Whether you’re looking for a quick trip to fill the last days of the holiday break or are seeking out a spring break or summer vacation destination, these top children’s museums and discovery centers are every bit as exciting for parents as they are for children.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
CREDIT: Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Large is the name of the game at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis—it’s the largest children’s museum in the world, and pictures simply don’t do it justice! From the gigantic dinosaur appearing to bust into the building to the stunning 43-foot Dale Chihuly “Fireworks of Glass” sculpture, jaws are dropping from entry to exit. All ages are fascinated by the enormity of everything in the CMI—the Dentzel Carousel; the 10-foot rock wall; Martimus, the 9-foot-2-inch polar bear; even the water clock—the largest in North America—that was designed by French physicist and artist Bernard Gitton and really does keep track of time. With so much to see, the only thing you’ll be short on is time.
USEFUL TIP: If you get to the museum and find you forgot a spare diaper for your little one, the CMI concierge desk has a supply of emergency diapers.
St. Louis, Mo.
CC Image courtesy of LuneOwl on Flickr
Plan a trip to the Gateway City, and there will be plenty to keep a family busy! Stop number one on your St. Louis itinerary, though, should be the City Museum. Located on the fringe of downtown St. Louis, this gem is a full day’s worth of stimulation, exploration and all-around fun! Caves and slides and tunnels and climbing and, oh yes! A real, working Ferris wheel on the roof! Housed in what was once a 600,000-square-foot shoe company building, City Museum offers floor after floor of reclaimed materials that have been repurposed into something you will never, ever see anywhere else. Truly spectacular!
USEFUL TIP: Leave all bags and extra things to carry at home or in the hotel room. You’ll want nothing to hinder your ability to explore!
The Children’s Museum of Houston
CC Image courtesy of Sikeri on Flickr
Dubbed a “playground for your mind,” the Children’s Museum of Houston is as educational as it is fun… and the kids will never know! Fourteen galleries offer endless opportunities to explore, experience and marvel at a variety of exhibits. Kids can get “real world” experience at Kidtropolis, where they can get jobs, have their own ATM card, visit City Hall and more — they can live like adults, and then happily return to kid life when it’s time to move on. Natural inventors can try their skills at Invention Convention. Other options include Tot Spot for the younger set, Cyberchase for the math-minded child, and “How Does it Work?” for the downright curious kid.
USEFUL TIP: Thursday nights from 5-8 p.m. are Free Family Nights, which means admission is free!
National Museum of Play
CREDIT: National Museum of Play
Just as the name suggests, the 150,000-square-foot National Museum of Play is a facility dedicated to play, play and more play. Boasting the world’s largest collection of toys, dolls and games, the NMP can fill an entire day! Lower-key but still exhilarating activities include a ride on the Strong Express train, the butterfly garden or the aquarium, while thrill-seekers will love the huge superhero statues: look for favorites like Superman, Batman, the Hulk and more! There is truly something for everyone … literary lovers, Sesame Street fans (see the Sesame Street stoop above?), junior history buffs, you name it!
USEFUL TIP: Get a feel for the lay of the land before you visit with the Google Maps street view virtual tour.
The Magic House
St. Louis, Mo.
CREDIT: The Magic House
Another St. Louis gem is the Magic House Children’s Museum, a must-see on any visit. Every exhibit offers a different experience designed to exercise the mind, body and creativity of every child. All ages can run free and touch it all! Climb through secret passages, get enclosed in a gigantic bubble, make a ruling in a mock courtroom … you name it, it’s there. Imaginations will run wild with every room in the Magic House.
USEFUL TIP: Parents, pace yourselves. Seriously! You will be ready to collapse by the time you’ve seen it all. Take quick breaks and keep your energy high with a healthy snack.
Port Discovery Children’s Museum
CREDIT: Port Discovery Children’s Museum
Children can get their synapses firing at the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore. From science and art to problem solving and engineering, there’s literally something for every kind of kid at this spectacular destination. There are plenty of permanent exhibits, but check the website for the always-rotating “visiting” exhibits. And before you leave, make sure you check out the “urban treehouse,” aka KidWorks: three floors of pure, unadulterated, exploratory fun!
USEFUL TIP: For a less-crowded weekend experience at Port Discovery, try visiting during the first hour it’s open or sometime after 2 p.m.
EdVenture Children’s Museum
CREDIT: EdVenture Children’s Museum
Kids of all ages—and sizes—will be dwarfed at the EdVenture Children’s Museum, home to EDDIE, the “World’s Largest Child.” EDDIE, measuring 40 feet tall in a seated position, is more than just a big kid sitting in the museum; he’s also a huge learning opportunity! Visitors can explore all 17.5 tons of EDDIE, including jumping in his stomach and sliding down his intestines! But there’s much more to EdVenture than EDDIE, like a host of other exhibits. World of Work challenges children with a real-world experience that begs the question, “What should I be when I grow up?” Imaginations run wild in Maker Works, where everything is supplied to put your creativity to the test. Or check out Body Detectives, Critter Gardens or the temporary exhibits that rotate periodically.
USEFUL TIP: On the second Tuesday of each month, admission is discounted to $1 per person.