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The Best U.S. Historical Sites to Visit With Kids {That are so Much Fun They Won’t Even Realize They’re Learning!}

Things to Do Family Travel
Photo Courtesy of Michael Blanchard Photography/Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum Photo Courtesy of Michael Blanchard Photography/Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

It's hard for kids to fully appreciate history and America's humble beginnings through social studies classes and history lessons alone. Sure, they might make a diorama of a Native American settlement or write a poem about the Boston Tea Party. But it's difficult for them to fully grasp the significance of historical events without experiencing them first-hand.

What if you could take your kids back in time to hear the thrilling roar of cannons, witness daily life in colonial times, see where some of the most important people in American history came from and search for gold like so many others did during the Gold Rush? These days, there are so many unique experiences and engaging programs offered at historical sites throughout the U.S., the learning happens while you're busy having fun.

The historic sites below offer so many fun attractions, interactive exhibits and hands-on activities your kids may not even realize they're getting a history lesson, too!

Keiko Niwa/ Tenement Museum
Victoria Confino's Apartment Photo Courtesy of Keiko Niwa/ Tenement Museum

Tenement Museum in New York, New York
Kids pick up and learn a lot from other kids, so what better way to bring to life the history of immigration in America than by walking in the shoes of a 14-year-old immigrant from 1916? At the Tenement Museum, a costumed reenactor invites museum visitors into her New York apartment and plays the role of the young Victoria Confina by re-calling her story from a first-hand perspective. Kids will be able to relate to her story as a young person in America and learn how different the world was for immigrant kids during the early 1900s. This interactive experience is offered through Tenement Museum's Apartment Tours but they also offer Neighborhood Walks to explore forgotten history and tours of other historic immigrant apartments.

Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, North Carolina
While kids have been introduced to Native Americans through the Thanksgiving story, now is their chance to immerse themselves in the world, culture and story of these first American settlers at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Their role-playing games of "Cowboys and Indians" will be forever changed after watching the Cherokee people prepare for war and learning about the experiences of those who called America home first. This village experience provides many hands-on activities and learning opportunities from the village craftsman.

Fort McHenry
Photo Courtesy of Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland
The words and tune of the National Anthem have been ingrained in our kids since their early school days and first baseball game, but do they know the story behind this powerful song? Take your kids to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine to hear the story of how this song was penned and learn what events took place to inspire the words. Kids can participate in Ranger Programs and learn about the Battle of Baltimore and the War on the Chesapeake. Explorers young and old can watch guards demonstrate firing muskets and experience fife and drum performances and period games and demonstrations. Don't forget to stop by the citizen's tent to see 18th-century cooking demonstrations and clothing fashions and participate in textile and laundry programs and games.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta, Georgia
Walk in the footsteps of an American Civil Rights icon at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. At the "Freedom Road" exhibit, your kids can take part in this historic march all while learning about the inspiration and leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. The"Children of Courage" is a hands-on exhibit geared towards kids that tells the story about the children of the Civil Rights Movement. The Park also includes a photo gallery, video program and the option to tour Dr. King's birth home.

Castillo de San Marcos
Cannon Reenactments at Castillo de San Marcos Photo Courtesy of U.S. National Park Service

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida
Kids love building forts, so why not take them to experience one in real life? Known as the nation's oldest masonry fort, at Castillo de San Marcos visitors young and old will get a front row seat as interpreters and re-enactors share a live re-telling of the city's past and the role of the soldiers. Kids can experience hands-on activities like historical weapon demonstrations, firing cannons and muskets, tour the prison rooms and walk the hallways once marched on by Spanish soldiers.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Photo Courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano in San Juan Capistrano, California
Kids are asked often, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" But what if their career fate was sealed through the spin of a wheel? At the Mission San Juan Capistrano kids get a shot at spinning the "job wheel" and assuming a career that a Native American held back in the early days of the mission. Through this "career choice" kids get to explore first hand the life and times of Native Americans, from their daily duties and chores to their craftsmanship and religion. Kids can participate in hands-on activities like basket weaving, building a Roman Arch, panning for gold, making Adobe bricks, and more! Kids receive a one-way ticket to the Mission's past where they can explore, observe and imagine the lives of the Padres and soldiers.

