With some of the country’s most iconic museums, thrilling adventure and educational activities — plus a way lower price point for food and lodging than major destinations like New York — so-called “second-tier” cities offer first-rate fun. Here’s a trifecta.
Lovingly nicknamed “The Thrill” by those who grow up there, it’s easy to see how Louisville got its name. Kids can have a ball — and a bat! — at the Slugger Museum, where the world’s biggest bat stands 120-feet tall. Besides exploring the factory where the regular-sized sporting equipment is made, the little ones can visit the batting cages afterwards. Into more fast-paced sports? Horse country calls, but you don’t have to get out to the country to pony up if you hit up the Louisville Equestrian Center for a lesson or two. Churchill Downs — home to the Kentucky Derby — features fun far beyond the first Saturday in May, with several Family Adventure Days sprinkled throughout the spring and summer. Giddy up for pony rides, bouncy houses, a petting zoo and face painting (2018 dates: May 20, June 24, Sept. 23 and Oct. 28). Fireworks fans won’t want to miss Thunder Over Louisville, the annual kickoff to the Derby — two weeks prior — with hot air balloon races, boat races, live music, kids play areas and rock walls.
A 5-foot-tall Lite Brite? A state-of-the-art planetarium? 3D printing workshops? Sign us up! Nashville’s Adventure Science Center offers up 44,000 square feet of space packed with activities for kids, teens and parents. That’s part of Music City’s charm — plenty to do for all age groups, whether it’s a family trip with your girls or bachelorette party with your “other” girls. The Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum is a must. Visit the Taylor Swift education center for hands-on activities, like designing an album cover or mini mandolin lessons. If performance is your thing, then Nashville Children’s black box theatre deserves a stop; those more into the outdoors may prefer Nashville Shores Waterpark & Treetop Adventure Park, for fun on slides or in a wave pool, or via zipline and Tarzan swing. Check out the massive corn maze and grab a pumpkin in the fall at Gentry’s Farm.
Nashville’s not exactly the only music city — Elvis’s Memphis takes a close second. Kids delight in stories of the King’s fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches almost as much as the shag rug on the ceiling at Graceland, this city’s must-do attraction. Find out where other recording legends like Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan recorded at Sun City Recording Studio, widely renowned as the birthplace of rock n’ roll (and where admission at this museum is gloriously free for kids!). Keep on rollin’ on the (Mississippi) river with a Memphis River Boat cruise and you’ll take to 90 minutes of commentary like a duck takes to water — or in the case of the Peabody Hotel, like the red carpet. The waterfowl make quite the spectacle at the lobby fountain at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day. Older children may be more suited for the Civil Rights Museum, located at the Lorraine Motel, the location of the Martin Luther King assassination. A reflective afternoon takes families through his life and several eras of tumultuous American history.