Worth the Drive: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

World class museum promotes family bonding.


What: The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Where: 30th and Meridian Streets, minutes north of downtown.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily from March through Labor Day. Closed Mondays after Labor Day through February. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

Admission: $18.50 for youth ages 2-17; $21.50 for adults ages 18-59; $30.50 for seniors and free for children under 2. Target Free Family Nights are the first Thursday of each month, extended hours with free admission from 4-8 p.m.

Parking: Free parking garage.

Meals: The museum has a Food Court with a variety of healthy options including allergen-friendly menu selections.

For information: www.childrensmuseum.org

Insider tips:

  • As you'll see when you arrive, huge dinosaurs are bursting out of the front of the building. It's a great place to take a "selfie."
  • Upon arrival, pick up the schedule of the day's featured programs. These range from music and art workshops to presentations on live performances. Some programs require free tickets which are handed out five minutes prior to the start of the program.
  • Preschool group visits to Playscape are scheduled Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9:30 a.m. to noon. To avoid crowds, plan your visit around these times.
  • The museum gift shop is huge and filled with everything from educational toys to books special gifts.
  • If you're planning to stay overnight, consider The Crowne Plaza Downtown Union Station. You can sleep on a train car!

It’s always fascinating to see what piques our children’s interests. With the world’s largest children’s museum just a couple of hours away, it’s worth a trip to Indianapolis to spend a day following our kids through the amazing array of exhibits designed to educate, entertain and promote family bonding.

The museum founded in 1925, hosts more than 1.2 million visitors annually, has a staff of 280 and has 11 galleries. It maintains a collection of more than 120,000 artifacts and offers more than 4,000 programs and activities each year.

Some of the exhibitions at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis change periodically and are always outstanding. At the moment, the news is “Hot Wheels — Race to Win” on exhibit through Aug. 28. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the scientific process for designing super-fast cars and lets families experiment with speed, power and performance using Hot Wheels cars and track.

There’s also plenty to keep you occupied in the museum’s permanent spaces. The big news is the “Beyond Spaceship Earth” experience which opens June 25. The immersive exhibit, built with the help of astronaut Dr. David Wolf, tells the story of space exploration. It will include an all-new space object planetarium and object theater featuring the NASA space capsule Liberty Bell 7.

These “Don’t Miss Experiences” are always a treat:

  • The $25 million gallery entitled "Dinosphere: Now You're in Their World" is one of the museum's most popular attractions and a must-see for youngsters who are dinosaur-obsessed. We're told it's one of the largest displays of real and family dinosaur fossils in the United States. You'll be taken back in time —65 million years ago— to learn how dinosaurs lived and died. Kids who know their Triceratops from their Maiasauras will get the chance to test their knowledge. The focal point of the exhibit is Bucky, a teenage Tyrannosaurus rec, the first T Rex found with a wishbone! Be forewarned that the setting is pretty realistic and younger children may find it a bit frightening.
  • Playscape is a terrific gallery for the youngest visitors. Designed for infants through preschoolers, it focuses on all the basics for early childhood learning—from sandboxes and water play to art and music. It's family-friendly, complete with private nursing areas, family restrooms and diaper-changing stations. Our grandchildren loved The Pond, a climbing structure surrounded by mesh netting that helps kids safely develop gross motor skills.
  • Carousels are timeless. This one dates back to 1917. The ride is nostalgic for parents and grandparents; the kids love it, too.
  • The Indy museum does a great job of introducing families to other cultures. Every two to three years, a new country is explored in depth. At the moment, it's "TakeMe There: China." Hands-on experiences allow kids to prepare Chinese foods in the little restaurant; try their hands at calligraphy; tend to an ill panda; become a Chinese opera character and serve tea in a traditional tea house. The 13,000-square-foot gallery also gives visitors a peek insider the homes occupied by generations of Chinese families.
  • In addition to actor/interpreters who regularly help bring galleries to life, the museum's Lily Theatre stages live professional productions at least three times a year. Shows are generally an hour in length and admission is included with your museum admission. Check the museum web site to see when public shows are scheduled.
  • The Giant Water Clock at the museum stands 26.5 feet and is the largest in North America.
  • Youngsters who love trains will want to check out "All Aboard!" In addition to model train lay-outs, there's a 35-foot long steam engine that dates back to 1868. Kids can climb about and take a short ride: there's an illusion of movement and outdoor scenery.
  • Older children and teens can't help but be inspired by the Power of Children Gallery. Here you'll learn how three teens — Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges and Ryan White — all made a difference in the world. Anne Frank's Holocaust diary is required reading in many schools; Ruby Bridges was among the first black students to integrate the white school system in New Orleans in 1960 and Ryan White, who was expelled from his school due to his condition of AIDS, fought fear and misinformation about his illness in the 1980s.

What makes this exhibit so special is that through re-created, historically accurate environments you can walk into Ryan’s bedroom, Ruby’s classroom and Anne Frank’s secret annex. Live theater is also a part of the impressive area.

  • An outdoor Peace Garden is home to a horse chestnut sapling descended from the tree that once stood outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. A sculpture garden features seven of the world's wonders created from limestone.
  • The SpaceQuest Planetarium offers free daily shows and special ticketed events.
  • "We are intentional in our mission to provide a multi-generational focus in every exhibit and experience we create so that families can learn together and share special memories," said Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and CEO.