8. Minnesota Children's Museum, St. Paul
- Operates Habitot, a large area where curious visitors 6 months to 4 years old can safely creep, cruise, and crawl through four kid-friendly Minnesota habitats -- the prairie, the pond, the forest, and the bluff caves.
- Schedules special environmental programs that include live animals, crafts, singing, and storytelling.
- Houses a Korean restaurant where kids can pretend they're the owner, chef, server, or patron.
- Holds an Inventor's Workshop on weekends; recent themes include "sticky stuff" and "soft and fuzzy materials".
- Features "World Works," an exhibit where kids can make giant waves at a wild water table, use a crane to construct a building, and turn a gooey mess into paper art.
- Best for ages: 6 months to 10 years
With lollipop-shaped lights and huge artistic fish suspended from the ceiling, the Minnesota Children's Museum takes kid-friendliness to a new level. "All day long, we hear little voices exclaiming, 'Wow,'" says Carleen Rhodes, president. "They think they're just here to play. We know they'll be learning a lot too."
Many of the exhibits, says Rhodes, are designed to inspire learning through role-play. In "Earth World Gallery," kids can don ant suits and crawl through the mazelike tunnels and chambers of a giant anthill, meet live turtles, play in a stream, and create a thunderstorm with movable clouds. Upstairs at "The Amazing Castle," children can pretend to be Lords and Ladies, hone their carpentry skills in Royal Workshops, and wake up Herald, the sleeping dragon. And coming in August: Kids can try their hands at puppeteering Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, and the rest of the Muppets live on-screen at the "Vision of Jim Henson" exhibit.
- Contact: 651-225-6001; www.mcm.org. Entrance fee: $6.95 per person.