Nashville might be known as “Music City,” but there’s far more to this booming metropolitan area than country music record labels. With a strong culinary culture, several museums and historic landmarks and a plethora of kid-friendly attractions in the area, Nashville is a great choice for your next family vacation destination. Among the classic tourist stops like the Ryman Auditorium and the Opryland Hotel are these ten great attractions, which are sure to strike a pleasing note with every member of the family.
- Bells Bend Outdoor Center (Nashville, TN 37218) – Part of the Bells Bend Park complex, the Bells Bend Outdoor Center offers a variety of activities for families, children and adults. There are also plenty of resources available during times when no events are planned, including books, found items and nature-themed toys.
- Belle Meade Plantation (Nashville, TN 37205) – Situated on a thirty-acre historic site, the Belle Meade Plantation was originally built in 1853 and now serves as a museum. There’s a Plantation Station Toddlers program held on Wednesdays at ten and eleven o’clock in the morning, which includes arts and crafts activities and story time.
- Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary (Brentwood, TN 37027) – Just over the county line in Williamson County, Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary is a one-hundred and sixty-acre complex dedicated to species protection, research, conservation and education of the community. Seasonal activities take place throughout the year, so be sure to check out the event calendar in the weeks leading up to your visit.
- General Jackson (Nashville, TN 37214) – While the main cruises on the General Jackson leave at six-thirty and don’t return until after ten o’clock at night, there are afternoon offerings for the general public and specialty morning cruises for children on Saturdays from June through August. Meander down the Cumberland River while experiencing a little slice of the Music City, with live music and meal options available for all three tours.
- The Parthenon (Nashville, TN 37201) – Nestled in the center of the beautifully-landscaped Centennial Park is a bit of Grecian history, right in Nashville. A replica of the original temple to Athena in Athens, Greece, there’s also an art museum inside the Parthenon. There are a variety of seasonal events and activities taking place in the Parthenon and surrounding park throughout the year, so don’t forget to check out upcoming events before you plan your outing.
- Cannonsburgh Pioneer Village (Murfreesboro, TN 37130) – Recreating the living conditions in the century that stretched between 1830 and 1930, Cannonsburgh Pioneer Village features a school house, museum, Wedding Chapel, doctor’s office, grist mill and blacksmith shop. If you’re interested in regional oddities, the site is also home to the world’s largest cedar bucket. Exploring the village is free of charge, but a small fee is collected if you’d like to take a guided tour.
- Cheekwood Botanical Garden (Nashville, TN 37205) – Botanical gardens covering fifty-five acres with a thirty thousand square foot museum make up Cheekwood, a favorite destination for local families and tourists alike. Year-round activities for children are in place, including arts and crafts on Tuesdays and Saturdays and a Summer Art Camp for kids from ages two to twelve. If you’d prefer a guided tour, be sure to call at least two weeks in advance to make arrangements with Cheekwood staff.
- Adventure Science Center (Nashville, TN 37203) – While the Adventure Science Center’s primary goal is making science fun and exciting for kids, there’s also plenty to keep adults entertained and learning, as well. Health, physics, technology and environmental science are all subjects touched upon in the permanent exhibits, with a surprising number of seasonal and touring exhibits setting up shop within the museum throughout the year.
- Nashville Zoo at Grassmere (Nashville, TN 37211) – Nashville Zoo is situated on the Grassmere Historic Farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes. While there are a full complement of animals spread over the beautiful Zoo grounds, you definitely don’t want to miss an interpreter-guided tour of the historic home and grounds. Don’t miss the Wilderness Express Train, which takes riders through areas of the Zoo that you wouldn’t ordinarily be seen by visitors.
- Brentwood Children’s Library (Brentwood, TN 37027) – Chosen by Livability.com as one of the top ten children’s libraries in the country, the Brentwood Children’s Library truly is an enchanting spot for kids to relax with a good book or catch story time. There are several programs in place for kids of all ages, in a beautiful setting just outside the downtown sprawl of Nashville.
While you’ll naturally want to explore the stretch of Lower Broadway that plays host to such legendary hotspots as Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Country Music Hall of Fame, it’s best to schedule that part of your visit for the early morning to late afternoon hours. When the sun goes down, the culture and atmosphere of Lower Broadway becomes decidedly more grown-up, with plenty of adult beverages flowing at the iconic honky-tonks that line both sides of the street for several blocks.
