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10 Kid-Friendly Museums Parents Like Too

My ideal kid-friendly museums provide an amazing learning experience for both my kids and me. Whether we are taking in a gigantic model of a blue whale at New York’s Museum of Natural History or a supersonic jet at the Smithsonian, I love a museum’s ability to capture my kids’ imaginations.  And compared with theme parks or amusement parks, museums tend to be a good bargain, something I doubly appreciate as a parent of twins.

Here we offer up a top-ten list of family-friendly museums around the country, with stimulating exhibits to satisfy all members of your tribe.

The Sculpture garden is one of the smithsonian's many kid-friendly museums1. Smithsonian Museums, Washington, D.C.

Comprised of 19 museums and one zoo, the institute’s provides the opportunity to see a 3.5 billion-year-old fossil, Jud Garland’s ruby slippers and a giant mobile made from coat hangers all in one day. Your biggest problem will be figuring out where you want to go. But admission is free, so museum-hopping is easy and a great way to experiment. Maybe your kids will surprise you with their taste for modern art. The institute has excellent resources to help you plan your Washington, DC visit.

The getty museum is one of many unlikely kid-friendly museums2. The Getty Center, Los Angeles

It can truly be said that half the fun is getting here.  Ascend to the top of a mountain via an electric tram and you are immediately rewarded with amazing panoramic views and 5,000 acres of tropical forests and gardens. Families can explore the grounds and check out paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, and videos dotted across 21 stunning pavilions. Admission is free! And don’t forget to check out the many family programs before you visit LA.

Mystic Seaport is a kid-friendly museum parents can enjoy, too 3. The Museum of America and the Sea, Mystic, CT

Mystic Seaport, the largest maritime museum in the world, is an awesome place to immerse your family in New England’s maritime and shipbuilding history. Climb aboard historic tall ships and stroll through a 19th-century village with more than 60 restored buildings. Costumed interpreters help kids make candles the old-fashioned way, play 19th century games and learn how sailors did laundry. Visit nearby Mystick Village and the wonderful Mystic Aquarium to turn a day trip into a weekend.

This history museum is one of several kid-friendly museums in Canada4. Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau, Quebec 

Located across the river from downtown Ottawa, this is the most visited museum in Canada. With roots stretching back to 1856, it’s also one of the oldest. Artifacts and life-sized exhibits help kids discover 20,000 years of Canadian human history. It’s also home to a children’s museum and IMAX theater, which makes it an ideal destination for families with kids of different ages.

boston children's museum is kid-friendly but parents appreciate it too.5. Boston Children’s Museum, MA

Located in Boston’s emerging Seaport District, this century-old museum has more than enough to fill a rainy day. In the Construction Zone, inspired by Boston’s infamous Big Dig, kids can jackhammer, walk on “high beam” girders, and even sit in a real Bobcat. There’s also a life-size 100-year old Japanese house from Kyoto and a Global Gallery, which hosts outstanding exhibits from other museums around the world. One of the more unique programs is Morningstar Access, which allows children with special needs to visit the Museum at special times without large crowds.

kid-friendly museums often have dinosaurs, like the AMNH6. American Museum of Natural History, New York City 

With its enormous galleries of dinosaurs, aquatic life and fossils, this is one of New York’s most appealing museums for children. The renovated dinosaur floor is its crowning glory, showcasing more than 600 fossils including a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.  Don’t miss the enormous model of a blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Free tours are offered daily. The new Discovery Room offers families a behind-the-scenes look at the Museum and its exhibits.

The queens museum is one of several quirky kid-friendly museums in NYC7.  Queens Museum, New York City

The newly reopened Museum is one of the City’s hidden gems. Come for the treasure trove of artifacts relating to the 1964 World’s Fair, stay for the Tiffany lamps and modern art exhibits. Don’t miss the Panorama of the City of New York, which provides a Gulliver’s-eye view of a complete, Lilliputian Big Apple. The museum is located next to the iconic Unisphere, a perfect spot for kids to run around while you relax on a patch of grass. The Queens Zoo, Hall of Science, and thoroughly neat Playground for All Children are a short stroll away.

8. Exploratorium, San Francisco

This museum looks at science and math through lenses of art, design, music, food and more in an immersive, interactive way. Check out geometry playground, listen to a harp played by the wind or head to the tinkerers’ gallery to play with marbles and explore how clocks work. For a taste of what’s in store, explore the museum’s rich web resources and apps.

kid-friendly museums will have one exhibit for kids and something for adults too. 9. Museums of Civilization, Quebec City

Trace Quebec’s history via an exhibit that includes everything from First Tribe and colonial artifacts to hockey memorabilia. Temporary exhibits range from Japanese samurai costumes to Canadian animation. After the educational stuff, head downstairs for Once Upon a time, which lets kids (and parents) dress up as princesses, wizards, wolves and more before romping around a well-designed fairy tale play area.

AVAM is one of several kid-friendly art museums where families are welcome

10. American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore

If ever an art museum were designed for kids, this is it, from its dazzling glass-covered exterior to the kinetic machines in the annex to the flatulence post in the basement (go on, press the button). The main exhibit changes annually. Past themes included Smiles and Story Telling. Human, Soul and Machine stays until August 31.

A good museum can be a real lifesaver on a rainy or cold vacation day. Or it can be the cornerstone of a weekend getaway. What are your favorite family museums? Share your top picks below:

Monika Bialokur lives NYC and loves spontaneous trips with her 7-year-old twins. She’s the Director of Digital Marketing at Lyons Bank and, a newly launched communication tool. She specializes in Digital Media Strategy for brands and organizations.  Follow her @MarketingMonika @CoolMomBUZZ

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