School is out for the summer, but don’t let that stop you from doing some crazy fun learning over the break. You can design your own extended field trip, aka vacation, that will allow you, your friends, and/or your family to take the classroom on the road for some hands-on learning about nearly any subject – science, history, culinary arts (!), technology, the arts, engineering, other cultures, and even literature – with no lectures or note-taking required.
Though they may seem a bit too obvious, there’s good reason to explore the two U.S. cities that provide the biggest learning bang for your vacation buck, as well as a list of other notable educational attractions across the country. The important thing? With so many options to choose from, do your homework (more learning!) and decide before you arrive what you want to focus your limited time on. Also, secure any required tickets in advance.
Civics and History - Washington, D.C.
You can’t go wrong in our nation’s capital when it comes to educational vacations, especially with regards to civics and our country’s history. In fact, the Smithsonian Institute, located on the National Mall, is a vacation destination all by itself. With blocks of museums and over 200 special exhibits, it would take days or even weeks to explore them all - museums like Natural History, American History, Air and Space, Arts and Industries, American Indian, African American History, Asian Art, the National Archives, and the National Gallery of Art, as well as multiple gardens, the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Ripley Center.
As if that weren’t enough, the city offers numerous other civic and history engagement opportunities, many located on the National Mall, as well.
- U.S. Capitol – Book a guided tour, plan a visit with one of your state representatives or senators to discuss a current issue, and request passes to view Congress to see where the work of government is conducted.
- White House – Book a free tour of the White House that is rich in information regarding our nation’s presidential residence and the business that takes place within its walls.
- Library of Congress - The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, films and video, audio recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. The Library is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.
- Historical Monuments – The multiple monuments erected in Washington, D.C. tell stories all their own, from presidential monuments, to war monuments, memorial monuments, and more.
- Pentagon – As the world’s largest low-rise office building, the Pentagon is the headquarters of the Department of Defense. Visitors can see a division of our government that is often overlooked as by tourists.
- Arlington National Cemetery - The country’s largest military cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and their immediate family from the fronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War and America’s Civil War. Visiting the cemetery is a humble reminder of the cost of our freedom paid by these many soldiers who gave their lives for our country.
- Mt. Vernon – Just outside Washington, D.C., Mt. Vernon was President George Washington’s Virginia home. It is full of history, artifacts and a glimpse into life in the 1700s
- Twilight Tattoo - Twilight Tattoo is a free, one-hour, live-action history of the Army told through the eyes of the American Soldier and featuring the Army's premier ceremonial units. It is performed at Summerall Field in Arlington, VA.
- U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum - The Holocaust Memorial Museum is America’s national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and serves as this country’s memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust.
- The Mansion on O & O Street Museum – Search for more than 80 secret doors that lead to 100 themed rooms that feature wildly varied collectables and exhibits of presidents, freedom fighters, historians, authors, artists, musicians, athletes, scholars, and more.
Other Notable Learning Opportunities
- Museum of the Bible
- International Spy Museum
- National Postal Museum
- Folger Shakespeare Museum
- National Building Museum
- Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
- National Law Enforcement Museum
Arts & Culture - New York, NY
With over 8 million people who speak more than 800 languages, New York City (NYC) has appropriately earned the nickname “America’s Melting Pot.” It has also become the arts and cultural center of the nation – some would say of the world. With constantly changing festivals, exhibits, and performances, both at acclaimed venues and buroughs throughout the city, you can experience something new every time you visit the Big Apple. Here are a few of the places to explore - but be sure to check for shows and snag any tickets long before you hit the city limits!
Performing Arts – Where to start? The New York City performing arts scene hosts some of the most diverse and talented artists in the world. From iconic long-running shows to robust schedules of must-see performances and artists, New York provides countless opportunities to take in the performing arts. Check for upcoming shows at these venues to pick your vacation musts.
- Broadway - Audiences from across the globe are drawn to Broadway’s Theatre District that boasts 40+ theatres showcasing musicals, plays, and special events of all kinds, such as Hamilton, The Lion King, Wicked, Chicago, and so much more.
- Lincoln Center Theater – Lincoln Center Theater (LCT) is dedicated to keeping admission prices low and its doors open to all. LCT houses the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, and the Claire Tow Theater for a wide range of performance options. Running throughout the summer at LCT is Lerner & Loewe’s acclaimed Camelot.
- Beacon Theatre & Chicago Theatre – These theaters are part of the Madison Square Garden venue options, providing a host of additional performance experiences for you to choose from.
- Radio City Music Hall – Radio City Music Hall is the largest indoor theatre in the world, providing a stunning architectural experience in addition to its world-class performances. More than 300 million people have come to the Music Hall to enjoy stage shows, movies, concerts and special events.
Music – While many of NYC’s performing arts venues overlap in the art forms they feature, some are known specifically for their music performances.
- Carnegie Hall – A national historic landmark, Carnegie Hall was opened in 1891 and has become the “international standard for musical excellence.” As such, it is where the world’s finest artists aspire to perform. From Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Mahler, and Bartók to George Gershwin, Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Judy Garland, and The Beatles, Carnegie Hall has amassed an honor roll of music-making artists of throughout the years.
- The Metropolitan Opera - The Metropolitan Opera, also located within the Lincoln Center, features “the most creative and talented singers, conductors, composers, musicians, stage directors, designers, visual artists, choreographers, and dancers from around the world.” It has featured the U.S. premieres of some of the most important operas in the world’s repertory.
- Madison Square Garden – While the Garden is widely known for its professional sports events in “the world’s most famous arena,” it is also home to concerts, ice shows, circuses, and other forms of entertainment.
- Apollo Theater – The Apollo Theater is known as one of New York’s most popular live entertainment venues.
