We just returned from museum-hopping in Chicago! We love the Field Museum, and it gave us the best pictures from our trip, which is why it gets a cameo in this post, but it didn't make the cut for our museum list. Sorry, Field.
Summer is such a great time for family road trips and exploration, both outdoors and indoors. There are hundreds of good museums scattered across the country, but not all are created equal. I've found the best museums for boys provide a hands-on, interactive experience. We really love children's museums and zoos, but as our boys get older, we are seeing them age out of those venues.
However, there are some museums we come to over and over again because of the way they captivate our kids. Out of sheer coincidence, these five museums are evenly spaced across the country, which shows two things: there is access to great exploring all over the United States, and our family has a hard time staying in one place!
If a family trip takes you within the vicinity of one of these museums this summer, I highly suggest a visit. You (and your boys) won't be disappointed.
1. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) is built around a old turbine hall in the warehouse district of Portland, Oregon. Its six permanent exhibits include 3D printing, robotic arms, earth science and human growth and development. For an additional fee you can tour a U.S. Navy submarine. A room for younger kids includes fun water and sand features. We visit OMSI almost every summer and never tire of its light-filled spaces and hands-on activities.
2. Living in the Twin Cities, we are partial to the Science Museum of Minnesota. Compared to some of the other big-city museums, it is incredibly accessible, and filled with five floors of exploration. Permanent exhibits include a cell lab, the human body, the Mississippi River gallery, and dinosaurs and fossils. The rotating exhibits are always top-notch. In the summer, an outdoor area called the Big Backyard includes panning for gold and mini-putting.
3. The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is the gold standard for all other science museums. Built in 1933, the gorgeous facility (and the largest of its kind in the country) houses more exhibits than you can see in one day. Permanent (and favorite features) include the Idea Factory, Science Storms, the toy-making lab where kids watch a robotic assembly line create a customized gyroscope, and the absolute favorite: a scale model of the Chicago and Seattle skylines, featuring 20-plus model trains. For an additional fee, kids can tour a German U-505 submarine or ride in a flight simulator.
4. Henry Ford not only created the Model T, he immortalized his legacy by building his own historic compound in Detroit, MI. While the indoor Henry Ford Museum is great, our favorite is the adjacent Greenfield Village. In the early 1900s, Ford began collecting relics that on one else wanted: old steam trains, roundhouses, and historic buildings such as George Washington Carver's slave hut and Abraham Lincoln's law office. Thanks to his connections, he even got his old pal Thomas Edison to relocate his entire Menlo Park laboratory. The result is an astounding 80-acre time capsule. What makes Greenfield Village so fun is not just the buildings, but what kids can do while they're there: ride in an authentic Model T, create a brass candlestick, watch an 1867 baseball game, dip candles under a Dutch windmill, and ride a 19th-century steam train around the entire village. Workers dressed in period clothing bring the entire experience to life.
5. While all the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C. are worth a visit, the National Air and Space Museum is the shining star for kids. It contains two of aviation history's most famous planes: the 1903 Wright Flyer and Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. From the history of the Space Race to World War II aviation, the exhibits will keep boys captivated for hours. It's easy to see why this is the most visited museum in the country. And of all the museums listed in this post, this one has the best sticker price: free.
A note on cost: Paying for an entire family's admission can really add up. We take advantage of the reciprocal pass offered through our own science museum. Our annual pass not only allows us unlimited admission to the Science Museum of Minnesota, it gets us in to OMSI and the Museum of Science and Industry, as well as dozens of other museums and planetariums. If you have a science museum, natural history museum or planetarium in your area, you may want to consider looking at that option.
Okay, so what are your favorite boy-friendly museums? Any we should add to this list?