17 Fun Family-Friendly Activities in Central Massachusetts

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Things to do in Central MA - brick building with large yellow curved entrance sign reading worcester public market with images of vegetables on either side
Check out Worcester Public Market for a variety of food options. Photo credit: Greg Stump

The writer was hosted.

Looking for family-friendly activities near Central Massachusetts? Whether in the dead of winter, during Spring Break or during the dog days of summer there are plenty of options to please all ages. With an abundance of outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and kayaking and tons of indoor fun (music venues, breweries, museums) you will not run out of things to do. Let’s discover Central Massachusetts gems for family fun around the Worcester area.

Things to do in Central MA - entrance to great wolf lodge in fitchburg ma showing logo sign and a stone carved howling wolf statue
A fun indoor thing to do in Central MA is Great Wolf Lodge. Our kids love the waterpark and other activities. Photo credit: Greg Stump

1. Have a Howling Good Time at Great Wolf Lodge

150 Great Wolf Dr.
Fitchburg, MA 01420

Whether you’re looking for a day trip, impromptu overnight or a weekend getaway, the indoor waterpark at Great Wolf Lodge New England is open year round.

Great Wolf Lodge has leaned heavily into the use of technology. You’ll utilize an app on your phone and/or wristband for just about anything in the park from making purchases to gaining access to areas.  

As an overnight guest, you can start your water fun early by taking advantage of digital check-in. Even if your room isn’t ready you’ll get access to the waterpark.

Besides the waterslides, there are numerous other activities including a climbing wall, ropes course, mini ropes course for the littles, indoor play area, a huge arcade complete with immersive virtual reality experiences and a “MagiQuest” live-action role-playing game that spans the entirety of the park.  

You’ll also have no lack of food choices. There are multiple in-house restaurants, a Dunkin Donuts, five different retail shops and even a beer garden serving up brews from the local Wachusett Brewery.  

Read More: Great Wolf Lodge Tips- The Ultimate First-Timer Guide

2. Visit the Canal District in Worcester

Green Street area
Worcester, MA 01604

Are you making a face at the suggestion of walking around Worcester? The city has changed immensely since the 90s when I was attending “off the chain” concerts there.

The Canal District in particular is a walkable area filled with shops and restaurants. You won’t find big box stores or food chains here. Support local businesses and boutiques by visiting.

There are tons of options but a sample itinerary for the area could include:

  • A visit to the Worcester Public Market- This food court is filled with quick service spots serving vibrant food. The atmosphere is relaxed and it smells amazing. I highly recommend Momo Palace. (160 Green Street)
  • Birchtree Bread Company- Located next door to Worcester Public Market is a bakery specializing in artisan bread, sandwiches and pastries. Grab a snack for later before you start shopping. Visiting in the evening? Check their live music schedule. (138 Green Street #5)
  • Shop for creative decor at Seed to Stem. This high-end boutique sells natural, handmade items. The displays are truly impressive and an art form in and of themselves. I’m not going to do them justice so go check out their Instagram, which my wife says “is a vibe”. (138 Green Street #3)
  • Browse books. If you’re a book lover (like me) check out Bedlam Book Cafe. After you find your next read, grab a drink from their cafe. They offer coffee, tea and smoothies. (138 Green Street #1)
Things to do in Central MA - image is of the interior of Worcester Canal District store Seed to Stem. Long display tables are covered in crystals, quartz, glass cloches, and tons and tons of greenery including monstera plants and others
Do you love a plant lover? Blow their freaking mind by bringing them to Seed to Stem in Worcester’s Canal District. Photo credit: Greg Stump

3. Buy cool stuff at Blue Collar Vintage Salvage

468 Auburn St.
Cherry Valley, MA 01611

If you’ve got a thrifter in your life, add Blue Collar Vintage Salvage to your list. This weekend-only spot just outside of Worcester has unique and one-of-a-kind finds. Think of it as the equivalent of exploring a really cool grandpa’s attic. Check out their Facebook page to see spotlighted items described in a humorous fashion.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Don’t want to lose your whole day here? Buy tickets to one of the other nearby attractions in this article so you have a hard stop. Also, grab a coffee before you go in because we all know “I’ll be quick” means “I’ll spend less than 4 hours”.

