Whether you’re traveling with toddlers or teens, or anyone in between, exploring a museum can be a great way to combine fun with learning while on vacation. And if you visit a museum that goes above and beyond in engaging and inspiring its patrons, your kids will have such a wonderful time they’ll be blissfully unaware that you’re sneaking some education into their day.
Here are 11 of our favorite museums, located all over the U.S. They target a variety of interests, but truly, there’s something for everyone in each and every one of these gems.
- City Museum in St. Louis, MO
Housed in a 600,000-square-foot former shoe factory, this indoor/outdoor playground is an eclectic mix of exhibits and activities that appeal to adventurous souls of all ages. The museum bills itself as a “funhouse, surrealistic pavilion and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.” Visitors can see the world’s largest pencil and pair of underwear, explore a series of caves, go down a 10-story slide, climb through the belly of a whale and ride a ferris wheel on the roof. The brave can scale a variety of structures that are pieced together on the outside of the building, even going through elevated old airplanes and a school bus — not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights! You really have to see it in person to comprehend the many unexpected surprises and innovation of the City Museum!
2. EMP Museum in Seattle, WA
Have a pop culture guru in the family? Or maybe you’re just someone trying to catch up on modern pop culture and bridge the generational gap? This is the perfect place to start! This is one of the coolest museums in America because of its unique exhibits on everything from Jimi Hendrix to Star Trek. EMP is all about creativity, celebrating the creative process and inspiring personal expression in visitors of all ages. The museum’s interactive elements and collection of artifacts make it a spectacle for all audiences.
3. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC
This is a classic museum that is a central part of many DC vacations — and for good reason. With galleries and exhibitions focused on things like bones, live insects, the ocean, birds, mummies and Africa, it’s hard to get bored in this museum. Opened in 1910, the museum is a major hub of research into the natural world, and it caters to anyone who has a curiosity about our history on this planet. Most of the Smithsonian museums are part of the National Mall, so you can incorporate them into your walking tour of the monuments and other must-see sites in our nation’s capital.
4. International Spy Museum in Washinton, DC
Another item to add to your Washington, DC, itinerary is the International Spy Museum. If you ever dreamed of being a spy, this is the place to live out your fantasy. It’s relatively new by DC standards, having opened in 2002. But it’s built quite a following since then. From the moment you step into the museum, you feel like you’re on a special mission. And that mission is to learn about international espionage through the years.
5. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, OR
Wondering what to do on a rainy day in Portland? Hit up this museum! OMSI is a total hands-on experience with exciting activities like laser shows, movies on four-story screens and submarine tours. Learn about agriculture, energy, the ocean, nutrition and fitness, space and so much more. This museum will inspire a curiosity about science and encourage an exchange of ideas.
6. Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY
This museum, located in Midtown Manhattan, is a contemporary art history buff’s paradise! Explore Surrealism, Minimalism, Pop Art and all of your favorite movements in a single day. There are several floors in this famous building, otherwise known as MoMA, and it’s filled with unique and beautiful art. It’s a great way to get inspired by the beauty all around us.
7. The Field Museum in Chicago, IL
If mummies, dinosaurs and ancient artifacts are your calling, The Field Museum is the place to be! At this award-winning museum located in one of Chicago’s most beautiful and recognizable lakefront buildings, you can gaze upon the most complete dinosaur ever found, aka “Sue” the T-Rex. This museum is such an important part of any Chicago to-do list that we featured it in the Chicago episode of “Family Travel with Colleen Kelly.” Read our blog here, with tips to help you plan your visit.
8. Milwaukee Public Museum in Milwaukee, WI
Just like the hip city itself, this museum is pretty unforgettable. Take a walk down memory lane, literally, at the newest exhibit, Streets of Old Milwaukee Reimagined. You can also walk through European villages and ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Don’t invest in a time machine, just check out this museum!
9. The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, MN
Have an electric experience at this museum of electricity and magnetism. The museum is filled with STEM-based activities and exhibits. The historic West Winds Mansion, which houses the museum, is beautiful enough to visit on its own, with the lovely surrounding gardens. Once inside, visitors can see the history and culture of electricity, learn electricity parlor tricks and participate in immersive theater projects. And did we mention Frankenstein is part of the fun?
10. The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL
Ever wonder what it would be like to experience a surreal dream come true? Find out first hand at the Dali Museum. Salvador Dali’s art form is Surrealism, which is a movement that tries to capture the unconscious mind. This museum includes an expertly curated collection of Dali’s work, plus many opportunities to delve into the art form. Let your imagination go wild here and take in all that this fascinating museum has to offer.
11. Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh, PA
The Infinity Dots Mirrored Room is well known by Pittsburgh residents and should be experienced by everyone. This exhibit is another walk into a dream and an exploration of imagination. The Mattress Factory Museum is a contemporary art museum and experimental lab featuring projects by artists in residence from around the world. You can find art programs for all ages here. Let your creative side go wild.
“Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” staff member Lena Mobin helped research and write this blog.