Where to Find Indoor Fun in All 50 States This Winter
Sometimes winter weather is just too cold (or, in certain parts of the country, too warm) for frolicking outside. This time of year, indoor attractions in each of the 50 states offer families respite from the elements. Some are free or cheap while others cost little more than a night at the movies but provide a full day of entertainment with a dollop of learning. Attractions targeted at kids are cheaper all around, and seniors, children, and military typically pay reduced fees; the youngest kids often enter for free.
Related: Cheap or Free Museums in All 50 States
Want to learn about the birthplace of Mardi Gras ahead of the annual celebration? There's no need to stop in New Orleans, as Mobile claims the title. The Mobile Carnival Museum displays the crowns of former Mardi Gras kings and queens, plus video footage of past parades. Adults pay $5, while kids 3 to 12 are $2 -- and can play dress-up in the Little Mystics Den.
The Alaska Heritage Museum has a large collection of Alaskan Native artifacts and a two-thirds-scale stagecoach for those who want to learn more about the Gold Rush era. While small, the museum is priced right -- entry is free.
The free Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock has something for everyone: It's both art museum and children's theater. Art lovers will revel in special exhibits such as "Ansel Adams: Early Works," January 27 to April 16, and families can catch performances such as "Rapunzel," April 28 to May 14.
The Broad in downtown Los Angeles is overflowing with famous pieces from modern artists ranging from Andy Warhol to Ed Ruscha. Entry to the museum is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance -- sometimes more than a month before a planned visit.
The Colorado Ski and Snowboard Museum and Hall of Fame in Vail is free. Not a skier? Even those who have never hit the slopes will appreciate the in-depth history of both sports.
Related: 10 Pricey Ski Resorts and Where to Hit the Slopes for Less
The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry in Mansfield has a collection of more than 2,500 puppets from around the world. Learn more by digging into the country's largest collection of puppet-related videotapes, films, and other media. Entry is free.
The Air Mobility Command Museum in Dover is free and teaches curious kids about the history of flight. Try the flight simulators or see more than 30 aircraft warehoused at the museum. A retired control tower is also open to visit.
The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach is free to all visitors through December 2018 and has collections of American, Chinese, European, and contemporary art. Every Saturday kids 5 to 12, with an accompanying adult, can take a tour that is capped off by a kid-friendly art workshop.
At the Monetary Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, visitors can lift a gold bar, take the banker's challenge to learn about how the Fed works, and even save some money -- entry is free.
One ticket ($7 for adults and free for kids 12 and under) grants visitors admission to the Baldwin Home Museum and the Wo Hing Museum. The Baldwin Home is the oldest house still standing in Maui and offers a look into the lives of missionaries on the island, while the Wo Hing Museum is a restored social meeting hall used by Chinese settlers on the island. Docents offer guided tours.
The free Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology is located in a historic part of Boise. The museum has exhibits and educational programs about the state's mining heritage and rock-centric history as well as youth workshops for rock-loving kids.
The National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial is a free way to learn about a national heritage that goes back 4,000 years. The building's tranquil memorial wall pays tribute to the 2 million Cambodians who died in the Killing Fields at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime.
At the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, the famed writer and native son is remembered with a display of personal photographs, his typewriter, his Purple Heart, and more. His rejection letters are also available to read. Entry is free.
Admission and programs are free at the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, where hands-on exhibits, animatronics, and art help visitors learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Take a few minutes to watch the daily DVD presentations about Native American culture. One exhibit features more than two dozen traditional native games and there are children's programs most weekends.
Exploration Place in Wichita features 12 kid-oriented permanent exhibits, each with a scientific, historical, or creative aspect. Interactive science shows run on weekends, and movies and light shows are screened in the theater/planetarium. Entry is less than $10 a person.
The General George Patton Museum in Fort Knox has artifacts from the famous World War II general on display ranging from a 1938 Cadillac staff car to a saber he designed for the U.S. cavalry. Exhibits include a full-scale, restored WWII army barracks. Admission is free.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum at the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans is part of the Louisiana State Museum system and entry is free. While the mint no longer makes money, the museum has historic instruments from artists such as Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, and Sidney Bechet.
At the Children's Museum and Theatre of Maine in Portland, kids can learn about healthy living in the teddy-bear-filled, interactive Be Well Center; play with a camera obscura, a fire truck, and a lobster boat; romp around an indoor playground; and see a play or try out for the children's theater program. Entry is $10 a person (children under 18 months are free).
