Electrifying experiences await young visitors at the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium in Providence, R.I. (PHIL RABY/Special to QMI Agency/TRIPSWITHKIDS.CA)
After telling friends we would be spending time in Providence, R.I., over the summer, we received some skeptical looks. It had not been on our list of places to visit, either, but we changed our minds after a trip to the charming, family friendly city.
Here are a few highlights of the two days we enjoyed in the capital of America's smallest state:
We arrived midday and, after settling in at a downtown hotel, asked the valet where to go for a quick bite with child-friendly options. The knowledgeable young man directed us to Thayer St., mainly because of the variety of choices available there. What he didn't mention was the eclectic atmosphere we'd find walking around in that part of town.
This is the university area and, although it was the middle of the week in early July, the place was hopping. It has little bookstores, funky cafes with outdoor patios and lots of restaurants. Under the shady trees, street vendors sold handmade goods while musicians and lots of other people mingled with scholars and academics.
For a quick and cheap lunch we settled on Gordito Burrito, which was surprisingly good for a fast food restaurant. In the same space is Antonio's Pizza, which worked out for our nine-year-old who just wanted a simple slice of cheese pizza. We chowed down at a counter that faced Thayer and did some people watching as live music wafted in from another shop.
The next day we visited the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, about a 15-minute car ride from downtown. The museum is an interesting place to visit because it is small and quite old, which might sound like two negatives, but aren't. We were able to see all the exhibits in an hour, so there was no running around trying to take everything in, and you don't leave with the feeling you have missed something.
The museum is located in a Gothic French chateau-style building erected in 1896. Discovering the ornate staircases and beautiful, original stained glass windows throughout was as much fun as seeing rare specimens in Victorian-styled exhibits. There is also an interesting hi-tech area on space weather and another about the planet Saturn.
Five minutes away is the Roger Williams Zoo. Founded in 1872, it's one of the oldest in the U.S. Like the museum, it's small size allowed us to see all the exhibits in one afternoon without feeling rushed. Another very nice aspect is there are many shady spots, where visitors can sit and relax while watching the animals.
Some of the highlights from our visit were the rare breeds of farm animals from around the world, watching the antics of harbour seals through an underwater window and walking along a wetland trail, where wildlife native to Rhode Island can be seen roaming freely.
Both the museum and zoo are in Rogers Williams Park, and families with lots of energy may also want to explore the park's other attractions -- a botanical garden filled with fountains, a fishpond and a small waterfall, and an area called Carousel Village that has a Victorian-style carousel, a playground and outdoor cafe. During good weather, families can also get out on the water by renting a kayak, paddle-boat or even a swan! Parking is free and admissions are moderately priced.
-- We had breakfast at Modern Diner, a unique eatery about 10 minutes from downtown but well worth the drive. This diner was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1978 because the front part is actually a Sterling Streamliner diner built in 1940. For info, call 401-726-8390.
-- We had a great dinner at Luxe Burger Bar. Although the name makes it sound a bit posh, the atmosphere was laid-back with a nice patio and some great build-it-yourself burger choices, including a vegetarian option.
We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel, which is within easy walking distance of shopping and restaurants. Rates start at $229 US per night with breakfast included for two adults and two children under 12. See marriott.com.
NEED TO KNOW
For travel information on Providence, R.I., and its attractions, visit the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau at goprovidence.com. We landed in Boston after a one-hour flight from Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport, picked up a rental car, and were in the Rhode Island capital within an hour. Driving from Toronto to Providence takes about nine hours.