George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington's Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon, Virginia
There's perhaps no President more infamous to kids than POTUS1. Show them how Big George really lived at his presidential digs! At George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, kids can explore Washington's world, including his mansion, garden and family farm. This trip is even more fun with the family dog in tow (yep, furry family members are welcome here, too!). Travel on the Potomac River on a guided sightseeing cruise, and experience the Revolutionary War through an immersive, 4D film where snow falls from above and the ground shakes as the cannons fire! For even more kid-friendly fun, tour the estate while wearing a pair of augmented reality glasses and watch history come alive right before your eyes! Save 40% off youth and adult admission tickets to George Washington's Mount Vernon with this CertifiKID deal!

Maritime Museum of San Diego
Photo Courtesy of Mark Albertazzi/ Maritime Museum of San Diego

Maritime Museum of San Diego in San Diego, California
Ahoy, young seafarers and sailors, get a taste of the salty air and beware of scurvy aboard a historic ship! Your kids pretend sailing days are over because at Maritime Museum of San Diego, they can get a chance to live out their sailor dream! Visitors to the Museum will get a taste of a sailor's life through the history of sailing, navigating and the challenges early explorers faced on the open sea. The interactive exhibits at the Museum put your kids in the shoes of a cabin boy, marine, sailor, midshipman, surgeon, and captain. Venture into a submarine, learn first-hand about maritime history, and board explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo's ship.

Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts
While kids may love the Thanksgiving holiday for the bountiful food, the story behind this American holiday is often swept away with our dinner crumbs. Give your kids a chance to learn all about the Plymouth Colony that was a part of creating this national holiday that changed American history forever. At Plimoth Plantation, your kids can walk through a re-created English village and observe the lives of the Pilgrims from re-enactors, learn a tribal game from an Indian descendant, and even board the Mayflower II reproduction ship! The layout of the plantation allows kids to explore and visit whoever and wherever they want, letting them take the reigns of their undercover history lesson.

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia
Kids these days see YouTube stars as "Influencers," but little do they know Thomas Jefferson is the OG influencer of America's history. The writer of the Declaration of Independence, founding father, and Alexander Hamilton's (yes, the Hamilton of the hit Broadway play, Hamilton!) opponent when it came to political ideas of what America's government should be. At Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, located about two hours outside of Washington, D.C. in charming Charlottesville, Virginia, your family can participate in a family-friendly tour that shows off the interesting and unique history of Monticello. From double-acting doors to weights that go in the floor, kids of all ages will be fascinated with the history hidden inside this old plantation. The family tour also includes a trip to the Griffin Discovery Room where the kids can try on clothes and learn to weave, a tour of the garden, and an outdoor tour about the slaves of the plantation. 

Independence National Historical Park
Kids playing at an interactive exhibit at the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Independence National Historical Park

Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
While kids have heard about the midnight ride of Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin's inventions, they haven't fully gotten a taste of Colonial-era Philly until they've touched foot at the Independence National Historical ParkThe Park encompasses Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, and the Benjamin Franklin Museum, giving your kids plenty of space to explore America's rich past. At Independence Hall, your kids will learn about two of the most important documents in American history, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and be thrilled to know they were signed in that very building. From there, they can learn how the Liberty Bell became the symbol of freedom it is known for today through a short video presentation. The whole family will enjoy the Benjamin Franklin Museum and looking out for Skuggs the squirrel, who is hiding in many of the exhibits. 

Greenfield Village
A Model T on the road at Greenfield Village Photo Courtesy of The Henry Ford

Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan
If your kids dig cars, how about introducing them to the very first car ever created? At Greenfield Village, your child will learn all about the innovations in science and engineering that brought about the modern car technology we use today. Kids will be able to ride in an old Model T as well as learn all about Henry Ford's vision for this unique invention. Kids will leave inspired by the Wright Brothers daring flights and recognize older models of inventions that have carried us through to today. Hands-on activities at the Village include riding on an original steam-powered locomotive and "pulling" glass with artisans. 