The Baltimore Museum of Art is free and houses 95,000 works of art, including 19th-century, modern, and contemporary art. Founded in 1914 with a single painting, the BMA is internationally recognized for works by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Rembrandt.
The Waterworks Museum is free to the public and located on the site of the original Chestnut Hill Reservoir and pumping station. Visitors learn about clean water and health, see some impressive architecture, and get an unexpected take on how Boston became the city it is today.
The Science Center and Body Works Gallery at the Lakeshore Museum Center in Muskegon is free and a sure way to get kids excited about science. There are pull-out drawers with learning materials on topics ranging from sound to fossils, and visitors can power a fan by pedaling a bike or activate a tornado simulator.
Located in Edina, the completely enclosed Edinborough Park sprawls over one acre and houses a pool, track, indoor amphitheater, and Adventure Peak, one of the country's largest play parks (with a 30-foot-tall oak tree for climbing and four tube slides). Tickets to the play park and the pool are $7 each or $12 for both, and the amphitheater offers free entertainment through May in the form of concerts, movies, and the like.
Ole Miss is generally known for its football team, but winter is basketball season. And with the 2016 opening of the new Pavilion, there's no better time to catch a men's or women's basketball game, especially when women's hoops tickets start at just $5.
Sponsored by Hallmark, whose Kansas City headquarters and visitors center is nearby, Kaleidoscope offers free 40-minute hands-on family art sessions daily except Sundays and holidays. Tickets are on a first-come, first-served basis, and the line starts forming at 9:30 a.m. The place is packed full of leftovers from Hallmark's production process -- think ribbons, dots, stars, melted crayons, and more. Spend time in the glow-in-the-dark room and use the watercolor paint dryer and jigsaw puzzle maker.
Exhibits at ExplorationWorks in Helena include "Simple Machines," "Eat Well, Play Well," and "Montana Outdoors," an interactive display that focuses on local outdoor activities. There are drop-in workshops and science programs for kids as well as learning opportunities for adults. Admission is $9 for adults and $5.50 for kids 18 and under.
Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha is the place to visit for a little winter doldrums pick-me-up. The 17,500-square-foot conservatory houses numerous exhibits that can brighten gloomy days. An exhibit including a peacock and giant dragonfly made entirely from Lego bricks is on display until May 15. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for kids 6 to 12, and free for kids under 6.
Vegas can easily empty visitors' pockets, but there's no charge for entry to the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden. Five times a year (Chinese New Year, spring, summer, fall, and winter) the gardens are transformed into a different celebration of the season with flowers and plants that complement the grounds and architecture. The conservatory ceiling, adorned with oxidized copper sculpted into floral patterns, is worth an admiring gaze. This indoor attraction is open 24 hours a day.
Funspot in Laconia claims to be the world's largest arcade. It boasts an 18-hole indoor mini golf course ($5 per player), bowling ($4 per string per player), and more than 600 games, including 300 classic arcade games. Bingo (ages 18 and up) is offered five days a week. The facility includes a tavern with a pool table and dart board, a family-friendly dining spot, and two party rooms.
The Old Barracks Museum in Trenton dates back to 1758 and features a restored officers' house and barracks building. Tours of the buildings explaining their lengthy and sometimes colorful history are given on the hour. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for students, and children 5 and under are free.
The Telephone Museum of New Mexico in Albuquerque is three stories of communication equipment through the years, from switchboards to telephones and teletype machines. The System Room features a re-creation of Alexander Graham Bell's workshop, and kids can play hands-on with a switchboard and different kinds of phones. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children under 12.
Beyond the bright lights of the big city, there are opportunities to learn. The National Museum of the American Indian in New York City is located inside the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House and is free to visit. Works by Native American artists are on display, as are photos from the 1860s onward.
Raleigh's Marbles Kids Museum is the quintessential children's museum. Kids get wet in the hands-on Splash water area; paint, draw, and sculpt in the Art Loft; and play grownup in the pint-size Around Town play area. The museum is also home to North Carolina's only IMAX theater. Admission is $5.
The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum in Bismarck covers the history of the state, from exhibits featuring dinosaur skeletons and bison skulls to current recycling and sustainability efforts. Children can visit "The Treehouse," an exhibit featuring a flight simulator, a firehouse, and more. Admission is free.
Want to see a Van Gogh for free? Visit the Cincinnati Art Museum, which has more than 67,000 pieces of artwork and free general admission. European, African, Asian, and contemporary artworks are on display year-round.
