One of our favorite places to go are the islands in Boston Harbor. These are small size islands, covered with trees and grass, an old fort or two, and their appeal for kids is a sense of adventure and exploration. In earlier centuries the islands were inhabited by native Americans and colonial settlers, but today it's just a short 30 min. ferry ride from Long Wharf. The boat ride itself is part of the fun, watching the big ships going into the harbor, planes landing and taking off at the airport next to the water, listening to the sounds of buoys clanging over the water.
This is a perfect activity for a summer's day, so pack a picnic. (For all the islands, whatever you carry in, you need to carry back out, no trash cans.) The ferries operate May to October - click here for the schedule.
Georges Island - Georges Island boasts a well-preserved granite fortification, Fort Warren, built in 1833 and used as a Confederate prison during the Civil War. Laid out in a 5 bastion star-shape, it's a big fort. Start with the guard house at the entrance, walk over the wooden bridge and through the iron studded door into the interior of the fort.
Inside, there's a large grassy parade ground, powder magazine, and many rooms, including the rooms where the soldiers and prisoners lived. Climb up the stairs onto the earthen covered ramparts, check out the 15 inch cannon, climb up the watch tower. Tip: The fort is a warren of rooms to explore, some of which are pitch black inside, so bring a flashlight.
There are picnic tables, as well as a snack bar. When the tide is low, explore the tide pools (beaches on either side of the ferry dock), looking for sea urchins, whelks, periwinkles, starfish, and on the beach, you'll find smooth sea glass.
Spectacle Island - This island, 114 acres, has been reclaimed with dirt from the Big Dig project. There's a protected cove where kids can wade or swim with a lifeguard (in summer), five miles of hiking trails, picnic tables, visitor center and cafe. Spectacle Island is the highest point in the harbor, so climb up the north and south "drumlins" for views all the other islands.
- Boston Light, on Little Brewster Island, is the oldest lighthouse in the United States. The lighthouse has stood on this rocky crag since Revolutionary times. Take a two hour tour to see three lighthouses in the harbor. Here's the schedule