When bad weather hits, a trip to a museum can be a great cure for cabin fever. With winter in full force, it's time to check out a few local gems that offer kids hands-on art and science exploration. At these northern New Jersey museums, kids can study the stars at a planetarium, learn about dinosaurs that once roamed New Jersey, create their own works of art, meet animals, make music, and much more. They're guaranteed to learn something—and get nice and tired in the process.
Read on for our favorite spots in northern New Jersey, and be sure to check out our roundup of museums in central and southern NJ, too.
Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey – Teterboro
Learn all about flying at this museum adjacent to Teterboro Airport. You’ll see various aircraft, helicopters, the first American hovercraft, and even a rocket engine. An interactive exhibit titled “Fundamentals of Flight” focuses on aerodynamics; a special Dare to Fly program for ages 8–15 expands on the topic. Kids will love Open Cockpit Weekends (check Web site for upcoming events), where they can climb into different aircraft for a firsthand feel of what it’s like to be a pilot. You can also hold a party here.
$8 per adult, $6 per child. Closed Mondays.
Have a jam session at the GRAMMY Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum
GRAMMY Museum Experience – Newark
Rocking out is encouraged at the new GRAMMY Museum Experience Prudential Center. Strutting onstage, playing electronic instruments, and singing karaoke-style are part of the fun at this new museum celebrating pop music's biggest stars, including many with New Jersey roots. An electronic jam session may be the coolest way for kids to spend a rainy day. Located on the ground floor of the Prudential Center, the GRAMMY Museum is rich in music history, with a spotlight on New Jersey's homegrown stars. Read about our recent visit to the GRAMMY Museum here.
$10 per adult, $7 per child age 3–7, free for children 2 and under. Closed Mondays.
Hoboken Historical Museum and Fire Department Museum – Hoboken
Located in one of the oldest buildings in Hoboken, this museum is historical inside and out. It focuses on various aspects of Hoboken history, and features works by local and regional artists. The 2,000-square-foot space also has interactive displays to enrich the experience for all ages and various family programs. A short drive down the road is the museum’s affiliated fire department museum. It houses fire gear, memorabilia, and most appreciated by the little ones, a red Ahrens Fox fire engine from around 1932 that they can climb aboard to ring the shiny brass bell. Story times are held at both the main museum and the fire department museum.
Main museum is $4 per adult, free for children. Closed Mondays. Fire department museum is $3 per adult, free for children under 12. Open weekends.
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Parents and kids alike will get a kick out the gigantic Lite-Brite. Photo by Margaret Hargrove
Imagine That!!! – Florham Park
Imagine That!!! Discovery Museum for Children specializes in preschool-age and young schoolchildren. The 16,000-square-foot space just underwent a gut renovation, adding more space that includes an interactive light wall inspired by Lite-Brite, oversized foam blocks and construction toys, a new castle, a new pirate ship that includes an adjacent magnetic fishing pond, and a long-awaited sink in the art area. It has lots to keep little ones entertained and has been an oasis for us on bad-weather days. Kids will learn through experiences based on play and discovery, including an arts and crafts area, a new 3D sand table, a music room, and a mini dance studio with mirrors and a barre. There's a soft play-scape for younger kids to climb and explore; bigger kids can jump aboard the refurbished fire truck. Costumes are available for dressing up throughout the museum. Several themed areas that invite kids to play pretend include a kitchen, grocery store, diner, and new baby-doll nursery. New, larger bathrooms (including a family bathroom) were also part of the renovation.
$6.99 per adult, $15.99 per child (under age 1 free). Imagine That!!! has all-new party rooms and a revamped cafe. Open seven days a week.
Jersey Explorer Children’s Museum – East Orange
This museum was built and is run by young people from NJ Youth Corps. It offers hands-on exhibits, science demonstrations and activities, and arts and crafts. Exploration Station will have kids circling the globe, learning all about foreign lands and cultures. Take a trip back in time with a visit to an ancient Egyptian tomb, explore the days of the Underground Railroad and Civil Rights movement, then blast into the future in a one-hour spaceship recreation. Learn all about the work of EMTs in a 911 exhibit. Take a stroll down Main Street, a miniature town featuring a pet store, library, firehouse, doctor’s office, supermarket, and more. Dance to old-time tunes on a jukebox in the café. There’s also a photography exhibit, a theater, and a dedicated play space.
Drop-in visits are free, but call in advance to verify schedule. Donations are welcome. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Liberty Hall Museum – Union
This historic home, built in 1772, was home to New Jersey’s first elected governor, William Livingston. The Victorian mansion now houses 50 rooms full of antique furniture, toys, tools, textiles and ceramics. It is a living history museum, meaning you can stroll through the bedrooms, dining room, garage, etc., to see what it was like to live back in that era. There are also a variety of tours you can take, with topics ranging from the landscaped gardens to the family’s luxury travel. While the museum is closed for regular visits from January through March, there are some fun special programs available, such as a Doctor Seuss birthday party and a Valentine party for moms and sons.
