12 Fast Family Getaways Without Going Far
Opportunities to fill a few hours with valuable “we time” are everywhere.
You don’t need to tell me the circumstances. Let’s just assume that the boss gave you the afternoon off for good behavior. Or, if it’s a weekend, all of the chores were completed in record time.
Whatever the case may be, you’re at home, there are still a few hours of daylight left, and your family wants to have a little fun before dinner. Don’t waste that time in front of the TV or computer when plenty of interesting places are right around the corner. From season to season, Westchester features many kid-friendly destinations that are well within reach.
Take a look at these 12 suggestions:
1 Apple-picking is a time-honored family tradition that can best be enjoyed at Outhouse Orchards in North Salem. Let’s face it, the name alone is enough to pique most kids’ interest! Hay rides are also available, and the fact that the orchards are a fairly short drive from any point in the county just seals the deal. Who knows–you might even run into local resident David Letterman and his son at the weighing counter. Down the road at the Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard, you can enjoy a Fall Festival each weekend from Labor Day to Halloween, buy a jug of cider and munch an apple-cider doughnut or two.
2 At Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, you can have a howling good time while participating in “Pack Chats” and photo sessions that are as exciting as they are educational. Operations Manager Spencer Wilhelm emphasizes, “Here, you’re not just going to see animals and walk away in a couple of minutes. You’re going to learn about wolves that are endangered species–like the Mexican red wolf we have at the center—and what is being done to preserve the wolf population.”
3 For an extreme Halloween experience, head to Van Cortlandt Manor for The Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze, where, for 25 nights, more than 5,000 elaborately carved pumpkins are lit up across an 18th-century landscape. The setting, the activities and the storytelling are definitely right for the season.
4 It’s time to strap on the ice skates! Westchester has many excellent indoor rinks, such as The Ice Hutch in Mount Vernon. For a true pond experience, ice skating is permitted at such outdoor locales as Blue Mountain Reservation in Peekskill, Mountain Lakes Park in North Salem, Wampus Pond Park in Armonk, Willson’s Woods Park in Mount Vernon, Twin Lakes Park in Eastchester, and Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers.
5 Golf isn’t much of a cold-weather sport, especially if snow on the ground makes the ball hard to find. But sledding is permitted during daylight hours at county golf courses such as Saxon Woods in Scarsdale, Maple Moor in White Plains, Mohansic in Yorktown Heights, and Dunwoodie and Sprain Lake in Yonkers. Other sledding spots include Croton Gorge in Croton-on-Hudson, Lasdon Park in Somers (open until 4 p.m.), and Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River.
6 Westchester lets you put your best food forward with numerous cross-country skiing options. In fact, this category is worthy of its own top 10 list: 1. Blue Mountain Reservation in Peekskill, 2. Bronx River Pathway (Valhalla to Mount Vernon), 3. Cranberry Lake Preserve in White Plains, 4. Kitchawan Preserve in Yorktown, 5. Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown, 6. Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers, 7. Marshlands Conservancy in Rye, 8. Merestead in Mount Kisco, 9. North County Trailway (Tarrytown to the Putnam County line), and 10. South County Trailway (Elmsford to Yonkers).
7 Springtime is about getting outdoors and celebrating the new life budding around us. Weinberg Nature Center in Scarsdale hosts various programs to promote conservation and nature sciences. In addition, the center’s 10 acres of trails, open from dusk to dawn, connect to Saxon Woods and the Colonial Greenway. Katherine Murphy, a Weinberg naturalist, notes, “Because the property is protected for wildlife, there are always animals to see and tracks to follow.” Inside the center are more than 20 exotic animals, including visitor favorites such as Willow the Ferret and Cleo and Tonga, the brother and sister Ball Pythons.