While Milwaukee may be best known for the number of breweries whipping up batches of decidedly not kid-friendly beverages, there’s actually much more to the city than meets the eye. There’s a strong culture of family-friendly activities, including plenty of outdoor, active play on Lake Michigan. These ten attractions are among the best in Milwaukee for kids, adding to it’s appeal as a family vacation destination.
- Harley-Davidson Museum (Milwaukee, WI 53201) – Kids with an affection for the classic American motorcycle company can go “hog” wild on a free scavenger hunt through the Harley-Davidson Museum, which chronicles the history of these famed machines. There are also two restaurants on site, so you won’t be forced to choose between continuing the experience or satisfying your hunger.
- Safe House (Milwaukee, WI 53202) – This spy-themed restaurant will thrill even the most reserved child, which bills itself as a “Safe House” for “secret agents” in need of cover. Operating since 1966, the restaurant is hidden behind International Exports, Ltd. on Front Street in Milwaukee. In keeping with the super-secret theme, there’s no sign advertising the actual name of the establishment.
- Betty Brinn Children’s Museum (Milwaukee, WI 53202) – Emphasizing the importance of team work while encouraging self-esteem building, fundamental skill development and hands-on learning, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum is an impressive facility designed with the needs of little ones in mind. Their third Thursday program allows for free admission on the third Thursday of each month between five and eight o’clock in the evening, with a variety of workshops and special events available for parents and kids alike.
- Milwaukee Public Museum (Milwaukee, WI 53233) – One of the nation’s world-class museums, the Milwaukee Public Museum has a staggering number of exhibits and interactive installations placed over three feet of gallery space. Be sure to check out the live butterfly garden and “bug zoo,” a can’t-miss proposition when you have young fans of all things creepy and crawly in your entourage.
- Mitchell Park Conservatory (Milwaukee, WI 53215) – Experience the wonders of a tropical jungle, floral gardens and a desert oasis, all over the course of a single afternoon at the Mitchel Park Conservatory. Also known as The Domes, this exciting facility also offers an impressive light show after dark.
- Discovery World at Pier Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI 53202) – With interactive saltwater, freshwater, technology and science exhibits placed over more than one-hundred and twenty thousand square feet of gallery space, Discovery World is a fun and educational way to spend the afternoon in Milwaukee. Don’t miss the television and audio studios, a sure-fire hit for little ones with an affinity for the performing arts.
- Boerner Botanical Gardens (Hales Corners, WI 53130) – Modeled after an English country manor garden, the Boerner Botanical Gardens are a great way to explore the wonders of nature. There’s also a Growing Gardeners program in place for kids, which includes story time, a snack and an activity related to gardening.
- Haggerty Museum of Art (Milwaukee, WI 53233) – Providing plenty of chances for youngsters to learn about and begin to appreciate great works of art through educational programs, gallery talks and workshops, the Haggerty Museum of Art is a great stop for families with an affection for the visual arts.
- Milwaukee County Zoo (Milwaukee, WI 53226) – A collection of more than 1,800 animals, including mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds call the Milwaukee Zoo home. Be prepared for plenty of walking, and wear shoes that won’t pinch or leave blisters. Keep an eye on the events calendar as the date of your arrival in Milwaukee approaches, as the Zoo does host several workshops, festivals and special events throughout the year.
- Watts Tea Shop (Milwaukee, WI 53202) – Youngsters with an affection for make-believe tea parties are sure to be enthralled with a trip to Watts Tea Shop, the most historic tea room in the Milwaukee area. Located over a china and crystal shop, dressing up is strongly encouraged, especially during Afternoon Tea. They also offer etiquette classes for children, which may be both fun and informative for your brood.
Dubbed “The City of Festivals” by locals and travel writers, there are several major festivals hosted in and around Milwaukee throughout the warmer months, including cultural events, ethnic food festivals and museum-sponsored activities. Be sure that you take the time to peruse local event listings in the weeks leading up to your trip, so that you can stay on top of any upcoming festivals that you and your family may be interested in attending.
