The (unofficial) final weekend of summer is just a few days away and with the kids going back to school, the three-day holiday is the perfect time for one last family getaway.
Over on our Travel site, we posted about a bunch of cool last-minute travel deals, most involving plane or car rides. But for those looking to vacation without having to hit an airport or rent a vehicle, we've rounded up some of our favorite family destinations that are less than three hours from New York City and accessible via public transportation. From gorgeous beaches to ride-filled amusement parks to out-of-town culture spots, here are eight great Labor Day weekend trips for NYC families.
Sandy Hook – Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey
The closest of all the Jersey Shore beaches, Sandy Hook boasts seven miles of sand, sun and surf. It's just 40 minutes from Manhattan via the Seastreak ferry plus a quick shuttle or bike ride to the beach. You can even rent a bicycle right where the boat docks! A day at Sandy Hook's pristine beach offers families swimming, surf fishing (during non-swimming hours), bike trails, bird-watching and historic attractions like the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, one of the oldest in the United States.
Storm King Art Center – Mountainville, New York
This fantastic 500-acre outdoor sculpture museum is just 90 minutes away from the city in the Lower Hudson Valley (admission is $15 for adults, $8 for children ages 5-18, free for kids under 5.) The bucolic culture space can be reached via Coach USA from Port Authority. Once there, stroll the open fields, rolling hills, valleys and woodlands dotted with more than 100 engaging sculptures. Pack a picnic or purchase lunch at the outdoor cafe. My family and I visited in July and loved it. Since it was too large for us to cover on foot in one day with our seven-year-old in tow, we opted for Storm King's free tram tour. If you have bigger kids, adult-size bikes are available to rent. (Unfortunately, there are no children’s bikes or carriers and you're not allowed to bring your own bicycles.)
Playland – Rye, New York
In nearby Westchester County you'll find this awesome amusement park (admission is $30 for adults, $20 for children under 48 inches, free for kids under 2.). But this family hot spot features a lot more than rides: There's a waterfront park on Long Island Sound with a boardwalk, mini-golf and even a pool for a quick dip. Families can visit Playland by taking the Metro-North New Haven line to the Rye station and then transferring to the 75 bus.
Montauk – Montauk, Long Island
There are lots of things to do at this low-key seaside spot, including dining outdoors, sunning and swimming on the magnificent beach, and other seasonal fun. All of the big attractions are within walking distance save for the Montauk Point Lighthouse, which is easily accessible via the town's shuttle bus. You can reach Montauk by taking a three-hour ride on the Long Island Rail Road plus a short cab ride. Or you can catch the Hampton Jitney, which drops you in the center of town. Go for the day or stay the weekend at one of Montauk's many quaint hotels. Be sure to book your room in advance as they fill up quickly.
Splish Splash – Calverton, Long Island
This water park is my son’s absolute favorite place on earth (admission is $41 for adults, $31 for children under 48 inches, free for kids under 2). It's incredibly clean and compact so you can do all of the rides in one day. There are thrilling attractions for older kids, and special little-kid areas with small slides and gentle rides. The Long Island Rail Road has a special Splish Splash getaway deal that gets families to the park in about two and half hours via the train to Ronkonkoma plus a shuttle bus.
Woodstock – Woodstock, New York
This funky and walkable town is about two and a half hours from Manhattan via the Adirondacks Trailways bus, which drops you at the Village Green in the center of town. A thriving artists colony, Woodstock boasts tons of galleries, live stage shows and movie theaters along with fantastic restaurants and lots of nature. While you can do it in a day, Woodstock makes a great weekend getaway since there are a bunch of charming inns and bed-and-breakfasts, many right on the main street.
Mystic – Mystic, Connecticut
Another favorite destination for my family is Mystic, Connecticut, which is just under three hours from midtown Manhattan. While you can get there via Amtrak, the town isn’t entirely walkable if you want to stray from the small downtown area. You may end up needing to take a cab to some of the more popular attractions like the wonderful Mystic Aquarium.
Philadelphia – Pennsylvania
The City of Brotherly Love makes for a fabulous day or weekend trip. Just two hours from midtown Manhattan, Philly is accessible via many carriers including Bolt, Megabus, Amtrak and Greyhound. Kids will love the Franklin Institute an amazing hands-on science center, the Philadelphia Zoo, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the Please Touch Museum or the nostalgic Franklin Fountain ice cream shop. Bonus: Most of these attractions are within walking distance of each other.
Need more Labor Day weekend inspiration? Many pick-your-own apple farms open for the season this weekend, and there are lots of county fairs going on upstate, like the Columbia County Fair, the Great Schaghticoke Fair and the Great New York State Fair. Also, check out our NYC Family Travel Guide.
This post was originally published in August 2012.