Spoil the Kids a Little

Anna Knott

Girls dine with their dolls at the American Girl Cafe in Chicago

The look on a child's face when he or she gets to do something special, well, it's magical

We pity parents. (Except the ones who don't train their kids to stop kicking the back of our seats. Those parents we have words for.) Because parents know they shouldn't spoil their kids--that's the grandparents' job--but how can they not every now and then? You bring these little people into the world and all you want to do is make them happy every single minute, but if you do the kids turn rancid.

And yet: The look on a child's face when he or she gets to do something special, well, it's magical. As they get older, especially in the dreaded adolescence, it's to be savored.

Chicago: Brunch at American Girl Cafe--dolls and adults welcome, too. American Girl Place, 877/247-5223, americangirlplace.com, $18.

Las Vegas: Ride shotgun in a real stock car driven by a professional instructor. Ages 14 and up. Richard Petty Driving Experience, 800/237-3889, 1800bepetty.com, $99.

Los Angeles: Appear on the cover of a Marvel comic book (alongside Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk) at the California Science Center. California Science Center, 323/724-3623, californiasciencecenter.org, $9.75, kids $7.75, photo $10, through Labor Day.

Monterey: Surface scuba dive in Monterey Bay's great tide pool for an up close look at sea stars and monkeyface eels. Monterey Bay Aquarium, 866/963-9646, mbayaq.org, $79.

New York City: Have tea with crumpets at the Madeline Tea in Bemelmans' Bar, named for Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline books (he painted the bar's murals). The Carlyle, 212/744-1600, thecarlyle.com, $31, kids $24, Friday--Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

Philadelphia: Camp overnight at the Franklin Institute with live science demonstrations and arts and crafts projects; snacks and breakfast included. 215/448-1114, fi.edu, $41.

Portland: Sleep over at the Oregon Zoo (on a Saturday night around Valentine's Day) without parents. Dinner, snack, and breakfast are included; sleeping bag required. 503/226-1561, oregonzoo.org, $45.

Tampa: Scuba dive with 1,700 animals native to Florida and the Caribbean. Ages 6 and up. Florida Aquarium, 813/273-4000, flaquarium.org, $75.

Washington, D.C.: Go on a scavenger hunt at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Ages 7 and up. Watson Adventures, 877/946-4868, watsonadventures.com, $10.

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