How to Survive a Trip to a Museum with a Toddler


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On weekends, we like to spend at least one day gallivanting outside of the city, whether it’s visiting a new museum or eating at a new restaurant. Now that my daughter Ilse is little older and doesn’t mind getting her hands a little dirty, we enjoy taking her to museums, particularly those activity-filled museums that allow her to touch everything. Recently, we spent the day at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose and had a blast exploring all the different indoor and outdoor exhibits. With summer tourist season in full swing, visiting museums can become overwhelming when you’re contending with so many other people, so here are my tips for surviving museum trips.

Do your homework

Like any amusement park, restaurant, or museum, I research the place ahead of time.I visit the website to look at featured exhibits, rules, parking, etc. We map out directions ahead of time and note nearby restaurants. When in doubt, I call the museum’s “Help Desk” or “Guest Services.” Doing my homework makes for a less stressful outing, so we are not circling the neighborhood for parking or food to eat.

Arrive early

The old saying “ the early bird gets the worm” holds true when visiting museums. Go early and get better access to parking, exhibits you want to see, and shorter wait times. As a family, we are usually awake by 7AM on weekends. So, visiting a museum that opens at 10AM works perfectly for us. For example, this past weekend, we arrived at the museum at 10 AM,  visited the exhibits we wanted to see the most, then explored the rest based on Ilse’s energy level. Three hours later, we were done, and she was ready for a nap.

Bring your own snacks

If you did #1, you will know whether the museum permits outside snacks. Save money and bring your own bottled water and snacks for your family. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can bring your own lunch, too, and eat outside on the museum grounds. And don’t forget snacks for you. As parents, we are so focused on our children that we forget to stay hydrated and snack. Tip: Pack your own snacks (i.e. cheese crackers, pretzels, or dried fruit) that everyone enjoys and stick with water for hydration.

Bring an extra change of clothes (shoes, too)

I always keep an extra change of clothes for Ilse in our family backpack. Now I will add socks, her princess underwear, and an extra pair of shoes. Most children’s museums have waterplay exhibits or bubble play exhibits, and Ilse’s pristine, dry outfit gets soaked in minutes. Getting wet is part of the fun. I keep the clothes in an extra large zip-top bag and swap out the wet clothes for dry ones. Shoes can go in a separate bag.

Have a backup plan

Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t always work out. Maybe the lines are too long at the museum’s entrance. Maybe the kids caught a cold before the weekend. In any event, it’s always nice to have a backup plan. Hang out at your favorite neighborhood playground. Visit the beach and pick up rocks. A bbackupplan gives the family something else to do and staves the inevitable sounds of “I’m bored.”

I love museums because they combine learning and sensory experiences. At the same time, I like being ready for the controlled chaos that exists in a museum environment. I hope these tips keep you sane, so you can enjoy those exhibits with your little ones. Share your museum survival tips with us!

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Jeanne is a married, full-time working mom with an MBA in Marketing from Golden Gate University and BA in Communications from San Francisco State University. She is an Associate Director of Sales for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and loves that her career enables her to promote the city she loves. Jeanne and her husband Daniel live in San Francisco with their two daughters, Ilse and Alice. When Jeanne is not working, writing, or volunteering at Ilse's school, she enjoys traveling, spending time with family, and cooking from her collection of cookbooks (70 and growing) while sipping Hudson Bay Bourbon. Follow her adventures on Instagram.


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