Recommendations for kid-friendly quick stops from Boston to DC area
November 6, 2014 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Any recommendations for quick stops from Boston to DC area with a four year old?

We will soon be driving from the Boston area to the DC area, with a four year old. Hoping we can power through most of the drive and just get it done, but I would like to have some ideas in my back pocket just in case things get dire and whiny in the car.

Are there any decent, very close to the highway, places for a good pit stop to let a little kid blow off steam on this trip?

We usually take the Mass Pike to I-84, go over the Tappan Zee, Garden State Parkway, then I-95. I'm open to other route suggestions, but try to avoid taking 95 all the way down because it snarls up so much in Connecticut and NY. If there is something super awesome off 95 in the northern bits we could be convinced to deal with the traffic. We have also in the past gone a long way around through PA to avoid NJ, so something along the bleakness of I-84 or I-81 in PA would be worth considering, too.

The four year old in question loves dinosaurs, legos, transformers, superheroes, and any kind of indoor or outdoor playground. We don't want to stray more than 5 minutes or so off the highway.

Sorry if this question has been asked before, I thought maybe it had, but no amount of searching is turning anything up.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Travel & Transportation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you are willing to take a detour to the Atlantic City area, there's always Lucy the Elephant.
posted by tckma at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: If you go across the Tappan Zee, then take 287 down to 78 on your way to 81, you go through Easton, home of the Crayola Experience.

Alternatively, if you come down 95 through Philly, there's the Please Touch Museum, which is just a few minutes out of the way and close to highway access.
posted by The Michael The at 8:01 AM on November 6, 2014

Little Red Lighthouse
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:17 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: We make a similar trip every year around the holidays from the exact same place you do!

We always stop at the Gold Roc Diner in West Hartford, CT on both ways. It's about the perfect time for the first long stop on the way out and the last long stop on the way in.

It's a greasy spoon with a lot of menu options, and it's right off the highway. Far better than rest stops. There are lots of cool things on the walls and some vending machines with excellent bouncy balls. Food is dinerific!
posted by zizzle at 8:20 AM on November 6, 2014

The Foxwoods Casino just off the junction of 95 and 395 in Connecticut might be a quick, entertaining, and free stop if you happen to go that way - not for gambling, of course, but because it's a ridiculously opulent casino with lots of cool ornate stuff to goggle at. For example, when I was there a few years ago there was a gigantic aquarium tank with a tunnel through it, so you could look up and see fish above you. You could also take the elevator all the way up to the top floor of the hotel and there were a few windows to look out of; it's a very tall building in a rural area, so it's a nice view day or night.
posted by XMLicious at 8:20 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: You can cut through York PA and drive south on 83 to DC to avoid some of the 95 nightmare. If you do that, Hershey Park and Chocolate World are basically on the way.

There's also Sesame Place if you don't go that far west.
posted by empath at 8:22 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: There's also the Baltimore Aquarium if you want to stop at the Inner Harbor (It's right off 295, so it's on the way).
posted by empath at 8:24 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: I get the impression that you want to pull off the highway, let him or her run wild for a bit, and then continue your journey with as little delay and expense as possible. If this is so, I recommend you check out your route for nearby city and state parks. For example, if you take 495 around Wilmington (the same distance as taking 95 through Wilmington), you can easily stop at Fox Point State Park, where there is a nice playground, trails, and a waterfront. Depending on when you go, it may be free, or you may have to shell out $6.

Similarly, in Baltimore Fort McHenry is just off the highway, with a real fort to explore! If one of you stays in the car, it will only cost $7 (though the park is interesting and well worth the cost of admission if you have an hour or so to spare).

And never underestimate the value, in such a situation, of a McDonald's with a playground.
posted by ubiquity at 8:29 AM on November 6, 2014

The GS Parkway passes next to the Paramus mall about 30min south of the TZ Bridge. Plenty of leg-stretching room plus fast food and other mall amenities.

A big crunch in recent years has been on the southbound NJ turnpike south of New Brunswick where it squeezes from many lanes to barely enough. I'm not sure it's worth a 100 mile detour to avoid it, but have your bathroom break before you get there.

