12 Things to Do with Family in Lawrence, Massachusetts

Last Updated on February 25, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Lawrence is the perfect place for families looking for an affordable and engaging getaway. This culturally diverse city has attractions ranging from outdoor recreation along the river to world-class art museums. Lawrence’s compact downtown area makes it easy to visit multiple destinations in one day without needing a car. The local food scene also has plenty of kid-friendly options.

No.ActivityDescription
1Explore the Great Stone Dam and CanalsWalk across the dam and along the canals, enjoy picnicking and learn about the dam’s history.
2Visit the Lawrence Heritage State ParkInteractive exhibits on Lawrence’s industrial revolution, with family tours of historic mill buildings.
3Explore Pemberton ParkScenic riverside park with walking paths, millstone sculptures, and playground.
4Visit the Lawrence History CenterExhibits on the city’s industrial growth, with hands-on activities for kids.
5Tour Essex Company Boarding HousesHistorical tour of workers’ accommodations with period activities for families.
6See Wildlife at Den Rock ParkNature trails, wildlife spotting, and a nature center with historical exhibits.
7Ride the Carousel at Salvatore’s PizzeriaEnjoy pizza and carousel rides in a family-friendly restaurant.
8Create Art at Essex Art CenterArt classes and festivals for families, including pottery and painting.
9Explore Bellevue CemeterySelf-guided tours of historic gravesites with educational activities for kids.
10See Exhibits at Lawrence Public LibraryFree programming for kids, including crafts, story times, and historical exhibits.
11Visit the Museum of Automatic Musical InstrumentsSee and interact with historic mechanized music players and carnival rides.
12Attend RiverfestAnnual festival with food, music, activities, and fireworks celebrating the Merrimack River.

Families visiting Lawrence can learn about the city’s textile manufacturing history while also enjoying science museums, hands-on art studios, and beautiful parks and trails. Many attractions are budget-friendly or even free. Lawrence’s events calendar includes cultural festivals, farmers markets, and outdoor concerts suitable for all ages.

The following 12 attractions provide a well-rounded itinerary for families visiting Lawrence. These activities offer interactive learning experiences, kid-focused exhibits and programs, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and cultural exploration.

1. Explore the Great Stone Dam and Canals

Name and Location: The Great Stone Dam and canal system are located along the Merrimack River in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

History and Significance: Constructed 1848-1850 to provide hydropower for Lawrence’s early textile mills, the granite dam and hand-dug canals represent major 19th century feats of civil engineering essential for industrialization. They fueled regional growth for over a century.

What to Expect: Visitors can walk along the dam itself to examine cut granite construction detailing, view the adjacent powerhouse, and traverse along restored canal paths to appreciate the vast system’s size and role powering lumber, textile, and paper mills through directed water flow. Interpretive signage provides background.

Visitor Information: The dam and canals are publicly accessible daily. Guided walking tours by qualified personnel are offered seasonally for deeper insight into operations. Respect all safety signage and precautions around infrastructure.

One of the top things to do in Lawrence with kids is exploring the Great Stone Dam, which helped establish Lawrence as a major industrial city in the 19th century. This impressive feat of engineering was constructed between 1845 and 1848 across the Merrimack River. The dam directed water into power canals running along the north and south banks of the river that powered textile mills.

Families can walk across the top of the dam and along the canals to admire the water control system up close. Interpretive signs explain how the dam and canal network functioned. The area includes grassy parks on both sides of the river that are perfect for picnicking. Kids will enjoy watching the water rush over the dam and examining the locks used to control water flow.

2. Visit the Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitors Center

Name and Location: Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitors Center is located at 1 Jackson Street, Lawrence, MA 01840, alongside the South Canal and Merrimack River.

History and Significance: This National Register site comprises the former Lawrence textile mills complex, which sparked America’s Industrial Revolution. Park exhibits and tours decode the mills’ towering brick facades to reveal what life and innovations lay within during Lawrence’s 19th and 20th century rise as a major manufacturing center.

What to Expect: Guests can take in interactive exhibits on topics like immigrants’ mill jobs, technological innovations, labor strikes, living conditions and textile creations. Guided/self-guided tours also offered along with seasonal canal boat rides, educational programs and heritage events that immerse visitors in Lawrence’s game-changing history.

Visitor Information: Open Friday-Sunday Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Nominal admission fees charged for tours and programs (discounts for children, seniors). Canal boat rides ticketed separately. Center closed state holidays but grounds open daily.

To learn more about Lawrence’s history, families should visit the Lawrence Heritage State Park Visitors Center. Interactive exhibits showcase the city’s key role in the American Industrial Revolution. Kids can try weaving on a power loom, follow yarn through a textile mill process, and dress up in period costumes.

