Visiting Salt Lake City museums may not be the first thing you think of when you consider a trip to Utah. The Salt Lake Valley is best known for its gorgeous panoramic mountain views, outdoor activities and snow sports paradise. We love trekking the trails and being outdoors, but sometimes weather has other ideas or a kid doesn’t want to hit the slopes. We visit Salt Lake every so often to see family, but have also carved out time to explore some great museums and discover other kid-friendly things to do — their great range of museums can keep you busy for days.
Clark Planetarium – First, it’s FREE, yes FREE to come and explore the interactive exhibits. The boys and I enjoyed saving earth from catastrophic meteors, pretending we were on different planets through a bluescreen and video, learning about the trajectory of the planets, moons and sun, and of course, the adorable and informative Planetarium show. This ole’ mom with some inner ear issues had to close her eyes during the show, lest I vomit all over the place, but overall, it made for a great morning and my boys loved it. Tickets to the shows are just $7.
The Leonardo – A hands-on, immersive and interactive museum that is great for spurring that creativity in your kid (and adults, too). The first floor features an exhibit about flight – complete with an old C-131 airplane hanging from the ceiling where you can sit in the cockpit and plan out your flight coordinates. They also have flight simulators and other interactive demonstrations. The second floor is a STEM wonderland where you can create your own solutions to problems with a variety of materials. You can also pilot a remote control robot and tinker until your heart is content (or your parents tell you it’s time to go).
Loveland Living Planet Aquarium Yes, there is a top-notch aquarium in the middle of Utah. Explore the undersea creatures of Asia, Africa and South America as well as a huge tank teaming with colorful fish and sharks. There are also stingray and sea star touch pools. Highlights are the penguins who are better than watching Animal Planet and the South American exhibit where you feel immersed in the rain forest – complete with sleepy sloths, a rope bridge three-stories high to walk across, a butterfly conservatory where they may land on your hand, as well as the piranha, crocodiles and other water-dwellers from the southern continent. An homage to their home state, there is also a Utah exhibit where you walk through red rocks modeled after Zion National Park’s The Narrows, and see native wildlife like otters, tortoises and trout. My 8-year old really enjoyed the Animal Meet & Greet, where he was able to pet a tortoise and a lizard and learn more about them. Plan to spend a day here as the ticket prices are $14.95 for children 2 and up and $19.95 for adults.
Natural History Museum of Utah The Natural History Museum of Utah rivals any other natural history museum I’ve been to (Chicago’s Field Museum, NYC’s even London). It’s set in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains and the exterior’s stunning architecture of copper layers which mimic Utah’s layered rock formation blends in with its natural landscape. In fact, the site is also a trailhead for the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, a hiking and mountain bike trail that will eventually be more than 280 miles and go from Utah to Idaho .
For millions of years, Utah was a hotbed of prehistoric life and the museum incorporates both local dinosaurs and creatures with dozens of recreated skeletons, a duck-billed dinosaur made from real fossils and world’s largest display of horned dinosaur skulls. The First Peoples exhibit showcases archaeological finds from the Great Basin region and more.
Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point Another great museum teeming with dinosaurs and pre-historic creatures, the museum also has several hands-on activities. Our favorite part was acting like a junior paleontologist. You can make casts of dinosaur teeth and other fossils. In another activity, you can prep a fish fossil by using an air scribe and then take it home with you.
If you don’t have a budding Lindsey Vonn or Bode Miller or if you have a kid who doesn’t like the outdoors, Salt Lake City museums definitely hold their own as family-friendly destinations, particularly for natural history lovers who prefer to explore from the comfort of being indoors.