We packed up the kids and headed to the midwest on a roadtrip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. Our 9 hour road trip from Rochester, NY to Indianapolis, Indiana took us to the one of the best children’s museums in the United States.
Coming from Rochester, NY the home of the Strong Museum of Play, we had high expectations for our visit to the largest children’s museum in the US. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis did not disappoint!
For this road trip we drove straight through only stopping for gas and food. The 9 hour trip took us west and south through Buffalo, Erie, PA and Columbus, OH.
If you choose to fly, the Indianapolis International Airport is only seven miles from downtown.
Where to Stay
I like Marriott brand hotels. Years ago when I used to travel about 3 months of the year as a college recruiter, I became a loyal Marriott guest.
We stayed downtown at the Courtyard Indianapolis at the Capitol. For this trip we picked a downtown location for convenience. Everything was close by so we only drove a few blocks or in some instances we just walked.
I redeemed credit card points for our 3 night stay at the Courtyard Indianapolis at the Capitol. At the moment, I am not a credit card reward points collector. It just happened that we had a credit card with some points available and decided to use them for this trip. without points, our room would have been over $350 per night.
The hotel was recently renovated and is less than 2 miles from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. We were close to attractions like the Indianapolis Zoo, the state capitol, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Fountain Square and Lucas Oil Stadium. We booked a room with 1 king bed and a sofa bed. We find that with the kids, it gives us more room during the day to have the sofa bed vs two doubles. Also, it gives them somewhere to sit, eat and play other than the bed.
This hotel also had a pool. Since our kids have learned to swim, a hotel with a pool is a must. It is a great way to entertain them for free without much effort. Courtyard as a brand generally does not do free breakfast, but there was a small Bistro onsite where you can order cold or a hot breakfast. Parking was $30 per day which you can often expect with downtown hotels. That was the trade off for not having too drive much.
Getting Your Children’s Museum Tickets
During this visit I was also visiting one of my best friends. On our first full day, we hung out at her place for our kids to play with her dogs. On day two we excitedly hit up the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
The friend who we visited was able to score us free tickets to the museum through a friend! Ticket prices range according to the time of year and when you buy tickets. If you buy at least two weeks in advance, you can save 20% according to their website.
Adult tickets (age 18+)range from $23-33 while youth tickets (age 2-17) range from $19-26. Children under 2 are free. You have to check online to find the best rate for the best dates. The prices can change. Between driving our own car, using hotel points and free museum tickets we were making out like bandits on this trip!
Our tickets were emailed to us. If you buy tickets online you can download the ticket barcode as well. Once you reach the entrance you will scan your barcode. You can print off tickets if you choose.
Our hotel was about a 5 minute drive from the museum. If we were feeling more adventurous we could have walked or even have taken one of the many scooters located downtown for rent. The parking garage is located directly across from the main entrance. You can access a covered bridge from the parking garage if the weather isn’t the best. There additional outdoor parking lots as well. Parking is always free.
Timing Your Visit
Our visit in late August yielded an almost empty museum. In upstate NY, our kids don’t return to school until after Labor Day. We use this to our advantage and schedule most of our longer trips during late August when most of the country is back in school. We find the prices to be cheaper for attractions and hotels, and often many major attractions less crowded. Since one of our kids is in public school and one is homeschooled, we still have to follow the school calendar.
As we crossed the covered parking bridge into the building, we could see the really cool and large sports park! Once we made it inside we were never without something cool, interactive or educational. We spent nearly 3 hours at the museum. For us, that is pushing the limit before my the kids start to get tired or meltdown.
In addition to the time of year or the time of day, you can also check the Children’s Museum site to see which exhibits are starting or ending. This is a great way to help plan when you want to take a trip to Indianapolis.
Once in the lobby, we peeped the bigger than life version of Bumblebee from the Transformers movie franchise.
At the time of our visit, there was a Scooby-Doo! Mansion Mayhem exhibit which was perfect for a our Scooby obsessed son! The interactive exhibit featured the iconic blue van as well as the opportunity to solve mystery clues like a real member of the team.
Like many museums, the Children’s Museum changes exhibits seasonally and they then often rotate exhibits to other children’s museums throughout the country. At the time of our visit, we were able to the Scooby-Doo! Mansion Mayhem exhibit which is now moving throughout the country until 2025 (see dates and locations). When you are planning your visit, visit the museum website to learn about upcoming exhibits.
There are some areas and experiences that stay the same for visitors to enjoy year after year. Things like the 35-foot-long, 55-ton steam engine train, the classic Carousel that is over 100 years old (costs $1 to ride), the Playscape area for kids 5 and under, the Power of Children, and the Beyond Space immersive exhibit that details NASA’s Project Mercury program just to name a few!
