Travel for Kids Top 10 Hidden Gems 2011

Lafayette, CA
May 5, 2011

There’s a great big world out there full of iconic landmarks, famous cultures, majestic natural wonders and exciting urban cities. But beyond the most popular travel destinations are hidden gems if you know where to look. We’re excited to share 10 of our favorite experiences and destinations for 2011. We hope they spark ideas for your next family trip.

1. Birch Acquarium, La Jolla, California. Kelp cams, grunion runs, tidepooling, whale watching and snorkeling excursions. Lots of hands-on activities. This isn’t any aquarium. It’s the public exploration center for the famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography!

Birch Aquarium is like an aquatic research center open to the public. It’s the public extension of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The aquarium is home to over 60 habitats of fishes and invertebrates from the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of the southern hemisphere. Budding Jacques Cousteaus, those with curious hands or kids who just like to play in the water will love Birch Aquarium.

2. March with the penguins, Ushuaia, Argentina. They’re movie stars and one of the most popular attractions at any zoo. But how many chances are there to march with the penguins? Travel for Kids has one for you.

Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and closest to Antarctica, is known as Fin del Mundo (End of the Earth). Just a scenic bus and boat ride away is Martillo Island, the Magellanic penguins’ natural habitat. Since these penguins aren’t shy with humans, interacting with them is an unforgettable experience. Martillo Island is small so there’s very little walking involved, making it perfect for younger kids too. September through February is nesting season so you’ll see penguin nests burrowed in the ground and chicks galore.

3. Ice cream in Seville, Spain. Spain’s known for tapas, but did you know its helados (ice cream) rivals Italy’s world-famous gelato.

Helados Rayas is just one of the great ice cream shops in Seville. This must be some pretty life-changing ice cream to be named one of our Ten Hidden Gems, right? You bet, especially if you judge by the line that goes out to the street. Helados Rayas is in two locations: closest to the city center is the one at Calle San Pablo, at the corner of Calle Zaragoza. The shop at Calle Almirante Apodaca 1 is right across from a small park with playground (great place to sit down under the trees and eat your ice cream).

4. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Tucson, Arizona. If the zoo, museum and gardens aren’t enough, the Museum’s mission “to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert” will make this your family’s favorite too.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has animals, cave exploring, a botanical garden, walking trail, live presentations, snack bars and restaurants to name a few. And if you get tired of answering your kids’ “What is?” and “How does?” questions, point them toward one of many museum volunteers in white t-shirts. The Museum has plenty of hands-on exhibits, digging for fossils and animals running wild. It’s a really cool way for your family to spend a whole day getting to know Arizona.

5. Take a boat ride into Iguazu Falls, Brazil. Going over a waterfall in a barrel is crazy. But we found a boat ride that’s an equal adrenaline rush. You actually ride through and underneath the waterfalls!

Iguaza Falls flow from the Iguazu River located on the borders of Brazil and Argentina. Devil's Throat is the border between the two countries and consists of nearly 300 falls, up to 70 meters high. Though the majority of the Falls are in Argentina, the Brazilian side has panoramic views. During the boat ride, you’ll speed up and down river, thinking, “Are we really going underneath that?” Yes, you will and it’s a thrill of a lifetime.

6. Signpost Forest, Yukon Territory, Canada. What kid doesn’t want to leave their “I was here” mark? At the Signpost Forest, they won’t get in trouble for it. In fact, you’re encouraged to leave your hometown sign among the 76,000 others at last count.

This landmark at Watson Lake along the Alaska Highway dates back to 1942 when Private Carl K. Lindley was ordered to repair a sign bulldozed during the road’s construction. Lindley added his hometown of Danville, Illinois and its distance on the sign for a personal touch. The tradition continued and now the Forest spans acres. Kids are fascinated by the variety and sheer number of signs (and even license plates) pointing to hometowns around the world.

7. Cruise the backwaters of Kerala, India on a houseboat. Just you, your family and an attentive staff floating through the lush scenery of Kerala’s canals, rivers and lakes. Everyone should experience India this way.

Kerala’s backwaters are the lakes, canals, estuaries and deltas of 44 rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea. They are a self-supporting eco-system and locals still use the canals to travel between villages. Houseboats are furnished with en suite bathrooms, a kitchen, lounging area and electricity.Gliding through the waterways on a houseboat is a way to experience the local culture with all the conveniences of home.

8. Sands SkyPark, Marina Bay, Singapore. Calling it a sky park? Understatement! Spanning across the tops of three 55-story hotel towers, it looks like a huge cruise ship or surfboard in the sky.

The Sands SkyPark gives new meaning to going off the deep end. Set 55 stories up, the SkyPark has an infinity pool 3 times the size of an Olympic-sized pool, making it the largest pool in the world at that height. SkyPark’s pool is only open to hotel guests, but the observation deck is open to the public. When the family is finished splashing around the pool on the seemingly edge of the Singapore skyline, there’s a indoor skating rink and Sampan-style boats to ride along the indoor canals and shopping center.

9. Pet the sled dogs in Denali National Park, Alaska. There’s a reason we’re drawn to these beautiful sled dogs: Who can resist those soulful eyes and intuitive nature? Well, here’s a chance to rub their bellies in person.

You’ll find the sled dog demonstration, one of Denali National Park & Preserve’s most popular activities, right behind the park’s headquarters. Denali is the only park in the national system that has dog sledding. But they’re more than sled dogs and occasional movie stars. They are working employees of the park who transport supplies and handle public relations in their own special way. Before they “go to work,” they welcome park visitors to their kennels, take pictures with their fans and get in a few licks and belly rubs before they’re harnessed to their sleds for a demonstration. Meeting the Huskies is free, but check for times at the Visitor’s Center.

10. Arches National Park, Utah. 200 million years in the making, Arches National Park’s 2,000 surreal natural sandstone arches will definitely earn a spot on your family’s favorite trips list.

Utah’s Arches National Park just may the closest thing to taking the kids to another world as it gets. Not only is park full of surreal beauty, there are arches that are accessible to everyone at any age. The Sand Dune Arch is an easy walk for the little ones and offers more shade than others. Older kids, who aren’t afraid of heights, can conquer the Double O Arch. The trail is on a narrow ridge. Look Ma, no handrails! There’s definitely some hiking involved, but you’ll see people in their 70s on the trails. If prefer to go it by car, there are roadside vistas but they’re farther away from the arches.


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