If you sometimes want to send your kids "to the moon," you kind of can at the space center in Huntsville, where "everyone can be an astronaut for the day." Filled with artifacts, interactive exhibitions, and activities such as space camp, it's destined to be an out-of-this-world visit. Admission: $25; $17 for kids 5 to 12; free for kids 4 and under.
Give young birders a thrilling — and educational — experience with a visit to the raptor center in Sitka. The site is dedicated to providing medical treatment to injured bald eagles and other birds, including hawks, falcons, and owls, and promoting environmental conservation. Admission: $13; $6 for kids 6 to 12; free for kids 5 and under.
If you don't think you can cover a lot of ground on a family vacation, think again. You can take a 14,000-year journey at the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville by way of ancient artifacts of early man, an Ice Age wooly mammoth, and more. Plan a visit to coincide with events such as story time, live music, and more. Free admission.
Treat your kids to a little Surfin' USA by enrolling them in the one-day Summer Surf Camp offered by the San Diego Surf School. Select a morning, afternoon, or all-day session (from $115) and watch them learn the basics. Adult lessons are also available if you want to join the fun.
Daring kids will delight in Great Sand Dunes National Park in Mosca, where favorite Rocky Mountain activities include sand boarding and sand sledding (along with rafting on Medano Creek, hiking, and a junior ranger program). Camping and lodging are also available. Entry fee: $20 per vehicle.
Add a bit of culture to your summer getaway by traveling the Connecticut Art Trail. The Art Passport provides access to 21 museums and historic sites around the state for $25. Kids can learn about bees (through Nov. 11) at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich; be introduced to American Impressionism at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme; and walk 80 acres of nature trails at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center.
Take kids with a need for speed to the Dover International Speedway, a family-friendly introduction to traditional motor racing complete with an 8-acre FanZone containing the Monster Mile Youth Nation, with activities designed for NASCAR fans 12 and under. Prices vary, but select free-admission junior tickets and designated seating are available.
Swimming with dolphins is so yesterday. Visit Bird's Underwater Dive Center in Crystal River and your kids can swim and snorkel with manatees (from $59.95). Part of the Manatee Eco Tourism Association, this veteran company offers three-hour tours that take you to the manatees in their natural environment.
Get out and stretch your legs — and more — by pulling over to Rock City and its gardens on Lookout Mountain, just a quick hop from Chattanooga, Tennessee. This Georgia lookout is a classic, featuring massive ancient rock formations and a famed "See Seven States" panoramic view, along with attractions including Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village. Admission: $19.95; $11.95 for kids 3 to 12.
As if a trip to Hawaii isn't exotic enough, children can explore the strong relationship between Hawaiians and their marine surroundings at the Maui Ocean Center in Wailuku. Expect to see sharks, stingrays, turtles, and tropical fish, with demonstrations throughout the day. Admission: $29.95; $19.95 for kids 3 to 12.
Get close to wild animals (but not too close) at Yellowstone Bear World in Rexburg, near Yellowstone National Park. Drive-thru tours offer glimpses of Rocky Mountain elk, American bison, and black and grizzly bears. Don't forget to help bottle-feed the bear cubs (supervised, of course). Admission: $19.95; $10.95 for kids 3 to 10; free for kids 2 and under.
Give your kids a bird's eye view of Chicago — vertigo be damned — with a trip to the top of Willis Tower. The Skydeck is not for the faint of heart, but prep the young and brave with the Kids Club interactive elements. Will they dare to stand on The Edge? Admission: $24; $16 for kids 3 to 11; free for kids 2 and under.
Where can you explore dinosaurs, blown glass, science, foreign lands, live theater, and a carousel — for starters? Indy's Children's Museum bills itself as the largest children's museum in the world. Tickets also include the Riley Children's Health Sports Legend Experience. Admission: $29.75; $24 for kids 2 to 17.
For an outdoor experience with a touch of culture, visit the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines, where oversize artwork by some 22 artists from around the world is featured on 4-plus acres under the auspices of the Des Moines Art Center. Kids will no doubt delight in quirky faces and spider-like installations that just may spark an interest in fine art. Free admission.
