8 Kids Museums They Can't Resist

There’ll be no complaining when you visit these engaging kids museums from Washington, D.C. to San Diego.

Get hands-on experience and create your own masterpiece at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Photo credit: childrensmuseum.org


If your kids associate museums with school field trips and lists of boring facts, they’ll try to avoid them at all costs while on break. Aren’t vacations supposed to be fun?’ they’ll groan. They might not believe it, but there are kids museums that offer just that.

We’ve found eight places that defy stereotypes and give young travelers unique experiences at some of the top hands-on museums across the United States—like taking apart computers, creating art out of recycled materials, traveling back to the land of the dinosaurs and completing a spy mission. And, whether your kids realize it or not, they just might learn a little something along the way.

Dig for dinosaur bones at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indianapolis

See the Liberty Bell 7 capsule in an immersive exhibit on space exploration that also allows kids to try on space gear. Photo credit: childrensmuseum.org

Travel back in time 65 million years, to the land of dinosaurs, when you visit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ Dinosphere. Go on a hunt for dinosaur bones and visit Bucky, the sixth-most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found—and the first teenage Tyrannosaurus rex to be put on permanent display in a museum. Dinosaurs aren’t the only draw here. Take a journey into space with the museum’s planetarium and the Beyond Spaceship Earth exhibition, visit China and try your hand at using chopsticks, or explore scientific careers in ScienceWorks.

Engineer the incredible at the Center of Science and Industry, Columbus, Ohio

There are few things kids love more than taking things apart. And while dismantling your toaster may seem destructive, for budding engineers, it’s a way to figure out how things work. COSI is well known for its hands-on exhibitions, which give visitors the chance to take apart computers and old machines. Kids can also learn how to make a robot dance, lift a car with the help of some air power and simple machines, and ride a unicycle two stories above everyone else, thanks to a counterweight.

Set sail at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, San Diego

Board the schooner Californian, one of several working vessels at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Photo credit: sdmaritime.org

You don’t just get to see historical ships at the Maritime Museum of San Diego—you get to climb right on board! The On the Water Adventures include a four-hour tour aboard a replica of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s Spanish sailing ship San Salvador, which arrived in San Diego in 1542. If you’d rather not head out to sea, there’s plenty to do in the port, including crawling down into a Soviet submarine, where you can take part in an interactive light and sound experience.

Let your imagination loose at the I.D.E.A. Museum, Phoenix

Get creative at this museum, which takes a hands-on approach to art. In ArtVille, younger children have a safe space in which to play and create, painting with cars and trucks or acting with costumes and puppets. At the Hub, designed for older kids, there are areas where you can build a new invention or design your own robot. In addition to the permanent fixtures, this museum hosts exciting traveling exhibitions like Caped Crusaders and Everyday Heroes, which exhibited work by comic book artists and encouraged children to create their own superheroes.

Go undercover at the International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C.

For each visitor, the first mission here is to adopt a cover before heading to the briefing room to learn about the world of spying. Next, it’s time to take part in a spy mission through interactive experiences like Operation Spy or Spy in the City. The museum’s exhibitions delve into the history of spying, showing how people like Harriet Tubman and George Washington relied on intelligence to be effective leaders. For those of us whose spy knowledge comes mostly from Hollywood, there’s an exhibition that enters the world of Bond villains and shows the connections between the films and real-world events.

Share the stage with dinosaurs at the Field Museum, Chicago

Gaze into the mouth of SUE, the largest, most complete T. rex in the world, permanently housed in the Field Museum’s Evolving Planet exhibition. Photo credit: fieldmuseum.org

The Field Museum is probably best known for Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered, but there’s much more to explore here than dinosaurs. This is one of the few places in the U.S. where you can uncover an ancient Egyptian tomb, get up close and personal with mummies and see hieroglyphics first-hand.

Fly away to the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina

Get a feel for flying by climbing inside the cockpit and putting your hands on the controls of an F-4 fighter jet or a Cessna 150 small aircract. This affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution is home to commercial and military planes, helicopters and even personal aircraft both in a hangar and in outdoor exhibitions. Highlights of the museum include the Airbus A320 Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger piloted in the Miracle on the Hudson—even its left engine, which ended up on the bottom of the Hudson River.

Shake it up at The DoSeum, San Antonio

Ideal for kids up to age 10, this museum is a place where little ones can exercise their bodies as well as their minds. Get your wiggles out first thing at the Big Outdoors, where a 30-foot-high climbing structure begs to be conquered and where a bubble station and water play area entice kids to interact. Inside, children can use everyday objects to observe light and sound in the Sensations Studio; use math skills to solve their way through secret missions in the Spy Academy; or build their own creations with blocks, balls and simple machines at Innovation Station.


Ready for a museum trip? Find your hotel in Indianapolis, Columbus, San Diego, Phoenix, D.C., Chicago, Charlotte, San Antonio.



More to Explore

Best Museums in America

There are endless museums in the U.S. filled with countless pieces of amazing art.

Read More

Cool Museums for Adults

If you yawn at the thought of touring a museum, these spots will change your mind.

Read More

Best Vacations for Art Lovers

If you’re an art lover, book it to one of these arty destinations.

Read More


Search Hotels