Historical Destinations for Kids
If you’re planning a family vacation this summer, living history museums are a great way to combine a fun experience with a chance to learn about America’s past.
Plymouth, Massachusetts, about an hour south of Boston, is the site of the first Thanksgiving and home to Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims landed in 1620. You can step aboard the Mayflower II, a reproduction of the ship that brought them to the New World. At Plimoth Patuxet Museums, a re-created 17th-century English village evokes the Pilgrims’ small farming and maritime community. When you tour the Wampanoag homesite your guides will be members of the Wampanoag tribe or other Native peoples, who will help you explore their history, culture and daily life.
After the American Revolution, land in western New York became available for settlement. The Genesee Country Village and Museum, near Rochester, tells the story of how life evolved in the region from the arrival of pioneers in 1795, through the Civil War era and the move from farm to town, to the dawn of the 20th century in 1900. The museum has more than 60 buildings, including a one-room schoolhouse, a working 19th-century brewery, a general store and the boyhood home of Eastman Kodak Co. founder George Eastman, as well as trails, woodlands, ponds and meadows.
Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum, re-creating life in the 18th century when the city was the capital of Virginia. The 301 acres includes a mix of reconstructed buildings, like the Raleigh Tavern, Capitol and Governor’s Palace, alongside originals, including the Bruton Parish Church, a National Historic Landmark. Costumed interpreters help visitors explore daily life and demonstrate trades like blacksmithing, carpentry and weaving. You can also tour the grounds on a horse-drawn carriage ride.
The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, 20 minutes from Detroit, looks at American innovation through the centuries. At Greenfield Village’s seven historic districts you can walk along Main Street, set foot in the lab of inventor Thomas Edison, learn about the Wright Brothers and the history of flight, ride in a Model T, watch artisans produce early American crafts and visit working farms. Exhibits include the bus African-American seamstress Rosa Parks was riding in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat to a white man, challenging segregation laws and helping to spark the civil-rights movement.
If your family loves ships, you can explore the seafaring experience — and California’s strong connections with the Pacific — at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The museum is home to a fleet of historic vessels. You can stroll along the upper decks of the Star of India, the world’s oldest sailing ship; the Californian, the state’s official tall ship; and a replica of the historic British frigate the H.M.S. Surprise, featured in the film “Master and Commander.” The museum also offers a 45-minute Historic Bay Cruise.
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