Even with all the fun activities to enjoy close to home this summer, a day trip can feel like a mini vacation. Who can’t use one of those now and then? Suggested here are five destinations the whole family can enjoy. As with any day trip, it’s always smart before you go to check websites or make a phone call to inquire about any changes in hours, operations, main attractions, etc. Plan ahead to make the most of your day; otherwise, the hours can fly and the bickering begins. You want summer day trips to have happy endings.
1. Presque Isle State Park
Presque Isle in Erie, Pa., a 3,200-acre peninsula with seven miles of sandy beaches on Lake Erie, came up in several conversations about places well worth taking the family to visit. You can do it in a day – a long day, to be sure – but it’s doable. The kids will surely snooze the entire way home.
Buffalo News reporter Michelle Kearns once described the picturesque peninsula as “a skinny spit of land that makes a curving line along the shore, like a fishhook.” A road system within the park forms a loop about 13 miles in length. People enjoy many recreational activities including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling, kite-flying, bird-watching and in-line skating. Rentals of bikes, surreys and kayaks are available.
Details: Presque Isle State Park, 301 Peninsula Drive in Erie, Pa., is about a two-hour drive from Buffalo. Website: www.dcnr.state.pa.us. Phone: (814) 833-7424. There is no admission charge, and parking is free. All pets must be on a leash. For swimming area pet guidelines, information on beaches, trails and a whole lot more, see the Presque Isle Park Recreational Guide. It can be downloaded on the website. Once you click on Presque Isle State Park, it’s under the maps heading.
Or, once you arrive at the park, pick one up at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center (TREC) at the entrance. Visitors are encouraged to stop here for information on Presque Isle. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. See www.trecpi.org.
Note: Waldameer & Water World are located across the street from the park.
2. Letchworth State Park
Nicknamed “the Grand Canyon of the East,” Letchworth State Park in Castile is a getaway that really makes you feel you are getting away. With more than 14,000 acres along the Genesee River, people rave about the gorge and three exceptional waterfalls. While Letchworth is a must-see on many people’s fall-foliage journeys, there is much to do in the summertime.
There are 70 miles of trails to hike, rated easy to moderate difficulty; a swimming pool ($1-$2 fee; there is no swimming in the river), picnic areas and much more. For information on cabins, camping, whitewater rafting, canoeing, hot-air ballooning and more, visit the website.
Details: Letchworth is located about an hour and a half from Buffalo. The visitor center’s phone is (585) 493-3600. The website: nysparks.com. Parking is $8 per car. Hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Restaurants and snack bars are located throughout the park.
Coming up: The Concert on the Hill and Classic Car Show from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday.
3. Griffis Sculpture Park
Fresh air and monumental sculptures make this 400-acre park in Cattaraugus County a unique destination. Owned and operated by the Ashford Hollow Foundation, the park blends art and nature. You’ll find miles of hiking trails (wear appropriate shoes), meadows and ponds here. Oh, yes, and more than 250 large-scale sculptures – including human forms and huge insects. Kids can touch and even climb on and in some of them.
Details: The park at 6902 Mill Valley Road in East Otto is about 45 miles south of Buffalo – eight miles outside of Ellicottville. Admission is by honor system: $5 for adults; $3 for students and seniors. Children under age 10 are free. You drop money through a small slot in the yellow box.
It’s open dawn to dusk May 1 to Oct. 31, and some picnic tables are on site. There are rules: No littering, no camping, no alcohol, no campfires or smoking and a few others listed on a sign near the entrance. You’ll also find a simple map on the sign marked with easy, moderate and difficult trails. For directions, trail map, rules, special events and other information, visit the website, www.griffispark.org. Phone: 667-2808.
Coming up: The first annual Griffis Sculpture Park Summer Festival from noon to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 18. Admission will be $10 for adults, ages 12 and under free. Live music, artists at work, children’s activities and more. The festival will take place at the top of the hill at the Mill Valley site of the park. See the website for details.
4. Toronto Islands
It’s not easy choosing just one summer destination in Toronto, but the Toronto Islands are our pick. After trekking from Western New York and paying to park your car at one of the nearby lots, the fun begins with a ferry ride. You can bring your bicycle, but no passenger cars, motorcycles or motor scooters are allowed on this small group of islands. Once there, you can enjoy a picnic you packed, hit the beaches, walk trails, grab a snack, visit the Centreville Amusement Park (no admission fee; pay per ride or with day pass; see www.centreisland.ca), Franklin Children’s Garden, Gibraltar Point Lighthouse or Far Enough Farm. You can rent bikes or a boat and essentially celebrate all things summer.
Details: For Toronto Islands information and map, visit www.toronto.ca/parks. Ferries leave from the Toronto Ferry Docks located at the foot of Bay Street at Queens Quay, just west of the Westin Harbour Castle hotel. There is some construction going on in the area.
Parking lot options and approximate prices (may vary by day and time) include Harbourfront Centre (about $12 per day); Green P Parking at 45 Bay St. (about $17 per day), and 10 York St. (about $15 per day). Plan on a five- to six-minute walk to the ferry docks.
There are three ferry drops on the islands. Travel time is about 15 minutes each way. The summer schedule is posted online at www.toronto.ca/parks/island/ferry-schedule.htm. Toronto Island ferry and other island information: (416) 392-8193. Summer ferry fees: adults, $7; student under 19 with a student card; and adults over 65, $4.50; children under 14, $3.50; children under 2, free.
5. The National Museum of Play at the Strong in Rochester
This is a place to go because it’s raining or might rain. Or because you’ve talked about going here forever, as the kids point out. The museum, which is highly interactive, is committed to all things play.
New for summer: The Boardwalk Arcade exhibit inspired by resorts of the 19th and early-20th centuries such as Coney Island and Atlantic City. Visitors can pose in front of fun house mirrors; spin the wheel of fortune; play lots of games. Most are free; a few require the purchase of tokens priced six for $1. Boardwalk Arcade continues through Sept. 8.
Other popular interactive exhibits include: a newly expanded Wegmans Super Kids Market, Sesame Street, American Comic Book Heroes, Berenstain Bears, Reading Adventureland and a Field of Play. The museum also has a carousel, a Strong Express passenger train, a National Toy Hall of Fame, Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden, food court, diner, museum shops and more.
Details: National Museum of Play at the Strong, 1 Manhattan Square, Rochester; (585) 263-2700, www.museumofplay.org. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. It’s a little more than an hour’s drive from Buffalo; you’ll probably want to spend at least four hours here.
General admission is $13 for ages 2 and older. Admission is free for tots under 2 as well as museum members. Admission to the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden is in addition to general museum admission fees. Timed tickets are required; advance purchase is recommended. Fees: $4 per person for nonmembers, $3 for members. Free for under age 2. See the website for details.
Note: The doll section is closed for renovation until fall 2014.