My husband and I moved to the Boston area when our first child was 4 months old. I commented to a new friend that I wished we had moved there before we had children. She immediately told me that it was easy and fun to take kids to the city. She said, "Do everything you'd do if you didn't have kids with you. You'll learn to adapt and they'll learn to enjoy." It was great advice. Since then, my family has enjoyed visiting several big cities in the U.S., including Washington D.C., St. Louis, San Francisco and Seattle. Use these five tips the next time your family travel plans take you to a big city.
1. Eat like a local
Skip the national chain restaurants and try local favorites when traveling to cities. Most cities have at least one dish they're famous for. When in Philadelphia, find a cheesesteak. In Chicago, have a slice of deep dish pizza. I wouldn't visit Paris without having a croissant or macaroon, and a scoop of gelato is a daily treat when visiting Rome or Florence.
If you encourage your children to try the foods that are important to cities and regions, you can teach them about the culture of that area. You'll also meet great people who are passionate about the foods they make and serve. We often stop at farmer's markets to pick up produce for snacks, as well as unique local food items that serve as souvenirs.
2. Ride public transportation
If you have small children, particularly boys, a ride on a subway train or bus might be the highlight of the trip. When we visited Chicago, we bought a three-day pass that allowed us to use all the buses and trains for unlimited rides. It was a great way to get around during our visit. Using public transportation, which is generally clean, relatively safe and fairly inexpensive, is the perfect way to see a city. It's also easier than navigating busy traffic and finding parking.
3. Visit an amazing museum
Most cities pride themselves on having world-class museums to visit. Besides children's museums, there are also science and natural history museums, art museums and aquariums. Because these places can be expensive to visit, budget accordingly. CityPass, available in several cities, offers passes that will allow you to visit several attractions for one price.
Don't shy away from bringing children to more grown-up places. They benefit from being exposed to beautiful art and historic sites. If you visit Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian series of museums and galleries is free to the public, allowing you to expose your children to a variety of enriching experiences.
4. Go to a tall building or vantage point
Cities are spectacular to look at, especially from up high. Many cities have tall buildings you can go to the top of; the Empire State Building in New York City and John Hancock Center in Chicago come to mind. If the price to the top is out of reach for you, try going to a bridge or lesser-known building.
A ferry ride in a harbor or bay can also give you a great view of a city, particularly at night. We took the Staten Island Ferry just to get a view of New York City from the water. Children might be afraid of heights, so consider their sensitivities. Chances are, once they reach the top they'll be mesmerized by the sights and enjoy looking at the tiny cars and people below.
5. Find the best park
The noise and busyness of a city might be overwhelming for your family. Parks offer a place to unwind and relax, and for kids to run free. Most cities have several parks to visit, and many boast acres of diversions including water features, gardens, playgrounds and paths. As a bonus, parks are free.
If you are visiting a park, note the monuments and statues that are often present. They'll tell you more about the people who are important to the city and help make your visit more meaningful.
Do something quirky. Whether it's visiting Seattle's wall of gum (which I find simultaneously fascinating and disgusting) or City Museum in St. Louis, find a unique spot and visit it. It will make your visit memorable for years to come.
Don't shy away from taking children to big cities. Although cities are full of hustle and bustle, they're also accessible and fun. Plan well, wear good shoes and be flexible. But most of all, have fun seeing things through your children's eyes.