10 Great Family-Friendly Museums
June 14, 2013
It's easy to add a bit of education to yourfamily vacation. Museums have upped the wow factor in recent years, creatinggalleries and programs that engage the mind and imagination. "These arecool places where you get to see things that aren't in your everydaylife," says Lynn Dierking, a science and math education professor at Oregon State University and co-authorof Museum Experience Revisited (Left Coast Press). She shares some favoriteplaces with Larry Bleiberg for USATODAY.
Balboa Park museums
With nearly two dozen attractions andinstitutions, this city park can keep visitors busy for days. A downloadabletravel guide notes family-friendly highlights such as the world's fastest jetat the San Diego Air & Space Museumand Eocene-era fossils at the San Diego Natural History Museum. "There's aton of stuff. You can bring a picnic and spend the day sampling differentplaces," Dierking says. http://www.balboapark.org/
A.C.Gilbert's Discovery Village
The A.C. Gilbert Co., once known for itstoy chemistry kits and the Erector Set, created a wonderfully imaginativemuseum. Dierking likes the veterinary hospital, where children can treat amenagerie of stuffed animals. There's also a farming area, where visitorspretend to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables. "It's wonderful. Ihave firsthand experience taking my children and grandchildren here," shesays. 503-371-3631; http://acgilbert.org/
With an outdoor area that's like a scienceplayground, this hands-on science center does a great job of making learningfun. It also hosts engaging traveling exhibits; currently on display is AnimalGrossology, which explores concepts from slug slime to cow flatulence."They have a lot of things going for them," Dierking says.704-372-6261; http://www.discoveryplace.org/
Discovery Place in Charlotte, N.C., helps make science fun with hands-on learning stations and innovative exhibits.
Denver Art Museum
Art museums can be intimidating forfamilies, but in recent years, many institutions have found ways to accommodateyounger visitors, Dierking says. Denverhas done a particularly good job, lending out special backpacks for exploringthe galleries. "They have these activities families can pull out. It'sabout looking at and studying the art," she says. 720-865-5000; http://denverartmuseum.org/
At the Denver Art museum, families cancheck out backpacks with guided activities to help explore the galleries.
Frist Center for the Visual Arts
At this art museum, families have their owninteractive gallery, where they can create art and learn about principles suchas color and shape. "Parents don't have to worry about kids behavingproperly. It's just a place to focus on families," Dierking says.615-244-3340; http://fristcenter.org/
At Nashville's Frist Center for the VisualArts, families have their own interactive gallery where they can create art andlearn about principles like color and shapes.
TheChildren's Museum of Indianapolis
The world's largest children's museum hasshifted its attention to focus on families, making sure that adults can joinyounger visitors in the experience. "They take that very seriously,"Dierking says. For example, its Dinosphere exhibit is scaled so adults cancrawl through the display and has costumes of all sizes so everyone can dressup like a paleontologist or a dinosaur. 317-334-3322; http://www.childrensmuseum.org/
The world's largest children's museum --The Children's Museum of Indianapolis -- is designed for adults and children to experience together.
The world's largest children's museum --The Children's Museum of Indianapolis -- is designed for adults and children toexperience together.
This combination science and children'smuseum has an experiment bar, where the staff introduces visitors to scienceconcepts and projects. "Instead of a structured exhibit, they give peoplean engaging place and cool stuff where they can explore and try thingsout," Dierking says. In addition, everything is bilingual, making it easyfor families with Spanish-speaking members. 505-224-8300; http://www.explora.us/en/
The Explora museum in Albuquerque, N.M., a combinationscience and children museum, has an experiment bar where staff helps visitorsdiscover new concepts.
Lowry Park Zoo
A zoo, Dierking says, is just a museum witha living collection. And this one with 1,500 animals on nearly 60 acres has wonnational recognition. Families can hire a guide to tailor a visit to theirspecific interests, and there's also a special behind-the-scenes tour. Visitorscan also get a list of the newest zoo babies on display. 813-935-8552; http://www.lowryparkzoo.com/
A zoo, Dierking says, is just a museum witha living collection. And Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, with 1,500 animals on nearly60 acres, has won national recognition.
Though the focus of this historicalattraction is Old Ironsides itself, the famous ship also has an innovativemuseum. "They made a commitment to model after science museums to makehistory more engaging, fun and family-friendly," Dierking says. Visitorscan try out sailor hammocks and ponder whether they could stomach a meal rationof wormy hardtack. The experience makes the tour of the historic ship much moremeaningful, she says. 617-426-1812; http://www.ussconstitutionmuseum.org/
The Works Museum
Althoughit calls itself a museum, this site focuses on experiences and science,technology and engineering, Dierking says. "You can create things. Theyhave a variety of lab activity spaces with all kinds of materials that you canuse, touch and explore." 952-888-4262; https://www.theworks.org/
The Works Museum in Bloomington, Minn., offersengineering challenges that families can try in a Design Lab.