I call it “Do I dare?” time.
That hour or two at the end of a business trip when I’ve wrapped up my work, packed up my stuff, printed out my boarding pass and don’t really have to leave for the airport just yet.
Do I dare use that time to squeeze in a visit to a museum, garden or some other attraction in town? And if I do, where should I go?
Cloud Nine Media, one of the companies that provides free Wi-Fi sessions to those willing to take a short survey, posed that question for me recently to passengers waiting at a half-dozen airports.
The responses included visiting Universal CityWalk Hollywood near Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., the Mounts Botanical Gardens near Palm Beach International Airport in Florida, the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington Dulles International Airport.
Here are some suggestions for attractions and adventures near 10 other U.S. airports:
1. The Cincinnati Art Museum, which offers free admission and has a 12-foot tall bronze sculpture of Pinocchio outside the front entrance, is 20 minutes from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is also just 20 minutes from the airport. General admission is $15, but if you think business will bring you back to town, consider the Reds/Zoo combo ticket ($32) that includes a Cincinnati Reds baseball cap and tickets to the zoo, the gardens, a Cincinnati Reds baseball game and a visit to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.
2. A free shuttle bus (Route No. 66) that leaves from Boston Logan International Airport, will take you to the nearby water-transportation terminal. There, a paved, 3/4-mile Harborwalk offers great views of the Boston skyline. You can also hop on a water taxi for a 10-minute ride to Boston’s Rowes Wharf, for a stroll around Faneuil Hall and a quick visit to the New England Aquarium and other attractions. (Fare: $17 roundtrip)
3. A free aviation museum, the Flight Path Learning Center, is located on the south side of the Los Angeles International Airport and the 18-hole, par 64 Westchester Golf Course adjacent to LAX is open daily until 10 p.m.. For a taste of a local specialty, a branch of In-N-Out Burger is nearby as well and is adjacent to a small park popular with plane spotters. (Take the free shuttle to Economy Lot C and cross the street at 96th St. and Sepulveda Blvd.) Dockweiler State Beach, under LAX flight paths, is a 7-minute cab ride from the terminals.
4. The Carolinas Aviation Museum is located adjacent to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and is now home to the US Airways “Miracle on the Hudson” airplane from Flight 1549. In addition to photo, videos and artifacts from that airplane, the museum displays many other military, civil and commercial aircraft. Admission: $12.
5. The 15,000-acre Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge Center, once the site of a chemical weapons manufacturing facility, is near Denver International Airport. In addition to a visitor center filled with interactive exhibits, there are walking and biking trails, catch-and-release fishing, site tours and opportunities to spot wildlife that includes wild bison, deer, coyotes and bald eagles. Admission: free
6. The National Park Service operates the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, the USS Arizona Memorial and several other Pearl Harbor historic sites just three miles from Honolulu International Airport. Tickets are free for the 75-minute program that includes a 23-minute film and a Navy-operated shuttle boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial. Admission is charged for the other Pearl Harbor historic sites, which include the Battleship Missouri Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park and the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor.
7. In Milwaukee, the Harley-Davidson Museum is a 15-minute drive from General Mitchell International Airport. Through September 3rd, the museum is featuring Worn to be Wild, an exhibit celebrating the iconic black leather jacket, a wardrobe must-have for early pilots. (Admission: $18)
8. 32 Boeing 747s could fit inside the Mall of America, which is a 15-minute light-rail ride away from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. In addition to the more than 500 stores and more than 50 restaurants, the mall is home to a 14-screen movie theater, the SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium (with a 300-foot glass tunnel), a Nickelodeon Universe Theme Park and other attractions.
9. A free shuttle bus runs regularly from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to the Metro light-rail transfer station, which is across the street from the Pueblo Grande Museum Archeological Park. The 95-acre park grounds are on the site of a 1,500 year-old Hohokam Indian Village and include an 800-year old platform mound, an excavated ball court and two full-scale reproductions of Hohokam homes. Admission: $6.
10. Country music fans might enjoy a quick visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on the way to Nashville International Airport. The museum features video clips, recorded music, live performances and exhibits that celebrate country music stars such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and Taylor Swift.
For more ideas see the “Nearby layover option” in the 50 Airport Guides I maintain for USA TODAY. And if you have a suggestion for an activity or attraction nearby an airport, please add it to the comment section below.
[This list originally appeared in my “At the Airport” column for USA TODAY.]