KIDS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES, and, as parents well know, with strong opinions. All it takes is one trip to the beach to see the contrast. Your daughter swims in the ocean all day — seemingly descended from Neptune — while your son begs you to leave within the hour. Thankfully, there are a handful of sites in New England that almost all children (and parents) will adore.
Portland: Head Light
Built in 1790 on an oceanside bluff, the white edifice of the Portland Head Light has been painted by such artists as Edward Hopper, which your kids won’t care about in the least. What will impress them, though, is the 80-foot tower that stands watch on cliffs surrounded by the sea. Below, trails lace the shoreline, offering wonderful bay views. >> 1000 Shore Rd., Cape Elizabeth, ME, 207-799-2661, portlandheadlight.com.
Story Land opened in 1954, a year before Walt Disney would launch his amusement park in southern California. But unlike today’s Disneyland, Story Land retains a nostalgic, relaxed feel. Stroll through Cinderella’s castle and try 22 rides. Lines are minimal, so you can see it all in a day with little hassle. >> 850 Route 16, Glen, NH, 603-383-4186, storylandnh.com.
The Shelburne Museum
Heir to two important collectors of Asian and European art, Electra Havemeyer eschewed New York society to amass a priceless collection of art and ingenuity housed in 39 buildings just south of Burlington, Vermont. Even the buildings are museum pieces, moved here from other parts of New England to save them from destruction. For children, history comes to life as they visit a Shaker round barn; a railroad station complete with locomotive; a lighthouse; and a 1906 side-wheeler steamboat. >> 6000 Shelburne Rd., Shelburne, VT, 802-985-3346, shelburnemuseum.org.
The adorable beluga whales — small, white, and oh-so-cuddly — are the main attraction at this family favorite. But save some time to watch the psychedelic jellyfish as they gracefully propel themselves around their tanks, and learn about African penguins in the Penguin Encounter — which offers a rare opportunity to touch these surprisingly affectionate creatures. New this year is the National Geographic Crittercam; families can view footage of the daily lives of video-camera-wearing seals, sharks, sea turtles, and whales. >> 55 Coogan Blvd., Mystic, CT, 860-572-5955, mysticaquarium.org.
“I don’t want to go to an art museum,” your kids will inevitably scream. Then you bring them to Mass MoCA, where 26 former textile-mill buildings in downtown North Adams are now devoted to art of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. With one building that’s more than 100 yards long, the museum is in a unique position to house immense works, such as a re-creation of a 1950s amusement park or a 20-ton sandcastle (guaranteed to excite the little ones). Also check out Kidspace, a gallery and arts and crafts studio where children can make paintings and sculptures based on a current exhibition. For example, one recent show of works created from Jell-O inspired tykes to construct their own food-oriented masterpieces. >> 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, MA, 413-662-2111, massmoca.org.