Today’s post was written by Kat Rutkin, a Somerville mom, travel-phobe and former dog-walker to the stars. When not scouring the region for toddler-friendly activities, she can be found directing Somerville Local First, co-moderating the Somerville Moms list or relaxing on the Broadway Riviera (Latta Brothers Pool to Louie’s Ice Cream!) with her sons Sumner and Graham and husband Taybin.
As most parents know, vacation with little ones in tow is not really a vacation. That’s why this year we’re leaving the car behind and staying local for summer fun.
That said, there are so many wonderful things to do with your kids, it can be almost overwhelming, so I’m here to give you a rundown of a few favorites on my staycation list.
Free or Almost Free
Pools and Splash Parks: Elyse covered the Somerville pools in an earlier post, but if you’re in the mood for a bit of a bike trip or a ride on the T, there are a few other area water features that are really fun.
- The Frog Pond is a great half-day trip with many other things to add. The excitement of a bike/bus/T ride and lunch on Boston Common can be enough to knock out even the most active toddlers (let’s face it, that’s our true endgame). Lucky kiddos can follow up a splash party with a ride on the carousel for $3.
- Charlesbank Spray Deck (formerly Lee Wading Pool) is a short walk from the Museum of Science and there’s also limited parking in the lot by the Charles River Esplanade. It has almost full shade in the early morning hours when it opens, which is nice if you or your tot burns easily. It opens at 9:30 a.m., so there’s plenty of time for fun before a midday nap.
- Splash parks: Almost all of the parks in Somerville have some kind of water feature–one of which is sure to please even the pickiest of toddlers. The sand pit at Hodgkins-Curtain Park outside Davis Square has a cool waterwheel. Grimmons Park in Ten Hills has a few spray fountains that create EXCELLENT puddles. Dickerman Playground in mid-Somerville is one of the newer parks and has a water feature good for the younger set (less high-spraying fountains). Chuckie Harris Park in East Somerville is really just all-around fantastic and its water feature doubles as a giant movie screen! My son once told me he’d like to live there, forever, in the grass.
- Cambridge also has a few tot lots that have great sandpits and water features together and has a handy map for finding them all. I’d recommend biking, walking or taking the T if you can as Cambridge parking can be tricky for non-residents.
Library: The library is truly a parent’s best friend. Not only does it provide shelter from storm and heat and thousands of books for free, but each branch of the Somerville Public Library also has a wonderful children’s room with toys and scheduled activities like story time and sing-alongs for kids of all ages. You can also reserve museum and zoo passes for free or discounted admission to many Boston area institutions, including the Boston Children’s Museum, Zoo New England, and the Museum of Science. It’s a great way to see whether you like them before committing to a membership, though I highly recommend museum memberships as well, as individual visits can really add up.
Bike rides on the Minuteman Bike Path: If you, like us, have a bunch of friends who recently defected to Arlington and beyond, you can make visiting them an adventure. We like to hitch up the trailer and take off down the shaded trails for a full day of riding. Stops along the way include the Arlington Reservoir (maybe ask those Arlington resident friends to meet you there!), Spy Pond and several little parks great for having a picnic or snack. Sumner’s been known to loll out completely in his seat, with his hand in his snack cup for safekeeping. (Get ready for bicycle trips with Somerville’s bike shops and resources.)
Playgroup at the Growing Center: The Somerville Community Growing Center located just outside of Union Square hosts a drop-in playgroup on Fridays at 9 a.m. for kids up to age 5.
Ocean Beaches: There is no shortage of choices when it comes to beaches in this area, many of which are only a short drive from Somerville.
- Revere Beach is one of my favorites. Twenty minutes from Somerville by car, it’s a wonderfully unpretentious slice of ocean front. It is America’s first public beach, and has a gritty feel similar to the Rockaways and Coney Island in New York, where my family has been going for years. Since you’re likely up with the sun anyway despite your blackout curtains, take advantage of that and hit the road, grabbing breakfast on the way. Early in the morning parking is plentiful and the beach is quiet.
- If you’re in the mood for a drive to the North Shore, Plum Island is a nice choice and has a few beaches to choose from, cute seafood shacks and proximity to Newburyport for those in the mood for a downtown stroll. The northern part of the island has slightly better bathroom access and a cute playground for kids.
Walden Pond: It’s not like this place needs any further endorsements, but it really couldn’t be any more perfect for little kids. Friends had been hyping Walden for years, but I suffered from the belief that the world abruptly drops off after Arlington. I am also NOT a lake swimmer, having previously only experienced slimy, muddy lakes. I was convinced last summer to try it out, and I was blown away. Turns out glacial ponds, like Walden, are filled with sand and not slime, replicating ocean beaches with no currents to terrify the little ones (or moms!). Parking is $5/$10 for the day, depending on resident status. This is another great place to bring lunch and stay for the morning or the full day. The staff is also super friendly and won’t bat an eye when your child is screaming to be let onto the beach as they ask you if you need a map to Thoreau’s cabin. (Here’s a guide on how to enjoy Walden in all seasons.)
Costs Money, But Worth It
Boston Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science: These places are pretty crowded in the summer, but these crowds tend to be better managed than the school trips that educate the elementary school crowd, but terrify moms of small children. Memberships may seem pricey at first, but they make short, frequent visits cost-effective for beating the summer heat and managing the winter doldrums. If you haven’t been yet, try reserving a pass from the library as I mentioned above. This will give you a good idea whether the museum is right for you before you invest. Both of these are fun places to explore, with many levels and exhibits, so you can see something new every time.
Brunch or breakfast at crack of dawn: The upside of rising early in the summer is that you’re going to be first in line at the Neighborhood. This Union Square institution is very kid friendly, and the patio is a wonderful place to sit in the summer. The sparrows will eat whatever your kid drops, so you don’t even have to feel bad when the eggs hit the floor for the 86th time. (Here are more ideas for where to get breakfast or brunch in Somerville.)
There’s Room for Lazy Days, Too
There’s something to be said for ditching a schedule and the need to be first to nab the perfect spot. Summer is a great time for lazy mornings in your PJs, waffle breakfasts at home and maybe just finding a puddle or two to jump in. Be creative! Once I made my son a “pool” on our porch with a rubbermaid container and he had as much fun there as he did on our beach trips.
Whatever you decide to do, enjoy your summer!