When we first visited the Culinary Arts Museum in Providence, Rhode Island, we fell madly in love. During the 18 months the museum was closed for inventory, we pined for it to reopen. You may be thinking, “Really? What’s so great about a bunch of old stoves?” OK, there are a few old stoves (which are actually pretty cool), but the museum offers a surprisingly wide variety of exhibits and fun, hands-on activities for families.
When the Culinary Arts Museum reopened this fall, we fell in love all over again. The staff showed us around, pointing out the newest additions to the collections. Thankfully, all of our old favorites are still there too. Read on for highlights, what's new, and tips for getting the most out of your visit to this gem of a museum.
We continue to be amazed at just how kid-friendly the Culinary Arts Museum is. Throughout the museum, there are places for kids to interact with the exhibits, sit and relax, play games, read books, and even watch cartoons on TV. These are a few of our favorite areas to explore:
The Diner: When you walk in to the diner exhibit area, you are transported back in time. Walk past the soda fountain, red chairs and black-and-white-checkered tile floor to step into a genuine diner of yesteryear. Ask the mannequin behind the counter for a shake; he’ll be happy to oblige. Move on to every kid’s delight: a junior-sized kitchen and diner counter, complete with play food, utensils, and a deep fryer. Order in diner lingo (there’s a menu) and see if your kids can figure out what Adam and Eve on a Raft is. They’ll be happy to serve you several meals, no doubt, but good luck getting them out of the kitchen.
The Country Fair: Enter a world of faux livestock, candy apples, and Italian ice in the "Country Fair to Culinary Olympics" exhibit. The toys and games, which include a ball toss, play trucks, and a Skee Ball machine, are real – and real fun. There's also a great 4-H photo op for the kids, and fascinating country fair history for the adults.
The Campsite: In "Roughing It: Fare of the Wilderness," take the challenge to test your survival skills. Then build a “fire" (a bit like a Rubix cube) to roast hot dogs. Older kids and Scouts might be interested in the part of the exhibit highlighting the history of Scouting, illustrated by original uniforms, mementos, and camping equipment.
For parents, there is plenty of history and foodie culture to appreciate – the interior of a tavern (with a game called Skittles that the whole family will immediately become addicted to), an exhibit featuring exquisite wedding cakes and other works of pastry-chef genius, an assortment of cooking tools, and an updated exhibit of celebrity chef memorabilia.
The new exhibit, "Sweet Success," highlights three successful dessert enterprises and features a gorgeous soda fountain backbar from New York City's long-closed Agora Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor. Parents and kids alike can get creative with markers to decorate old JWU Chef Coats -- the museum may even hang them up!
Getting the Most Out of Your Visit
Before you go: Take a look at the museum website. The Plan a Visit page has essential information about hours (the museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays), extended closings for holiday breaks, directions, admission prices, and accessibility.
Make a day of it: After your visit to the museum, follow the road and the signs for Save the Bay all the way back, through the Johnson & Wales campus. You'll end up at the Save the Bay Center and the Urban Coastal Greenway, where you can take a lovely walk along the coastline.
There are plenty of other fun ways to spend the rest of your day in Providence: Play at the Providence Children's Museum, soak in the WaterFire experience, or explore Roger Williams Park. Visit the Fairy Gardens exhibition at the Botanical Center in April or check out the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in October.
Eats: Ironically, there is no food at the Culinary Arts Museum. I recommend eating before you go. As you leave the museum, ask at the front desk for a list of unique places to dine in Providence. If the Sweet Success exhibit has you hankering for a shake, I highly recommend making the trek to Warren for a cabinet at the Delekta Pharmacy -- totally worth it.
Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University | 315 Harborside Blvd, Providence, RI 02905 | 401-598-2805