- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

BOSTON — My goal on a two-day trip to Boston with my children was simple. I wanted them to experience local history without hearing them say, “But history is boring.”

Fortunately, the Boston area is so steeped in history that you can’t avoid it if you try. With the help of a Fodor’s guide, “Around Boston With Kids,” we managed to create an itinerary that entertained our 21st-century family while glimpsing three centuries into the past.

We started with a tour of the city in a vintage World War II amphibious vehicle known as a “duck,” which plops into the Charles River after driving past famous sites such as Boston Common. Then we visited the USS Constitution, also known as “Old Ironsides,” followed by a hike around Walden Pond and a stop at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

Our first outing was on the duck, basically a boat on wheels designed to ferry troops seamlessly from ship to shore. The hour-long land tour took us past many famous sites, including the Old Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere and other patriots are entombed; Beacon Hill and the tony shops of Newbury Street; and Boston’s downtown park, known as the Common. The last 20 minutes of the trip were spent in the Charles River, where every child on board got a thrilling turn in the driver’s seat.

After consulting the “Kid-Friendly Eats” recommendations in “Around Boston With Kids,” which describes several dining choices for every attraction listed, we had a pleasant lunch in the food court at the Museum of Science.

Although we did not tour the museum, the children had fun playing on a flight of stairs in which every step sounds a loud musical note, giving my husband and me more time to finish eating.

We then drove to the Charlestown Navy Yard to see the USS Constitution. Launched in 1797, it is the oldest commissioned ship afloat in the world. Our tour guide, a uniformed sailor, explained that the Constitution was one of the first six ships built for the U.S. Navy, after George Washington asked Congress to fund a fleet to defend American merchant vessels against piracy.

The Constitution is still seaworthy and goes out five to 10 times a year.

The boat got its nickname, “Old Ironsides,” during the War of 1812, when its oak hull withstood cannon fire and an enemy sailor remarked, “Her sides are made of iron.”

The ship’s 54 cannons still impress, but the stories you hear on the tour are what make it so much fun. Meat was so heavily salted for preservation that it had to be dragged in nets in the sea to desalinate it; the ocean water was less salty than the meat. The term for barrels of drinking water was “scuttlebutt,” which became a synonym for gossip because it was the only place sailors were allowed to chat.

From there, we headed to Walden Pond.

Thoreau’s legendary retreat from civilization is a mere half-hour from Boston — which is about how long it took my children to jog the 1.8-mile trail around the water. I let them go ahead, and I paced myself, enjoying the newly budding trees and the frog songs of early spring.

The fresh air made us hungry. My husband and I had lived in the area in the early ‘80s, and we wanted to return to one of our favorite haunts, Rosie’s Bakery. The cafe, in Inman Square in Cambridge, did not disappoint; we shared coconut-covered German chocolate cake, cookies and a gorgeous frosted cupcake.

On our second day in town, we headed to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, a stunning building — designed by I.M. Pei — of white stone with a dramatic glass front and a lovely view of Dorchester Bay. Two films — one on Kennedy’s early political influences and career, and the other on the Cuban Missile Crisis — help children who know nothing more than the fact of JFK’s death understand the impact of his life.

For grown-ups, footage of his speeches and TV interviews fascinate as well. His intelligent discussions of complicated issues such as the Cold War stand in stark contrast to today’s sound bites and glib banter. A film about his assassination is just a few minutes long; this museum focuses on his life without dwelling on his death.

We lunched in another of our old favorites, Legal Sea Foods, which has expanded into a miniempire in the two decades since we moved, with 10 locations around Boston and others elsewhere on the East Coast, including the Washington area. Our chowder, calamari and fish and chips were flavored to perfection and moderately priced, and the waitress was nice to our children, who ordered from their own menu.

Last stop was Purgatory Chasm, a state park an hour west of Boston and one of many attractions listed in the Fodor’s guide that are off the beaten path.

The trails there consist mainly of craggy granite rocks that wind up and down through the woods. They are steep enough to be challenging, requiring nimble feet and sturdy footwear, and when you’re at the top or bottom of a 70-foot-high scramble, the views are impressive. Yet the hikes are so doable that my 6-year-old managed without assistance.

As we headed home, we agreed that our visit to Boston had been a stress-free success. We had seen plenty of historic sites, yet — surprise — we somehow had managed to avoid all the boring ones.

Planning a family-friendly Boston itinerary

In addition to “Around Boston With Kids,” the Fodor’s series on child-friendly urban travel includes guidebooks for Atlanta; Chicago; Denver; London; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; Orlando, Fla.; Paris; Philadelphia; Rome; San Francisco; Seattle; San Diego; Toronto; and Washington. As with any travel guide, information may change after publication, so call ahead to double-check hours and prices; $11 each.

Duck Tours: Depart from the Museum of Science or the Prudential Center daily on the hour from 9 a.m. until one hour before sunset and, depending on the season, also on the half-hour. Adults, $24; children 3 to 11, $15; children under 3, $3; discounts for seniors, students, groups. Contact www.ducktours.com or 617/267-DUCK for more information. When school is out, tours fill up, so arrive early, or you can buy tickets five days in advance via the Internet. Other cities with duck tours include Washington; Baltimore; Chicago; Pittsburgh; Seattle; and Portland, Maine.

USS Constitution: Located in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. Admission free. Visit www.ussconstitution.navy.mil.

Walden Pond State Reservation: Route 2 to Route 126 in Concord. Parking $2 per car. Open 5 a.m. until 30 minutes after sunset. Contact 978/369-3254 or www.state.ma.us/dem/parks/wldn.htm. Visitors limited to 1,000, so arrive early in peak season.

John F. Kennedy Library and Museum: Located at Columbia Point, Dorchester; Exit 15 off Route 3/Interstate 93. Follow signs to the University of Massachusetts and JFK Library. By mass transit, take the Red Line to JFK/UMass, then a JFK shuttle bus to the library. Adults, $10; children 13 to 17, $7; children 12 and younger, free. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Contact 866/JFK-1960 or www.jfklibrary.org.

Purgatory Chasm State Reservation: Located in Sutton, about an hour west of Boston. Take Interstate 90 to Exit 10A, then Route 146 south to Purgatory Road. Open daily, sunrise to sunset. Contact 508/234-3733 or www.state.ma.us/dem/parks/purg.htm.

Rosie’s Bakery: 243 Hampshire St., Cambridge (Inman Square); 2 South Station, Boston, and 9 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill.

Legal Sea Foods: This chain has 10 sites in Boston, plus other restaurants from Rhode Island to Florida. Call 800/EAT-FISH, or visit www.legalseafoods.com. Entrees range from $10 to $25.

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