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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Top 10 Spots Every Kid Should See

1. Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York City

Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, New York City is a must for any visit to the Big Apple, and combining the trip with a stop at neighboring Ellis Island packs the iconic image with new meaning. A top attraction for kids is the carefully restored Main Building’s computerized Passenger Record, which lets visitors trace loved ones’ lineage as far back as 1892 (for free). Map out the family tree before circling back to Liberty Island for an up-close-and-personal look at the country’s most famous statue.

Here are top ten best spots that every kid should see. From iconic emblems to engineering marvels, and natural wonders to theme park fantasy lands, these attractions for kids promise to spark the imaginations of young dreamers.

2. Fenway Park Baseball Game, Boston

Boston is home to a handful of must-see historic sites, but there’s none quite as kid-friendly as the oldest operating ballpark in the country — legendary Fenway Park. Diehard fans and curious spectators alike fill the ballpark every game to root for the home team, known in Boston as “The Sawx,” and the intense energy that fills the park makes this one attraction for kids that no youngster will soon forget.

3. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska

For the best views of Alaska’s frozen wonders, take the youngsters to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve where glaciers cover over a quarter of the 3.3-million-acre park, located about 50 miles northwest of Juneau. Sadly, Glacier Bay is one attraction for kids that might not be the same for future generations. Though glacier melting here is not directly linked to global warming, the frosty namesakes of Glacier Bay have steadily retreated over the past 200 years. Today, there’s still plenty to see and do, but note that the only way to reach the park is by cruise or “flightseeing” tours, so odds are you’ll visit with a cruise ship or tour company.

4. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Spanning 277 miles and plunging to depths of close to a mile, the Grand Canyon rightfully earns its spot as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. It’s also a spot every kid should see, thanks to abundant wildlife remnants of thousands of years of human settlement, and fascinating geological features. The park offers two types of Junior Ranger badges for children ages 4 and up, with additional programs in the summer months to spark kids’ interest in hiking and nature.

5. Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral

The concept of man in space has long captivated the inner child in us all, and as we plow forward into the new millennium, one fantastic chapter in the history of space aviation is readying to close. Regardless of whether your visit coincides with one of these historic launches, the Visitor Complex offers plenty of attractions for kids that entertain and educate in their own right, including a shuttle launch simulator, astronaut encounters, behind-the-scenes tours, and cool hands-on exhibits.

6. San Diego Zoo, San Diego

Frank the gorilla, Otis the hippo, Orbit the koala — these are just a few of the new friends your kids will meet on a visit to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, home to 4,000 rare and endangered animals, including six resident pandas and the largest colony of koalas outside of Australia. Large natural-looking enclosures and huge glass-viewing areas allow kids to get close-up views of the animals. Top attractions for kids include watching polar bears swim at the Polar Rim exhibit; meeting the zoo’s new panda cub, named Yun Zi, at the Giant Panda Research Station; or experiencing an “eye-to-nostril encounter” with massive hippos through the underwater-viewing window in the Lost Forest.

7. The Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1846, the Smithsonian’s 19 museums and its National Zoo (all but two are located in the D.C. area) are open to the public and boast a collection of scientific, historic, and cultural artifacts that is downright dizzying — 137 million specimens, to be exact. It would take eons to tour every nook and cranny, so choose a few attractions for kids that are primed for sparking even the littlest travelers’ imaginations.

8. Walt Disney World, Orlando

There’s something simply magical about visiting Walt Disney World as a kid. For all its touristy hoopla, the four-park resort captures childlike merriment — via castles, roller coasters, and the requisite fairy-tale princesses — in a way that’s hard for anyone who doesn’t believe in the tooth fairy to grasp.

9. Willis Tower, Chicago

For kids, the bird’s-eye look at the country’s third-largest city is revelatory (especially when those ears start popping on the elevator ride up!), but even parents can’t help marveling from the 103rd floor of the office building as it sways slightly in the wind. On the clearest days, spot four states (Illinois and its neighbors, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan) from the 1,353-foot-high Skydeck, and zoom into local neighborhoods with the high-powered telescopes on hand.

10. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park has long made the list of spots every kid should see — the region’s stunning natural landscapes wowed the earliest Western visitors enough to designate it the country’s first national park in 1872. A highlight of a visit here then and now is surely Old Faithful, the mind-blowing 130-foot geyser that erupts about every 75 minutes. The diversity of the park’s living creatures is equally as awe-inspiring, with 67 species of mammals and 322 species of birds, including iconic American animals like bison and bald eagles, as well as elk, wolves, and falcons. The park holds plenty of outdoor fun and attractions for kids of all ages, from hiking to camping to horseback riding.