Our family loves visiting museums around the world, and we have covered everything from discovery museums to music hall of fames to science centers. We know we can’t cover every museum, so we enlisted the help of fellow travel writers to share the best family museums in the United States (look for best museums around the world next week). We love the diversity of their choices and hope you will find some new favorites in this list of the best museums for kids.
Best Museums for Kids in the United States
*Note: The bold, colored name of the museum has a link to an article with more information about visiting. Hopefully, this will help you plan your museum visit.
Best Museums in New York for Families
Museum of Play at the Strong – Rochester, New York
Families living in the Northeast or visiting the Upstate/Western New York area should absolutely add the National Museum of Play at the Strong to their family vacation list. This museum is part of the Strong educational intuition and is one of the largest children’s museums in the United States.
Within the museum, you’ll find interactive children’s exhibits and so much more. The National Museum of Play also includes the World Video Game Hall of Fame, the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the Dancing Wings butterfly garden, the National Toy Hall of Fame, the Woodbury School, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, and the American Journal of Play. Jodi of Family Travel Magazine
American Museum of Natural History – New York, New York
The amazing thing about visiting the American Museum of Natural History with kids is the crazy sense of deja vu you get while wandering through the (literally!) miles of exhibitions and dioramas. And it’s that sense of familiarity that makes exploring all of these hallowed halls less daunting. Thanks to the Night at the Museum movies, we’re already familiar with many of the exhibits from the Mammal Hall, but don’t miss the Fossil Hall dinosaur exhibit beyond the T Rex and do pause to linger (and marvel) at the Blue Whale Model.
Younger kids will really enjoy the Discovery Room, where every field of the Museum’s science and research is represented with age-appropriate interactive displays and craft projects.
While in New York City, plan to spend most of the day at the American Museum of Natural History. And, if the weather’s nice, you can break for lunch across the street in Central Park. There’s usually a good selection of food trucks to choose from that are parked just outside. Corinne from Have Baby Will Travel
New York Hall of Science – Queens, New York
The New York Hall of Science is a fabulous museum for families to enjoy together. It is located in Queens, NY and has plenty of exhibits to keep the kids entertained. The Hall of Science has many interactive and educational exhibits, areas to build and create, a 3-D movie theater, and the best part – a huge science playground! Kids can pull levers to balance their weight on logs and test out how much force it takes to push objects. There are also spider-like structures to climb, slides and sound testers.
Another fun area for kids to enjoy is the sports challenge area. Here they are able to rock climb, test their pitching speed and ride a surf simulator. Another family favorite was the animation exhibit. Families can create a stop-motion storyboard, trace Looney Tunes characters and learn about the animation process. Besides those exhibits, there were displays on finding life outside of Earth, the applications of math, motion and gravity, how light affects the brain, and the evolution of health. There are also offer free and paid workshops and play areas to build with various materials and a small group makers space. I cannot say enough positive things about the New York Hall of Science. It has definitely been one of the best children’s science museums to visit for our family. Margie of DQ Family Travel
Best Museums in Pennsylvania for Kids
Franklin Institute – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
One of my family’s absolute favorite cities to visit is Philadelphia, PA and each time we travel there we make sure to spend an afternoon at the Franklin Institute, one of our favorite Philadelphia museums. The Institute offers a wide variety of exhibits and experiences and, no matter how often we stop in, there’s always something new and interesting to see. (we’re super excited to see the Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibit opening this April through September of 2019 and can’t wait to try out the new Escape Rooms there.). The educational exhibits are interactive and engaging and I love that my children are having fun while learning. We never miss the IMAX theater showings, the Live Science shows, the “Giant Heart”, and we always make it up to the Observatory to take in the beautiful views of the City. From tots to teens there is something for everyone to enjoy there. Susan of She’s On The Go
Carnegie Science Center – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
My kids’ favorite museum in the world is the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.Lucky for them, we are able to visit several times each year and receive free admission through as ASTC travel passport program members. The real draw is Highmark SportsWorks®, which houses 30 interactive sports exhibits demonstrating how physics, anatomy, biology and chemistry control sports performance.This is always our first stop.The center also features the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibit and the Miniature Railroad & Village, which includes detailed miniatures of Pittsburgh area buildings, including Fallingwater.
