The 10 Best Children’s Museums
Nearly every city has a children’s museum. Here's a list of the top 10 in America.
By Lindsay MacNevin for MapQuest Travel
10. Please Touch Museum – Philadelphia, PA
With a name like “Please Touch”, it’s no wonder this is one of the best children’s museums in all of North America. This museum truly invites children to learn through playing and interacting with exhibits. Each section of this museum is designed to create learning opportunities that are completely fun and interactive. The six-themed exhibits include a mini Philly neighborhood, an Alice in Wonderland exhibit, a mock supermarket, construction zone and medical center. Kids love the halls of doors and mirrors, circular mazes and fairytale garden. Don’t forget about taking a ride on the 1908 carousel before you leave. With fair admission prices and enough fun to last all day, don’t miss out on this awesome museum.
9. Port Discovery – Baltimore, MD
This 80,000 square foot museum resides in a renovated fish market and is truly one of the anchors of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. It just so happens that the Walt Disney Company Imagineers designed many of the exhibits here, so you just know they have to be pretty amazing. Kids interested in farming will love the Down on the Farm exhibit where they can milk cows, plant seeds and brush the tail of a real horse. For the active explorer don’t miss the three-storey treehouse where they can crawl through tunnels, explore a whole room of balls and cross narrow rope bridges. The HiFlyer hot air balloon is one of the favorites as kids get to experience a 15-minute ride above the Inner Harbor. Travel back in time to Egypt in the 1920’s, read one of the 3,000 books or join in a sing-along at this incredible children’s museum.
8. COSI: Center of Science and Industry – Columbus, OH
This is one of the few children’s museums that actually keep adults just as entertained as their kids and is a welcome relief from the normal kid’s museums. COSI has established themselves as a leader in innovation and features a number of awesome exhibits, including a working television station. The daily live show is a hit among all visitors and features such acts as real rats playing basketball. The 10,000 square foot area for kids under first grade was designed by early education experts and is perfect for the little ones to crawl, play and learn. From exploring space and energy to learning how the mind works to playing with gadgets, this museum takes visitors on a journey through science and innovation. A bit more expensive than others on this list, it is well worth it to visit.
7. Minnesota Children’s Museum – St Paul, MN
Over six million parents and kids have visited this museum since it set up shop in downtown St. Paul and it remains one of the most loved children’s museums in all of North America. Here it is all about immersive experiences and encourages children to run and crawl through representations of Minnesota’s different natural habitats. This museum is actually promising to get even better with a $28 million renovation and expansion that is set to be complete in 2017. For now though it is pretty awesome and offers an array of experiences including a water-centric exhibit that allows kids to race boats down flowing streams and make their own recycled paper. A pretend neighborhood and art on the rooftop are hits among the kids. Watch for this museum to become even better in the next few years, but make sure to visit now to experience how awesome it already is.
6. Boston Children’s Museum – Boston, MA
This award-winning museum has been operating for over 100 years and offers plenty of fun for the whole family. This museum welcomes guests with its huge 40-foot high red-and-white milk bottle out front. It is one of the only museums to really focus on toddlers and preschoolers, with attractions such as the rock climbing wall that caters to kids aged three to five years old. A favorite permanent exhibit with kids is the Construction Zone, an exhibit allowing children to jackhammer, walk on high beam girders and ride in a real bobcat. Back in 2007 this museum became the city’s first “green” museum with its eco-friendly addition and landscaped waterfront park. The fully functional Japanese house, the three story climbing structure and the countdown to Kindergarten room are all huge hits among visitors. Families are welcome to bring in food into the lunch room or dine outside on the Milk Bottle Plaza, a great alternative for budget conscious families.
5. Children’s Museum of Denver – Denver, CO
It first opened in 1973 in a converted school bus but since has expanded into one of the best children’s museums in all of North America. Kids who love to build things will head right over to the assembly plant where they can use screwdrivers, saws and clamps to create their own one of a kind creation, which they can then take over to the art studio to paint. The fire station has to be a favorite as it features a real fire truck, 911 call centers, dispatch station and even a fire pole. The new outdoor adventure is a whopping 30,000 square feet of dynamic outdoor fun featuring ruins and forts, caves, hills, bridges and streams. A zip line, sand dunes, tunnels and waterfalls will keep kids running all day long. Stay tuned for new exhibits coming in late 2015, such as a teaching kitchen, three story climber, hands-in water lab and extreme energy station.
4. The Strong – Rochester, NY
It calls itself the national museum of play and this awesome 100,000 square foot museum certainly makes well on that promise. One of the most popular exhibits with both kids and adults alike is the year-round indoor butterfly garden that features lush tropical plants and over 1,000 free-flying tropical and native butterflies. Between the aquariums, the toys hall of fame and the reading adventureland, it can be hard to choose what to visit first. Wee ones will go nuts for the Sesame Street exhibit as well as the life-sized dollhouse. Comic book heroes, e-games, a rock wall and a theatre complete with a stage are just a few of the permanent exhibits that kids go wild for. There are also plenty of food choices in the spacious food court or a sit-down style restaurant in the atrium, making sure everyone’s needs are met.
3. Children’s Museum of Houston – Houston, TX
This elaborate children’s museum recently doubled its size to 90,000 square feet and features both inside and outside exhibits. Kidtropolis is a highlight for kids, a huge pretend city where kids run the show and features its own bank, news center, vets office and more. It was designed to help kids understand occupations and economics and go with the expectation that your kids will never want to leave. Several outdoor galleries include a weather station and watery flow station which is a hit on those hot and humid days. The invention convention encourages budding inventors to create their own gadgets while the TV studio lets kids see themselves on camera, read scripts from the anchor desk and work the control panel. The smaller kids under three won’t be left out as they have their own padded play area and awesome ball bit. A bargain at just $9 for adults and kids, this museum is definitely worth checking out.
2. Brooklyn Children’s Museum – Brooklyn, NY
This New York City landmark is the world’s first and oldest children’s museum and remains one of the best in North America. It features over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and costs only $9 to explore. The Neighborhood Nature exhibit is a hit among kids as they can explore the natural habitats that can be found throughout the nation, such as woodland fields and ocean tide pools. Youngsters will enjoy the 1,700 square foot totally Tots Area where they explore the sand spot, baby patch and peek-a-boutique. The museum features nearly 30,000 natural history specimens and cultural objects that will thrill both parents and kids. The coolest thing about this museum may just be the entrance, located underground in the side of a hill through an authentic 1905 New York City trolley kiosk.
1. Children’s Museum Indianapolis – Indianapolis, IN
It is hailed as being the best children’s museum in all of North America and the massive facility that measures over 472,000 square feet does not disappoint. It sits on 29 acres and is the largest children’s museum in the entire world. The Dinosphere exhibit is perhaps the favorite of all and features a working paleontology lab, hands-on simulated fossil digs, life-size simulated dinosaurs and one of the largest collections of real fossils and dinosaur art in the nation. Also this museum has a working 1927 carousel, the largest water clock in North America and a 130-seat planetarium. It is all about hands-on learning here and children are encouraged to touch, play and learn as they make their way through this huge museum. If you happen to be out of town visiting, make sure you spend at least an entire day here.