A family trip to the movies is a fun diversion on a cold winter afternoon. It can also be expensive. That's why theaters such as Northpark 7 in Oklahoma City are such gems. Movie tickets are just $2 (upcharge for 3D films) and $1 all day Tuesday. Hot dogs go for a buck, as well. The theater shows more than oldies; "The Secret Life of Pets," "Jack Reacher," and "Tyler Perry's Boo!" were playing in December.
At the World Forestry Center in Portland's Washington Park, the 20,000-square-foot Discovery Museum is the star of the show. Try interactive river rafting in an actual raft, working the feller buncher (a machine that cuts down trees), or riding an indoor chairlift for a bird's-eye view of a forest. In addition to the forests of the Pacific Northwest, learn about those in Russia, South Africa, and Brazil. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for kids 3 to 18.
Located in Philadelphia's East Fairmount Park, Smith Memorial Playground is the size of six football fields. The space dates to 1899 and was designed especially with kids in mind. Among woodlands, fields, and hills, there's a giant wooden slide and a 16,000-square-foot indoor playhouse. Smith is free to explore.
The Museum of Natural History and Planetarium in Providence has planetarium shows in its full-dome theater and more than 250,000 objects from around the world in its collection, although only a small percentage are displayed at a time. Admission to the planetarium and museum is $3 ($2 to the museum alone), and children under 4 are free.
At the North Charleston Fire Museum, visitors find out if they could really handle a fire hose's back pressure or lift a fireman's gear. In addition to displays of antique firefighting equipment, the museum has interactive theater presentations that let visitors get close to the fire. Tickets are $6 for adults, and kids under 12 get in free.
Visitors at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs can drop in on a completely enclosed, 40-year-old, ongoing paleontological dig. There are 30-minute guided tours of the site as well as an exhibit hall that features full-size replicas of mammoths found there. Adult admission is $11 and kids 4 to 12 are $8.
The Tennessee State Museum in Nashville is really three attractions -- the Tennessee State Museum, the Military Museum, and the State Capitol building -- and all are free to visit. Learn about the Civil War and Reconstruction, see a full-scale model of Federal architecture, and view a 3,600-year-old Egyptian mummy brought to the state in 1860.
DoSeum is San Antonio's museum for kids. They can play spy at the Spy Academy; mimic adult life in Little Town; or imagine, create, and build in Innovation Station. Public programs include science demonstrations and design workshops. Tickets are $12.
Anyone heading to Salt Lake City's City Creek Center this winter should plan to do more than shop. There are weekly fish feedings at the trout pond on Saturdays at 10 a.m. and a self-guided architecture tour of the waterfalls, sculptures, fountains, and pedestrian sky bridge. The mall's fountain was designed by the creators of Las Vegas' famed Bellagio fountains. The musically choreographed show shoots water as high as 40 feet, with fire elements added after dark.
Historic buildings, art, and Americana are just some of the eye candy on display at the Shelburne Museum. The museum's 38 buildings house a collection of more than 150,000 pieces, from circus figures, decoys, and quilts to dolls, toys, paintings, and more. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids Nov. 1 to April 30 -- half what they cost the rest of the year.
Located in Portsmouth, the Children's Museum of Virginia features exhibits from daily life, such as replicas of doctor's and dentist's offices, a grocery store, a bank, and a firehouse, complete with costumes and props. Kids can blow bubbles and create giant bubbles around themselves and sign up for classes, such as Little Artists or Emerging Artists, during the winter. Tickets are $11 for adults and $10 for kids 2 to 17.
The Frye Art Museum in Seattle displays a rotating selection of works from its large collection of 19th- and 20th-century German, French, and American paintings and sculptures. Admission is free, as are complimentary tours and kid-friendly events for "small frye" attendees.
Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences of West Virginia in Charleston contains a theater, art exhibits, and science galleries under one roof. The Avampato Discovery Museum has 12,000 square feet of fun, hands-on exhibits as well as a climbing sculpture. Tickets are $9 for adults and $7.50 for kids.
Got cheese? Stop by one of the many small cheese-making factories and associated retail outlets scattered around the state, especially in the southern half. A look through the observation window is generally free, as are cheese curd and other samples. Some facilities show videos about the cheese-making process. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism are helpful resources for planning a visit.
Related: 15 Unique Cheese Shops Where You Can Get Free Samples
The Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne shows off some of the state's notable dinosaur bone finds. A hands-on history room lets kids dress up in costume and play with a chuck wagon. Admission is free.