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Museums are marvelous mind-benders. Exposed to new and interesting stuff, kids are like sponges -- including the ability to become over-saturated. Before that happens, make like Elvis and leave the building. Picnic, hike, skate, bike, surf, cruise, talk to the animals, paddle a boat, or take a walk on the beach. Strive for balance between your indoor and outdoor selves when vacationing with family this summer. Dedicate mornings to visiting a museum or two, and get physical during afternoons. If you allow time for kids to be kids and they will be happy campers. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for outdoor fun in these museum-rich cities.

Boston

After visiting the Boston Children's Museum and Faneuil Hall, get acquainted with the harbor made famous by the Boston Tea Party. I recently learned that you can take a boat to 11 of Boston's 34 harbor islands. Who knew? Enjoy an unparalleled view of the skyline as you ferry to your destination. On Georges, explore Fort Warren, hike, fly a kite or play touch football like the Kennedys on the sweeping lawn. BYO picnic and/or purchase snacks and drinks at the snack bar. Camping is allowed on three islands -- with a permit. For general info: www.bostonislands.com. Ferry schedule: tel. 617/222-6999; www.harborexpress.com

Chicago

Cool your heels at the magnifico Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, a short walk from some of the city's major museums and half a mile from Navy Pier, with rides, restaurants, entertainment and great people-watching. During the day, catch the water displays at the fountain, hourly on the hour. Stand close and feel the spray; closer if you want a soaking. Come between dusk and 11pm, on the hour, for the awesome sound and light show. The kids will thank you. (301 East Columbus Dr. & Congress Parkway; tel. 312/742-PLAY; www.chicagoparkdistrict.com)

New York

One of my earliest memories is of the sea lions cavorting at the Central Park Zoo. With or without kids, when I'm in New York I still get a kick out of watching them feed (at 11:30am and 2pm). A special frog exhibit is featured this summer in the Rainforest. Take your peepers for a PB&J on chocolate bread or glorified fast food in the family-friendly Leaping Frog Cafe. (830 Fifth Ave. at 64th St.; 212/439-6500; www.nyzoosandaquarium.com)

Los Angeles

Visit the Natural History Museum, Hollywood Wax Museum, or California Science Center, then stake your place on the sand at Santa Monica State Beach. Rent skates, bikes or surfboards at Perry's Cafe, with four locations north and south of the Santa Monica Pier, or unroll a beach blanket and take a dip in the Pacific. Not a bad way to wile a way a southern California afternoon. Admission is free at the Santa Monica Pier (Ocean Ave. & Colorado Ave.), part of the beach-park, with rides and amusements. Beach info: 310-305-9503; www.beaches.co.la.ca.us and www.smgov.net.

San Francisco

After the late morning/early afternoon the fog has lifted, head out on a guided or self-guided bike tour. Depart from Fisherman's Wharf and pedal to the Golden Gate Bridge -- or cross the bridge to Sausalito. Stop at Hamburgers, a closet-size carry-out with a rotating grill in the window. Pick up superb burgers and fries and take them to the park across the street before returning to San Francisco. Too pooped to pedal? Take the ferry back. (Bay City Bike, 2661 Taylor St.; tel 415/346-2453; www.baycitybike.com).

Washington, D.C.

Take a break from museum-hopping and rent a two- or four-passenger pedal boat on the Tidal Basin under the watchful gaze of Mr. Jefferson. This has to be one of D.C.'s most scenic spots. Bring sandwiches or grab a snack at a kiosk and cool off in the shade of the famous cherry trees. A walk around the Tidal Basin takes about an hour. Stop to visit the Jefferson Memorial (my personal fave) and FDR Memorial with its fountains and park-like setting. (Ohio Drive and the Tidal Basin; tel. 202-484-0206; www.nps.gov/thje; Reserve boats online at: www.tidalbasinpeddleboats.com)

Beth Rubin is the author of Frommer's Washington, D.C. With Kids. When traveling, she enjoys physical pursuits, such as moving her beach chair to follow the sun or walking to the nearest ice cream shop.

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