Summer is HERE. Time to break out the road trip playlist and keep the bored birds at bay with a easy adventures that aren’t too far away.

I’ve never been much on sending my kiddos to camp. Putting four kids in camp could result in the ole college fund taking some heavy hits. Besides, sharing an adventure together just always seemed like more fun for everyone.

While not opposed the an epic Griswoldian road trip, I still like to keep a list of easy places to get to that won’t involve an overnight stay. My list allows me to seem like “Spontaneous Mommy”- more flexible than Elastigril, ready to hit the road on a whim, packs a picnic basket in the blink of an eye. Fact is, I can’t do anything without planing. It’s a character flaw. 

My obsessive planing is your windfall. We’ve checked out good, bad and not-even-getting-out-of-the-car places nearby. Here is a small sampling of some favorites that the whole family can enjoy.

(cool) summer road trips

the turkey hill experience (columbia, pa)

 301 Linden Street, Columbia, PA 17512 | WEBSITE
hours: Daily 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (June 13th through August 7th)
admission: adults $9.95, children (ages 5-17) $8.95, 4 and under FREE

I scream, you scream… you know what comes next. But, did you know that you can create your own ice cream flavor at the Turkey Hill Experience? That’s only one of the fun things you can do on this super fun family outing. Design your own ice cream package for that funky flavor you just dreamed up, and create a commercial to “sell” it. Always wanted to milk a mechanical cow? {um… that’s not weird at all} You can do that here. The kids love climbing into the milk truck and everyone digs the free samples.

We’ll be heading back to see if they can recreate Heather’s Blueberry Lemon Pie Stars as ICE CREAM!

in the area: The Columbia Historic Preservation Society, is a good stop for a little history. Spend some time at the National Watch & Clock Museum, or burn off some of that sugar at Adventure Sports Hershey. This area of Lancaster County is full of Pennsylvania Dutch charm, but there aren’t many great places for a bite that are super close to Turkey Hill. That said, a short 20 minute drive gets you to the Tomato Pie Cafe. The cafe reminded us a bit of Shoo Fly – lunch counter with chrome stools, open farmhouse style layout – but one bite of it’s name sake you know you’re someplace unique.

(cool) tip: This is one of those places that’s super-fun, but quickly done. Even with the ice cream creating and tasting it only takes about 90 to complete the experience. Plan to hit some of the other attractions in the area or along the road.

international spy museum (washington, dc)

800 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004 |  WEBSITE 
Hours: 9:00am – 7:00pm Monday through Friday (May 19th – August 29th)
Admission: adults (12-64) $21.95, children (7-11) $14.95, 6 and under FREE

DC is packed with a plethora of world-class museums where admission is free. So, why would you want to go to one that costs to get into? Because it is… beyond (cool). And we take our (cool) seriously.

One part historical archive, one part immersion experience, the International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the US solely dedicated to the spy-craft, history, and contemporary role of espionage. This place truly has something for everyone in the family. Your little ones will love crawling through the air ducts and searching for listening devices. You’ll finally get to live out those 007 dreams.

in the area: Shake Shack (next door), China Town, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, District of Pi (best pizza in town). 

(cool) tip: Purchase advanced tickets to avoid lines that can get rather long.  Be sure to memorize the cover identity you get assigned when you enter – it could be a matter of life or death. Push buttons, turn knobs, look closely — there is more to see than you’ll notice at first glance.

luray caverns (luray, va)

101 Cave Hill Road, Luray, VA 22835 | WEBSITE
hours: Daily starting at 9:00am with tours departing approximately every 20 minutes. The last tour of the day departs at 6:00pm.
admission: adults $26, children (6-12) $14, 5 and under free

Growing up as a kid in Southern California our one big family road trip each year was to Disneyland. While I fondly remember careening white knuckled through the snow covered Matterhorn {read, scared for life – still won’t set foot on a roller coaster} one of my favorite memories remains the slow train through Primeval World. My young brain simply thrilled at getting a glimpse at the earth as it formed and evolved. Where I had to settle for papier-mâché and animatronics, my kids got more of the real thing – minus the Brontosaurs – with a trip to Luray Caverns.

Don’t let the kitschy gift shop above ground fool you into thinking this is your typical tourist trap. There are wonders to be found they just all happen to be underground. Earth itself is forming around you as you stroll down the winding pathways going deeper into the caverns. Awe inspiring, educational, and surreal – they actually play music using the formations – a visit to Luray Caverns will leave you with as much to talk about as the kids.

in the area: Toy Town Junction, Car and Carriage Caravan, and the Luray Valley museum are all included in your ticket price. A garden maze, gem mining, and rope adventure course all cost a little extra ($4 to $27 depending on what you end up doing.) Hiking, tubing and picnicking along the Shenandoah river can make this a great overnight destination too. 

(cool) tip: Look for an low-light app like NightCap for your smartphone that will allow you to take great pictures without flash. Impress the kids with your mad geology chops: Stalactites hold tight to the ceiling, while Stalagmites might one day reach the the top. 

land of little horses (gettysburg, va)

125 Glenwood Drive, Gettysburg, PA 17325 | WEBSITE
hours: Monday – Saturday 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Sunday 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM (June 1st – August 24th)
admission: adult $15.95 (12 and up), child $13.95 (6-11), toddler $11.95 (2-5)

If you’ve got animal lovers in your house, this is the ultimate day-trip for them. But really, who doesn’t love a tiny horse? Land of Little Horses has the feel of a working farm with the showmanship of Vaudeville Review {of the equine variety, of course} The on-site playground provides a great place for kids to get out all the pent up energy from the drive. You’ll find more than just puny ponies here, there are several different types of friendly animals jockeying for a chance to be petted. 

All that horsing around can make a kid hungry. The Hobby Horse Cafe – on site – serves up typical kid approved fare like pizza, hotdogs and quesadillas.

in the area: The Land of Little Horses is nestled in the heart of Gettysburg, PA which is ripe with fun and educational attractions. The Gettysburg Diorama Museum is a really unique stop that keeps the ‘miniature’ theme going.  Reid’s Orchard Winery and Tasting Room makes for a good stop for the grownups – grab something to take home. 

(cool) tip: Be sure to check the daily schedule. You won’t want to miss a chance to help groom the horses! 

walkersville southern railroad (walkersville, md)

 34 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Walkersville, MD  21793 | WEBSITE
hours: saturday 11:00 am and 2:00 pm
admission: children $8, adults $12

All Aboard! Next stop, family fun. Walkersville Southern Railroad is truly a gem. Run by a staff of volunteers who’s love of all things trains and local history shows in everything from the kitschy (cool) restored train depot you board at to the conductors who make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. If you’ve got a Thomas fan at home that loves the B&O they’ll be over the moon for this place.

in the area: Frederick is just around the bend and such a charming place it’s almost a destination in itself. Pack a picnic to enjoy at Carrol Creek Linear park, check out Delaplaine Visual Arts, or hit Brewer’s Alley for tasty wood-fired pizza pie.

(cool) tip: Got tiny ones that will spend the whole time on your lap? As long they don’t take up a seat – and are under 3 years old – they ride for free. Need a Date Night? Dinner and drinks aboard at train, très romantical and junk.