The best children’s museums pique curiosity, encourage imagination, help develop crucial skills, foster creativity and spark a life-long passion for our world. The goal is for kids to learn11.
and have fun doing it—so they may lead richer and fuller lives. These children’s museums achieve that goal and more.
1. KidZania – Frisco, TX
The first of its kind to open in the U.S. (with more to come), KidZania encourages kids to explore more than 100 occupations—from cop to chef—across 50 businesses in an 80,000-square-foot space in Frisco, Texas, (just outside of Dallas). Each experience ranges between 20 to 30 minutes, so go in with a short list of activities to explore! KidZania is designed for children ages 4 to 14.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Frisco
2. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN
The largest of its kind in the U.S., the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis features a 472,900-square-foot mammoth, and is known for its quality, variety and comprehensiveness. Besides, what child can resist the life-sized dinosaur replica climbing its exterior? Its National Geographic Treasures of the Earth exhibit examines three major archeology excavations—China’s Terra Cotta Warriors, an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb and pirate Captain Kidd’s shipwreck. Kids use interactive tools to decipher hieroglyphics, dig for clay fragments, assemble them into a warrior and trace the ill-fated ship’s Caribbean route.
Dinosphere features dinosaur fossils, like a teenage Tyrannosaurus Rex, a baby dinosaur curled in its nest and a rare dragon-like specimen. The exhibit also studies the links between dragon myths in many cultures and dinosaurs.
Recommended Hotel: Omni Severin Hotel
3. The Strong National Museum of Play – Rochester, NY
The nation’s second-biggest children’s museum, The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, has one of the world’s largest collections of dolls, toys and games. What kid can resist dressing up like Superman or Batman, or climbing up a building in the comic book superheroes exhibit?
Kids love romping in landscapes inspired by beloved books series such as Harry Potter and Grimm’s Fairytales; playing with 40-plus current or classic computer games and video games; and cavorting on TV with their favorite Sesame Street characters.
It’s easy to spend days in the 282,000-square-foot museum, whose playful architecture consists of caterpillar-shaped structures and colorful building blocks. Climb inside a giant kaleidoscope to create your own patterns, gape at your appearance in the Exaggerated Proportion Room and admire the 1918 carousel, live butterfly garden and aquarium, which resemble life from a century ago—imagine no e-mail or iPhones!
Parents appreciate thoughtful amenities like free diaper changes for kids with accidents, and relaxation stations for breastfeeding.
Recommended Hotel: Woodcliff Hotel & Spa
4. Please Touch Museum – Philadelphia, PA
The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia was the nation’s first museum designed for children under the age of 7. The Alice in Wonderland-themed area, filled with quirky characters and riddles—which you enter by descending the rabbit hole—is just one of eight themed interactive exhibits with play areas for both toddlers and their older siblings. There’s Rainforest Rhythm, where musical instruments and faux jungle animals abound, along with City Capers—a mini-Philly complete with hospital, supermarket, construction zone and neighborhoods. Children also love Flight Fantasy.
A 150-seat theater features music, folklore and movement programs four days a week. Storytelling from beloved children’s books often includes appearances of characters from the books. Special programs based on science, technology, math and a generous dollop of the arts abound at Please Touch. Pro tip: Visit on the first Wednesday of any month, when admission is just $2 after 4 p.m.
Recommended Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Philadelphia City Avenue
5. The DoSeum – San Antonio, TX
We don’t know who will have more fun at The DoSeum in San Antonio—your toddlers or you! This three-story museum features hands-on fun in six different sections. Spy Academy is one of our favorites, providing kids with everything they need to crack codes—mustache and all. Little Town, with police cars, a veterinary office and grocery store, will teach kids what it’s like to be a grown-up. And Innovation Station is seriously cool, with various activities tailored to different age groups. Toddlers can build and connect bridges, while big kids (age 8 to 11) can program robots!
Recommended Hotel: The Westin RiverWalk, San Antonio
6. Edventure – Columbia, SC
Ranking as the largest children’s museum in the south, EdVenture features nine exhibit galleries with over 350 hands-on activities. The main focal point is Eddie, the world’s largest child. You can climb inside this exhibit to see organs and his skeletal systam. Future doctors and nurses will enjoy the educational play experience of scaling his vertebrae and investigating his brain, then descending down his intestines on a slide. (Grown-ups are welcome to join them!)
Your littlest ones will love spending some time in My Backyard, an enclosed space designed for toddlers. Downstairs, in the World of Work, they can shop in a pint-sized supermarket. Mission Imagination is fun for younger and older kids, particularly the Sounds Good Music Studio, where they can hop out melodies via the sound trigger pads on the floor.
Recommended Hotel: Homewood Suites by Hilton Columbia
7. Boston Children’s Museum – Boston, MA
The second-oldest children’s museum in the U.S., the Boston Children’s Museum features KidStage, where kids can watch and/or participate in a show; Arthur and Friends, where they’re fully immersed in a life-like recreation of Marc Brown’s popular book (and TV) series; Construction Zone, where kids can ride a real Bobcat and deploy a team of trucks; and the Steam Lab, where curious children can experiment with science, technology, engineering, art and more.
Another favorite is PlaySpace, designed for children ages 0 to 3. Here, they can catch a train, dance to music, fill up the gas tank in a car, and participate in other stimulating activities.
