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Back-to-school season is here, but there’s plenty of summer fun still to be had! In between your searches for a new backpack, pencils, and glue sticks, plan one last family adventure before the kids head back into the classroom. Let imaginations run wild at museums with hands-on exhibits, take a journey under the sea at aquariums, get your adrenaline pumping at thrilling amusement parks, and lots more throughout New York State!
Make animal friends at the zoo
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Take your little animal lovers on a journey they’ll always treasure at zoos across the state. Pay a visit to penguins, cheetahs, sloths, and more than 6,000 species of animals at the Bronx Zoo. Be sure to check the website for adorable seasonal exhibits like Budgie Landing (May-October) where you can get up-close-and-personal with vibrantly-colored birds. Say hi to more than 700 animals that call the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse home including miracle baby twin elephants, Yaad and Tukada, the only pair to be born in the US and the fourth in the world! Admire all kinds of wildlife from mammals and birds to reptiles and invertebrates at the Buffalo Zoo. Discover what happens after the sun goes down and the animals go to bed at the Zoomagination Lights and Lanterns Festival (Wednesday-Sunday until August 20) and watch the zoo transform into a larger-than-life light display. Get to know your animal neighbors at the only zoo dedicated to New York native species like bobcats, mountain lions, otters, bald eagles, gray wolves, and more at Zoo New York in Watertown.
Learn and play at museums
Photo courtesy of The Strong National Museum of Play
Let imaginations and curiosity run wild at museums designed with kids in mind. Explore & More Children’s Museum in Buffalo is packed with four floors of fun and hands-on exhibits like Car Wash, Farm to Fork, Moving Water, and more, all made for children to learn through play. In Manhattan, uncover the secrets of our world at the American Museum of Natural History with newly-opened exhibits at Gilder Center like the Butterfly Vivarium with over 1,000 magical butterflies. Play the day away in Rochester at the Strong National Museum of Play. It’s one of the only museums completely dedicated to the history and exploration of play and houses the National Toy Hall of Fame, World Video Game Hall of Fame, and a new 90,000-square-foot expansion called the Neighborhood of Play. Spend time exploring 54,000-square-feet of exhibits about the Adirondacks and then experience it for yourself from a giant eagle’s nest, a four-story treehouse, or human-sized spider’s web at the Wild Center and Wild Walk in Tupper Lake. For little (and grown-up) baseball enthusiasts, the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown provides the ultimate fan experience featuring exhibits about pioneers like Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Babe Ruth. If you’re looking to get one last laugh out of summer, pay a visit to the National Comedy Center in Jamestown where you’ll find more than 50 hilarious exhibits.
Stroll through fairs and festivals
There’s nothing quite like spending a summer day with the family at a fair or festival. For an unforgettable end to vacation, plan a day (or more) at the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse (August 23-September 4). Each year, it’s packed with midway rides, world-class musicians, classic fair food, and enough fun that the kids will be talking about it for years to come. County Fairs are one of the greatest highlights of a New York summer, and the Erie County (Aug. 9-20) and Dutchess County (Aug. 22-27) fairs are some of the largest in the state, jam-packed with hours of fun with midway rides, petting zoos, craft tents, demolition derbies, fried Oreos (of course), and even live performances from artists like Nelly. Travel back to 1585 at the Sterling Renaissance Festival (weekends until August 13) for more than 100 daily live shows, jousting demonstrations, family games, fine arts and crafts, and so much more.
Fly through aerial adventure parks
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End summer with high-flying family fun on ziplines, ropes courses, leaps of faiths, and more at aerial adventure parks statewide. Soar alongside the Atlantic on a 700-foot zipline, maneuver through 100 aerial adventure games, face your fears on a leap of faith with a 40-foot drop at Long Island’s WildPlay Jones Beach. There’s something for everyone at Adirondack Extreme in Bolton Landing with a variety of packages of ranging difficulty that include 12 ziplines, 130 obstacles, a leap of faith, and a ropes course for kids 6 and up. Don’t let the rain ruin your summer fun and climb through on one of the world’s tallest indoor ropes courses, Palisades Climb Adventure Course in West Nyack. There’s over 75 different challenges from advanced circuits for experienced climbers to Sky Tykes for toddlers under 48”. Peek’n Peak Mountain Adventures in Clymer has two high-speed ziplines: the 2,000 foot giant dual zipline and the Soaring Eagle zipline, ropes courses with challenging obstacles, and a chairlift ride that brings to the top of the mountain.
