Sometimes winter weather is just too extreme for frolicking outside. Escaping to a more comfortable environment may be the only solution. This time of year, indoor attractions in each of the 50 states offer families respite from the elements. Some are free or cheap, while many cost more than a night at the movies but provide a full day of entertainment, occasionally garnished with a dollop of learning. Attractions targeted at kids are cheaper all around — the youngest kids often enter for free — and seniors, children, and military typically pay reduced fees.
GULFQUEST | ALABAMA
Opened in 2015, GulfQuest is a maritime museum dedicated to the Gulf of Mexico. Located in downtown Mobile, the interactive museum features 90 exhibits, theaters, displays, and simulators, including a Junior Mariners play area and a 16-minute film detailing the culture and history of the Gulf and Mobile Bay. Visitors can use a simulator to "navigate" vessels around the Port of Mobile, Mobile Bay, and the Tombigbee River.
THE ANCHORAGE MUSEUM | ALASKA
The Anchorage Museum, Alaska's largest, focuses on the state's history and culture. Get up close and personal with local history and art and enjoy the planetarium and other hands-on exhibits at the 9,000-square-foot Discovery Center.
HEARD MUSEUM | ARIZONA
The Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix is all about Native American art and history, and is one of the leading museums of its kind. Exhibits explore everything from elaborate bronze artworks to the period when American Indian kids were forced to attend residential boarding schools.
ARKANSAS ARTS CENTER
The 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 "Photographing Frida: Portraits of Frida Kahlo" and families can catch performances such as "Charlotte’s Web," including "pay what you can" previews.
BUSYKIDZ | CALIFORNIA
The town of Folsom, about 30 minutes northeast of Sacramento, is home to BusyKidz, an indoor play space modeled after businesses in and around town. Exhibits range from an art studio and music space to a farmers market, doctors' offices, a post office, and an engineering space. Come for story and craft time on Tuesdays and free Wi-Fi for parents in the lounge every day.
BUTTERFLY PAVILION | COLORADO
Home to more than 5,000 animals, the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster is a yearlong adventure. On a cold and snowy day, explore the "Wings of the Tropics" exhibit, a 7,200-square-foot indoor tropical rainforest with more than 1,600 butterflies. Save the gardens and the Big Dry Creek Exploration Trail for nice weather.
CHELSEA PIERS | CONNECTICUT
Located in Stamford, Chelsea Piers Connecticut is the place to stay active during the winter months. There's a 6,000-square-foot Splash Zone with pools and slides, batting cages, an indoor skating rink, a trampoline court, and a 22-foot-tall climbing wall. For children 5 and under, there's a separate play space with a foam pit and secret passageways.
WINTERTHUR | DELAWARE
The First State is home to numerous Gilded Age mansions, but probably the most famous is Henry Francis du Pont's home, Winterthur, near Wilmington. The 175-room mansion is furnished with some of the nearly 90,000 antiques and objects in du Pont's vast collection. To help preschoolers experience the exhibits, a pack of stories, puzzles, and games is available at the reception desk. The Touch-It Room on the first floor features an 1830s general store and colonial-era kitchen.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER | FLORIDA
Yes, Florida has Mickey and Minnie, but it also has astronauts. At the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, young and old can live out their space travel dreams at a hefty price ($57 for adults; $47 for children) but still spend less than the cost of a Disney vacation. Stand under the largest rocket ever flown, touch a moon rock, explore the space-themed playground, and strap into a custom-designed crew cabin to experience a virtual takeoff.
MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES | GEORGIA
This 50,000-square foot facility in Macon hosts three floors of hands-on exhibits, including a mini zoo of more than 70 animals, a scientist's workshop, an artist’s garret and poet's corner, and a map room. There's also a planetarium and observatory.
MAUI OCEAN CENTER | HAWAII
Maui Ocean Center offers visitors a chance to see a variety of sharks, turtles, stingrays, and tropical fish and one of the world's largest collection of Pacific coral. A 54-foot tunnel winds through the 750,000-gallon "Open Ocean" exhibit. Guests can also book a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium and its lab.