Kids can get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the area's ties to aviation at Exploration Place in Wichita. Its new Design Build Fly gallery offers more than 5,000 square feet of exhibits and hands-on activities, from designing an airplane seat to climbing into an executive jet. Other attractions include this summer's Planet Shark exhibit, the permanent Big Mouth exhibit on oral health, and an adjacent digital dome theater. Admission: $10.50; $7 for kids 3 to 11; free for kids 2 and under.
Giddy up! The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is dedicated to celebrating the history of man's relationship with the horse. The equine destination, marking its 40th anniversary, includes statues, a Hall of Champions, a Parade of Breeds Show — and a dedicated Kids Barn. Admission: $20; $10 for kids 6 and up; free for kids 5 and under.
Are your kids fascinated by bugs? Then head to the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium of the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, North America's largest museum devoted to insects and their relatives. Features simulate walking through a swamp and shrinking yourself down to a bug's size. Admission: $22.95; $17.95 for kids 2 to 12.
At the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum in Portland, the family can take a leisurely ride along the Eastern Promenade of Casco Bay, while hearing historic information about the trip and the area's railroad history. Train tickets include adjacent museum admission ($10; $6 for kids 3 to 12; free for kids 2 and under).
Get a spectacular view of the nation's capital across the Potomac River when you and the kids pile into the gondolas of the Capital Wheel at National Harbor. You'll soar 180 feet high, then come back down to a waterfront destination filled with a farmers market, shopping, and more. Tickets: $15; $11.25 for kids 12 and under.
Can't decide between land and sea? You don't have to with the Cape Cod Duckmobiles in Hyannis. The tourist attraction employs authentic military amphibious vehicles that tour downtown Hyannis (with historic commentary), then proceed to view a Cape Cod lighthouse, beaches, and waterfront properties. Tickets: $19; $15 for children, seniors, and students; $5 for kids 5 and under.
If your kids can't wait to get behind the wheel, give them a spin through automotive history — including racing cars, muscle cars, and more — at the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners. Special events, exhibitions, and an adjacent Midwest Miniatures Museum put you on the road to a memorable family trip. Admission: $15; $10 for kids 7 to 17; free for kids 6 and under.
Spend a day down on the farm with a visit to the Eidem Homestead in Brooklyn Park. The nearly 20 acres include a house, a barn, and outbuildings. This turn-of-the-20th-century living history experience takes visitors back in time with period tools and techniques and costumed interpreters. Fees vary by program.
Experience a Southern delicacy's route to the table with the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, which traces its history back to the 1950s. The 70-minute sail combines history and heritage with the ins and outs of how the Mississippi Gulf Coast favorite is caught. Rates: $16; $11 for kids 4 to 11; free for kids 3 and under.
The full-on ranch experience can be pricey — and many resorts require booking a full week. The Bar W in Whitefish offers shorter stays, while still taking advantage of trail rides, wagon rides, lessons, Junior Cowpoke activities, and family-style home-cooked meals. Prices vary, with three-night, two-day packages around $1,200 per adult and $725 to $990 per child.
At the Explorit Center in Aurora, it's a good bet the kids won't even realize that the 35-plus hands-on science-based activities are not only fun but also educational. This decidedly family-oriented destination is all about bubbles, music, glow sticks — anything that offers a "teachable moment" and advances STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education. Admission: $8.25 (2 and older).
If your kids are all about video games, show them some gaming the old-school way at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. It's a nonprofit museum where nonviolent games from the 1950s through the '90s are celebrated — and can still be played. Free admission (but bring quarters for the games).
Awesome natural attractions were the stuff of family vacations of old. Bring back that spirit with a trek through Flume Gorge in Lincoln. This natural gorge extends 800 feet across, with guests invited to walk through the gorge or take a 2-mile loop (with plenty of stairs). Admission: $16; $14 for kids 6 to 12; free for kids 5 and under.
Forget Snooki and company. Jenkinson's Beach in Point Pleasant Beach is a decidedly family-oriented Jersey Shore destination with a scenic beach and well-maintained boardwalk that includes an aquarium, children's rides, games, arcades, and a robust schedule of free activities in season. Prices vary, with daily beach rates ($9 or $10 for adults; $3 for kids 5 to 11; free for kids under 5) and aquarium admission ($14 for adults; $8 for kids).