Root for the home team
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Grab your ball cap, a bag of Cracker Jack, and tickets to the home game to cheer on your favorite NY baseball team. Cheer on New York’s beloved major league teams: the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and Mets at Citi Field. Minor league baseball packed with major league fun can be found in all corners of the state. The Buffalo Bisons and Batavia Muckdogs defend the Greater Niagara region at Sahlen Field and Dwyer Stadium, respectively. The Rochester Red Wings at Innovative Field and Syracuse Mets at NBT Stadium represent the Finger Lakes. The Central New York region hosts the Binghamton Rumble Ponies at Mirabito Stadium. Found at Heritage Financial Park are the Hudson Valley Renegades. Catch the Tri-City ValleyCats at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in the Capital-Saratoga region. In New York City, be sure to stop at SIUH Community Park to see the Staten Island FerryHawks and the Brooklyn Cyclones at Maimonides Park.
Go for a spin on rides at amusement and water parks
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Buckle up for one last ride on rip-roaring roller coasters and super-soaking water slides. Plan the ultimate day of family fun for ages 2-12 at LEGOLAND in Goshen. Not only is it the largest LEGOLAND theme park in the world, but it also has seven LEGO-themed lands, a Water Playground, and an entire LEGO-customized resort. Six Flags Darien Lake has a water park and more than 45 rides for all ages from the Ride of Steel (one of the tallest roller coasters east of the Mississisppi) for thrill-seeking parents and teens to mini-monster trucks and the Darien Lake Railway for the little ones. Seabreeze Amusement Park in Rochester might be home to the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in America, the Jack Rabbit, but it also has family and kiddy rides, high-flying thrills, and a water park. The family is sure to love NYC’s most famous amusement park, Luna Park on Coney Island with everything from rides to carnival games, to a classic arcade. There’s no doubt that the kids will sleep well after spending the day on over 30 adult and kiddie rides at Long Island’s Adventureland. Get your adrenaline pumping on speedy roller coasters, make memories on family rides, and cool off at the water park at Six Flags Great Escape & Hurricane Harbor in Queensbury.
Explore State Parks
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Spend the dog days of summer in the great outdoors before heading in the classroom for the upcoming school year. A trip to Niagara Falls is one family vacation the kids will never forget. Hop on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, journey down to the Cave of the Winds, or take a ride on the Niagara Scenic Trolley for an out-of-this-world adventure. Spend the day at Letchworth State Park and discover why it’s known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” with the unrivaled beauty of three powerful waterfalls weaving in between cliffs and 66 miles of trails including the Autism Nature Trail. Hike through 19 magnificent waterfalls at a Finger Lakes favorite, Watkins Glen State Park. Walk along the Buttermilk Creek as it maneuvers through cascades and rapids at Buttermilk Falls State Park, then take a dip in the natural pool.
Journey under the sea
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Make a new aquatic acquaintance with a penguin, clown fish, shark, or sea lion. The Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead promises hours of deep sea fun with a 120,000-gallon shark tank, year-round sea lion shows, touch tanks, and the largest all-living coral reef in this hemisphere. Via Aquarium in Schenectady has over 2,000 sea creatures and 25,000-square-feet of oceanic experiences to explore. Rescued wildlife like jellyfish, seals, sea lions, penguins, and seals find a home at the Aquarium of Niagara. Pay a visit to New York’s aquatic residents like sharks, sting rays, and sea turtles at the New York Aquarium on Coney Island and the little ones will have a blast in the playquarium.
Plan a family beach day
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Nothing screams summer like a day laying out on the beach, building sand castles, and making long-lasting memories. Relax on the sandy shores of Coopers Beach in Southampton. It’s continuously rated one of the top beaches in the country by Dr. Beach with gorgeous oceanside views with a backdrop of lavish and historic mansions. Also on Long Island is Jones Beach with a 6.5-mile shoreline to search for sea shells, a boardwalk filled with concessions, and WildPlay Outdoor Adventure Park. You don’t have to spend a million dollars to plan a family day on Million Dollar Beach in Lake George; this 51-acre beach on the “Queen of American Lakes” is free and open to the public! Find a tropical vibe just 40 minutes south of Buffalo on the shores of Lake Erie at Sunset Bay Beach. Catch some sun on the sandy coastline, play games in the arcade, grab a bite to eat at Cabana Sam’s, and end the day with ice cream from the “Beaches and Cream” ice cream stand.