bathtub full of spaghetti.
Immerse yourself in life circa 1776 in this meticulously recreated town. Costumed artisans hammer sheets of metal into bowls at the silversmith’s shop and hand-stitch leather harnesses at the saddlery. Join the parade when the fife-and-drum corps marches by, or learn all about the Revolutionary War through a series of street-theater plays. Now that’s old-school.
The park is only half the size of its younger sibling in Orlando, but it’s big on charm. The vintage 1950’s-era attractions, which manage to be both quaint and thrilling, include a roller coaster circling a miniature Matterhorn; Tom Sawyer Island, crisscrossed with trails and full of explorable caves; and a monorail that transports you straight to Tomorrowland.
At least 40 percent of Americans have ancestors who first entered the United States through Ellis Island. Today, ferry across from Manhattan or New Jersey to the national monument and its three-story museum, housed in one of the site’s original buildings. Hear dramatized accounts of passengers’ voyages, check out the life-size photos of early-20th-century immigrants, and marvel at the precious cargo that they lugged with them: samovars, teddy bears, musical instruments. Then look for your family’s name on the Wall of Honor, or search through digitized ship manifests to track individual passengers and dig your roots.
The 25-mile drive along the South Rim from Grand Canyon Village to Desert View is full of jaw-dropping vistas. Eleven miles into the ride, Grandview Point is the stop for sweeping panoramas of mesas and buttes. The canyon is at its widest at Lipan Point, so that’s the best place to see all the rose- and tawny-hued geological strata. Spend the night on the edge of the chasm at the 1935 Bright Angel Lodge (South Rim, 888/297-2757 or 303/297-2757, grandcanyonlodges.com, doubles from $166; usually books up a year in advance), and wake up early for the best view of all: sunrise.
Since 1935, the Art Deco landmark has been one of Los Angeles’s most beloved spots. The original 12-inch telescope, still in its lofty copper-topped dome, allows the public to peer at the moon and stars on any clear day or night. But a spectacular $93 million expansion, completed in 2006, has blasted the facility into the 21st century. The state-of-the-art planetarium show recreates the Big Bang, and the three sun telescopes present live views of such far-out phenomena as solar flares.
In addition to its leading scientific research, the aquarium, housed in a wonderfully renovated former sardine cannery, is known for its exhibits highlighting local aquatic habitats—hammerhead sharks, bluefin tunas, and sea turtles swirl around a 1 million-gallon tank. In the Splash Zone, kids can walk under a kelp canopy, handle sea stars and anemones, and dress up like a whale.
Twelve miles north of San Francisco, this protected forest contains some of the tallest—and oldest—living things in the world: 1,000-year-old redwood trees, soaring 260 feet into the sky. Keep an eye out for “goose pens,” hollows in the tree trunks where pioneers corraled their farm animals, and see how many of your own stock can fit comfortably inside.
The tour boat Maid of the Mist skirts Horseshoe Falls, where the water crashes down 13 stories. Climb to the upper deck and brave the spray (slicker provided). For prime nighttime views of the illuminated cascades, book a room at the Marriott Niagara Falls Fallsview Hotel & Spa (6740 Fallsview Blvd., Niagara Falls, Ontario; 888/501-8916; niagarafallsmarriott.com; doubles from $170), on the Canadian side. Keep your window curtains open, and there’ll be no fighting over the remote
From the observation deck on the 103rd floor of North America’s tallest building, yellow cabs on the street below look matchbox-size, and it’s possible to catch a glimpse of four different states. Print out the kids’ scavenger hunt before you visit (skydeck.com) for an on-the-spot introduction to Chicago’s landmarks. A kids’ exhibit about the city’s history wraps around the room, and has peek-through holes onto hidden scenes, including a White Sox catcher’s view from the plate.