Here in New England, we like traditions – a sentiment proven every summer as families return to the same spots for vacations, like birds to the nest. And tucked near these favorite beaches, mountains and lakes are favorite family attractions that have endured for a reason.
Here’s a look at four classics worth checking out this summer:
Clark’s Trading Post
A Wolfman sighting alone makes the 2 1/4-hour drive from Boston worth the trip. But first, let’s talk about the famous black bears that put Clark’s Trading Post on the map and have been entertaining families since 1949.
During the amusing half-hour show, which takes place in an outdoor arena, the bears ride scooters, jump from barrels and interact with their trainers. While the jokes can get corny, there seems to be a genuine and endearing appreciation for the animals.
Along with the bears, Clark’s offers a bumper boat ride, which gives kids a chance to soak their parents – and innocent onlookers – with sprays of water. There’s also a 30-foot climbing tower that’s a replica of New Hampshire’s iconic Old Man of the Mountain, an acrobat show and the Merlin Mansion ride (not for the claustrophobic). An old-fashioned ice cream parlor offers delicious treats at reasonable prices.
But the most unique experience is the half-hour train ride through the woods on the steam-powered, wood-burning White Mountain Central Railroad. Not long after passing through a covered bridge, a caveman-like character named Wolfman bursts out of the woods driving an old car. He then proceeds to set off firecrackers and yell at passengers to go home.
Younger children kids may be frightened, or at least crawl into their parents’ laps pretty fast. But older kids learn from the conductor to yell, “Scram, you old goat!” and they do so with abandon. It’s hilarious.
Plenty of kids leave wearing one of the Wolfman-like coon caps sold in the gift shop.
Clark’s Trading Post, 110 Daniel Webster Highway, Lincoln, N.H.; www.clarkstradingpost.com. Admission is $19; children age 3 and under are free.
Beachcomber & Wellfleet Drive-in Theatre
Everyone seems to have their favorite place on Cape Cod. Here are two more oldies-but-goodies for consideration: The Beachcomber restaurant and Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre, two spots worth making a road trip to this summer.
The Beachcomber, a converted life guard station, is billed as the only oceanfront restaurant on Cape Cod and sits a stone’s throw from the mountainous dunes of Cahoon Hollow Beach. They’d never let a restaurant be built this close to a National Seashore beach these days, but luckily this one-of-a-kind spot got grandfathered in.
Let your kids run down the sand pathway carved out of steep dunes to the beach, where chances are pretty good they’ll spot seals swimming near the shore. The drop to the beach is steep, so don’t expect little kids to make it back up without some help. Luckily, there’s a rope to grab to provide some assistance.
The Beachcomber restaurant has a beach-bum casual atmosphere, and the food is pretty good, too. It’s not cheap, but reasonable with a decent kids’ menu and a raw bar. We happen to be partial to the Larry Bird chicken sandwich.
After dinner, head back out to Route 6, where you’ll find Cape Cod’s only drive-in theater.
Built in 1957, the Wellfleet Drive-In shows first-run double features every night of the summer. In many spots, original speakers are available for nostalgic listening, but the sound quality is much better over the car radio. There’s a playground and snack bar, too. One warning: The owners do not take credit or debit cards. It’s cash only; consider it part of the old-fashioned charm.
Beachcomber, 1120 Cahoon Hollow Road, Wellfleet; www.thebeachcomber.com. Open for lunch and dinner.
Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre, 51 State Highway (Route 6), Wellfleet; www.wellfleetcinemas.com. Admission is $9 for adults, ages 12 to 61; $5 for ages 62 and older; and children ages 4 to 11 are $5. Children under age 3 are free. Box office opens at 7 p.m.
York’s Wild Kingdom
York Beach, Maine
Sometimes at those big, fancy amusement parks, the rides seem geared more toward older thrill seekers. At York’s Wild Kingdom, there are 12 kiddie rides for children measuring 48 inches and under. The Lady Bug ride won’t elicit screams, but it’s pretty darn cute with its little red cars and drooping sunflowers.
Of course, the draw here is the animals and there are plenty of opportunities to interact with them. Children can feed eager ducks, African pygmy goats and fallow deer in the petting zoo area. They can also take a ride on a camel or elephant, or roam among the butterflies and, maybe, be lucky enough to have one land on them.
The zoo offers the chance to see lions, tigers, kangaroos, alligators and monkeys, to name a few. Granted, the animal environments aren’t the impressive, more natural habitats found at more established zoos, but the kids don’t seem to notice or mind.
There’s also a midway with many $1 games, but be wary. The games tend to suck up the money pretty quickly. Instead, stroll over to the paddle boats to tire everyone out before you head back home.
York’s Wild Kingdom, 1 Animal Park Road, York Beach, Maine; www.yorkzoo.com. Admission for zoo/ride package is $21.25 per person; $16.25 for ages 4 to 12; and $4.75 for children ages 3 and under. Admission to the zoo only is $21.25 per person; $9 for children ages 4 to 12; and $1 for children ages 3 and under.
International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum
Even if your kids don’t play the sport, a visit to the tennis equivalent of Cooperstown is sure to make an impression. Let’s start with one of the best features: Admission is free to children ages 16 and under. And every child gets a free booklet packed with scavenger hunt and I-Spy-type activities – to keep their heads in the game, so to speak. Among the 18 galleries that chronicle the sport from the 12th century to modern day, there are interactive, touch-screen exhibits to test tennis knowledge and kiosks showing some of the most famous matches in history.
Kids will get a kick out of seeing how tennis fashion has changed over the years – from a Victorian dress and long boots favored by women in the early years to a stunning Venus Williams number worn recently at the French Open.
All year round, the U.S. Open trophy is on display at the museum. An armored truck arrives at the end of summer to take the trophy to the U.S. Open in New York. It’s then engraved with the name of the new winner and returned to the museum.
This summer, there’s a timely exhibit about two tennis players who were rescued from the Titanic 100 years ago and went on to have successful careers. The display includes a letter that was in the pocket of one of the men when he jumped overboard.
Visitors can also see an Andy Warhol painting of Hall-of-Famer Chris Evert and an exhibit about how tennis great Billie Jean King overcame prejudices and forever helped changed attitudes about female athletes.
Outside the museum, 13 beautifully maintained grass courts can be rented by the public for $90 an hour. The museum also hosts the only men’s professional tournament in New England, July 9-15.
International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, 194 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I.; www.tennisfame.com. Admission is free for children ages 16 and under; $12 for adults. There’s a $2 discount for seniors, students, military and AAA members.
Susan Flynn is the associate editor of the Boston Parents Paper.