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Finding the Fun

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Culture, Art and all that Jazz

In Connecticut

Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield
all ages
The Aldrich is one of the few non-collecting contemporary art museums in the United States. Exhibitions feature work by emerging and mid-career artists, and education programs that help adults and children connect to today’s world through contemporary art.  (258 Main Street; 438-4519; aldrichart.org)
While you’re there: Hidden on the backside of the Main Street storefronts is the town’s famed Mr. Shane’s Homemade Parlour Ice Cream, where the toasted coconut garners raves. (409 Main Street; 431-8020) 

Beardsley Zoo, Bridgeport

all ages, especially little ones
Connecticut’s most charming zoo, the 36-acre Beardsley is home to more than 120 species in native habitats, including a rainforest and a New England farm, where the kids can feed the animals.  See website for a complete schedule of  family friendly events. Admission to the zoo: $11, adults; $9, children 3 to 11; $9 for adults over 62; children under 3 are free. (1875 Noble Avenue; 394-6565; beardsleyzoo.org)

Discovery Museum & Planetarium, Bridgeport
all ages
Kids can reach for the stars under the domed screen of the planetarium theater, and the museum is famous for its hands-on science exhibits.
Admission: $8.50 for adults; $7 for children, students and seniors; children under 5 are free. (4450 Park Avenue, Bridgeport; 372-3521; discoverymuseum.org)

Essex Steam Train & Riverboat Ride, Essex
young kids and train buffs of all ages
These two attractions schedule rides  on train and boat, so you can hop  aboard both in a single afternoon. For lunch check out the Trackside Café housed in a gleaming vintage train car. Note that until June 21, rides are offered Friday through Sunday only; after that, it’s seven days a week. Admission for both train and boat: $26, adults; $17, children 11 and under (who love the caboose birthday parties). (Essex Station, 1 Railroad Avenue;  800-377-3987; essexsteamtrain.com)

Freedom Schooner Amistad, New Haven

all ages
Docked at Long Wharf Pier in New Haven, the Amistad is both a magnificent ship and a museum that explores the tragic history of the slave trade between Africa and the Americas. The Amistad also offers two-hour public sails; check its website
for the schedule. Suggested donation: $5 per family. (Long Wharf Pier, New Haven; 495-1839; amistadamerica.org)

Gillette Castle, East Haddam
all ages
This medieval-looking castle, appropriately creepy and crumbling on the outside, is actually lavishly furnished on the inside and open for tours from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Hiking and picnicking in the surrounding park. Admission to castle: $5, adults; $2 children 17 and under; children 5 and under are  free. (67 River Road; 860-526-2336; ct.gov, click on state parks)

Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum, Norwalk
In the late 1800s, this country house was called “the most sumptuous private home built in America.”  The $10 ($6, 9 to 18 years; free for children under 8) admission includes a tour of the mansion. Call for schedule. (295 West Avenue; 838-9799; lockwoodmathewsmansion.com). While you’re there: Far less fancy is Swanky Frank’s, some five minutes away by car, where even the hot dogs are deep-fried. (182 Connecticut Avenue, South Norwalk; 853-3647 )

Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
all ages
The aquarium, which boasts more than 1,000 marine animals, is filled with special exhibits like the colony of African penguins and the African Underwater Safari. It’s a hit for kids of all ages. While you’re there, take in a film — they change frequently — at the IMAX theater, with movies projected on a six-story-high screen. Admission for aquarium and movie: $23.25, adults; $19.25, children 12 and under. (10 North Water Street; 852-0700; maritimeaquarium.org)

Military Museum of Southern New England, Danbury

all ages
Teens interested in military history and little kids who like big tanks will enjoy viewing the largest private collection of heavy armored fighting vehicles and artillery pieces from World Wars I and II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and Operation Desert Storm. Time your visit for when the turret is open, usually the third Saturday of every month: Kids can climb inside and pretend to check for advancing enemy troops.
Admission: $6, adults; $4, children 18 and under. (125 Park Avenue; 790-9277; usmilitary museum.org)

Musicals at Richter Park, Danbury
all ages
Billed as Connecticut’s longest-running outdoor theater, the Richter invites families to enjoy picnic dinners in the park, with musicals on view. Admission: $21, adults; $16, seniors; $13, children and all students. This summer brings Funny Girl, A Chorus Line, and Children of Eden along with the daytime Fairy Tale Theater, which is especially popular with little ones. (Richter Arts Center, 100 Aunt Hack Road; 748-MUSE; musicalsatrichter.org)

all ages
This port town offers too much to absorb in one day, so a little strategizing is needed to enjoy the sights that best suit your family. Head first to Mystic Seaport, a maritime museum with lots of open-air attractions. The ticket price allows you to clamber on board historic ships and wander through careful re-creations of shops, a school and boatbuilding operations ($19.95, adults; $17.95, seniors; $14.95, children 6 through 12; free for 5 and under; 888-9SEAPORT; mysticseaport.org).

Intrepid families may want to hit the seas in a classic small wooden rowboat or sailboat, rentable by the hour from The Boathouse (from $10 per half hour, every day of the week starting June 21 through Labor Day; 860-572-0711).

