Mama Porretti's Picks for January

While the weather outside may be frightful this month, there are some delightful indoor adventures awaiting you and your family! My top five picks in order of time travel are:

An oldie but goody (and my go to local indoor place when I just need to get the kids out of the house!) is the Trailside Nature & Science Center in the Watchung Reservation. This beautiful nature center is free and open daily from noon to five. Tops for my five year old is the night theater which is a really creative ten minute show in the dark about what comes out at night. My two year old votes for the live fish and turtles in the three story diorama of native NJ wildlife. Both find lots to do in the Discovery Room and there are great short trails to bundle up and wander around for a quick nature hike if it's not too frightful out. www.ucnj.org/trailside

Another great standby for us is located twenty minutes away in Kenilworth. Kidz Village is a children's play facility for kids ten and under with a multi-level indoor playground and a mini town that includes a comic book store, supermarket, dance academy, movie theater, tool shop, salon and diner. There is also a ball launching castle, arcade and cafe, so you can definitely while away a morning or afternoon here. www.kidsvillage.com

An absolute favorite of my boys is Monster Mini Golf in Fairfield, which is a half hour away on Route 46. I really appreciate a theme carried out to its fullest, and this indoor, monster themed, glow in the dark 18 hole miniature golf course fits the bill. Some of the sound effects and moving parts can be a little scary for some kids, but my littlest one has been going there for a year and the fun of the course always outweighs any discomfort! There is also a family arcade (with skee ball!) that gives tickets for prizes, so we always finish off with a treat to take home. www.monsterminigolf.com

A little farther afield in Easton, PA (about 45 min.) lies the Crayola Factory. This attraction can get really crowded, so I recommend you arrive when they open and you will get a blissful hour or two to let your kids leisurely unleash their creative spirits at a dozen or so hands-on activities. We usually follow our art experience with an early lunch at the McDonalds in the lobby and then head upstairs to the National Canal Museum, which is included in the ticket. The kids love to pilot their boats through the 90 foot model canal system and them play around Towpath Town where kids can journey back in time to over a century ago. We then finish our visit off with a visit to the huge Crayola store next door. www.crayolafactory.com  (closed January 5-14)

Finally, for a day trip I love the Please Touch Museum in Memorial Hall in Philadelphia. This is the best children's museum I have ever visited; think the Met for kids! You can spend all day exploring the various themed areas from City Capers which includes a supermarket, medical center, construction site, shoe store, and pretend McDonalds to Roadside Attractions where kids can explore all modes of transportation to River Adventures which includes a great waterway play area and a musical rainforest. My favorite area is Wonderland which is entirely inspired by Alice in Wonderland and is a really magical play area. There is also an indoor carousel, a theater with daily productions, and the Centennial Exploration train station. Each section has a special area for younger children so there is something for all ages. www.pleasetouchmuseum.org

As an added bonus this month we have the Martin Luther King holiday weekend! If you are not already planning a ski getaway, I recommend one of New Jersey's new indoor waterparks! Coco Key at the Mt. Laurel Marriott (about an hour and a half away) is an island themed, 55,000 sq. ft. indoor waterpark where every day is a bright, sunny 84 degrees! There are great areas for younger children like the interactive zero depth entry area and the wading pool of slides and older children will be thrilled by the Coconut Grove River Tube Ride, Coral Reef Cavern activity pool and three thrilling waterslides.(www.cocokeywaterresort.com) Sahara Sam's Oasis is in nearby West Berlin (both are off of exit 4 on the NJ Turnpike) and it includes a surfing attraction, family tubing, slides, and a lazy river. www.saharasams.com  

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