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Kids can meet wildlife up close at the Meigs Point Nature Center, in Hammonasset Beach State Park. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Fun, last-minute activities and destinations
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Parents know that sinking feeling when they realize their children are about to spend another uneventful day hanging around the house. There's no excuse. Dozens of fun, interesting, and child-friendly destinations are within a short drive of most towns on the shoreline.
First a couple of general ideas: Instead of your usual beach or pool, go to the nearest state beach. Or go for a hike or a picnic in a state park. (For information on state beaches and parks, visit www.ct.gov/deep.)
College campuses are usually interesting and pretty, and they often offer free tours. If it's a rainy day, instead of going to your local library, visit the library in a nearby town. (Your local card should work there.)
The following list, based on recommendations by shoreline parents, contains plenty of familiar names and is by no means exhaustive, but it probably has something for everyone. Some destinations are open only seasonally or sporadically, so check ahead.
And if we've left out any of your kids' favorites, please let us know in the comments below.
Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum, Cheshire: More than 80,000 toys, games, and other collectibles, dating back to 1873. Highlights include a life-size statue of the Hulk, an original 1933 Mickey Mouse watch, and dozens of vintage lunchboxes. For more information, visit www.barkermuseum.com.
City Climb, New Haven: First-time rock climbers can learn the ropes at this indoor facility. Call 203-891-7627 to book a session. For more information, visit www.cityclimbgym.com.
Clay Date, New Haven: Kids can paint existing ceramics or sculpt their own. For more information, visit theclaydate.com.
Connecticut Science Center, Hartford: More than 165 hands-on exhibits, including a section for kids 7 and under. For more information, visit ctsciencecenter.org.
Connecticut Sportsplex, North Branford: Laser tag, an arcade, a giant playscape, and, for bigger kids, Cyber Sport, which is sort of like lacrosse on bumper cars. For more information, call 203-484-4383.
Flight, New Britain: An indoor trampoline park with 13,000 square feet of jumping surfaces. There's a special section for preschoolers. For more information, visit flighttrampolinepark.com.
Galaxy Roller Rink, Groton: Old-school roller skating, with kid-friendly pop music in the daytime. For more information, visit www.galaxyrollerrink.com.
Henry Whitfield State Museum, Guilford: Take a self-guided tour through Connecticut's oldest house, built in 1639. The three floors are filled with 17th-to-19th-century furnishings and artifacts. For more information, visit www.visitguilfordct.com.
IT Adventure Indoor Ropes Course, New Haven: Located at Jordan's Furniture, this claims to be the largest indoor ropes course in the world. It also has zip lines and a water-and-light show. For more information, visit www.jordans.com/attractions/it.
Mashantucket Pequot Museum, Mashantucket: Dioramas, photographs, artifacts, and maps tell the story of this Native American people, from the Ice Age to today. For more information, visit www.pequotmuseum.org.
Meigs Point Nature Center, Madison: Located in Hammonasset Beach State Park, the new building houses an assortment of exhibits on Connecticut's ecology, as well as native and nonnative creatures, some of which can be met up close in the touch tank. For more information, visit www.meigspointnaturecenter.org.
Monster Mini Golf, Orange: Families can play the glow-in-the-dark monster-themed miniature golf course and then battle in a game or two of laser tag. For more information, visit www.monsterminigolf.com/orange.
Naskart, Montville: America's largest indoor go-kart track, this brand-new facility also features a trampoline park. For more information, visit www.naskartracing.com.
New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain: Featuring works by many of the greatest American artists, ranging from Colonial times to today. For more information, visit www.nbmaa.org.
Northford Ice Pavilion, Northford: Check for free skating times, available all year, or sign kids up for lessons. For more information, visit northfordice.com.
On Track Karting, Wallingford: The site boasts of having one of the longest and fastest indoor tracks in the country. For more information, visit www.ontrackkarting.com.
PEZ Visitor Center, Orange: See the world's largest collection of PEZ memorabilia and largest PEZ dispenser, learn the history of the iconic candy and dispensers, and view the production floor where they're made. For more information, visit us.pez.com/visit_us.