Things to do in Central MA - image is facing a firefighter memorial in Worcester MA on the location of the infamous warehouse fires, a bronze statue of a kneeling firefighter faces a memorial with a plaque on it, a wreath lays in front of it. At the back a stone carving of 6 firefighters carrying a ladder represents the 6 firefighters killed in the worcester cold storage warehouse fires
Pay your respects at this poignant firefighter memorial in Worcester MA. Photo credit: Greg Stump

4. Immerse Yourself in the World of Firefighting

Franklin Street Fire Station
266 Franklin St.
Worcester, MA 01604

As a firefighter, this spot is near and dear to my heart. But most people will find this to be a fascinating stop, especially if you’ve got kids who love fire trucks.

Located a short walk from the restaurants and shops of Green Street is the site of the Worcester Cold Storage Fire, one of the most infamous fires to take place in New England.  Documentaries detailing the stories of heroism and bravery have been made about this incident during which six firemen lost their lives.

Today a fire station stands as a memorial on the site of this tragedy. It is staffed with some of the best firefighters around.  As is the case with virtually every fire station,  they are happy to show you around, answer questions and let you see the fire trucks!  If you are really lucky, you may even get to meet Nate Shirner, one of the best-known firefighters in the state.  

5. Dive into Science at the EcoTarium

222 Harrington Way
Worcester, MA 01604

We love a museum that offers both indoor and outdoor experiences! The EcoTarium in Worcester features interactive exhibits that teach about science and nature in an engaging way.

Inside you’ll find three floors of hands-on fun for all ages here including:

  • Natural History Collection that includes fossils and other specimens
  • Preschool Discovery Area with climbing structures and a mini-Worcester
  • Mineral Dome – skylights covered in art soar over a collection of more than 100 rare crystals and stones
  • The Arctic Next Door: Mount Washington- learn about weather and mountaineering at this exhibit all about neighboring New Hampshire’s tallest peak. You can even try bouldering!

Outdoor fun includes:

  • Nature Explore – this area features multiple interactive spaces for kids to build, dig, pretend and create art
  • Animal Corner – an American kestrel, Eastern Screech Owl and woodchuck hang out in this area
  • Scenic Trails – several trails offer the opportunity to explore woods, meadows and have lake views

You can also do add-on experiences with an (additional cost):  

  • Alden Planetarium – variety of shows ranging from space technology to Big Bird and the night sky
  • Explorer Express Train – a seasonal 12-minute train ride
  • Otter Encounter- a 30-minute experience where you learn about and feed otters
Things to do in Central MA - image of the ski lift area at Wachusett mountain in Massachusetts. In the background we see the lift with dark trees and a fluffy bright sky behind it. In the foreground adirondack chairs are clustered around a firepit on stone patio area
One popular thing to do in Central MA in the winter is a visit to Wachusett Mountain. You can ski or chill by the firepit. Photo credit: Greg Stump

6. Find Year Round Fun at Wachusett Mountain Ski Resort

 41 Mile Hill Rd.
Westminster, MA 01473

Wachusett Mountain Ski Resort, a family-owned ski area, offers activities and events year-round. Its central Mass location makes it an easy-to-do day trip for most Bay State residents.

During the winter their impressive ski and snowboarding school has more than 500 instructors on staff to accommodate any skill level or learning style.  Bundles geared towards those who are new to the slopes include absolutely everything that you will need for the day (gear rental, helmet, lift pass and instruction) at a reasonable price.  

When the snow melts, the festivals start up. Wachusett hosts festivals and concerts throughout the summer and fall, including an OktoberFest and the ever-popular Apple Fest.

It’s also a great spot for fall foliage. Its location in Wachusett State Park, offers a unique leaf-peeping opportunity.  Hop on a ski lift to see 360 degrees worth of pristine foliage all the way to the mountain peak. On a clear day the skyline of Boston is visible to the East, but the views in every direction are amazing.  

SheBuysTravel Tip: Make sure you put in the GPS address in Westminster (above) when heading here. The mailing address of 499 Mountain Road Princeton, MA will not get you to where you want to go!  

Read More: 10 Best New England Ski Resorts for Families

Things to do in Central MA - image of the menu at Farmer and the Fork cafe at the New England Botanic Center at tower hill. Menu has qr code to scan and a list of local in season items
Dine on-site at Farmer and the Fork at the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill. Local options are plentiful on their menu. Photo credit: Greg Stump

7. Tiptoe through the tulips (and other flowers) at the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill

11 French Dr.
Boylston, MA 01505


Open year-round, you can explore miles of well-manicured trails that wind through the woods, past unique structures (like the Stick House), an outdoor amphitheater, water fountains and eighteen distinct gardens. Two indoor gardens feature subtropical plants.

