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15 Places Your Kids Should See Before 15
It took us hours of heated debate, weeks of research, and years of experience to whittle down America's monuments to a definitive list of 15 musts for anyone under 15. Not only are these attractions fun and (shhhh) educational, they're especially magical through the eyes of a child.
The National Mall (D.C.): Riding the streets of Washington, D.C., in a boat on wheels might sound cheesy, but cruising the Potomac River in one is pretty sweet. Set in a WWII-era amphibious vehicle, the 90-minute D.C. duck tour covers both land and sea. The first leg hits the history-packed National Mall—look for the 19-foot-tall Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol building, and the Smithsonian museums—and then switches to a scenic river trip. Highlight: The boat pauses at Gravelly Point, a park located just a few hundred feet from the runway at D.C.'s Reagan National Airport, so you can watch roaring planes take off and land. Browse our favorite budget hotels in Washington D.C. D.C. tuck tours cost $31.50 for adults, and $16.20 for kids 11 and under. trustedtours.com
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Colonial Williamsburg (Va.): Everyone in this living-history site likes to play dress-up, and visitors are no exception. At the Great Hopes Plantation—a re-creation of the town's original 1700s farm—a stash of old-timey accessories await, from tricorne (three-pointed) hats for boys and shifts and mop caps (bonnets) for girls. The costumes come in handy in the field, where kids can perform 18th-century household chores, such as picking bugs off potato crops, fetching water from the well, or hoeing the soil, that are likely to make clearing the dinner dishes seem like a breeze by comparison. Great Hopes Plantation can be accessed through regular admission tickets. Spring prices: adults, $37.95; kids 6–17, $18.95; 5 and under, free. history.org
Walt Disney World Resort (Fla.): Taking a family vacation to the world's largest, most popular theme park is a no-brainer, and just-opened exhibits give even more reasons to visit Mickey & Co. Our pick: the Wild Africa Trek, a private, three-hour safari featuring live Nile crocs, statuesque giraffes, and lazy hippos. Strap into a harness and you can even dangle 10 feet above the crocodiles' heads. (The attraction is open to kids 8 and up.) Mid-jungle trek, the safari car (imagine an open-air Jeep that allows for standing) will stop on the trail for a traditional African lunch. Wild Africa Treks begin at $189 per person, including lunch, but not including admission to Disney's Animal Kingdom. disneyworld.disney.go.com
Independence Hall (Penn.): Acquaint yourself with the spirits of America's founding fathers on Philadelphia's Ghost Tour, a 90-minute, candle-lit stroll that winds past landmarks like Independence Hall, where the Constitution was adopted; the Powel House, which hosted George and Martha Washington's 20th wedding anniversary celebration; and the 238-year-old City Tavern, John Adams's former watering hole. A cape-wearing, lantern-carrying guide points out "haunted" graveyards (St. Peter's Cemetery) and reports sightings of Benjamin Franklin, who's said to roam the city's streets. The best part: All the ghost stories are based on documented accounts, which makes them all the more spooky. Ghost Tour of Philadelphia, adults, $17; kids 4 and up, $8. ghosttour.com
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Alcatraz Island (Calif.): Shiv collections and cramped jail cells don't exactly sound kid-friendly, but they offer a glimpse into America's most notorious island prison—and the National Park Service is all for bringing younger ones for a visit. Hop a ferry from San Francisco's Pier 33 and stroll the damp, gray halls of the maximum-security pen, which housed criminals like Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly from 1934 to 1963. (You can even get behind bars in one of the cells, if you dare.) Don't miss the audio tour, which was updated in 2007 when former inmates and guards recorded their memories of doing time at "the Rock." If you're feeling brave, take the night tour, which lets you roam the prison after dark. Browse our favorite budget hotels in San Francisco. Alcatraz Cruises is the official carrier for tours to Alcatraz Island. Adults 12–61, $26; kids 5–11, $16, 4 and under, free.alcatrazcruises.com
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