Fifty states, 50 spectacular attractions that won't cost you a dime any day you visit.
Families can create their own masterpieces at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Its Bart's ArtVenture program features two galleries, one for kids ages 1 to 5 and another for 6- to 12-year-olds, with hands-on art stations as well as a green screen that lets you step inside one of the museum's works. Beyond the children's area, be sure to look at the European collection including paintings by Monet and Pissarro.
Drive to Mendenhall Glacier, in Juneau; it's one of the few glaciers accessible by road. Then stop in the U.S. Forest Service's Visitors Center across the street, which boasts a simulated ice cave, interactive exhibits, and free kids' programs during the summer.
Beat the heat at Tempe Beach Park, which has a 1-acre splash playground with metal misting clouds, a waterslide, pop-up jets, spray cannons, a waterfall, and toy whales to ride. Once you dry off (bathrooms are nearby), bike or walk on the 5 miles of family-friendly paths.
A hidden gem about three hours north of Little Rock, Mammoth Spring State Park boasts a lake, stroller-friendly trails, a walk-through herb garden, a playground, and a restored train depot and caboose for mini travelers to explore.
Experience a simulated earthquake, see famous airplanes, and touch marine animals at the California Science Center, in Los Angeles. Plus, check out the hands-on discovery rooms with a puppet theater, a pretend vegetable garden, and dress-up space gear for children ages 7 and under.
Show your kids how money is really made with the 45-minute guided tour of the U.S. Mint in Denver. They'll learn how coins are produced from metals -- and that the mint makes up to 35 million of them daily.
Kids will love navigating the small hatches and low ceilings of the world's first nuclear-powered sub, the USS Nautilus, at the Submarine Force Library & Museum, in Groton. You'll hear a recorded story as you make your way through the dining areas, sleeping quarters, and control spaces.
At the four-story DuPont Environmental Education Center, in Wilmington, kids can help feed animals and learn facts about local wildlife from touch screens. The outdoor space is awesome too; borrow a net and follow the boardwalk through marshland to catch and release little critters.
Visit Siesta Key Beach, a 5-mile lifeguarded stretch in Sarasota. Because it's on the Gulf Coast, the water tends to be calm, which is good for little swimmers.
Tour BabyLand General Hospital, in Cleveland, the only place in the world where you can watch the birth of a Cabbage Patch Kid. Several are delivered daily by patch doctors and nurses. Kids in the audience have a chance to name the newborn.
Vacation Countdown Caterpillar
Learn how to hula, husk a coconut, and make a lei at Whalers Village, on Maui. You can also skip the pricey hotel luau and take in the Polynesian and Tahitian dance shows that take place a few nights a week.
Visit the Boise WaterShed Environmental Education Center, where interactive exhibits allow kids to follow the journey of a raindrop through the water cycle and run a simulated wastewater treatment facility.
Kids will go ape over Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, which has two primate exhibits; the Farm-in-the-Zoo area, with indoor activities; and the African Journey, with giraffes, rhinos, and gazelles.
Hop into a "two-headed" police car -- the front halves of two police cars are welded together in opposite directions -- at Indiana State Police Museum, in Indianapolis. Kids will love sitting in the driver's seat, flashing the lights, and running the sirens.
The Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens boasts two children's gardens (one with a Peter Rabbit theme) plus a playground and one of the largest public collections of hostas. Check the calendar and time your visit to enjoy a free concert.
Sign up for a free family program at the Great Plains Nature Center, in Wichita. Family fishing night, nature adventures, and a guided walk are on the calendar for this summer.
Just outside Lexington, the Raven Run Nature Sanctuary has more than 10 miles of trails that cross streams, meadows, and woodlands. Check the calendar for free programs, such as a Little Explorers walk and Stargazing, and explore the nature center.
Visit The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art to see 60-plus works, including ones by Rodin and Renoir.
At the Project Puffin Visitor Center, in Rockland, kids can crawl through a pretend puffin burrow, watch real-time video images and hear sounds of puffins and other seabirds on the state's Seabird Islands (closed April to August because of nesting season), and, on Tuesdays, take part in art and science workshops.
