History doesn't have to be boring.
Long Island is home to many historically significant people and places, from Teddy Roosevelt’s summer home at Sagamore Hill to a recreated 19th-century “living museum” in Old Bethpage. What's more, many of these spots feature family-friendly activities, seasonal events and programs for kids. There are even hidden gems at some of these historic sites, perfect for planning an engaging, educational afternoon the whole family will love.
Discover how history connects with family fun in Nassau and Suffolk at these notable places.
Cradle of Aviation Museum
History: Long Island's rich history in the early aviation industry is due to its prime location and flat terrain, which makes for perfect runways. The time between 1918 and 1939 became known as the "Golden Age" of aviation, and during these years almost two dozen airplane manufacturers popped up on Long Island. The Cradle of Aviation Museum houses historic planes, such as the WW1 Jenny, Charles Lindbergh's first plane, a Grumman Lunar Module, which was scheduled to go to the moon before the Apollo 18 and 19 programs were canceled, and more.
Fun: Along with discovering Long Island's aviation history, families can visit the museum's planetarium and dome theater, which is one of the largest virtual reality experiences in the world. Kids can enjoy a show featuring Sesame Street's Big Bird and friends. Live space labs, offered on weekends and during school holidays at the dome, let kids journey into the universe, touch a comet and even hold a black hole in a bottle. Children ages 6 and older can check out the Junior Jet Club where they can engineer with Legos, construct their dream rocket from blocks, exercise on the space station and more. The club is included in museum admission or can be enjoyed separately for $2.50. Kids may also take a ride on Nunley's Carousel, which dates back to 1912, and is only $2 to ride.
More information: $15 adults, $13 children; Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, Garden City; 516-572-4111; cradleofaviation.org.
Walt Whitman Birthplace
History: Built in 1810, Walt and Louisa Whitman occupied the home after their marriage in 1816 and had three kids. In 1819, their second son, Walter Jr., was born in the home, who would go on to have a spectacular literary career. The house was sold in 1923 and exchanged owners multiple times after 1899. The house's kitchen wing was destroyed in a fire in 1910, and seeing the vulnerability of the home, the Huntington Historical Society created a project to protect the property. In 1957 the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as New York's 22nd historical site.
Fun: Kids can get creative with crafts, poetry workshops and even tea parties meant to teach social skills and dining manners. There are also workshops that allow scouts to fill some badges. A popular activity for kids is a scavenger hunt through the house during tours. Families can pack a picnic and eat at the outdoor tables on the grand lawn. “We have what we call family days, which are very popular," said Carolyn Diglio, director of education. "For example, our Yuletide Family Day during the holidays features a sing-a-long, visit from Santa, crafts, cookie decorating, face painting and historic games from the 1800s. We have a family day for Halloween and St. Patrick's Day, as well." There's also an annual poetry contest offered to children in grades 3-12 that receives 3,000 entries each year from as far as China.
More information: $6, free ages 5 and younger; 246 Old Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station; 631-427-5240; waltwhitman.org.
William Floyd Estate
History: The Mastic House sat on a 4,400-acre plantation belonging to William Floyd, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his family for more than 250 years. The William Floyd Estate recently celebrated its 300th anniversary — William Floyd's grandfather purchased the property in 1718. The house was donated to the National Park Service by Floyd's great-great granddaughter so its history, culture and integrity can be preserved.
Fun: Located in Mastic Beach and surrounded by miles of marsh and hiking trails, kids can learn a bit of history while enjoying the outdoors. Families can explore the 25-room house and its family cemetery, 12 outbuildings and 613 acres of nature through free tours from Memorial Day to Veterans Day. "We get a lot of families here," said Mary Laura Lamont, park ranger for the estate. "We have a junior ranger program that little ones can do, which keeps them occupied as they go through the house. Spring and fall are definitely the best times to visit the trails."
More information: Free; 245 Park Dr., Mastic Beach; 631-399-2030; nps.gov.
Old Bethpage Village Restoration
History: Step back in time and experience life as it was on Long Island in the 1800s. Old Bethpage Village is a 209-acre recreated American village with original houses, barns and buildings dating from 1660 to 1875.
Fun: Families can visit the live museum to learn about Long Island life as it was in the past. Demonstrations of blacksmithing, broom making, pottery, spinning, hat making, basket weaving and baking, occur throughout the day from people dressed in period clothing. There are many events scheduled through the year, such as The Long Island Fair, WWII Weekend, Old Time Baseball games, Old Time music concerts and baking days specifically for kids. Three one-week apprenticeship programs are also offered to kids ages 9-12. The village also has cows, chickens, goats, lambs and a 900-pound pig named Lulu. Additionally, there are two new escape rooms called “The Dark Cottage” and “Detained.” Reservations for the rooms are required. Note that last ticket sales are at 3 p.m.
