What Is There To Do in Monmouth County, New Jersey?

The Beaches

Like many other areas of New Jersey, the beaches in Monmouth County are beautiful, and we have a few favorites, of course. Depending on what you like, Sea Girt and Point Pleasant are both fun choices. We also have enjoyed Seven President’s Oceanfront Park at the very north end of Asbury Beach.

Sea Girt

If you’re looking for quiet and clean, Sea Girt is lovely. The surrounding area is really cute and nice. You won’t find a lot of chains or any high rises – everything looks really pristine and well cared-for. This is probably because they have so many rules! So, if you don’t like a lot of rules at the beach (like no tents, pets, or loud music, etc), this might not be your place. We liked it. Beach tags are $12 for adults between 9 and 5, and there is free parking, concessions, outside showers and restrooms.

Point Pleasant and Jenkinson’s Boardwalk

If you like a little more action, the beach at Point Pleasant around Jenkinson’s Boardwalk is nice and wide and there is tons to do. It does get very crowded! The boardwalk is really cute and has rides and food and shops, but also an aquarium with seals and penguins! Prices for the aquarium and beach for 2022 are pictured below.

Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park

Seven Presidents can get crowded as well, but it has a really fun playground which we used one evening when the surf was super rough and we were tired of playing in the sand and catching sand crabs. Complete with little climbing walls, a pirate ship, and separate areas for younger and older kids, it entertained our kids for quite a while.

Road trip tip: If you drive from Sea Girt up to Seven Presidents you will pass through Belmar, and let me tell you: If you like ogling homes of the rich and famous, you will really enjoy this drive.

The (non-beach) Parks and Museums

If you want a day off from the beach, there are some lovely parks and interesting museums in Monmouth County. Here are our favorites:

Allaire State Park

Allaire State Park is a pleasant place to walk a trail or learn some history, and it has no fee this season (summer 2022). Our favorite part was the historic village, which features a museum set up in the row homes with information and displays about the workers who mined iron ore out of the bog – a pretty interesting process (if you’re a super-nerd like me). My kids like to know where stuff comes from so they enjoyed it.

But the best part was the train ride, which is on an original steam train from the 1840’s. Tickets were quite cheap, and it lasted less than a half hour, just doing a couple loops around the park. It leaves every half hour on weekends between 11 and 3:30.

Manasquan Reservoir

For a shady walk, Manasquan Reservoir is a really beautiful place with a 5 mile trail (around the reservoir), ample free parking, a playground and a really nice environmental center, all for free. The environmental center is really big compared to most nature centers you find in state or county parks and included a “muskrat nest” you’re kids can tunnel through, and some great bird watching opportunities. (There were also plenty of chipmunks we could watch from our pleasantly air conditioned view). You can also rent a canoe or kayak for a fee. This was a beautiful place and we would definitely go back to see it in other seasons.

Museums

If it rains and you want to kill a little time (maybe a half hour or so), visit National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey. Our son is into weapons and military history at the moment so he enjoyed it, and there was actually a submarine called the Intelligent Whale that you could take a look inside – so that was really interesting. It is free, and right on the base, but you don’t actually have to enter the base to go in.

A few miles away is the Infoage Science Center, which includes exhibits and interactive displays on space exploration, military communication, radio technology, and the like.

5 Reasons to Visit Frederick and Washington Counties in Maryland

While we usually think of the coastal state of Maryland as a place to go for crab dinners, views of the Chesapeake Bay, and swims in the Atlantic, these two landlocked counties in Northern Maryland have a lot of family fun to offer as well. Here are a few of our favorite destinations.

Washington Monument State Park

Wherever there’s a tower to climb and a view to be seen, we’re interested. This one is great because the climb up the hill to the tower from the parking lot is short and sweet – My soon to be two year old did it on her own, but I’d say we all raised our hear rates for a few minutes, so it was a win-win. It intersects with the Appalachian trail, which is always fun.

The tower I’m referring to is the monument itself. It is enclosed with windows so no risk of anybody falling out. (Am I the only person that worries about this every time we climb a tower?) There is also a playground and restrooms, so this park was a hit for us.