Sky Zone, Wallingford: A trampoline park, with toddler hours and glow-in-the-dark nights. For more information, visit skyzone.com/wallingford.
Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton: Tour the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear submarine and the first vessel to cross from one ocean to another via the North Pole. Exhibits tell the story of America's submarine fleets going back to the Revolutionary War. For more information, visit www.ussnautilus.org.
Yale Center for British Art, New Haven: This might be a tough sell, but since admission is free, you and the kids can always bail early and go out for pizza. For more information, visit britishart.yale.edu.
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven: Dinosaur bones. Nuff said? For more information, visit peabody.yale.edu.
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven: One of the great university art collections includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, and artifacts from around the world and from ancient times to the present. Free admission. For more information, visit artgallery.yale.edu.
Bishop's Orchards, Guilford: Pick your own fruit, including strawberries, peaches, and apples, from June to October. The Farm Market sells baked goods, seasonal favorites, and general groceries year round. For more information, visit bishopsorchards.com.
Dinosaur Place, Montville: More than 40 life-size replicas of dinosaurs line a 1.5-mile trail. Other attractions include a playscape and a splash pad. For more information, visit naturesartvillage.com/the-dinosaur-place.
Indian River Marina, Clinton: Rents kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards from May to October. For more information, visit www.indrivmar.com.
Kleins' Golf Range, Madison: A driving range, a chipping range, and a putting green. Lessons available. For more information, visit www.kleinsgolfrange.com.
Lyman Orchards, Middlefield: Pick your own fruit from June to October. The Apple Barrel market offers produce, baked goods, and other treats. On an unrelated note, the property has three golf courses, along with a driving range, a chipping range, and a putting green. For more information, visit lymanorchards.com.
Mini-Golf at Saybrook Point, Old Saybrook: Putt away while enjoying the sea views and breezes. For more information, visit www.oldsaybrookrec.com.
Shoreline Greenway Trail, East Haven, Branford, and Madison: Unlike state-park hiking trails, most of the completed sections of the Greenway are stroller-friendly. For more information, visit shorelinegreenwaytrail.org.
Thimble Island Tours, Stony Creek, Branford: Tour the historic and scenic islands on one of three different boats: the Islander (www.thimbleislander.net), the Sea Mist (thimbleislandcruise.com), or the Volsunga IV (thimbleislands.com).
INDOORS AND OUTDOORS
Connecticut River Museum, Essex: Families can combine a visit to the museum's exhibits about the cultural and natural heritage of the Connecticut River with an eagle-watch boat tour or a sailboat cruise. The museum also rents canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. For more information, visit www.ctrivermuseum.org.
Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill: One of the largest dinosaur-track sites in North America can be seen under the park's geodesic dome. Outdoors are two miles of nature trails and an arboretum featuring plant species that appeared in the Age of Dinosaurs. For more information, visit www.dinosaurstatepark.org.
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, Essex: For beautiful views of the Connecticut River and its valley, ride behind a steam locomotive in a vintage coach from Essex's 1892 train station to Deep River Landing, where passengers can board the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a cruise on the river. For more information, visit essexsteamtrain.com.
Gillette Castle State Park, East Haddam: Visit the eccentric 1919 stone mansion designed by the actor William Gillette, then stroll the scenic woodlands surrounding it. In season, you can get there via the Chester-Hadlyme car ferry. For more information, visit www.ct.gov/deep.
Mystic Aquarium, Mystic: Sea lions, rainforest creatures, an enormous fish tank, and those amazing beluga whales. For more information, visit www.mysticaquarium.org.
Mystic Seaport, Mystic: A re-created 19th-century seaport full of antique buildings and exhibits about America's maritime heritage. Visitors can board and explore the Charles W. Morgan, an 1841 whaling ship. For more information, visit www.mysticseaport.org
Shore Line Trolley Museum, East Haven: The museum, which has a collection of nearly 100 vintage transit vehicles, tells the history of America's vanishing street-level urban rail systems. The highlight is a trolley ride down the scenic tracks of the old Branford Railway, ending at a grove where you can stop and picnic. For more information, visit shorelinetrolley.org.
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