More information: $13 adults, $8 ages 5-12, free 4 and younger; 1303 Round Swamp Rd., Old Bethpage; 516-572-8401; obvrnassau.com.
History: Artist couple Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner lived and painted in this 1887 home. Pollock died in 1956, and Krasner continued to live and work in the house until her death in 1984. The house was deeded to Stony Brook Foundation in 1987 following Krasner’s death, in which she requested the house be made into a public museum. “When Jackson Pollock was young, he wanted to be a sculptor, not a painter," said director Helen Harrison. "Before she studied art, Lee Krasner thought about becoming a lawyer."
Fun: Families can reserve a space in painting workshops on Thursdays, Fridays or Saturdays during the summer months. Fees include museum admission, a private tour, take-home canvasses and paint supplies. Offseason activities are offered to school and community groups outside of the museum.
More information: $10 adults, $5 ages 12 and younger (for guided tours); 830 Springs Fireplace Rd., East Hampton; 631-324-4929; stonybrook.edu.
Old Westbury Gardens
History: Completed in 1906 by an English designer, the mansion sits on a 206-acre property and boasts lakes, ponds, rolling greens and formal gardens. The house holds antique English furnishings and decorative arts from the more than 50 years of the family's residence.
Fun: Old Westbury Gardens has a year-round family calendar, which includes KidsFest, RISE of the Jack-o'-lanterns, which is a scenic walk of 5,000 weekly carved pumpkins, a holiday celebration with a visit from Santa, and more. The Weekend Wakeup series is offered every Saturday at 10:30 a.m., with programs such as Listen Up, Eat Up, Think Up and Make Up, which encourage kids to use their senses to create, explore and imagine. "Kids also enjoy looking at the wildlife — frogs, birds and turtles," said Julia Sucher, manager of visitor services. "We also offer Imagination Station Sundays in Peggie Phipps' childhood cottage every Sunday from noon-4 p.m. It's independent playtime designed to spur imaginative and creative fun."
More information: $12 adults, $7 ages 7-17, free ages 6 and younger; 71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury; 516-333-0048; oldwestburygardens.org.
History: The former home of yachtsman and explorer William K. Vanderbilt II, the mansion has a Spanish Revival design, which is unusual for Long Island. Vanderbilt collected many marine and wildlife specimens and cultural artifacts, and created his own marine and natural history museum. He deeded his estate and museum to Suffolk County upon his death in the hope that his home would become a joyful, educational experience for the public.
Fun: Year-round planetarium and summertime living history tours of the mansion offer experiences for the whole family. The living history tours, offered on weekends, consist of guides dressed as Vanderbilt family members and household staff who tell stories about the mansion, its famous residents and world-renowned visitors. Examples of past planetarium shows include “Long Island Skies,” “To Space and Back” and “Laser Genesis,” a laser show. The estate also hosts events such as plays, concerts and telescope viewings.
More information: $8 adults, $5 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and younger; 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport; 631-854-5579; vanderbiltmuseum.org.
History: Sylvester Manor is one of few places in United States that has been in the same family since its establishment. Once encompassing all of Shelter Island, the 1652 estate has been an important location in the culture of food. Sylvestor Manor originated as a plantation for the Barbarian sugar trade, it's where baking soda was created and it's now an educational center.
Fun: Children ages 3-7 can learn the importance of farming through youth programs. Kids ages 10 and older are welcome to tour the house. Every Saturday in July and August, a local librarian reads a fun farming-related book during the Story Thyme event. There are also family movie nights offered in the summer. In the fall, Sylvestor Manor holds Mysteries at the Manor, an afternoon of ghoulish games, creepy crafts, face painting and farm animals at the end of October.
More information: Grounds are free, $10 self-guided tour of the manor, $25 public-guided tour; 80 North Ferry Rd., Shelter Island; 631-749-0626; sylvestermanor.org.
Blydenburgh Farm and New Mill
History: Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Washington, D.C., the Blydenburgh Historic District, located in Blydenburgh County Park, includes several buildings from the late 1700s and mid 1800s. Some noteworthy places in the park include the 1821 Weld House, which hosts the visitor center, a keeper's cottage and Stump Pond.
Fun: The park is open year-round and features 627 acres of land to explore through family-fun activities like fishing, rowing (rentals available May-Labor Day), hiking, camping and horseback riding. Families can stroll through the historic district or take an educational guided tour. There are two entrances to the park: The main entrance on the south side and the historic entrance on the north side from New Mill Road.
