Few things are more satisfying for parents than introducing children to culture while also having some fun. Luckily, Long Island is home to a host of museums that cater to a younger crowd. In fact, many of these sites offer hands-on, interactive activities that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
From air and space to science and trains, these spots offer special exhibits and programs to keep children engaged, entertained, and educated. So why not visit? In the meantime, scope out some more fun in our guide to indoor play spaces on Long Island as well as our event calendar. And our museums and arts guide offers the complete lowdown on Long Island planetariums, science centers, historic sites, and more.
Cradle of Aviation Museum — Garden City
A living museum that recreates Long Island's aviation history, the Cradle of Aviation is sure to delight little flight and space enthusiasts. Planes are suspended from midair in the all-glass atrium as you enter. Check out the IMAX theater for kid-friendly showings or the X-Ride Theater for riders 36 inches or taller. Annual events such as the "Pumpkin Smash" attract kids from all across Long Island. There's even a separate play space for younger kids. Daily and annual memberships are available. Birthday parties are offered.
Garvies Point Museum and Preserve — Glen Cove
This natural history museum on Nassau's North Shore has been a Long Island institution for more than 50 years. Have a dino-lover in the family? Take him or her to Garvies' paleontology programs for hands-on lessons on dinosaur habits and habitats. Garvies also boasts archaeology and bird-watching programs as well as Native American education and cultural seminars. Summer workshops and birthday parties are available.
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The climbing structure is an adult-free zone at the Long Island Children's Museum. Photo courtesy of LICM
Long Island Children's Museum — Garden City
LICM offers year-round, hand-on exhibits for kids that even adults find fun and engaging. An outdoor water play area is open during warmer weather. The museum, on Nassau County's Museum Row, offers weekly activities as well as STEM summer programs, early childhood programs, and more. The LICM Theater puts on live performances regularly. Daily and annual memberships are available. You can also host your child's birthday party here.
Nassau County Museum of Art — Roslyn
This might look like a museum for adults, but there are plenty of kid-friendly options to delight little ones. From Family Sundays to Studio Saturdays, this museum affords kids and parents plenty of hands-on experiences from which to choose. Special monthly programs are also offered for families. Daily passes and annual family memberships are available.
Science Museum of Long Island — Manhasset
This nonprofit science center is located on Leeds Pond Preserve on Nassau County's North Shore. It offers enrichment workshops for children on weekdays and during school vacations. Summer camp and birthday party options are available.
Kids will thrill to the drop-in programs at the Heckscher Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the museum
Heckscher Museum of Art — Huntington
The Heckscher Museum of Art offers a variety of programs and resources specifically for families and children. Ongoing activities include a digital action paint-a-selfie station, and more. On select Sunday afternoons the museum hosts Heckscher Family Hour for kids ages 5-10 and their families. Summer and vacation workshops are available. Daily passes and annual memberships are offered.
Do some investigating at the Long Island Explorium.
Long Island Explorium — Port Jefferson
The explorium is Long Island's premier maker space. Caregivers and children can explore, play, create, and build together. The museum's exhibits combine maritime themes with STEAM-based activities. Children can build boats, learn about mass and volume with rice, send messages to friends with a pulley system, and so much more. It offers camps when school is out, birthday parties, and partnerships with the Boy and Girl Scouts.
Long Island Science Center — Riverhead
Back in Riverhead after two years in nearby Rocky Point, this interactive science and natural history center offers magnetic experiments, an illumination station, construction zone, virtual-reality area, retro video game display, and more. Hours are limited, so call or check the museum's website for up-to-date information. See our review of the new Riverhead location here.
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The expansive grounds of the Vanderbilt Museum make for a great family destination. Photo courtesy of the museum
Vanderbilt Museum — Centerport
This expansive property did once belong to the famous Vanderbilt dynasty. Now it houses a series of museums sure to delight young and old. Adults will love the mansion tour while kids will thrill to the planetarium, Hall of Fishes, photo gallery, and more. Did we mention the view? From high atop a hill, peer down to Centerport harbor or, on a clear day, across the Sound to Connecticut. It's an ideal destination for a family picnic. The museum offers a number of school break instructional camps, but register early.
Whaling Museum & Education Center — Cold Spring Harbor
The If I Were A Whaler interactive exhibit enables kids of all ages to be part of Long Island's once-vibrant whaling industry, in the 1800s. Kids can dress up, play, and explore in an old general store. There are plenty of educational exhibits on whaling and boating. The museum also holds holiday events throughout the year and offers summer camps.
Take a walk down "Main Street" at the Children's Museum of the East End. Photo courtesy of the museum
Children's Museum of the East End — Bridgehampton
Even the littlest ones will enjoy this museum. On select days for an additional fee, the museum holds a Tot Spot mommy-and-me class for ages 16 months to 3 years and a baby and me class for 2 months through 16 months. Elaborate, hands-on exhibits promote imaginary play, learning, reading, building, and more. An indoor area offers play structures and soft foam gymnastic equipment. The museum even has a special play area for crawlers. An art room is ready for your little one's creations. Weekly classes for arts, crafts, cooking, and more are offered. When the weather gets warm, head outside for some playground fun, a live performance in the half-round theater, or a round of nine-hole mini-golf. Daily passes and annual memberships are offered.
Railroad Museum of Long Island — Riverhead, Greenport
Both the Riverhead and Greenport locations are closed during winter, but once they open big and small conductors will enjoy this ride through Long Island's railroading history. Enjoy both indoor and outdoor tracks. An indoor 40-foot track allows visitors to operate part of the layout. Board several stationary trains on premises and check out the conductor's quarters, sleeping areas, and more. The admission fee includes a ride on its World's Fair miniature train. Visitors also can hop aboard a train for a trip between the two East End communities. Tickets are good for both locations in one calendar year, so save your ticket to visit both.
South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center — Bridgehampton
The museum features both live and re-created exhibits of animals in their natural habitats. Wonderful murals cover the walls from floor to ceiling, adding to the beautiful aesthetic of the museum. The exhibits continue outside, with a butterfly and wildflower garden, as well as a nature walk through the Vineyard Field Preserve. There is also a marine touch tank, where brave kids can hold sea stars and urchins in the water.
A version of this article was originally posted in 2015.