While many of the exhibits cater to the 6+ crowd, the Little Learner Clubhouse and the Skytykes Ropes Course are designed for younger visitors.Carnegie Science Center is certain to be a favorite for kids of all ages. Catherine of We Go With Kids
Best Museums in DC for Kids
National Building Museum – Washington, DC
The National Building Museum is one of the paid children’s museums in Washington DC, but definitely worth the price, especially in the summer months. This is when the museum brings in special exhibits that show off some of the best installation artists in the country. Snarkitecture is a favorite, featuring The Beach and Funhouse in recent years. Kids and adults loved jumping into giant ball pits, playing with a huge marble maze and bouncing around a pillow patio in these traveling exhibitions. Permanent exhibits are worth it year round too. Play Work Build and Building Zone were specifically designed for kids 10 and under. Each teaches about the importance of construction and working together, so watch out parents. You may be here for a while. Keryn of Walking on Travels
National Air and Space Museum – Washington, DC
I was really looking forward to visiting Washington DC and in particular the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museums located in the National Mall right next to the Capitol Building.The museum is a centre for research into the history and science of aviation and spaceflight, the museum is open daily and has free admission. It was reported to be the 3rd most visited museum in the world, clocking up 7.5 million visitors in 2016.
The museum houses many aircraft and space items most of which are hanging from the ceiling of the building. There is even a moon rock you are able to touch, guaranteed to impress every space enthusiast. Within the 21 galleries, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of aviation and space-related artifacts including an IMAX Theater, a public observatory and a planetarium. Definitely worth a visit if you are in Washington DC. Sally of Our 3 Kids V The World
National Museum of Natural History – Washington, DC
Washington D.C. is full of museums but our favorite is the National Museum of National History. This Smithsonian museum houses the largest natural history collection in the world and entry is free! Inside you can find everything from animal specimens, dinosaur skeletons, precious gems, the Hope Diamond, mummies, a living insect zoo, and an excellent playroom.
The highlight for us is the insect zoo. There are live insects to watch and even hold if you dare! If you’re lucky, you might also catch a live tarantula feeding. Adjacent to the insect zoo is a live butterfly habitat (must purchase a separate ticket). Our kids love walking through to get an up-close look at the butterflies. Insider’s tip: the butterfly exhibit is free on Tuesdays, get there early to claim your free, timed ticket. Lindsey of Abroad Wife
Best Museum in Nashville for Families
Country Music Hall of Fame – Nashville, Tennessee
One of the most surprising museums we’ve visited, was the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. I was not expecting it to be a family friendly museum, but my kids loved it, even without knowing many country artists. It’s a very hands on museum, where kids can create their own music, design their own stage costumes, and even have a recording session. There are thousands of artifacts detailing the history of country music from Elvis Presley’s luxury gold Cadillac to one of Blake Shelton’s guitars. Every weekend, there are a variety of hands-on programs when guests can learn country dancing, guitar basics, and more, as well as live performances. Kirsten of Kids Are A Trip
Best Art Museum in Florida with Kids
The Dali Museum – St. Petersburg, Florida
The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida is one of our favorite kid-friendly museums in the world! The building itself combines Dali’s rational with fantastical perspective with a combination of concrete, plants, water features and a giant glass “bubble” that lets in tons of natural light. Dali’s art is surreal, whimsical and almost childish which is perfect for exploring with kids. There is a permanent collection of Dali art and a temporary exhibit that changes regularly. This St. Petersburg museum offers free docent tours and also a free audio tour scavenger hunt for kids complete with prizes for completing. There are a few interactive spaces like a giant magnetic poetry wall, a wonderful cafe for lunch or snacks and an extensive gift shop. There are also children’s activities on specific days.
