Living in Cincinnati, we’re lucky to be just a quick drive away from several larger cities — and all their big-city amenities. From playgrounds to unique landmarks, there are lots of hidden gems and one-tank trips to be taken. Today, we’re focusing on children’s museums — and, believe us, there are plenty!
Here’s the Ultimate Guide to Children’s Museums Within 2 Hours of Cincinnati:
1708 River Valley Circle South, Lancaster
In 2016 a group of moms got together to explore the possibility of creating a hands-on, interactive children’s museum for Lancaster, Ohio. Today, the 8,000-square-foot adventure space they dreamed up features more than 35 hands-on exhibits and activities for children ages 0-8. The nonprofit museum provides a place for children to learn as they engage in their most important “work” of play.
Located in Covington’s lovely Devou Park, the Behringer-Crawford Museum is four stories of interactive fun celebrating Northern Kentucky’s rich heritage! Kids will love the automobile exhibit on the second floor, with features a freestanding, “drive in” movie in a classic car, an old-time jukebox, and play table with cars and trucks and things that go. The museum is also known for its holiday toy train display, which is a must for little train lovers. Admission is $9/adults, $5/kids ages 3-17 and free for members and tots under 3.
This Dayton gem is beyond cool, and features an impressive number of permanent and rotating exhibits. Kids will especially love the Discovery Zoo, Treehouse and Explorers Crossing. Tickets are $14.50 for adults, $11.50 for children 3-17 and free for kids under 3.
Located at the 1907 Court Street Firehouse (a registered historical building), the Cincinnati Fire Museum is a well-preserved piece of history along an otherwise modern road in Cincinnati’s West End. You’ll walk on original cobblestone sidewalk to get to the entrance on the side of the building, and the Fire Museum’s facade features the original garage doors and vintage lettering. It’s a charming building that will take you back to Old Cincinnati. But there’s also lots of interactive fun for kids: a fire pole young firefighters can slide down, a smoke house where kids can “escape” out the window, an old-fashioned water pump for kids to try their hands at; and the pièce de résistance: a full-sized E-One Pumper Cab where kids can run the lights and sirens, just like real fire fighters.
With an indoor carousel, interactive engineering exhibits and the Original Wright Flyer III, this Dayton museum is as educational as it is kid friendly. Admission is $8 per adult (ages 18-59), $5 per child (3-17) and students and free for children under 3. Read our recap of this Gem City gem here.
In 2008, COSI was named America’s #1 science center for families by Parents Magazine. Since 1964, COSI has engaged with over 33 million people from all 50 states and around the world, both on-site and through its award-winning outreach programs. Highlights include the Planetarium, Energy Explorers, Space exhibit and new Dinosaur Gallery. Science has never seemed cooler!
After an unexpected closure at the end of 2017, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum reopened in May and is better than ever! KidSPACE, Kroger, the Woods and Kids at Work have all gotten fun updates, and the CMC’s exhibit game is stronger than ever. Mission Aerospace is high-flying – and FREE (for CMC members!) – fun for kids of all ages; Chocolate: The Exhibit is an educational and bittersweet sensory experience; and this fall’s Guitar exhibit promises to be world rocking.
West Chester, OH
The world’s largest indoor train display is located a short drive up 1-75, in West Chester. Entertrainment Junction is always a hit for young railroad enthusiasts: it’s 25,000 square feet of model trains (that’s half a football field!), and includes over 2 miles of track, 90 G-scale locomotives and 1,000 cars. There’s also a kids’ play area, railroad museum, Expo Center and approximately 1,346 train tables.
This children’s museum features lots of hands-on activities; highlights include Physics and Space, Kids Court and Wonder Woods (a mini museum space for tots under 3). Admission is $9 for guests 1 year of age and older. Please note that the Explorium is closed the week of Labor Day for annual maintenance.
Kentucky Science Center is the largest hands-on science center in Kentucky, with three floors of interactive exhibits and experiences, a four-story theater, teaching laboratories, educational programs and distance learning capabilities. Plan to visit on a Friday or Saturday night for $5 after 5 — admission is only $5 per person for permanent exhibits after 5 pm!
309 Washington St., Columbus, IN
Just an hour and a half away in the other Columbus (Columbus, IN), youngsters can explore three floors of interactive fun at KidsCommons. Kids can discover the innovation of the city’s architecture and urban design while planning their very own community in City by Design. Get the ultimate bubble blowing experience in Bubble-ology, create a mini masterpiece in Kids-at-Art and investigate the science of optics and music with the Gateway Bridge Laser Harp. But the piece de resistance for kids of all ages is the giant toilet slide. You read that right – in ExploraHouse, kids can slide down the museum’s world famous giant toilet! Note: the building across the street houses The Columbus Commons – a giant, free indoor playground perfect for burning off some steam before the drive home.
The American Sign Museum is kid-friendly and fun for families. The American Sign Museum is a piece of living history that’s as accessible to kids as it is to adults. The signs all feature something that will appeal to younger audiences: recognizable imagery from popular culture (Ronald McDonald, Big Boy and Colonel Sanders), known objects (cars, bears, spinning globes) and vivid, bold colors. Tip:ctake a guided tour. These tours are a great way to learn more about all the history with the museum, and are offered at 11 am and 2 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 pm on Sundays.
We live just 2 hours away from the biggest children’s museum in the world! The sheer size, variety and number of exhibits at this museum is astounding. The all-new Riley Health Sports Legends Experience is reason alone to make the trek – this outdoor exhibit combines sports history, physical fitness and health education in a variety of family-fun, indoor and outdoor experiences. Featuring 12 outside sports experiences and 3 indoor exhibits, there’s so much for kids (and adults!) to do! Golf, baseball, hockey, soccer — no matter where your kids’ interests lie, there is something fun for them in this new exhibit. And if you have superhero fans in your fam, definitely plan a visit to the DC Superheroes exhibit this fall (the exhibit is only around until November 25!).
Dayton is known for its ties to America’s aviation history and the Air Force Museum is its crowning jewel. The museum is perfect for all ages – from babies in carriers to grandparents – it’s easy for strollers, spacious for antsy kids and family friendly with plenty of restrooms and a nursing room. Admission and parking are always free — so if you’re looking for something different to do with your family, this is it.
One thing to note — if you have a membership to our fabulous Duke Energy Children’s Museum, you can get free and discounted admission to many of these area museums, which we designated with an *asterisk. For a complete list of participating museums and member benefits, click over to Cincy Museum.