Why you’ll love it: Located along North Carolina’s central shore, the Crystal Coast has been a favorite beach destination for generations and represents one of the few remaining natural barrier island systems in the world with 85 miles of sparkling beaches. Base yourself near Beaufort, a 300-year-old town filled with pirate lore (Blackbeard’s sunken flagship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, rests in its watery grave just miles offshore), and plan a trip to The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for an up-close look at what lives beneath the seas.
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What to do: Start at the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum — on Tuesday nights, starting at 5 p.m., admission is free. The museum’s exhibits are broken into three parts: before 9/11, during 9/11 and after 9/11. Because of the sensitive subject matter, the museum has a free downloadable guide for tips on visiting with children. Since the memorial is so close to Battery Park, ask the kids if they’d like to catch a ferry to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. It’s a good way to see New York City from the water while learning about how most of us got here.
What to do: Though the real space shuttles have flown their final missions, you can feel what it's like to rocket into the stratosphere on the Shuttle Launch Experience flight simulator. Take mission control tours, have lunch with an astronaut and even train with one in a family Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) program, preparing for g-forces and a mock journey to the International Space Station.
What to do: Get your bearings on the free park shuttle around Yosemite Valley — home to famous sights like the Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Falls; hopping on and off as you please. Feeling adventurous? Set aside a half day to hike the Mist Trail alongside majestic Vernal Falls, climbing 600 granite steps to the top. (Pack a waterproof poncho because you will get wet!) To ride the whitewater, go tubing with Zephyr Whitewater.
What to do? Ride the Blue Streak — a historic wooden roller coaster dating back to 1964. Or, opt for more modern thrills like the monstrous Millennium Force (rated one of the best steel coasters around), suspension coasters (your feet dangle from the floorless Raptor) and the maXair—one of the world’s biggest pendulum rides. Younger kids will find fun at Snoopie’s Space Race and the Kite Eating Tree.
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