8 Sometimes, all it takes is a playground and a park bench to create some quality family time. The Nature’s Discovery Playground at the Greenburgh Nature Center was voted “Best New Playground” by Westchester magazine, and the center itself has events throughout the year that make the most of the 33-acre nature preserve’s gardens, trails, and pond. For another option, if you haven’t been to the Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers for a couple of years, you should check out the additional plantings that have occurred, thus contributing to the beauty of a unique property that already features some of the finest Persian gardens in the nation. Elsewhere in Yonkers, Tibbetts Brook Park is a scenic showplace that has become known as an oasis in an otherwise urban setting. The beautiful greenery, woodlands and lakes go hand-in-hand with playgrounds, picnic areas, an activities lawn, and a swimming complex (for when summer comes. A county park pass is not required for admission, but Westchester residency is. The family dog can come along, too, as long as it’s on a leash and stays out of the picnic areas.
9 Not many parents are daredevil enough to venture into a skate park with their kids, but opportunities are available at Second Nature Skatepark in Peekskill, Chappaqua Train Station (the skate park is in the back of the overflow parking lot), Yonkers Skate Park, and the Sidney E. Frank Skate Park in New Rochelle.
10 “Dancing at Dusk” is a popular event on summer Wednesdays at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, the Katonah-based venue renowned for its family programs. “Children of all ages recharge their creativity at Caramoor.“ says Jeffrey P. Haydon, Caramoor’s Chief Executive Officer. Haydon encourages families to “experience classical, jazz, Broadway, and American roots music while exploring 90 acres of gardens, woods and grass.”
11 Fun and history come together nicely at Muscoot Farm in Katonah, which was a dairy farm until the 1960s. Visitors get a taste of the past while walking through the original barns, seeing the animals, taking part in educational programs, and hiking along trails on the farm’s 777 acres.
12 Playland—the most widely used park in the Westchester County parks system—sustained severe damage in 2012 from Superstorm Sandy. But 2014 will mark its return as Sustainable Playland. The makeover promises to make Playland a destination for family fun for generations to come.
Any Tiime's the Right Time
Many of the destinations already mentioned in this article have year-round appeal. But here are seven more that provide a full 12 months of amazing experiences.
Throughout the year, The Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck offers an impressive lineup of children’s shows after school or on weekends, including “Charlotte’s Web” and “Angelina Ballerina the Musical.” “The Emelin Theatre has been a gathering place for families for over 40 years, and the quality of the Family Series is one of our hallmarks of excellence,” says Executive Director Lisa Reilly. “Many of our patrons now come to the theater with grandparents, parents and kids, and it’s a great joy and honor to know that we’ve been serving these families for three generations, in many cases being the first live performance that a child ever sees.”
Museums usually have something of interest for every member of the family. The Hudson River Museum in Yonkers is chock-full of family events. “From our new state-of-the-art planetarium to our gallery of the Hudson River to family programs and teaching artists-in-residence, we know families find their place at the Hudson River Museum,” says Museum Director Michael Botwinick. “They come, too, to be together as they enjoy our mix of beauty and learning.” Events take place year round and the museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon-5 p.m.
At the Yorktown Museum, “we go in for the cute,” says Nancy Augustowski, museum archivist. “We have a train room for men and boys, as well as girls who like trains. We also have a doll room that boys like because it includes a six-foot-tall Victorian house.”
The Katonah Museum of Art also offers arts and science projects along with kite-flying.
For a more interactive experience sure to delight the young ones, visit LEGOLAND® at the Ridge Hill complex in Yonkers. It’s worth the price of admission to see kids have fun building things themselves and then watch their eyes bulge at the famous landmarks built small in LEGOLAND’s MINILAND. There are also rides and 3-D movies inside the place known as “the biggest indoor block party.”
Another cool spot is Grand Prix New York in Mount Kisco, where go-kart racing, bowling, and arts and crafts compete for attention.
Rather than have your kids bounce off the walls at home, take them to BounceU in Elmsford, one of the country’s largest indoor inflatable entertainment centers. It’s an air-conditioned playground with 14,000 feet of giant inflatable slides, an obstacle course, and super-soft walls—so kids can be kids. Bouncers must be 34 inches or taller, able to walk and accompanied by an adult. Big kids like you can bounce, too. There are family bounce nights, if you decide to stay longer.