The Ultimate Guide to Children's Museums Within Two Hours of Tulsa
My mission: Visit children’s museums in a two-hour radius and report back.
With a 5-year-old and a 2 ½-year-old tagging along -- it would take advance planning, lots of snacks (so many snacks!) and audio books to get us there. And as the list grew to include five different spots all an easy drive away (plus more I wouldn’t have time to visit), I started to appreciate just how much there is for a family to explore in the greater Tulsa region. We were all pretty excited.
But to call these places children’s museums feels a little bit wrong. Museums are hushed places full of white walls, priceless artwork and strict admonishments to “not touch!” The museums we visited felt like anything but -- shrieks and giggles of happiness filled the air, the spaces were packed full of stimulating and engaging materials and little fingers were encouraged to explore everywhere.
Such play and exploration is not frivolous; it’s not just a way to pass the time. “Play is children’s work,” said Debbie Williams, program coordinator at Stillwater’s Wondertorium. “It’s how their brains grow.” Children play to learn how the world around them works and to problem solve. The best way to learn is by doing, agreed Linda Maisch, VP of community engagement for Oklahoma City’s Science Museum Oklahoma. The Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville embraces the notion that though they are an educational institution at heart, “families see us as an entertainment and fun venue -- and we love that!” said Dana Engelbert, marketing manager.
Several months and several hundred miles later, the assignment grew into so much more. My husband came along for some of the adventures – a real treat in his otherwise hectic work schedule – and our friends joined us for others. It was an experience in taking advantage of all the enrichment available to our kids, but also in enjoying our own young family, turning off the cell phones and hitting “pause” to just get lost in PLAY for an afternoon.
Mom, can we please go to the gift shop?
It’s worth noting that with the exception of the Tulsa Children’s Museum (which has a small retail display by the check-in), the museums I visited generally boast pretty awesome gift shops — not the usual junk, but really thoughtful, well-curated and often educational stuff. It might even persuade you to loosen the “no gift shop” ban and perhaps pick up some advance birthday or holiday gifts.
Oklahoma Museum Network Membership Boost
Purchase a family membership at ANY of the OMN affiliate museums and for $40 more, members can receive up to five free general admissions per visit to any of the other partner museums for a whole year. We did this and saved more than $55 on our visit to Science Museum Oklahoma alone. What a deal!
Affiliates of the Oklahoma Museum Network:
- Science Museum Oklahoma (OKC, OK)
- Jasmine Moran Children’s
- Museum (Seminole, OK)
- Leonardo’s Children’s Museum (Enid, OK)
- Museum of the Great Plains (Lawton, OK)
- Tulsa Children’s Museum (Tulsa, OK)
- Sam Noble Museum, OU: While we didn’t have time this go-around, you will certainly want to check out the Sam Noble Museum on the University of Oklahoma Campus in Norman - a museum for all ages focusing on the natural and cultural history of Oklahoma and featuring some awesome dinosaur bones and exhibits on early Native Americans among other cool stuff. samnoblemuseum.ou.edu, 2401 Chautauqua Ave, Norman 73072, 405.325.4712
Tulsa Children’s Museum Discovery Lab
560 N Maybelle Ave Tulsa 74127
Travel Time: 5 minutes and up
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Admission: Kids under 2 free, Adults & Kids $6
Member Oklahoma Museums Network, Association of Children’s Museums
Ahhh the tape tunnel! There really is no better way to pass the hours on a steamy (or rainy, or frigid) Tulsa day. The kids never tire of it. And I’ve been through it more times than I care to count. Let’s just call it the day’s cardio. But this area gem is more than just that — indeed with rotating exhibits (my kids were particularly fond of the “Grossology” lab of a few months back) and an awesome space for cooperative engineering in the main hall. There’s always something interesting, engaging and hands-on happening in the Workshop as well. It’s learning through play and practically in your own backyard.
Where to Stop: Owen Park
Kids still have energy? End the day with a run through the excellent Owen Park playground right outside the front door or cool off in the splash pad. The firemen at Station Number 2 next door have been known to welcome an impromptu look at the fire trucks as well.
Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum
1714 Highway 9 West Seminole
Travel time: 1.5 hours
Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 am.-5 p.m., Sunday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m., Closed Mondays
Admission: Kids under 3 with parent free, Kids & Adults $8 plus tax, Seniors 60+ $7 plus tax
Let’s be a doctor! I want to drive an ambulance! How about teaching school? Ready to represent your client at the Kidtown Courthouse? The Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum is a veritable wonderland of pretend play nestled in this oil-boom town of yesterday. It’s organized as an imaginary town, and my kids had a blast wearing many different professional “hats” during our visit. Though our own grocery store trips are often fraught with whining and endless requests, the miniature Homeland grocery shop held them in rapt attention and inspired nothing but giggles.
This museum also provided some great outlets for physical play (read: tiring your kids out for a quiet drive back to Tulsa). The outdoor play structure is great for mild days -- but the real draw was the indoor climbing maze constructed of some five miles of cable and ending in a pretty awesome slide.
Where to Stop: Braum’s
Literally around the corner from the museum, toast to a great day with a frosty milkshake or an old-fashioned double scoop cone. Decent “real food” choices, too, including surprisingly fresh and tasty salads.
308 West Franklin Ln, Stillwater
Travel Time: 1 hour and a bit
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. -5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.-5 p.m., Closed Mondays
Admission: Kids under 1 year free, Adults & Kids $7
It doesn’t look like much from the exterior, hiding in the back of a slightly dilapidated strip mall, but open the door and listen to your kids gasp in delight. My little ones had a hard time choosing where to start, but settled on the old-fashioned general store as our first stop. My husband, along for the day’s adventure, settled into a game of checkers with our daughter and my son and I collected provisions and rang them up on the authentic antique cash register. We spent at least half an hour playing doctor at the very well-appointed doctor’s clinic and baby nursery (complete with ace bandages, wheelchairs, stethoscopes and lots of babies to rock, were served sushi by our children at the Japanese house and went fishing in a darling wooden replica sailboat.
