An award-winning organization, the Iowa Children’s Museum engages and expands the imaginations of youngsters with interactive exhibits and hands-on programs. The Move It! Dig It! Do It! event invites pintsized minds to stretch themselves around the enormous equipment wielded by construction professionals, farmers, and bus drivers, and then witness how each vehicle fits into the next to defend the galaxy as Voltron. More than 40 activities and machines ensure all-day entertainment. Tots can scramble into the driver’s seat of a fire truck for a hero’s-eye view of the engine’s three-alarm chili dispenser or enjoy a haystack ride. Create your own cement garden stone before retiring to the Volunteer Guild’s Dig It! Café for purchasable snacks and water divvied up out from under a big tent.
Nestled on the banks of the Cedar River, the 17,000-square-foot nonprofit museum educates more than 30,000 people annually through tours, exhibits, and community programs celebrating African-American heritage and culture. Packed with more than 2,000 artifacts, 200 oral histories, and a library with more than 1,000 volumes covering African and African American topics, the museum crams craniums full of historical knowledge. Endless Possibilities, part of the flagship permanent collection, traces the history of Iowa's African American citizens through photos, objects, stories, and multimedia. A rotating lineup of compelling exhibits includes Unconditional Loyalty, running through December 17, which pays tribute to African-Americans who've served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary War era to the present day. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday
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Retrace and retread tractor history at this Dyersville museum, located 90 minutes from downtown Cedar Rapids. With thousands of toys and exhibits scattered throughout its two-floored exhibition space, the National Farm Toy Museum pays tribute to historic and contemporary crop contraptions. Fun-loving farm enthusiasts may peruse the museum's frenzy of farm implements, including trucks, pedal tractors, and life-size John Deer soil-sifters. Original artwork, dioramas, and two Doug Schlesier sculptures artfully express anecdotes of American agriculture, while miniature farm replicas and Ertl Company toys convey while miniature-sized farm replicas and Ertl Company toys convey to visitors the life-sized growth of American farming. The National Farm Toy Museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
The Mississippi River meanders its way through the midwestern United States, fed by dozens of tributaries on its 2,500-mile sojourn from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium pays tribute to this mighty waterway with an array of immersive exhibits.
Six large aquariums house river creatures from all over the world—giant catfish, turtles, and sturgeons—as well as saltwater inhabitants such as sharks, rays, and the retired cast of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. A touch tank invites little ones to handle snails, freshwater mussels, and crawfish. The Woodward Wetland gives vistiors a boardwalked path through a natural river ecosystem. Equally sensory is the 3D or 4D theater, which screens popular kids' flicks and documentaries. Other interactive exhibits allow visitors to pilot a barge, learn about floods, and walk along a 92-foot map of the river.
Not all the museum's stars have fins, however. The National Rivers Hall of Fame honors the famous Americans who lived or worked along the Mississippi, such as Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. The Fred W. Woodward Riverboat Museum similarly offers a closer look at the historic schooners that once traversed the waterway.
Kicking back with a beer in one hand and a brush in the other, visitors to Brush and Barrel can rest assured that visits will not only be relaxing, but fruitful, too. During classes, instructors provide easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions on completing a colorful composition, with subject matter ranging from urban scenes to serene landscapes. Meanwhile, Thursday afternoon classes designed specifically for kids allow young artists to explore their creativity in a fun, encouraging setting.