By their very nature, the best children’s museums in America attract young audiences with hands-on exhibits designed to engage, entertain, and educate. That makes them a fabulous place to take kids of all ages when looking for family friendly activities, either in a major city near your home or when traveling.
Many of these same museums also offer online learning experiences in the form of photo collections, informative videos, and games. So, even if it’s simply a vacation day at home, exploring the assets of children’s museums can provide a worthwhile educational experience online.
If you are planning to visit in person, expect most museums to be closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day. Be sure to check out each museum’s website for parking recommendations and restrictions on food and beverage.
See below for our pick of the top children’s in the country and visit Learning Liftoff for other museum adventures and ways to take your family on virtual field trips. You’ll be amazed at what you can discover.
3000 North Meridian Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46208
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM
Admission: Adults $21.50; Children (2–7) $18.50
Overview: Ranked number one overall in the U.S. by the United Youth Education Zone (based on criteria such as hands-on activities, pricing, food availability, educational options, and add-on costs) this five-floor museum is located on a 29-acre site.
In Person: Featured exhibits include Dinosphere, Dale Chihuly’s Fireworks of Glass, and The Power of Children. Each day ends with a parade led by museum mascot Rex. Visitors can ride the vintage carousel for one dollar or go rock climbing, play hula hoop, and move earth at a construction site as part of the admission ticket.
Happening Now: Jolly Days of Winter Wonderland (through January 3, 2016) features two-story Yule slide, ice fishing, sock-skating, and visits with Santa
1500 Binz, Houston, Texas 77004
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10 AM to 6 PM (Thursday 10 AM to 8 PM); Sunday, 12 to 6 PM
Admission: $10 (Seniors and military $9); Free Family Night, Thursdays 5 to 8 PM
Overview: Well-suited for children 10–younger, this spacious museum with interactive exhibits includes a kids’ city, with everything from city hall to a veterinarian’s office. The Tot Spot includes a padded play area with ball pit for those 3–younger.
In Person: Visit How Does It Work?, EcoStation, and Invention Convention, where kids can create gizmos and gadgets with items like LEGO blocks, magnets, and switches.
Online: Video Zone features dozens of videos, ranging from Cooking with Math and Origami Geometry to Toy Dissection and How to Climb a Rock Wall.
Happening Now: Become a Secret Agent; Seasons of Sharing (holiday traditions from around the world, through January 4); Free Family Night on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve (3 to 6 PM).
The Strong/Museum of Play (Rochester, NY)
One Manhattan Square, Rochester, New York 14607
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 AM to 5 PM; Friday-Saturday,10 AM to 8 PM; Sunday, 12 to 5 PM
Admission: $14 (age 2–older)
Overview: The Strong Museum showcases the world’s most comprehensive collection of toys, dolls, board games, video games, other electronic games, books, documents, and historical materials related to play.
In Person: Children will relish exhibits including Reading Adventureland, Sesame Street, and their own supermarket, as well as the National Toy Hall of Fame. The Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden, the only year-round indoor butterfly garden in upstate New York is a separate admission ($4).
Online: View the museum’s most interesting toys, games, dolls, advertising displays, and collectibles through the online data base. Kids can play a variety of games, including dice baseball and toy trivia, create their own children’s story, or dress a paper doll.
Happening Now: Recent acquisitions include innovative pinball machines (1946–1995), the Nintendo of America Collection (1983–2010), and Gund plush toys, bears, and puppets (1920s–1970s).
Please Touch Museum (Philadelphia)
4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19131
Hours: Monday–Saturday, 9 AM to 5 PM; Sunday, 11 AM to 5 PM
Admission: $17 (view home page for multiple discounts, including veterans and military)
Overview: Museum encourages interactivity and learning through play and encourages parents to let their kids be their tour guides. Designed for children seven and younger, the museum’s Playhouse Theater shows are included in the admission.