Weverton Cliffs

The hike up to Weverton Cliffs is what hiking people call “moderate” and what my family calls “challenging.” We had to leave the weak ones behind (I’m referring to our two year old). But, it was tough on the younger kids too.

Still, it was a lot of fun to scramble over rocks and roots and come out sweaty and tired to a lovely view of the Potomac, and cliffs are always interesting to look at. I was struck by the trees that seem to grow at odd angles directly out of rock, their roots intertwined with the cliffs. You can get way out to the cliff’s edge (and fall to your death if you’re being too risky with the selfies), so please exercise caution.

The Roads and Rails Museum

This is a fun roadside type of stop in Frederick, MD, at least if you have a train fan. And what family with small children doesn’t have at least one train fan?? It is not a train museum with actual trains, but rather a model train museum with bazillions of details including an amusement park, drive in theater, factories, and much more.

There is also a very impressive Lego room (Again, what family with small children doesn’t like Legos? All of the parents, obviously, because you step on them. But luckily, these Legos are not on the floor.) You can also get some glimpses of Thomas the Tank Engine for the fans in your house.

Crystal Grottos Caverns

Take a 30 minute tour of the caves for about $20/adult, $10/kid over 3 years old, and just enjoy the view and the creepy darkness at the end. (You know, when they turn all the lights off so you can see how it feels not to literally not be able to see your hand in front of your face). I like it better in the lights on.

The plethora of stalactites and stalagmites are really quite beautiful. They glisten deliciously (seriously, it makes me want to take a bite), and form all kinds of crazy shapes, including but not limited to: bacon, potato chips, and popcorn. I told you they look delicious.

Harper’s Ferry, WV

Lastly, it’s easy to pop over to Harper’s Ferry, WV, from either of these counties, and check two other states off your list. This historical town is right at the borders of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.  You can take a shuttle (for about 5-10 mins) down to the town and walk up to “the Point” where the Shenandoah River, C&O Canal, and the Potomac Rivers intersect, and you can see all three states, which is neat-o for all geography dorks. 

There are lots of historical buildings including famous abolitionist John Brown’s fort, and you can climb hundreds of steps up to Jefferson’s rock (where Thomas Jefferson supposedly sat and thunk smart thoughts). 

The Best Family Attractions in Southeastern Pennsylvania

Philadelphia

If it’s a nice day, visit Love Park and the fountains at Logan Square Park, for some very Instagrammable photo opportunities. I love the Philadelphia Art Museum, but my own children prefer the Philadelphia Zoo (it’s BIG!), the Benjamin Franklin Museum, and the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, mainly for the bugs.

The Franklin Museum is an awesome (and also quite large) museum with rotating special exhibits, an actual train to climb and run around in, a giant model heart/play area, a huge climbable spider web, and even an area where you can a nice little electric shock (a huge hit with my children. Kids are weird.) You can easily spend a whole day there, going from exhibit to exhibit.

Linvilla Orchard

About 30 minutes from Philadelphia is Linvilla Orchard, in Media, PA. We visit in the fall to get our pumpkins, but it has something going on in every season, including barnyard animals to pet (they even have some tame deer you can visit – not pet), playgrounds, pick-your-own fruits and veggies, a beer garden, and more. It’s fun and yummy no matter what’s in season.

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is one of the top botanical gardens in the country and is absolutely impressive any time of year. It is family friendly (but not dog friendly). Even in the colder months, the grounds are beautiful and the indoor conservatory is incredible.

An impressive train display beloved by children comes out in the fall, as well as pumpkin and harvest gardens and displays. The holiday lights are magical, but it does get crowded, so look on the website regarding reservations.

On hot summer days there is plenty of shade, especially around the treehouses, tower, and Italian water gardens, and you can always cool off in the grotto or inside children’s garden, and play in the fountains. We come here often as members, but it’s BIG – you can easily spend a whole day, or several days if you choose to purchase membership (worth it if you’re paying for multiple children for multiple days).

