When the kids are on break from school, bored with board games and cartoons, and fighting like cats and dogs, it's probably time to find some new and entertaining outlets for you and your family. With more than 1,500 miles of coastline to cover, you are in luck in Massachusetts (even when it's not beach weather). Come rain, snow, or shine, the Bay State offers a plentitude of places to explore and learn about the coastal environment, including museums, education centers, and parks. What's more, you can visit a variety of historic sites to learn about the events that are legendary to American history, complete with their coastal connections. For the helpful at heart, how about volunteering at a beach cleanup? Finally, even when you can't leave the house, online exploration of the coast is only a click away.
Marine and Coastal Education Centers
When you are looking to not only entertain but educate your kiddos, these indoor and outdoor marine, science, and nature centers should definitely be on your list.
- Boston Museum of Science - Dedicated to all forms of science, this museum includes 3-dimensional displays of New England Habitat (many of which represent coastal environments) and a virtual tour of Acadia National Park in its A Bird's World exhibit (which includes a specimen of every bird found in New England).
- Cape Cod Museum of Natural History - Located on 80 acres of woodland, salt marsh, and Cape Cod Bay shoreline, this museum offers a plethora of exhibits about the flora and fauna of Cape Cod, including live crustaceans, fish, frogs, turtles, and snakes. You and your family may wander the nature trails (with or without a naturalist guide), attend lectures and workshops on natural history topics, and participate in school vacation programs. The hands-on and interactive displays, nature explorations (you can't miss Mudflat Mania), and even an osprey-cam (allowing viewers to spy on a nest in real time) will keep your kids entertained for hours.
- Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary - Located on the North Shore, this Mass Audubon sanctuary with its 12 miles of interconnecting trails through forests, meadows, and wetlands hosts various programs, events, and family activities. Specific events, classes, and programs can be found in their Program Catalog.
- Joppa Flats Education Center - This Mass Audubon sanctuary in Newburyport has a variety of opportunities to enjoy the area's salt marshes, mudflats, rivers, bays, and coastal waters with scheduled events and programs that take place during both weekdays and weekends, including the week of April vacation. During the Saturday morning birding series, participants of all ages (and all levels) are guided to the birding hot spots in the Newburyport/Plum Island area. (Being one of the best year-round birding locations in the country, this will be a feather in your cap! You can even make it official through the center's Birder's Certificate Program.) Search the Program Catalog to find dates and times for specific outdoor events, activities, and adventures.
- Lloyd Center for the Environment - Located on 55 acres of oak-hickory forest, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh, and estuary, this Dartmouth-based center offers walking trails with scenic views of Buzzards Bay and the islands, permanent exhibits in their nature center (including numerous saltwater aquaria and a touch tank), and many education programs and events, including an April vacation week adventure.
- New England Aquarium - Among this aquarium's 70+ exhibits of aquatic animals and habitats from around the world are many attractions from our local waters. Marine critters (such as lobsters, cod, giant sea stars, shorebirds, and even Atlantic harbor seals) are featured in their natural habitat settings, ranging from sandy shores to rocky outcrops to deep-water boulder reefs. The entire family can learn about conservation and research efforts in New England waters, watch live animal presentations, or participate in particular programs and events.
- North River Wildlife Sanctuary - Stroll the half-mile boardwalk of this Mass Audubon sanctuary in Marshfield to reach a salt marsh overlooking the North River, where you may see some harbor seals as they swim past the platform! Or go on a Quest and follow rhyming clues to navigate and learn about the sanctuary's wildlife, habitats, and land use history. The nature center is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and Saturdays 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. See their Program Catalog for details on events at this and nearby nature centers, or sign up for summer camp.
Parks and Recreation
It may not be beach weather, but that doesn't mean you can't get the family outside to explore the great outdoors. Check out the following links for premiere coastal parks and recreation ideas.
- Public Access and Coast Guide - For mapping tools and publications on beaches and other public access points in the Bay State, see this Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) web page.
- Coastal Trails - From the rocky bluffs of the North Shore to the sandy beaches of Cape Cod, check out this CZM listing of dozens of trails to choose from—all complete with water views.
- Explore the Coastal Outdoors - Hiking...Camping...Boating...Fishing...Coastal Massachusetts has all this and more! Check out this CZM web page for details on destinations that kids of all ages will enjoy.
- Places to Go: DCR Parks in Massachusetts - This Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) web page has a complete list and description of its public parks and ocean beaches that offer year-round activities.
History and Culture
Along the Massachusetts coast, there are many ways to explore history, maritime culture and heritage, the legacies of local heroes and scoundrels, and much, much more.
- Boston Natural Historical Park - On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere crossed the Charles River by rowboat and rode to Lexington, warning every house along the way that the British were coming with hostile intentions, setting the stage for the start of the American Revolution. This Boston-based National Historical Park provides information about this and many other events in the history of the American Revolution through tours, lectures, costumed programs, exhibits, and publications. There are various sites to visit, including the Charlestown Navy Yard, Bunker Hill Monument, Faneuil Hall, and the downtown visitor center. From mid-April through November, rangers conduct walking tours of the downtown portion of Boston's Freedom Trail, or you can explore on your own the sites where the American Revolution began.
- Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum - The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, located on the Congress Street Bridge, which spans the Fort Point Channel, includes interactive exhibits that portray Revolutionary Boston, and more specifically, the historic night of December 16, 1773, when a group of colonists in disguise dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor to protest Great Britain's tea tax. The new museum includes videos, living history programs, 3-dimensional displays, authentic memorabilia, reenactments, and actual replicas of the three ships involved, the Dartmouth, the Beaver, and the Eleanor (where guests can go aboard and actually throw tea crates overboard!).