Take in one of the world's largest collections of Matisse's paintings at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The family audio tour is free too -- and so are weekend staff-led tours and family hands-on workshops. When the kids have had enough of being indoors, let them burn off some steam in the sculpture gardens.
Near downtown Boston, climb to the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution. If you're visiting before July 1, pop into the nearby Bunker Hill Museum to get a climbing pass. While you're there, check out the exhibits to learn more about the monument. Because you go up 294 steps, it's best
for kids ages 5 and up.
Your kids will dig the Egyptian artifacts, Roman sculptures, and magical amulets at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, in Ann Arbor. Check the calendar for family-day programs targeted to kids ages 5 to 12.
Your whole family can find a free class to enjoy at the Midtown Global Market, in Minneapolis -- there are writing groups, cooking demos, and a showcase with a puppet theater and live animals especially for kids ages 5 and under.
Similar to a children's museum, the Aaron Jones Family Interactive Center, in Pascagoula (not far from Biloxi), has loads of settings for pretend play, like a grocery store, a pirate ship, a bank, and a fire station. For older kids, there's a computer lab and a television studio.
You can see more than 5,000 animals -- from cheetahs to penguins, tigers to pet-friendly goats -- at the Saint Louis Zoo. Bug lovers will appreciate the zoo's insectarium, with 20 major exhibit areas including a working beehive.
Show kids what life was like in the early 1900s at the Pioneer's Pride Museum, in Bainville. The highlights: a music room, a kitchen, and a 1929 firetruck.
Watch the water jet and light show, check out the Lewis & Clark Interpretive exhibits, and feed the ducks and swans at the 31-acre Heartland of America Park and Fountain, along the Missouri River in Omaha.
Take the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive at the Great Basin National Park, in Baker. You'll pass through diverse ecosystems as the elevation increases and see animals like jackrabbits, mule deer, and marmots along the way.
At the Great Bay Discovery Center, in Greenland, kids can explore "touch tanks" with lobsters, horseshoe crabs, mud snails, and more. Outside the center, take the boardwalk trail that allows you to explore a variety of habitats including upland hardwood forests, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and mud flats.
From exotic birds to bobcats, peacocks to zebras, the Cape May County Zoo boasts an amazing variety of animals. Be sure to leave time to stop at the playground near the entrance.
You can hop on an easy 1-mile, stroller-friendly trail from the visitor's center at the Petroglyph National Monument, in Albuquerque, to see these designs and symbols that have been carved into volcanic rock by Native Americans. Kids can grab a Junior Ranger activity book at the visitor's center to earn a badge, a patch, and a certificate.
Take 'em out to the ballgame at Doubleday Field, in Cooperstown, the birthplace of baseball. The 9,000-seat ballpark hosts many free amateur games between mid-April and Columbus Day weekend.
In Raleigh, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences boasts a fantastic dinosaur exhibit and a butterfly conservatory where one of the creatures might land on you. Kids will also enjoy several hands-on labs with scientific tools.
Did you know that the state has its own celebrity Walk of Fame? Stop by the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau to see signatures, handprints, and footprints in cement from Bill Gates, Metallica, and Bert and Ernie. Get free popcorn while you're there too.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, near Dayton, includes the new Space Shuttle Exhibit featuring NASA's first Crew Compartment Trainer. Test your landing skills with the interactive space-shuttle landing simulators and tour a full-scale mock-up of a space shuttle orbiter's payload bay, engine, and tail sections. Tour the Presidential Gallery to see JFK's Air Force One as well as presidential aircraft of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower. You can go inside the planes!
Sign up for a tour of Braum's Family Farm, a dairy producer in Tuttle, about 45 minutes southwest of Oklahoma City. Inside the processing plant, you'll learn how milk and ice cream are made and get a treat during the tour.