Lancaster Amish Country

A little further west you come to Lancaster – if you drive through the surrounding countryside, you’re sure to see Amish buggies making their way along the shoulders of the road, and likely you’ll see some Amish folks out and about on their farms. You’ll find them selling quality, handmade furniture and other goods, as well as delicious, Pennsylvania-Dutch style food (think German-inspired, homemade dishes).

If you’re interested in learning more about their lifestyle, you can visit the Amish House and Farm and take a tour, as well as visit the animals on your own. Your children may be fascinated by this community living (by choice!) free of electricity for the most part (yes, that includes YouTube and gaming).

The PA Capital Building in Harrisburg

Although the surrounding city may not be too fancy, the Harrisburg Capital is one of the most impressive capital buildings in the country, both on the inside and outside. The architecture is stunning and even young children will enjoy it. You can walk around on your own, but if you join a tour it’s only about 30 minutes, so not too long for little ones.

5 Tips for Traveling Easy with Kids

The first tip for traveling easy with kids, is to not expect it to be easy all the time. It’s going to be worth it, but it may be a little stressful.

That being said, after about a decade of traveling with kids, we’ve learned some ways to do it fairly stress-free most of the time.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have our moments.  Remember not to expect a perfect trip, perfectly behaved children, or photo-worthy moments every moment.  But good planning with plenty of flexibility can help keep you from feeling utterly overwhelmed. Here are a few of the things I have learned along the way.

Food Planning

FOOD needs to be a main priority. 45% of behavior problems in kids is because they’re hungry. If you’re like me, this means you have become incredibly adept at using google maps to locate every drive-through fast food restaurant within a five mile radius. If you’re a little more sophisticated, you should always be stocked with healthy snacks (in your car, purse, luggage, diaper bag, bra, etc.) and you will have a well planned food schedule that involves feeding them every 2-3 hours, BEFORE they get hangry.

Prioritize Sleep

SLEEP needs to be your other main priority, aside from food.  Another 45% of your kids’ bad behavior is because they’re tired. Yes, it’s vacation and the schedule’s going to need to be more flexible.  And yes, they’re excited and it’s hard to sleep in a new place.  But YES, they’re going to turn into tiny little monsters before the end of the trip if you let them get too overtired.

Plan your schedule around the sleep needs of your youngest child, even if that’s a baby that’s napping at 9 and 1 and going to bed at 7.  Sometimes that means you can be driving during naptime so they can sleep.  Sometimes it means at least one parent needs to be in the hotel room with the littlest napper.  But in the end, everyone will enjoy the trip more if everyone is at least somewhat well-rested.

Practice Self-Care, and Self-Improvement

The other 10% of your kids’ bad behavior, is because they’re a jerk. I hate to be the one to tell you, but even your sweet little precious angel was born selfish. They all are. The opposite has to be taught, and the most powerful teacher is your example.

You’re the adult. And 45% of your bad behavior is because you’re hungry and 45% is because you’re tired, so take care of yourself accordingly, the very best that you can. When you’re feeding your kids every 2-3 hours, eat something nutritious yourself. Take the opportunity to go to bed early with your kids while you’re away. 

The other 10% of your bad behavior, is because you’re a jerk. So, try your best to be patient and loving with your babies, your partner, and yourself, because you don’t want a moment of anger to cast a cloud over those joyous vacation memories.  Figure out your triggers, (hint: being hungry and tired are the two biggest ones) and practice some techniques to stay patient. Maybe that’s counting some breaths; maybe it’s taking a walk outside or a bathroom break (aka, hiding in the bathroom) to regroup. Practice, practice, practice.

If you or your partner do lose your temper, be quick to say “I’m sorry,” “I forgive you,” and “let’s move on with our day.” Traveling can be stressful – be kind to yourself and your loved ones.

Minimize Your Stuff 

Less is more, people. One of the reasons I love traveling is that I don’t have to deal with all the junk I’ve unfortunately accumulated over the years in my home.  We pack as lightly as we can, and it just makes life much simpler.  The focus is on the experience, not on the stuff.  Remember, the more stuff you bring, the more time you will spend taking care of it.