Playscape for the Littles
Playscape is an area of the museum for children ages 5 and under. This was the perfect spot for our smallest Kent Krew member to engage in activites that fit her perfectly.
The pre-schoolers can build giant block towers, play with a huge water table, explore a pond habitat and there is a Babyscape section for the smallest visitors. This section also includes a private nursing area, bottle feeding space, family restrooms, and diaper changing station.
There is a really fun, safe and create climbing structure that my daughter enjoyed but she liked the dinosoar dig site best. Kids get to dig for din fossils in real sand at tables built to their height.
The World of Sports
Indianapolis has a rich sports history and culture. From the home of the NCAA Final Four, Indianapoist 500 Race Series, the home of the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts too! The museum has an indoor and outdoor celebration of sports. The indoor exhibits are open year round.
Thw World of Sports lets guests interact with exhibits and practice their skills on a balance beam, play the role of sports broadcaster, block hockey goals, learn about the History of Hoops and even more. The Children’s Museum is also home to the National Art Museum of Sport, a celebration of sports through art.
The Outdoor Sports Legends Experience
We had great weather take full advantage of the outdoor area. As a fan of our local Rochester Strong Museum of Play, I have to say the Outdoor Sports Legends Experience area is really one of the things that sets it apart from all other children’s museums. Since Indy is in the midwest, the outdoor sports area is only open from March – October.
There are 12 outdoor sports experiences and 3 indoor activities that make up the Outdoor Sports Legends Experience. You will find football, basketball, soccer, hockey, racing, golf, baseball and the huge tree of sports. What makes this even more unique is the fact that many of the sports activities are made for all ages and have kid-sized equipment.
There are regular sized basketball goals where you can run a full game of 5-on-5 but the other courts have basketball goals that players can easily crank down for the littlest baller. My 5 year old was able to make a basket on a lower goal on her own and feel proud. Additionally, they offer adaptive equipment for those who have visual and other physical impairments.
The Tree of Sports
The tree of sports is like a big tree house. When you reach the top, you can look out over the entire sports park area. The kids had a ball running in and just hanging out at the top. This is also where we decided to eat lunch.
Tree of Sports at the Children’s Museum
There is a food court on site inside the museum. The food court was a little pricey as I paid $9.00 for a bag of chips an a soda. There is a snack bar in the sports section as well. We ate mostly the snack we had brought with us.
After lunch, the kids continued to try out the different sports experiences. We ended our day at the basketball courts.
Sensory and Autism Services
The museum offers select days called Museum My Way. It is an adaptive museum experience with limited capacity for visitors with disabilities and/or sensory sensitivities.
On their website you can also find a sensory map so you can easily identify exhibits with bright lights, loud noises, flashing lights, strong smells or other sensory effects. Lastly they also provide a social narrative complete with pictures you can view online so you can walk your loved one through a visual experience and explain what will happen.
For our son, before we visit new places we try to do social narratives. Walking him through the visual pictures helps reduce his anxiety of entering a new environment and sometimes he is able to pick the things he wants to see most.
Activities in Indy
While downtown we checked out Monument Circle, got some Chicago style pizza from Giordano’s (awesome!) and went to the mall. Chicago is only about 3 hours away and we considered driving over but decided it would be too much for the kids.
The other advantage to being downtown was that we were able to access the city Canal Walk. Canal Walk cuts through White River Sate Park in downtown Indy and is a lovely walk along the Canal. there are paddle boats available to ride the canal if you don’t want to walk. We walked to the Colts Canal Playspace, a playground dedicated by the Indianapolis Colts. It is an very nice park offering a lot of space to climb, jump and swing.
Colts Playground at Canal Park
On one day, I met my friend for lunch downtown and she took me to a spot called Dave’s hot Chicken where I got my first taste of Nashville Hot chicken. The food was great, service was quick and the chicken wasn’t too hot. I had a medium (spice level) chicken slider, fries and we split the mac n cheese (it was just okay) but my chicken sandwich was bomb!
Other activities that we did not experience but that are major attractions in the area:
Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Home of the Indy 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, you can watch an Indianapolis Pacers or Indianapolis Colts game, the Indianapolis Zoo, and Fountain Square to name a few.
We also couldn’t pass up a trip to Long’s Bakery, a local institution and voted repeatedly as the best donuts in Indy.
Overall, if you are visiting the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, you can definitely fill in few days with other activities and experiences. Indianapolis is a major city offering major fun.