Take the Kids: Dover is the perfect foil for March’s fickle weather
Early spring is often a tricky time to plan a day trip with young children. Temperatures fluctuate. Snow may be falling, melting or just hanging around in dirty piles. Mud proliferates.
In this in-between time of year, what you want is a destination with plenty of indoor diversions; a compact, easily navigable downtown in case of slushy weather; and places to tuck in for a lunch where noisy kids won’t raise any eyebrows. The city of Dover, a 45-minute drive east of Concord, fits this bill nearly perfectly, as we recently discovered.
The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire can serve as the centerpiece of your visit. Situated between the Cocheco River and a sloping, grassy park, the museum is definitely geared toward grade-schoolers. But the range of exhibits is impressive, and kids will be encouraged to engage their heads and their hands at the same time.
Take a moment to orient yourself once you enter. The museum is immensely popular and, as you might expect, is often overrun with hyped-up kids, especially on weekends. But that, after all, is what you came for. Toddlers may want to start upstairs, in the play-space reserved for the under-3 crowd. This area is a bit of a refuge from the hubbub of the museum’s main spaces, with plenty to stimulate tots: a winding wooden train set, a “butterfly garden,” and a play forest setting inhabited by animal puppets. Plus, the area’s mezzanine-style setting provides a clear view above and across the museum’s first floor, giving little kids a unique perspective on all the action.
Head back downstairs to explore the heart of the museum. One window-lined wall facing the river lets kids wander through a model of the Seacoast’s ecosystem. Next door, the Muse Studio is for intense hands-on arts and crafts and engineering tasks. Farther down the hall, the Dino Detective exhibit lets kids explore a mock dig site and uncover dinosaur “bones” from the sand. Other exhibits cover mask-making, aerodynamics, and life inside a yellow submarine.
You could easily spend the better part of a day exploring here. If the weather calls for it, your kids can burn off any remaining energy at the playground located just behind the museum. Or, let the learning continue at the Noggin Factory, a fantastic toy store directly across Washington Street from the museum’s entrance. A space in the rear is set up for kids to play with some sample toys, including a large dollhouse that our daughter loved. We also found a large stock of art supplies, crazy hats and puzzles.
When it’s time for lunch, Dover has several great options. Based on a friend’s recommendation, we settled on La Festa Brick and Brewery, a lively pizza place with a somewhat overwhelming range of options. You’ll find a long list of specialty pizzas chalked on one wall, including jambalaya, shrimp scampi and pesto. There’s also a good selection of salads, hero sandwiches and pasta dishes, as well as several local beers on tap, for thirsty parents. The large dining area was pleasantly noisy on the day we visited, with plenty of kids rolling in the aisles.
After lunch, walk right across Central Avenue to Lucy’s Art Emporium, a small boutique with some cool treats for artsy kids. A series of alphabet prints and a table full of handmade fabric crowns caught our kids’ eyes.
Be sure to take some time walking back up Central Avenue through Dover’s main commercial strip and over the Cocheco River. Like Manchester to its west, Dover’s early growth was powered by its mills. Several of those mighty brick buildings remain, right at the center of town. Even more impressive, perhaps, is the tumbling wall of water at the spot where the Cocheco flows under and through the old millworks. You can catch a close-up view of the falls right off the large parking lot on Center Street. Placards scattered around town tell some of the history of the mills, including the destruction that resulted from periodic flooding in earlier decades.
Continue walking up Central Ave, where it opens into a broad plaza. Along the way you’ll find a great used bookstore (Baldface Books), colorful kids clothing at Monkey Treasures, and several other options for lunch, including Kelly’s Row, a casual pub located along the Cocheco Mill Courtyard. Back on Central Avenue, stop in Harvey’s Bakery for soups and sandwiches – or just a donut.
Children’s Museum of NEW HAMPSHIRE: 6 Washington Street; childrens-museum.org; admission is $9 for adults and children 1 and older; $8 for seniors; babies younger than 1 are admitted free. (Note: We got in free with our membership to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.)
La Festa Brick and Brew: 300 Central Ave.; Lafestabrick andbrew.com.
Lucy’s Art Emporium: 303 Central Ave.; lucysartemporium.blogspot.com.
Noggin Factory: 53 Washington St.; nogginfactorytoys.com