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A tank away

Oh, the places you’ll go in Geisel’s hometown

Holidays light up during Bright Nights in Forest Park. Holidays light up during Bright Nights in Forest Park. (Spirit of Springfield (Left); Springfield Library-Museum via Ap)
By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / November 25, 2009

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We’ve always admired Theodor Geisel for staying true to his roots. Long after he moved away from Springfield and became famous as Dr. Seuss, he continued to reimagine his hometown from a child’s perspective. It’s a good lesson for a family getaway to Western Massachusetts, where the holiday light display, Bright Nights in Forest Park, is switched on for the season starting tonight. Springfield was the wellspring for the Seuss books, and it’s still full of fun and whimsy, especially for wide-eyed kids.

Stay
Chain hotels are your best choice here, and they have some family-friendly features. Located downtown, the Springfield Marriott (2 Boland Way, 413-781-7111, www.springfieldmarriottma.com; weekend family package $179 online only, other rates from $119) offers an Escape! Family Package with a free in-room movie and a medium pizza. Adjacent to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (see below), the Hilton Garden Inn Springfield (800 W. Columbus Ave., 413-886-8000, www.hiltongardeninn.com, family room $139, packages available) puts a refrigerator and a microwave in each room.

Dine
Families flock to Red Rose Restaurant Pizzeria (1060 Main St., 413-739-8510, entrees $8-$12, Tuesday-Sunday lunch and dinner) for eggplant rolatini, chicken marsala, and, of course, pizza. The children’s menu at the Student Prince Cafe & The Fort Dining Room (8 Fort St., 413-788-6628, www.studentprince.com, entrees $9.95-$27.95, daily lunch and dinner) has chicken fingers or mac and cheese for kids; adults can enjoy the paprika schnitzel or the sauerbraten. All-American fare is the specialty at Max’s Tavern (1000 W. Columbus Ave., Springfield, 413-746-6299, www.maxrestaurantgroup.com, entrees $15.95-$29.95, daily lunch and dinner), a chop house near the Hall of Fame.

During the day
On Friday at 11 a.m., the Parade of the Big Balloons fills Tower Square with 60,000 helium balloons, led by a 75-foot Cat in the Hat. Hurry this weekend to the Zoo in Forest Park (1 Pecousic St., 413-733-2251, www.forestparkzoo.org; $6, seniors and ages 5-12 $4, ages 1-4 $2, under 1 free; Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., weather permitting) because on Monday it closes until April. On Sundays and holidays, young Ted Geisel used to visit the zoo and draw the animals. This zoo is geared to youngsters, with as many domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats, donkey) as exotic beasts (bobcat, leopard, black bear). Springfield pays tribute to Geisel with the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden (free, daily 9-5), which captures Seuss characters in the round.

The garden is surrounded by the four institutions that make up the Springfield Museums (21 Edwards St.; 413-263-6800, www.springfieldmuseums.org; $12, seniors and college students $9, ages 3-17 $6.50; Springfield Science Museum, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, and the Museum of Springfield History Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving). All four museums participate in Amazing Art Adventures on Friday with a host of family activities. On Saturday, the science museum’s Family Science Adventures explores sound, electricity, and dinosaurs. Don’t miss holiday shopping at the Museum Store (in the Science Museum) to round out your family collection of books by Dr. Seuss.

If you’re not all completely exhausted, check out the exhibits at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1000 W. Columbus Ave., 413-781-6500, www.hoophall.com; $16.99, seniors $13.99, ages 5-15 $11.99; Sunday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday 10-5), which celebrates the 25th anniversary of its high-tech hall next year.

After dark
If you’re dreading the snarl of tree lights still stored in the attic, consider the plight of the folks who set up 376 holiday light displays for Bright Nights in Forest Park (Forest Park, 413-733-3800, www.brightnights.org; Wednesday-Sunday through Dec. 6, nightly Dec. 9-Jan. 2; Sunday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday and holidays 5-11 p.m.; per car Monday-Thursday $15, Friday-Sunday and holidays $18), now in its 15th year. Among the displays on the nearly 3-mile driving route is Seuss Land, complete with Whos and the Grinch.

You can also catch the minor-league hockey Springfield Falcons (MassMutual Center, 1277 Main St., 413-739-3344, www.falconsahl.com, $17-$23, youths $10-$23) against the Manchester Monarchs on Saturday night and the Portland Pirates on Sunday afternoon.

Patricia Harris and David Lyon, who also write the food and travel blog Hungry Travelers, can be reached at harris.lyon@verizon.net.