The outdoor garden overlooking a marina is amazing for kids to run around and explore the labyrinth made of hedges, the Dail Wishing Tree (where museum tickets can be recycled), Dali-esque benches to sit and relax, and a Dali mustache photo op. Sarah of The Wandering Rumpus
Best Museum in New Orleans for Families
National World War II Museum – New Orleans, Louisiana
Often when visiting New Orleans families are most interested in sampling beignets and touring the Garden District. These of course are must-sees when visiting New Orleans but for an amazing educational opportunity the World War 2 Museum should not be missed. This museum was unique to many that we have been to across the country as it is extremely interactive and offers hands on experiences for every age group. It is also the most cohesive World War 2 museum we have visited as parts of the museum are segregated into areas and specific battles to give a better inside look into the war and the people who lived through and fought in it.
The kids absolutely loved the interactive train ride and following the different real life stories of people who fought and served in the war. It helped them connect to the war on a human level as to where this new generation does not have the direct tie of parents and grandparents who were the everyday heroes serving their country. If you do decide to visit the National World War 2 Museum in New Orleans you will want to allot the better part of the day as there is a lot to see. Hilarye of Dotting the Map
Best Museums in the Midwest for Families
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis – Indianapolis, Indiana
When I planned my visit to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, I was told I should expect to stay the entire day. I thought that was nuts, but it turns out we did stay from open to close. From digging for dinosaur bones in Dinosphere to learning about Ruby Parks, Anne Frank and Ryan White in the “Power of Children” to trying all the interactive displays in the temporary exhibits, we tried to see and do it all. Sadly, we ran out of time, but that just gave us an excuse to return. And with the new Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience, which opened in 2018, we have more to explore. Outside on 7.5 acres, kids can try their hands at sports ranging from basketball and football to tennis, auto racing, golf and more. Even better, almost every activity can be enjoyed by kids of all ages. This children’s museum has it all! Karon of This Girl Travels
Museum of Science and Industry – Chicago, Illinois
This is our all time favorite kids museum in Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) is one of the largest kids science museums, with over 400,000 square feet to explore, so plan on spending at least half a day here. Everything is fun at MSI, from the hands on Science Storms to touring the U-505 submarine and Coal Mine. The Henry Crown Space Center has space modules and an IMAX theatre. There’s even a play space called The Idea Factory where kids can splash and play while learning about scientific principles (this area is for ages 10 and under only). And I almost forgot the chick hatchery, one of our all time favorites, where kids can see baby chicks being born. This is one of the best children’s museums for toddlers, teens, and parents! Kirsten at Kids Are A Trip
COSI (Center for Science & Industry) – Columbus, Ohio
From the moment you walk into COSI (Center for Science & Industry), you can’t help but be curious. The gigantic swinging pendulum and the high-wire unicycle unicycle that kids & adults can ride across the 2 story lobby makes COSI a unique experience right from the start.Once inside this Columbus museum, you work thru a myriad of over 300 engaging and colorful, interactive and hands-on exhibits. Kids 6 and under will love the Little KidSpace with water play, a treehouse and more. Creative kids will enjoy the Gadget Café, filled with hands-on challenges and materials to tinker and create and machines to take apart. Be sure to set aside at least a half day, if not full day for exploration of this fascinating museum. Jen of Thrifty NW Mom
One of our very favorite museums to visit is St. Louis’ City Museum. Part art installation, part playground, and part museum, City Museum is full-time fun for kids and families. Tunnels, nooks, and crannies are everywhere for kids to explore, and if you can fit, they’re fair game. Take your shoes off and try the indoor skate ramps or take a walk through the shark tank (it’s made of acrylic so yes, you can literally walk through it). Be sure to check out the roof for a ride on the Ferris Wheel where you can can get some great views of the city. If you’re up for it, find the entrance to the 10-story slide hidden inside! Plan on spending all day here – there is always something fun to discover at City Museum! Carrick of Along for the Trip
Best California Children’s Museums
The Exploratorium – San Francisco, California
Part playhouse, part laboratory, San Francisco’s Exploratorium is a collection of over 600 interactive exhibits and experiences designed to ignite curiosity and transform learning — and all against the gorgeous back drop of the San Francisco Bay. Located on Pier 15 along San Francisco’s historic waterfront, it attracts young scientists, environmentalists, tinkerers, and explorers. The reason visitors are so varied in their interests can be found in the museum’s six main galleries of exploration. Ranging from living systems and observing landscape to tinkering and human phenomena, each gallery offers plenty of opportunity for young minds to explore what interests them and discover new ways to understand how the world works. This San Francisco children’s museum does not disappoint. Kristine at Trekaroo
