Educational, Fun and Nerdy Vacation Ideas

The Holidays are over. The sugar rush is wearing off. Now we’ve been shaken from our tryptophan and gratitude-induced coma and survived the holidays with all their joys and stressors (think Black Friday, Aunt Mildred’s constant judgment of your weight, that kind of thing). And then after all that, you can go back to work! We think it’s time for a vacation but here at Nerdy With Children, we don’t do Disney World with its throngs of denim cut-off shorts and screaming, sticky kids. We don’t want to see the world’s largest ball of twine—well, we secretly kind of do, but we know we can do even better than that! Nerds deserve nerdy vacations where they can indulge in the geekier side of travel. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite geeky vacation paradises that run the gamut from science geek to UFO geek to Lord of the Rings geek, and speaking of which…

If you’re feeling worldly and affluent these days, please indulge in the destination that tops the list:

Hobbiton, New Zealand

New Zealand is number one for both its geek value and the country’s beautiful scenery. Visit Middle-earth; take a guided tour where you will see the outskirts of the Shire, the Gardens of Isengard, the River Anduin, and Helm’s Deep. You’ll visit where the hobbits raced to the ferry, Rivendell and beside the Fords of Isen. If you’re outdoorsy and if the kids are a little bit older, climb Mount Doom—err, Mount Ngauruhoe. The mountain is an active volcano and the full hike up and back takes about seven hours, if you’re fast. So again, save this one for when the little Lord of the Rings fanatics are a bit older and they can appreciate golluming up this magical mountain while muttering “my precious” to themselves.

Large Hadron Collider, Geneva

Another faraway but awesome option for those of you who are Higgs boson-ly inclined is to go see the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. They give tours, but be sure to make reservations early. Let us know if you solve any of the universe’s greatest mysteries while you’re there and bring us back some Swiss chocolate, too, please. You can also visit the Patek Philippe Museum of watches. It features time pieces from as far back as the 16th century and all the way up to the newfangled watches that, in addition to telling time, probably give you X-ray vision and walk the dog for you. Switzerland is a beautiful place but really, this one makes the list because of the awesome possibilities it provides for your holiday cards this year. “Here are the kids discussing dark matter. Here are the kids examining one of the first practical marine chronometers.” So much better than “Here are the kids in front of the fireplace.”

If you’re not quite ready to find the passports and sit on a plane for twelve hours, don’t worry.  No matter where you find yourself, there are geeky options in which you and the kids can indulge.  Here are our favorite stateside options.

New York City, NY

Let’s start with that hipster mecca, New York. You can and should visit the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and definitely the American Museum of Natural History, but if you venture slightly off the beaten path, you can also find gems like the National Museum of Play in Rochester. This museum celebrates play and toys, past and present. Nostalgia for you, fun for the kids. There’s the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art that educates museum-goers on cartoon art’s contribution to culture and society. Basically, it’s the living embodiment of a Comic-Con nerd’s dream.

Anyone who grew up in the ’80s will want to take their kids to see the Ghostbusters Firehouse in the Tribeca neighborhood. Stop by, take pictures, feel awesome, leave humming the Ghostbusters theme song pretending you’re Bill Murray.

At the Superhero Supply Company in Brooklyn or, in other words, the front for Dave Eggers’ non-profit organization 826NYC, kids can find utility belts, grappling hooks, and secret identity kits. They can even try out capes in the cape-testing wind tunnel.  While they perfect their superhero identity, you can pick up a copy of The Believer or back issues of McSweeney’s. Also, hit up Strand Books. Two city blocks full of books. Enough said.

Washington, D.C.

For some history and civics lessons, visit Washington D.C.’s, well, everything, but especially the Smithsonian Institution with its nineteen buildings of artifacts and zoo! There are also White House tours for any aspiring candidates, and the International Spy Museum. Yeah, that’s what we said, a museum devoted to all things espionage. James Bond, Mata Hari, and Harriet would be proud.

New Mexico

“The truth is out there.”

“They’re already here.”

“We are not alone.”

“Hoax or history.”

Roswell, New Mexico has inspired some great taglines over the years. If the kids are into epic military cover-ups or for those looking to get swept up in a mass hysteria of Orson Wellian proportions, Roswell might be the place to be. Search for Area 51 and do some UFO investigating of your own. After that, stop by Santa Fe, which is about three hours away, where you’ll find the Museum of International Folk Art for a healthy dose of culture and kitsch.

Oregon and Washington

We’re lumping the next two together because both Oregon and Washington are surprising bastions of nerdiness. Portland’s Ground Kontrol Arcade is worth a visit (a reference to David Bowie and all the arcade games we used to play as kids? We’re in heaven.) Powell’s Books, also in Portland, claims to be the largest independent bookstore in the world—big enough to get lost in. That’s not a figurative statement. Have your cell phone on you or a buddy system firmly in place.

Visit Washington’s Museum of Science Fiction and go to the Pike Place Fish Market to see the fishmongers hurling fish to one another. I’m not sure what kind of geek this suits best… ichthyology geeks? Sea foodies? It’s cool. Trust us. Just go. The kids will totally get a kick out of it.


Philadelphia is lucky because it has the Mütter Museum, the largest museum of medical history in America. If you have a budding physician—or if, upon finding a dead toad, your kid is the one who simply must poke at it with a stick, visit this museum with its medicinal plant garden, perfectly preserved anatomical specimens and out-of-date (read: crazy-looking) medical instruments. One ticket also gets you into the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where you can see more bodies, well, mummies.

The Midwest

We’re lumping this large swath of the U.S. together too—not because you’re not all unique and special in your own way, Midwestern states, but because there’s a lot going on in the Midwest (bet you didn’t think you’d ever hear that phrase when talking about the land of cows and cheese). Iowa boasts of the Prairie Lights Books store, which is smaller than Strand but still packs a punch. Minnesota has the Bakken Museum, located in a beautiful mansion. The Bakken explores the role of electricity in society from 1200 A.D. to the present in a hands-on, very kid-oriented way. Minnesota also has a Lego Land but be forewarned, you will have to actually go inside the Mall of America to see it. Wisconsin is home to the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum that showcases the study and preservation of letterpress printing.  We’re salivating just thinking about the potential for bookwormy joy in a place like that.

The bottom line is this: no matter where you end up on your vacation, with a little effort, you can make a geek’s paradise out of any locale.  Hey, even Disney World has a Jedi training academy.

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