12 offbeat and unique things to do with your family
Spend the day at one of these 12 quirky family fun spots
If you’ve hiked Mount Monadnock, splashed in the waves at Hampton Beach and wandered through New Hampshire’s many outlet stores and malls, maybe you are looking for something a little different, something offbeat.
Take your family off the beaten path this summer to these 12 curious places in New Hampshire that your kids will love.
- Get started on your quest for quirk at Odiorne State Park in Rye. From the park’s rocky beach, views stretch all the way to the Isles of Shoals, a small chain of low-lying offshore islands. Before glaciers carved the coastline here during the last Ice Age, Odiorne’s tree-covered land stretched all the way to these far-off islands. Look closely during very low tide and you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Odiorne’s Sunken Forest, a grove of petrified tree roots that are over 11,000 years old.
- Other Odiorne oddities include the remains of Fort Dearborn, a U.S. military lookout built during World War II. The fort’s long-abandoned bunkers are still here for exploration and for a thoughtful family discussion about why this spot was so important during a war that took place in Europe and Asia.
- And speaking of Europe, if you follow the park’s shoreline walking paths you will end up at a large stone that marks the spot where a small band of English settlers founded Pannaway Plantation in 1623, the first European settlement in New Hampshire, only three years after the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth.
- Elsewhere in the Seacoast area, don’t miss the Woodman Museum in Dover. It’s an eclectic — and a bit eccentric — natural history museum founded in 1916 with the mission to “Engage minds. Ignite curiosity. Provoke thought.” And that it does with a surprising assortment of displays from the natural world, including the famous four-legged chicken and 10-foot tall polar bear. Add this place to your list for rainy day fun.
- Marvel at what could be America’s oldest manmade construction at America’s Stonehenge. Located on the outskirts of Salem, the estimated 4,000-year-old archaeological site is a majestic maze full of rocky chambers and ancient ceremonial meeting places. Who built these and why? No one knows for certain, but your family can have fun guessing as you explore. Elsewhere on the grounds kids can dig for gemstones they can keep.
- You already know the internet loves cats, but apparently so does Manchester. If you find yourself doing some urban exploration in the Queen City this summer, don’t miss “Cat Alley,” a narrow alleyway covered in cat murals. This public art project can be found next to Lala’s Hungarian Pastries at 836 Elm St., formally known as Dean’s Court. The project was inspired by the nickname given to it long ago as a favorite place for the city’s stray cats to strut — and sometimes fight.
- In Hudson you can take your kids for an off-the-beaten path nature hike at Benson’s Park, a pleasant tract of woods, pasture and ponds that was once home to Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, one of New Hampshire’s most popular tourist destinations years ago. Remnants of the former park remain and are fun to explore. What other hike will take your kids to an oversized shoe (of “The Old Woman and the Shoe” fame) and a gorilla cage that you can climb inside? The park’s oversized playground is a bonus stop before and after your walk.
- For some spine-chilling summer fun, check out what’s considered New Hampshire’s most famous haunted place: the Madame Sherri Forest in Chesterfield. The forest is named for the eccentric Madame Antoinette Sherri, a costume designer for the Ziegfield Follies, who built her country “castle” in the woods here a century ago. The mansion was destroyed by fire in 1962, leaving behind only the central hall’s grand stone staircase. It is said that the spirit of Madame Sherri still roams the grounds of the forest that was her home. Your best chance for having a close encounter of the ghostly kind? Fellow ghost hunters say visit the staircase, only a short walk from the trailhead on Gulf Road, and call out her name.
- Fun Spot at Weirs Beach in Laconia holds the current Guinness World Record holder for largest arcade in the world, but the real reason why it’s worth saving up your quarters for a trip here is Fun Spot’s Arcade Museum. The museum is filled with old-time favorites, from pinball to Pac Man that you can still play. Consider this your chance to show your kids that video game fun really did exist before 3-D virtual reality.
- If your kids have ever wondered how we communicated before the days of smartphones, take them to the Telephone Museum in Warner to trace the history of the phone from its Alexander Graham Bell origins all the way up to the present day. Filled with exhibits and artifacts, it’s nostalgic fun to show kids a little slice of pre-iPhone life.
- Do you have a sweet tooth? Head to Littleton. The cute little White Mountains town is home to Chutter’s General Store, a quaint old-time New England country store that has the unusual claim to fame of holding the Guinness World Record for the longest candy counter in the entire world at 112 feet.
- You don’t have to climb a peak to experience the natural majesty of the White Mountains. In Franconia Notch State Park, one of the most eye-popping sights is the Basin, a large glacial pothole carved into the Pemigewasset River some 25,000 years ago and gradually smoothed and widened by the swirling river waters ever since. The almost perfectly circular pool is 30 feet across and 15 feet deep. Henry David Thoreau on his first trip to the White Mountains proclaimed the pothole to be “perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.”
Jacqueline Tourville is a longtime contributor to ParentingNH.