The National Aquarium in Baltimore is seen at dusk on December 4, 2012. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS)
Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/TNS
Photo: Karl Merton Ferron/TNS

Family travel: Coastal communities worth exploring

Our country’s rich seafaring history provides a compelling backdrop for a visit to these port cities. Here are five coastal communities worth exploring: 

1. Duluth, Minn. — Located on Lake Superior, at the western end of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway, Duluth is the farthest-inland freshwater seaport and one of the most significant ports in all of North America.  

Learn about the region’s shipping history at Canal Park as you dine and watch giant lake carriers pass under world-famous Aeriel Lift Bridge. Take a harbor cruise, go fishing, sailing, kayaking, shopping or visit a lighthouse.  

Contact: www.VisitDuluth.com  

2. Port Canaveral, Fla. — Just 45 minutes east of Orlando, you’ll find the country’s fastest growing cruise port. It’s departure point for sailings offered by Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival and other lines bound for the Bahamas and beyond. You’ll want to visit the nearby Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex, Florida’s gateway to space. Get inspired by the Shuttle Launch Experience, astronaut encounters, family overnight adventures, hands-on activities and behind-the-scenes tours.  

Contact: www.PortCanaveral.com; www.VisitSpaceCoast.com  

3. Baltimore — Not long ago, Baltimore was an aging industrial port city. But an extraordinary renaissance turned the Inner Harbor into a family-friendly tourism destination. Visit Fort McHenry, operated by the National Park Service, which has served as the guardian of Baltimore's harbor since the late 1700s. It was the valiant defense of the star-shaped fort that inspired poet-lawyer Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner." Make time for a stop at the world-renowned Baltimore Aquarium, visit the Edgar Allen Poe museum, cruise the harbor, take in a game at Camden Yards or enjoy a crab feast.  

Contact: www.baltimore.org; www.nps.gov/fomc/index.htm  

4. Port Townsend, Wash. — On the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula and nestled on a bluff at the head of Puget Sound, Port Townsend is one of three National Victorian Seaports (along with Galveston, Texas, and Cape May, N.J.) and the only one located on the West Coast. The whole family will enjoy the urban chic vibe while visiting galleries and shops. Just miles from Olympic National Park, the electricity of a once bustling seaport still lingers in the salt air. Ask about the annual wooden boat festival.  

Contact: www.EnjoyPT.com; www.woodenboat.org  

5. Cape May, N.J. — A National Historic Landmark city, this charming seaside escape was settled by whalers and fishermen in colonial times. Stretching 20 miles into the sea, the Navy has long had a presence in the area in an effort to protect American coastal shipping. Today, visitors enjoy tree-canopied streets, Victorian architecture, boutique shopping and a day at the beach. Families will also enjoy exploring nature trails, bird, whale and dolphin watching, miniature golf, fishing and biking. Free visitor’s guide available. Contact: www.capemaychamber.com  

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(Lynn O’Rourke Hayes (www.LOHayes.com) is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via FamilyTravel.com

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