Small museums and short trips: Discover lesser-known gems just outside of NYC spring

With spring rapidly approaching, it is time to begin thinking about family destinations when the weather is better for travel and the roads are a bit safer. With all of New York at your fingertips — and cities like Boston, Philadelphia, Newport, Saratoga Springs, and Washington D.C. easily within reach — many families take to the roadways for weekend getaways to explore nearby sites and attractions. These weekend getaways can be valuable opportunities to bond as a family, create long-lasting memories, and in many instances, add to your children’s learning. This is especially true when exploring museums, which typically offer a rich environment for learning as a family.

Kids growing up in New York City are regularly exposed to some of the country’s best museums, but there are a number of hidden gems in nearby cities. So, while on your next road trip, I encourage you to explore new attractions. Whether your family enjoys the visual arts, strolling through gardens, or gawking at hot rods — exploring lesser-known museums and sites while in a familiar city makes the destination fresh again. Use your weekend getaways to explore these great attractions. To help, here are my top five for families, all under five hours away from the New York City (by car).

Boston, Mass.

(4½ hours by car)

Hidden gem: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (25 Evans Way in Boston, Mass., www.gardnermuseum.org/home)

The Gardner Museum (founded by collector and philanthropist of the same name) is not just a museum, but an experience. The exhibition space features both historical and contemporary works that serve as an exhibit all on their own, with plantings reflecting the seasons as they evolve throughout the year. For music lovers, the performance hall offers concerts of both traditional and new music for patrons of all ages. If your family is visiting Boston over a weekend, you can visit the Education Studio on Saturdays to participate in hands-on projects for visitors of all ages, and on Sundays, there is a concert series. Twice a month on Sundays visitors can learn all about the gardens and horticulture.

Newport, R.I.

(4 hours by car)

Hidden gem: Audrain Automobile Museum (222 Bellevue Ave. in Newport, R.I., audrainautomuseum.org)

Established in 2014, this museum has a mission to preserve and present automotive history. You can’t help but peer into the window at the gleaming cars of the Audrain Automobile Museum, which has access to a collection of around 200 cars. The museum makes efforts to keep things fresh and displays unique exhibits throughout the year. The collection ranges from Brass Era pre-War cars to supercars of the 2000s. The museum is entertaining generations of car lovers both young and old.

Philadelphia, Pa.

(2½ hours by car)

Hidden gem: Rodin Museum (2151 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. in Philadelphia, Pa., www.rodinmuseum.org)

Right on Benjamin Franklin Highway, between the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadephia Museum of Art, you’ll find one of the most comprehensive public collections of work by Auguste Rodin outside Paris. The intimately scaled Rodin Museum boasts a collection of sculptures and a beautiful garden. The museum offers daily tours Wednesdays through Sundays, and sketch class on the second Saturday of the month.

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

(3½ hours by car)

Hidden gem: Saratoga Automobile Museum (110 Avenue of the Pines in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., www.saratogaautomuseum.org)

Located within the 2,500 acre Saratoga Spa State Park, the museum (which opened to the public in 2002) is housed in the restored and renovated Saratoga Bottling Plant. Showcasing cars, racing paraphernalia, and historic images, the museum aims to educate the general public as well as car enthusiasts of all ages. Tours are offered on Thursday and Saturday afternoons, and the spring auto show will draw diverse crowds to view the many cars on display.

Washington, D.C.

(4½ hours by car)

Hidden gem: Hillwood Museum, Estate and Gardens (4155 Linnean Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., www.hillwoodmuseum.org)

The Georgian-style mansion on the Hillwood Estate is the former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, an art collector, philanthropist, and a bit of a socialite. Visitors to this museum will enjoy a peek into her day-to-day life. The Hillwood’s archival collection hosts extensive documentation and photographs (more than 38,000 items) related to Post. The museum offers a robust schedule of events including educational programming for both adults and families with small children. Throughout the year, you will find cultural festivals, lecture series, special exhibitions, films, and concerts. In the spring, visitors will enjoy the meticulously landscaped Japanese-style garden and a French parterre. The most anticipated exhibit, “Spectacular Gems and Jewels” from the Merriweather Post Collection, will be on view in late spring.

Shnieka Johnson is an education consultant and freelance writer. She is based in Manhattan where she resides with her husband and son. Contact her via her website, www.shniekajohnson.com.