An easy, year-round family escape.
Burlington Family Fun
Credit: Courtesy of Local Motion

This fun university town has a gorgeous setting on Lake Champlain. It’s also home to lots of family-oriented activities such as a science museum, an aquarium, swimming—and within striking distance of the original Ben & Jerry’s. For grown-ups, there’s a vibrant downtown, with a small but solid array of restaurants and boutiques.

Hilton Burlington

The Hilton Burlington, which contains 258 guest rooms, suites, and executive rooms decorated in autumnal reds, oranges, and yellows, has a boxy, modern design that's more utilitarian than it is flashy. Here, location is the key, as the hotel is perched on a hill overlooking Waterfront Park and the nation’s sixth largest lake, Champlain. The 24-hour fitness center on the mezzanine level features a heated indoor pool and Jacuzzi alongside floor-to-ceiling windows that offer sweeping views—especially impressive at sunset—of the lake and the Green Mountains. An additional perk: the property's proximity (three blocks) to the pedestrian-friendly Church Street Marketplace, the city's foremost dining, entertainment, and shopping destination.

Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shop

As one of Vermont’s most-loved businesses, it’s fitting that Ben and Jerry’s flagship Scoop Shop resides in the heart of the Burlington’s commercial and entertainment district. By day, the Church Street Market place floods with tourists, locals, and children who form a steady stream into the circus-like shop for cones, sundaes, and shakes made using the company's colorfully-named flavors, such as Cherry Garcia, Chubby Hubby, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Seating is generally available at the many booths and tables, except for weekend afternoons in the summer, when the place stays packed.

Al's French Frys

Though located outside of Burlington’s historic center, Al’s French Frys remains an institution and veritable rite of passage for locals. Established just after World War II, Al Rusterholz’s open-front snack bar quickly caught on and attracted enough customers to expand the business several times while staying true to its original design elements: shiny metal, black-and-white checkerboard, and diner kitsch. A good bit of the place's charm exudes from the staff, which effortlessly manages a seemingly chaotic mass of orders of cheeseburgers, chilidogs, pepper steaks, and of course, fries (available by the cup, pint, or quart). In summer, the ice cream stand out back becomes hotspot for revelers.

Penny Cluse Café

Taking over Ben and Jerry’s old downtown scoop shop in 1998, Charles Reeves and Holly Cluse opened a brunch café that serves gourmet versions of omelets, huevos rancheros, and gingerbread pancakes to an eclectic crowd that ranges from students to professionals, even tourists. Sandwiches and hot lunch plates are available until 3 p.m., and there are plenty of vegetarian options, including the tofu scramble, which is available in pesto, peanut-ginger or salsa ranchero sauce. The bright, southwestern-style dining area is perpetually buzzing, especially on weekends when there is almost always a line out the door.

ECHO at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain

As part of the revitalization of Burlington’s waterfront, the city opened the ECHO Center in 2003 to celebrate, preserve, and promote Lake Champlain. Across two glass-walled floors, there are dozens of exhibits on biodiversity, history, and culture, including a frog world, indigenous peoples display, and a 7,000-gallon fish tank. The fluid layout and bright colors are especially attractive to children, as are animal demonstrations by staff, the petting zoo, and the play area. Upstairs, children can utilize green screen technology as weather reporters, edit the recording, and burn it to DVD.

Local Motion

The Rails-to-Trails movement of the 1990s opened miles of bike paths along the shores of Lake Champlain (and sometimes on it) and inspired the non-profit advocacy group Local Motion to promote community health via “people-powered” transportation. At its lakeside headquarters, rentals of adult, child, and tandem bikes are available at hourly and daily rates, and there are 10 large storage lockers for gear. Members receive discounts at gear shops in town and invitations to special events.

Perkins Geology Museum

A lesser-known attraction in the area, the Perkins Geology Museum is located on the campus of the University of Vermont. While school is in session, it welcomes students, scholars, and any interested public into its 38 exhibits of rocks, minerals, and fossils, including a prehistoric beluga whale skeleton unearthed from shores the Lake Champlain in 1849. Popular with school groups, the museum arranges guided tours on a limited basis and maintains a collection of worksheets and handouts. Admission is free, but reservations up to a week ahead of time are required.