My Secret Family Adventures that Help Us Connect

Family traditions are so important to me. Some of them are big like annual vacation but some of them are small. We do special things as a family throughout the year to bond and connect. One of our favorite family traditions are Mystery Days. Mystery Days are basically a full day of fun activities. The best part is that they are a mystery!! Every stop is a surprise for the kids. My husband and I plan the itinerary and don’t give any hints. Mystery Days are so great because they are an easy family tradition that you can start this year.

Starting family traditions are a great way to connect with your kids and create special moments for your family. I love that these traditions are something that are special to us and help us build strong family bonds.

When I first started writing Five for the Road all of my kids said I must write about mystery days. My son said “They are a day full of surprises!” We started doing them in the summer of 2013 and have tried to do at least 1-2 a year. Sometimes they turn into an overnight but most of the days are one day filled with surprises.

The best part about Mystery Days is that they become a family tradition that you will remember for years to come. They offer new insight into places you may have visited before and are a quick and easy way for some quality family time. 

family tradition

Mystery Days are easy to plan if you know where to start. At the end of this list I have ways to help you get started on planning your own family mystery day. We live in Western New York so most of our Mystery Days are around this area. To find inspiration for your own area google “Top Ten Activities for Families in (Your State)” or visit your cities visitors bureau website.

Our Family Tradition Mystery Days

Mystery Day 1: Central New York/Seneca Lake
1. Rosamond Gifford Zoo: Syracuse, NY
2. Geneva Community Lake Front Playground: 41 Lake Front Drive Geneva NY 14456
3. Seneca Lake State Park: Spray Park and Playground
4. Joe’s Hots: 521 Exchange St, Geneva, NY 14456 (Currently Closed)
5. Long Pier Ice Cream: Geneva, NY

We really packed a lot into this first trip and the kids were 5, 3, and 1. Our driving accounted for afternoon naps too!! My favorite part of this trip was walking along the lake and finding an impromptu drum session. They had all sorts of instruments and invited our kids to join in! So much fun!!

Family Tradition


Mystery Day 2: Olcott Beach(Niagara County)
1. Olcott Beach Carousel Park
2. Krull Park
3. Bye’s Popcorn

Olcott Beach Carousel Park is perfect for children under 5. All the rides are .25 cents!! They are mostly flat rides that go in a circle but have a certain nostalgia that makes for a fantastic day. We also spent a lot of time at the Krull Park. It has a spray park that is awesome and a playground. The Carousel Park and Spray park are about a 5 minute car ride from each other.

Family Tradition

Mystery Day 2: Sterling/Rochester Area
1. Sterling Renaissance Festival
2. Chimney Bluffs State Park
3. Helluva Good Outlet Store (Currently Closed)
4. Orbakers Drive-In
5. Parkside Diner: Mini-Golf

There are so many great things about this road trip!! The Renaissance Festival was not really for me but it was filled with incredibly talented artists. Walking around and taking in the art and costumes was really interesting. The kids loved the joust match that had real horses, knights, and princesses.

Next we went to Chimney Bluffs State Park. If you live close to this place you have to go. It is along the lake and has amazing rock formation. You can hike the top or the bottom. We walked along the lake because there is not a guardrail or fencing and the kids were too little to walk freely. If you have a baby carrier or older children the top would be a great hike too.

From there we went to the Helluva Good Outlet store for a picnic and to try some chip dips. Sadly this place has closed. Orbakers Drive-In has ice cream cups for $1!! This is a great deal for a family of 5…or really anyone! It even comes with toppings!

Our last stop of the night was mini-golf at Parkside Diner. The diner claims to be the oldest mini-golf course in the USA. It has seaside charm and is a fun course. My kids LOVE mini-golf so we frequent them a lot. Usually my husband and I don’t golf and just help the kids. This saves money and keeps the game moving so golf balls don’t end up off the course. My 2 year old at the time, threw his ball off the course. It bounced through the fence and into the street where it then rolled into the sewer. That was the end of his game! Another great thing about this place is if you eat dinner at the diner each kids meal includes a round of golf.