- Cape Cod Maritime Museum - Based in Hyannis, this maritime museum with its exhibits and artifacts, educational programs (even boat building classes), and an outdoor Climb Aboard Park allows audiences of all ages to learn about and enjoy Cape Cod's maritime culture and history. The April vacation classes for children age 5-12 provide opportunities to play pirate, learn how to make maps, create seashell crafts, and become familiar with animals, like sharks and maritime birds.
- New Bedford Whaling Museum - This museum offers a glimpse into the history of the whaling industry of New Bedford (and its effect on the region and the world) with an extensive library of whaling logbooks and journals, marine art and literature, and even whale skeletons, including the world's largest mammal—the blue whale. School vacation weeks feature whale-related activities and programs, such as making your own scrimshaw or taking a guided tour through many of the exhibits, including Whales Today, which explores methods for finding and identifying whales, understanding survival threats, and advancing conservation efforts. Families can also climb aboard the largest ship model in existence—an 89-foot, half-scale model of the Lagoda, which was constructed right in the museum.
- New England Pirate Museum - At this Salem museum, you can discover how the notorious pirate captains, Billy the Kidd, Blackbeard, and Bellamy, rambled around the waters of New England. You can also enjoy a guided walking tour to see authentic pirate treasures, visit a colonial seaport, board a pirate ship, and explore an 80-foot cave.
- Peabody Essex Museum - Also in Salem, visit this museum and partake in their programs and activities to learn about history, art, science, and the natural world. See the Families page for a family-friendly Gallery Discovery Kit and details on programs especially for kids.
- Plimoth Plantation - At this living history site, families can partake in good ole-fashioned activities and hands-on opportunities, such as weaving a reed basket at the coastal Wampanoag homesite, hauling manure at the 17th century English maritime village, or hoisting the sails on the full-scale reproduction of the Mayflower (note: the Mayflower II is being restored and will return to the Plymouth waterfront in 2019). While at the Plantation, you can also check out livestock and historic breeds of animals typically found on a Colonial farm or visit the Visitor Center where kids can try on Colonial clothes and play Native-American games. Check out their Just for Kids link for online activities and additional information on activities for kids, scouts, and families.
- USS Constitution - At the Charlestown Navy Yard, you can climb aboard the USS Constitution (aka Old Ironsides), the world's oldest commissioned warship afloat. Learn about the United States Navy and America's naval heritage through historic demonstrations or take a tour to hear about the history of the ship and why Old Ironsides is still around today.
If you feel a little hard work might just get your children's blood moving and their synapses firing, then consider coming out for these cleanups of the coast and beyond.
- Canal Clean-Up - Participate in this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and AmeriCorps annual volunteer event (which has been held every year since 2000) to walk along the banks of the Cape Cod Canal and pick up trash (which usually amounts to hundreds of pounds!). When not trash picking, you can also participate in activities, such as tie-dye or face painting, or learn more about marine debris and recycling.
- COASTSWEEP - Since 1987, CZM has been part of the International Coastal Clean Up. Each fall, thousands of volunteers remove and catalogue trash at hundreds of coastal locations along the Massachusetts shore. Families are welcome and all cleanup supplies are provided.
- Mass Audubon Statewide Volunteer Day - Each April, connect with nature and have fun while helping Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries spruce up and get ready for spring.
- Park Serve Day - The Department of Conservation and Recreation offers a wide range of volunteer opportunities at their state parks, coastal reservations, and public beaches, which may have you and your kids removing litter, raking leaves, cleaning beaches, mulching flower beds, and even placing sand fences on dunes.
On the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970—20 million Americans took to the street to protest the deterioration of the environment and increase awareness about protecting our natural resources. This event, now known as the birth of the environmental movement, opened the doors to major environmental regulatory reform, such as the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Today you can still do your part on Earth Day by participating in a local earth-friendly event. EPA's Earth Day Events and Volunteer Opportunities in New England web page provides a list of Massachusetts events and volunteer opportunities.
Online Ocean Exploration
Even when you can't leave the house, there are many ways to bring the coast to you and keep your children entertained (in a productive way!).
- Estuary Education - This online educational resource provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Estuarine Research Reserve System links to tutorials, modules and activities, lessons, quizzes and games, virtual field trips, and other resources focusing on the areas where rivers meet the sea.
- Google Ocean - As part of Google Earth, this ocean layer allows your kids (and you, no doubt) to explore the depths of the ocean, view content from marine experts, discover surf and dive spots, and even check out 3-dimensional views of shipwrecks like the Titanic.
- Ocean Portal - Developed by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and more than 20 collaborating organizations, this unique, interactive online source of stories, videos, games, and amazingly beautiful images (eye candy for the kids) is devoted to ocean life, ecosystems, and ocean science.
- Planet Arcade Games - This NOAA web page has links to dozens of free online computer games, many with a coastal connection. See if you can connect the dots to create a sea creature, put together a virtual jigsaw puzzle of an ocean scene, or answer ocean trivia as part of an international real-time effort.
Looking for Other Ideas?
See CZM's Bird Watching on the Coast, Cures for Cabin Fever/Coastal Edition, and Firsts and Fun Facts from Coastal Massachusetts to find additional family-friendly coastal activities, educational opportunities, and links for more information.