Detroit Museum: History, Art and Science

I love family outings that require no planning, keep the kids completely engaged, and cost very little. Sunday was one of those days. In four hours, we were able to visit the Detroit Historical Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Here is my adventure in the Detroit museum.

Detroit Historical Museum

With a $5 parking lot located next door (enter off of Kirby Street), the Detroit Historical Museum was a great place to start our day.  This museum recently underwent a 6-month, $12 million renovation, and it shows.

The Detroit Historical Museum

We started out on the lower level and toured the “Streets of Old Detroit.” This is the one section of the museum that I can remember visiting as a kid. With cobblestone streets and old buildings, it’s a step back to 19th-century Detroit.

There were plenty of things to keep the kids’ interest, like the Sanders confectionary shop, an old fire engine, and a discovery room with hands-on activities.

Also on the lower level is the “Glancy Trains” exhibit. If your kids like trains (and really, what kid doesn’t!?), they could be happy in this room for hours!

There is a huge model train display that includes interactive buttons that control different functions in the exhibit. With over 20 different buttons, my kids loved pressing them all to see what each controlled (crossing gates went up and down, a carnival ride spun, a sign lit up – tons of different things!). We reluctantly left this area after 15 minutes so that we could see more of the museum!

Back on the main level, we checked out the “Allesee Gallery of Culture,” which prominently displays the old Tiger Stadium sign.

Tiger Stadium

This exhibit, which is displayed in a circular room, is a trip back through 20th-century Detroit culture. Each quarter of the room is dedicated to 25 years of culture and displays sports memorabilia, automotive and music history, and other Detroit cultural icons (such as Hudson’s department store, Thanksgiving Day Parade, and more).

My kids especially loved the interactive touchscreen displays where they could see more pictures and even watch movie clips. Adjacent to the Gallery of Culture is the Kid Rock Music Lab. The music lab is dedicated to Detroit’s rich musical heritage.

This exhibit covers everything from Motown greats like The Temptations to modern-day success stories like Kid Rock and Jack White. A touchscreen soundboard and some interactive quizzes added some interest for the kids.

We spent about 2 hours at the Historical Museum. While we saw just about everything, we easily could have spent several more hours. Some of our other museum favorites include the automotive assembly line where a Cadillac body is lowered onto the chassis, touchscreens where you can design your own soda, and the World War II era exhibit with some hands-on manufacturing-related displays.

Each time we walked into a new exhibit area, there was something hands-on and interactive. My son even commented, “They should call this the ‘Hands-on History Museum’!” I think he is right! Oh, and did I mention that it was FREE? Detroit Historical Museum – job well done.

Detroit Institute of Arts

The DIA is located across Woodward from the Detroit Historical Museum and was our next stop. I was curious to know how much the kids would like the DIA, but with free admission for Wayne, Macomb, and Oakland County residents, there was no risk in giving it a try! Since we were only planning on spending about an hour there, I let the kids decide what to see. We saw mummies from Egypt, knights in armor, Diego Rivera’s mural, African masks, and paintings by Matisse and Picasso.

The Detroit Institute of Arts

My son (7 yo) had done a lesson on Matisse in school, so he was excited to see some of the paintings he had learned about in class. And while I am not much of an art connoisseur, I enjoyed talking to him about the paintings – which ones we liked best, what we liked about them.

My daughter (4.5 yo) wasn’t as excited about the art, but she did enjoy the “Eye Spy” game that could be found in every gallery. Each “Eye Spy” board gives a written and picture clue for a piece of art in that gallery. Definitely a great way to keep kids engaged!

The DIA also hosts “Family Sundays,” but we got there just as they were closing up for the day. Check the DIA website for information on upcoming Family Sunday events, including family performances, storytelling, art-making workshops, and much more. Times vary, but events usually start around noon or 1 pm. Also, check out DIA’s “Friday Night Live” – the DIA is open late (till 10 pm) every Friday night and features live music, art-making workshops, guided tours, and more. Sounds like the perfect spot for a kid-free date night!

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About the author
Growing up in Detroit, Lindsey is a Michigan State University alumnus. She feels incredibly lucky to live in Detroit, and much more, to spend her days promoting the Detroit area as a travel destination.