Mystic Aquarium Institute for Exploration is a cool place to be on a hot afternoon ($24, adults; $21, senior; $18, children 3 through 17; children under 3 free; 860-572-5955; mysticaquarium.org). Do save time for exploring the streets of the town, lined with toy, souvenir and lots of fudge shops. Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream is a classic, where the Mystic Mud is the biggest draw. (2 West Main; 860-572-7978) While you’re there: You kinda gotta eat at, or at least peek into, Mystic Pizza, the joint where a young and fluffy-haired Julia Roberts became a star. (56 Main Street; 860-536-3700)

Stepping Stones Museum for Children, Norwalk
ages: 10 and under
In the same park as the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, the Stepping Stones Museum is dedicated to offering a hands-on environment in which kids can learn about and create everything from wind socks to pinwheels to secret codes.

Devon’s Place, also in the park, designed as a “boundless playground,” where every child, even those with special needs, can tumble, slide and have fun.
Admission to museum: $9. (Mathews Park, 303 West Avenue, 899-0606, steppingstonesmuseum.org)

{ Outside of Connecticut }

Broadway, New York City
ages: at your discretion
In recent years, Broadway has upped its offerings for youth, and at any given moment a dozen shows have kid appeal. Kids’ Night on Broadway (KNOB) is an audience development event designed to introduce kids to live theater. KNOB performances take place on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of the month. Features include free tickets to children 6 through 18 who attend with a paying adult, restaurant and parking discounts, and pre-theater backstage parties. Call 888-BROADWAY) or visit kidsnightonbroadway.com or livebroadway.com.
While you’re there: Far too much to do and eat even if you limit the day to the Broadway theater district. A few restaurants highly recommended by New York City kids: Virgil’s Real Barbeque (152 W. 44th Street; 212-921-9494) and Ollie’s, for Chinese food
(200B W. 44th Street; 212-921-5988)

Bronx Zoo, New York

all ages
Some say it’s the best zoo anywhere, home to more than 4,000 animals and featuring Tiger Mountain, a three-acre natural habitat for six “stars in stripes.”  More than just a bunch of animals, the zoo offers an aray of fun and programming. Admission: $15, adults; $11, children 3 through 12. (Off the Bronx River Parkway, with an entrance gate on Southern Boulevard; 718-367-1010; bronxzoo.com)

Everett Children’s Adventure Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York

ages: 10 and under
This twelve-acre wonderland offers a hands-on way for kids to appreciate nature through its topiary gardens, waterfalls, wetland trails and, best of all, meadow and boulder mazes. Activities encourage kids to dunk their hands in the touch tanks or build their own bird nests. Entrance to the Botanical Garden includes access to the Everett: $20, adults; $8, children 2 through 12; $18, seniors. (Bronx River Parkway and Fordham Avenue, across from the Bronx Zoo; 718-817-8700, nybg.org)

Liberty Science Center, Jersey City, New Jersey
all ages
The scale and scope of this kid-friendly center will inspire even those children who say they have little interest in science. With its three giant IMAX screens, 3-D laser show and vast, hands-on exhibits, you can easily spend a day here. Starting May 30, the exhibit “Inside Natural Disasters” features what we know and are learning about the spectacular forces behind earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and tornadoes. Admission: $22.75, adults; $17.50, children 12 and under. (Liberty State Park, 251 Phillip Street; 201-200-1000; lsc.org)

New York Aquarium, Brooklyn
all ages
Home to more than 8,000 creatures from a beluga whale to jellyfish, fans of SpongeBob Squarepants will be thrilled to see the real slimy, swimming creature. On June 13 and 14 celebrate the second birthday of Tuusaq, the aquarium’s baby walrus. And June 20 and 21 is the official summer kickoff with the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. Or go on a Friday night in July and enjoy a live band and the fireworks next door at Coney Island. Admission: $13, adults; $9, children 3 through 12. (Surf Avenue, Brooklyn, New York; 718-265-FISH; nyaquarium.com)

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge, Massachusetts
all ages
This 200-acre re-creation of an 1800s New England town bustles with costumed actors operating cider and grist mills, the shoe and tinsmith shops, the meetinghouse and, of course, the tavern, among the dozens of interactive attractions. Meals are served at the tavern; picnickers are welcome to feast al fresco at designated spots around the village. On Sunday mornings in June, garden tours are offered, featuring heirloom species. Admission: $20, adults; $7, children 17 and under. (Route 20, near the junction of I-84 and I-90; 800-SEE-1830; osv.org)

Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History, New York City
all ages, strollers not allowed
With exhibits and installations nearly as mind-boggling as the universe itself (including “Field Trip to the Moon” and “Sonic Vision: How Do You See Your Music”), the planetarium is also home to the renowned space show, “Cosmic Collisions,” narrated by Robert Redford. Admission to museum and Rose Center: $15, adults; $8.50, children 12 and under. Inquire about packages of combo tickets that include admission to the show or shows. You are strongly urged to book tickets for the shows. (79th Street and Central Park West; the planetarium entrance is around the corner on 81st Street; 212-769-5200; amnh.org)