36 Summer Day Trips from NYC to Take as a Family
Summer road trip season is on the horizon, and we’re itching to get outdoors to explore beyond NYC’s limits. From beaches and water parks to cool nature spots and pick-your-own fruit farms, we’ve rounded up three dozen of our favorite summer day trips from NYC. All of these spots are less than two hours away because, well, who wants to day trip for longer than that with kids in the backseat?
1. Hike Bear Mountain
Hike, swim, or see the animals at Bear Mountain State Park.
2. Go for a Freshwater Swim
Dive into a freshwater lake at one of these nearby swimming holes.
3. Conquer SplashDown Beach
Float down the lazy river at SplashDown Beach, a popular water park right in the Hudson Valley.
Enjoy the palm trees at Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Photo courtesy the boardwalk
4. Head for the Shore
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, family-friendly Jersey Shore experience.
5. Explore Long Beach
Spread 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 the Flatbush Terminal). It feels like a real beach and is often less crowded than, say, Rockaway. It’s a quick walk to the sand from the train.
6. Climb a Lighthouse
Long Island’s East End and North Fork offer some stunning options.
Float along the lazy river at Splish Splash. Photo courtesy of the park
7. Float Splish Splash's Lazy River
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 it is to go very early in the morning, which makes this full-size water park the perfect day trip. Turn it into an overnight with these hotel recommendations.
8. Visit an Animal Farm
9. See Large-Scale Art
10. Go North to the Nutmeg State
The Greenburgh Nature Center offers nature trails and a petting zoo, as well as a fun nature playground.
11. Go to a Nature Center
The Greenburgh Nature Center in Westchester has plenty of wild friends to meet, plus kids can 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. So pack a picnic to make a day of it!
12. Spend a Day in Tarrytown
One of our favorite “river towns,” there's plenty of family-friendly fun here, from touring Lyndhurst Castle to hanging on Main Street, where you can find great eats, coffee, and sweets, including at Main Street Sweets!
13. Explore Another Hudson Valley Spot
14. Hit the Slopes at Mountain Creek
Explore Field Station: Dinosaurs just over the GW bridge.
15. Play Paleontologist
Walk the grounds of Field Station: Dinosaurs in Overpeck County Park, just over the George Washington Bridge. Watch out for T. rex at the end!
16. Explore the East End
17. Go for a Balloon Ride
Take a ride in or gawk at more than 100 hot air balloons during the 38th Annual New Jersey Festival of Ballooning from Friday, July 23-Sunday, July 25.
18. Build STEM Skills at the Liberty Science Center
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 climbing structures to conquer, plus hands-on exhibits, and so much more for ages 2 and up.
There's tons of fun to be had at Playland in Rye. Photo by Anna Fader
19. Enjoy Old-School Amusements at Playland Park
20. Build Some Fun With Legos
Sure, you could visit the Legoland Discovery Center at Westchester's Ridge Hill or the brand new iteration at American Dream, but for completely over-the-top, everything-is-awesome-fun, why not head to Legoland New York, the larger-than-life theme park in Goshen, N.Y.
21. Forget Fruit, Pick Flowers
Long Island's Lavender By The Bay comes alive with fragrant, beautiful blooms in late June and early July. You can also find tons of sunflower fields in New Jersey come August. Pack some good shears for cutting and a good camera for colorful photo-ops.
The beach, the boardwalk, and more fun await in Asbury Park, N.J.
22. Adventure to Asbury Park
Enjoy the beach at Asbury Park, sure, but there are plenty of onshore entertainment options here, too, from boardwalk murals to great eats, music, and even a skate park.
23. Go for a Thrill Ride...
24. ... Or a Wild Ride
Rockefeller State Park has miles of trails to wander. Photo by Sara Marentette
25. Go for a Hike
26. Step Back in Time
Don your best princess or knight gear to take in the New York Renaissance Faire, which runs from Saturday, August 21-Sunday, August 3 with jousting, crafts, and more performances in New York’s Sterling Forest.
27. Go Country
Speaking of fairs, try the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, from Tuesday, August 24-Sunday, August 29, with rides, games, food, and animals. It’s reportedly the second largest county fair in the state.
28. Explore a Historic Estate
We were blown away by the stunning panoramas and sweeping views at the Olana State Historic Site when we visited. It's easy to see why these vistas inspired Frederic Church's professional artistry.
Pick summer peaches at Alstede.
29. Hit the Farm
30. Test Your Fear of Heights
We love a good zip line, adventure course, or ropes course to get the blood flowing! Conquer 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. Or take the big kids for Hudson River views while climbing the new outdoor aerial course Spins Hudson in Peekskill.
31. Enjoy a Daycation
A day trip doesn't have to take you outside city limits. When is the last time you explored another borough? On our summer bucket list: twirling on the retro roller rink at the TWA Hotel, splashing in the mega Fountain of the Fairs at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, peeping the polka-dotted artwork of Yayoi Kusama at the NYBG, exploring Manhattan's newest green space, Little Island, and hopping a ferry to explore Brooklyn's Industry City.
32. Hunt the Jersey Devil
Visit the mythical Pine Barrens region in New Jersey, where you can learn local folklore, go for a hike, catch a fresh fish dinner, visit the Popcorn Zoo, or attend the annual Whitesbog Blueberry Festival, running over several weekends in 2021.
Search for fairies or a waterfall at the South Mountain Reservation.
33. Search for Fairies
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 with lions, a train ride, a ropes course, mini golf, and even a destination-worthy playground.
34. Head for the Hills
The Pocono Mountains are close enough for a day trip and action-packed with family-friendly fun.
35. Ferry Yourself Away
Catch a ferry to Fire Island to enjoy access to the car-free fun, clean beaches, and an old-time feeling. Of course, the ferry ride is part of the allure.
36. No Car? No Problem
Don't let your reliance on the MTA limit your day trip options. We've found 12 family-friendly destinations you can reach by train, boat, or bus. You've got no excuses now!
Photos by the author except where noted. A version of this post was published in 2018; it is updated annually.