The center also provides walking tours of historic mill buildings along the canal. Families can explore the Dye House, Everett Mill, and Duck Bridge on a self-guided tour. Knowledgable guides are on hand to answer questions and provide additional insight into how innovations like the power loom transformed U.S. manufacturing. The Visitors Center offers an engaging introduction for families before further exploring Lawrence’s heritage sites.

3. Explore the Grounds of Pemberton Park

Name and Location: Pemberton Park is a small riverside park located near downtown Lawrence, Massachusetts along the Merrimack River.

History and Significance: Once the site of the massive Pemberton Mill that collapsed in 1860 amidst America’s deadliest industrial disaster, today the poignant grounds have been transformed into a quiet riverside park that balances preserving history with providing a peaceful natural public space.

What to Expect: Visitors can reflect while walking the brick paths viewing historic markers about the deadly mill collapse, appreciate engraved memorials, pause to enjoy views of the river rapids, and watch birds or relax under surrounding trees. Interpretive signage provides context.

Visitor Information: Pemberton Park’s paths and green space along the Merrimack River are open daily without fees or restrictions from dawn to dusk for respectful public enjoyment and remembrance.

For a family-friendly outdoor option, head to the scenic grounds surrounding Pemberton Park. This peaceful riverside park contains walking paths, open lawn areas for play, and pretty views across the Merrimack River. Interactive interpretive panels describe the importance of Lawrence’s textile mills and canals.

Kids will enjoy running through the Great Stone Dam Water Garden while learning how water was diverted to power the mills. Climbing around on the huge millstone sculptures also provides entertainment. Pack a lunch or snacks to enjoy a picnic while relaxing on the park lawns and benches. Kids can burn off extra energy at the playground located within Pemberton Park.

4. Visit the Lawrence History Center

Name and Location: The Lawrence History Center is located in Memorial Hall at 6 Essex Street, Lawrence, MA 01840 near downtown and the South Canal.

History and Significance: Dedicated to preserving the history of Lawrence, one of America’s first major industrial cities, and educating the public on key innovations that transformed the nation, the Center houses expansive archives, exhibits and hosts lectures on topics like immigration, labor relations, architecture, community development and local culture.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore interactive rotating exhibits, research local history using onsite databases and records, view artifacts illuminating voices often marginalized, and find educational resources for school groups. Talks, workshops and walking tours also held.

Visitor Information: The Lawrence History Center is free and open year-round Tuesday-Saturday. Reduced hours June-September. Group tours or research assistance require reservations. Online archives accessible remotely.

The Lawrence History Center provides more opportunities for kids to engage with the city’s heritage. Families can check out the center’s main exhibit called “Lawrence Gets to Work” covering the inception of the city’s mills and industrial growth. Hands-on displays allow kids to try weaving, operate a power loom, and explore other textile manufacturing processes.

Special kid-focused programs are offered throughout the year, like history story times and craft activities. The History Center also provides self-guided walking tour maps of Lawrence’s mill district spanning over a mile of the Merrimack River. Spot informational plaques explaining the significance of various mills and canal sites.

5. Tour the Essex Company Boarding Houses

Name and Location: The Essex Company boarding houses are located at 205-207 Water Street in the historic mill district, Lawrence, Massachusetts.

History and Significance: These National Register buildings were constructed in 1853 to house the waves of immigrant labor recruited from abroad to work in Lawrence’s burgeoning textile mills, which sparked America’s Industrial Revolution. Restored duplexes provide rare insight into tight workers’ quarters.

What to Expect: Guided tours allow visitors inside to view period furnishings within tiny rooms that often housed entire families in sparse conditions, while they learn about immigrants’ lengthy work days. Walking tours provide additional historic context tying the site to area mills and canals.

Visitor Information: Tours run Saturdays 10-1 or by appointment. Nominal admission fees. Steps to second floor. Closed major holidays but grounds always open for exterior views behind locked gates when unmanned.

For a unique look into the past, tour the Essex Company Boarding Houses. These three historical houses built in the mid-1800s provided accommodation for mill workers when Lawrence was a new industrial city. The immersive guided tour transports families back to the era through stories and rooms decorated with period furnishings.

Kids will find the hands-on activities especially fun. They can play the types of games mill children enjoyed and compare the modest size of workers’ residences to mansions of mill owners. Trying on historical costumes and washing laundry with washboards offers an engaging glimpse into boarding house life. Tours run seasonally and fill up fast, so book ahead.

6. See Wildlife at Den Rock Park

Name and Location: Den Rock Park is a small wildlife conservation area located off Route 114/28 near South Lawrence, Massachusetts.

History and Significance: Donated by Arthur Dennehy, this former Dennehy family homestead protected by the Trustees wilderness preservation program comprises scenic woodlands, meadows and wetlands stretching to the Spicket River, which provide essential migratory bird and animal habitats including for rare rusty blackbirds.

