Vacationing with Kids? Check Out these Fantastic Family-Friendly Museums

Posted Travel Tips by Erin Cohen on July 17, 2014

The best family vacations strive to maintain a tempo of fun during the whole trip. We all know that if you try to plan your week from one action-packed activity to the next, the entire family is bound to crash.

A healthy way to map out your family vacation is to mix in activities that overwhelm the senses and require engagement without exhausting everyone. Giving kids something to do with their brains might even provide you a little break, too.

Visiting a kid-friendly museum is a great way to experience hands-on fun, while keeping everyone entertained. So, while your kids discover how the world works, you can marvel at watching them absorb knowledge and maybe even learn something at the same time.

Orlando Science Center (Orlando)

You can pretty much bet that any trip to Orlando will be mostly about Disney World. But if you feel like you’re ready for a break, Orlando has plenty of options. The city is home to an impressive Science Center that will both amuse and stimulate your kids’ brains. First of all, it’s huge. It has four floors, hundreds of exhibits, a domed movie theater, and an observatory. It features exhibits for little kids and big kids that celebrate the sheer wonder of science.

* Special tip: The Observatory and Laser Shows are only available on Fridays and Saturdays.

Address: 777 E. Princeton St., Orlando, FL 32803
Phone: (407) 514-2000
Hours: Sun. - Thurs. 10 am - 5 pm, Fri. - Sat. 10 am - 9 pm

Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium (Orlando)

Constructed to look like it’s falling into a sinkhole, this house of curiosities has a mix of the scientifically astonishing, the gross and macabre, and the just plain crazy. I would have loved this as a preteen or teenager on a family vacation, especially in the land of Disney. It’s just weird and edgy enough to be cool, but still fun and tame enough to be thoroughly family-friendly. They estimate it takes about an hour to walk through, so consider getting your dose of strange and spooky as a fun after-dinner, pre-dessert adventure (they’re open till midnight). After all, shrunken skulls and vampire-killing kits are best discussed over ice cream.

* Special tip: Save money on your entrance fee by buying tickets online ahead of time.

Address: 8201 International Dr., Orlando, FL 32819
Phone: (407) 345-0501
Hours: 9 am - Midnight, last entry at 11 pm

Nevada Railroad Museum (Lake Tahoe)

Located in Carson City, this locomotion-focused museum is an awesome place to spend an afternoon, especially for those kids fascinated by trains. Besides the fact that it’s free for kids under 18 (bonus!), the museum offers both train and hand-car rides, as well as a chance to operate historic railroad equipment. Once upon a time, in order to go on vacations, families had to use steam and coal to travel. This museum is a good reminder to the youths of today that things were quite different before iPads and electric cars.

* Special tip: The museum is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Address: 2180 South Carson St., Carson City, NV 89701
Phone: (775) 687-6953
Hours: Thurs. - Mon. 9 am - 5 pm

UC Davis Tahoe Science Center (Lake Tahoe)

This Incline Village museum is a great spot for the environmentalists and biologists of tomorrow. The science center features a Research Boat, Virtual Laboratory, 3-D Visualization Theater, and “Shaping Watersheds” Interactive Sandbox. Located in a real-life science lab, this museum also gives kids a chance to see what work looks like for actual scientists. Plus, all of the exhibits are connected to the preservation of Lake Tahoe, so it’s a good way to get the entire family thinking about the gorgeous natural resource they’ve been enjoying all week.

* Special tip: Large groups are encouraged to make a reservation.

Address: 291 Country Club Dr., Incline Village, NV 89451
Phone: (775) 881-7560
Hours: Tues. - Fri. 1 pm - 5 pm year round, Sat. 1 pm - 5 pm from June - October

The Whaler Museum (Maui)

Considering all the amazing outdoor activities Maui has to offer, I found it a bit surprising that the third most visited attraction on The Valley Island was The Whaler Museum. From November to May, the Lahaina coastal area is considered one of the most popular whale passages in the world and this museum celebrates the large sea creatures in all their glory. Be prepared for a typical museum experience as this is not a hands-on place. But still, most kids get a kick out of the biggest animals on Earth! Children 12 and under are free and adults are $3, making this an incredibly affordable activity for the entire family.

* Special tip: You must purchase two adult admissions to get the free parking.

Address: 2435 Ka`anapali Parkway, Lahaina, HI  96761
Phone: (808) 661-5992
Hours: 7 days a week 10 am - 4 pm

The Discovery Kid’s Museum (Las Vegas)

Sometimes Vegas can present a real challenge when it comes to finding kid-appropriate activities. Yes, pools are fun, but they require a lot of energy from caregivers, and most other indoor kid’s activities in Vegas require a lot of…well, money. The Discovery Kid’s Museum offers an interactive form of indoor entertainment in Sin City, with nine full-scale exhibits including a Magic School Bus traveling showcase this summer! This museum is good for kids of all ages. And best of all, it doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke.

* Special Tip: The museum participates in the City of Las Vegas’ Mobile Food Vendors program. Check to see if a food truck will be there during your visit.

Address: 360 Promenade Pl., Las Vegas, NV 89106
Phone: (702) 382-KIDS
Hours: click here for detailed schedule

The New Children’s Museum (San Diego)

The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego is definitely one of the coolest children’s museums around. This 50,000-sq. ft. building is focused on art and gives kids a chance to roll up their sleeves and get messy. While your kids hone their art skills, parents can sneak away and check out exhibits that highlight contemporary artists. It’s close to other good downtown San Diego spots, making it a perfect pre-dinner, calm down activity before a short drive to Seaport Village or the Gaslamp District.

* Special Tip: From Memorial Day to Labor Day, all military families with ID get in FREE!

Address: 200 West Island Ave., San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 233-8792
Hours: Mon. - Sat. 10 am - 4 pm, Sun. 12 pm - 4 pm

Museum of Music Making (San Diego)

If you’re in the North County area for LEGOLAND or the awesome beaches, the Museum of Music Making in Carlsbad is a funky little spot that’s entertaining for both kids and parents. I grew up around this area, and continued going to this museum even as a teenager with my friends. You can play music, listen to music, and learn about the history of music. And it has a couple gems, like original videos of Stevie Wonder performing as a 12 year old and an old-fashioned Theremin to mess around with. If you want to get out of the sun for an afternoon and experience something unique and off the beaten path, I highly recommend checking this inexpensive museum out.

* Special Tip: Afterwards, grab lunch or dinner at Rubio’s, a San Diego favorite spot for fish tacos!

Address: 5790 Armada Dr., Carlsbad, CA 92008
Phone: (760) 438-5996
Hours: Tues. - Sun. 10 am - 5 pm

T.I.G.E.R.S. Preservation Station (Myrtle Beach)

This Myrtle Beach museum strikes an excellent balance between zoo and museum by focusing in on one of the zoo’s biggest allstars: tigers! The T.I.G.E.R.S. Preservation Station at Barefoot Landing is a FREE tiger museum that’s home to Bengal, Siberian, Royal White Bengal, and Golden Tabby tigers. And, if all that tiger viewing leaves you wishing for even more saber-toothed action, you can pay a fee to a hold a baby cub, or spend some up-close-and-personal time with a full grown tiger or two.

* Special Tip: Coupons are available in the Sunny Day coupon books.

Address: 4898 South Highway 17, North Myrtle Beach, SC 29582
Phone: (843) 361-4552
Hours: Hours vary. Please call for current hours

For a comprehensive list of children’s museums all over the world you can search the website of the Association of Children’s Museums.