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Today's halls of fame are more than just places with plaques and pictures. They're more like living history museums where you can enjoy an educational stroll down memory lane. At the Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, New York, you can check out the world's largest collection of toys, dolls, and games, spread over 282,000 square feet of interactive exhibits.
Though the museum is home to thousands of toys, only 38 have achieved hall of fame status, including childhood classics such as Etch a Sketch, Mr. Potato Head, the Erector Set, G.I. Joe, Lego, and Barbie. At the "Field of Play" exhibit you can walk through a giant kaleidoscope and create your own patterns, use pulleys to power balls through a gigantic overhead ball machine, or relax and read to your child in the mouth of a jellyfish-shape chair.
Preschoolers will especially love the museum's "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?" exhibit. Here, little ones can tap out "Rubber Duckie" on a keyboard, sing with Elmo, and visit with his beloved friend Dorothy the goldfish in the new Elmo's World addition.
Berenstain Bears aficionados will enjoy the new permanent exhibit "Down a Sunny Dirt Road: The World of the Berenstain Bears," opening April 26. The stories come to life as kids design and sell quilts at Mama Bear's Quilt Shop or put on an apron and safety glasses and tackle a project in Papa Bear's Woodworking Shop. Future dentists can play with a giant set of floss, removable teeth, and pretend drills at Dr. Bearson's Dentist Office. And at good ol' Farmer Ben's Farm, kids can sort fruits and veggies in the barn, dress a scarecrow and build a wall with pretend bricks. (museumofplay.org; $9.50 for adults, $8.50 for seniors, $7.50 for children ages 2 to 17; admission to the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden costs $3 more)
Stop for a bite at the museum's vintage diner. Called the Skyliner, it was originally located in rural Pennsylvania, but the Strong Museum purchased, relocated, and reopened it in 1997, retaining much of the original decor, including the boomerang-pattern Formica, the terrazzo floor, and the pink and gray upholstered vinyl booths. For more adult-oriented fare, nearby Bamba Bistro is a local favorite, serving dishes like lobster ravioli and brown sugar-glazed pork tenderloin. (bambabistro.com or 585-244-8680)
Just a few miles from the Strong Museum is Artisanworks, a renovated warehouse where artists keep studios open to visitors (artisanworks.net; open Friday through Sunday, $12 per person; Sunday visitors can enjoy free live musical performances). While there you can shop at the Elizabeth Collection, a gallery with more than 15,000 works for sale, including paintings and photographs.
New York's Finger Lakes region is also home to many wineries. Just 15 minutes from downtown Rochester is Casa Larga Vineyards, where you can take a tour of the 45-acre facility or stop by for a tasting. (casalarga.com)
Stay the night at the Strathallan Hotel, located in the heart of the city. (strathallan.com or 585-461-5010; rates start at $124 per night)
At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, music enthusiasts can explore the world's most comprehensive collection of rock-and-roll memorabilia and have a heck of a lot of fun while learning about rock's development through the decades and its impact on global culture and fashion.
The hall of fame part of the museum is where legendary performers, producers, songwriters, disc jockeys, and others who have contributed to making rock and roll a cultural force are honored. Madonna and John Mellencamp are among 2008's inductees, and their songs are now featured in the hall of fame's computerized "jukebox," along with those of every other Hall of Famer. You can watch films on three large screens recounting each inductee's career through music and interviews, and see displays of some of the honorees' most memorable belongings, including Madonna's infamous cone bra and Mellencamp's guitar.
Are you a Beatles fan? Then make sure you save time for the "Help! Behind the Scenes of the Beatles' Movie" exhibit, which includes clothes the Fab Four wore and the instruments they played in that 1965 movie. Learn which bands and performers are rock and roll's most influential at the "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll" exhibit -- and see if any are your favorites. Then head to the "Rockin' All Over the World" exhibit, which makes you feel as though you're traveling through rock history. Dance in the streets during Motown's golden age in Detroit or hop across the pond to see where the British Invasion began.
These are just a few of the more than 50 exhibits that include treasures such as John Lennon's handwritten lyrics for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and Jim Morrison's Boy Scout uniform. (rockhall.com or 216-781-ROCK; $22 for adults, $18 for Cleveland-area residents with proper identification, $17 for seniors, $13 for children ages 9 to 12, children 8 and under admitted free)
After rocking your socks off at the hall of fame, take yourself out to an Indians ball game at Progressive Field (formerly Jacobs Field), one of Major League Baseball's newer ballparks. The park's multimillion-dollar scoreboard features one of the largest video screens in baseball.
If you're in the mood for a little retail therapy, head over to Tower City Center. This shopping and entertainment complex -- connected to Progressive Field by a walkway -- is home to more than 100 stores, six restaurants, and an 11-screen movie theater, holding plenty to keep you busy. (towercitycenter.com)
Also worth a visit is the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, which is located in the city's Park District. It's home to one of the largest collections of primates in North America. Here, you'll find more than 3,000 animals from 600 species within the seven distinct "biothematic" regions. In the "African Savanna" take a safari through grassy plains, where you'll see lions, giraffes, gazelles, and black rhinos. Then journey to the "Rainforest," a unique two-acre exhibit complete with simulated tropical rainstorms.
The Park District is also the perfect place for outdoor pursuits. Consisting of 21,000 acres spread among 16 separate reservations, it is commonly referred to as the Emerald Necklace because the reservations encircle the city of Cleveland. All 16 parks are within a 30-minute drive from its downtown. (clemetparks.com)
Foodies will enjoy a trip to the West Side Market, located in the Ohio City neighborhood. This is the country's largest indoor and outdoor food market, where more than 105 vendors showcase tasty ethnic delicacies from Polish pierogi to Greek falafel.