USS Midway Museum – San Diego, California
One of San Diego’s most popular attractions is the USS Midway Museum and there isn’t really another museum like it in the world. The USS Midway was commissioned the week after WWI ended and the second longest serving aircraft carrier of the 20th century who saw battle in Vietnam and the Cold War. Now decommissioned, she’s a maritime museum docked in the Embarcadero that appeals to all ages. Visitors can walk below deck to explore the galley, sleeping quarters, chapel, engine room, and more. Do not miss the 30 restored aircraft, some of which you can climb into. Daring visitors can step into one of the flight simulators to see what aerial combat is like. Probably the best part about the experience is that some of the docents actually served onboard the ship so they add incredible color to a visit (come armed with questions). They also narrate the audio tour which is included with the ticket price and highly-recommended. Be sure to plan a half-day for your visit as it is a large ship — it was the first aircraft carrier that couldn’t fit through the Panama Canal. Katie of La Jolla Mom
The Getty Center – Los Angeles, California
The Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA is one of the most highly regarded museums in the world, and while its collection of art is impressive, it’s the architecture and outdoor gardens that make this such a special place to explore with kids. In fact, it’s the perfect spot to bring your family on a beautiful, sunny California day! The Richard Meier designed building, located on a hilltop in the Santa Monica mountains, boasts stunning open spaces and some of the best views of LA, surrounding mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. There are several gardens to wander around, including the Central Garden, with its ever-changing foliage, stream, waterfall and pool; a cactus garden overlooking the city; and two sculpture gardens. It’s a maze of adventure and beauty just waiting to be discovered by kids. This is a win-win museum for families, especially on a nice day! Cori from Fifi + Hop
Best Family Friendly Museums in Oregon, Hawaii, and Alaska
The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum – McMinnville, Oregon
If you are traveling through Oregon, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is one of the coolest museums my family has experienced! Their Aviation Museum Kid Zone has fascinating hands on science activities for kids of all ages. But, you’ll want to go to check out all the vintage airplanes. It’s home to Howard Hughes Spruce Goose airplane! In fact, you can take a private tour inside the cockpit and sit in his chair! Over at the Space Museum, your kids will be begging for rides on the Evergreen Biplane! After exploring the museum, let your kids run around the Space Museum playground. And you can make a whole day of it by hitting the water park right next door! Marcie of Marcie in Mommyland
Bishop Museum – Honolulu, Hawaii
Our whole family was so enthralled by the Bishop Museum in Honolulu that we visited twice – and considered a third trip! The museum focuses on all things Hawaiian and Polynesian: traditional religious practices, historical and cultural ties between the peoples of the Blue Continent, artifacts of the Ali’i (Hawaiian royalty), unique geology and biology of the islands and even navigation using the stars (wayfinding) of the ancestors. It’s unlike any museum you’ll find elsewhere in the world! If you want to add an educational component to your family trip to Hawaii, the Bishop Museum is the best place to do it. The best part? It’s free with an ASTC membership. Melissa of The Family Voyage
The Anchorage Museum – Anchorage, Alaska
I was a little worried about this museum before going because, let’s be honest “Anchorage Museum” does not really sound that thrilling for kids! But, thankfully, the kids ended up loving this place. It was a great break from the hiking and fishing we had been doing for weeks on end. The Anchorage Museum is actually one of the top ten most visited sites in Alaska and is a hands-on history, science, and art museum all packaged into one. The kids section was incredible with a full-body bubble blowing station, wood block engineering, volcano explosions, and climbing structures. The Smithsonian exhibit, which contains over 600 native Alaskan artifacts from different regions and time periods in Alaska, was absolutely amazing. We loved learning about how the indigenous population of Alaska lived and also about how they still live today. You can also learn about all types of bears, seals, otters, fish, eagles, and more Alaska wildlife. My kids were obsessed with the exhibit on the Iditarod, the annual sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome Alaska. If you’re going to the Anchorage Museum, plan for a full day of learning and fun. Vanessa of Wanderlust Crew
If you’re looking for museum tips, don’t miss our piece How to Survive a Museum Visit with Kids!