About half an hour from Portland you'll find Multnomah Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the U.S. Young kids will be able to make it a third of the way up the paved trail to a bridge that gives you a tremendous view. School-age kids should be able to get to the top on their own to dip their feet in the cold water.
Take a guided tour of Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, where kids will see the original Declaration of Independence and George Washington's chair. Pick up timed tickets in the morning because they're typically gone by early afternoon. Then go across the street to Liberty Bell Center to see the famous bell and read a story about why it's cracked.
One of the oldest private libraries in the country, The Providence Athenaeum has a wondrous kids' collection and adult and children's events several times a week.
If you're near Hilton Head Island, it's worth stopping at the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, where families can follow some of the easy trails to see alligators and many species of birds.
Walk up the paved, stroller-friendly trail at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, in Keystone, to see the presidential sculptures. Drop in at one of the ranger-led 14-minute films about how and why the mountain was carved.
Stop by Shelby Farm Park, in Memphis, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. Hop on the paved Chickasaw Trail that will take you past a range of buffalo. Don't miss the Woodland Discovery Playground, which has a giant treehouse and cool structures to climb.
Remember The Alamo! The restored area in downtown San Antonio has medical instruments and tools kids can touch, plus a film that explains the significance of the battle. If the kids get antsy, take them for a walk around the pond out back.
In Salt Lake City, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art schedules monthly stroller tours of its contemporary exhibition for the 3-and-under crowd. For school-age kids, the museum hosts Family Art Saturdays on the second Saturday of each month.
The whole family can learn how maple syrup is made -- and taste all four different grades of the fave pancake topping at the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks tour, in Montpelier. Don't forget to take your child's picture in a cardboard cutout to prove that he's a SAP (syrup-appreciating person).
Children can play with flight simulators, watch air traffic from an observation tower, and explore dozens of planes from all eras as well as the Space Shuttle Discovery in a pair of enormous hangarsat the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly. It's a companion to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (also free) that's less than half an hour away in Washington, D.C.
A former World's Fair site, the Seattle Center is chock-full of attractions and museums, but kids will have a blast exploring the sculpture garden and the fountains.
Washington, D.C., is a mecca of free family activities. The Washington Monument recently reopened, and the 200th anniversary of the "Star-Spangled Banner" will bring a bunch of free special events this September. The National Gallery of Art is hosting an Edgar Degas and a Mary Cassatt exhibit through October, which is perfect for kids who love ballet, while animal aficionados will adore seeing the National Zoo's year-old panda. Stay over at the new Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, which is six blocks from the National Mall. Introductory rates start at $92 per night for Summer Weekend Deal stays of two nights or more; marriott.com.
In Bramwell, Pinnacle Rock State Park is known for its unusual rock outcroppings. It's an easy walk to a few of the scenic overlooks. And be sure to check out the playground, which has a mock Pinnacle Rock for children to climb.
There's a reason why the University of Wisconsin's Geology Museum, in Madison, attracts a lot of enthusiastic kindergarten and first-grade school groups -- it has neat exhibits galore, including rocks and minerals, meteorites, and dinosaur skeletons.
Shaped like turrets and towers, the cool rock formations of Castle Gardens Recreation Site (in the central part of the state, about 45 minutes east of Riverton) are worth a close-up look. Encourage your kids to examine the Native American carvings on the sandstone and figure out the story that's being told in the art.
Mark your calendar for these dates when the typical admission to attractions across the country is waived.
Museum Day Live! Sign up for two free tickets to one of more than 500 museums nationwide for this event sponsored by Smithsonian magazine; smithsonianmag.com/museumday
First Saturday & Sunday of the month
Bank of America and Merrill Lynch credit-card holders receive one free admission to 150 attractions nationwide as part of the Museums on Us program; museums.bankofamerica.com
August 25, September 27, November 11
Receive free entrance at any of the nation's 103 national parks that usually charge; nps.gov
Target sponsors free or reduced-price admission dates to attractions in your area; some children's museums participate in this program; corporate.target.com
Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Parents magazine.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.