If you have young children, you know that hands-on activities are fun, educational and encourage them to pay attention. Add animal interactions to the equation and you have yourself a memorable, super-successful family outing.
Whenever I plan a day trip with my daughter, who is about to turn 5 years old, animals (and most of the time, fish) must be the focus of our outing. Opportunities to meet and pet a goat or feed stingrays are satisfying experiences for all of us — Mom, Dad and daughter alike.
Here are some North Fork locations we recommend to help you and your family get that animal fix.
Long Island Aquarium
431 East Main Street, Riverhead
In addition to its exotic coral reef, “Lost City of Atlantis” shark exhibit, puffer fish and flounder and sea horses, the aquarium offers hands-on experiences such as Ray Bay, where visitors can touch and feed stingrays as they float past. There is also a touch tank where young guests can be introduced to horseshoe and hermit crabs, along with other sea life. Inside the aquarium’s exhibition center, you’ll also find butterflies, bugs and birds. At the bird exhibit, you can purchase seeds to feed the different breeds, which include colorful parrots and parakeets.
Why we like it: The aquarium is home to a huge variety of sea life, plus other animals and interactive exhibits. Play areas keep families with kids of all ages interested and engaged for the entire day.
Spirit’s Promise Horse Farm & Rescue Center
2746 Sound Avenue, Baiting Hollow
Spirit’s Promise is an equine rescue and rehabilitation facility that offers various programs to the public, including birthday parties, camps, equine therapy and more. It also has a one-day getaway program designed for families. Activities include leading horses to and from their pastures, grooming and feeding, and working with miniature horses.
Why we like it: This is as hands-on as it gets. Horses are perfect for kids to interact with and this equine center shares its daily happenings with guests.
Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market
4558 Sound Avenue, Riverhead
Garden of Eve Organic Farm & Market is kid-friendly and educational. It features a “Kiddie Corral” with bunnies and alpacas, with a focus on heritage breeds traditionally kept on a small farm. These include Border Leicester sheep, Bourbon Red and Gray Slate turkeys and more. Families can visit, view and learn about the animals through informational signs and chats with on-site staff. Garden of Eve also hosts unique programs and festivals, so be sure to check their website’s calendar for upcoming events.
Why we like it: The breeds are unique and the farm’s overall theme is to teach visitors about caring for animals on a homestead. Plus, we enjoy the farm-fresh café located inside the organic market.
Harbes Family Farm: Barnyard Adventure & Children’s Farm
715 Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Meet over 40 animals here! Harbes Barnyard features horses, ducks, bunnies, chickens, sheep, Nigerian Dwarf goats, potbelly pigs, Skittles the lamb, Red the Bullcalf, Oreo the cow and more. The farm also provides interactive family activities with Farmer Fred, a singing hayride and scenic tours of the 100-acre farm, plus pig races and a “Secret Garden” hedge maze.
Why we like it: When it comes to entertainment and a variety of activities, Harbes delivers. The farm’s expansive size allows for classic hayrides with beautiful views. Activities suit a wide range of ages while keeping parents happy.
8 Hands Farm
4735 Cox Lane, Cutchogue
Visit 8 Hands to learn about your everyday farmer and what life is like on a working farm. The 28-acre site is home to sheep, chickens and pigs, which can be viewed during tours. At 8 Hands’ gift shop, you can purchase pasture-raised and grass-fed meats, eggs, produce and fiber products from the farm’s flock of Icelandic sheep. Before heading there, call to find out if tours are available the day you plan to visit.
Why we like it: 8 Hands is truly an impressive family effort. We think the farm is an awesome example of people working together to create a smooth operation. If you take a tour, one of the farmers’ kids will be your guide.
Catapano Dairy Farm
33705 County Road 48, Peconic
Goats and llamas are always on view for families who tour the farm, which is set back from the road. Goat cheese samples in multiple flavors are also available, and the goats themselves are milked daily at 4 p.m. The farm is free to visit and so are its activities. Goat cheese and other freshly made products, such as soaps, are also for sale at the site.
Why we like it: The different varieties of goat cheese! Find your favorite during a complimentary tasting. Kids can also watch a live goat milking.