Summer is here and the open road and adventure are calling. Whether you’re looking for a quick day-trip, a weekend getaway, or an epic cross country tour, we’ve got you covered. Since we’re PJ Library, we've zeroed in on cities and attractions with special connections to Jewish history. Who says you can’t learn a little while having fun?
We scoured the internet, asked friends, and, of course PJ parents, for their favorite recommendations.
1. Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the oldest and second-largest city in the state of South Carolina. During the 1800s, Charleston was also home to the largest and wealthiest Jewish community in North America.
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) is the second oldest synagogue building in North America and is thought to be the birthplace of the Reform movement in Judaism. Families can tour the synagogue and attached museum before visiting one of Charleston’s many beaches or checking out the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry.
2. Memphis, Tennessee
Memphis is a really kid-friendly city boasting, museums, an awesome zoo, and loads of public and family-friendly events. The gorgeous Orpheum Theater also offers tons of family programming plus free movie events throughout the summer. The “Big Backyard” at the botanical gardens is a large, educational, kid-centric playspace for the young and young at heart. Looking for a place to grab a bite to eat? Try the Nosh-A-Rye Deli, a kosher, southern comfort food, eatery.
Of course no visit to Memphis would be complete without a trip to Graceland. The former home of Elvis Presley is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Memphis with a surprising Jewish connection! Part of the exhibits at Graceland look at Elvis’ connection to his heritage and to the Jewish community.
3. Montreal, Quebec, Canada
For the foodies among us, Montreal is a vacationer’s paradise. The city has amazing kosher bakeries and some of the best bagels in North America. For quick and novel eats, be sure to try out Pizza Pita, a kosher pizza drivethrough and a hotspot with young Jewish professionals.
Montreal is a great destination for families with both young and older children. Favorite activities include visiting The Redpath Museum to check out the dinosaurs, hitting up the Insectarium to learn about bugs, and venturing to the Taz Indoor Skatepark.
Get in touch with Montreal’s rich connection to Jewish history with a walk through the Mile End neighborhood or a visit to the Jewish Public Library. Adults may also want to take in Montreal’s Holocaust Museum.
4. Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is just a short drive from destination cities like Providence, Rhode Island; Boston, Massachusetts; and Mystic, Connecticut. Ride the old fashioned trolley, take a Cliff Walk, or tour the decadent old fashioned mansions. The Breakers Mansion offers a special tour for kids and families with stories told by the children who occupied the historic 70-plus room home.
You won’t want to miss the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue building in the United States. It is the only surviving synagogue in the United States that dates back to the colonial era. If you're staying overnight, try Admiral Weaver Inn, a kosher bed & breakfast that can accommodate families with children six years and older.
5. New York, New York
New York City is a tourist’s playground and home to the largest Jewish population of any city in North America. There’s food, culture, history, and enough activities to keep a family occupied for a month-long vacation. We’ve pulled a few highlights recommended by Big Apple PJ LIbrary families for those visiting New York City for the first time.
Levy’s is a company that offers Jewish-themed walking and food tours of various New York City neighborhoods. For children’s focused programming, head to the Jewish Children’s Museum, or take in a concert at the 92 Street Y. The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island are also must-sees. Take along Emma's Poem, a PJ Library book all about the Emma Lazarus when you visit.
If you’re in New York City and feel like taking a drive, head out to Marlborough, New York to visit The Gomez Mill House, the earliest surviving Jewish residence in the United States. Unlike many notable Jewish homes on the National Historic Register, the Mill House is actually open to the public. Families can attend events throughout the year on Sundays, and the house offers free admission for moms on Mother’s Day.
6. Portland, Oregon
If you’re out West, Portland is a great city to explore with the entire family. Climb aboard the Portland Aerial Tram and take a sky-high tour of the city, explore Mt. Tabor Park, home to an extinct volcano, or splash around in Blue Lake Regional Park.
Portland’s Jewish population has played a huge role in the city’s development. The city hosts an annual Jewish film festival every summer and is home to the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education and the Oregon Holocaust Memorial. For more suggestions, grab a copy of Oregon Jewish Life magazine.
7. San Francisco, California
Prior to the California Gold Rush, San Francisco was considered a small village. In 1849 all of that changed when James Marshall hit gold on the American River. San Francisco’s population exploded and became a haven for Jewish pioneers. Much of the city’s infrastructure was built up by the city’s new Jewish residents who became prominent civic leaders and politicians.
San Francisco is an expansive city with delicious restaurants and a plethora of family-friendly activities. Ride a vintage fire engine through the city, explore Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf, walk among the Redwoods in Muir Woods (children under 15 are admitted free), touch everything in the Exploratorium, or bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. The Contemporary Jewish Museum has a variety of kids programs including drop-in art studio time. Planning a picnic? Grab a sandwich from Wise Sons Deli.
8. Seattle, Washington
The Emerald City may be one of America’s most kid-friendly cities. Watch the fish fly at Pike Place Market, (just steer clear of the Gum Wall), tucker out toddlers at the Seattle Zoo’s Zoomazium, or ride the Seattle Great Wheel.
Want to relive your Jewish summer camp experience? The whole family can come at Seattle’s Camp Kesher. While you’re visiting the area, you can also stop by the Washington State Jewish Historical Society or catch one of PJ Library's weekly storytimes all across the city.
9. St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is a secret gem for family-friendly vacations. Accommodations in the city are relatively inexpensive. There are great restaurant and tons of programs for families throughout the summer. The website Jewish In St. Louis maintains an up to date, events-calendar. If you’re visiting for the first time, you can’t miss The City Museum, Grant’s Farm, The Laumeier Sculpture Park, or Fitz’s Root Beer. The Jewish Travel Guide calls out St. Louis as a special city whose “Jewish sights are interwoven with the general history of St. Louis.”
10. Tucson, Arizona
Get a taste of the old southwest during your trip to Tucson. The entire family can get in on the cowboy action with a visit to Old Tucson Studios. Or you can stay cool and interact with desert wild life at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, or get tiny at The Mini Time Museum of Miniatures. Tucson is also home to The Jewish History Museum located in the 100-year-old building that housed the first synagogue within the Arizona Territory.
This list is just a start, so if you’ve got ideas, we want to hear them. Tell us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
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June 6, 2016