10 Places You Don’t Think of as Destinations but Young Kids Love
Sometimes the best outings are unexpected, you stop somewhere on an errand and your kids can’t stop talking about it and want to go back! Over the years I’ve racked up a number of places that I will now go out of my way to take my children to, although now it is mostly stuff my youngest two children enjoy. If you are a parent of a young child, say toddler or early elementary; take advantage of these years to provide cheap and simple entertainment. It is amazing how easily satisfied they are, and you may not even need to pay a dime to do it! All too soon, they know better, and these little ideas won’t cut it. If you want my opinion, save the big trips for the years when they will actually be able to remember it later.
So here they are in no particular order:
- That Fish Place/Pet Place (or any pet store)—This probably tops the list as an all-time favorite. Sort of like a mini-zoo, the kids love the small animal room where they ooh and aah over the furry bunnies, guinea pigs, and hamsters running around. We pet the store rabbit and ferret, then get creeped out by the tarantulas, snakes, and lizards. Touch a stingray and then wander through the maze of aquariums looking at brightly-colored fish. On weekends, the cat room is open.
- Humane League of Lancaster (or SPCA)—Similar to the pet store, kids enjoy looking at all the breeds of dogs and small animals too. A great educational trip, as it gives you a chance to explain why pet adoption can be a kind way to obtain a new pet. Of course, a trip here might mean you walk out with a new member of the family, so these trips should be rare if that is a temptation for you.
- Millersville University Pond/Long’s Park/Lititz Springs Park—Anywhere you can feed the ducks and look at water has a natural appeal to little ones. A few crusts of bread and a brisk walk with the stroller are all this outing requires, and your child will talk about it for weeks!
- Lancaster Airport/Fiorentino’s Restaurant—Especially when my airplane-loving son was small, we would eat lunch at the airport restaurant and watch the planes land and take off. He was glued to the window and we had a peaceful meal. Just make sure you ask for a window seat!
- Barnes and Noble’s—Very much a current favorite for my youngest, this can be a great place to meet up for a playdate. If you time it right, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11am, there is a story hour for kids, but even without it, there is plenty to do. Play at the Thomas the train table, read a book to your child, or play in the toy section (the display of Beanie Boo’s is Lilah’s favorite!) Maybe you can even grab a book to peruse, or a hot drink to enjoy while your little one plays.
- 6th Ward Park/Lancaster Recreation Wading Pool—If you don’t have a pool membership in the summer, this little park makes a great substitute for little ones. The park has a nice wading pool complete with bucket dumpers, a zero-entry spot, slide, and a rainbow sprinkler. We often pack a lunch and eat at the picnic tables and play on the playground too. See lancasterrec.org for more information, and to learn about the locations of other wading pools in Lancaster city.
- Lancaster General Health Campus Lobby—Years ago when my older children were small and I needed blood work, I made sure to use the lab at the health campus. It was the highlight of my children’s day! We rode the glass elevator to the top, threw pennies in the fountain, watched in wonder as the electric piano played itself, and grabbed a snack in the cafeteria. I’m serious people…it was real entertainment.
- Steinman Park/Pressroom outdoor seating—A great place to sit and relax, children enjoy watching the large waterfall. This makes a wonderful stopping point after you visit Lancaster Central Market.
- Binn’s Park on Queen Street—Another spot for water fun near Central Market, this is another perennial favorite for our family. My children call it the “dancing water fountain” as the fountain is on a timer system and appears to dance, and since it is on flat concrete, it makes a perfect spot to play. Grab a lunch, sit on a bench, and watch the kids cool off on a hot day.
- The Public Library–Definitely my all-time favorite, and maybe that’s because my great (x6) Uncle dreamed up the idea of a public library along with his good friend Ben Franklin (true story!), or because some of my favorite childhood memories were from lazy days spent buried in a good book at the library, but I have made a concerted effort to consistently take my children to the library since they were toddlers. Over the years, we have participated in many programs the library offers, whether it was a lap-sit, story hour, or summer fun class. Most of all, they just love to get some new books and DVD’s every other week. All of them are great readers and love learning, and I believe at least part of it is attributable to visiting the library.
Any outing really can be a fun destination full of memories and learning if you take the time to engage with your children (put down the phone!), have a fun-loving attitude, and get down on their level and see the world through their eyes.