Several hours later, we had to literally drag our kids out the door to cries of “but we are having so much fuuuuun!” It’s the kind of whining you almost don’t mind. Almost.
Where to Stop: Eskimo Joe’s 501 W Elm St.
No visit to Stillwater (or OSU) would be complete without grabbing some grub at iconic Eskimo Joe’s (and maybe heading home with matching t-shirts for the whole family too!). Order up the signature cheese fries and a root beer float after a hard day of play while the kids color with complimentary crayons and ogle all the odd antique signage on the walls (an ad for laxative syrup is certainly interesting, if not appetite inducing).
Scott Family Amazeum
1009 Museum Way
Bentonville, AR 72712
Travel Time: 2 hours and a bit
Hours: M 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday - Closed; Wednesday - Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. -5 p.m.
Admission: Kids under 2 years free, Adults & Kids $9.50
Association of Children’s Museums Member: you may be eligible for discounted admission if you have a family membership at the Tulsa Children’s Museum so bring along your card!
The Amazeum is, well, nothing short of amazing. From the moment you enter, the inside of this place just looks like fun! Open for just about a year, the museum is architecturally gorgeous and engaging and benefits from being the newest of the bunch.
My little guy was immediately attracted to the full-size tractor trailer cab and both kids spent a huge amount of time at the miniature-sized Walmart Neighborhood Market where my daughter played cashier (you could actually tally each item using the working touch screen computer). In the Nickelodeon Stop Motion Studio, my husband helped the kids create their own mini-movies and the little ones enjoyed controlling a larger-than-life Sponge Bob using a series of levers, pulleys and wheels. The outdoor play space is perfectly kid-sized and allows parents to take a seat and still keep a close eye on the entirety of the fenced-in area.
A real highlight of the trip was the “Hershey’s Lab“ -- namely because it provided an intimate, guided family learning activity that miraculously engaged my children, my husband and me. On the day we visited, the theme was weights and measures and there were clear instructions provided on how to complete the activity: here, estimating and weighing different candies and household items using a slinky scale. Don’t let the name fool you, this is not “chocolate science” exactly....but the lab is sponsored by the iconic chocolate company. The kids were rewarded a Hershey’s kiss to eat at experiment’s end which went a long way. Tickets to the lab are limited and handed out on a first-come, first-served basis daily (and evidently are in very high demand). Think about arriving at the museum’s opening time if this is high on your list.
Plan to commit an entire day to the journey -- or maybe even splurge and spend the night at the nearby chic hotel 21c and make it a two-day adventure incorporating a visit to nextdoor neighbor art museum Crystal Bridges — it’s free! And there are some pretty walking trails in the surrounding woods to take in a bit of nature.
Where to Stop: Natural Falls State Park
Get out and stretch your legs at this lovely hidden gem. For the cost of a $5 visitor’s pass, take advantage of the clean restroom break and the short walk from the car park to Oklahoma’s 77-foot waterfall. Warn kids ahead of time that the water is strictly off limits by rule of the Park Ranger. Or, if you have more time to spare, hike one of the five marked trails rated from “easy” to “difficult.”
Photo courtesy of Science Museum of Oklahoma
2020 Remington Place, OKC 73111
Travel time: about 1.5 hours
Hours: Monday -Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.- 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. -6 p.m.
Admission: Kids under 3 free, Kids ages 3-12 $12.95 plus tax, Adults 13-64 $14.95 plus tax, Seniors 65+ $12.95 plus tax
Member of Oklahoma Museums Network
It is not often that my two children can sit still and (nearly) silent simultaneously for a 30-minute stretch in the middle of the afternoon -- but that is exactly what happened during the absolutely engaging planetarium show at the Science Museum Oklahoma. Stargazing as a family was truly magical and completely educational as we embarked on a journey through the galaxies together and learned about the Oklahoma night sky. And a lot has changed since our days in elementary school. Did you know Pluto is no longer considered a planet?
The museum was a home run for the kids, who adored, among other things, the new CurioCity exhibit set up like a mini-city. Described as a “children’s museum within the museum itself,“ this 20,000 square- foot exhibit is designed specifically for children aged 4-7 and you could easily spend half a day in just this space. It features a theater with oodles of costumes and a working stage, a huge indoor water play area crafted like a pirate’s cove and an immense, multi-story indoor climbing structure (the likes of which I’ve never seen) with multiple slides and challenging obstacles to keep little ones on their toes.
At each turn our family was drawn to something new — the poshly appointed passenger rail car of yesterday; the giant lite-brite; the display of full-sized airplanes (that elicited audible oohs and ahhs from my son); the life-sized dinosaur bone model and the enormous space shuttle engines.
My little ones were certainly on the lower end of the target age range. The museum offers a wealth of exhibits on “real” and sophisticated science lessons for older kids that are not to be missed on topics from meteorology to physics and beyond. But the beauty of the place was that everyone could take something away from each experience. And of course the Segway rides....
Where to Stop: Super Cao Nguyen: 2668 N Military Ave., OKC
It’s about 10 minutes’ drive from the museum, but my family and I love to explore all the interesting food and wares at the huge Super Cao Nguyen Asian Supermarket in Oklahoma City’s famed Little Vietnam. You can go on a mission with a shopping list -- or just spend some time perusing aisle after aisle of international food products and leave with a few treats for the ride home. I recommend a lychee drink and maybe some delicious and darling “Hello Panda” chocolate-filled cookies to tuck into your little one’s lunchbox.