With its rich history and eclectic neighborhoods, Memphis is definitely one of the more unique cities in the South. Two developing arts districts within the city are creating a strong culture of visual art to stand alongside the long-standing Memphis musical tradition, with a strong culinary scene that’s all its own. These are merely a few of the reasons why you might find that Memphis is a perfect fit for your next family vacation, with the respectable number of kid-friendly attractions.
- Children’s Museum of Memphis (Memphis, TN 38104) – Math, art, health and science are just a few of the subjects touched upon by permanent and seasonal exhibits in the Children’s Museum of Memphis. Parents with younger children in tow will also appreciate the Playscape Park, where little ones from infancy to four years of age can play while their older siblings explore. There are also homeschool programs in place for children outside the public education system.
- Memphis Botanic Garden (Memphis, TN 38117) – Sprawling across ninety-six acres and comprised of twenty-three specialty gardens, including a butterfly garden, a cactus garden and a prehistoric plant trail, the Memphis Botanic Garden is a great option for outdoor exploration while you’re in Memphis. My Big Backyard, an area created and cultivated just for kids, has sections specially directed at toddlers, kids with special needs and water features.
- Memphis Zoo (Memphis, TN 38112) – Home to more than five hundred different species and three thousand, five hundred animals, the Memphis Zoo has been ranked “#1 Zoo in the U.S.” by TripAdvisor.com users, and is divided into three zones for easier navigation. Be sure to check out their homeschooling programs, if your children are taught at home!
- Pink Palace Family of Museums (Memphis, TN 38111) – From modern IMAX theater technology to prehistoric dinosaur exhibits, there’s certainly something for everyone in the Pink Palace Family of Museums. Check out the planetarium, science center and nature center, and keep an eye on upcoming events if you’re planning a trip to Memphis.
- Graceland (Memphis, TN 38116) – It’s hard to imagine a trip to Memphis without at least a glimpse of Graceland. While younger kids may not have a clear idea of who Elvis Presley was, they’ll still be amused at the now quite dated decor and ostentatious furniture inside the house.
- Chucalissa Archaeological Museum (Memphis, TN 38109) – Kids with a burgeoning interest in archaeology will be delighted with a visit to Chucalissa, which specializes in Native American history and offers a beginner’s introduction to archaeological science. There are also a selection of children’s books in the gift shop, which can help to fan the flames of curiosity long after your visit to Memphis ends.
- Woodruff-Fontaine House (Memphis, TN 38105) – Part of the Victorian Village section of Memphis, the Woodruff-Fontaine house is a French Victorian mansion built in 1870 along what was once known as “Millionaires Row.” Little fashionistas will be awed by the impressive collection of period clothing, from the Victorian era to the 1920′s. Special events for kids can also be hosted in the Gingerbread House, built in 1906 and decorated in a Victorian children’s theme.
- Belz Museum of Asian and Judaic Art (Memphis, TN 38103) – Housing an impressive collection of Chinese art, most of which is from the Qing Dynasty, alongside contemporary Judaica and natural history objects. Located near the historic Peabody Hotel and accessible from the Main Street Trolley Line, the Belz is a great way for kids to expand their cultural knowledge.
- Backbeat Tours (Memphis, TN 38103) – One of the most exciting ways to experience the city of Memphis, Backbeat Tours offer a variety of tours around town. Haunted Memphis, the Historic Memphis Walking Tour and seasonal events like the Hound Dog Tour during Elvis week are among the offerings available.
- National Civil Rights Museum (Memphis, TN 38103) – Located at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated the National Civil Rights Museum chronicles the evolution of the civil rights movement in a way that helps kids understand exactly how far America has come since the abolition of slavery.
Aspiring musicians are sure to be enthralled with a visit to the iconic Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio, where such great acts as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and the King of Rock and Roll himself, Elvis Presley, all got their musical start. Young sports fans may be more excited to stop at the FedEx Forum, where the National Basketball Association’s Memphis Grizzlies hang their jerseys.
Known as The Entertainment Capital of the World, Las Vegas tends to be known more for the adult-oriented attractions than those directed at children. If you’re looking for an ideal spot for your next family vacation, you may be surprised to find just how much Las Vegas has to offer for kids and families. These are ten of the most exciting, kid-friendly attractions in this major resort city.
