Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Explore Harrisburg PA This Summer

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Are you making plans to visit the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg this summer?

I grew up in central PA, home to the state capital city of Harrisburg. Harrisburg and its surrounding communities offer a variety of summer activities that will make your trip exciting, fun, and educational, but not expensive. There is something for everyone 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 just for kids 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.

Outdoor Festivals

2013 Patriot-News Artsfest - This juried arts festival runs May 25-27 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 you might have to pay to park at a nearby parking garage.

85th Annual Jubilee Day - the largest, longest running one day street fair on the East coast. Date: June 20, 2013 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 and 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.

If you're in the mood for some shopping, 2 large outlets, Tanger Outlets and Rockvale Outlets are just down the street from the Dutch Wonderland.

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.

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.

Gifford Pinchot State Park is located south of Harrisburg. It offers hiking trails, swimming, boating, picnicking, camping and so much more.

Have you visited Central Pennsylvania? What are your plans this summer? Will you be traveling or staying close to home? Let us know in the comments.

Are you headed somewhere else this summer? Find more ways to enjoy your destination on a budget.

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  1. The Army Heritage Center is a great place to visit. I used to intern there. It's free to the public and has amazing living history events as well as an awesome outdoor trail filled with recreations of every war the U.S. has fought in. Glad that made your list! Also don't forget the Appalachian Trail runs right through the area and is great for hiking!

  2. I'm from the UK, but I was briefly living in the US last fall, and we had a wonderful weekend trip to Harrisburg & Gettysburg. It was great to learn about an aspect of history we're hardly taught in Europe!

    Visiting from SITS Sharefest.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful place. I would love to go there someday.


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