For many families, life is so hectic during the week - ping-ponging from school to work to extra-curricular activities, not to mention keeping up with daily chores - parents are too exhausted to think up fun ways to spend time with kids on weekends.

Luckily, this time of year provides a cornucopia of stuff to do indoors and out throughout the region, on the water or in a pumpkin patch.

We've done the heavy lifting - here's a baker's dozen of activities and events, with something that should appeal to everyone in the family.

Ghosts and goblins, oh my

Cape May is busy all year long, but it really comes alive - or at least its ghosts do - at Halloween. If spooky is your thing, haunted activities abound on weekends through

Oct. 31. Take a self-guided Phantoms of the Physick Estate Tour, exploring the 1879-era mansion and grounds ($12 adults, $6 kids ages 3 to 12) or a Ghosts of the Lighthouse Trolley Tour ($20 adults, $15 kids). Kids can dress up and trick-or-treat at the Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., from 5 to 7 p.m. on Halloween - if they dare. Call 609-884-5404 or visit

If you've never been to the Tuckerton Seaport and Baymen's Museum, 120 W. Main St., Tuckerton, fall is a great time to go. The working village is open daily from 10 a.m. to

5 p.m. all year, bringing the Jersey shore's maritime traditions to life through people, exhibits and hands-on activities. Fun and spooks are on tap as the village transforms into a Haunted Seaport from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Pirates and sea captains long lost at sea stroll the boardwalk. New this year is the Haunted Forest, with hayrides, entertainment and a nonscary pumpkin patch for little ones. Cost is $8 for nonmembers, $5 for members. Hayrides are $2, free for members. Black Pearl Haunted Boat Rides are $10. Call 609-296-8868 or go to

Since 2001, the typically bucolic Leaming's Run Gardens, in Swainton, Middle Township, transforms for a couple days in October into Screamings Run Haunted Walk, a guided candlelit walking tour through dark woods. Not for the faint of heart, this is classic Gothic horror, no chain saws or gore. The super-brave (mature audiences) might want to check out the all-new Leamingwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Hours are 7to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 30. Admission is $7 for each attraction or $12 for both. Find the horrors at 1845 Route 9 North. Go to

or call 609-465-5871.

Even small children will enjoy the Ghost Tour of Ocean City, a candlelight stroll through downtown Ocean City beginning at 8 p.m. every Saturday through Halloween. It starts at Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue. Listen to tales of the unknown and folklore of the shore. Cost is $14 for adults, $8 for ages 4 to 12. Go to

or call 609-814-0199.

Rides, trick-or-treat and - soon - Santa

Boardwalk amusements might be closed for the season, but there's still a lot of thrills and giggles to be found at Storybook Land, 6415 Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township, especially for families with young children. Nothing spooky here, just happy Halloween fun - including Elmer's Haymazin' Maze and Happy Hayrides and Kids Pumpkin Decorating, Thursdays through Sundays through Oct. 31. Kids in costume get a free treat bag on trick-or-treat days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29, 30 and 31. The regular admission price of $21.95 for adults and children applies.

From Halloween it's a speedy slide to Christmas, with the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and lighting of Storybook Land with thousands of lights at dusk Saturday, Nov. 13 (rain date Nov. 14), and every day (weather permitting) through Dec. 23. Mr. and Mrs. Claus also visit with children in their chalet. There are some good sale days, too, with half-price admission. Check hours at

or call 609-641-7847.

Animals on the agenda

Children will be delighted to spot dolphins, porpoises and whales from aboard the Cape May Whale Watcher, with daily cruises at 10 a.m. (dolphins and history), 1 p.m. (whales and dolphins) and 5:30 p.m. (dolphins and dinner) until December. The 110-foot Spirit of Cape May sails from the Miss Chris Marina, Second Avenue and Wilson Drive, Cape May. If you don't see marine mammals during your cruise, you get a never-expires pass to take the trip another time. Children ages 7 to 10 sail at a reduced rate and kids 6 and younger are free with an adult. Print out coupons from

before you go, or call 609-884-5445.