- The Blue Note - Since 1981, Blue Note has been a cultural institution in New York City and one of the premiere jazz clubs in the world. On any given night, you might see the likes of Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Liza Minelli, and Quincy Jones get called up on stage to join the jazz artists.
- New York Philharmonic – Founded in 1842, the New York Philharmonic is the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States. It plays a leading cultural role in New York City, the United States, and the world.
Art Museums/Galleries – You can’t think of NYC without thinking of art. Home to some of the world’s finest collections, you’ll only be hindered by the amount of time you can spend at each. These are just a few of the renowned museums. Your own search will uncover many others, along with gallery and local art exhibits and festivals.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art – A world-renowned icon of NYC culture, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) was founded in 1870. It presents over 5,000 years of art from around the world in its two sites - The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters.
- The Guggenheim – Designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is one of the most significant architectural icons of the 20th century, with visitors experiencing the artwork along a huge ramp that spirals up around the entire interior of the cylindrical building. Founded on a collection of early modern masterpieces, the Guggenheim Museum today is devoted to the art of the 20th century and beyond.
- Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – This museum contains almost 200,000 works of thought-provoking modern and contemporary art.
- Whitney Museum of American Art – The Whitney is the preeminent institution devoted to twentieth century and contemporary art in the United States, with a special focus on works by living artists.
Architecture – As one of the nation’s first states, New York is filled with historic and modern architecture that spans centuries. A number of the attractions already listed are architectural wonders in and of themselves. Here is a list of still others that merit a visit to marvel at their design and construction feats.
- Brooklyn Bridge
- Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
- Chrysler Building
- Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum
- Empire State Building
- Flatiron Building
- Guggenheim Museum (see above)
- Jean Nouvel Jewelbox Housing Historic Jane’s Carousel
- Little Island Park
- New Art Museum
- SHoP Architects' 111 West 57th Street
- Spring Street Salt Shed
- Statue of Liberty
- SUMMIT One Vanderbilt
- The Shed, a Center for the Arts
- Trinity Church and Museum
- Vessel Public Landmark
- VIΛ 57 West
- World Trade Center Memorial & adjacent One World Trade Center
- 56 Leonard Street
Ethnic Cuisine – No visit to New York City would be complete without exploring its diverse culinary offerings. Many ethnicities have their own sections within the city, such as Little Italy and Chinatown, where you can find food on nearly every corner. However, NYC is also home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, the largest Puerto Rican population outside of Puerto Rico, a very large Ghanaian population, as well as people from Russia, China, Germany and hosts of other countries. This provides vacation foodies the opportunity to sample authentic cuisine from nearly any country in the world.
Other Top Educational Vacation Spots
We couldn’t possibly name them all, but here are other noteworthy educational vacation spots throughout the country. And don’t forget to sample the local cuisine wherever you go!
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, AZ
- Tombstone, AZ
- Mesa Verde National Park, CO
- Cumberland Island, GA
- Savannah, GA
- New Orleans, LA
- Boston & Plymouth, MA
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, MT
- Philadelphia, PA
- Charleston, SC
- National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TX
- The Alamo, TX
- Gettysburg, VA
- Jamestown & Williamsburg, VA
- America’s National Parks – Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain and more
- Meteor Crater, AZ
- Tide pools, Laguna Beach, CA
- Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA
- Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, CA
- Lava Beds National Monument, northeastern CA
- Redwood National Forest, northern CA
- Dinosaur National Monument, CO & UT
- Chicago River redirection, Chicago, IL
- Mackinac Island, MI
- Niagara Falls, NY
- Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA
Art & Music
- Red Rocks natural amphitheater, CO
- Varied performing arts, Atlanta, GA
- Jazz & Blues, KC, MO
- Art Institute of Chicago, IL
- Blues, Chicago, IL
- Jazz, New Orleans, LA
- Motown, Detroit, MI
- Graceland & Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis, TN
- Houston Art & Museum District, TX
- Live music “Austin City Limits,” TX
- EMP Museum, WA
Engineering and/or Architecture
- U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL
- Tech Museum of Innovation, San Jose, CA
- New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, CT
- Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, FL
- Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA
- Frank Lloyd Wright homes & Willis Tower, Chicago, IL
- MIT Museum, Cambridge, MA
- St. Louis Arch, St. Louis, MO
- Erie Canal, NY
- Mt. Rushmore, near Custer, SD
- Bingham Canyon Mine, near Salt Lake City, UT
- Spark Museum of Electrical Invention, Bellingham, WA
- Space Needle, Seattle, WA
- Cass Scenic Railroad State Park (steam-powered train), Cass, WV
Literature – Author Tours and More
- Harper Lee - Monroeville, AL
- John Steinbeck – Monterey & Salinas CA
- Mark Twain – Hartford, CT
- Ernest Hemingway – Key West, FL
- Margaret Mitchell – Atlanta, GA
- O’Connor – Savannah, GA
- Henry W. Longfellow – Cambridge, MA
- Louisa May Alcott – Concord, MA
- William Faulkner – Oxford, MS
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Long Island, NY
- Laura Ingalls Wilder – De Smet, SD
- Literary Walk, Iowa City, IA
- American Writers Museum, Chicago, IL
- Boston Public Library, Boston, MA
- Shakespeare in the Park, NYC
- Rosedale Rare Books, Dallas, TX
- Central Library, Seattle, WA
There isn’t really anywhere in the U.S. (or the world, for that matter) that you can’t learn something if you want to – history, science, technology, diverse culture, music, and art abound throughout this creative land we call home. The key is to determine from the start to be a lifelong learner – both in and out of the classroom. And an education vacation is the perfect combination. Happy (learning) trails!