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Circuses back in the day recognized that growing up doesn’t necessarily mean growing old by often introducing shows with the greeting, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages!” In New York State, there are plenty of places where adults can embrace their inner child, whether or not they actually have kids in tow. Whether you want to make a nostalgic trip to your childhood or just keep that youthful glint in your eye, here are some New York kidulting opportunities available in every season.
Even the most reserved adult becomes a kid again when rushing down a roller coaster or taking a turn on a merry-go-round. New York is filled with classic amusement parks like Midway State Park in Bemus Point with its collection of vintage rides and games, and the family-owned, waterside Seabreeze Amusement Park outside Rochester, featuring the Jack Rabbit (pictured), the oldest continually running coaster in America. Greater Binghamton is the Carousel Capital of the World thanks to its collection of six antique merry-go-rounds. An additional selling point: The circuit is available to ride absolutely free Memorial Day through Labor Day. One of New York’s newest theme parks, Legoland Theme Park & Resort in the Hudson Valley, offers special adult nights (18+ only), as does its smaller sibling, Legoland Discovery Center in Yonkers, with access to all build experiences, rides and 4D movies as well as some serious LEGO challenges and prizes.
Spend a day at the fair
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Fried food on a stick acts like an instant entry to childhood again, so the food, farm animals, rides, demonstrations and shows at county fairs all across New York State make for perfect kidulting destinations throughout the summer. The mother of them all is The Great NY State Fair in Syracuse for 13 days starting in mid August. Don’t miss the racing pigs, Broadway Skyliner for a birds eye view of the fair and butter sculpture with a unique theme every year.
All aboard fun rides on the rails
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You never have to age out of the childhood delight of riding the rails. Scenic railroads are available all across New York State, some with specially themed events. The Catskill Mountain Railroad combines two childhood treats with its Ice Cream Sunday rides. The Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad offers a train robbery ride and, in Fall, pumpkin patch ride. The Arcade and Attica Railroad in Western New York kicks up the thrills a notch with a Haunted Halloween ride, as well as adult themed excursions throughout the year like Ale on the Rails, Whiskey on the Wheels or a Murder Mystery Dinner Train. Rail Explorers in Cooperstown and Catskills lets you power yourself through the scenic countryside on motor-assisted rail bikes.
Make animal friends
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It’s impossible to maintain stoic adult composure in the face of a new furry friend, so New York zoos like the Bronx Zoo (and its new Treetop Adventure ropes course), aquariums like the Long Island Aquarium, dude ranches like the Rocking Horse Ranch Resort in the Hudson Valley, rodeos like the Painted Pony Rodeo in Lake Luzerne and nature preserves and museums like the Wild Center, with scheduled Adirondack animal meet-and-greets and its amazing Wild Walk boardwalk above the treetops, are perfect places for adults to experience kid-like wonder all over again.
Jump into fall fun
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Your “jumping in a pile of leaves” days may be over, but there is no need to deny yourself the pleasures of Fall in New York State. Farms offering apple and pumpkin picking often include additional activities where you can run through a corn maze, take a hayride and indulge in all the sweet treats of Fall, from hot apple cider to warm cider donuts. And Halloween isn’t just for kids either. Even adults will be blown away by the thousands of artist-carved pumpkins placed in dramatic displays at the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze in the Hudson Valley.
Experience winter magic
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Those with the soul of a child don’t see snow as a hassle – they see the cold weather months as a winter wonderland waiting to be enjoyed. That’s particularly true for the holidays with special activities and events like ornament making at Corning Museum of Glass in the Finger Lakes and the sparkling Village of Lights at Santa’s Workshop, one of America’s first theme parks appropriately in the Adirondacks village of North Pole, NY. Some events even have specific adult sub-events, like the Bar Car Holiday Train Rides at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens with lite bites and curated cocktails. The winter magic continues into the new year with events like the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival and its famous ice castle, as well as the new immersive Lake George Winter Realms and Winter Dream installations. And you don’t need a special event to go snow tubing at ski slopes like Hunter Mountain in the Catskills all winter long.
Let imaginations run wild at museums
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Many of New York’s greatest museums are favorite destinations for kids, but they will delight adults with childlike wonder as well. Living history museums like the Farmers’ and Genesee Country Village museums feature craftspeople in period dress doing everything from blacksmithing to broom making. The Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum in the Greater Niagara region adds a historical layer to the childlike frivolity of carousels, band organs and kiddie rides. Some museums add adults-only special events, like the Happiest Hour at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester where a cash bar and DJ music compliment the retro arcade and other exhibits. Likewise, Explore & More in Buffalo hosts Grown Up Nights of Play as well as the Incredible Hunt, an adults-only scavenger hunt.