$12 per adult, $8 per child, children under 3 are free. Closed January-March, and on Sundays and Mondays.
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The Infinity Climber is a suspended, multi-story play space at Liberty Science Center. Photo courtesy of LSC
Liberty Science Center – Jersey City
It's virtually impossible to experience everything Liberty Science Center has to offer in just one day. This interactive learning museum, located in Liberty State Park, boasts four floors of exhibits and experiences. A kids' lab allows budding scientists to conduct experiments. The Infinity Climber (shown above) is a one-of-a-kind suspended play space. Inside I Explore, 2–5 year olds can send balls whooshing through pneumatic tubes, build and test race cars, play with a giant light wall, and scoop and pour rice to their hearts' content. See a movie or laser show in LSC's IMAX and 3D theaters. Learn about both big and small, with interactive exhibits ranging from nanoscience to skyscrapers. And don't forget to check out the center's latest addition—a planetarium! LSC hosts birthday parties and overnight camp-ins, and its Cafe Skylines offers kid-friendly fare like chicken fingers and pizza, as well as a salad bar, soup, and sandwiches. (If you'd rather eat elsewhere, there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants nearby.)
$22.75 – $36.75 per adult, $18.75 – $30.75 per child (ages 2–12), depending on whether you choose basic admission or add-on movie options and entrance to premium exhibits. Additional fees apply for special programs. Closed Mondays.
There is much for kids to do and learn at the Montclair Museum of Art, including tours. Photo courtesy of MAM
Montclair Art Museum – Montclair
The Montclair Art Museum is a great place to introduce kids to visual arts. Its education department offers a variety of programs that help children learn about and enjoy the art in the museum's collections and exhibits. These programs include guided tours, themed art projects, story times, films, and other activities. The Family Learning Lab, in the third-floor lobby, is a place where kids and families can hang out and do interactive projects during museum hours. Park Bench, which occurs the second Wednesday of each month, offers kids a guided tour of the museum, storytelling, art projects, and refreshments with a common theme. The Drop-In Studio, held each Sunday, is another way to explore the materials and processes used in current exhibitions in a hands-on way. Both are great ways to get creative with your kids and meet other families. Various special events include art activities, live music, and more.
$12 per adult, free for kids under 12.
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The Mega Model Trains exhibit at the Morris Museum runs through March 4, 2018. Photo courtesy of the museum
The Morris Museum – Morris
The Morris Museum is perhaps best known for its large collection of 19th century musical dolls and machines. Viewing this ongoing exhibition, Musical Machines and Living Dolls, feels a bit like walking around inside a music box. It's magical and slightly creepy (there are some sinister-looking clowns and monkeys), and we can't get enough of it. It's but one of many kid-friendly exhibits at this beloved museum, which is small enough to see in its entirety in one visit, but always interesting and engaging. Other permanent exhibits include the Dinosaur Den, where kids can sit in a dinosaur's nest, touch a dinosaur egg, and listen to the simulated sound of a Hadrosaur; the Mammal Gallery, whose taxidermied residents include an enormous grizzly bear; and a collection of rocks and minerals that includes a "cave" for viewing fluorescent specimens. There are many special programs and events, including Family Fun Days, Tot Tours for ages 2–5, and art classes and workshops for older kids and teens. The museum is also home to the Bickford Theatre, which presents programming for both kids and adults. If you have a young train lover in your life, the museum's Mega Model Trains exhibit, which comes around every winter, is a must-see. It runs through March 4, 2018, as does a current special exhibit of toys.
$10 per adult, $7 per child (ages 3–13), with additional costs for special programs. On the second and third Thursdays of each month, admission is pay as you wish from 4–8 p.m. Closed Mondays.
The Newark Museum – Newark
Though not exclusively a children's museum, Newark Museum is a gem that has plenty of offerings for kids and families. Highlights include interactive galleries where visitors can explore topics ranging from plate tectonics to Tibetan life; a planetarium where you can see video from the Cassini spacecraft's ongoing exploration of Saturn's rings; and a fire museum where kids can climb into the cab of a real fire truck and learn about fire safety in the Hazard House. Special programs for kids include Creative Play, geared toward kids ages 3–5, and Family Workshops, for kids ages 5–12, which include special tours, games and activities, hands-on art activities and science experiments, story times, and even concerts. On Saturdays, all ages can drop in to the Maker Space and get their hands dirty with clay, paint, and other materials to work on monthly themed projects. Older kids will love checking out the museum's regular exhibits, which include one of the nation's oldest and most comprehensive collections of African art.
$15 per adult, $8 per child (ages 2 and under free). Planetarium admission is an additional $6 per adult and $4 per child under age 12. Planetarium not recommended for kids under 4. The Newark Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Top photo: The new Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium at Liberty Science Center