More information: Free; Veteran’s Memorial Highway, Smithtown; 631-854-3713; suffolkcountyny.gov.
History: Known as the “Summer Whitehouse,” the 26th President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt called Sagamore Hill home from 1885 until his death in 1919.
Fun: Take a 45-minute guided tour of the Theodore Roosevelt Home ($10) and visit the free Old Orchard Museum. Participate in family events, such as a kid’s kitchen class (offered quarterly), which compares Roosevelt-era cooking techniques to modern times, collect nature samples and view them under a microscope with T.R.’s Laboratory Explorers (offered once or twice a month), join in on astronomy nights and more. There is also a Junior Ranger program that certifies kids after they complete a scavenger hunt around the museum. “You'll also find many nature trails," said Betsy Isley, Sagamore Hill's community volunteer ambassador. "One of them in particular is popular that goes down to a footbridge at the beach. It’s beautiful there."
More Information: Sagamore Hill grounds and Old Orchard Museum are free, $10, free ages 15 and younger for Theodore Roosevelt Home; 12 Sagamore Hill Rd., Oyster Bay; 516-922-4788; nps.gov.
Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum and Education Center
History: In 1932, a group of Cold Spring Harbor residents commissioned a monument commemorating the area's history as a whaling port. Ten years later, a brick and mortar museum opened with about 250 whaling specimens. Today the museum has 6,000 objects in its collection.
Fun: See a fully equipped 19th century whaleboat and learn about historic marine life. There are many programs offered for kids throughout the year, such as build-a-boat workshops, mermaid tea parties, science explorations, sea-themed games and more. The "biggest family event of the year" is the Haunted Whailing Boo-seum, a day of spooky crafts, live critters and costumed characters. Other holiday-themed events include a Winter Craft Extravaganza, a menorah workshop and a New Year's Eve countdown at noon on Dec. 30. Nomi Dayan, the museum's director, said a highlight for kids is "If I Were a Whaler." "Kids can raise and lower sails, climb into a bunks that whalers would have slept in and more interactive fun," she said. "There are scent boxes so you can smell blubber cooking and how stinky below deck was on a whaling boat."
More information: $6 adults, $5 ages 4-18, free ages 3 and younger; 279 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor; 631-367-3418; cshwhalingmuseum.org.
Oysterponds Historical Society
History: View more than 30,000 artifacts, works of art and archival objects that date back to Oysterponds residents from the 1600s. Some buildings in the historic district include a 1798 Village House, which is decorated to match how it welcomed boarding guests long ago, an 1873 schoolhouse and a late 18th century inn.
Fun: Throughout the summer months, families can tour the buildings and check out kid-friendly activities centered around different exhibits. Fun crafts and projects for kids are offered with every visit. There is also a campuswide scavenger hunt throughout the summer, which leads kids on a historic adventure. Come autumn, families can engage in seasonal activities and trick-or-treat down Village Lane. There is an annual winter party and holiday house tour, which features Orient and East Marion private homes decorated for the holiday season, as well as the Orient Congregational Church and Village House. Come spring, family activities include a herb and flower planting workshops, and more.
More information: Free; 1555 Village Lane, Orient; 631-323-2480; oysterpondshistoricalsociety.org.
Connetquot River State Park Preserve
History: The land originally belonged to the Southside Sportsmen’s Club of Great River, a hunting and fishing club established in 1866. The property is also home to an 18th-century grist mill. Now, the 3,473-acre plot serves as a sanctuary for numerous plants, fish and animals.
Fun: Take a tour of the Main House to learn about the history of the tavern, the land, buildings and its members, and how it turned into Connetquot River State Park Preserve. There's also a one-mile hike to the hatchery, where you can feed the fish for 25 cents. Family programs include nature games, a bat safari, a butterfly excursion, a moonlight stroll and more, which are offered throughout the year.
More information: $8 per car, additional fees for environmental interpretive programs, fly fishing, horseback riding and house tours; 3525 Sunrise Hwy., Oakdale; 631-581-1005; parks.ny.gov.
Nassau County Museum of Art
History: Henry Clay Frick, a co-founder of U.S. Steel, bought the early 1900s property from poet William Cullen Bryant as the future home for his son, Childs Frick. Childs lived in the mansion, named “Clayton,” with his wife until his death in 1965. Nassau County purchased the Childs Frick Estate shortly after Frick’s death and converted it into a museum.
