A First-Timer’s Guide to the Indiana State Museum

//A First-Timer’s Guide to the Indiana State Museum

If you’ve never visited the Indiana State Museum before in downtown Indy, there’s a first time for everything. We hope you’ll find this ‘first timer’s guide’ a good primer for your experience. Even better, be sure to tag @theCityMoms and @IndianaMuseum on social so we can peek the pics of your visit!

The Indiana State Museum is a hidden gem in Indianapolis. Filled with three levels of interactive exhibits, you’re sure to find activities that interest kids and adults alike.

I had visited years ago on an elementary school field trip and vaguely remembered a giant pendulum and a mastodon. Suffice to say, I did not know what to expect when taking my 2 and 4-year-old children, but we were delighted to discover there was something for everyone.

first time guide Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

Located downtown between the Eiteljorg Museum and the NCAA Hall of Champions, the Indiana State Museum building is a gleaming work of art, and the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. This – along with its neighbors – is considered a White River State Park attraction


When arriving at the Museum, you’ll be directed to the parking garage off of Washington Street, which allows you to enter at ground level. This is where you’ll find the main ticket booth, the grand lobby with that famous stacked Indiana sign you’ve probably seen dotting Instagram, and a separate exit to the downtown Canal. BONUS: This is also where the Indiana State Museum IMAX is housed. The IMAX features current movies and educational films.

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

Yup, that’s the Insta-star we were looking for! CityKids Izzy and David smiled brightly near it during a visit last fall.

We began by exploring the first floor.

Here we spent most of our time in the permanent Museum galleries learning about the ice age in Indiana, the indigenous people, and area wildlife. “Frozen Reign: A State of Change,” was reopened last year and explores the Ice Age, beginning with a trip through an ice tunnel beneath a glacier. It’s also complete with chilled air and glacial sounds.

{From the Museum’s recent press release about this First Floor feature: “Visitors wind their way through replicas of caves where Museum staff still conduct digs today, discovering remains from jaguars, dire wolves, saber tooth cats and other prehistoric creatures. The redesigned gallery brings the now-extinct animals to life by placing them in realistic environments. Families can see how their own weight measures up to a mastodon on an interactive weight scale, hear how mastodon calls may have sounded millions of years ago, and touch the tooth of a saber tooth cat, among other interactives.”}

The animal displays were a massive hit with my children; I loved how interactive many elements in this gallery were, and we were able to talk a lot of about animal life cycles and habitats. 

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

The first floor of the Museum includes the following galleries: Birth of the Earth, Ancient Seas, Frozen Reign: A State of Change, First Nations: The Story of Indiana’s Founding People, Natural Regions, R.B. Annis Naturalist’s Lab and Legacy Theater.

The second level of the museum features Indiana history from statehood through present day.

Once I was able to pull them away from the animals, {seriously, they are still talking about the mastodons, wolves, and rhinoceros days later!}, we ventured upstairs where we saw the Foucault Pendulum and learned about the more recent history of our state. I still had memories of the pendulum from childhood, so it was especially fun to see it again!

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

My husband and I particularly loved this section of the museum, seeing how major national events of historical significance played out locally and learning about famous Hoosiers.

We got creative in the No. 5 Schoolhouse {pictured below} and made Valentine’s Day crafts and learned how to make our very own paper bead necklaces. It was great to give the kids an opportunity for a truly hands-on activity when they aren’t permitted to touch all the exhibits.

first time guide Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

The view of the massive No. 5 Schoolhouse from the inside of the Museum is awe-inspiring.

Also featured on the second floor is the Peewinkle’s Puppet Studio, a sweet and intimate, old-world puppet theater. Peewinkle’s Puppet Studio features a variety of performances ideal for young children and family. {Editor’s note: We’ve long been lovers of Peewinkle’s even before their move to the Indiana State Museum. Definitely check their website for performance dates – it’s worth adding to your trip!}

Peewinkles Puppet Studio Goldilocks Three Bears _ theCityMoms

Peewinkles Haunted Puppet Studio - theCityMoms

Another sweet feature of the second level is the reimagined L.S. Ayres Tea Room. This beloved historic restaurant was once located inside the former downtown L.S. Ayres department store and now is a nostalgic way to enjoy the holidays while also enjoying their famous Chicken Velvet Soup or Classically-Inspired Tea Experience. Children are welcome but you may want to reserve an outing here for one with girlfriends or your own mom! Tea room hours are generally Thanksgiving-Christmas from 11am to 2:30pm on Mondays-Sundays.

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

first time Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

The second floor of the Museum includes the following galleries: Contested Territories, 19th State, The Hoosier Way, Crossroads of America, Enterprise Indiana, Global Indiana and American Originals.

The third level of the museum hosts temporary exhibits.

During our visit we spent a great deal of time playing and creating in the temporary Cardboard Engineering exhibit which is on display thru May 27, 2019. With a few “tools”, an enormous pile of cardboard boxes, and your imagination, you can make anything! Most impressive were the creations left behind by past museum attendees. The best part of this exhibit was the ability for guests of all ages to engage.

Cardboard Engineering Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

Here are CityKids Izzy and David again during their recent trip to see the Cardboard Engineering exhibit.

My little two-year-old could color a box while my husband and I could build a rocket ship. In fact, that’s the beauty of the entire Indiana State Museum, every exhibit had features appropriate for children and adults. I was able to read more in-depth descriptions about an exhibit while my children could push buttons and watch a how see a mastodon jaw ‘chewing’ or hear frogs croaking.

Because this third level of the Museum houses temporary exhibits, it’s also where visitors will find the primary attraction of the Museum’s annual holiday Celebration Crossing train ride. Other pieces of Celebration Crossing include interactive projects in the No. 5 Schoolhouse and Santa’s ‘home’ on the main level.

Celebration Crossing Indiana State Museum - theCityMoms

Extra things you need to know.

  • The Indiana State Museum also owns and operates 11 historic sites around the state of Indiana, including the original Corydon capital site, Angel Mounds, and the Levi and Catharine Coffin House. Discover the full list of them here.
  • Membership to the Indiana State Museum has incredible benefits beyond access to the Museum and their 12 historic sites throughout the state. They also share reciprocity {meaning your membership is valid for entry at} more than 300 other museums and science centers worldwide! Find the full list here.
  • In addition to normal visiting hours, the Indiana State Museum has a variety of youth programming including camps and special early childhood activities. Peek our writeup of the Small Wonders preschool

As a mom of two on-the-go kids, going to major attractions like a museum can be stressful. My kids like to run and explore, making it difficult to always keep an eye on them. I loved not only the open setup of the space, so I could see them from almost anywhere in an exhibit, but also the sparkling cleanliness of the entire museum, the lack of crowds, and the friendly and engaging staff. The docents showed us unique aspects of the visits and tailored their recommendations to the age and interests of my children. We can’t wait to return!

MORE INFO: The Indiana State Museum is open Tuesdays-Sundays from 10am–5pm.  For more details on the Museum, hours and admission prices, visit their website. Special thanks to the Indiana State Museum and CityMom Katie for providing select photos for this post.



Laurel Price - theCityMomsLaurel Price traded in her former career of wrangling Fraternity & Sorority members as a university Greek Advisor for wrangling her her 4 year old son and two year old daughter. She recently returned to her undergraduate background of Public Relations and supports the Urban Chalkboard as their Communications Director.

Laurel loves reading {her resolution is to read at least 36 books this year}, long solo trips to Target, all things natural parenting, and {according to her husband} is becoming an obsessive environmentalist.

2019-03-01T17:14:39+00:00March 1st, 2019|
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