- Red Rock Canyon Natural Conservation Area (Las Vegas, 89124) – Joshua Trees, fossils embedded in cliffs and petroglyphs are only a few of the natural wonders you’ll see at Red Rock Canyon, which also features a high-end Visitor Center built in 2010 filled with exhibits, activities and interactive installations. The Visitor Center also offers organized hikes, which can be arranged in advance and are active, educational fun for the entire family.
- Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden & Dolphin Habitat (Las Vegas, NV 89109) – Inside the Mirage Hotel is a stunning sanctuary that houses tigers, leopards and lions in an exotic setting, filled with plants native to the natural habitats of these graceful creatures. Alongside the Secret Garden is the Dolphin Habitat, an educational and research facility. The dolphins in the Siegfried and Roy habitat aren’t trained and do not perform for the public, but visitors can watch the staff of trainers as they work with the marine mammals and get an up-close view from the underground viewing windows.
- Lied Discovery Children’s Museum (Las Vegas, NV 89101) – Whether they’re simulating adult life with a job, paycheck and chores in the Green Village Pavilion or pretending to be an Old West miner in the Desert Discovery station, kids are sure to be endlessly entertained at Lied Discovery Children’s Museum. Because the facility is the largest educational institution for kids in the area, there are a staggering number of possibilities to choose from, all in one attraction.
- Bonnie Springs Old Nevada (Blue Diamond, NV 89004) – Skip the false fronts of simulated Old West towns and head to Bonnie Springs, which is filled with actual shops, a saloon and a museum. There are staged shoot-’em-ups daily, a petting zoo, a miniature train and stagecoaches to explore, which will keep kids entertained throughout the day. Be sure to check the events schedule, however, to avoid the mock “hangings” that are part of the staged melodrama.
- Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary (Las Vegas, NV 89131) – Part petting zoo and part sanctuary, Gilcrease allows kids to get up close and personal with a variety of animals, exotic birds and reptiles. If youngsters in your entourage need to burn off a bit of excess energy, there are also walking trails to take advantage of.
- Las Vegas Springs Preserve (Las Vegas, NV 89107) – Over the 108 acres of the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, you’ll find several museum galleries, a Desert Living Center that spans five buildings, a living bat cave, flash flood simulation and a recreated Wooly Mammoth skeleton partially embedded in the sand, which kids are encouraged to climb on and explore.
- Clark County Museum (Henderson, NV 89002) – Timeline exhibits allows visitors to look at artifacts and photographs depicting the history of Las Vegas, with plenty of hands-on exhibits for kids to get in on the fun. The Heritage Street collection of reproduction historic homes is a particular favorite of youngsters, and is adjoined by a 1918 Steam Switch Engine built by Union Pacific Works and once used for both passenger and freight trains.
- The Pinball Hall of Fame (Las Vegas, NV 89121) – Advertised as the “World’s only and largest pinball museum,” The Pinball Hall of Fame features over 200 machines spanning almost sixty years of pinball history. Visitors can play the games, and all proceeds from this nonprofit entity are donated to charity.
- Mandalay Bay Shark Reef (Las Vegas, NV 89119) – Grab an audio wand and meander through tunnels and past tanks as a feed of recorded information allows you and your children to take a self-guided tour that’s still informative and educational. If Shark Week is cant’-miss television in your house, you’ll definitely want to make sure that you visit this gem.
- Ethel M. Chocolate Factory & Cactus Garden (Henderson, NV 89104) – Tour a working chocolate factory to learn first-hand how the sweet treats are manufactured and packaged for sale, then take the sample you’re given at the end of the journey to the nearby Botanical Cactus Garden. Check out more than 350 varieties of cactus, succulents and other desert plants in a self-guided tour.
While you may consider the major casino-hotels adults-only territory, there are actually a wide variety of family-friendly attractions on-site at many of the primary resorts. Be sure to find out what, if any, activities and attractions exist in your chosen hotel for kids, and keep an eye out for things to do as a family off the gaming floors in the major casinos. It may also prove wise to keep the staggering number of shows and live performances in mind, as some of them are quite suitable for the smaller set.