Don’t forget to check the dates you’ll be visiting. Tower Hill Botanic Garden has a special events calendar filled with offerings including Orchids After Dark, the Carnivorous Plant Show, Patterns in Bloom, nighttime firefly walks, yoga, tai chi, forest bathing, photography workshops and gardening classes.

Hungry? You don’t have to leave the property. Their on-site cafe, Farmer and the Fork, located in the Visitor Center incorporates locally sourced and organic foods into their menu.

8. Raise a glass at Jack’s Abby

100 Clinton St.
Framingham, MA 01702

This is a true German-style beer hall that is not your average brewery.  Two kitchens offer plentiful food options (including wood-fired pizza). The menu rotates every few months to take advantage of the fresh produce in season.  Jack’s Abby offers behind-the-scenes tours on Sundays that get into the nitty gritty of how the brewery operates. These guys are seriously passionate about their craft, taking the history, art and tradition of brewing lagers seriously. Consistently rated as one of the best breweries in New England and rated 27th in THE WORLD,  it’s perfect for a night out. Sample a wide variety of lagers when you Make Your Own Flight. Once you’ve found your favorites you can visit the on-site store to buy beer to take home. Make sure you check out their seasonal, specialty and limited runs.

Things to do in Central MA - image inside of a stone cottage at Sturbridge Village in Central MA. In the background a blacksmith is working on metal in front of the glow of a fire, various blacksmith tools and items are around the cottage
The blacksmith was always a favorite for me at Sturbridge Village. Watch period crafts and activities take place before your eyes. Photo credit: Greg Stump

9. Step back in time at Old Sturbridge Village

1 Old Sturbridge Village Rd.
Sturbridge, MA 01566

No list of things to do in Central MA would be complete without including the living history museum that is Old Sturbridge Village. If you attended elementary school in New England you’ve probably been on a field trip here.

Old Sturbridge Village showcases how a typical New England town would have looked, operated and felt in the 1830’s. All of the buildings are authentic buildings from the time period that have been painstakingly restored and maintained. There are working farms on site, a general store stocked with era-appropriate antiques, and live demos occur throughout the day as the blacksmiths and woodworkers of the town go about their daily tasks. Virtually every aspect of life in the 1830’s represented, from the old school house (where ghost stories are told by candlelight in October) to the armory that is stocked and ready to go for the town’s defense.  

Special events happen throughout the year. Check ahead of your visit for closures or limited time offerings.

Things to do in Central MA - a tween girl and her dad are smiling into the camera. They are wearing plastic poncho coveralls and goggles and are covered all over in the spatter of neon paint
Best way to bond with your tween or teen? Smashing things and blasting each other with neon paint at Letz Rage in Fitchburg, MA. It’s called good parenting. Photo credit: Greg Stump

10. Smash stuff and paint each other at Letz Rage

49 John Fitch Hwy.
Fitchburg, MA 01420

Ever wanted to go Office Space on a printer? We’ve all daydreamed about smashing things until we feel better. Letz Rage offers that dream as a reality. Owned and operated by a former firefighter/paramedic, this small business has two rooms of destructive delights.

The first is the Rage Room, which comes fully stocked with plates, bottles, vases, picture frames, dinnerware, various electronics, kitchen appliances and anything else you have ever wanted to smash. Go to town! Ever wanted to play baseball with coffee mugs? Did it. Or perhaps re-create the iconic Office Space scene with a printer? Did it. Redecorate with a sledgehammer? Check. Find out exactly what happens when you smash a flat-screen TV with a crowbar? Yup. It was awesome.  

The second room is “Paint Splatter”. As the owner put it, “This is the room that doesn’t have any rules.”  You are equipped with supersoaker-style pump action paint guns, paint brushes, cups of paint and even paintballs to go absolutely nuts. You can paint the walls, the provided pieces of paper, friends or an unwitting stranger in the room. The chaos that erupts from the first blast of a paint gun to the flight of the last paintball is one of a kind and really should be experienced by everyone at least once. All safety equipment and coveralls for both rooms are provided. Fair warning- even with the poncho, cover-all, hoods, gloves and goggles SO MUCH PAINT flies around that some is bound to get through. The paint is washable, but I’d still recommend wearing old clothing when you go.  

Things to do in Central MA - view of the american heritage museum in Central MA tank display; you can see 10+ tanks around the room
Not only can you see tanks and learn about history through immersion at the American Heritage Museum but they have tank driving add-ons! Photo credit: Greg Stump

11. Immerse yourself in history at the American Heritage Museum

568 Main St.
Hudson, MA 01749

As someone who has thoroughly enjoyed going to museums for most of my adult life, I can say that this one stands out. The American Heritage Museum was easily one of the most engaging museums I’ve set foot in.  