Go back to summer camp
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Remember when summer meant spending the week playing games in the sun, canon-balling into the lake, and eating (too many) s’mores around the campfire? Good news is there’s plenty of opportunities to relive those sweet summer camp memories as an adult. At Brant Lake Adult Summer Camp, spend an all expense included, adult-only weekend in the Adirondacks. Camp includes all the essentials from bonfires and swimming in the lake to water skiing and volleyball as well as some grown up fun like keg kickball and clubhouse parties. Unirondack Camp in the Adirondacks also offers themed adult camp weekends where you can make crafts, meet new friends, and participate in other fun activities. If you’re looking to create your own summer camp adventure, New York is packed with camping experiences for every type of traveler such as Ithaca’s Firelight Glamping which offers a luxurious twist on traditional camping.
Play games and activities
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Whether you spent your childhood holed up in the arcade, coloring the day away, or watching Saturday morning cartoons, these New York games and activities are sure to satisfy your inner child. Grab a colorful ball and club and make mini-golf memories in all corners of the state. Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg holds Spoons, Toons, and Booze where you can watch your favorite Saturday morning cartoons on the big screen and enjoy an all-you-can-eat sugary cereal bar alongside specialty cocktails. Zoom around the state’s longest go kart track at the Alex Bay 500 or get behind the wheel of one of the karts at the Coney Island Raceway. Defend forts, fields, and forests in a thrilling game of paintball or laser tag at Adrenaline Zone in Otego. For those looking for high-flying thrills, Area 53 Adventure Park is the place to go with ropes courses, rock climbing, an arcade, a roller rink, and designated adult-only nights. Unwind with coloring and good conversation at the New York Public Library’s adult coloring sessions.
Indulge in sweet experiences
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Did you have a sweet tooth growing up? Forget about the old childhood rule of having too many sweets and indulge in unlimited sweet experiences in New York State. If you always dreamed of stepping into Willy Wonka’s factory, visit Platter’s Chocolate Factory in North Tonawanda where you can tour a real life chocolate factory and try samples of their famous sponge candy. Did you know that New York is home to the birthplace of Jell-O and the ice cream sundae? Uncover the story of America’s most famous dessert at the Jell-O Gallery in its hometown of LeRoy. The ice cream sundae was invented in Ithaca, so be sure to check out some of the state’s best places for ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, at the Museum of Ice Cream in New York City you can learn the history of everyone’s favorite frozen dessert, plus there’s a giant sprinkle-filled pool to slide into. From Bazooka to Blow Pops to Baby Bottle Pops, New York City’s oldest retail candy shop, Economy Candy is sure to have your favorite childhood candy and more.
Visit famous toy stores
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We can all agree that even as an adult, there’s no feeling like stepping into a toy store. While your childhood favorites may currently be enjoying retirement in storage, you can still experience that pure joy in famous toy shops throughout the state. In New York City, you’ll find all the greats like New York’s oldest toy store, FAO Schwarz, the LEGO Store, American Girl Place, where you can dine with a doll in the cafe, the Disney Store, and more. Vidler’s 5 & 10 in East Aurora is one of largest of its kind and a must-stop with old school favorites. At the National Museum of Play at the Strong you’ll find hundreds of thousands of toys on display in the toy hall of fame from Etch-a-Sketch and Lite Brite to the Raggedy Ann Doll and Cabbage Patch Kids.
Step into your favorite childhood movie
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Have you ever wished that you could step into your favorite childhood movie? Your wish just came true! At the luxurious Plaza Hotel, you can live like one of New York City’s most famous residents, the curious (and sometimes mischievous) six-year-old Eloise. Stay in the pink, pink, pink room, visit the plaza boutique for Eloise-themed outfits and accessories, or enjoy afternoon tea in Palm Court. Dance on the iconic giant piano like Tom Hanks in Big at FAO Schwarz. While you can’t stay the night at the American Museum of Natural History, you can visit the real exhibits featured in the Night at the Museum like the giant T. Rex and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Moai Cast. Experience New York City through the eyes of everyone’s favorite elf on the Buddy the Elf Sites Tour (just don’t eat the gum off the street. It’s not free candy).