Simplify Your Schedule

Again, less is more. You don’t actually need to see 47 different tourist attractions to have a fun time.  It’s not about checking things off your list, but about enjoying a new corner of the world with the people you love.   

Your kids will be perfectly happy exploring a new space, given the time to do so free of hurry and distractions.  And you will be happier if you have two or three activities to do each day that you truly value than if you try to do all the things that you think you’re supposed to be doing with no breathing room in between.

Sure, you should research a few extra options for the weather, or in case some don’t work out or don’t take much time, but don’t try to do it all.  It’s vacation…  So slow down the pace, breath in the moment, and enjoy the journey!

Explore the Best Summer Family Outings in Connecticut

CT has something for everyone – history, literature and science, museums and beaches, and beautiful parks throughout the state. Here are a few of our favorite outings:

Dinosaur State Park

If you would like a fun prehistorical learning activity, this is a great place to play and learn. There are actual dinosaur tracks with a dome built around them for preservation, and the museum displays set up all around the tracks really bring it to life. There are “life size” model dinos, casts of the fossils including a ginormous t-rex footprint, and some storm and dinosaur noises playing around you as you’re walking around the track that circles the prints. It is very cool, and there are also a few little live animals to admire.

We also did one of the short outdoor trails and enjoyed seeing some brightly colored fungus and searching (unsuccessfully) for salamanders. Of course, being a swampy area, there were some bugs to contend with.

Have Fun in the City of Hartford, CT

The capital city of Hartford has a few cool sites, including the gold-domed state capital building, and the houses of Samuel Clemmons (better known as Mark Twain) and Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.) Interestingly, they were neighbors. There is a beautiful Rose Garden in Elizabeth Park, with many blooming arches, a house of wisteria, and lots of couples, pregnant ladies, and bridal parties doing photo shoots. There also happened to be a Great Blue Heron hanging out in a tree the day we visited, unbothered by the crowds.

Visit the City of New Haven, CT

The Peabody Museum of Natural History is an especially cool part of Yale University to visit with your family, but it is unfortunately closed for renovations until probably 2024. Apart from the University, New Haven boasts quite a few very beautiful old buildings, the CT Children’s Museum, and East Rock Park for a moderate hike (there are steps to the top) and wonderful views.

Find an Affordable Public Beach in CT

CT is lovely in the summer, but it can be tough to find a public beach. They also tend to be expensive for out-of-staters, particularly those closer to NYC (and thus a quicker drive for most of us). We compromised and found a beautiful beach for $25-$30 in Norwalk, CT – Bayley Beach.

There were lots of beautiful shells and even a little sea-glass, but if your kids don’t like walking on the hard shells, you may want to bring water shoes. There is a rocky area off to one side with snails and other living creatures to admire, and of course it is on the Long Island Sound, so not a lot of surf. I really enjoyed swimming out to the floating docs and jumping off. There were restrooms, concessions, wooden beach chairs, lifeguards, a lighthouse in the distance and plenty of space, all we needed for a very pleasant beach day.

There is also a nice public beach farther East in Mystic (Mystic Beach), but we spent so much time at Mystic Seaport that we didn’t have time to visit it on this trip.

The Best Family Activity in CT – Mystic Seaport Museum

This is one awesome place, and probably the museum where we have spent the most consecutive time… ever. There was such a wide variety of interesting things to do that really held all of our attention.

There are several impressive galleries, with an exhibit on whaling including an enormous cloth art panorama of whaling around the world from the 18th century. There were displays on seaport folk art, artifacts from ships, and other facets of ocean living. There were also a number of children’s areas with books, toys, play structures, and games related to sailing and the sea. There was an outside play boat area and a toy-boat building activity that the kids loved. We also got to tour a historic whaling vessel and a historic seaport town. There were other displays that we didn’t even get to after four hours, so give yourself plenty of time and maybe an extra day to visit!