From spy games to rides on 1908 carousels, these six kid-friendly museums across six Northeastern cities will help keep boredom at bay on weekends or during the lengthy school holiday that looms on the horizon. The venues are just far enough under the radar to feel undiscovered, and the kids will be having so much fun they may not even realize that you have slipped in a soupçon of culture.
The Neuberger Museum of Art | 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, N.Y.
Why: The Neuberger’s casual atmosphere and lack of crowds lends a familial air. The permanent collection includes paintings by Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper and the kid favorite, Jackson Pollock. Alexander Calder’s The Red Ear mobile spins whimsically overhead. The gift shop features a large amount of recycled goods, like a folding basket made of chopsticks and recycled newspaper placemats in kid–pleasing colors. When the kids get stir crazy, the SUNY Purchase campus location provides a spacious setting for outdoor adventures.
When: The Neuberger is open Tuesday-Sunday, from 12-5 pm. Its monthly Family First Saturday program is held on the first Saturday of the month. Admission is free for this event. The afternoon promises gallery talks, hands-on workshops for kids, and live music.
How to get there: Metro North’s Harlem line to White Plains, where waiting taxis will bring you to the SUNY Purchase campus in under 10 minutes.
Bruce Museum | 1 Museum Drive, Greenwich, CT
Why: The Bruce’s collection is rich in art, science and anthropology with plenty of hands-on workshops for kids. Its permanent science exhibit includes a touchable meteorite, a wigwam, and a collection of minerals and fossils. The Bruce Park Playground next door offers clean restrooms, picnic tables and scenic views of the Long Island Sound. The playground’s rain garden, enchanted forest, and climbing structures are designed for all children, including those with developmental, cognitive and sensory challenges who will learn to appreciate and understand diversity by playing together in an inclusive setting.
When: Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5, Sunday 1-5, closed Mondays. The Bruce’s calendar is full of events for kids an adults, from exhibits like Eat or Be Eaten: Animal Survival Strategies to an outdoor arts festival. All activities are free with Museum admission, $7 for adults, $6 for kids and teens, and free for children under 5.
How to get there: Take Metro North New Haven line to Greenwich. It is a three-minute walk to the Bruce. Turn right onto Steamboat Road, walk through the underpass and climb the steps to the Museum.
Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum | 895 Shore Road, Pelham Bay Park, Bronx, NY
Why: The Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum is located in a quiet corner of Pelham Bay Park. As the only grand country house still in existence on Pelham Bay, it provides an important link to the social and architectural history of New York. Kids will be transported to a grander era, when the Bronx was a kinder, gentler place. Take a guided tour of the mansion. Strolling the grounds and gardens is free. Admission to the Mansion is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors & children 6–17.
When: On the first Friday of each month, you can catch the Bronx Seaside Trolley at the Pelham Bay Park subway station for a free ride to BPMM, where you can tour the mansion, listen to live music, and enjoy light refreshments. Then hop back on to ride to City Island and explore this seaside community. The trolley makes a continuous loop from BPMM to City Island, before heading back to the subway station. Registration requested. The BPMM has a full roster of family events planned for spring and beyond. The gardens are open daily, the Mansion on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 12-4, and for special events like First Friday!
How to get there: Take the #6 train to Pelham Bay Park Stop, where you can catch the trolley. If you are coming for a visit when the trolley is not running, take the #45 Westchester Bee- line Bus, from the subway station for the 15-minute ride to the BPMM. It costs $2, and they accept MetroCards.
Please Touch Museum | 4231 Avenue of the Republic, Philadelphia, PA
Why: The newly expanded Please Touch Museum creates learning opportunities through hands-on, interactive play. This is the Rolls Royce of museums for the eight and under crowd. Check out the many physical science exhibits. In Flight Fantasy, children experiment with balance, speed, and coordination to create the sensation of gliding, hovering, and spinning as they row a flying machine, pedal a propeller bike, or play hopscotch on clouds. Take a ride on a fully refurbished 1908 carousel. Daily art activities include recycled print making, drawing in the sand and window blocks. Stop by the Playhouse for a live theatrical performance. At only 30–minutes in length, it is the perfect introduction to live theatre for fidgety tots. All activities are included with the $15 admission price.