SILVER RAPIDS INDOOR WATERPARK | IDAHO
Pack up the kids, extended family, and friends and head to the Silver Rapids Indoor Waterpark. Although it's for guests of Silver Mountain Resort, groups can arrange access for day use and there's a limited number of individual tickets available too. The park features a 60,000-gallon wave pool, a 315-foot-long lazy river, a spray deck, a multilevel interactive play structure, and warm springs.
NAVY PIER | ILLINOIS
Chicago's Navy Pier attracts natives and tourists alike. It's home to Crystal Gardens, a 1-acre indoor botanical garden; the Chicago Children's Museum; an IMAX theater; and dining and shopping.
CHILDREN'S MUSEUM | INDIANA
The "Dinosphere" exhibit at Children's Museum of Indianapolis contains full-size dinosaur skeletons and an area to dig for fossils. The "American Pop" exhibit explores pop culture and how it shapes us. There's also a carousel, interactive exhibits that put kids in a circus or get them dancing, a play space with an art studio, and an elaborate look at trains big and tiny.
SIOUX CITY LEWIS & CLARK INTERPRETIVE CENTER | IOWA
Admission and programs are free at the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, where hands-on exhibits, animatronics, and art bring to life the Lewis and Clark expedition. Daily DVD presentations about Native American culture in the Keelboat Theatre, which recalls the expedition's vessel, and an exhibit featuring more than two dozen traditional native games. There are children's programs most weekends.
EXPLORATION PLACE | KANSAS
Exploration Place in Wichita features more than a dozen kid-oriented exhibits, each with a science, creative, historical, or cultural twist. The just-opened "Design Build Fly" includes 5,100 square feet of exhibits about aviation, including a full-size executive jet interior and the chance to operate a drone. Movies and light shows are screened in the theater/planetarium.
CHAMPS ENTERTAINMENT COMPLEX | KENTUCKY
Champs Entertainment Complex in Lexington has 50,000 square feet of indoor fun. Guests can roller skate or play laser tag or glow-in-the-dark mini golf. There's an arcade with classic games such as Skee-Ball that dispense tickets for collecting prizes.
NATIONAL WWII MUSEUM | LOUISIANA
Perhaps more appropriate for preteens and older, The National WWII Museum is a must-see in New Orleans. Housed in five pavilions, the museum boasts more than 250,000 artifacts, including two full-size planes and thousands of recorded personal stories from the war. Some are retold in a 4D movie narrated by Tom Hanks.
CHILDREN'S MUSEUM & THEATRE | MAINE
Activities and exhibits abound at the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine in Portland. Youngsters can learn about healthy living in the teddy-bear-filled, interactive Be Well Center; explore a camera obscura, a fire truck, and a lobster boat; and romp around an indoor playground; and see a play or try out for the Children's Theatre company. Started in 1923, it's the oldest continuously operating children's theater in the country. "The Three Little Pigs" is slated for February and March.
THE RAILROAD MUSEUM | MARYLAND
The Railroad Museum in Baltimore boasts the world's oldest and most comprehensive American railroad collection. Kids can visit the Choo Choo Blue Kid Zone in the roundhouse and participate in story and activity time on the weekends. Look for demonstrations in which staff operate the 1884 roundhouse and its 60-foot wooden turntable to move a historic rail car.
ROCK SPOT CLIMBING | MASSACHUSETTS
Rock Spot Climbing in Boston is one of New England's largest indoor bouldering facilities. It offers 9,000 square feet of climbing surfaces with up to 100 "boulder problems" and 35 top-rope walls. The facility is open seven days a week, as are other locations in South Boston and Rhode Island.
NORTH AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AUTO SHOW | MICHIGAN
What's more Detroit than cars? Get up close and personal with favorite makes and models at the North American International Auto Show, Jan. 14-27 at Cobo Center. On display are hundreds of vehicles from scores of makers, including electric cars, full-size trucks, and ultra-luxury brands. Jan. 23 is Education Day, customized for school groups coming to check out the inventory (kids are welcome on other days, too).