Hands on Family Program at Fort Ticonderoga
Hands-on Family Program at Fort Ticonderoga Photo Courtesy of Fort Ticonderoga

Fort Ticonderoga in Ticonderoga, New York
What's more fun for a kid than exploring a HUGE fort?! Located on picturesque Lake Champlain, Fort Ticonderoga spans 2,000 historic acres filled with family-friendly adventure where visitors young and old can explore our nation's earliest years and America's military history. The Fort's Gunner's Apprentice program allows kids to experience the lives of soldiers and history trades first-hand by taking on their duties. Kids can also witness the firings of muskets and cannons and watch military reenactments. During the visits to the shops and camp kitchens, kids will get a front-row seat into learning about maritime trades. Families can attend a special tour to learn more about the building of the Fort and everyone will get a turn to lift a cannon barrel. This exciting historical site also includes activities like horticulture demonstrations in the Fort garden, and soldiers' life programs on tailoring, shoemaking, and more!

Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia
If your kids love role-playing and dress-up, they will get a kick out of visiting Colonial Williamsburg where they are encouraged to dress up in historic outfits and play a part in the world's largest living history museum! What better way to learn about 18th-century life than by participating in it first-hand? Kids will meet and interact with real craftspeople hard at work in their trade shops, as well as many other real historical figures who helped shape their time and whose legacy continues to influence American ideals. Go ahead, ask them anything you want! Other kid-friendly Colonial Williamsburg attractions include stomping clay, shooting a flint musket, carriage rides, and more!

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum
Reenactment of the Boston Tea Party Photo Courtesy of Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum in Boston, Massachusetts 
Let the kids take front and center by helping the Sons of Liberty defy British rule and light the spark that would lead to the American Revolution! At the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, kids are encouraged to participate in the exciting re-telling of this historic event by taking part in the town meeting, securing their disguise, and learning their role in the rebellious act. Kids will also be able to explore an 18th-century merchant vessel, meet a Samuel Adams reenactor, and enjoy a spot of tea at Abigail's Tea Room & Terrace. 

Old World Wisconsin
Visitors trying out a 19th-century tricycle Photo Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Wisconsin
If your kids constantly complain about household chores, exploring farm chores and Pioneer living in Old World Wisconsin will make them appreciate how easy they have it! This open-air, immersive museum explores the melting pot of Wisconsin's immigrant past where early settlers included Germans, Norwegians, Danes, and Finns, and where the living wasn't easy. Kids will get a taste of what it was like back then through fun, engaging, authentic, hands-on exhibits and activities. They will learn first-hand that farm chores with pioneer tools and without electricity are much harder! Other activities include gathering chicken eggs, riding a 19th-century tricycle, taking a class at the one-room schoolhouse, and more! You can also visit the General Shop, eat at The Creamery, peruse the museum and stop by the Garden Shop.

This Is The Place Heritage Park
Pony Rides at This Is The Place Heritage Park Photo Courtesy of This Is The Place

This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City, Utah
Kids might have "social media fever," but at This Is The Place Heritage Park they might just catch "gold fever," like the early gold-seekers of the gold rush. Young visitors will get a thrill out of hunting for real treasure by panning for gold and digging for gemstones. Once their treasure hunting is over, visit The Treasure House to learn about the treasure hunters of old, miners! Interactive activities include pony rides, train rides, and visiting the Native American Village and pioneer tradesmen. 

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
Photo Courtesy of Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley, West Virginia
Exploring hidden passageways underground is something many kids have seen in a movie. At Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, they get to experience this in real life by riding through the passages of a vintage coal mine! Through hands-on exhibits and activities and exploration, kids will learn all about the history of coal mining, the role the railroads played, and how coal miners' lives depended on the very mines that threatened them. Actual veteran coal miners are on hand to recount their experiences and share about their days in the coal mines. Before you leave, head to the gift shop to pick up some homemade fudge.

Fore more educational family-fun this summer check out, 15 Kids Podcasts Perfect for Summer Road Trips!

Tags: Family Travel Historical Locations Family Fun Kid Friendly History Attractions USA


 

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