Recommended Hotel: YOTEL Boston
8. Brooklyn Children’s Museum – Brooklyn, NY
Opened in 1899, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum became the world’s first museum just for children. It now boasts an amazing collection of 30,000 objects from all over the world, including Carnival masks and Indonesian shadow puppets, nature specimens from a shark’s jawbone, minerals, and an elephant skeleton. A rarity for a children’s museum, this vast collection is on rotating display, and also searchable online by object type, country and continent.
Taking full advantage of New York City‘s multiculturalism, this museum lets kids try on lion costumes to celebrate Chinese New Year, decorate their own Caribbean Carnival costumes, observe Mexican Day of the Dead altars, make pizza, and dance to videos of Arab and Bangladeshi folk dance and Russia ballet. A nature exhibit explores the city’s surprisingly varied habitats, from woodlands to saltwater beach, and the animals who call them home. New York’s first “green” museum, heated by solar panels, also has a padded play area for babies and toddlers, and a room for children on the autism spectrum to explore their senses.
Recommended Hotel: New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge
9. Kohl Children’s Museum – Glenview, IL
Kids examine sick and hurt stuffed animals—usually dogs, but also cats, guinea pigs and snakes—by stethoscope, microscope and X-ray. Pet Vet is definitely one of the most popular of the 16 permanent exhibits at this museum in Glenview, Illinois, a Chicago suburb.
As budding home improvement contractors, kids add wood, stucco or brick to house facades and tile floors at Hands On House. At Baby Nursery, they change, dress, feed and play with baby dolls, as well as staff a supermarket as bakers, cashiers and stock staff at another exhibit. Melody, rhythm, tempo and various musical instruments are the theme of Music Makers, while the value of teamwork is the focus at Cooperation Station, where kids use simple machines to reach their goals. Kids learn about the qualities that make them unique; they listen to recordings of their voices in eight languages and explore themselves on camera at All About Me.
The Kohl Children’s Museum also offers a fun turtle display that’s open year-round. Here, kids can see four Southern Painted turtles, native to Illinois, in a large aquarium that’s just their height.
Recommended Hotel: Staybridge Suites Glenview
10. Audobon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium – New Orleans, LA
At the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans exhibits and factoids about the most populous species on earth (insects comprise about 80 percent of all living things) provide the “yuck factor” kids find irresistible. An amusing animated film about Academy Awards for insects explains their unusual attributes. The “Best Special Effects” winner is the bombardier beetle, who deters predators by emitting a stinky chemical (whose smell fills the theater), while the honeybee is “Best Bug in a Supporting Role” for tireless efforts in pollination services to help food crops grow.
Kids in various stages of horrified delight snack on spicy roasted crickets, mango worm chutney and chocolate chirp cookies—made with crickets—at Bug Appetit, an exhibit that explains how many cultures, from Asia to Latin America, regard insects as food. A cooking show, held three times daily, offers free samples. Kids also meet an entomologist and live insects in a recreation of a tropical jungle at Field Camp, play interactive games to identify and classify insects and learn about the destruction potential—but admirable resilience—of cockroaches and termites.
Mounted butterflies are arranged by color, size and continent, and there’s a serene, Asian-style garden with koi pond and birds, where butterflies alight on your shoulder.
Recommended Hotel: Sheraton New Orleans Hotel
11. Discovery Center – Rockford, IL
Not only does this Rockford, Illinois, children’s museum offer over 250 hands-on, science-based exhibits, but its Rock River Discovery Park is also the nation’s first community-built science park. Kids learn the geometry and physics behind sports from baseball to tennis; fly an airplane in a cockpit simulator; explore the wonders of electricity, color, weather, the human body and the planetary system; learn how farming impacts our daily lives by doing things like studying a beehive and milking cows; and participate in live news broadcasts. Outdoors, they dig for dinosaur bones, send whispered messages by satellite dish and operate a water wheel.
During frequent themed family fun days, you can watch a volcanic eruption and eat at a luau during the Hawaii day, or explore bubbles, healthy eating and astronomy on other days.
Recommended Hotel: Extended Stay America – Rockford – I-90
12. Minnesota Children’s Museum – St. Paul, MN
Located in St. Paul, the Minnesota Children’s Museum invites kids to crawl through Minnesota’s four distinctive environments of prairies, forests, ponds and caves in Habitot, a padded play area. In Earth World, they can search for the queen ant in a giant anthill and play with turtles and snakes, while in World Works, they can make objects from recycled paper and race boats down chutes.
On the third Sunday of each month, admission is free. The museum has a fascinating collection of articles and books on the importance of imagination and creativity, including Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech. She said: “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the foundation of all invention and innovation.”
Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn St. Paul Downtown
13. Glazer Children’s Museum – Tampa, FL
Though not as large as some others on the list, Glazer Children’s Museum features scores of interactive exhibits on two floors. You’ll likely spend most of your time on the first floor, playing in KidsPort. Think about a water play table, multiplied by 100. Kids work in water at a waist-high table, manipulating shipping channels and tides to move boats, among other fun activities. Other exhibits recreate a vet clinic, hospital, firehouse, supermarket, bank, cruise ship, and more.
Recommended Hotel: Hilton Tampa Downtown
14. Center of Puppetry Arts – Atlanta, GA
See some of the most famous puppet collections at this one-of-a-kind museum in Atlanta—including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and Jim Henson’s other beloved favorites. The Center for Puppetry Arts also features puppets from around the world, each with a different appearance from the next; it’s fun to see how they vary from country to country. Your kids will truly be in awe. After you tour the museum, catch a puppet show!
Recommended Hotel: HYATT house Atlanta/Downtown