EDINBOROUGH PARK | MINNESOTA
Located in Edina, the completely enclosed Edinborough Park sprawls over 1 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). The amphitheater offers free entertainment through May in the form of concerts, movies, and the like.
OLE MISS PAVILION | MISSISSIPPI
Ole Miss is generally known for its football team, but winter is basketball season and the school just opened the $96.5 million Pavilion in 2016. There's no better time to catch a men's or women's basketball game, especially when Rebels tickets start at just $5.
KALEIDOSCOPE | MISSOURI
Sponsored by Hallmark, whose Kansas City headquarters and visitors center is nearby, Kaleidoscope offers free 50-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.
EXPLORATIONWORKS | MONTANA
Exhibits at ExplorationWorks in Helena include "Water Works," "Engineer It!" and "Little Sky," a special play land for children under 5. There are drop-in workshops and science programs for kids as well as learning opportunities for adults. Next door at Great Northern Town Center is the Great Northern Carousel with 37 hand-carved animals found in the state.
LAURITZEN GARDENS | NEBRASKA
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. The "Nebraska Habitat by Albert Rhea" exhibit (through Feb. 11) brings Nebraska wildflowers and butterflies up close and personal with macro-photography by the Omaha native.
BELLAGIO CONSERVATORY & BOTANICAL GARDEN | NEVADA
Not much is free in Vegas, but there's no charge for entry to the Bellagio Conservatory & 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 | NEW HAMPSHIRE
Funspot in Laconia claims to be the world's largest arcade. With an 18-hole indoor mini golf course, bowling (candlepin and 10 pin), and more than 600 games, including 300 classic arcade games, it just might be. 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 FUNPLEX | NEW JERSEY
The Garden State boasts an array of outdoor winter activities, but there are also options for those who prefer the indoor life. The Funplex, with locations in Mount Laurel and East Hanover, is filled with go-karts, bumper cars, indoor arcade games for all ages, laser tag, and much more.
ABQ BIOPARK | NEW MEXICO
Albuquerque's ABQ BioPark hugs the east side of the Rio Grande and houses botanical gardens, a zoo, a beach, and an aquarium. The aquarium shows films and features numerous exhibits (some interactive) ranging from a shark tank with six types of sharks to a coral reef tunnel, all in support of BioPark's eco-conscious mission. Check the website for updates on its construction projects.
NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME | NEW YORK
A visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown can tide over fans until baseball season starts again in April. Interactive exhibits intertwine with video and audio first-person stories by Hall of Famers. Fans can pay homage to their favorites at the Hall of Fame Gallery. This winter offers personalized visits to fans with a favorite team, including a private artifact spotlight featuring items not on display in the museum, followed by a one-hour guided museum tour.
MARBLES KIDS MUSEUM | NORTH CAROLINA
Raleigh's Marbles Kids Museum is the quintessential children's museum. Kids can get wet in the hands-on "Splash!" water area; paint, draw, and sculpt in the "Art Loft" space; and play grown-up in the pint-size "Around Town" play area. The museum also has an IMAX theater.
SPLASHER'S OF THE SOUTH SEAS | NORTH DAKOTA
Canad Inns Destination Center in Grand Forks contains 40,000 square feet of watery fantastical madness known as Splasher's of the South Seas. This indoor water park is open to the public for day use and features a lazy river, slides, and pools; an adults-only hot tub; and a play area for kids with a waterfall bucket. Dry off at the concession stand, pizza shop, or arcade.
COSI | OHIO
The Center of Science and Industry sits in a 320,000-square-foot building in downtown Columbus. Home to Ohio's largest planetarium, COSI also hosts numerous ongoing and permanent exhibits, such as the Dinosaur Gallery, with a 6-foot-long mechanical T. rex model that walks in place. There are live shows and demonstrations, and 3D science and nature films.
