April 24, 2014

Family Vacation Experiences for Science Buffs

If you’re looking for something more than your typical community pool excursions to fulfill your family fun goals this summer, consider the celebration of science. Numerous affordable options are available. These are some of my favorites.

Freebies: LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in Livingston, Louisiana offers free group fieldtrips to their facility and science outreach center with projects, activities and exhibits designed to celebrate the science being conducted the observatory. LIGO also hosts an open-to-the-public science event on the third Saturday of each month. Outreach personnel create activities suitable for children of all age levels, using materials that can easily and affordably be purchased at regular discount stores if the kiddos want to recreate their projects after your family visit. Information on registration requirements, access protocols and group size is available on the LIGO web site.

Other science venues are free as well, and offer exceptional programming. The London Science Museum for example offers complimentary access, as does the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. For stargazing fans, the Flandrau Observatory at the University of Arizona in Tucson offers free guided telescope viewing to the public Wednesday through Saturday of every week from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Memberships: Annual memberships work as well for science museums as they do for theme parks, and much more affordably as well. For example, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania charges only $99 per year for a full-access membership for a family of four, which includes free access to more than 250 additional science museums. Similarly, the Museum of Science in Boston offers an annual membership for a family of five for just $10 more than the regular one-time admission price for the same number of people. Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo also has a great annual pass program that includes several educational experiences for children. Also in Tampa is MOSI, Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry, which offers hands-on science exhibits, movies and outdoor experiences for science fans of all ages.

Parks: The America the Beautiful pass, available through the National Parks Service, provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites for all occupants riding in a personal vehicle, costs only $80 per year. Allowable venues include national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and areas falling under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. So pack your little pumpkins in the van to participate in hands-on science experiences such as the tidal pools of Maine’s Acadia National Park or California’s Channel Islands. The geysers of Yellowstone National Park are also of note, as is the junior ranger enrichment program at Shenandoah National Park, where budding young naturalists can pair up with park rangers to learn about the park’s plants, lichens, peregrine falcons and more. Travel tip: National parks are also a great resource for affordable family reunions.

Photo Credit: This image was photographed by the Trek Hound team, and is available for creative commons use through our sister site, PictureofTravelPlaces.com.

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