When: Open 362 days per year, anytime is the right time to visit this paradise for small children. The museum offers so many activities, it is tough to squeeze it all into one day. If you plan to stay overnight, Philadelphia’s new kid-friendly hotel, the Palomar, makes a fine base. This eco-friendly, boutique property blends a chic ambience while extending a warm welcome to families.
Kids get a gift upon check-in, and are treated to beverages and soft pretzels in the lobby each afternoon, while their parents can enjoy a civilized moment, sipping complimentary wine.
How to get there: Amtrak from Penn Station to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, then a 5-minute cab ride to the Museum, around $5.
Strawbery Banke | 14 Hancock Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Why: A visit to Strawbery Banke is an interactive kid-friendly journey back in time. It is educational, but your kids will be having so much fun, they may never realize it. You are invited in to visit authentically furnished homes and businesses of Portsmouth residents who lived in different time periods. Costumed re-enactors encourage your questions, engage you, and allow you to catch a glimpse into someone’s personal history.
Open-hearth cooking and craft demonstrations add a practical touch. Purchase the family rate admission, $40 for 2 adults and 2 kids. All tickets allow for a free return visit the next day.
When: Strawbery Banke opens for the season on May 1, and is in operation daily until October 31. Spring is a great time of year to visit Portsmouth. Browse its eclectic assortment of bookstores, shops, cafes and restaurants. Explore lovely Prescott Park, a great place for an alfresco meal bought from the Fresh Local Food Truck, that uses local and naturally grown ingredients. The downtown is compact, so you can walk to all the city’s attractions in less than five minutes. If little legs do get tired, Portsmouth has a whimsical trolley that gets you all around town.
The Hilton Garden Inn on High Street (603.431.1499, portsmouthdowntown.stayhgi.com) is smack in the middle of all that Portsmouth has to offer. Kids will like the hotel’s small indoor salt-water pool and Jacuzzi, and the warm chocolate-chip cookies in the lobby each evening.
International Spy Museum | 800 F Street, Washington, D.C.
Why: Welcome to the world of espionage, sure to thrill kids, not to mention their parents. Hear spies describe the challenges and the “game” of spying. Examine over 200 spy gadgets as you learn the secrets of the world’s second oldest profession.
When: The International Spy Museum is open 362 days per year. On Sunday, 11 April, families are invited to the Museum’s Annual Spy Fest. Do you have what it takes to be a spy? Here’s your chance to find out. Mini-missions, tradecraft demonstrations by experts, and the chance to try spy skill challenges will give kids an insider’s peek into the shadow world of spying. You’ll never look at James Bond in the same way again. This event is for families with children ages 7 and up, and tickets are $10 per participant. The Fest starts at 11, and again at 12:30 and advance registration is required.
Staying overnight? The Hotel Monaco is located right next door to the museum, so it’s a perfect base for your missions. The hotel welcomes children and their parents with the I Spy Package, which includes deluxe accommodation, two tickets to the Spy Museum, and a spy gift. Rates for the package start at $194 nightly. The hotel’s Guppy Love program will even provide your child with an in-room pet goldfish for the duration of you stay.
How to get there: Amtrak will bring you to Union Station. Bolt and Megabus deposit you within walking distance of the museum. The Museum’s closest Metro station is the Gallery Place/Chinatown stop, served by the red, yellow, and green lines.
Photo: Please Touch Museum
Allison is a native New Yorker, who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto and Los Angeles. She frequently contributes travel pieces to Family Travel Forum, using her own children as guinea pigs as they travel the globe. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. Her background as an Early Childhood Educator gives her an added understanding of what it takes to travel with kids in tow. She firmly believes that the most important part of education takes place outside of the classroom, on the road, around the world. She never misses a chance to sample local delicacies, as her love for travel goes hand-in-hand with her love for food and wine. Follow Allison at @gourmetrav.