East Coast Family Road Trip Vacation Ideas

The adventure, fabulous scenery and historical sites of an East Coast family road trip vacation.

When I was a child, our family took road trips frequently in the summer. We stayed in motels and roadside inns, camped, swam, visited lots of local attractions and even had some unique educational experiences. I remembered those trips fondly and when I had children, I took them on road trips too. Family road trips can certainly be a big hassle, but with proper planning they can become wonderful bonding experiences for a family to cherish. Even vacation mishaps can be positive; our family has had many laughs over reliving a few horrible vacation experiences that seem hilarious now.

The East Coast is a great place to take a family road trip. Adventure, fabulous scenery, and many historical sites await East Coast travelers. One particular road trip my family has enjoyed is along the coast of Massachusetts. There is something to see and do there in all seasons; the leaves and country fairs in the fall, sleepy little towns covered with snow in winter, rushing rivers and crisp air in the spring, and whale-watching and Red Sox games in the summer. Let me tell you about a great road trip along the coast of Massachusetts and some of the places you should visit.

Decide first if you want to stay in one hotel for the whole trip and take day trips from that location, or if you want to stay at different places along the road. For your trip to run smoothly, you need to map out a loose itinerary, but leave room for unexpected attractions you might want to stop at along the way. Booking lodging in advance is certainly recommended, especially during the summer and fall when the tourist trade is at its height; you should expect to pay more and find the choices very limited if you don't book ahead of your trip. If you decide to stay in one place, Boston would be a good place to get your hotel; all of the places I will discuss next are good day trips from Boston.

Start your trip on the 62-mile peninsula of Cape Cod, a solid string of great beaches, craft shops, quaint villages, antique stores and bed-and-breakfasts. Spend a couple of days visiting beaches, sampling local cuisine and perhaps riding the ferry over to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket Island. For an educational experience, take the children to Heritage Plantation near Sandwich for a taste of what it was like long ago. If you start from Boston, leave on Route 93 south, then take Route 3 south to Sagamore, crossing the Cape Cod Canal. Continue on Route 6A, which will take you down the peninsula where you can reconnect with Route 6 if you want to go all the way to Provincetown. Be aware that this area can be very crowded in summer; a midweek visit would be best if you don't want to have to sit in traffic.

After you've sampled Cape Cod, get back on Route 3 and go north to Plymouth. Plymouth is known for its cranberry harvest and for Plymouth Rock, where the pilgrims are said to have landed. There's a museum dedicated to the cranberry business just north of Cape Cod and if you're visiting in the fall, there's a cranberry festival in mid-September. Take the kids to Plymouth Rock and to the wax museum across the street; young children can have fun spotting the cats in the diaromas there. Plimoth Plantation is a recreation of a pilgrim village and has craft demonstrations. Walk along the harbor, visit the old ships and have a bite to eat in one of the restaurants along the shoreline before you continue your trip up to Boston.

Visiting Boston will give your family a renewed sense of American history. Boston has made it very easy for you to navigate around the city, and your car will just get in the way there. Leave it at your hotel and walk, take the water taxis, subway or other public transportation. The Freedom Trail is marked by red lines or red bricks on the sidewalks and streets and is easy to follow. Get a map at your hotel and follow the trail, seeing such sites as Paul Revere's house, Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, the Old North Church, Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution. If you don't want to walk or want to save time, take the duck boat tours, a ride on an amphibious vehicle that takes about 80 minutes and takes you by 40 places of interest while also providing commentary.

If you want to stay longer in Boston, take in the New England Aquarium, shop at the Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall, and eat a burger at Cheers. Take the children to the Public Gardens and ride the swan boats. Visit the John F. Kennedy Library, the John Hancock Tower, and Fenway Park or go across the river to Cambridge. Walk up Newbury Street or take the water taxi from Charlestown to Long Wharf. You will find many things to hold your family's interest as you walk around Boston; there's always something going on.

Following Route 1A northeast from Boston will take you along the coast past Revere Beach, Swampscott, and up to Salem. Salem has several attractions dealing with the Witch Trials in the 17th century, such as the Witch Museum, Witch House, and Witch Village, and older children are often fascinated by this bit of history. Other excellent educational opportunities are to found at the Pioneer Village, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the House of the Seven Gables, made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his novel.

From Salem, follow Route 127, passing through the lovely town of Beverly, the Singing Beach at Manchester-by-the-Sea, and the Hammond Castle Museum south of Gloucester. This weird castle was built by Dr. John Hammond, a genius inventor who is buried on the grounds. It has many features that will interest children, such as secret passages, a laboratory and a giant pipe organ.

Gloucester, the next town on this route, was where some of the movie "The Perfect Storm" was shot; you can get a map and visit the Crow's Nest and other locales of the movie, or take a boat on the harbor tour and the tour guide will tell you all about some of the movie sites you can only see from the water, as well as interesting commentary on how fish sticks are made. Gloucester has companies offering whale-watching excursions along the harbor; on a clear, sunny day this can be an exciting trip for the whole family, but take along a jacket in case the weather changes while you're out on the water. (Whale-watching tours also leave from Boston, Salem and Cape Cod towns.) Visit "The Man at the Wheel" statue and the monument that lists the names of all the fishermen of Gloucester who have been lost at sea. Stand awhile by the drawbridge, watch the boats come in and out, and enjoy the salt air while walking along the harbor of Gloucester.

From Gloucester, continue north up Route 127A to Rockport. Rockport is a charming town full of artists' studios, galleries, shops and restaurants and the well-known Motif No. 1, the old red fishing shack covered with lobster bobbles and traps that has been painted and photographed numerous times. Walk down to the end of the line of shops to the rocks and watch the sailboat school and lobster fisherman checking their traps. Stop in one of the small restaurants and have a steamed lobster; you can watch them bringing in the just-caught lobsters through the back door. Rockport is a good place to kick back and just relax for a day; eating strudel or lobster on the back porch of a shop is my idea of heaven in Rockport.

As you travel on down Route 127 from Rockport, you will come to Pigeon Cove, a small town whose main attraction is a house built of paper. Kids will love The Paper House, built between 1922 and 1942; it's made of over 100,000 old newspapers and even the furniture is constructed of paper. As you leave Pigeon Cove, you will come to Halibut Point State Park, which is an excellent place to make a beach stop. Continuing around on Route 127, and then Routes 128 and 133, will take you up to Essex and Ipswich, river towns full of antique shops and quaint homes. Stop and eat some fried clams at the well-known clam shack found in Essex.

From Ipswich, you can go south on Route 1A back down to Boston, or north on 1A up through Rowley, Newburyport and Salisbury. Salisbury has a beach with many amusement park games and rides, and Hampton Beach, NH is just up the road a bit. Hampton Beach has concerts each night during the summer and also a sand castle building contest and boasts a beautiful beach with many rental homes, motels and restaurants.

Traveling along the eastern coast of Massachusetts can be an interesting, educational and exciting trip for your family. With some advance planning and reservations, a loose itinerary and information about what to expect, you and your children can experience a trip that will be remembered fondly for years to come.

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