FRED JONES JR. MUSEUM OF ART | OKLAHOMA
This art museum at the University of Oklahoma houses an extensive (and impressive) variety of art. Visitors can take in work by such famed artists as Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and Vincent Van Gogh. The museum also has collections of Asian art, photography, art of the American Southwest, and Native American art. Admission is free.
WORLD FORESTRY CENTER | OREGON
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 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.
SMITH MEMORIAL PLAYGROUND | PENNSYLVANIA
Located in Philadelphia's East Fairmount Park, Smith Memorial Playground is the size of six football fields. Opened in 1899, the space 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. The Smith has always been free to explore.
R1 INDOOR KARTING | RHODE ISLAND
There's more than just indoor go-karting here — a massive indoor entertainment complex includes bowling, laser tag, paintball, an arcade, the KR Baseball Academy, and Rock Spot Climbing — but cold weather provides a great excuse for drivers as young as 6 to tear around a track. A single race is $25 for adults, $18 for youth.
EDVENTURE CHILDREN'S MUSEUM | SOUTH CAROLINA
The EdVenture Children's Museum in Columbia features ongoing "edventures" to help kids learn about fire prevention and pet care and invention. The Cooking Lab offers cooking classes, and a newsroom lets aspiring newscasters and meteorologists learn how news programs are created and practice giving reports. But the museum's literally can't-miss feature is Eddie, a 40-foot, 17.5-ton boy whose vertebrae can be climbed to visit his brain, heart, stomach, and intestines and see how the human body works.
MAMMOTH SITE | SOUTH DAKOTA
Visitors at the Mammoth Site in Hot Springs can drop in on a completely enclosed 40-plus-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 here.
COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME | TENNESSEE
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville is an attraction that appeals to all ages. There are ongoing music-themed exhibits showcasing musicians such as the Judds and Emmylou Harris, and programs including songwriters' sessions, film screenings, and family-themed events.
DOSEUM | TEXAS
DoSeum is San Antonio's museum for kids. They can go undercover at the Spy Academy; mimic adult life in Little Town; or imagine, create, and play with light and sound in the Sensations Studio. Public programs include science demonstrations and design workshops.
CITY CREEK CENTER | UTAH
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.
SHELBURNE MUSEUM | VERMONT
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: circus figures, decoys, quilts, dolls, toys, paintings, and more. If that isn't enough to keep your whole family occupied for hours, the museum offers craft sessions in its art studio.
CHILDREN'S MUSEUM | VIRGINIA
Located in Portsmouth, the Children's Museum of Virginia features exhibits from daily life, such as replicas of doctors’ and dentists’ offices, a grocery store, bank, and firehouse, complete with costumes and props. Kids can blow bubbles and create giant bubbles around themselves and sign up for classes, such as "STEM Club," focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, and "Smorgasbord Saturday," featuring fun with art and slimy experiments. "Explore the Rails," a special Thomas & Friends-themed program, is slated for Jan. 26 to May 12.
SEATTLE CENTER | WASHINGTON
Seattle Center is the place to be during Seattle's notoriously wet winters. There are basketball games at Key Arena; performances at the Seattle Children's Theatre; free Festál cultural festivals (such as Tết in Seattle, a Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration Jan. 26-27); a Tropical Butterfly House, two IMAX theaters, and five buildings of interactive science exhibits at the Pacific Science Center; and the Seattle Children's Museum.
CLAY CENTER | WEST VIRGINIA
The Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences of West Virginia in Charleston contains a theater, art exhibits, and science galleries under one roof. Family fun days keep everyone occupied with special activities. Tiny Tales Story Time (for "our smallest visitors") takes place every Thursday.
CHEESE MAKING | WISCONSIN
Craving comfort food this winter? 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.
BUFFALO BILL CENTER OF THE WEST | WYOMING
Located in Cody, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is dedicated to the history, art, science, and culture of the American West. The center houses five museums and a research library. Family fun days are hosted once a month; Jan. 18 is WinterFest. Fans of raptors can attend the Draper Museum's Raptor Experience for a chance to meet live birds and learn more about them.