Admittedly my family is crazy for baseball, but even when I look at it objectively, I'd have to say that the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown sets the gold standard for sports museums. The very word Cooperstown has become synonymous with baseball history, for legend (now discredited) claims that Abner Doubleday invented baseball here. Opened in 1939, the Hall of Fame has been around long enough to amass an unparalleled collection of sports memorabilia. You don't have to be a statistic-spouting baseball fanatic to feel moved by this homage to America's pastime.
The Hall's redbrick Federal-style facade looks as all-American as the game it represents. Laid down like a giant timeline, it walks you through the history of baseball, starting with the various European ball-and-bat games that were its predecessors. Recent renovations have added more hands-on and interactive exhibits for kids, including a 13-minute multimedia show and a special area for toddlers and preschoolers, but it's the memorabilia that really tells the story, from Ty Cobb's glove to Babe Ruth's bat. You'll see the ridiculous scanty protective gear catchers used to wear behind the plate, the gradual evolution of the regulation ball and bat, a panoply of uniforms through the decades, the ever-changing look of trading cards. You'll learn about the Black Sox scandal of 1919 and how baseball survived World War II. Special galleries are devoted to topics such as the Negro Leagues and the women's professional leagues. Snippets of vintage broadcasts and video footage of historic games are played at the touch of a button. Sure, my kids gravitated at first to exhibits paying tribute to today's stars and teams, set in a replica major-league locker room, but the more they saw of baseball's storied past -- the actual objects, worn and discolored from play -- the more they got into it. We saved a stroll through the actual Hall of Fame gallery for last, and by that time, those names on the plaques really meant something.
Nearest Airport: Albany International, 75 miles.
Where to Stay: $ Best Western Plus at the Commons, 50 Commons Dr. (tel. 607/547-7100; www.bwcooperstown.com). $$$ Inn at Cooperstown, 16 Chestnut St. (tel. 607/547-5756; www.innatcooperstown.com).