Some places are best enjoyed with young children. These are oh-so-sweet and enchanting locales, offering innocent fun, magnified through the eyes of little ones. Here are five we adore; charming, delightful spots to take your kids this winter that will leave even the most jaded grown-ups in the group ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
Your own little rambunctious monkeys will have a busy day — and an adventure — with Curious George at The Margret and H.A. Rey Center in Waterville Valley, N.H. (www.thereycenter.org). Hans and Margret Rey, authors of the beloved Curious George children’s book series, spent summers at this little cottage in the White Mountains. Today, it’s a sweet spot to learn more about the well-known, mischievous primate. Don snowshoes (rentals are available) for a traipse into the woods, following the words of a Curious George story that has been placed along the nature trail. Kids also enjoy the center’s winter scavenger hunt. Grab the list and head into the woods with your inquisitive “nature detectives” to sleuth out items typically found in the local forest. End your visit with popcorn and hot cocoa in the Curious George Cottage. They also have story time on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon and crafts like Edible Fairy House Making on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m.
Kids in a candy store
Visiting the World’s Largest Candy Counter is right up there on the must-see list for the kid in all of us. Visitors gush: “Overwhelmingly adorable.” “A must visit.” “Amazing selection.” “Nirvana for anyone with a sweet tooth.” Chutters, located in Littleton, N.H. (www.chutters.com), is 112 feet of sweet deliciousness, with some 600 jars of candy, along with an impressive selection of fudge and chocolates. It’s named after its original owner, Frederick George Chutter, a Congregational minister who opened Chutter’s General Store in the late 1800s. We bet some of the same old-fashioned penny candies that George once sold are found here today. Grab a bag and have fun; it’s better than Halloween!
Calm the sugar-induced buzz with a walk around town, through the covered bridge and along the Ammonoosuc River, or head to Parker Mountain Trails (www.prkrmtn.org), with a 22-mile network of skiing, hiking, and biking trails, including five miles of groomed fat bike trails. (You can rent bikes in town at Littleton Bike & Fitness, www.littletonbike.com). For an adult beverage and wood-fired pizza, stop at the Schilling Beer Company, an award-winning micro-brewery housed in an 18th-century mill building overlooking the river (www.schillingbeer.com).
Elmo and the stars
Listen as Elmo and his young visitor from China tell Big Bird all about their trip to the moon, and then sing along to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The long-running One World One Sky show at the EcoTarium in Worcester (www.ecotarium.org), which runs several times throughout the year, is a sure kid pleaser. Also running, at selected times, is the popular Harry Potter-themed Wizards in the Stars, a live show featuring constellations visible in the northern night sky in winter. (Many of the characters in the beloved Harry Potter books are named after stars and constellations.)
The EcoTarium also features a variety of hands-on exhibits showcasing the natural environment. Head to the top level where you can take a drive to the summit of Mount Washington and step inside a hurricane simulator to learn about the “world’s worst weather.” Other exhibits include City Science: The Science You Live, where you can design your own city and learn about the animals living in your neighborhood (rats and ants!); the Water Planet exhibit with a tide pool tank, and the Curator’s Workshop, a replica of a 19th-century naturalist’s workshop that encourages visitors to touch and learn more about the animals in the taxidermy collection.
The museum sits on 45 acres; walk the nature trails to see resident animals, like wild turkeys, rabbits, and deer. Go animal tracking, or meet a porcupine or skunk in the Animal Corner.
Bonfires and s’mores
Winter at the 65-acre Nestlenook Farm estate in Jackson, N.H., is quite magical (www.nestlenookfarmsleighrides.com). Snow-blanketed fields, lantern-lit trails, a bridge decorated with twinkling lights and pine garlands, a warming gazebo, and a Victorian ice skating rink set the scene. There’s music playing and horse bells jingling, and the air smells of log fire smoke.
Hoist the kids into a horse-drawn Austrian sleigh and snuggle under fur blankets as you ride along the snow-banked Ellis River, over the hill and through the woods. After the 30-minute or so ride, sip hot chocolate and huddle next to one of the bonfires to warm up; there are three fires burning outside, another one in the warming center and one in the gazebo. And what’s a bonfire without s’mores? Incomplete, we say. Thankfully, s’more kits are offered for purchase.
There’s also skating on the picturesque 3-acre rink on Emerald Lake, and a wide network of snowshoeing trails for all abilities (rentals available).
Birds and beasts
Not all animals hibernate during the winter. At the Franklin Park Zoo (www.zoonewengland.org), resident lions, tigers, zebras, gorillas, wildebeests, birds, and other animals don’t seem to mind our New England winter weather. They’re all out and about, and easy to see. It’s also nice that the zoo is much less crowded during the winter, so you can move around with ease, and get up close to the exhibits. The zoo remains open daily throughout the season, and hosts a variety of special programs and events, like behind-the-scene tours, animal encounters, and zookeeper chats. Note: what you won’t see are the giraffes, kangaroos, and warthogs, and Butterfly Hollow an Aussie Aviary are closed.
If you’re looking to warm up, visit the indoor Tropical Forest, home to western lowland gorillas, pygmy hippos, ring-tailed lemurs, free-flight birds, a giant anteater, and more. Kept at a balmy 72 degrees year-round, it’s like visiting the tropics without leaving Boston.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.