What to Expect: A two mile network of peaceful trails traverses varied ecosystems – visitors may spot species like bluebirds, turtles, frogs and even river otters while traversing forests, marshland and fields. Interpretive signage identifies natural features and wildlife along routes good for walking, trail running and snowshoeing.

Visitor Information: Den Rock Park trails are open daily without fees from dawn to dusk for hiking, bird watching and respectful wildlife observation only. Leashed dogs allowed. Trail maps at entries; park along South Broadway or Routes 28/114.

Den Rock Park offers families a refreshing outdoor experience with wooded trails and scenic views across the Merrimack River. Kids will enjoy spotting wildlife like birds and chipmunks playing in the trees. Easy hiking trails loop through the park, which contains the remnants of a historic mill.

Pack a lunch or snack to eat outdoors on the picnic tables. Families can also play on the playground and wading pool. The park’s nature center has natural history exhibits, including displays of rocks, minerals, and Native American tools indigenous to the area. Den Rock Park provides a nice balance of history, nature, and activity for kids.

7. Ride the Carousel at Salvatore’s Pizzeria

Name and Location: Salvatore’s Restaurant in Lawrence, Massachusetts houses a vintage-style carousel merry go round.

History and Significance: Constructed 1995 incorporating original mechanisms dated circa 1910, this family restaurant’s carousel transports riders young and old back to 20th century Americana via beautifully handcrafted horses, chariots and spinning tub benches capable of making 10 mph circles as Italian music plays.

What to Expect: For a nominal fee, guests receive a lively ride and may even catch one of the brass rings to win a prize. By riding, they help maintain this special piece of folk art history. Riders under 42” tall must be accompanied by an adult.

Visitor Information: The carousel operates during Salvatore’s regular hours for ages 2 and up. Private events also available. The trusting restaurant otherwise offers pizza, classic Italian dishes, functions and more.

What kid doesn’t love a carousel ride? Salvatore’s Pizzeria has the perfect activity following lunch or dinner. This classic family-friendly Lawrence restaurant has an antique-style merry-go-round inside. After filling up on pizza, kids can hop on one of the hand-carved carousel animals for a spin.

The restaurant also has an arcade room with ping-pong, skee-ball, and other games that families can play together. Salvatore’s offers a fun atmosphere for meals or weekend hangouts with the kids. The carousel ride ensures your little ones will walk away with smiles.

8. Create Art at Essex Art Center

Name and Location: The Essex Art Center is located at 56 Island Street, Lawrence, Massachusetts in the historic Essex Mill buildings.

History and Significance: Founded in 1978 to showcase visual arts in Lawrence’s renowned mill spaces, the non-profit Center today hosts classes, exhibits and events centering around creativity in various mediums, aimed at fostering community revitalization and an inclusive hub for artistic development.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore rotating art exhibits in the main gallery, enroll in clay workshops using onsite pottery wheels and kilns, join open studio sessions, sign up children’s art camps, attend special cultural celebrations, or browse artisan works in the gift shop.

Visitor Information: The Essex Art Center is open Tuesday-Saturday with some evening hours. Public welcome at no cost to view gallery exhibits. Fees vary for membership, classes and events – check website schedule. Free parking onsite.

For some indoor family fun, spend an afternoon making art projects at the Essex Art Center. This community center and gallery has an entire floor dedicated to art education. Family classes often offered include canvas painting, pottery, and mosaic making. Or kids can get creative in the open pottery studio.

The Art Center also hosts family festivals with art activities and performances. Kids love events like the annual EcoFest where they can make nature-inspired art and learn about environmental science. Exploring the gallery exhibiting works by local artists rounds out the visit. Unleash your family’s creativity with interactive art experiences at the Essex Art Center.

9. Explore the Grounds of Bellevue Cemetery

Name and Location: Bellevue Cemetery is a Victorian era garden cemetery located between South Broadway and Route 28 in South Lawrence, Massachusetts.

History and Significance: Established in the mid-1800s as one of the earliest landscaped “rural” cemeteries, Bellevue today numbers over 10,000 memorials across its rolling 90 acres honoring key civic leaders, mill workers, and veterans amidst winding paths, heritage trees and conservation areas that provide sanctuary to the living as well.

What to Expect: Visitors strolling mapped paths encounter ornate headstones marking the city’s founding generation, including pioneering mill agent Abbott Lawrence. Arboretum plantings, wildlife and sculpture make for a reflective visit accentuating natural beauty with artful remembrance.

Visitor Information: Bellevue Cemetery is open daily 8am-early evening in season for respectful walking, birding, genealogy research and photography. Information on access, maps, and records available online. Main entrance is at 1991 South Broadway.

An unconventional activity kids often enjoy is exploring historical cemeteries, and Lawrence has a great one. Bellevue Cemetery dates back to the 1840s and contains the gravesites of many city founders and industrialists. Intricate Victorian headstones and mausoleums line the peaceful grounds.