Not only does it have one of the largest, most diverse tank/military vehicle collections in the world, but virtually all items from machine guns to planes are 100% authentic and in working order.  

You’ll find everything from the small arms of the Revolutionary War to modern tanks of the Global War On Terror era here. Immersive exhibits force the viewer into a deeper understanding than any static display or picture possibly could.

Some of the immersive experiences included:

  • A  WW I trench with 360 degrees of sound and the scene unfolding directly over the top of the trench wall
  • Real POW cells from the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” of Vietnam, that were painstakingly disassembled and reassembled brick by brick by brick
  • An actual railcar used to transport victims into Nazi death camps

Obviously, the subject matter is at times uncomfortable. However, the displays are tastefully done and thought-provoking. Beyond the indoor museum displays, the American Heritage Museum hosts Living History Events. These include battlefield reenactments of famous military campaigns,  tank demonstrations, aviation demonstrations and other living history events that you won’t find anywhere else.  Remember how I said virtually everything in the museum is functional? That’s because they use them in these events. If you’ve ever wanted to learn to drive an M4 Sherman Tank or take a ride in a M36 Jackson Tank Destroyer this is your spot.

12. Walk in a Winter Wonderland at Fruitlands Museum

102 Prospect Hill Rd.
Harvard, MA 01451

Your experience here will depend on the season. During the winter the museum is closed, but from early January to mid-May you can explore the trails for free every weekend from 11 am-4 pm. Bird watchers and hikers love the expansive 210-acre site. You can also sled on the hills, cross-country ski or snowshoe. Limited snowshoe rentals are available. We recommend peeking at the trail map to plan your routes- there are no available restrooms on-site in the winter!

Special events are a regular occurrence from bonfires to winter festivals so check the site before you plan your trip.

In mid-May the buildings open up. There are several, housing a wide variety of exhibits. You can see Shaker art and objects, the communal living space Louisa May Alcott’s family lived in, go to a concert or eat at the cafe. Admission is a reasonable $5.

Read More: 12 Best Massachusetts Campgrounds

13. See some really good rocks at Purgatory Chasm

198 Purgatory Rd.
Sutton, MA 01590

With trails and rock formations named so optimistically (Lovers’ Leap and The Coffin) why wouldn’t you want to head to this popular hiking spot? Don’t worry, it’s happier than it sounds.

If you want to hike the Chasm Trail, be aware that this specific trail is closed in the winter because it is extremely slippery. We don’t want any other morose trail names added to the docket, so heed the warnings. You can still get good views from Charley’s Loop, but if you want to experience the Devil’s Corn Crib and Fat Man’s Misery (yes, that’s the real name) you’ll need to come in the summer. You can plan your route or download the map in advance.

Parking at Purgatory Chasm State Reservation is free from October 31st – May 13th. From May 14th – October 30th it is $5 for Mass residents and $20 for others.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you live in Massachusetts you can pay $60 for an annual State Park parking pass. If you love hiking and exploring it’s a great value.

Things to do in Central MA - birds eye view of the layout of Urban Air from the parents quiet room, you can see the obstacle course, arcade and zip line
From the quiet room for parents at Urban Air you’ve got a view of everything, including screaming children realizing how high up the zip line is. Photo credit: Greg Stump

14. Jump at Urban Air

189 Mechanic St.
Bellingham, MA 02019

Sometimes you just need to get out of the house and let everyone run around until they wear themselves out.  Urban Air is 100% indoors, but it doesn’t feel too crowded. I visited on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon in January, so it was as busy as it gets. We weren’t competing for space or waiting in lines.  

Urban Air has the obvious trampolines but also features:

  • Challenge Courses
  • Ropes Courses
  • Climbing Walls
  • A Battle Beam (which is as awesome as it sounds)
  • A sprawling arcade
  • A hilarious zip line that sends those who are daring enough careening and spinning over everyone else in the park, suspended  from a safety harness  

Private rooms are available for birthday parties and special occasions.

One features they had that I haven’t seen anywhere near us was a quiet “Parents Room”. Outfitted with leather couches, chairs and recliners for adults who need a break, this sound-proof room had floor-to-ceiling windows so that you still had a view of your kids.  

SheBuysTravel Tip: Its location upstairs puts you at eye level with those ziplining (and screaming) as they plummet. It is quite literally the best seat in the house and it comes with absolutely no charge what-so-ever.  

