For my son Cole's 10th birthday I took him on a special weekend away in Harrisburg & West Shore. It was a time for just me and him, no distractions from email, sports, younger siblings or anything else. I really wanted to focus on being present and in the moment with him, listening to what he had to say, and doing as many things for him and with him as I could that weekend.
Cole is my oldest child, and at 10 years old, he is pretty self-sufficient. We try really hard to spend time with each of our kids on our own, whether it's my husband coaching their team or taking just one of them with us to run errands. I wanted this weekend to be special. To be a weekend he would look back on and have great memories of. To be a time he really knew that we appreciate what a great kid he is and how proud we are of him. Our weekend away quickly became our weekend of "yes". Not yes to every whim and desire he had, but yes to things there was no reason to really say no to. There were no younger siblings holding him back from joining laser tag. We didn't have to cut our time short to make it home for a nap. I wasn't outnumbered by him and his siblings and being pulled in three different directions to three different activities.
We had a blast exploring the Harrisburg and Hershey area and checking out some great places to spend time as a family and with kids.
Spend a Day on City Island
City Island is located in the middle of the Susquehanna River and offers a variety of family fun options. We took a River School Cruise aboard the Pride of the Susquehanna and came away with so many fun fact and interesting tidbits about our area. The kids all really enjoyed the hands-on activity, demonstrations and scavenger hunt.
Cafe Huey is a great spot to stop and grab a snack, or a full meal while enjoying other parts of City Island. Our group ordered everything from salads and wraps to sandwiches, drinks, fries and dessert and were impressed with the portion size, customer service and of course, the taste. The food offerings were even approved and enjoyed by the 17 kids on our trip, which is a huge win in my book.
City Island is also home to a playground, the Harrisburg Senators baseball team, a playground, mini golf course, railroad, beautiful walkways for walking, biking and running and more. It also happens to be a pretty awesome spot to catch up with friends and catch Pokemon. With beautiful views of Harrisburg, it's a unique spot to take family photos too! CLICK HERE to learn more about our time on City Island and our favorite spots.
Catch a Ride on the Pride
As one of only six operating paddlewheel boats in the USA, catching a ride on the Pride of the Susquehanna is a unique opportunity not to be missed. The Pride of the Susquehanna docks on City Island and offers a variety of cruises from Princess or Pirate themed, to dinner cruises, firework cruises, and more. Each day during the summer season the Pride of the Susquehanna offers 45 minute sightseeing cruises. It's a fun way to learn more about the Susquehanna River and local area from a vantage point not many get to enjoy.
My son and I absolutely loved The Susquehanna River School we participated in a few weekends ago and are already planning to take the rest of our family back for a different themed River School. The instructors taught at a level the kids could easily understand, but parents would also enjoy. It didn't feel boring and like we were just being talked at - there were hand-on displays, interactive activities and the instructors were so patient with all the questions from the kids. I've lived in the Susquehanna Valley for more than 30 years and was taught so many things about the Appalachian Mountains, Susquehanna River and the surrounding area that I just never noticed or learned before. My son pointed out interesting geological landmarks in our area when we drove along the Susquehanna last week on our way to Duncannon. I was impressed with how many facts he remembered a week later from our trip on the floating classroom.
Touring Pennsylvania's Capitol with kids
As you walk through the one-ton doors and head into the State Capitol you can't help but stare in amazement at the artwork, mosaic tiles on the walls, ceiling and floor and the gold leafing that's as far as the eye can see. The PA Capitol was not just built to be functional, it was built to be beautiful and to be a lasting legacy to all Pennsylvanians. Cole and I enjoyed a free 30 minute tour and both came away learning something new and having a renewed appreciation for all of the history these walls have seen and will see in the future.
I was really impressed with all of the knowledge our guide had, she was able to answer all kinds of questions from the kids and explain the workings of the House of Representatives, Supreme Court and Senate in a way that the kids weren't bored and could easily understand. Sitting high above the Capital off of 3rd and State Streets and overlooking the Susquehanna, the Capitol can be a pretty imposing building. As a resident of Pennsylvania, it was a great feeling to introduce my 10 year old to a slice of our history and to make sure he knows that the Capitol and those who work there represent him and affect his daily life. I really appreciate that these tours are offered to the public at no charge. You don't have to be a resident of PA to participate in a tour, they're open to the general public.
Visit Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts
Whether you're looking to watch a ballet, check out a movie on a giant digital screen, play with hands-on activities, or more, the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts has something for everyone in your family. Starting with the very youngest, KidsPlace offers a safe and fun spot for kids ages 5 & under to play in a pretend supermarket, build in a tiny town, climb around ambulance and more. It's totally geared to younger kids, so you don't have to worry about them being run over by the older kids.
