Traveling with kids almost anywhere is a tremendous learning experience, but there are certain places that really excel at educating kids in a fun way. In the "Complete Idiot's Guide to the Best Family Vacations," the FamilyTravelForum.com community recommends the following cultural centers in North America as the very best at bringing history and the arts alive for all ages.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Best Family Destinations
Baseball Hall of Fame, New York
This sports museum is a stadium-size, multimedia showcase full of the memorabilia of baseball's greats. Located in Cooperstown, it is a magnet for Little Leaguers who imagine being inducted into the Hall of Fame's hallowed halls. Video screens showcase famous plays from memorable games and there plenty of hands-on and batter's up exhibits for kids. "Baseball at the Movies" documents more than 150 Hollywood films about the sport. A permanent exhibit about Hank Aaron opened in 2009 to much acclaim.
Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Wyoming
This large Cody landmark focuses on "Wild West Show" legend William Frederick Cody and is also home to many other museums. Paintings of the American West can be found in the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, a full-size teepee is on display at the Plains Indian Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum houses an impressive collection of Winchesters. The unusual Draper Museum of Natural History's spiral design takes visitors down in elevation from alpine mountains, through forest and meadows, to plains and basins while illustrating the geology, wildlife, and peoples of the Yellowstone region.
High Desert Museum, Oregon
In the hip, eco-friendly town of Bend, this unusual learning center offers several living history displays about daily life on the Oregon Trail. Kids get a chance to help with chores and learn to churn butter, split wood and dip candles. There's also a working sawmill from the 1800s and a ranch house to explore. The museum is home to rescue animals native to the Northwest, including bobcats, lynx, falcons, Gila monsters and rattlesnakes. Other more traditional exhibits illustrate the fine arts of the region, the work of fur traders, and the difficulties of life on the Trail.
International Folk Art Museum, New Mexico
Folk Art is the art of the everyday which comes from the traditions of community and culture. Home to the world's largest collection of folk art, Santa Fe's remarkable collection of 135,000 artifacts originates from more than 100 countries and six continents. A family favorite is the permanent exhibition "Multiple Visions: A Common Bond." The works on display include toys and dolls that any child would love to play with; as well as costumes, and masks. Textiles of all kinds, religious folk art, paintings, beadwork, and household items, many displayed as they were found in homes, round out the collections.
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, Nova Scotia
To experience the nautical history of the New World visit this small, easy to digest waterfront museum in Halifax. In the oldest museum of its kind in Canada, children will enjoy the Days of Sail Gallery, where reconstructions and small replicas of sailing vessels are on display. Other popular exhibits include the Age of Steam Gallery and the eerie Shipwreck Treasures of Nova Scotia. A favorite is the museum's Titanic exhibit which features an extensive collection of artifacts from the doomed ocean liner, including the only intact deck chair that came ashore at this site.
Mystic Seaport: Museum of America and the Sea, Connecticut
Founded in 1654, Mystic was once the shipbuilding capital of New England. Now its Seaport is home to the largest maritime museum in the United States. Check out the authentic nineteenth-century village that features 30 restored buildings, including a bank, chapel, drugstore and lighthouse. At the Discovery Barn, play old-fashioned card games and learn how captains used flags to communicate at sea. Enjoy the 30-minute children's show "Tales of a Whaler" that teaches the basics of whaling. Sail along the Mystic River on the 102-year-old Sabino, one of the world's oldest coal-fired wooden steamboats, or observe ship restoration up close in the Preservation Yard.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ohio
Cleveland's Rock Hall tells the story of rock and roll and its influence on our culture through galleries featuring permanent and rotating exhibits, movie theaters, and interactive listening stations including "500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll." In addition to special events, more than 100 musicians perform or participate in panel discussions at the museum every year. The museum has items such as Elvis Presley outfits, Jim Morrison's Boy Scout uniform, John Lennon's grammar school report cards, and memorabilia of Jimi Hendrix's days as a high school football star.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Center, Saskatchewan
For more than a century, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have kept crime to a minimum across Canada. In Regina, their primary training center explores the role of the red-clad Mounties. Housed in an elegantly designed stone and glass building on the grounds of the RCMP Academy (where most Mounties and their horses train), the center uses art exhibits, multimedia presentations, and special programming and tours to tell the story of the RCMP. Depending on when you visit, you may also be able to catch the RCMP Musical Ride, the show put on by the Mounties' traveling equestrian troupe that showcases the officers' intricate cavalry drills.
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma
Located in Oklahoma City, America's top cowboy collection offers a wide range of exhibits featuring Western art, and themed galleries including The American Cowboy, The American Rodeo and The Western Performers. Kids will love Prosperity Junction, a replica of a turn-of-the-century cattle town that encompasses the Old West with a railroad depot, blacksmith shop, school, church, and homes. The children's building is home to ongoing programs and exhibits that will delight and educate young ones.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Ohio
Built along the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati, this 158,000-square-foot museum illustrates the horrors of slavery and the fight for freedom. Three pavilions full of interactive, multi-media exhibits reflect on the history of American slavery. The main exhibit is the "Slave Pen," an authentic nineteenth-century wooden structure that was once used to hold more than 75 slaves in "storage." While it can be intense, viewing it is also an inspiring and enriching learning experience that teaches about courage and the human condition.