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July 28, 2011

Ten Places Every Kid Should See Before They Leave For College

By Lacy Morris

comments Comments (12)

Gettysburg National Military Park(Tetra Images,Getty)
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania (Tetra Images)

When you have little ones, a vacation isn't really a vacation. Consider these ten landmarks, locales, events as an investment in your child's future, for is a life really complete without realizing just how small you are while standing under the canopy of a 300-foot tree or feeling true American pride while watching a grand slam at Fenway Park? If you approach it right, they might not even realize that it's educational. Here are our top ten places every kid should see before they leave for college.

10. New York City
Yeah, we know, it's crowded and expensive, but imagine the awe radiating from your child as they stand amidst the lights of Times Square. Buy a sandwich from the deli across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theatre, rent bikes in Central Park, and let them try to figure out the subway map in Grand Central Station. During the holidays, skate at Rockefeller Center or crowd the streets for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.    '

New York City Family Travel Guide

9. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
It's a bit "heavy" but kids slacking in history class will find a new appreciation for one of the most important events in America's history. Hit up the National Riding Stables to saddle up for a ride along the battlefield. Make sure to stop at Gettysburg National Cemetery where more than 3,500 Union soldiers are buried.     

Pennsylvania Family Travel Guide

8. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
The land that was once home to the toughest prison in America doesn't sound very kid-friendly, but we guarantee nothing but good can come from a child learning that there are consequences for crimes, even if it's a bit extreme. Depart via ferry from San Francisco's Pier 33 to stroll the dark, musty, and cramped quarters of Alcatraz. To really get a feel for what life was like for hardcore criminals in the 40s and 50s, purchase the audio tour narrated by former inmates and guards who spent time in the prison.

San Francisco Family Travel Guide

7. Redwood National Park, California
Of all the wonders inside the U.S.'s 393 national parks, nothing quite compares to feeling ant-like standing at the roots of an ancient redwood tree. It's a good way to give kids some perspective on how large the world actually is. If you have the time and the equipment, stay overnight in one of the park's four campgrounds. At $35 per night, it's much cheaper than a hotel room.

California Family Travel Guide

6. Niagara Falls, New York
If there's ever a time when kids are stunned to silence, it would be when they stand wrapped in a yellow poncho looking out at the nearly 3,000 tons of water that flow over the falls every second. Many more active tours are offered, like helicopter and boat rides, but we think the Cave of the Winds tour is sufficient. After suiting up, an elevator takes your family down 175 feet to the Hurricane Deck, just 20 feet from the falls. The sprays from the falls are an intense sensation, much like standing in the way of a tropical storm.  

Niagara Falls Travel Guide

5. Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando, Florida
Go on and feel the magic of America's most-popular theme park. Yeah it's kitschy and a bit overpriced but it's an American legend and a memorable experience for even the teens. To keep the cost down we suggest watching for online deals, going during the off-season, packing your own lunch, or going to one of the park's buffet restaurants.

Orlando Family Travel Guide

4. A Game at Wrigley Field (Chicago) or Fenway Park (Boston)
Regardless of what your team of choice is, you have to admit that the thrill of catching a game at one of America's classic ballparks is irreplaceable. See history play out in front of your eyes, for one day your kids are likely to be doing the exact same thing with their kids.'s Top Ten Baseball Stadiums

3. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York City
No better place to give a U.S. history lesson than the place that the ancestors of nearly 40 percent of American citizens have once crossed over. At Ellis Island make a stop for the immigration museum to give your kids a chance to search through millions of names to find the exact date and ship relatives came over on.  

Statue of Liberty Travel Guide

2. Grand Canyon, Arizona
Yeah, sure, it's a bit oversold but it's the Grand Canyon! It's all about how you approach it—don't force them into a cross-country carpool in the back seat of a minivan, and don't expect them to stare in wonder from the edge for longer than five minutes. Book a mule ride (but do so early, they fill up months in advance) or tickets to the Skywalk, a glass-bottomed observation deck 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. And if you have teenagers in tow, look into a three-day rafting trip down the Colorado River.

Grand Canyon Family Travel Guide

1. The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
This is where it all begins and ends, literally. Rent bikes and cruise past the Lincoln Memorial, around the Tidal Basin, out to the Arlington Cemetery, and then back down to the White House. Kids will come alive standing at the foot all of the monuments they've seen in their school text books.  

Washington, D.C. Family Travel Guide

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Hi James! Thanks for your comments. Yes, there are so many more places that kids should see... but then it would be a top 100 list, not 10. The National Mall is a great starting point, and from there you can go to the White House, all of the Smithsonians and other free museums, Arlington Cemetery, all of the memorials (Lincoln, Jefferson, WW2, Washington, Roosevelt, etc). And I mention in the write-up to rent bikes and cruise out to Arlington Cemetery. And there are so many more national parks I could add- but I don't think it would be a very interesting (or obtainable) list if it were to read 1. All National Parks 2. All Museums in Wash DC

Jill, I love the idea of adding a different country to the list! Even if it is just across the border to Mexico or Canada. I'll always remember the thrill of exchanging money and discovering different cultures.

Thanks for all of your great comments! I enjoy the feedback.

seriously-- wow-- this list is so silly. and not at all fulfilling. i agree with yellowstone-- and gosh so many many many more places.. this stinks..instead of saying the 'national mall' you should say '''all of the free museums that one can find on any given day with a short stroll around the national mall' gosh.. and really not a word about arlington and the national cometary?? what person wrote this??

Good list. San Francisco, Yellowstone, and Bryce Canyon also worked for our family.

8 of 10! Go parents! And for the one's I missed, I've sailed past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on a tour boat, and caught baseball games at quite a few ballparks across the country including the old yankee stadium before they moved

But really the main thing they should see is 'another country'. The US is fantastic, but it's invaluable for Americans to experience other cultures.

May I add: Yellowstone National Park and Yosemite and any one of the National Parks in Utah. All worthy of this list.

I totally agree with your list we brought our 4 kids to see all ten plus a lot more. Yeah, it was expensive but we did it the cheap way (we drove and tent camped most of the time.)The fantastic memories will last a lifetime. We made sure we went to Mexico and Canada and saw both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. We even drove to Alaska.

Thanks for all the great comments! And yes, each family may have a different list, these were just ten to get you thinking. If you were to hit all of these, it would be quite a bit of traveling! My parents were always great about traveling but I only made it to 7 of the 10. At 27, I still haven't seen the Grand Canyon, Walt Disney World, or a game at a classic ballpark.

Well, my Mom and Dad were 5 for 10... but we lived in the east.

I think it's a bit much to expect parents to schlep their kids across the continent to match a bucket list of ideal places kids should see before they go away to school.

We saw a lot of museums at the Washington Mall, and more battlefields than Gettysburg.

While most of these places would not make my family's top ten list, I like the idea of making a list. Each family can look to its own history and chose landmarks with some special significance. Just thinking about making the list brings a few places to mind that my children should see.

This is a very good list ... my parents got me to 7 of them and then I made it to the other 3 in college on my own!

I especially love the game at Wrigley or Fenway park idea because that is true Americana at it's best!

Ten places EVERY AMERICAN should see. :) I agree. and adding - The beach, the waves of the ocean (many have never been to the beach in this country)

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