We have all been inundated with the term "staycation" since the start of the recession, but according to TripAdvisor's 2009 family travel survey, families are getting back on the road. In fact, of the survey's 1,500-plus respondents, 92% had planned to take a family vacation by year's end. And while beach vacations are still hot, nearly 40% of parents were planning a city vacation, with museums, aquariums and zoos among the 10 most popular activities.
One city that combines these elements in abundance, along with a dose of Colonial history, is Boston, which tied with Chicago as third most popular city in TripAdvisor's American Cities Survey, just behind New York and San Francisco.
And while many of Beantown's attraction are historical, the city has transformed dramatically in the last few years in the aftermath of the Big Dig, a massive highway project that rerouted a good deal of the downtown traffic and made the city more pedestrian-friendly.
A revitalized waterfront, kid-friendly attractions and scenic inner-city walking trails now offer families plenty to do without breaking the bank.
Families can begin their exploration of the city at the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a series of green parks and walkways that link the North End to Chinatown. Formerly a busy highway, this part of Boston is accessible via public transportation at multiple stops en route. In warm weather, an enormous waterscape drenches kids as they run among the jets of water; concerts and dance exhibitions take place on temporary stages; and an outdoor food market sells everything from fresh produce to baked goods.
In winter, the Greenway has its own appeal, thanks to the diversity of the neighborhoods it links. Families can veer off into the mostly Italian North End for a cappuccino and a visit to the Paul Revere statue outside the Old North Church or walk over to the waterfront to the New England Aquarium, which boasts an IMAX theater and a penguin exhibition.
From the waterfront, they can take a boat to Spectacle Island, with its beaches, hiking trails and interactive visitors center. Guests can also visit the other Boston Harbor islands in season, including Georges Island, complete with gigantic fort, ghostly legends and exhibition baseball games.
Transportation to the two islands, which in turn offer access to other islands, is available via ferry in summer.
One of the most popular attractions for tourists and locals alike is Quincy Market, also accessible from the Greenway. It offers an indoor, international food hall that bustles year-round. Vendors from some of Boston's best restaurants are on hand to sell takeout fare, from award-winning clam chowder to highly caloric desserts. The marketplace also boasts dozens of restaurants and shops that are open year-round.
Something in Common
In winter, families can follow the Freedom Trail from Quincy Market toward Boston Common, where they can strap on ice skates and practice their figure eights on the Frog Pond. The open-air rink is operational from November to March, becoming a wading pool for children in July and August.
Adjacent to Boston Common is the Boston Public Garden, home to Boston's most beloved statues: a series of bronze ducks depicting the heroes of Robert McCloskey's book "Make Way for Ducklings," a well-known children's story set in the city. Children can climb and sit on the statues, which were created in 1987.
Families with older children can walk through the open-air New England Holocaust Memorial, located along the Greenway off Congress Street. The memorial is a series of glass towers on a black granite walkway etched with the numbers of victims of the Nazi camps.