Exploratorium at Pier 15; Courtesy of Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu
All Ages

9 U.S. Museums Every Kid Should Visit Before They Grow Up

See recent posts by Karon Warren

Museums provide endless opportunities for learning and entertainment. But when it comes to inspiring creativity in kids, some museums are simply better than others. Take your kids to these U.S. museums before they grow up.

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN ; Courtesy of Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

1. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN 

Don’t let the name fool you: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis offers more than enough to interest kids of any age—including kids at heart. But how could it not? It’s the world’s largest children’s museum! In addition to thought-provoking exhibits such as the “Power of Children” and “Stories from Our Community,” the museum unveiled a new outdoor adventure in 2018: Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience. In addition to indoor exhibits such as the National Art Museum of Sport and the Church Brothers Collision Repair Motorsports Garage, the outdoor exhibit puts you right into the action. Auto racing, soccer, tennis, baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey—they’re all here and ready for you to show off your athletic abilities.

Recommended Hotel: Hilton Indianapolis 

Spy Museum – Washington, D.C.; Courtesy of The International Spy Museum

2. Spy Museum – Washington, D.C.

Who hasn’t dreamed of being a spy, searching out secrets as we take down the bad guys? At the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., not only can you hear the stories of real spies, but you can also learn how to use the tools of the trade and test your own spy skills. The museum offers two additional-fee experiences where you actually can be the spy. The first, Operation Spy, is a one-hour experience putting you in the center of the action as a U.S. intelligence officer searching for a nuclear device. In Spy in the City, you attempt to stop a cyber attack on Washington, D.C., through a GPS-based outdoor walking mission.

Recommended Hotel: Embassy Suites Washington, D.C. Georgetown

Greensboro Science Center – Greensboro, NC; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/Joy S

3. Greensboro Science Center – Greensboro, NC

Located in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Greensboro Science Center is much more than just a science museum. Sure, there are a variety of interactive science exhibits that examine how our bodies work or the intricacies of extreme weather. But you’ll also find an aquarium filled with stingrays, otters, sharks and more. Outside, you can wander the zoo, where you’ll see crocodiles, meerkats, red pandas and other animals. The primary attraction for tweens and teens will be the Skywild Ropes Course. This multi-level outdoor adventure features a number of challenging obstacles mixed in with a few ziplines that provide hours of entertainment.

Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Greensboro/Coliseum Area

Meow Wolf – Santa Fe, NM; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/Scott Traveler

4. Meow Wolf – Santa Fe, NM

If the name didn’t capture your attention, the actual exhibits in this Sante Fe, New Mexico, attraction will. Using all forms of art—architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, virtual reality, music and more—Meow Wolf creates experiences to challenge the senses. These experiences combine together to tell stories unlike anything you’ve heard before. Self-described as a combination of children’s museum, art gallery, jungle gym and fantasy novel, you can bet you and your kids have never experienced art quite like this. The premise revolves around a Victorian home, and the interesting things and people that occupy it. Investigate for yourself, and see if you can discover all its secrets.

Recommended Hotel: BEST WESTERN PLUS Inn of Santa Fe

A Deinonychus on the Oaklawn Foundation DinoTrek at Mid-America Science Museum. Girls in the background from Girls in STEM workshop are on their way to plant a Gingko tree near the Brachiosaurus on the end of the DinoTrek.; Courtesy of Mid America Science Museum

5. Mid America Science Museum – Hot Springs, AR

Located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Mid America Science Museum features many of the exhibits you come to expect at a science museum: dinosaurs, the principles of motion, the wonders of light, and so much more. But kids will love playing in the rope bowl suspended at the end of the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, where they also can create their own songs on a music bench or walk through a fog bridge. In the Keva Planks, challenge your kids to see who can build the most unique architecture, or head to The Workshops Gallery to try your hand at animation.

Recommended Hotel: Comfort Suites Hot Springs

The Strong – Rochester, NY; Courtesy of The Strong, Rochester, New York.

6. The Strong – Rochester, NY 

The Strong in Rochester, New York, brings a, yes, strong game to highly interactive museums your kids will love. In addition to a wealth of exhibits all focused on the art of play, The Strong is also home to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the National Toy Hall of Fame and the World Video Game Hall of Fame. Show your kids the games and toys you grew up with, and then challenge them to see who can win at the arcade games you played at their age. At the DanceLab, don’t be afraid to embarrass your kids by grooving to the music!

Recommended Hotel: Woodcliff Hotel & Spa

Exploratorium at Pier 15; Courtesy of Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu

7. Exploratorium at Pier 15 – San Francisco, CA

With more than 650 interactive exhibits, the Exploratorium at Pier 15 in San Francsico welcomes you to step inside a tornado, drink from a water fountain made from a (unused) toilet, and look at yourself in an entirely new way with dozens of your own eyes looking back at you. Illusions, mood lighting and reaction times are just a sample of the many other exhibits that will engage your kids as they learn.

Recommended Hotel: Loews Regency San Francisco

Mosaic tile map of the Greater Yellowstone region at the base of the rotunda, Draper Natural History Museum, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming, USA.; Courtesy of Buffalo Bill Center of the West

8. Buffalo Bill Museum of the West – Cody, WY

The entire family will enjoy diving into Western history at this Smithsonian-affiliate museum—which is actually five museums—in Cody, Wyoming. The Buffalo Bill Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Plains Indian Museum and the new Cody Firearms Museum offer so much to explore that tickets actually include two days’ admission! Dig into the fascinating history of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (who had connections to another famous character: Annie Oakley); learn about the Plains Indians who have called this area home for centuries; and see the history and changing landscape of the American West through paintings, sculptures, prints and more. The Draper Natural History Museum is especially fun for kids, with interactive exhibits that explain the ecology and natural history of nearby Yellowstone National Park

Recommended Hotel: Holiday Inn Cody at Buffalo Bill Village

California Science Center; Courtesy of TripAdvisor Traveler/Raul S

9. California Science Center – Los Angeles 

The California Science Center in Los Angeles welcomes kids to immerse themselves in all things science through a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits. For instance, in “Endeavour Together: Parts & People,” you not only can learn more about the Space Shuttle Endeavor, you can also see the actual orbiter. In “Creative World,” see if you can build a structure that will withstand an earthquake, or win a race by fueling your car up with solar power. Or in “Ecosystems,” you can train on a remotely operated vehicle to see if you would be able to navigate one of these vehicles on the ocean floor.

Recommended Hotel: BLVD Hotel & Spa

For nearly 20 years, Karon Warren has traveled the globe, searching for adventure, unique personalities, and a new perspective on the world around us. When she has the opportunity, Karon brings her family—husband William and children Elizabeth and David—along for the experience. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and at her blog, This Girl Travels

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