In Person: Exhibits include a Philadelphia neighborhood, River Adventures, and Roadside Attractions (where kids can set up road signs and collect tolls), a 1908 carousel ($3 per ride), and the Alice in Wonderland Fairytale Garden. Kids can try on various costumes, explore earth for insects, and learn about recycling and composting.
Online: Visit the museum’s YouTube Channel for a bit of history and an extensive recap of events at the museum.
Happening Now: Adventures with Clifford the Big Red Dog (reading event) runs through January 17.
2121 Children’s Museum Drive, Denver, Colorado 80211
Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM (until 7:30 PM on Wednesday); Saturday–Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM
Admission: Children (2-older) and Adults $10; Seniors (60-older) and one-year-olds $8
Overview: Non-profit educational institution dedicated to encouraging learning, exploration, and creativity. Designed as a hands-on, interactive experience for children up to eight years old.
In person: Check out the daily kitchen, art studio, and Joy Park (nature) programs
Online: The website includes suggestions about how to recreate some of the museum’s popular science and art attractions at home.
Happening now: Grand re-opening of the 41 percent larger Marsico Campus on November 20th featured the unveiling of six new exhibits (Altitude, The Art Studio, Community Tree, Energy, The Teaching Kitchen, and Water).
Exploratorium (San Francisco)
Pier 15 (Embarcadero at Green Street), San Francisco, California 94111
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM (Thursday, adults only, 6 to 10 PM)
Admission: Adults $29, Teens (13–17) and Seniors $24; Youth (4–12) $19. Bay Area resident discounts apply.
Overview: Definite appeal for teens and older children with an eye for science around them. The Bay Observatory and Tinkering Studio will engage the grammar-school set.
In person: More than 600 exhibits with six main galleries, 200-seat theater, and life science laboratory. Guide Staff includes more than 200 High School “Explainers.”
Online: View extensive scientific video collection online at http://www.exploratorium.edu/tv/. Web collection includes more than 50,000 pages of original microsites, webcasts, videos, articles, podcasts, slideshows, online exhibits, and activities. The science of music, Antarctica, the ocean floor, nuclear research, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are a few of the topics to explore online.
Happening Now: Multiple workshops and special events for lifelong learners.
The Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago)
5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637
Hours: Daily, 9:30 AM to 4 PM (until 5:30 PM on Saturdays through January 2)
Admission: Adult $18; Youth (3-17) $11; Senior (65 and older) $17
Overview: Sprawling facility with educational exhibits suitable for varying ages. Lots of historical artifacts coupled with a look into the future.
In person: Climb aboard and tour the Pioneer Zephyr, a once state-of-the-art passenger train from 1934, or check out a captured German submarine (from 1944). Earth Revealed demonstrates how the earth is a dynamic, living system. Other feature exhibits include farm technology, future energy, ships through the years, and “You!”—the connection between the human mind, body, and spirit.
Online: The museum’s Online Science page includes links to games and apps, videos, activities, and podcasts.
Happening Now: Robot Revolution enables visitors to interact with rarely-seen robots, watch a game of robot soccer, and participate in a live drone show (through January 3, separate admission $11 adults, $9 children); Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light (through January 3).
308 Congress Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02210
Hours: Saturday–Thursday 10 AM–5 PM, Fridays 10 AM–9 PM
Admission: $16 (children under 12 months, free)
Overview: Exhibits and programs emphasize hands-on engagement and learning, employing play as a tool to spark creativity, curiosity, and imagination. This Boston waterfront museum focuses on science, culture, environmental awareness, health, fitness, and the arts.
In person: The museum’s historical collections of Americana, Natural History, Global Culture, Native America, Dolls and Dollhouses, and Japanese artifacts encompass more than 50,000 items. Arthur and Friends (storybook), Johnny’s Workbench (hand tools), Countdown to Kindergarten (preschool experience), and the three-story New Balance Climb are among popular themed exhibits.
