Explore Boston, the largest city and state capital, as well a major port and hub of business, learning and culture. Intellectualism has thrived here for three centuries. With kids 8 and older, join a guided tour to walk the 4km Freedom Trail, passing 16 significant historic sites – museums, burial grounds, churches, parks and historic markers – for an overview of the American Revolution and beyond. The riverfront Boston Children’s Museum has been delighting kids 3–10 for more than 90 years with interactive exhibits, live performances and hands-on activities. The Franklin Park Zoo has the usual furry, fuzzy and feathered suspects, plus a farm, while the New England Aquarium is the place to say hello to four species of penguins, watch northern fur seals cavort in an open-air pavilion, and go on a museum-sponsored whale watch. The Museum of Science has dozens of exhibits, plus a 3-D digital cinema simulating a swim with whales, a 5-storey IMAX screen, the Hayden Planetarium and a simulator. Lastly, board a Boston Harbour Cruise and take to the water for a cruise, whale-watching trip or high-speed ferry ride to Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod (see below).
For more on what to do in Beantown (so-called because beans baked in molasses were a staple during colonial times), see BostonUSA (bostonusa.com) and HelloBoston (helloboston.com).
Head for Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth (best reached by car on your way to or from Cape Cod) to visit an authentic Wampanoag homesite, come aboard the Mayflower II, stroll through a re-creation of a 1627 English village and get a real feel for the challenges faced by the Pilgrims.
Disover Cape Cod southeast of Boston, linked to the mainland via two bridges. This landscape of gently rolling hills, woods and marshes is great for family holidays, offering biking, fishing and boating, beautiful ocean beaches, and singular clam shacks and seafood restaurants that draw summer visitors in droves (if possible, visit in late Aug–mid-Oct). Note that a ferry runs from downtown Boston to Provincetown if you want to avoid driving. Family highlights are the Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee, with hands-on experiences for ages 1–10, including a pirate ship, a submarine simulator and a clam shack, and the Cape Cod Rail Trail from Denis to Wellfleet (you can hire bikes from Brewster Rail Trail Bike & Kayak). May–Oct, observe whales and dolphins on a 4hr Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruise from Barnstable Harbor, with a naturalist spinning tales for kids 6 and up (tip: dress in layers, even in summer, and stock up on Bonine, a mild over-the-counter motion-sickness pill).
Head for Cape Cod’s beaches. The powdery sand and calm waters of the Cape’s south side on Nantucket Sound are especially kid-friendly, but the east side’s dunes, open water and heavy Atlantic surf are also a must-see. Come to the latter to hike the trails, stroll the beach, make sandcastles and take pictures. Turn off Route 6 between Eastham and Provincetown for the magnificent Cape Cod National Seashore with its numerous facilities. Alternatively, on your way to Provincetown (and preferably on a weekday), stop at the Province Lands Visitor Center for information, then explore the Beach Forest Trail and ooooh and aaaah over the panorama of dunes and ocean at Race Point before shopping and dining in quirky, colourful, gay-friendly Provincetown.
With kids six and up, take a ferry to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard with the Steamship Authority or Hyline Cruises, cruising on open water, lunching on an island and taking a bus or taxi tour, returning late afternoon. The water can be rough, so take a Bonine or homeopathic elixir an hour before departure.
For more on the family-friendly Cape, see Mass Vacation (massvacation.com) and Kids on the Cape (kidsonthecape.com).
Head for the Berkshires and western Massachusetts, but don’t expect the Alps or Rockies – these are mini-mountains. The area – picturesque, polished and civilised – offers opportunities for biking, hiking, boating, skiing in winter, and cultural enrichment. At Animagic, the Museum of Animation, Special Effects and Art, in Lee, kids can find out how special effects were created in such movies as ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’, then make their own animated movie in a 2hr workshop. The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield has ‘The Berkshire Backyard’ (samples of local plant- and animal life with related activities), aquariums and terrariums with local and exotic creatures, artifacts from ancient and Native American cultures, art from the Hudson River School, galleries of dinosaurs, archaeology, rocks and minerals, and some push-and-pull toys by Alexander Calder. Also in Pittsfield, families flock to Hancock Shaker Village (Apr–Oct) with its Discovery Room where kids can weave or spin on a loom, try on Shaker clothing, milk a life-size replica of a cow then roam the herb and veg gardens, pet farm animals, watch artisans creating crafts and furniture, chat with the interpreters and attend a class in the Shaker schoolhouse. (Hancock was one of 19 Shaker communities in the USA). On summer weekends and holidays, you might also take a ride on the Berkshire Scenic Railroad, and, in Pittsfield, ski Bousquet Mountain in winter or visit in summer for the waterslides, zipline, climbing wall and mini-golf.
If you fancy venturing further afield, the Dr Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden an hour east of the Berkshires in Springfield is worth a detour for fans of the prolific children’s author who, as Theodor Geisel, called Springfield home. Pay your respects to the Lorax, Grinch and other Seuss characters in the grounds of the Springfield Museums, an art, history and fine arts complex. Just 13km away at the Children’s Museum in Holyoke, kids up to 8 can mount a curvy climber, present a show in the TV studio or theatre, drive a paramedic’s vehicle or forklift, and explore a kid-size city street.