The best children's museums in the country feature interactive exhibits where kids want to linger, playing is encouraged, and learning is a byproduct of the fun.
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Children's Museum Indianapolis
This massive facility measures 472,900 square-feet and sits on 29 acres, giving it bragging rights as the largest children's museum in the world. Exhibits are all about hands-on learning. For example, dinosaur lovers will go crazy for Dinosphere: Now You're in Their World®, where kids don't just look at real dinosaur skeletons; they dig for bones and get to touch a T-Rex bone. In fact, there are over 120,000 artifacts for families to check out at this museum, so make it an all-day event (or, if you live close by, spring for a membership and return again and again.)
Please Touch Museum
The name alone invites little kids to come and play. Each section of this two-story museum is designed to create learning opportunities that are completely fun. Kids explore a mini Philly-esque neighborhood, and exhibits on airplanes, automobiles, the river, and a historical train station. Older kids will love the Alice in Wonderland exhibit, and toddlers can safely play in the Fairytale Garden. Don't forget to take a few turns on the 1908 carousel before you call it a day.
Boston Children's Museum
This century-old Boston hotspot centers itself on "the power of play" and in giving kids experiences that will help them learn life skills. Easily accessible via public transportation, the museum in 2007 became the city's first "green" museum, because of its eco-friendly 23,000-square-foot addition and landscaped waterfront park. Whether your kids are into art, music, building, science, pretend play -- or all of the above -- there's plenty for them to do or see here. Have little kids? There's a special play-zone for kids age 3 and under and a Countdown to Kindergarten room, where preschoolers can get a feel for what the big-kid classroom will be like.
Children's Museum of Houston
Bring your kids to this elaborate children's museum, and you'll feel as if you're stepping into another world -- and onto their turf! Kidtropolis is a huge pretend city where kids run the show: It's complete with its own city hall, bank, news center, vet's office and more, and was designed to help kids understand occupations and economics. Among the other highlights: Budding inventors create their own gadgets and gizmos in the Invention Convention. The under-3 set can play in a padded area or roll around in a ball pit at Tot*Spot. Check the museum's calendar for upcoming celebrations and activities.
Minnesota Children's Museum
St. Paul, MN
Six million kids and their families have visited this big museum since it set up shop in its current downtown St. Paul location. It's all about immersive experiences, including local habitats, a pretend neighborhood, and art on the rooftop. For toddlers, there's aptly named Habitot®. The museum is in the process of a $28 million dollar expansion that will double its size and add more play spaces -- designed in part by "kid testers" and including a four-story climbing tower. In the meantime, attend some of the cool drop-in activities.
A place called the "national museum of play" has got to make the list! The 100,000 square foot museum has too many awesome exhibits to list here, but one of the most popular is the year-round indoor butterfly garden. Elmo and Big Bird enthusiasts will go nuts for the "Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?" exhibit. Reading Adventureland is also a hit for pretend play and to help foster a love of books. If you're a history buff, hit the National Toy Hall of Fame and explain to your kids what a Rubik's Cube is!
Kohl Children's Museum
The 17 exhibits at Kohl aren't just about play and learning; they're about empowerment and acceptance too. Kids play cooperatively, gain confidence, and discover things about themselves through "working" at the play café, making music, talking with other visitors on video phones, painting their faces with washable crayon, caring for "newborn baby" dolls, and much more. Come back for story time, fitness classes, and Science Fridays.
Port Discovery Children's Museum
Budding artist? Adventurer? Future entrepreneur? Soccer player? Sleuth? There's something for every kid at this variety-filled location. On Wonderful Wednesdays, kids under age 6 experience a morning packed full of age-appropriate activities that focus on music, literacy, and early learning. Bring your toddler to Mother Goose on the Loose story times at Tot Trails, and check out the latest special events to see what's new.
Liberty Science Center
Jersey City, NJ
Climb a rock wall, learn about sound waves, see live animals, watch an IMAX movie, and so much more at this New Jersey science center -- just a skip and a jump from New York City. There's a revolving door of cool traveling exhibits, so check out the website to see what's happening now. As for mainstays, there's always I Explore, which is made for 2- to 5-year-olds. You can also head to the top floor to check out fish and other underwater creatures indigenous to the Hudson River -- and step out on the balcony to enjoy a skyline view.
Children's Museum of Denver
Get creative at this cool museum where you and your child can build trucks and design helicopters, crawl through an anthill, explore a real fire truck, and pretend to be a vet or a chef. In late 2015, the museum's expansion will be complete and include the additions of a three-story climbing experience that goes way beyond just a wall, as well as an energy exhibit, an art studio, a huge outdoor area, and a teaching kitchen.
Madison Children's Museum
Just walking the sidewalk at this downtown Madison museum is full of surprises -- artwork pops up spontaneously through the windows for a one-of-a-kind experience every time. Inside, get transported to a 175-year-old log cabin, a city built just for kids, an urban garden and more. New programs and exhibits regularly pop up, so check out what's new on the website.
Pittsburgh Children's Museum
Probably the most famous and completely unique feature of this museum is that it charmingly pays tribute to Pittsburgh icon Mr. Rogers. Kids get to climb aboard the neighborhood trolley, play dress-up and put on a show with puppets in the Island of Make-Believe and learn to sew after seeing one of Mr. Rogers' actual sweaters. More to do includes water play, and a special infant and toddler room. Coming soon: An imaginative Eric Carle exhibit.
Museum of Science and Industry
Whether it's a coalmine, fairy castle, modern farm, or Main Street, this science center gives people of all ages a fascinating glimpse into it. For kids 10 and under, you'll definitely want to head to the Idea Factory, which caters just to them with interactive geometry and physics-focused activities. Also, be sure to climb aboard the U-505 submarine and see the baby chicks in the hatchery.
San Francisco, CA
The Exploratorium isn't a children's museum per say, but it is designed to be fun and full of learning experiences for all ages, and to expand on the science education kids get in school. Get creative by creating a marble maze and building a one-of-a-kind contraption with cardboard. Play outside and learn about weather and physics. Inside, explore your senses with gigantic mirrors and specialized lights. And yes, toddlers are welcome here -- they'll like the bubbles, light, and shadow exhibits.
Budding scientists will revel in this Charlotte science center. KidScience is a must-visit section made for kids ages 0 to 7 and their grown-ups to build with giant foam blocks and Duplos, create race tracks, play in a huge water table and -- if they're under 3 -- pretend-play in a sweet playhouse. Check out a short film in the 3D Theatre, and keep your eye on the calendar for a slew of events, such as music concerts and family science workshops.
Copyright © 2015 Meredith Corporation.
This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.