I’ve teamed up with over 50 bloggers from across the United States to put together this list of budget-friendly staycation and travel ideas from different parts of the country. I’m sharing ideas for Central PA, and the rest of the list is at the bottom of this post.
Welcome to central PA!
I am a life long resident of the great state of Pennsylvania. I grew up in the mid-state, went to college in the western part of the state and took my first job out of college in eastern PA. And now my husband, who is also from PA, and I have settled in central PA to raise our family.
There are a variety of summer family-friendly activities in Central PA that are exciting, fun, and educational, but not expensive. There is something for everyone of all ages to enjoy.
And if you’re not from PA, it is an excellent place to visit…although, I might be a little biased!
Summer Activities in Central PA
Historical and Educational Activities
Pennsylvania’s capital, Harrisburg, is located in Central PA. Take a tour of a National Historic Landmark, the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg. 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 cinema, 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. 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. Check the website for performance details and admission prices.
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 $9-$11, depending on age. There is a $40 family pass available for 2 adults and up to 3 students(immediate family members). Check the website for details about Community Free Day.
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. I often see coupons in various local publications.
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.
Artsfest – This juried arts festival runs 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: Thursday, June 16, 2022 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 Celebration runs 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 Attractions, & 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 gallon pool with water slides and diving boards, and a golf course. Personally, we have never been to Knoebels, but we have heard nothing but good things about the park, the campground and the whole experience.
Do you love Turkey Hill ice cream, iced teas, and gelato? 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 theHarrisburg 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.
Are you from Central PA or have plans to visit this summer? Tell us about it in the comments.
Staycation Ideas Around the U.S.
A – D
Phoenix, Arizona — Saving For Someday
Fresno, California — Living A Frugal Life
Orange County, California — More With Less Today
San Diego, California — Southern Cali Saver
Denver, Colorado — Bargain Blessings
Washington, District of Columbia — Kidventurous
F – I
Disney World, Florida — The Happy Housewife
Jacksonville, Florida — Saving The Family Money
Orlando, Florida — Coupon Mamacita
St Augustine, Florida — Simply St. Augustine
Tallahasse, Florida — SwagGrabber
Atlanta, Georgia — Pretty Frugal Diva
Dahlonega, Georgia — Kathys Cluttered Mind
Savannah, Georgia — This Mommy Saves Money
Aurora/Chicago, Illinois — A Savings WOW!
Chicago, Illinois — Entertaining Chicago
Indianapolis, Indiana — Chaos Is Bliss
K – P
Lexington, Kentucky — Homeschool Village
Louisville, Kentucky — The Kennedy Adventures
Northern Kentucky, Kentucky — Simply Sherryl
Carroll County, Maryland — Looking at life CreativLEI
Boston, Massachusetts — Maven of Savin
Battle Creek, Michigan — Pichea Place
Grand Rapids, Michigan — Give Me Neither
Metro Detroit, Michigan — Saving Dollars and Sense
Kansas City Area, Missouri/Kansas — Redefined Mom
Omaha, Nebraska — Family Fun in Omaha
Central, New Jersey — Our Good Life
Cincinnati, Ohio — Adventure Mom
Cleveland, Ohio — Kosher on a Budget
Columbus, Ohio — Cleverly Simple
Dayton, Ohio — Savings Lifestyle
Mansfield & Richland County, Ohio — The Traveling Praters
Miami County, Ohio — Something 2 Offer
Northeast, Ohio — Sisters Shopping on a Shoestring
Portland, Oregon — Frugal Living NW
Harrisburg/Central, PA — Family Balance Sheet
Erie, Pennsylvania — Growing Kids Ministry
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Moms Need To Know
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — The Coupon High
R – W
Arlington, Texas — Grocery Shop For FREE
Fort Worth, Texas — Coupons and Freebies Mom
Houston, Texas — Melissa’s Bargains
Katy, Texas — Moms Confession
San Antonio, Texas — How to Homeschool My Child
Tyler, Texas — iLoveMy5Kids
Charlottesville, Virgina — How to Have it All
Norfolk, Virgina — The Talking Suitcase
Richmond, Virgina — Vacation Maybe
Seattle, Washington — Thrifty NW Mom
Tacoma/South Puget Sound, Washington — Queen Bee Coupons
Oshkosh, Wisconsin — A Little Bit of This and That