Kid-Friendly Day Trips Outside NYC That Are Worth the Drive
Grab those sanitizing wipes and hit the road.
EDITOR'S NOTE: You don’t need a week-long vacation to make some new family memories. In fact, the smaller moments (and adventures) can be so much more memorable. That’s why we partnered with the all-new Toyota Sienna to create The Re-Route, a series of articles and videos that center on sharing the things you love with your kids, including your favorite hike or upstate pizza joint.
COVID has certainly put the brakes on many family trips — but that doesn’t mean you’re forced to be stuck inside until the pandemic is over. Whether you’re looking for an easy family hike, a throwback trip to the drive-in, or exploring one of our New York’s charming upstate towns, we’ve found day trips that are both kid-friendly and fun for grown-ups, too. So, pile everybody into the car, grab those sanitizing wipes, and hit the road.
Mattituck, New York
The North Fork of Long Island may also be “out east,” but the vibe couldn’t be more different. What is similar, however, is its natural beauty and its easy accessibility from New York. One of the area’s most charming hamlets is Mattituck, which also happens to be home to the perennially popular Harbes Family Farm. During the season, you’ll find everything from a farm animal petting zoo, hedge mazes, trike tracks, and, of course, impossibly fresh fruits and vegetables. Wrap up the day with a sweets bonanza: they’re known for their apple cider doughnuts and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Drive time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Millbrook, New York
There is no question that New York City boasts some of the country’s best zoos, but if you’re looking to avoid crowds, head north. The Trevor Zoo at Millbrook School in bucolic Millbrook, New York, may be small, but it is mighty. Animals include fan favorites such as red pandas, lemurs, and golden lion tamarins. Even better, it’s open every day of the year (with an advance reservation) and at $6 per adult ticket and $4 per kid, it leaves plenty of room in the budget to grab lunch in lovely Millbrook after. We recommend Babette’s Kitchen for grab-and-go sandwiches the whole family will love.
Drive time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Stuff your faces on a pizza crawl
New Haven, Connecticut
Without a doubt, New York City is home to some of the best pizza in the world. But don’t sleep on our neighbors to the north: New Haven, with its homegrown “apizza” is absolutely worth a stop for any pie lover. To sample this unique, coal-fired variety, we recommend a tour of the big three: Frank Pepe for the white clam pie, the tomato pie at Sally’s Apizza, and the Italian Bomb — loaded with bacon, sausage, and pepperoni — at Modern Apizza (which has been around since 1934). New Haven residents all have their favorite; now you can decide which one is yours.
Drive time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
When it comes to day tripping with the family, your wheels are just as important as what’s on the itinerary. The all-new Toyota Sienna was designed with this in mind: there’s plenty of room for everyone thanks to available second-row super-long-slide captain’s chairs, a rear-seat entertainment center made for movies, and outlets* for powering up on the go. With available all-wheel drive and sport-tuned suspension, you’ll have just as much fun behind the wheel as they’ll have in the backseat.
*Do not exceed 1500W. See Owner’s Manual for additional limitations and details.
Cornwall, New York
Parents everywhere are on the hunt for out-of-the-box outdoor activities that aren’t totally packed. Enter Storm King Art Center in Cornwall, New York: an awe-inspiring, 500-acre outdoor museum that features site-specific and large-scale sculptures scattered amid its manicured fields. With such a large footprint and so many pieces to explore, you can easily spend the whole day wandering the grounds and still not discover everything. But, keep an eye out for some of our favorites, like Mark di Suvero’s towering steel piece, or Maya Lin’s wavy earthwork.
Drive time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Cold Spring, New York
One of the most accessible upstate towns to visit from New York City, Cold Spring has long been a favorite of those looking to escape urban life without spending too many hours in the car. While its main street is charming and definitely worth a stop, the biggest draw here is the abundance of hiking just minutes from town. We recommend exploring Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve: at over 8,000 acres, it has more than enough room for hiking, kayaking, birding, and fishing. Or, you can just enjoy the postcard-perfect views of the Hudson River.
