When we think of museums, we usually picture pricey artwork and irreplaceable artifacts—not exactly a child-friendly environment! Fortunately, a new breed of discovery spaces have started popping up around town. Check out these hands-on destinations where kids are encouraged to step past the velvet rope. With experiences specifically geared towards younger learners, kids can gear up to be the next Buzz Aldrin, Indiana Jones or Van Gogh.

Child sitting with headphones in the New Children's Museum

New Children’s Museum
Encounter an enormous wooden trojan horse, make your mark on the chalk board and go rock climbing! Little tots will enjoy the disco barn and and building blocks, while older siblings can use their imagination to create something unique in the always-happening art classes. The New Children’s Museum is ideal for kids between 2 and 4 years old. Food options and parking are both limited, so stop for food on your way and be prepared to pay for a spot in their nearby lot.

Don’t miss: Target Free Second Sundays, offering free admission to the whole community the second Sunday of every month.

200 West Island Avenue
San Diego, Ca
Online: thinkplaycreate.org

San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum
Hop on a sail boat to learn the science behind weather or travel through marketplaces to explore different cultures. Kids are encouraged to imagine and discover with a huge array of indoor and outdoor displays focused on scientific concepts, living creatures and engineering. Younger kids even have their own dedicated area at the Toddler Tidepool. Parking is plentiful, entry is inexpensive at $6 per person ($3 with military ID), and families are welcome to bring their own food.

320 North Broadway
Escondido, Ca 92025
Online: sdcdm.org

Hands-on learning at the Reuben H Fleet Science Center

Reuben H Fleet
This is the place to be for science and space buffs. Kids ages 2 through 5 will have a ton of fun with the apparatuses in Kid City on the second floor, while older kids will enjoy the various exhibitions and Exploration Bar. Experiment with all the interactive stations and don’t skip out on your chance to see a screening at the “planetarium.” Parents will be wowed by the state-of-the-art 4K cinema projectors in the domed theater. Parking is free, but can be tricky on weekends and Free San Diego resident Tuesdays.

Don’t miss: the Fleet’s 40th Anniversary Fan Favorite Film Festival. Friday through Thursday all summer long, you can catch favorite IMAX films from the past including Dolphins, Everest and Grand Canyon Adventure.

1875 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: rhfleet.org

Model Railroad Museum
If your kids are Thomas the Tank Engine fans, just wait until they get a load of this! Mini trains show how routes work with fully-functional little towns. They have stools for kids to step up and get a peek at the more intricate setups, so they can get up-close and personal with mini farm animals, carnival rides and a tiny drive-in theater. History buffs will also appreciate displays showcasing the railroads throughout different eras.

1649 El Prado
San Diego, Ca 92101
Online: sdmrm.org

Children looking for crabs at the Living Coast Discover Center

Living Coast Discovery Center
Get your fill of wildlife in this peaceful museum center on the shore. Kids can learn all about sea life and then witness the feeding of a bald eagle or the swimming of baby sea turtles. Parking is off-site with a shuttle that buses passengers in to the center, so be prepared to juggle your stroller and diaper bag. Light snacks are available, but visitors are encouraged to bring their own lunch for a picnic on the beach.

Don’t miss: Sunday composting workshops weekly from 1:00pm-2:00pm will teach you how to minimize your ecological footprint.

1000 Gunpowder Point Drive
Chula Vista, Ca 91910
Online: thelivingcoast.org

San Diego certainly isn’t short on spots for kids to find some hands-on education! What’s your favorite museum for kids?

Written by: Chelsea Day

photos courtesy of Kianga Ford for New Children’s Museum, Reuben H Fleet Science Center and Living Coast Discovery Center