One of the best things I do with my kids is to take them to museums – it exposes them to new art and subject matter, provides them with immersive learning experiences and provokes their imagination. Plus, it provides memorable quality time as a family. I love taking them to art museums to see famous works they recognize, science museums to learn about space and rockets, natural history museums to see dinosaur bones and gemstones! And, while the Art Institute of Chicago is breathtaking, the Museum of Modern Art in New York is a dream and the Pittsburgh Museum of Natural History is a wonder, I also like to find more quirky, unusual, & hidden museums to explore with my kids. These off the beaten path museums and galleries are usually much cheaper (sometimes free!), less crowded and also tend to reflect the history or community of the town or city where they are located.
During our travels, we’ve found some great “hidden museums” and also researched some new-to-us museums that we’ve added to our “must-visit” list! In our hometown of Nashville, we are constantly discovering smaller museums and galleries to explore just outside our back door.
Here are some fun smaller (& quirkier) “hidden” museums in the U.S that you may want to add to your list:
Parthenon Gallery, Nashville, TN – Kids can learn the history of the Nashville Parthenon and then head upstairs to see the 42 foot golden Athena statue! (Bonus: On Saturdays, at 11 AM Kidsville hosts a free story time and craft at the feet of Athena for kids). Find more kid-friendly places in Nashville here!
New York Transit Museum, New York, NY – Kids can explore vintage subway cars, watch puppet shows and learn the history of the NYC transit system! Find more kid-friendly places in NYC here!
Asheville Pinball Museum, Asheville, NC – An entire museum of pinball machines – need we say more? Find more kid-friendly places in Asheville here!
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, MN – Introduce your kids to art & sculpture at this FREE outdoor space where they have plenty of room to run too! Read about more things to do with kids in Minneapolis here.
New Orleans Historic Voo-Doo Museum, New Orleans, LA – Learn about New Orleans voodoo history & culture (especially if your kids love Disney’s The Princess & the Frog) and ask the staff to recommend the best local palm reader! Find more kid-friendly places in New Orleans here!
Historic Railpark and Train Museum, Bowling Green, KY – walk through an old, restored locomotive, take a self-guided tour through the history of train travel in the U.S., view a huge model train exhibit and enjoy the train-themed gift shop – complete with a train table for the kids. Find more kid-friendly places in Bowling Green here!
The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL – This awesome museum all about Salvador Dali includes a kids scavenger hunt, audio tour and beautiful outdoor gardens with a wishing tree for you and your kids to make wishes. Find more kid-friendly places all over Florida here!
Musée Mécanique, San Francisco, CA – This odd and enchanting museum in the Bay Area holds the world’s largest privately owned collection of old arcade games, from coin-operated musical instruments to antique arcade machines that are still operable. Find more kid-friendly places in San Francisco here!
Bicycle Heaven, Pittsburgh, PA – At this bicycle shop and museum, you can rent bikes to ride around town and also see the Pee-wee Herman bike from the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure along with other bike-themed fun. Read about more kid-friendly Pittsburgh here!
The Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle, WA – Walking the docks, exploring the historic wooden boats and browsing the exhibits is always free of charge, but you can also rent boats, take classes, build toy boats and more! Find more Kid-friendly Seattle places here!
Money Museum, Chicago, IL – This small gallery inside the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago is fun AND educational for kids! Among other things get your own bag of cash to take home -if only it wasn’t shredded! Read more about kid-friendly Chicago here!
Also, check out 10 tips for visiting art museums with kids for creative ways to make art museums with kids fun!
Do you have any quirky, hidden museums in your city or town or that you’ve discovered in your travels? Tag The Family Backpack with your pictures on Facebook & Instagram & use #HiddenMuseums