Are you a resident of Harrisburg or Central PA and looking for some budget-friendly staycation ideas for the summer? Or are you making plans to visit the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg this summer?
Harrisburg and its surrounding communities offer a variety of summer activities that will make your staycation exciting, fun, and educational, but not expensive. There is something for everyone of all ages to enjoy.
Historical and Educational Activities
Take a tour of a National Historic Landmark, the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Built in 1906, the “Capitol’s centerpiece is a spectacular 272-foot, 52 million-pound dome inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome”.
Not far from the Capitol is the State Museum of Pennsylvania. The State Museum offers “four floors of exhibits that represent Pennsylvania’s story, from Earth’s beginning to the present”, a Planetarium and the ‘hands on’ play area, Curiosity Connection, for children 5 and under. Admission is $4-$5.
Also located downtown is the Whitaker Center , that offers an IMAX theater, Science Center, and a performance theater. The science center is 3 floors of exhibits, experiments and programs. It also offers a play/imagination area for children under 5. Prices for the IMAX theater range from $8 – $13.75, depending on your age and the movie. Prices for the science center range from $12.50 – $16, depending on age as well. If you are local, consider buying a year long membership for unlimited access to the Science Center and other benefits. The performance theater is an intimate venue that hosts everything from national acts to local performers. Prices vary depending on the act.
The National Civil War Museum, as stated on the website, is “the only museum in The United States that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War. Equally balanced presentations are humanistic in nature without bias to Union or Confederate Causes.” Admission prices range from $8-$10, depending on age. There is a $35 family pass available for 2 adults and up to 3 students(immediate family members).
For more Civil War history, the historic town of Gettysburg, PA is about 38 miles south of Harrisburg.
For more military history, visit the Army Heritage and Educational Center located west of Harrisburg, in Carlisle.
The Oakes Museum of Natural History is located at Messiah College, just outside of Harrisburg. It houses a collection of Smithsonian-quality African and North American mammals, bird eggs, fish, seashells, minerals, insects and fossils. An anchor of the museum is the 200-specimen collection of African mammals, the largest of its kind in Pennsylvania, which features 75 full mounts, including an elephant, hippopotamus, zebra, giraffe and forest nyala. It is only open on Saturdays from 1 – 5pm. The admission is $6 for adults, $3.50 for ages 4-12, and children 3 and under are free.
Visit The Pennsylvania National Fire Museum in Harrisburg to view a collection of artifacts from the hand-drawn equipment of yesterday to the modern tools of today. The museum is housed in an 1899 Victoria fire house.
2014 PennLive/Patriot-News Artsfest – This juried arts festival runs May 24-26 over the Memorial Day weekend at Harrisburg Riverfront Park, along the Susquehanna River. Walk along the river and peruse the artists’ booths, choose from a wide variety of food vendors and enjoy live music throughout the three days. There is no admission charge, but parking meters in the city are no longer free on Saturdays.
Annual Jubilee Day – the largest, longest running one day street fair on the East coast. Date: June 19, 2014 from 10 am to 9 pm. Location: downtown Mechanicsburg. Admission: FREE. The event features wares from local artists and craftsmen, as well as great food, fun games, and amusement rides.
The Kipona Celebrationruns over Labor Day weekend and is right along the Susquehanna River. Admission: FREE. Activities include Artfest featuring 150 different artists and craftspersons, live music and entertainment, Chili Cookoff, Classic Canoe race, a traditional Indian Pow Wow, and SO much more.
Amusement Parks, Tourist Attactions, & Zoos
Hershey Park -Located about 14 miles east of Harrisburg. From roller coasters and water rides to kiddie rides and music shows, there really is something for every one at Hershey Park. Other attractions at the Park are ZooAmerica and Chocolate World. Tickets are pricey, but discounted ones can usually be found at Giant Food Stores. Or head there later in the day and purchase a Sunset Admission ticket. You’ll save money, yet still have 4 hours to enjoy the park. Picnic lunches and food are not permitted inside the park.
Dutch Wonderland is located about 40 miles east of Harrisburg, the heart of Amish Country/ Lancaster County. It is a great park geared more towards children ages 12 and under. Food is not permitted inside the park, but there is a Family Picnic Pavilion right outside the park. Old Mill Stream campground is also right outside the park, within walking distance. We had our first camping experience at Old Stream a few years ago. The Amish visit on Saturday mornings with a horse drawn carriage filled with delicious baked goods for sale.
Twenty five miles north of Harrisburg resides Lake Tobias Wildlife Park , a home to herds of wild and exotic animals from all over the world. From a Safari tour to a petting zoo and reptile exhibit, this park is a fun destination for the whole family.
Another park north of the city is Knoebels Amusement Resort. It is the largest free-admission park in America; you pay by the ride and the rides range from .75 – $2.25. Along with over 50 rides, the resort also offers a campground, a 900,000 galloon pool with water slides and diving boards, and a golf course. Personally, we have never been there, we have heard nothing but good things about the park, the campground and the whole experience.
Do you love Turkey Hill ice cream and iced teas? Then your family will love Turkey Hill Experience in Columbia, PA, about 35 miles southeast of Harrisburg. Learn how Turkey Hill ice cream is made, sit in a milk truck and milk mechanical cows. You can also create your own virtual ice cream flavor, ice cream package, and a commercial. The Turkey Hill Taste Lab allows you to bring your virtual ice cream creation to life as you make your own pint of ice cream! Plus, there are plenty of free samples of ice cream and iced tea products, too! We visited over the winter and my kids had SO MUCH FUN! Check the website for prices.
The Great Outdoors
If you are looking for a place to walk, run, bike, or bird watch, visit Wildwood Park on the outskirts of downtown Harrisburg. The park features 6 miles of trails and a nature center.
Are you a sports fan? Visit Harrisburg’s City Island, right in the middle of the Susquehanna River, and catch a Harrisburg Sentators game, the city’s AA pro baseball team. Or check out a professional soccer game with the Harrisburg City Islanders, a member of the United Soccer League. The island also offers other activities, such as an arcade, batting cages, miniature golf, a train, and The Pride of the Susquehanna Riverboat cruises.
The Hershey Gardens is spread over 23 acres and includes the Butterfly House, Children’s Garden, and many other themed gardens. Tickets range from $7 to $10, depending on age, but children under 3 are free.
Visit the Indian Echo Caverns & Estate, located just outside of Hershey. Indian Echo Caverns is a limestone cave and maintains a constant 52 degree temperature. It is believed the caverns were once a refuge for the Susquehannock Indians during inclement weather.
Gifford Pinchot State Park is located south of Harrisburg. It offers hiking trails, swimming, boating, picnicking, camping and so much more.
Do yo have plans to visit or staycation in Central Pennsylvania this summer? What are your plans this summer? Let us know in the comments.