Fun: Besides exploring the formal gardens and eight woodland trails, families can check out the new “True Colors” neon art exhibit and outside sculpture grounds. Bring children to the museum on Fridays and Sundays during summer months for art exploration and activities. Come fall, the museum will feature art workshops for kids and teens with autism and their families. The Manes Family Art and Education Center, the museum’s newly renovated classroom space, is open every day with various activities for children. “We recently put up three new sculptures that look like big huge mirror balls," said Charles Riley, the museum's director. "Kids just love to play around in front of sculptures, watch themselves and take selfies."
More information: $12 adults, $4 ages 4-12, free ages 4 and younger; One Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor; 516-484-9338; nassaumuseum.org.
Planting Fields Arboretum
History: Planting Fields is the former estate of insurance executive William Robertson Coe and Standard Oil heiress Mai Rogers Coe. The estate still encompasses its original 409 acres from when the home was built in 1921, which makes it stand out from other Gold Coast-era homes. The Coe Hall mansion touts a Tudor revival-style structure, which was restored to match its original 1920s style.
Fun: Wander the gardens, visit large greenhouses and tour the rooms of the Coe mansion, including the nine main-floor rooms, one of which is a Louis XVI-style reception area. Free monthly "Strummin' and Drummin" family fun nights let kids explore different percussion instruments. Also during the summer months, check out Nature Sundays, which teaches kids about different flora and fauna of the area followed by a craft. Planting Fields hosts an annual Fall Family Festival each year with live music, jumbo garden games, pumpkins for sale, pony rides, face painting, a Halloween bounce house and more. Other events include a Paradise Garden Festival in the beginning of the year and Arbor Day Festival in the spring, both of which offer actvities for kids. Musical shows are also often scheduled throughout the year.
More information: $8 per car until Nov. 18, Coe Hall tours: $5 ages 12 and older, free ages 11 and younger; 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay; 516-922-9200; plantingfields.org.
Welwyn Preserve and Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center
History: Welwyn is the former estate of oil fortune heir Harold Irving Pratt. Built in the early 1900s, it sits on a densely forested 204-acre preserve. “Kids gravitate to the stories of other children," said Helen Turner, director of youth education. "We have a specific room of children in the Holocaust that shows the hidden, the saved and, of course, the 1.6 million Jewish children that didn’t make it."
Fun: Hike through the four marked trails past ponds, swamps, coastal marsh and even a sliver of the Long Island Sound. Then, visit Long Island’s first Holocaust and education center nestled in the preserve. The museum is recommended for children ages 10 or older. Guided tours are offered throughout the week.
More information: Suggested donation $10 adults, $4 ages 18 and younger; 100 Crescent Beach Rd., Glen Cove; 516-571-8040 (museum); hmtcli.org
Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery & Aquarium
History: Cold Spring Harbor spent 99 years as a New York State trout hatchery. Since it closed its doors in 1982, the Fish Hatchery & Aquarium has been a nonprofit education center and public aquarium.
Fun: Tour two aquariums and eight outdoor ponds, feed hungry trout and participate in special programs, such as “Catch and Keep” fishing, Wacky Water Wednesdays (summer months), Hatchling Turtle Day and more. “We have two festivals in the spring and fall that are always a big hit,” said Steven DeSimone, museum director. The festivals serve as fundraisers for the hatchery and offer a petting zoo, fishing, a bounce castle (fall), a pumpkin patch (fall), games and more.
More information: $6 adults, $4 ages 3-12, free ages 2 and younger; 1660 Rte. 25A, Cold Spring Harbor; 516-692-6768; cshfishhatchery.org.
Fire Island Lighthouse
History: The lighthouse seen today was lit for the first time in 1858 to replace the original 1826 lighthouse. The lighthouse was decommissioned as an aid to navigation in 1973, and deteriorated until a group of private citizens created the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society (FILPS). FILPS raised enough money to restore it and place it on the National Register of Historic Places. FILPS currently owns and maintains the lighthouse, which serves as a private aid to navigation on all charts.
Fun: Explore the trails and the Keeper’s Quarters, and then climb up the 182 steps to take in the picturesque views of the Atlantic Ocean, Fire Island and New York City. There are many family-friendly events throughout the summer on Wednesdays, like the Family Seaside Adventures program, which includes a jellyfish craft andseining, or lifesaving drills with experts followed by crafts ($5 per child). Seaside Story Time is offered on Wednesdays in August for free, and includes a story, a nature walk and art-making. The lighthouse also hosts a series of holiday events, such as tree trimming, a visit from Santa, a New Year's Day hike, an Arbor Day celebration and more.
More information: $8 adults, $4 ages 12 and younger; Captree Island; 631-661-4876; fireislandlighthouse.com.