Drive time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Amenia, New York
A silver lining of 2020 was the sudden resurgence in popularity of drive-in movie theaters. One of the best can be found in the charming town of Amenia, New York, in the Hudson Valley. Four Brothers Drive-In Theatre is much more than just a cinema, however; there is a playground for kids, overnight camping, and even a yard reserved for pups. It’s also worth checking out for the food alone: 1950s classics like double burgers, foot-long hotdogs, and their famed Nutella milkshake are all excellent.
Drive time: 2 hours
Immerse yourself in art in a quirky river town
Beacon, New York
Art and artists abound in this cool-kid Hudson Valley town on the east side of the river. Start your day with a trip to the wonderful Dia Beacon, an art museum housed in a nearly-300,000 square-foot former Nabisco box-printing factory. Each gallery space was designed to house just one artist’s work, including heavy hitters like Richard Serra, whose giant installation is always a favorite for the kids. After, head to Main Street to peruse galleries and local boutiques, and to treat yourself to sweets from Hudson Valley Marshmallow Co. (we recommend the French Toast variety). End your day with a meal outdoors on the patio at The Roundhouse Restaurant, which prides itself on its stunning views of a nearby waterfall; or, if you’ve got mini-science fiction fans, a trip to the Dr. Who-themed Pandorica.
Drive time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Watch history come alive
For Hamilton-obsessed kids, what better way to teach them about the American Revolution than a trip down to the City of Brotherly Love? And, at an under-two-hour drive from New York, it’s more than doable as a day trip. Start your exploration at The Museum of the American Revolution, where life-size dioramas depict the birth of our nation in stunning detail. From there, see where it all began with a trip to the famed Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. End your day with a stroll to the National Constitution Center, a museum that brings to life that great founding document of our country through interactive exhibits and programs.
Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Jersey City, New Jersey
With all of New York’s stellar museums, it’s easy to forget that there are still others worth driving for outside of the state. One of the area’s best for kids and adults is certainly the Liberty Science Center, just across the river in Jersey City. With COVID-safeguards in place, like reserving tickets in advance and requiring face masks, families can feel secure while they explore everything from exhibits about Rubik’s Cubes to DC Universe superheroes to the world’s first suspended climbing structure.
Drive time: 25 minutes
Play in the sun on the beaches “out east”
Southampton, New York
Sure, the traffic can be brutal at the height of the summer, but there’s a reason why so many New Yorkers get that dreamy look in their eyes when they talk about The Hamptons. Plus, it’s pretty beautiful year-round, so don’t write off a trip in the shoulder season. If you’ve never been, start off with a day trip to Southampton, a gorgeous town that’s an easier drive than some of those that are farther east. Set up camp at Cooper’s Beach, which is often rated amongst the best beaches in the country due to its white, sandy shoes and family-friendly vibe. Then, head into town to stroll the picturesque Main Street and to grab a bite. The Golden Pear is a perennial favorite for old and young alike: kids love the mac ’n cheese and parents swear by their coffee. And, if everyone has been on good behavior, pay a visit to Stevenson’s Toys & Games, where you can stock up on everything from action figures to kites.
Drive time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Explore one of the Hudson Valley’s most underrated towns
Ghent, New York
Ghent may be tiny, but it packs a punch. Located just north of the city of Hudson, there are charming farms, immersive outdoor art museums, and a bakery that would rival any in France. Start your day at Bartlett House, a beautiful, restored railroad hotel that boasts one of the best breakfast menus in the county (definitely grab the cherry cornmeal scones). Then, enjoy the peace and beauty of Art Omi, a 120-acre art and sculpture park with plenty of open spaces for kids to zoom through. Swing by Love Apple Farm on your way home, where, depending on the season, you can pick your own apples, grab local produce at the market, and squeal over the animals in their on-site petting zoo.
Drive time: 2 hours, 10 minutes