AMERICAN WONDERS

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.

Ellis Island (N.Y.): Between 1892 and 1924, more than 17 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island; today, their descendants account for 40 percent of Americans. Go on a hunt for your ancestors at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, where for $5 you can search through millions of records to find the exact date your relatives sailed into the Port of New York, as well as which ship they were on and whether they traveled with other family members. (Bonus: copies of the documents are yours to keep.) And don't miss the construction of the Peopling of America Center, which cost $20 million to build and is slated to open in 2012. The new space focuses on U.S. immigration from 1955 (when Ellis Island closed) to the present, and houses interactive multimedia exhibits, like a touch screen that reflects demographic changes in American cities over time.  Browse our favorite budget hotels in New York CityEllis Island admission prices as of March 18: adults, $37.95; children, $18.95; children under 5, free. ellisisland.org

Yellowstone National Park (Wyo., Mont., and Idaho): Snag a Young Scientist Toolkit stocked with magnifying glasses, rock samples, and stopwatches to time geyser eruptions at the Old Faithful Visitor Center and hit the great outdoors for some investigating. The coolest toy: an infrared-thermometer gun that takes readings of thermal pools when pointed at the water. And there's lots of H20: The 3,472-square-mile park is home to more geothermal features (geysers, hot springs, mud spots) than any place on earth. The Young Scientist activity booklet and toolkit costs $5 (toolkit must be returned after use). Park entrance fee starts at $12. nps.gov

 

 

Fenway Park (Mass.): Even die-hard Yankees fans have to admit that visiting Major League Baseball's oldest stadium is an exercise in Americanism: Babe Ruth pitched there! Ted Williams hit a 502-foot home run! Fenway turns 100 next year, but its features are still intact. Check them out for yourself on a guided 50-minute tour, where hands-on exploration is encouraged: You can touch the Green Monster (the park's 37-foot-tall left-field wall), peek into the dugout, poke around inside the press box, and even walk across the baseball diamond, depending on how friendly the grounds crew is feeling that day. Browse our favorite budget hotels in Boston. Fenway Park tours, adults, $12; kids 3–15, $10; seniors, $11. mlb.mlb.com

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve (Idaho): The National Park Service calls this Idaho preserve "the only officially weird park" in the country. And for good reason: The jagged, black landscape—formed by volcanic eruptions up to 15,000 years ago—boasts a 618-square-mile lava field, the biggest in the U.S. (The rocky surface is so moonlike that Apollo 14 astronauts trained at the site in 1969.) The park's most awe-inspiring feature is its lava tubes, underground passageways created by hardened molten rock. Grab a flashlight and head to Indian Tunnel, which, at 30 feet high and 50 feet wide, allows for comfortable exploring. Craving an even more intense experience? Exit the cave at the far end, a feat that requires mounting a big rock pile and squeezing through a small opening. Park entrance fee is $8 per vehicle; bike or foot entrance starts at $4; age 14 below is free. nps.gov

San Diego Zoo (Calif): With more than 4,000 rare and endangered animals representing 800-plus species and subspecies, the San Diego Zoo is one of the most diverse in America. But its coolest attraction—literally—is the Polar Bear Plunge, which reopened last March after a $1 million makeover. Aside from permanent polar residents Kalluk, Chinook, and Tatqiq, new features include a snow den you can burrow into (the snug space mimics where female bears birth their cubs); a helicopter used on actual Arctic explorations that invites climbers into the cockpit; and the Experience Wall, where zookeepers open the glass panels surrounding the bears' habitat, letting them sniff at visitors through wire mesh. Ages 12 and up, $40; 3–11, $30. sandiegozoo.org

 

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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