Visiting Long Island's Vanderbilt Museum with Kids: What You Need to Know Before You Go

The whale shark suspended from the ceiling in the Vanderbilt Museum's Habitat Wing is an imposing sight.
The whale shark suspended from the ceiling in the Vanderbilt Museum's Habitat Wing is an imposing sight.

The Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium is one of Long Island’s top family-friendly attractions. With year-round appeal, the vast and welcoming Vanderbilt grounds and views, a state-of-the-art planetarium, and an expansive mansion and museum provide hours of fun and entertainment for children and families. This Suffolk county museum transports visitors back in time. As you walk the cobblestone drive, visions of the Astors and Vanderbilts will come to mind. Gilded Age watchers will love this place. 

Need more ideas for cultural activities or day trips on Long Island? Mommy Poppins has got you covered. Check out our Museums and Art Guide for Long Island Kids and find day-trip inspiration in our Day Trips Guide for Long Island families.

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Must See Things at The Vanderbilt Mansion and Museum

Explore the Spanish-revival Vanderbilt Mansion, known as Eagle’s Nest, on your own or on a guided tour. Tours are geared toward children ages 8 and over. Eagle’s Nest is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can witness life during Long Island’s Gold Coast heyday of the early 20th century on the tour of this opulent 24-room mansion. Tours last about 45 minutes to an hour. Families can explore the mansion and museum galleries independently although certain living areas are only open for tour participants. 

1. The Nursery Wing

This area of the mansion was the former guest wing that dates back to the 1920s. Besides the library, there are several exciting artifacts from Mr.Vanderbilt's travels. In a small room, visitors can view a preserved mummy estimated to be 3,000 years old. Visitors should note that the museum does not allow guests to take photos of the Egyptian artifact.

RELATED: The Best Off-the-Beaten Path Museums on Long Island

Vanderbilt Museum with kids
Kids love to gaze into the specimen cases that display preserved butterflies and more. Photo by Molly England

2. The Memorial Wing

There are three floors to explore in the Memorial Wing, and children won’t want to miss the preserved invertebrates, such as octopus and sea cucumber. The stuffed birds, cases of colorful butterflies, and the collection of ethnographic artifacts will impress visitors young and old. Children can touch sea stars, coral, and other marine-life favorites on the lower level. The Turntable Gallery, just beyond the touch exhibit, features Vanderbilt Cup Race memorabilia and Mr. Vanderbilt’s 1928 car.

3. The Habitat/Stoll Wing

Visitors are transported to the far corners of the earth in this diorama-filled room built in the 1920s. Curious young explorers will dart through the Stoll Wing’s galleries to see wildlife in their authentic habitats, including an up-close encounter with an intimidating polar bear in his snow-covered environment. The most exciting exhibit might be the 32-foot-long whale shark hanging from the ceiling. 

RELATED: Centerport With Kids: Fun Things to Do in This Harborfront Community

Vanderbilt Museum with kids Hall of Fishes
Explore the Hall of Fishes Marine Museum to see the fruits of Vanderbilt's seafaring expeditions. Photo courtesy of the museum

4. Marine Museum 

Originally built as a place for the public, the Hall of Fishes Marine Museum showcases marine life from Mr. Vanderbilt’s countless sea expeditions. There are thousands of specimens on display from around the world. Every nook and cranny has an artifact to explore, including the ceiling that boasts a massive stuffed whale and skeleton. 

5. Vanderbilt Planetarium

The Reichert Planetarium/Observatory provides visitors with an opportunity to travel through the universe. Planetarium programs include live star talks, full-dome films, laser shows, and concerts. The live star talks take audiences on a live night sky tour from the comfort of reclining theater seats. Audiences go on an adventure of unimaginable distance to the infinite depths of the universe. Full-dome films range from One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventures (30 minutes in length and ideal for children ages 2-8) to shows geared for the whole family, like Stars: The Powerhouses of the Universe.

6. Carriage House/Learning Center

Mr. Vanderbilt’s former garage for his race cars is now the Carriage House/Learning Center, which offers educational and fun workshops for children. Workshops are available for preschool students to adults and are held year-round. Advanced registration is required. Beyond visiting and attending a workshop, children can celebrate their birthday with a space-themed birthday party at the planetarium. 

RELATED: 55 Things To Do in Newport, RI with Kids

Vanderbilt Museum with kids sprawling grounds
The lovely grounds of the Vanderbilt Museum make for a beautiful setting to enjoy a post-museum picnic.

Restaurants at the Vanderbilt Mansion and Museum

7. Planetarium Cafe

The new lunch spot inside the planetarium is open on weekends from 12pm-4pm and is stocked with snacks and goodies. Check out the pastries and treats from the local favorite Copenhagen Bakery. Their sweet treats are out of this world. 

8. Picnicking at the Vanderbilt

Families can take full advantage of the beautifully maintained gardens and lawns when the weather cooperates: picnic tables and benches are dotted around the estate. Stop at Hometown Bake Shop on the way to the Vanderbilt for fresh and delicious pastries and pies or pack your picnic and embrace the fresh air and spectacular views of the glistening Northport Bay and Long Island Sound. You don't want to miss their birthday cake scones.

RELATED: The 12 Best Long Island Beach Towns for Families That Aren't the Hamptons

Vanderbilt Museum with kids exterior shot of estate
William K. Vanderbilt II’s Gold Coast-era estate in Centerport is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy of the museum

Visiting the Vanderbilt Mansion and Museum

  • William K. Vanderbilt II’s Gold Coast-era estate is nestled on the winding roads of Centerport. When you first arrive through the massive, ornate iron gates, head along the cobblestone path, past the Corinthian columns and breathtaking views of Northport Bay towards the planetarium: there you’ll learn about the planetarium shows and museum tours available that day.
  • Don't let the cobblestone streets fool you, the property is stroller-friendly with smooth brick sidewalks all around.
  • General admission is $10 for adults, $7 for children 12 and under, and free for children age two and under; general admission permits visitors to explore the Memorial Wing, Nursery Wing, Habitat and Stoll Wing, and Hall of Fishes Marine Museum. 
  • There’s an additional $6 fee for guided tours. Tickets must be purchased in person and are first-come, first-serve, so arrive early. 
  • Daytime planetarium show admission includes general admission to the grounds. Tickets are $16 for adults, $13 for children 12 and under, and free for children ages two and under.
  • Evening shows do not include park access and are $10 for adults, $8 for children 12 and under, and free for children age two and under.
  • More ticket details, pricing, and opening hours are available on the website.
  • Your local library may offer a museum pass for the Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium that is valid for general admission and planetarium tickets for one show for up to two adults and four children.

Originally published in 2020. Molly England contributed additional reporting. Unless noted, photos by the author

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