Family Tradition

Mystery Day 2: Toronto/Niagara Falls(Canada)

  1. Tim Horton’s for breakfast.
  2. LEGOLAND Discovery Center
  3. Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls

This trip involved a lot of driving and you may want to make it an overnight. The nice thing is that Niagara Falls is about half way between Rochester and Toronto so it gave us a great stopping point.

Family Tradition

Mystery Day 3: Niagara Falls(Canada)/Buffalo

  1. Paula’s Doughnuts
  2. Prophet Isaiah House
  3. Dinosaur Adventure Golf
  4. Rainforest Café
  5. Undergrounds Coffee
  6. Buffalo Harbor State Park
  7. Canal Side
  8. White Rabbit Frozen Yogurt

This one is for the seasoned day trip!! It was a long one. Read the Post: Mystery Day: Niagara Falls & Buffalo. It was a really fun time and I would like to do a trip like this again this year.

Family Tradition

Mystery Day 4: Hershey, Pennsylvania

  1. Hersheypark
  2. Hershey Chocolate World
  3. Hersheypark

This included an overnight stay. The drive is about 4 hours from our house. We visited during the Christmas event and I suggest visiting for the weekend during this time. Read more about Hershey: Hersheypark and Hershey Chocolate World.

Family Tradition

Mystery Day 5: Corning Weekend Getaway

  1. Corning Museum of Glass
  2. Staybridge Suites
  3. Winterfest Corning
  4. Rockwell Museum

The drive to Corning is about 2 hours and this could have been a day trip. When we planned the trip we needed some time away to connect as a family so we made it an overnight. My full post on our weekend is here. There is something special about staying in a hotel for a night but being close to home. The kids enjoyed the pool and we enjoyed the easy drive. Also Corning Museum of Glass is awesome. Don’t be scared off by the glass part and think it is not for kids. Read my full post about our visit to Corning: Corning Museum of Glass and A Weekend in Corning NY

Corning Museum of Glass

Starting Family Traditions: Plan Your Family’s Mystery Day

  1. Start with one destination/attraction you want to visit and work out from there.
  2. We like to include a lot of local places within 1-2 hours of where we live. While planning these days we have discovered so many really cool things around our state. A lot of times the best places are little doughnut shops or ice cream stops.
  3. We also pack snacks and one meal to keep the cost down. We try to do a loop so we are not spending the entire day in the car and have lots of stops.
  4. On a few trips we have added mystery guests. Our families are spread out throughout the state so we always try to add a cousin visit at a local park or museum as an added surprise.

I hope you get inspired to start your own Mystery Days and discover what is great about where you live. I have a few ideas for this years mystery days and I’m excited to start planning. Have you done a Mystery Days? I would love to hear about them. Share your trips in the comments!!

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  1. Chelsea McKinney | 3rd Jul 17

    I love this idea so much!!!! First of all, I am pinning this because we have family in Rochester (well Geneseo) so I may take advantage of some of these stops. And secondly because we live in Virginia which has beaches, mountains, and so, so, so much history and we truly don’t take advantage of it like we should!

    • Leah | 4th Jul 17

      I’m so glad you like it!! There are so many fun activities around this area. Let me know if you ever need any ideas!

  2. fouronaworldtrip | 4th May 17

    We are doing this as well sometimes… not thaaaat much planning, but we took the kids to the pool as a surprise and once to Parc Asterix (something like Disneyland) and it was soo great to see their faces when they realized where we’re heading to! 🙂

    • Leah | 4th May 17

      That is great! I think the surprise trips can be so much fun!

  3. Cristin | 27th Apr 17

    I absolutely love this idea! I include my daughter in planning our trips (she is surprisingly helpful), but I think she would be so into a Mystery Day. I am going to have to use this idea this summer!

    • Leah | 27th Apr 17

      I’m so glad you like it!! Happy it inspired you to do your own. Please share it with me!

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