No dry discourses or “hands off” signage here; the Minnesota History Center does a phenomenal job of appealing to all ages through its highly interactive and entertaining exhibits. You will have no problem at all finding plenty to intrigue your kids — and while they are being amused, you’ll probably find yourself being playful right alongside them. Here are the top things our family feels you won’t want to miss when you visit the Minnesota History Center:
Free Tuesday Nights
It’s always extra-easy on the pocketbook to visit the Minnesota History Center Tuesdays from 3-8pm when the fees are waived. The slightly larger than average families that make up the FFTC team greatly appreciate this. We’ve also found that purchasing a Minnesota Historical Society Membership ($79/year, covers the whole family) means that the pass has been paid back after just one visit to the Minnesota History Center – and there are many other terrific sites in and around the Twin Cities to explore.
The permanent and rotating exhibits at Minnesota History Center were designed with the whole family in mind. Kids can get even more than just hands-on! Here’s a peek at what they can play with while they’re learning:
Minnesota’s Greatest Generation explores the experiences of those who lived through such defining eras as the Great Depression and World War 2. These would be relatives your children perhaps did not get the chance to meet, people us moms and dads may fondly remember as grandparents who are no longer with us. At the History Center, kids travel back to the ’30s and ’40s, playing at being soda jerks at an old-school drug store, watching movie clips at the theater, packing war materials on an assembly line and for those up to it, even experiencing an intense simulated flight on D-Day.
The Grainland exhibit allows kids to scramble up and around a replica grain elevator. There’s an educational angle to it – signage posted within the tangle of tubes teaches kids the farm-to-table story – but mostly this is a welcome chance for kids to work their wiggles out within the museum. The top 15 minutes of every hour are reserved just for families to play; other times you may find school groups have the right of way.
The Then Now Wow exhibit playfully captures those “WOW” moments in Minnesota history – from the pioneer hardships to explosive discoveries on Iron Range. My kids have enjoyed hunkering down in the prairie sod house during a storm, bartering with the agent on duty at the fur post and riding a streetcar through bygone St Paul.
Tornado simulator, no damage done
The Weather Permitting exhibit walks you safely through a tornado that hit Fridley in 1965 (again: can evoke some jitters in younger kids when the lights go out and the sirens start in, but it’s a mild thrill for the older ones).
Open House: If These Walls Could Talk (2006-2019)
Open House was a fun, interactive walk through a re-created St. Paul home occupied by immigrants of many nationalities over the years. Our tips to having a good time in the house were to make sure to sit on the bed in the bedroom (brace yourself), play lawn games in the backyard, and peek into the attic and basement. The exhibit closed after 13 years entertaining families at the Minnesota History Center. We leave the information here to recall how our own children grew up exploring this exhibit and to demonstrate the dedication the History Center has to reaching youth.
Summer outdoor concerts
The Minnesota History Center’s free outdoor music program has been tweaked a number of times over the years but Tuesday remains the night for live music during the summer. Make sure to check the History Center calendar for exact dates to enjoy a multicultural mix of performers entertaining with outdoor concerts. Bring a lawn chair or blanket, and pack a picnic dinner or purchase one from the onsite Minnesota Café. If possible, come early for some admission-free exploration of the History Center’s galleries.
Minnesota History Center
345 W. Kellogg Blvd, St Paul, MN
$6-$12/pp, MHS members & kids under 5 free