Spend a Night at a Museum

After-hours sleepovers are serious fun for kids.

Spending the night at a museum means children can extend their love of dinosaurs, fossils and other natural wonders to a 24-7 pursuit. Many museums now open their doors after hours to host sleepovers for kids and their parents. Like the movies of the same name, a Night at the Museum is a great way to learn about everything from sharks to spies. Just be sure to book ahead for these popular stayovers.

Sleepover, American Museum of Natural History

D Finnin; American Museum of Natural History

When the doors close to the public at New York's American Museum of Natural History, flashlights click on and the adventures begin. Although activities vary, kids who attend “A Night at the Museum Sleepover” might encounter birds of prey and other live animals; explore the Age of Dinosaurs gallery; and watch a 3-D film about our national parks. Later, they can curl up on cots next to replicas of African elephants, a 94 foot-long blue whale or a volcano exhibit.  

American Museum of Natural History, New York

D Finnin; American Museum of Natural History

Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati, OH

Give the kids a pillow and sleeping bag, and let them spend the night at Union Terminal, part of the Cincinnati Museum Center complex. They can choose from a variety of overnight themes that focus on caves, dinosaurs, superheroes, LEGOs and other kid-friendly topics. There's an educational aspect to each sleepover, and there's also plenty of fun. Breakfast and an OMNIMAX film are included. Groups of 35 to 120 can book private sleepovers. 

Kids, Cincinnati Museum Center

Phil Didion; Cincinnati Museum

Smithsonian Sleepovers, Washington, D.C.

A thief has hit the National Museum of American History, in our nation's capitol, and it's up to the kids at the Smithsonian Sleepover to solve the crime. They'll need to use their sharpest detective skills when six valuable objects go missing. Fortunately, there are lots of clues around, and games, experiments and craft projects to help point to the culprit. The mystery’s sure to be resolved by the time the budding Sherlocks unroll their sleeping bags.

Look for nighttime adventures at other Smithsonian museums, too. At the National Museum of Natural History, kids can spend the night using interactive exhibits, complete with games, crafts, puzzles and challenges, and watch an IMAX film. At the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, kids on sleepovers can explore the world of flight with a close-up look at thousands of aviation and space artifacts, including a Concorde and the space shuttle Discovery. They’ll also see an IMAX film, visit the Portable Planetarium, play games, gather “moon rocks” with NASA gloves and much more. They may even spot an alien!

Kids at National Air and Space Museum

Risa Ryan; Smithsonian

International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C.

Operation Secret Slumber, designed for kids 9 to 13 years old, trains “recruits” at Washington's International Spy Museum to become super sleuths. As they team up to break secret codes, disguise their identities, and interrogate real spies, the kids track down an enemy agent hiding in their ranks. The mole is dramatically exposed the next morning, when the children meet back up with their parents for breakfast and a debriefing. 

International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C.

International Spy Museum

Penguins + Pajamas, San Francisco, CA

Enjoy a “wild” night at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Penguins are just some of the animals kids from age 5 to 17 can encounter at this sleepover, which also includes demonstrations and talks about live snakes, alligators and other creatures. This “night at the museum” also lets children explore rainforests of the world exhibits and catch a planetarium show. After a late-night snack, visitors "chill out" near the penguins in the African Hall. Other sleeping areas may also be available. Call or check the website for more information. 

California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Kathryn Whitney; California Museum of Sciences

Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, WI

When the lights dim at the Milwaukee Public Museum, kids set out on a flashlight-guided tour of the exhibits. After watching a show in the museum’s six-story, dome theater, they snooze in pre-arranged exhibit areas. Themed overnight adventures focus on Native Americans, the Streets of Old Milwaukee, Dinosaurs, Behind the Scenes and Backyard Biology. These “Museum Overnights” are for scout groups and families with children ages 6 to 12; plans are underway to add adult sleepovers. 

Sleepover, Milwaukee Public Museum

Kathrine Berger; Public Museum

Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County, CA

Let your kids pick their favorite overnight adventure at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County. Camp Dinosaur is for junior paleontologists who’ll learn about their favorite dinos and join a scavenger hunt. At Camp Butterfly, kids experience live, free-flying butterflies and make a souvenir craft. Camp Tar Pits invites children to learn about the La Brea Tar Pits and the behemoths that roamed the world during the Ice Age. Camp Goo takes the tar pit fun even further, as participants “get stuck” in all kinds of gooey activities. 

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