EXPLORE THE OUTDOORS
Does the idea of a winter hike, snowshoeing or bird watching appeal to you? The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation has dozens of outdoor events to get the kids some fresh air and exercise. Some of the highlights:
A Winter Night Hike
Explore the woods at night on this guided tour through Ellisville Harbour State Park in Plymouth – no flashlights allowed! Friday, February 25 at 5:30pm.
Winter Fun Day
Snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, hot chocolate and more at Harold Parker State Forest in North Andover on Tuesday, February 22 from 11am - 2pm. There is a guided hike at noon. Bring your own snowshoes or skis, or DCR has arranged for rentals from REI in Reading.
Gather at Halibut Point State Park in Rockport at 8 a.m. on Sunday, February 20 for a two mile stroll. Last year, more than 100 species were spotted. Bring binoculars and learn how to spot some common and uncommon local birds by sight and sound.
FREE MUSEUM DAYS
Some museums around the state are always free, while others are offering specials just for February vacation week.
The walk-through globe at the Mary Baker Eddy Library is free for kids under 17 between February 22 and 25. This Boston landmark is frozen in time in 1935. Stand in the middle of the world, looking out the three-story, painted glass globe.
Institute of Contemporary Art
The ICA is always free for kids 17 and under. Everybody gets in free on Thursday nights between 5 and 9 p.m., and on the last Saturday of each month – which this month is the 26th, wrapping up the school vacation week.
Boston Fire Museum
Tucked away inside an old firehouse near South Station, the Boston Fire Museum has a display of antique firefighting apparatus and equipment. It's open Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
There are several state of the art observatories in the area, where you can stargaze through high-powered telescopes when the weather is clear.
Coit Observatory at Boston University
Open nights at the BU observatory is held Wednesday nights in the winter, starting at 7:30 p.m. It's weather permitting; if there are clouds, open night is canceled. The status hotline (617-353-2630) is updated no earlier than 5:30. The telescopes are outside, so dress accordingly.
Mendel Observatory at Merrimack College
If you're up north of Boston, you can head to North Andover on Wednesday nights at dusk. Like all of the observatories, viewing is guided by the weather. Call ahead (978-837-5011) to check if it's open.
Gilliland Observatory at Museum of Science
On the roof of the museum's parking lot you'll find star gazing on a Friday evening. Weather permitting, the observatory is open from 8:30 to 10 p.m. on Fridays. Admission is free, but parking carries a fee. Their weather hotline (617-589-0267) is updated at 5:30 p.m.
STORES THAT OFFER ENTERTAINMENT
A number of area stores offer entertainment, with the goal - of course - to get you to open your wallet. But who says you have to spend money once you walk in the door?
Jordan's Liquid Fireworks
The liquid light show takes place a couple times each hour inside Jordan's Furniture in Reading. You can sit and watch, surrounded by 'Beantown' – a series of Boston themed sculptures made up of 25 million jelly beans, and watch people take trapeze lessons overhead.
Yankee Candle Factory
The flagship store in South Deerfield is a candle and New England craft haven. Wind through an endless array of fragrant candles to find the dip-your-own candle area, sculpt your hand in wax, or discover the room where it snows year round.
Bass Pro Shop
Walking into this shop at Patriot Place in Foxboro is like walking into another world. Mingled among the hunting, fishing and outdoor gear, the kids might love the waterfall; the huge fish pool filled with salmon, trout, turtles and more; the arcade-style shooting range; the huge whale hanging overhead and the dozens of mounted/preserved animals milling about.
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