Central Pennsylvania offers a ton of family-friendly activities and attractions, providing an insane amount of opportunities for summer fun. Here are my three personal favorites. This list is obviously not exhaustive, but this is currently what we are up to most evenings and weekends.
My friends, the ride at Hershey’s Chocolate World is free. Parking is free. Why wouldn’t you go? A solid A+ for the little ones and entertaining enough for the grownups. Coraline, my 4-year-old, and I will bust out of the house after I get off work, drive “over the bridge” to Hershey, and go on the ride at Chocolate World at least twice every time. Plus, you get a little treat at the conclusion. Who doesn’t love a little treat? Full transparency, we went on that ride four times one evening. I still have no idea how chocolate is made, but we can chalk that up to goldfish-like brain/memory, not the ride itself. That’s a me problem, not a Chocolate World problem.
If you have some extra cash, you can create your own candy bar, enjoy the 4D chocolate show, take a trolley on a tour around Hershey, or buy any number of gifts in their shop or at their café. HIGHLY recommend the cookies stuffed with frosting (fluff?) from the bakery.
We spend a decent amount of time at the Whitaker Center all through the year – not just in summer. On the street floor, there’s a carnival-type area including a short (but wide) rock climbing wall and other exhibits Coraline often ignores. On the same floor, there is an awesome toddler and smaller kid area where she can spend hours. There is an ambulance, a grocery store, a little stage, water play, a few other games/play areas, and picnic tables for families who choose to bring their lunch. There is even a little library, so you can read stories during lunch.
Upstairs, you’ll find the IMAX as well as video game rooms geared toward older kids. In the basement, there is almost always a traveling exhibit in addition to permanent displays. We can spend large chunks of time down there playing in the sand that showcases topography.
Bonus! Did you know when you purchase a membership to the Whitaker Center, you also immediately are a part of the ASTC Travel Passport Program? We have visited ECHO in Burlington, Vermont, the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, and the Exploratorium in San Francisco. With our membership, we have saved hundreds of dollars in museum entry. Would never have known about that if not for the Whitaker Center!
There are two swimming pools that we visit regularly: the West Shore YMCA Pool and Splash Pad and the Hampden Township Pool. Over this summer, Coraline has been teaching herself how to swim, and she can now jump in (with a parent in close proximity), swim for very, very short bursts under water, and doggie paddle for a decent length without touching the bottom. She is at one of these pools – between my partner (Kevin) and me – about four times a week. (I do not know if my super-chlorinated hair will ever recover.)
Both pool facilities have fun splash pads and toddler areas as well as lap lanes and family space. Of course, the schedule changes throughout the day, so check before you go!
I know I said Top 3, but here are a few more bonus places
Get out of the house and into Central PA!
Whatever your family favorites are, go do them! The most important thing during summer is finding the activities your family enjoys, getting out and getting involved. We like the “wear our memberships out” technique so we don’t have additional expenses most of the time. A lot of our friends like to pay as they go. Whatever works for your family, I hope you are able to get out there and enjoy all the fun things Central PA has to offer.