Father-son vacation ideas for a six-year-old
March 19, 2015 7:39 AM   Subscribe

For ten days this summer my wife will be traveling with my daughters to a family thing, leaving me at home with our six-year-old son. But we do not plan to stay home. We will Go. Do. Something. But what?


1) We obviously want to do something fun, but not so fun that his sisters will be jealous they missed out. So Disneyworld is definitely out, but beaches or camping are definitely in, although I'd like to strive for something better than that, or at least in addition to that.

2) The more active, the better. Structured is fine, too, but not required.

3) We are based in far south Texas, but reasonable traveling is fine. (I'm not exactly sure what our outer limits are, but assume we'll be staying in the US or Mexico. (The girls are headed to Alaska, so we can do pretty big travel without tripping the jealousy button.)

4) Budget is adequate, but not extravagant. I'd throw $1000 into this without hesitation, and go up to $2000 for a really great idea.

posted by Pater Aletheias to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Camping in Pedernales Falls State Park. Or Big Bend State Park.
posted by Neekee at 7:45 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

What does your son enjoy? I would base my trip around that. At that age my son was obsessed with trains, so a train trip to NYC where we rode the subway was doable. Now my son is obsessed with WWII tanks, so come summer I'll plan some sort of trip where we get to see tanks.

If he's at all into airplanes or space travel, then maybe a trip to the Air and Space museum in Washington or the space center in Florida would do.

How dark are the skies where you live? Maybe a camping trip somewhere where he can see more stars then he's ever seen would be fun. Bryce Canyon or Joshua Tree.

There's always the beaches of South Carolina and maybe a tour of a battleground or two.

Wait... the answer might be San Diego for the zoo, the model train museum, and Legoland.
posted by bondcliff at 7:47 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

How about a few days in New Braunfels at the original Schlitterbahn?

Or maybe a trip to Houston/Galveston? That could include beach time, a visit to the zoo, a visit to the natural history museum, NASA, etc.
posted by MsMolly at 7:48 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

My first thought was Legoland and the other San Diego attractions.

Do you have hobbies that you or he are into, like fishing or stargazing?

Would he be into visiting Mesa Verde or other southwest historical sites? Grand Canyon?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:48 AM on March 19, 2015

When you are six, if you don't have your own pool at home, any motel with a pool and dad to play with in it is pretty damn amazing.
posted by puddledork at 7:54 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: My son isn't particularly into anything, which is part of why the options are wide open. Minecraft and Lego are his current interests, but there's been no lasting obsession-level interest about anything. I'm hoping to brainstorm a bunch of ideas and talk about the most promising ones with him and see if something really lights his imagination.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:56 AM on March 19, 2015

whoa! We are in Seattle and my husband is taking our two older girls to east coast for 8 days in June leaving me with our 6 year old boy. I have been looking for something special for us to do, but with less budget that you have. My first choice is legoland but it's outside our budget. I agree about avoiding the disney, but it's just legoland! From what I've read it's a younger kids park and it just seems perfect for a 6 year old boy. Now I am talking myself into legoland again. Last year he took the boy and left me with the girls and we went to great wolf lodge, which was perfect as they had never been and only cost a few hundred total and made a big impression. But really, if you have $1000-2000 I'd do legoland and maybe another park like san diego zoo. Have fun!!!!
posted by 58 at 8:02 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

oh, the other ideas I've been working on for us is a train ride that takes us somewhere with a hotel with a pool. I don't know where amtrak can take you where you are but I thought a train ride with a 6 year old boy was a good idea. Other ideas I've had are Super Cool local things like sporting events, etc that normally would cost a ton (as a family of 5) would be way more doable and special as a family of 2.
posted by 58 at 8:10 AM on March 19, 2015

when you pointed out that he's into Lego, I had a brainstorm: Who says you have to leave home? How about getting a few huge assortments of Lego bricks, and building a Lego fort that takes up the entire living room? Or make something else similarly big and dramatic - a movie where you get huge boxes and make yourself into Lego people, say.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

River Trip! My kids love getting in a boat and spending a couple of days floating a river.
posted by trbrts at 8:17 AM on March 19, 2015

Has he ever been to a big city? We took my five year old to Chicago for a wedding last winter and she was enthralled the entire time. A taxi ride, a fancy dinner, the parks, just wandering the streets, the museums.....
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:19 AM on March 19, 2015

Camping and National Parks. You don't just want to take your son on a trip, you want to start a tradition of cool trips and experiences that your kid(s) will remember. Big Bend* National Park. Get a star map app for your phone, go see lots of stars. If you don't love camping, rent a small camper. If you've been there, then there are surely terrific state parks.

If you have a hobby or special interest, build a trip around it. My sister's kids have been to a lot of interesting places because their Dad is incapable of passing a historic marker. When they're teens, they'll complain about dad making them go see all the old movie theaters, for example, but they'll remember it fondly.

*The big bend of the Rio Grande, TX
There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone. Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in sublime southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend.
posted by theora55 at 8:22 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can't offer a concrete idea, but I can offer a general guideline I hope would be helpful: think about what experiences would involve an immersion into an entirely new and different environment for your kid, one that he might like and one that he hasn't had any exposure so far. These can be things that would seem commonplace to an adult but would be massively different to a child.

One of the things I remember from my youth was visiting my uncle in Boston, who was a pastor at King's Chapel who lived in a narrow, tower-like manse that went up six flights in a spiraling staircase. It was the coolest thing in the world to me, because it was so massively outside my frame of reference, having lived in a one-level suburban house. It was like the house from a Narnia book, with mysterious rooms no one had been in in ages.

