Living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, we like to explore our new surroundings with weekend getaways that take is a little further from home each trip. Recently, we discovered Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, home of Bethlehem and Allentown. And we discovered a couple of kid-friendly places to fill our days.
Da Vinci Science Center and Technology Inc.
By far the kids favorite stop of the weekend was this intimate but exciting science center located in Allentown. The two-story center features more than 200 pieces and 25 interactive workbenches for kids to discover and experiment. I was most fascinated by the creepy bugs and spiders (thankfully enclosed) in the Bug-in Out! Critters in the What’s Alive area, while the ids liked the touch area to “pet” sea life in What’s on Earth’s Ocean Touch Tank. The Watt’s Up section on light and electricity really kept the kids’ attention, as did the building opportunities in Architecture of Tomorrow. (I wish the gift shop sold the marble track building set the kids worked on for 45 minutes before I dragged them away!) A special KEVA Build It Up! Experience (running through April 1), provided the kids with planks to build towering creations. Both kids even got down on the floor to draw their “plans” before building.
The second floor featured mostly classrooms for birthday parties and special events like camp-in programs, but the Little Learners’ Lab preschool play area was still a hit with my son, and both kids used all their muscle to make weights move in the What Works? section.
Open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Tickets: $11.95 for 13 and up, $8.95 children 4-12, free for children 3 and under. Located at 3145 Hamilton Blvd. Bypass, Allentown.
Celebrating it’s 15th anniversary, the Crayola Experience is the interactive Crayola Crayon center, located near the original Crayola Factory in Easton. The two-floor Crayola Experience will be expanding to three floors later in the year, and is one big art playground for kids. Begin the day with the Manufacturing Show and learn how crayons are made – still in the same, old-fashioned machinery used more than 50 years ago. The kids never lost interest in watching how crayons are made, but of course really loved being let loose to color and create. In Super Sculptures, the kids molded Model Magic into various shapes and colors, while having a coloring contest between family members at the Crayon Carousel. They especially loved dancing on the screen at Cool Moves, and I couldn’t stop my son from sneaking into Preschooler Color Park.
The Crayola Experience gets quite crowded, so going early is definitely key for avoiding ticket lines. On the weekend we visited, nearly 5,000 people visited as well! A McDonald’s is attached to the center, but to get a break from the chaos and noise, we walked Easton’s town square and discovered a lovely little restaurant/bar called the Pearly Baker.
Open Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. through 3 p.m. in winter and 5 p.m. in summer, and Saturday and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. through 5 p.m. Tickets: $9.75 per person; children 2 and under, free. Located at 30 Centre Square, Easton.
Located in Bethlehem on the former Bethlehem Steel Works site, ArtsQuest is the city’s shot at rejuvenating the area and bringing the arts to the community, with 80 percent of its events and concerts free. During our visit, we caught the Peas and Qs Family Hour at the SteelStacks Campus, where a free preschool concert was put on for families. Unfortunately, my kids, at 6 and 7, thought the music too “baby”, so we left and wandered around the SteelStacks Campus, taking in the old buildings from the area’s hey day as a steel factory.
ArtsQuest brings culture and arts to the area with its festivals, most notably MusikFest, a two-week festival with concerts on various stages with music of all genres. A special kids’ stage is open noon to 8 p.m., with activities and music – all free. SteelStacks is an arts and cultural campus with a number of events throughout the year, including the free, weekly family readings and concerts. Nearby is the Banana Factory, another arts and education center offering arts classes and workshops.
Building hours vary by program and building. ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks is located at 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem. Banana Factory is located at 25 W. Third Street, Bethlehem.