After a visit to Taos Pueblo — the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark — kids will never look at their own houses the same way. Explore the land of adobe treasures and cultivate an appreciation for the country's oldest residents. Admission: $16; $14 for students; free for kids 10 and under.
The truly daring can cross the Mile High Swinging Bridge at Grandfather Mountain in Linville, America's highest suspension footbridge, at 1 mile in elevation. It's 288 feet crossing an 80-foot chasm. Do not look down. Admission: $20; $9 for kids 4 to 12; free for kids under 4.
Air travel isn't unusual for kids these days — but do they know its history? Take a trip back in transportation time at the Fargo Air Museum, which has two hangars filled with historic aircraft. The museum also offers special events. Admission: $8; $5 for kids 5 to 11; free for kids under 5.
Who says parents don't rock? Up your cool factor and share your music with the kids at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, a multimedia extravaganza with surprisingly affordable admission: $26; $16 for youth; free for kids 5 and under (book online for discounts).
Want your kids to meet a pink flamingo? Then head to the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, where nearly 120 acres include nearly 2,000 animals, extensive botanical gardens, family programming, and rides on an 1863 replica train ($3) or an endangered species carousel ($3). Admission: $11; $8 for kids 3 to 11.
Amusement parks are a childhood staple. Up the ante by taking the kids to Enchanted Forest in Turner, which really runs with its theme. There's Storybook Lane, Tofteville Western Town, Old European Village, Fantasy Fountains, traditional rides, entertainment, and more. Admission: $12.95; $11.50 for kids 3 to 12; free for kids 2 and under; $1 each for ride tickets.
Head to Camelback Mountain Adventures, part of a mega-recreation empire in Tannersville, to experience the 1,000-foot Double Barrel Zip Line. It's a chance to "race" against your kids and get everyone's heart racing. Tickets: $15 per person (single flight; additional package deals available).
Give kids a subtle lesson on conservation with a trip to the Norman Bird Sanctuary, a wildlife sanctuary and environmental education center in Middletown, the largest preserved open space in Newport County. The refuge offers some 325 acres of diverse habitats and 7 miles of trails. Bring the binoculars. Admission: $7 for adults; $3 for students and kids 3 to 18; free for kids under 3.
Book a tour on South Carolina's largest pirate ship, and your kids will be "talking pirate" for days. Blackbeard's Pirate Cruise, out of North Myrtle Beach, gives kids a free pirate mustache, pirate tattoos, treasure, and a map — plus the experience of a water cannon battle and interactive sword fight. Beware, mateys. Rate: $25 for ages 3 and up.
A walk through the surreal landscape of Badlands National Park in Interior has been likened to walking on the moon. Explore the great outdoors — and a quintessential American landscape — with a trek through this national park where you can camp, hike, stop at scenic overlooks, spot bison, and participate in plenty of junior ranger activities. Entry fee: $20 per vehicle.
A day at the water park is a crowd-pleaser. Hit Nashville Shores Lakeside Resort's Waterpark to frolic in 1 million gallons of water, including an oversize wave pool, water slides, a beach, a water treehouse, and a playground. The not-so-adventurous can float away on the lazy river. Admission: $37-$40; $29 for kids shorter than 48 inches; free for kids 2 and under.
Pedal into some family memories with a trek through the historic Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus courtesy of Bicycle Junction. The family-friendly company offers bicycle rentals, with shuttle service available depending on route chosen. Prices vary (for example, around $110 for two adults and two kids for a half-day tour).
Explore the art of Dale Chihuly — and dazzle the kids with colors and creativity plus gallery tours and talks, glass-blowing demos, and more — at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle. Admission: $26; $17 for kids ages 5 to 12; free for kids 4 and under. (There are also package tickets combined with the Space Needle.)
Explore the upper Mississippi River on a paddlewheel cruise aboard the La Crosse Queen, departing from La Crosse for 90 minutes of narrated sightseeing. You may even see an eagle (or decide to book the pizza cruise). Admission: $16.50; $8.25 for kids 11 and under; free for infants.