It’s summer road trip season! With school out, we’re itching to get outdoors to explore beyond NYC’s limits. Lucky you, our Mommy Poppins reviewers know all the best spots in the tristate area, from beaches and water parks to cool nature spots and pick your own fruit farms.
We’ve rounded up more than two dozen of our favorites for summertime, including a few indoor options for (shudder) rainy days or if you really just need to freeze in the a/c for a bit.
All of these spots are under two hours away, because, well, who wants to day trip for longer than that with kids in the backseat?
Find more ideas in our full Day Trips and Getaways Guide, or try checking off something from our 100 Things to Do with Kids in New York State list.
1. Spread out your blanket at Long Beach, Long Island, one of the easiest NYC-area beaches to get to via public transportation (just hop on the LIRR from Penn Station or Flatbush Terminal), that feels like a real beach and is often less crowded than say Rockaway. It’s a quick walk to the sand from the train.
2. Dive into a freshwater lake with one of these nearby swimming holes.
3. Float down the lazy river at SplashDown, a not so well-kept secret Hudson Valley water park.
Enjoy the palm trees of at Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Photo courtesy the boardwalk.
4. Hit the beach and the boardwalk amusements at Jenkinson’s Boardwalk in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. It’s one of the closest shore towns to the city where you can get the full, though milder, Jersey Shore experience.
5. Hike, swim, or see the animals at Bear Mountain State Park.
6. Climb a lighthouse; Long Island’s East End and North Fork offer some stunning options, but the closest is probably the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, which gives you an excuse to visit the beach and national recreation area.
Float along the lazy river at Splish Splash. Photo courtesy of the park.
7. Keep everyone cool at the 95-acre Splish Splash water park on Long Island's East End. A word of caution: Traffic out to the Hamptons in the summer can of course be excruciating. The only way to avoid is to go very early in the morning, but if you can't do that, this full-size water park is the perfect day trip. Or turn it into an overnight with these hotel recommendations.
Explore Dinosaur: Field Station just over the GW bridge.
8. Play paleontologist as you walk the grounds of Dinosaur: Field Station in Overpeck County Park, just over the George Washington Bridge. Watch out for T-rex at the end! He's known to scare tots caught unaware!
9. Pack a picnic and spend the day among the outdoor art at the 500-acre Storm King Art Center, an outdoor sculpture park and one of our top day trip picks for Hudson Valley.
10. See the animals at the outdoor Greenburgh Nature Center in Westchester, or romp on the natural playground made of wood and surrounded by boulders for climbing. There are plenty of gentle walking trails surrounding the grounds, too. Pack a picnic to make a day of it!
11. Explore Bridgeport, Norwalk, New Haven, or all three Connecticut towns, which offer museums, baseball, waterfront fun, zoos, and planetariums.
12. Cozy up to the animals at Brookhollow’s Barnyard in North Jersey, or at White Post Farms on Long Island.
13. Visit Tarrytown, one of our favorite “rivertowns.” Catch a family show at the Tarrytown Music Hall, tour the Lyndhurst Castle, or just hang on Main Street where you can find great eats, coffee, and sweets, including at Main Street Sweets!
14. Mountain Creek is a sure bet for winter fun, but also summer days when its water park is open for splashing fun, along with a bike park, trails, and a soon-to-open zip line.
15. Gawk at whales and dolphins as they surface alongside your eco-cruise.
16. Walk the fairy trail in New Jersey’s South Mountain Reservation, or explore this green space’s more commercial spots like the Turtle Back Zoo, which just opened a lions exhibit, a ropes course, mini golf, and even a destination-worthy playground.
There's tons of fun to be had at Playland in Rye. Photo by Anna Fader.
17. Take Metro-North to Westchester's old-fashioned but super fun Playland amusement park.
18. See the undersea creatures at the Riverhead Aquarium on Long Island and stay the day to explore the town of Riverhead with its vineyards, beaches, and even train rides.
19. Take a ride in or just gawk at more than 100 hot air balloons during the 35th Annual QuickChek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning (July 28-30).
20. Enjoy the beach at Asbury Park, sure, but there are plenty of onshore entertainment options here, too, from boardwalk murals to a cool outdoor splash pad. You’ll also find great eats, music, and even a skate park.
21. If you haven’t yet checked out the Liberty Science Center, go now! It has fun for all ages in an enormous multi-floor building in Liberty State Park. There are jungle gym type of experiences, plus the hands-on exhibits, a seasonal dino dig, and even a farm for little ones. Really, it’s great for ages 2 and up.
22. Build, romp, and hit some mini rides at the Westchester Legoland Discovery Center, which recently opened a new ninja-themed play area.
23. Got a car? Catch the stars and a movie at these nearby summer-only drive-in movie theaters.
Pick summer peaches at Alstede.
24. Pick your own blueberries and blackberries, or even peaches! Pick a farm with a little agri-entertainment like Alstede in Chester, New Jersey, and the kids can enjoy pony rides, bounce houses, and more.
25. It’s a bit of a hike to the Crayola Experience in Easton, Pennsylvania, but you can easily spend half a day here and then explore the super cute town with its shops and eateries.
26. Zoom down the water slides at these cavernous indoor water parks, offering all-season, all-ages play.
27. Test out dozens of climbing challenges at the Palisades Climb Adventure inside the Palisades Center mall. A separate Sky Tykes course is geared toward kids under 48 inches.
28. Don your best fairy or knight gear to take in the New York Renaissance Faire (August 5-October 1 on weekends) with jousting, crafts, and more performances in New York’s Sterling Forest.
29. Speaking of fairs, try the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck (August 22-August 27) with rides, games, food, and animals. It’s reportedly the second largest county fair in the state.
30. Canoe, kayak, row, or paddle along Westchester’s waterways, or in the Hamptons.
Top photo: Greenburgh Nature Center offers nature trails and a petting zoo, but also a fun nature playground. Photo by the author except where noted.