Definitely pick his brain as to his interests and general inclinations, but also keep in mind that he may absolutely love things that he frankly can't even envision yet.
posted by WCityMike at 8:29 AM on March 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

If Florida isn't too hard, you can try planning on going to see a launch. This may have been the space-nerd in me, but we did the whole Disneyworld thing as a kid, and I was more into Cape Canaveral and the space museum than into Disneyworld itself (though Disney was pretty cool too.)

http://spaceflightnow.com/launch-schedule/ For a schedule of launches going on.

(Alternatively, if you're going to spend $1000 on a trip, just getting a boatload of Lego and making your house Lego-Haven for a week sounds freaking awesome too! Here's a website where you can find bulk lego, or lego discounts. http://brickset.com/buy )

Honestly, at that age (and we did a LOT of trips, so I loved those too mind you), that much lego would have been a fever dream of awesome.

I only VAGUELY remember trips from that age. But I still have my cherished bucket of Lego that follows me around from house to house.
posted by aggyface at 8:38 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure when your timeframe is, but my brother-in-law takes my nephews for a long father/son weekend at camp each year and the boys absolutely love it. Here's the camp they go to, but I'm sure there may be some closer to y'all. It seems within your budget, and there's so many awesome things to do there. I'm always jealous when they're telling me about it afterward!
posted by jaksemas at 9:28 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go for a bike ride! A week-long bike ride! At six, your kid is definitely old enough to come along. It is both FUN and sounds commonplace.

Let me know if you need tips and resources. Your kid can ride attached by tag-along or tandem, depending on height. This is absolutely doable, even if you haven't been on a bike in years. And you would see so much Texas.
posted by aniola at 9:51 AM on March 19, 2015

the St. Louis City museum is amazing in a way that is hard to describe and believe if you are not there. The kids who did not get to go will hear that you went to a museum, and there were slides and tunnels, and they will not have a clue that they should be jealous and you spent the day in a crazy dream world that is pretty much right up there with Disneyland for six year old awesomeness.
posted by steinwald at 9:52 AM on March 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

in addition to a small trip i bet it'd be a ton of fun to get as many huge boxes as you can (maybe ask at your local appliance store?) and combine with some blankets to turn your living room/dining room/large space into a fort/human habitrail.
posted by noloveforned at 10:06 AM on March 19, 2015

If you do end up camping make sure that the weather is comfortable for it. It's not much fun camping when nighttime temperatures stay high or it's very humid. I took my kids camping on Cape Cod one summer and what they remember most about the trip 30+ years later is that we went to the drive-in movie with some campground neighbors who had a big van and got some van-full cheap rate. The things kids remember are not always the things we want them to experience, the dunes, the ocean, the family fun. My kids always loved road trips, any road trip that lasted more than a couple of hours.

I went on a trip to the mountains in North Carolina a few years ago with a friend and his six-year old. She loved the pool at a motel the first night and building dams in the tiny creek by the cottage we rented for the next few nights; she also loved tubing, easy safe whitewater rafting, a water park, and eating in restaurants.
posted by mareli at 10:19 AM on March 19, 2015

You could road trip and make a big loop around the four corners.
Mesa Verde
North Rim Grand Canyon
And stop in Durango, CO to ride the train one day.
posted by nickggully at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2015

Caves are fun.Carlsbad Caverns is the big spectacular one that everyone knows about plus BATS! Any good cave tour will be memorable though. Look at zoos and animal sanctuaries. At the zoo in Colorado Springs you can feed the giraffes. You walk on these elevated walkways so you are right up there with them and their enormous tongues.
Youtube of Carlsbad.
posted by BoscosMom at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2015

Take him to the Grand Canyon, then over to Monument Valley, to see the monuments and the Navajo people. He can ride a horse you can see some great stuff. If you fly to Flagstaff that is withon reach. If you want to rove a little farther you can raft on the Colorado, out of Moab, hike to Delicate arch. From Flag over to Kayenta toward Monument Valley, you can eat at the Anasazi Inn before Kayenta, you can eat at the View at Monument Valley, but stay in Bluff Utah, North of there. Twin Rocks Cafe is a good place to eat in that area. Moab has all kinds of lodging and food. Overnighting in Monticello, just south of Moab is cheaper than in town. It is beautiful wherever you look, but there are little forts and stuff for a six year old to see.
posted by Oyéah at 11:40 AM on March 19, 2015

Washington, DC, and the various colonial sites and battlefields linked by the beautiful highways in Virginia.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:11 PM on March 19, 2015

You can take a dinosaur trip!
Go out west to Wyoming or Utah/Colorado/Montana where there are lots of fossils and museums and active dig sites.
See go hiking and dino footprints one day, go to a museum the next, and then go on a dig together.
There is also Dinosaur Valley State park in TX if you want to stay closer to home.
posted by rmless at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2015

Oh shit yeah, Carlsbad Caverns kicks ass, good idea.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:59 PM on March 19, 2015

The United States is great in that there are so many different things to see. Go see an amazing city... maybe Las Vegas (Circus Circus comes to mind), LA, San Francisco, or even NYC. Or go see an area with substantially different terrain. The Texas I (only vaguely) know tends towards flat. Go to Denver and explore the Rockies?

I just recently got back from an excursion similar to what you're pondering. Went to Chicago, train to NYC, explored NYC, then down to Florida, rented a car, did lots of stuff including Kennedy Space Center, the Georgia Aquarium, and then home via car. It exposed a little one to a LOT of new material in a relatively short span, and was probably more educational than the school that was missed.

Six is the magic age at which persistent memories are more likely to be formed, so you can make quite a lasting impression.
posted by jgreco at 2:28 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

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