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The 7 Best Kid-Friendly Museums in the US

BY: EDITORIAL TEAM | 2.24.2017 |

It might seem logical to hold off on museum outings until your kids are old enough to spell “museum.” But if you plan it right and know where to go, there’s no reason a younger child has to wait years for that first glimpse of culture. To prove it, we’ve compiled this list of seven kid-friendly museums. The best part? Parents will get some culture out of them, too.

The Center for Puppetry Arts | Atlanta, GA

This puppetry collection spans the entire globe, celebrating the artistry behind Southeast Asian shadow puppets, Malian hand puppets, and some recognizable pals from Jim Henson’s labs.

Perfect for: Any kid with a soft spot for Kermit the Frog, the residents of Sesame Street, or the mystical creatures of Dark Crystal.

Recommended Exhibit: The Jim Henson Collection makes this a particularly kid-friendly museum. That’s where you’ll find some familiar faces for the kids, such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie, and Kermit, plus a recreation of Henson’s office complete with his actual desk.

Pro Tip: Purchase an all-inclusive ticket, which provides access to the Create-a-Puppet Workshop, where kids as young as 2 can build their very own puppet to take home.

Austin Toy Museum | Austin, TX

Open since early 2016, the Austin Toy Museum is the culmination of decades of work by toy collector Caleb Zammit. This is a kids’ museum for children of all ages—it features more than 20,000 toys from Zammit’s personal collection, including classic action figures and video games.

Perfect for: Children young and old. There are exhibits of classic toys that children of the ‘70s and ‘80s can introduce to their kids, including Rainbow Brite, Care Bears, and Masters of the Universe.

Recommended Exhibit: The arcade. The collection boasts more than 50 video-game systems that you can actually play, including ‘80s arcade cabinets and some of the first home consoles.

Pro Tip: Got some childhood toys in your attic? Donate them to the museum, and they might end up in a future exhibit.

The Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL

With more than 300,000 works of art spanning every major historical period, this sprawling museum is chock-full of all the art you (and your kids) can handle.

Perfect for: Young princes and princesses (they’ll love the medieval arms and armor exhibit) and Picassos-in-training (they’ll love the modern collection’s bright splashes of color).

Recommended Exhibit: It may not be a strictly kids’ museum, but at The Elizabeth Morse Touch Gallery, kids can actually touch the art. This lets them get a real feel for the differences between sculpture styles.

Pro Tip: For parents of the littlest visitors, there’s a curtained-off Infant Care room equipped with a changing table and chair.

Henry Ford Museum | Dearborn, MI

A celebration of the Industrial Revolution, this museum began as Henry Ford’s personal collection and has since grown to include 90 acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits. Highlights range from the 1909 Model T to Thomas Edison’s laboratory.

Perfect for: Tonka-Truck-loving Transformers fans. Engineering-minded kids will be eager to get their hands on the exhibits.

Recommended Exhibit: Macy’s Second Mondays are designed specifically for toddlers, with displays, entertainment, and educational activities that rival any children’s museum and all take place before nap time (10 a.m. to noon). Kids will get a chance to see some of the museum’s most memorable artifacts, and even take a ride on the Herschell-Spillman carousel.

Pro Tip: The museum is stroller and small-wagon friendly, so it’s easy to cart your kids around. If you forget yours at home, there are a limited number of strollers for rent.

Travel Town Museum | Los Angeles, CA

Nestled in beautiful Griffith Park, this kid-friendly museum features a variety of classic, restored trains that any child or student of locomotive history will enjoy.

Perfect for: Children who love playing with trains, riding trains, and watching YouTube videos of trains. At this scenic museum, kids can ride a train around the park and even walk through and explore old train models.

Recommended Exhibit: The model train room. Here you’ll find a variety of elaborate model train sets that both children and adults will enjoy watching as they go round and round.

Pro Tip: Admission is free, but bring some cash so your kids can ride the locomotive that travels around the entire museum.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum | Tucson, AZ

Spread across 98 acres, this unique outdoor museum lets kids get up close and personal with the desert’s wildlife and features a variety of educational activities.

Perfect for: Children who love the outdoors and hate being cooped up inside. The museum is home to 2 miles of walking trails, so it helps if your kid’s old enough to have taken those first steps.

Recommended Exhibit: Kids can see some of the desert wildlife in action at any of the live animal presentations, which include meet-and-greet sessions with lizards and rattlesnakes.

Pro Tip: Keep a close eye on the thermostat in spring and summer. Since most of the museum is outdoors in an actual desert, temperatures regularly rise above 100 degrees.

The National Portrait Gallery | Washington, DC

America’s foremost collection of portraits gives faces to the names that made history, from the nation’s Founders to modern-day icons.

Perfect for: Babies. This might not seem like a kid-friendly museum at first glance, but infants are naturally drawn to human faces. So, portraiture is the perfect medium to kick-start their love of art.

Recommended Exhibit: Champions pays tribute to famous American athletes, so your kids might recognize some familiar faces. Even if they’re too young to follow sports, the portraits showcase dynamic movements that are sure to catch their eye.

Pro Tip: Snag one of the museum’s Portrait Discovery Kits, which are filled with games and activities to help kids aged 4–14 explore the exhibits.