Richmond Children's Museums: Science Museum of Virginia and Children's Museum of Richmond
We have been to so many children’s and science museums over the years – in Providence, Boston, Philly, Milwaukee, and Sarasota, to name a few – I honestly didn’t think I could be impressed at this point. Both the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the Virginia Science Museum were delightful surprises. The children’s museum’s original location has everything little kids love without being too big or overwhelming. And right next door, the science museum impresses with its new Boost exhibit and state of the art IMAX theater. Keep reading for highlights and tips that make these two museums a must-do on your Richmond itinerary – even if your family has been to more museums than you can count.
The Children’s Museum of Richmond actually has several satellite locations, but we visited the original location, Central, which is next door to the Science Museum of Richmond. Here are highlights and tips for visiting:
CMor Central reminds me of a Baltimore row home: The building doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you get inside, it just keeps going with rooms and wonders you never imagined it could hold. The museum offers everything little kids love. Dinosaurs? Yes. A farm-themed area? Yep. A water play area? Of course. Dress up and a puppet theater? You know it. A real ambulance to explore, a car to fix, a kid-sized market complete with play food and shopping carts: Yes, yes and yes. Oh, and a fabulous art room, quiet book nook (with the coolest bookcase ever), kid-sized replica of Silver Diner, tree house, cave, carousel ($), and live animals. Wow. Good luck getting your kids out of this place.
Even though CMor has it all, the outdoor areas set it apart from other children’s museums, at least for families visiting from Northern cities. The mild climate and space in Virginia make it possible to have not just one postage-stamp-sized, but two large outdoor areas. In the BackYard, children play in a big sandbox covered with a shade, splash in the water squirts and little stream, play musical instruments, and grace the outdoor stage with their impromptu performances. There’s a playhouse for imaginative play, and parents of littlest ones will appreciate the separate water and sand play area for ages three and under. The Front Yard comes to life in summertime, with a showcase of native trees, a dancing water feature (bring a swimsuit), and lush raised-bed vegetable garden next to the shaded picnic area. Kids snacking at the tables indoors have a great view of CMor’s resident hens clucking away in their coop outside.
When the weather isn’t cooperating, one of my favorite things about the museum is how many elements of the great outdoors are brought inside: Caves to explore, a cow to milk, a dock to dangle feet from, and a gaggle of hula hoops to keep kids moving. Along the walls throughout the museum, incredibly realistic artwork depicting the Birds of Richmond practically sings. The Living Tree House is the centerpiece, a gross-motor play area with stairs, slides, periscopes, and – best of all – live animals native to Virginia that kids can watch through the glass enclosures.
Good to know: Snacks (including soft serve frozen yogurt!) are available for purchase, but you're welcome to bring your own food and enjoy it at the tables in the lobby or outside in the picnic area. The well-stocked Museum Shop features a secondhand clothing boutique for children. The exhibits are designed to be wheelchair accessible, and the museum offers special nights for kids with special needs. CMor doesn't participate in the ACM reciprocal program, but you can visit on the third Friday of the month for $1 admission per person.
Children’s Museum of Richmond – Central | 2626 West Broad St., Richmond, VA 23220 | 804-474-7000
When your little ones are tuckered out and ready for a nap, it’s time for some big kid fun. Stroll over to the Science Museum of Virginia, stopping along the way to smell the flowers in the science museum’s lovely Bayscapes Garden, which features native plants and provides a habitat for birds and insects. Be sure to test your strength by pushing the Kugels, giant spheres of granite that depict features of planet Earth and its moon.
Once a train station, the Science Museum of Virginia is impressive on the outside, but even more so on the inside. When you enter, you’re greeted by an airplane suspended from the lofty ceiling and the mesmerizing Foucault Pendulum. Go through the archways for a bite to eat in the Periodic Table café or to shop for cool science toys in the museum store.
Inside the museum's exhibits, you can solve a crime while learning about the human body, come face-to-face with live animals, explore outer space, try experiments, see rats playing basketball, and visit a "beach" (with the smell suntan lotion in the air – no joke). Featured exhibits like this summer’s How to Make a Monster are always a hit. I recommend spending some time outside checking out the trains, playing on a giant chess board, and stepping inside the Reynolds Aluminaut, a record-breaking aluminum submarine that has voyaged across the world to the depths of the ocean.
Boost!, the museum’s newest permanent exhibit, is definitely a highlight. With your own personal data card, you measure and boost your happiness quotient and compare it to others’. The museum also has serious bragging rights where IMAX theaters are concerned, with The Dome, the most technologically advanced digital dome theater in the world. The experience provided by a state of the art NanoSeam screen and serious high-def is immersive and impressive.
Good to know: SMV has a daily roster of activities, like cooking demos, live animal encounters, shows, dissections, and films. Be sure to pick up a schedule at the admission desk. Kids under the age of five are not permitted in The Dome theater, and the experience is loud and visually intense. If you have issues with motion sickness, vertigo, or the like, you may want to think twice about seeing a show in the The Dome.
Science Museum of Virginia | 2500 West Broad Street, Richmond VA 23220-2057 | 804-864-1400 | email@example.com