Both the CT turnpike and the Wilbur Cross/Merrit Parkway in CT are prone to bad backups at rush hour. Avoid them west/southbound in the morning rush and east/northbound in the evening rush.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2014

Response by poster: To clarify, yes, I'm looking more for pull-off-run-wild-resume-trip, and I don't want to go wildly out of the way because it's a really, really long drive as is.

Checking the route for nearby parks is a lovely idea, but, I guess because we have the luxury of many, many possible highways to take to get from Point A to Point B, it's not super practical because I am willing to let highway-side attractions dictate our route, rather than vice-versa. I'm hoping other people who make some approximation of this drive, or who live near highways along this corridor, can dispense knowledge that's better than me googling around for hours. We are willing to pay for some amusement for the kid, and would happily part with money more than extra driving time.

The Please Touch Museum and Crayola suggestions, and the specifically named state park suggestion, are most in line with what I'm looking for so far. Hershey Park and Sesame Street would be awesome, but it's so late in the season, they will be closed during our drive (however, they're good to know because we might decide to do this trip in the summer next year to visit those places!). Oh my god, this is long, sorry for thread-sitting, just trying to make my vague question more clear!
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 8:43 AM on November 6, 2014

Ack - I just realized that the opulent Connecticut casino with the aquarium-tunnel I was thinking of above is actually Mohegan Sun, which is off of 395 six or seven miles north of Foxwoods. Foxwoods isn't quite as fancy and showy, IIRC.
posted by XMLicious at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2014

try the Great Falls in Patterson, NJ.
posted by entropone at 8:48 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: There's The Children's Museum and the CT Science Center. The Science Center is closer to the highway but maybe a little bigger than you want to deal with on a trip, the Children's Museum is 5-10 minutes off of 84.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:55 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: Monster Mini Golf in Danbury, CT. It's VERY close to the expressway, but has seemingly complicated directions. Feel free to MeMail me if a local's insight would help.

Palisades Center, about five minutes after you cross the Tappan Zee going west, has a skating rink, a carousel, a Ferris wheel, and a rope course for small kids.

And never underestimate the value, in such a situation, of a McDonald's with a playground.
Between the NY state line and Hartford, there are two on I-84 of which I'm aware. One is at exit 25 in Waterbury, the other is at exit 32 in Southington.

(If you ever go I-91 to I-95...Dinosaur State Park.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:48 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: A tiny bit out of the way, but Stew Leonard's is a combination grocery store, petting zoo and disney animatronics, plus ice cream.
posted by Mchelly at 10:16 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: Children's Museum in Norwalk, CT:

Legoland in Westchester County, NY: About 10 minutes off I-287 route to the TZ Bridge.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:01 AM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: Hershey Park and Sesame Street would be awesome

Chocolate World is open year around, and it's less expensive than the park. You can do a little tour of the chocolate 'factory', watch a '4-d' interactive movie, and make your own custom candy bar in about 2 hours total and get out of there.
posted by empath at 11:12 AM on November 6, 2014

I'd just put public schools, en route, into the GPS. Every elementary school has a playground and every town has a school.

For me when traveling with little ones "buckled in dance parties" were the way to go. They work off energy, wake you up a bit and you loose no time.

Big dance favorite
posted by beccaj at 11:28 AM on November 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It depends on how out of the way you want to go. There's the Crayola Factory in Easton, PA, close to the NJ border. And if you're really good, you can go to the Martin Guitar Company, just north in Nazareth, PA (that is one of the best tours I've ever been on).
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 11:51 AM on November 6, 2014

Bear Mountain State Park
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:02 PM on November 6, 2014

Best answer: For dinosaurs, there's the Peabody Museum in New Haven which is has a great collection for its size. It's smaller than the science center in Hartford, but much cheaper, less crazy and way easier to deal with.
Kid City is a small but very, very cool kids museum in Middletown. Seriously, my kids could spend all day in just the fish room.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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