Sometimes winter cold is just too cold (and in certain regions of the country, it's too sunny and warm) for frolicking outside. Escape 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 and 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, and seniors, children, and military typically pay reduced fees; the youngest kids often enter for free.
Where to Find Indoor Winter Fun in All 50 States
Opened in the fall of 2015, GulfQuest is the only maritime museum dedicated to the Gulf of Mexico. Located in downtown Mobile, the interactive museum features 90 exhibits, including the 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's largest, focuses on the state's history and culture. Get up close and personal with local history and art, including the Russian era, the gold rush, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Families will enjoy the planetarium and other hands-on exhibits at the Imaginarium Discovery Center.
The Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix is all about Native American art and history, and is one of the leading museums of its kind. Temporary exhibits currently showing include a selection of Frida Kahlo's photos and an exhibit that pairs American Indian art with hands-on activities for kids.
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 "Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art" and families can catch performances such as James Thurber's "The 13 Clocks."
The town of Folsom is about 30 minutes northeast of Sacramento and home to BusyKidz, an indoor play space modeled after businesses in and around Folsom. Exhibits range from an art studio and music space to a farmers market, doctors' offices, post office, and engineering space. Come for story and craft time on Tuesdays and free Wi-Fi for parents in the lounge every day.
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, a separate play space offers a foam pit and secret passageways.
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 filled with 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.
Stone Mountain Park in the eponymous town organizes year-round activities for all ages. The museum at Memorial Hall features exhibits with artifacts from, and tales about, 12,000 years of the mountain's history. "Rio: The 4D Experience," an animated story about two blue macaws, is showing on weekends in January and February.
Maui Ocean Center offers visitors a chance to see a variety of sharks, turtles, stingrays, tropical fish, and the world's largest collection of Pacific coral. They also can walk along a 54-foot tunnel that winds through the 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit. The Fins and Flippers Tour gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium and its lab.
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 of 15 or more can arrange access for day use. There's a 60,000-gallon wave pool, a 315-foot-long "lazy river" that runs around the park, a spray deck, a multi-level interactive play structure, and warm springs.
Chicago's Navy Pier is a must stop for natives and tourists alike. The pier is home to Crystal Gardens, a one-acre indoor botanical garden; the Chicago Children's Museum; a gallery displaying Tiffany stained-glass windows; an IMAX theater; and dining and shopping. Watch for the flower and garden show in March.
The Dinosphere exhibit at Children's Museum of Indianapolis contains full-size dinosaur skeletons and an area to dig for dino bones. "Take Me There: China" invites kids to play traditional musical instruments, learn to use chopsticks, and find out about modern and ancient traditions. There's also a carousel, an interactive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exhibit, a play space with an art studio, and trains, trains, and more trains.
Exploration Place in Wichita features 12 kid-oriented permanent exhibits, each with a science, creative, historical, or cultural twist. Two traveling exhibits slated for winter/spring are "Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked the World" and "Blue Man Group -- Making Waves." Interactive science shows run on weekends, and movies and light shows are screened in the theater/planetarium.
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 (e.g., Skee-Ball) that dispense tickets for collecting prizes. Public skating times are available Friday through Sunday and a monthly roller derby is always a hoot.
Perhaps more appropriate for preteens and older, The National WWII Museum is a must-see in New Orleans. Housed in three buildings, each organized around a World War II theme, the museum houses more than 100,000 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.
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," 37 top-rope stations, and up to 90 top-rope routes. Before and after the climb, use the cardio machines for warm-ups and cool downs. The facility is open seven days a week, as are sister locations in South Boston and Rhode Island.
What's more Detroit than cars? Get up close and personal with favorite makes and models at the North American International Auto Show, Jan. 11-26 at Cobo Center. On display are more than 750 vehicles, including electric cars and full-size trucks. Jan. 20 is Education Day, when school groups of all ages are welcome to check out the inventory (kids are welcome on other days, too).
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). 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 January 2016 opening of the brand new Pavilion, there's no better time to catch a men's or women's basketball game, especially when Rebels 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 Exploration Works 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 youngsters 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 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 "Glass Art of Craig Mitchell Smith,"(Feb. 1 to May 8), features more than 30 colored glass sculptures. Other winter shows include a Japanese doll exhibit and the annual orchid show.
Not much is free in Vegas, 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 Lanconia 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 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.
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 five types of sharks to a coral reef tunnel, all in support of BioPark's eco-conscious mission.
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. The Cabin Fever Film Series on two Fridays in February and family events during Presidents' Week are additional wintery escapes.
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.
Canad Inns Destination Center in Grand Forks, the chain's only American location, contains 40,000-square feet of watery fantastical madness known as Splasher's of the South Seas, and is open to the public for day use. This indoor waterpark features a lazy river, slides and pools, an adult-only hot tub, and a play area for the little ones with a bucket that pours water over the area. Dry off at the concession stand, pizza shop, or arcade.
The Center of Science and Industry, or COSI for short, sits in a 320,000-square-foot building in downtown Columbus. Home to Ohio's largest planetarium, COSI also hosts numerous ongoing exhibits, such as Lego Travel Adventure, running now through May 8. There are live shows and demonstrations, and 3D science and nature films.
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 hidden 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; "Minions," "Pan," and "Inside Out" 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.
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.
Warwick's indoor Launch Trampoline Park sports more than 10,000 square feet of connected trampolines that form one giant jumping surface. To ratchet up the excitement, kids can bounce off trampoline walls and play trampoline dodge ball. When the urge to jump wanes, head to the arcade room. There are also workout classes for adults and locations in other states.
EdVenture Children's Museum in Columbia claims to be the South's largest museum for children. Ongoing "edventures" help kids learn about fire prevention and pet care and explore their inventive side; the Cooking Lab offers cooking classes. "Dinos: The Big Dig" (Jan. 23 to April 24) features robotic dinosaurs and a chance to dig for fossils. Preschoolers are welcome at storytelling and movement classes.
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 here.
What's more Nashville than music? The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is an attraction that appeals to all ages. There are ongoing music-themed exhibits showcasing musicians such as Keith Urban, Eric Church, and Sam Phillips, and programs including songwriters' sessions, film screenings, and family-themed events.
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 for youngsters include science demonstrations and design workshops.
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's 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 in Shelburne. 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. If that isn't enough to keep your whole party occupied for hours, the museum offers craft sessions in its art studio.
Located in Portsmouth, the Children's Museum of Virginia features exhibits from daily life, such as replicas of doctors and dentist's 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 Little Artists or Emerging Artists, during the winter.
Seattle Center is the place to be during Seattle's notoriously wet winters. There are basketball games at KeyArena; performances at the Seattle Children's Theatre; free Festál cultural festivals (Tết Festival: Vietnamese Lunar New Year, Feb. 21-22); a Tropical Butterfly House, two IMAX theatres, and five buildings of interactive science exhibits at the Pacific Science Center; and the Seattle Children's Museum.
Clay Center for the Arts and 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. Wee Wednesdays for preschoolers are devoted to story time and other activities.
Located in Cody, 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; the Jan. 22 theme is "Let's p-ART-y!" Fans of raptors can attend the Draper Museum's Raptor Experience for a chance to meet live birds and learn more about them.