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Driving to New York? Give the Kids a Break.

By Kathleen Seiler Neary
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rest stop? There will be no resting involved for my energetic 3-year-old son. My goal is for him to go, go, go before being loaded back into his car seat.

Every holiday season, our travels take us from Washington to my in-laws' home in the New York area. Even at other times of the year, I'm always looking for inexpensive, kid-friendly places as we go over the river and through the woods -- er, over the painfully crowded Delaware Memorial Bridge and through turnpike traffic. As I see it, we're going to have to stop anyway, so we might as well make the most of it. Here are some spots along the way that allow you to say yes a little sooner to "Are we there yet?"

LITERARY LAYOVER

Storyville at Rosedale Library (6105 Kenwood Ave., Baltimore, 410-887-0512, http://www.bcplstoryville.org). About 2.4 miles from Interstate 95, Exit 64A.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor has scores of kid-friendly spots, but with luck, you won't need a stop so close to home. But a bit north of the Inner Harbor, tucked into a branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, is Storyville, a wonderland for kids 5 and younger. (Older kids can play and read in the library's children's section.) Storyville coordinator Michele Presley describes it as "a children's museum within the library." The 2,240-square-foot child-size village opened in February with age-appropriate books and seven learning areas, including mini versions of a two-story home, grocery store and construction site. This is truly best for the toddler set, since preschoolers may be too rambunctious for the setting.

Free; open Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sunday 1-5 p.m.; closed major holidays.

PLAYGROUND PAUSE

Tydings Park and Promenade (Commerce Street and South Union Avenue, Havre de Grace, Md., http://www.hdgtourism.com/do_parks.html). About four miles from I-95, Exit 89.

A 22-acre waterside park that offers the perfect antidote to a claustrophobia-inducing car, the complex includes a playground with fairly new equipment. The picnic area is a good lookout spot for boats on the mouth of the Susquehanna River. And a waterfront boardwalk stretches from the park to the maritime museum and on to Concord Point Lighthouse, the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in Maryland.

Free; open daily dawn to dusk.

COLLEGE QUAD

University of Delaware (East Main Street, Newark, Del., http://www.udel.edu/TheGreen). About two miles from I-95, Exit 1B.

The university's classic Georgian campus surrounds a spacious lawn, known appropriately as "the Green," offering seven acres of lovely open space for kids to run free and get the ants out of their pants. The campus is conveniently nestled next to the quaint downtown business district, with a slew of kid-friendly eateries. Families can also visit the university's botanical gardens and ice rink. Plus, it's never too early to start scouting colleges.

Free; always open.

PLACE TO RUN WILD

Brandywine Zoo (1001 N. Park Dr., Wilmington, Del., 302-571-7747, http://www.brandywinezoo.org). About four miles from I-95, Exit 7.

This zoo, founded in 1905, is small enough to cover during a brief rest stop and charges a small admission fee. (It's free if you are a Friends of the National Zoo member.) On a loop through the 13-acre property, you'll glimpse some of the 150 animals that live here, including tigers, snakes and a pair of binturongs (a.k.a. Asian bearcats). The zoo is open daily, so you can even stop in on Christmas.

$5, children 3-11 $3; free for kids 2 and younger (admissions $1 cheaper October-May); open daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

RECESS FOR ALL

Can-Do Playground (4361 Weldin Rd., Wilmington, Del., http://www.candoplayground.org). About six miles from I-95, Exit 8.

This accessible-to-all playground includes a large sand area, swings, climbing equipment and slides. Children can also explore the balancing structures and climbing wall. Much of the fenced-in playground is on a rubberized surface (helpful for wheelchairs and unsteady toddlers), and sections of it are in the shade. Restrooms and picnic tables are slated to be installed in the spring.

Free; open daily dawn to dusk.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURE

Camden Children's Garden (3 Riverside Dr., Camden, N.J., 856-365-8733, http://www.camdenchildrensgarden.org). About nine miles from the New Jersey Turnpike, Exit 3.

Dinosaurs, storybook characters, a treehouse, a model train: The outdoor setup here is budding with much to amuse kids before they're strapped back in the car. While meandering through the site, small fry learn about trees, flora and gardening. Other attractions include a carousel, a train and a butterfly amusement ride. The garden has indoor exhibits (a butterfly house, tropical plant displays and "Benjamin Franklin's Workshop" area) for when the weather is bad and a run-through fountain for warmer days. Not into nature? The garden is right next to the Adventure Aquarium (it's pricey) and the Battleship New Jersey floating museum.

$6, children 3-11 $4; free for children 2 and younger; additional fee for the three rides; open Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

HANDS-ON BREAK

Garden State Discovery Museum (2040 Springdale Rd., Cherry Hill, N.J., 856-424-1233, http://www.discoverymuseum.com). About two miles from N.J. Turnpike, Exit 4.

All the hallmarks of a typical children's museum are here: hands-on, engaging exhibits and lots of imaginary play stuff. Kids can try their slap shots in a Philadelphia Flyers mini-rink, test Newton's theory of gravity in the science labs and report the news from behind an anchor's desk. Outside are a dinosaur dig area, garden maze, butterfly garden and picnic tables. The museum also has a cafe.

$9.95 plus tax for adults and children 12 months and older; open 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily; open until 8:30 p.m. Saturdays from October-April; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

GROUNDS FOR PLAY

Hamilton Veterans Park (2206 Kuser Rd., Hamilton, N.J., http://www.hamiltonnj.com). About four miles from N.J. Turnpike, Exit 7A.

A 450-acre park with a large lake and walking paths that wind through wooded areas, Hamilton Veterans Park also has a playground. With restrooms and a gazebo with picnic tables, the shade-filled play area is the best part of the park for a pit stop, and the park also contains a skate park should a grumpy back-seater have a skateboard on hand.

Free; open daily dawn to dusk.

BOOKS AND TRAINS

Barnes & Noble (419 Menlo Park Dr., Edison, N.J., 732-548-4179, http://www.barnesandnoble.com). About four miles from N.J. Turnpike, Exit 10.

Like the standard children's section of any Barnes & Noble, this location features a train table with Thomas the Tank Engine trains for little ones to push around the tracks. There's also a stage for impromptu pretend play and, of course, a gazillion books to flip through. The bookstore is part of Menlo Park Mall, which also has a Rainforest Cafe.

Free; open daily 9 a.m.-11 p.m.

SWEDISH STOP-OFF

Ikea (1000 Ikea Dr., Elizabeth, N.J., 908-289-4488, http://www.ikea.com/us/en/store/elizabeth). About two miles from N.J. Turnpike, Exit 13A.

Family-friendly Ikea is a beacon of light for weary travelers encountering the crush of New York area congestion. You can leave your offspring (as long as they're 37 to 48 inches tall and potty-trained) in a free children's ball room and get a moment to yourself to kick back and "test" the store's cozy sofas and chairs. Grab a 99-cent or $1.99 kids' meal in Ikea's restaurant.

Free; open Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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