Families can take a self-guided tour using the cemetery map to find notable graves, including inventor William Wood and industrialist Daniel Saunders. Kids enjoy activities like searching for the oldest headstones and identifying symbols on the markers. Docent-led tours are also available seasonally. Bellevue Cemetery connects kids to local heritage in a unique way.

10. See Exhibits at Lawrence Public Library

Name and Location: The Lawrence Public Library downtown branch is located at 51 Lawrence Street, Lawrence, Massachusetts.

History and Significance: Constructed 1872 with city native son Robert Frost among early frequent patrons, today this historic neoclassical building contains expansive literature collections but also hosts noteworthy cultural exhibits illuminating regional history in accessible public space. Recent shows spotlighted iconic area sports teams and Latina trailblazers.

What to Expect: Library patrons can browse circulated items but also view free rotating exhibits in the Sargent Gallery highlighting unique facets of Lawrence’s heritage – often curated around heritage months. Featured topics engage the community across creative mediums and inclusive narratives. Talks sometimes accompany shows.

Visitor Information: The downtown library and exhibits are freely open Monday-Thursday. Some special events may carry fees. Place holds online 24/7 for pickup during open hours. Public parking off Lawrence Street or in the adjacent municipal garage.

The Lawrence Public Library offers free learning fun for families visiting downtown. The children’s area hosts regular hands-on programming like LEGO club, science experiments, and crafts perfect for kids. Story times and sing-alongs are scheduled for different age groups.

Even just exploring the children’s section engages little ones with its interactive learning centers. Families can also check out the library’s special exhibits covering Lawrence history and art. The library provides a go-to indoor activity option for families.

11. Visit the Museum of Automatic Musical Instruments

Name and Location: The Museum of Automatic Musical Instruments (MAMI) is located in downtown Lawrence, Massachusetts at 100 Island Street.

History and Significance: Opened in 1952 within a restored 1876 boardinghouse that once housed mill workers, MAMI displays over 700 self-playing rare music machines from the 18th-20th century, interpreted by knowledgeable volunteers who demonstrate the instruments during visitation.

What to Expect: Visitors can hear pianos, organs and other instruments automatically perform everything from classical and ragtime to early jazz using pre-loaded paper rolls. Selections change weekly. The experience illuminates early music technology through enjoyable Victorian era musical interludes.

Visitor Information: MAMI offers exhibits and music Fridays-Sundays April-December. Group tours by appointment. Suggested donation for entry. Limited mobility access. Nearby parking off Island Street.

For quirky interactive entertainment, families should visit the Museum of Automatic Musical Instruments located downtown. This museum contains an impressive collection of mechanized music players dating as far back as the 1890s. Visitors can hear the instruments operate with songs, whistles, and other neat sound effects.

Kids especially love feeding the musical machines with coins to activate them. The museum also offers hands-on opportunities like playing its restored carnival rides from the 1900s. An antique music shop on-site has more instruments families can try. The music museum offers engaging historic entertainment for all ages.

12. Attend Riverfest

Name and Location: Riverfest is Lawrence’s signature summer festival held downtown alongside South Canal walkways near Veterans Memorial Stadium.

History and Significance: Launched over 30 years ago to celebrate community diversity, this free public gathering has evolved into a beloved cultural tradition blending live music, dance, food and fireworks against the picturesque post-industrial backdrop of Lawrence’s Everett Mills ruins along the vibrant Merrimack River.

What to Expect: Held annually end of June, this lively event packs in musical performances across genres on canal platforms, ethnic cuisine vendors, artistic displays by regional creators, handicraft booths, fun runs, kayaking, and culminates in a stunning fireworks show over the river.

Visitor Information: Riverfest spans afternoon through evening with no admission cost. Some activities may charge nominal fees. Public parking options nearby, expect heavy pedestrian traffic proximate to festivities. Event follows rain or shine.

Riverfest is Lawrence’s huge annual summer festival celebrating the Merrimack River through food, music, and family activities. Held along the riverfront, Riverfest has performances on multiple stages, arts and crafts vendors, and a carnival midway with rides. Kids will enjoy lawn games, magic shows, jugglers, and face painting.

The festival culminates in a dazzling fireworks display over the river. Riverfest offers families a sample of local culture, entertainment, and cuisine in an exciting waterfront setting. The 2023 event is scheduled for June 22-25, so mark your calendars!

Conclusion

Lawrence provides the perfect blend of family-friendly activities to engage and educate kids of all ages. From exploring the city’s industrial roots along the river to hands-on museum exhibits, there are many budget-friendly options to fill a weekend itinerary. Outdoor spaces, special events, and interactive art experiences round out the city gives a combination of fun activities.

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