As kids get older, they'll love the displays and exhibits that are just begging kids to touch, feel and explore STEM activities. With displays that rotate and change, the Whitaker Center keeps things fresh and interesting for kids.
Fulfill your need for speed
Offering go-karts, laser tag, bumper boats, batting cages, mini golf, an arcade, ice cream and more, Adventure Sports in Hershey truly has something to fit everyone in your family. Kids elementary school age and older will love going from activity to activity competing against their family and friends to see who can go faster, farther and quicker.
My son and I were really impressed by the go-kart track and made sure to fit multiple races in on our evening at Adventure Sports. The trace was longer than most we've done, the cars all ran really well and at 5 minutes long, it felt like it was the perfect length. Our groups played laser tag and all left wishing we could have squeezed in another round. The course was really well maintained, there were plenty of places for not just kids to hide, but adults as well, and playing outdoors was such a fun experience. Cole had a blast hiding out in the large 3 acre field waiting for the unsuspecting moms to come by so he could hit his target.
Families could easily spend the better part of an afternoon/day and not be bored. The mini-golf course is superbly maintained and has enough tricks and traps to be fun for adults, but is easy enough for kids to play too. Before you leave Adventure Sports in Hershey, make sure to stop by the arcade, hit the batting cages or grab some ice cream as well!
CLICK HERE to find out more about our time at Adventure Sports in Hershey.
Visit Hersheypark and Hershey's Chocolate World
When you think of visiting Hershey or Harrisburg with kids, one of the first places people suggest to visit is Hersheypark, and with good reason. IT'S SO MUCH FUN!
You could easily stretch your visit to Hersheypark out over two or more days to fully take advantage of the rides, shows, games, ZooAmerica, waterpark and more. The entire park is built around the idea of having fun as a family, so you'll often find kiddie rides nestled near rollercoasters and will find plenty of rides and attractions the entire family can enjoy together. Walking through ZooAmerica takes a bit over an hour, and is included in your daily admission to Hersheypark.
If you're craving something slightly different, head to Hershey's Chocolate World where you can enjoy a free tour that shares the history of Hershey's chocolate, a 4D movie, Create Your Own Candy Bar, the new feature Hershey's Unwrapped a Chocolate Tasting Adventure and more. There is also a food court inside Hershey's Chocolate World, so everyone in your family can find their favorite thing to eat.
Take a load off at Best Western Premier
Relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of visiting so many family-friendly attractions in Harrisburg and Hershey with a stay at the Best Western Premier The Central Hotel & Conference Center. Cole and I found the beds to be the perfect level of softness and really liked that there were plenty of pillows already on the bed so you could get super comfy to wind down for bed. We accidentally forgot our toothbrushes but were pleasantly surprised to find out that Best Western Premier had a whole list of items to give you if you find yourself without something. Less than 10 minutes after we called down about toothbrushes we had a knock at our door with complimentary brushes.
Cole absolutely loved the indoor pool. It was bigger than most hotel pools we've seen and had plenty of room for his and his buddies to play without feeling like it was unsafe or they were on top of other kids. Breakfast at O'Reilly's Tap Room & Kitchen was delicious and had a lot of items offered. It wasn't a tiny breakfast buffet and the variety was pretty wide so it'd be easy to find something to make your entire family happy.
I really appreciated how much parking was available and how close to the main entrance it all seemed. I can't stand trying to navigate a crazy parking lot with suitcases and found the parking availability to be great. With plenty of other families, baseball teams and conventions staying at the hotel at the same time it felt super family friendly and like you didn't have to tiptoe around everywhere. We never noticed noise from other guests but appreciated the peace of mind that the staff and hotel welcome kids.
Cole and I enjoyed our weekend away in Harrisburg & Hershey and created memories that will last a lifetime. It felt so great to be able to say "yes" to so many fun things to eat, ride and enjoy in Harrisburg & Hershey. I can't help but recommend checking out these family-friendly attractions and things to do in Hershey and Harrisburg, we had an amazing time and know you will too. We were guests of Visit Hershey & Harrisburg and are eternally grateful to Rick and his team for helping us create such a wonderful weekend away to celebrate Cole's 10th birthday. For more info on visiting Hershey and Harrisburg with kids, click here.
To find fun events for families in kids in Harrisburg & West Shore check the calendar of events. It's always filled with festivals, fairs, storytimes, cruises, baseball games & more!