10 Must-Visit Museums for Kids in the United States

by ParentCo. May 11, 2016

Growing up, one of my favorite family outings was a weekend trip into Washington, D.C. to visit the museums of the Smithsonian Institution.

Whether I was checking out gemstones at the National Museum of Natural History, admiring Japanese paintings at the Sackler, or learning about space travel at the National Air and Space Museum, I always had a good time — and learned something, too. The best part about museums — especially museums that aren’t explicitly kid-related — is that they can be fun for the whole family. Here’s a list of ten all around the United States that everyone can enjoy.

1 | Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (Washington, DC)

  The Air and Space Museum boasts the distinction of being the Smithsonian Institution’s most visited museum. After all, what could be more fun than a museum devoted to airplanes, spaceships and helicopters? Get up close and personal with Charles Lindberg’s The Spirit of St. Louis, WWII fighter jets, the Mars Pathfinder and more. Check out what the astronauts of Apollo 11 brought with them to the moon. Take a day trip to the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, which opened in 2003, and features two hangars full of planes, and the Space Shuttle Discovery. Like all Smithsonian museums, entrance to the National Air and Space Museum and the Udvar-Hazy Center is free. Museum Website

2 | New York Transit Museum (Brooklyn, NY)

  The fun at the MTA’s New York Transit Museum starts at the entrance. It’s housed underground in an old Brooklyn Heights subway station! Once you descend, it’s all subways (and busses, and trolleys) all the time. Try your hand at (pretend) driving a New York City bus! Learn about how New York’s first subways were constructed. Step into history by stepping on subway trains and trolleys from the MTA’s century-plus history. The Transit Museum is perfect for train aficionados old and young, and the museum keeps a schedule on its website of programs just for children and families. Museum Website

3 | The Strong National Museum of Play (Rochester, NY)

Nothing could be more fun than a museum devoted to — you guessed it! — play.

The 150,000 square foot Strong museum has an incredibly varied selection of interactive exhibits, from a giant kaleidoscope in the “Field of Play” to the World Video Game Hall of Fame (featuring Zelda and World of Warcraft), the National Toy Hall of Fame (featuring Twister, the Nerf Super Soakers and baby dolls), to an interactive pinball exhibit, a fake Wegman’s grocery store and an indoor butterfly garden. You could easily spend a day there getting lost in play. Museum Website

4 | The Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA)

  Some science museums just tell you about science. At the Exploratorium (recently relocated from the Palace of Fine Arts to Pier 15), you can get your hands dirty. Play with robots, step inside the tactile dome, and — if you’re feeling up to it — learn how to dissect a cow’s eye. There’s a reason The New York Times once called the Exploratorium "the most important science museum to have opened since the mid-20th century." Museum Website

5 | Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC)

  A museum of modern and contemporary art may not seem like a place the whole family can agree on, but The Hirshhorn isn’t just any museum. The art is fun, creative, and accessible to even children. The museum’s donut-shaped concrete structure sticks out on the National Mall. Inside, the lowest floor features contemporary art. The upper floors feature art from the late 19th century through the 20th century. Particularly of note is the museum’s colorful collection of Alexander Calder mobiles and sculptures. Afterwards, take a stroll in the sculpture garden adjacent to the Mall, which features sculptures by Jeff Koons, Rodin, Calder and more. Like the Air and Space Museum, it’s part of the Smithsonian, so entrance is free. Museum Website

6 | Center for Puppetry Arts (Atlanta, GA)

  Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts is both a museum and a performing arts space. The museum features puppets from around the world, including Japanese bunraku puppets, old American marionettes, Indonesian shadow puppets and Jim Henson’s famous Muppets. Every Thursday, the museum offers a puppet storytime. Check out a performance at the world class puppet theater, but call ahead for tickets. Museum Website

7 | Brooklyn Children’s Museum (Brooklyn, NY)

  The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is the first children’s museum in the United States. One standout among the museum’s unique, interactive exhibits is World Brooklyn, a recreation of a multicultural Brooklyn street with shops that are based on real-life Brooklyn stores, including a Chinese stationery store (based on a real store in Sunset Park), a Caribbean travel agency (based on agencies in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights) and a Mexican bakery based on a real Sunset Park panaderia. A new exhibit, Our City, is focused on introducing kids to urban planning. When you’re finished, grab a grilled cheese at Morris Sandwich Shop, the museum’s in-house cafe. Museum Website

8 | The Trash Museum (Hartford, CT)

  As bizarre as it may sound, Hartford’s Trash Museum is a great place for kids. Learn about the history of waste management, from early civilization through the present day. Do a scavenger hunt in the Temple of Trash, a recreation of an old-fashioned, pre-recycling dump (don’t worry, it doesn’t smell). The highlight of the museum is a mezzanine overlooking a real live single-stream recycling center, where kids and parents can watch old bottles, cans and newspapers get a new lease on life. Museum Website

9 | Boston Children’s Museum (Boston, MA)

  The Boston Children’s Museum offers a wide variety of hands-on experiences, including an exhibit on bubbles, an exhibit on Native communities in New England, an exhibit on Japan and an exhibit on Marc Brown’s beloved Arthur, which was adapted for television by WGBH, the local PBS station. Kids who want to move their bodies can hop on the museum’s unique three-story climbing sculpture. Museum Website

10 | American Museum of Natural History (New York, NY)

  The American Museum of Natural History is a classic, and a must-see for New Yorkers and visitors alike. Highlights include the famous sperm whale and giant squid installation (part of the MIlstein Hall of Ocean Life), the exhibit Dinosaurs Among Us, and the Hayden Planetarium, which is run by none other than Neil Degrasse Tyson. Museum Website



Also in Conversations

How to Know if Your Child is Ready for Potty Training
How to Know if Your Child is Ready for Potty Training

by Allison Jandu

What many may not realize is that readiness for potty training isn't just about age—it's more about your child's individual development. Here's how to know.

Continue Reading

girl holding her hands together who is expressing love
5 Tips to Teach Kids the Subtle Art of Graciousness

by ParentCo.

In an effort to improve both manners and self-esteem, here are five easy tips to practice when accepting a compliment. You'll help raise a gracious kid.

Continue Reading