Online: View slideshows of objects from historical collections. The associated site OurGreenTrail.org offers information about “green” choices in everyday life. 100 Ways to Play offers 100 ideas for entertaining children.
Happening Now: Daily activities include “Play Messy” (sensory activity for ages three and younger), art studio (all ages), family yoga, and Japanese house.
Port Discovery Children’s Museum (Baltimore)
Hours: (October through May) Tuesday–Friday, 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM; Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM; Sunday, 12 to 5 PM
Admission: $14.95 (under 2, free)
Overview: Ranked among the top 12 children’s museums in the U.S. by Forbes, this Inner Harbor museum features exhibits about water, farm, sports, and ancient culture.
In-person: Three floors of exhibits include Tot Trails (through which toddlers can crawl), Kick It Up! (indoor soccer), Wonders of Water, Mother Goose on the Loose, and a three-story urban treehouse.
Online: Lots of museum video clips at https://www.youtube.com/user/PortDiscovery/videos.
Happening Now: With sights, sounds, and interactive elements focusing on conservation and sustainability, Here We Grow! introduces children to farm processes, products, and people through themes of science and technology, history, local ecology, and art.
Discovery Place (Charlotte)
301 Tryon Street, Charlotte, North Carolina 28202
Hours: Monday–Friday, 9 AM to 4 PM; Saturday, 10 AM to 6 PM; Sunday, 12 to 5 PM
Admission: $15 (14-older); $12 (ages 2-13, 60-older); Imax $5 with admission or $10 separately.
Overview: Exhibits centered on science, mathematics, technology, engineering, nature, and interactive experiences. Geared toward school-age children.
In-person: At Cool Stuff, visitors can lie on a bed of nails, launch objects into the air or crush a garbage can. Current Imax showings feature Pandas, Journey to Space, and the Human Body. Daily programming includes puppet shows and hands-on activities.
Online: The museum’s blog site offers personal insight from museum curators, managers, and directors.
Happening Now: Winter Camps (weekdays December 21–31) are all-day adventures for grades K–3 with daily themes including astronauts, engineering, and paleontology. $55 for non-members.
Minnesota Children’s Museum (St. Paul)
10 West Seventh St., St. Paul, Minnesota 55102
Hours: Tuesday–Thursday, 9 AM to 4 PM; Friday–Saturday, 9 AM to 8 PM; Sunday, 9 AM to 5 PM
Overview: Museum urges families to “release the radiant power of play.” Satellite museum locations in Rochester, Minnesota, and at Mall of America (Bloomington).
In-person: Habitot is a crawling space for toddlers. Amazing Castle is a medieval-themed exhibit in which kids can dress the part of lord, lady, or blacksmith. Move It is about coordination of large motor skills, awareness of materials, and finding ways to move things from here to there.
Online: You can view YouTube videos of museum activities, but the majority of exhibits are for in-person exploration.
Happening Now: “Rigamajigs, Rigamawhat?” building fun through December 30. St. Paul location is undergoing a $30 million renovation and expansion project.
10 Children’s Way (Allegheny Square), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212
Hours: Daily, 10 AM to 5 PM
Admission: $14 Adults, $13 (ages 2–18, 60-older)
With more than 80,000 square feet of hands-on, interactive exhibit area, the museum features a theater, studio, backyard, waterplay, and attic space. The concept is to combine play with reality and processes that are concrete and relevant.
In-person: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood has long been synonymous with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. Some of Fred Rogers‘ iconic items on display include his sweater, blue canvas sneakers, and original puppets such as King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, and Daniel Striped Tiger.
Online: See images of the Children’s Museum’s interactive art and art collection on “Art at the Children’s Museum” board on Pinterest. Additionally, each exhibit page includes information about art pieces in each space.
Happening Now: The Makeshop features daily winter creativity sessions ranging from wool felting and candle making to embroidery and New Year’s Eve preparations.