Explore the coastal salt marsh aboard the 40-foot Skimmer Salt Marsh Safari. Tour spectacular natural areas and, from knowledgeable Capt. Ginny, learn about natural history, fish, crustaceans, shellfish, birds and more. The Skimmer sails daily until November. Through Oct. 30, the Cape May Bird Observatory sponsors a 10 a.m. trip every Saturday leaving from Dolphin Cove Marina, Ocean Drive between Cape May and Wildwood Crest. Check the schedule at

or call 609-884-3100.

With more than 500 inhabitants, there's always something happening at the Cape May County Zoo, 707 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House. This year's newest additions are Kaba and Sabu, two snow leopard cubs born in May. Bring the kids in costume to Boo at the Zoo from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, for candy, games, live pirate show and more. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, kids will be thrilled to visit Santa's Family Workshop, where they will have a chance to meet the big jolly guy and tell him everything on their lists. The zoo is open every day except Christmas and admission is free, with donations accepted. Call 609-465-5271 or visit

The Wetlands Institute, 1075 Stone Harbor Blvd., outside of Stone Harbor, is open for self-guided tours and hosts special events. At 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, visitors can watch aquarium feedings - the octopus eats crab, the horseshoe crab gobbles shrimp and the terrapins feast on minnows. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, youngsters are invited to learn how to make a whistle in the shape of a turtle or a wetlands stamp during the Clay for Kids program ($22 nonmembers). From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30, check out live bats during Bat Brouhaha and make a bat to take home. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 ages 2 to 11. Call 609-368-1211 or go to


The Atlantic City Aquarium, 800 N. New Hampshire Ave., offers fish, turtles and even ferrets to keep the young ones amused. There are live feeding shows in the aquariums main tank, and after a visit make sure to explore the shops and restaurants in Historic Gardner's Basin. The aquarium is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, admission is $8 for adults, $6 seniors, $5 children 4 to 12. Children 3 and younger get in free. Call 609-348-2880 or visit

, where you can also find a coupon for up to $4 off a family visit.

Arts appreciation

Every Sunday through December is Family Fun Day at WheatonArts, 1501 Glasstown Road, Millville, with children 17 and younger admitted free to enjoy diverse cultural programming, changing hands-on activities, a park-like setting with a variety of indoor and outdoor events, dance and music performances and more. Don't miss WheatonArts' free Day of the Dead and Halloween Celebration from 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31. Kids in costumes can trick or treat on the grounds from 1 to 4 p.m. and interact with actors portraying creepy characters such as Dr. Frankenstein, a mummy from ancient Egypt and more. From 4 to 8 p.m., there will be music, dancing and stories, plus Mexican food. Call the Down Jersey Folklife Center Office, 856-825-6800 ext. 131 or 132, or go to

Fall for diamonds

Grab your bucket and shovel and go on a diamond hunt. With tropical storms churning up the surf, fall is a great time to hunt for Cape May diamonds on Sunset Beach, at the foot of Sunset Boulevard near Cape May Point. The translucent quartz pebbles start out as stones hundreds of miles away and are polished smooth and clear by the time they land on this rocky beach on the Delaware Bay. Expert hunters say fall and winter is the best time to find diamonds. You can watch the Cape May-Lewes Ferry criss-cross the bay and, of course, catch a great sunset here. Beach and gift shops are open all year. Call 800-757-6468 or go to

Christmas not far behind

Of course, the haunted season is followed quickly by Christmas in Cape May. It's not too early to make plans to enjoy all the holiday spirit the town has to offer beginning Nov. 19, when the Emlen Physick Estate is decked out in thousands of lights. Enjoy Breakfast with Santa ($15 adults, $10 ages 3 to 12) Sunday, Nov. 22, and Saturdays, Nov. 28, Dec. 5 and 12, at the Inn of Cape May. Christmas Candlelight House Tours run from 5:30to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays in December. Go to

or call 609-884-5404.

Hayrides, mazes and pumpkin-picking