Things to do in Central MA - a woman with lavender hair, glasses and a tie dye t shirt is demonstrating how to fold and work clay, in the foreground you can see the blonde hair and pink and white striped bow of a young girl as she watches. In the background are art items and windows lining the wall of the art studio
Dedicated (and patient) instructors make it possible for even unartistic participants to walk away with something beautiful at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts. Photo credit: Greg Stump

15. Even cavemen can make art at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts

34 Hayden Rowe St.
Hopkinton, MA 01748

This Central Massachusetts spot might have been the biggest surprise for me.    

I am not what you would call artistic. I possess no discernible artistic talent. In addition, attention to detail or the “finesse” required to create beautiful crafts is not a natural skill for me.  

With that being said, my mind was pretty much set on the idea that taking a class to make a coffee mug from raw clay was going to be an exercise in futility. I went in prepared to be frustrated. However, much to my amazement, both my daughter and I had a REALLY good time at this class. Our final products weren’t half bad either (if I do say so myself).  

The super-friendly instructors gave simple, easy-to-follow instructions. Pairing that with patience allowed them to gracefully deal with a barbarian attempting to perform delicate tasks.  Seriously, this class was way more fun than I expected and the instructors made all the difference.  

Hopkinton Center for the Arts offers a wide variety of classes. You can choose a “one and done” to test the waters of a new craft or a weekly class to truly hone your skills.  

Those who live nearby should take a look at all of their offerings which include school vacation programs, open mic nights, musical/community theater performances, dance and tons of varieties of art exhibits.

16. See all the cute things at Southwick’s Zoo

2 Southwick St.
Mendon, MA 01756

Located between Uxbridge and Bellingham in Mendon is Southwick’s Zoo. This privately run, seasonal zoo is situated on over 200 acres. More than 850 animals live in naturalistic habitats.

Species on-site include alligators, porcupines, capybaras, lemurs, tigers, cheetahs, wallabies and more.

Looking for add-on thrills and fun? For an extra charge you can experience the:

  • Skyfari Sky Ride
  • Woodland Express Train
  • Soaring Eagle Zipline
  • Animal encounters and pony/camel rides

Be sure to check for special events like holiday lights at Winter Wonderland, Harvest Fest and the Great Jack O’ Lantern journey. The zoo itself is open from April through October. Double check dates before visiting as weather can impact that schedule.

Dining is available next to the zoo at Galliford’s Restaurant and Tavern. They are open year round serving New England comfort food.

Things to do in Central MA - a bright and colorful hotel lobby area is shown with vivid pop art portraits an orange couch a telephone booth and an arcade game in the the background
Decor at The Verve Hotel showcases different decades and pop culture. Everything from arcade games to pop art to memorabilia can be found. Photo credit: Greg Stump

17. Book a night at The Verve Hotel and do some shopping in Natick.

1360 Worcester St.
Natick, MA 01760

Sometimes you just need a night out.  You don’t need to go far to feel like you got away. The Verve Hotel is a very fun Tapestry Collection by Hilton property. Filled with pop culture references and nostalgic blasts from the past, each floor has a different theme. Memorabilia is everywhere in both subtle and not so subtle ways.

Wanna take a picture on Evil Knievel’s motorcycle? Find Julia Child’s apron? Have a drink in a one-of-a-kind bar? It’s all here.

Challenge your travel companions to see who scores the highest on old-school arcade games. They’re tucked into various corners around the hotel and still only cost a quarter. The front desk will happily give you change.

The hotel alone is an interesting experience. Its location in the heart of Natick, which has the highest population of shopping and dining opportunities in New England, is a bonus. Perfect for a simple weekend or overnight getaway that doesn’t require much planning. You’re sure to find something to do nearby.

Overall, there are tons of things to do in Central MA. Honestly, more than I ever realized. If you’re looking for a quick overnight, extended family vacation or even a day trip that doesn’t involve extreme traffic and city parking check it out!

Read More: 20 Best Apple Picking Spots in Massachusetts

Greg Stump is married to Nasreen Stump. Together they have 4 kids- a 16 year old boy, 10 year old girl, 8 year old girl, and 4 year old boy. By day Greg is a paramedic for a large county service in Texas. Working a 48 hour on 96 hour off schedule Greg attempts to squeeze in as much outdoor/adventure/nature travel as possible into his days off. He thinks the ideal vacation is either walking a busy city center and eating all the things or being dropped by helicopter into the remote wilderness and not seeing another human being for a week. He also loves Disney more than he cares to admit. Greg writes about adventure travel, travel with a wide range of kids, medical travel and all the ways to keep your family safe and sound while on the road.
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