Stay in the neighborhood for dinner and try local favorite Momocho, which features a creatively modern take on Mexican food. Specialties include pork chop al carbon and a pepita-crusted trout that's paired with a jalapeno cream sauce. (momocho.com)
If you're staying overnight consider booking the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame package deal at the Hilton Garden Inn, in downtown Cleveland, which includes a room for two, two tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, plus a buffet breakfast for two. (hiltongardeninn.com or 216-658-6400; package rates start at $149 per room per night for two)
You don't have to be a history buff to enjoy a visit to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, but if you want to know more about how the Wild West was tamed, this is the place to go. The hall of fame focuses on the lives and achievements of 200 inspiring men and women who have enriched the history of the American West. Honorees include explorers, Native American leaders, ranchers, writers, poets, and statesmen. "Reel cowboys" are honored in the Hall of Great Western Performers (think Gene Autry, Kirk Douglas, and Gary Cooper), and former rodeo cowboy and cowgirl stars are featured in the Rodeo Hall of Fame.
The museum also serves as the country's premier institution of Western history, art, and culture. View works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell as well as sculptor James Earle Fraser's magnificent End of the Trail, a four-ton horse-and-rider statue that graces a glass-enclosed area of the museum.
Little ones can try on their first pair of chaps and spurs and then fix some pretend grub for parents at the "Children's Cowboy Corral" exhibit. Once you're well fed, wander over to Prosperity Junction, a life-size reproduction of a turn-of-the-century cattle town replete with railroad depot, livery stable, church, and school. (nationalcowboymuseum.org; $10 for adults, $8.50 for seniors and students, $4.50 for children ages 6 to 12, children 5 and under admitted free)
After your visit check out a musical theater performance at the Lyric Theatre, Oklahoma's only year-round professional musical theater company. The venue features contemporary and classic musicals as well as cabaret-style concerts. (lyrictheatreokc.com or 405-524-9312)
Cap off the day in the Bricktown Entertainment District. This former warehouse neighborhood is home to restaurants, nightclubs, a movie theater, and shops, all connected by a scenic water taxi that traverses the Oklahoma City Canal. Grab a table at Coach's Restaurant & Brewery, near the Bricktown ballpark, for yummy barbecue, salads, steaks, and handcrafted beers. (coachsok.com or 405-232-6224)
Check in to the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown (adjacent to Bricktown), which features a buffet breakfast and an indoor pool. (marriott.com or 405-232-2290; rates start at $184 per night)
Want to learn about the hardscrabble life of Tammy Wynette or how Elvis influenced country music as much as he did rock and roll? Then visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, with its full city block's worth of exhibits and galleries, and its shrine to country music's most legendary performers. The museum's main exhibition, "Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music," fills a gigantic two-floor gallery space and tells the history of country music from Gene Autry's Depression-era fame all the way up to today's most popular crooners. Photographs, text panels, and interactive listening stations featuring samples of country swing, rockabilly, honky-tonk, and contemporary country can be found throughout the exhibit.
But it's the memorabilia housed at the hall of fame that's really the draw: collectors' items like Elvis Presley's 1960 "Solid Gold" Cadillac, the Gianni Versace dress Faith Hill wore to the 2002 Academy Awards, plus many others. The "Paper Trails" part of the exhibit includes quirky artifacts such as Trisha Yearwood's 1986 application for a job as a guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame. (countrymusichalloffame.com or 615-416-2001; $17.95 for adults, $16.95 for seniors and students, $9.95 for children)
When you're done perusing the exhibits at the hall of fame, walk two blocks to check out Hatch Show Print, where you can shop for reprints of Grand Ole Opry and vaudeville posters. (hatchshowprint.com)
If you'll be in Nashville for the weekend, be sure to book tickets to one of the Grand Ole Opry's shows. The four-venue complex stages concerts from country music greats (800-SEE-OPRY for tickets). Before the show you can spend a few hours ogling the homes of former and present-day country stars on the Gray Line of Nashville's popular three-hour tour. (graylinenashville.com)
When it's time to dine head over to the Aquarium Restaurant, where you can enjoy a meal next to a 200,000 gallon aquarium with more than 100 species of tropical fish. (aquariumnashville.com or 615-514-FISH)
Check in to the Drury Inn & Suites Nashville Airport for easy access to area attractions. (druryhotels.com or 615-902-0400; rates start at $99 per night)
Think that all halls of fame offer are bronze plaques and memorabilia? At the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame you can travel to the future and hang out with aliens while you learn about the genre's most respected writers, artists, publishers, and filmmakers.
The hall of fame pays homage to sci-fi greats such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Ridley Scott. These inductees are featured in laser-etched images beneath a faux starry sky. Personal artifacts and video footage of the four newest inductees are also on display each year. The museum contains seven themed exhibitions, including "Fantastic Voyages," where you can learn about the adventures of famous science-fiction heroes. At the "Them!" exhibit you'll come face-to-face with robots, aliens, and androids and explore computer-generated societies as described in science-fiction works including The Jetsons, Blade Runner, and The Matrix.
Be sure to take full advantage of the other part of the building and poke around the Experience Music Project, which features interactive exhibits and cutting-edge technology. Here, you'll learn about rock and roll and its roots in jazz, soul, gospel, country, and the blues. Bring out your inner rock star at the "On Stage" exhibit, where you can sing in a computer-generated arena replete with cheering audience. (empsfm.org or 206-770-2702; admission to both venues is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, youth, and students, and children under 5 are admitted free)
Spend the night at the Holiday Inn at Seattle Center. It's located just four blocks from the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and is within walking distance of some of the city's other attractions, including the Space Needle. (ichotelsgroup.com or 877-863-4780; rates start at $125 per night)
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, May 2008.