Detroit has a rich history and an abundance of family-friendly cultural institutions. Our visit was meant to be a full three days of good food, good music, and world-class museums – I mean, I planned a HUGE Detroit bucket list and everything. And, we did manage to visit several great Detroit museums for families, however…
In the end, an unexpected family emergency meant some of our items got left off the itinerary and the ones we did manage to visit were clouded with tension. But, read on, friends, because we did see some amazing things in Detroit!
Update: This post was first published in July 2018 and most recently updated in July 2021.
Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Detroit. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
Must-Visit Detroit Museums For Families
If you are short on time and only got to visit one or two places, I have my favorites for you. The favorite museum of the kids was The Henry Ford, located in Dearfield, Mich. This museum is BIG, and full of so much history, and it’s all done in such an engaging way that both kids and adults just love. People told this was a must-visit and I agree.
While there are historic items that you’ve got to see, like the Abraham Lincoln chair and Rosa Parks bus, the more appealing things for kids were hands-on exhibits, like the one dedicated to flight, the chance to sit in old cars and farm machinery, and the opportunity to work on an assembly line to build a (toy) Model T.
While you’re in the area anyway, I highly recommend including a visit to Greenfield Village next door. Each place could be a day in itself to visit, but we visited both in one day. It was exhausting, but manageable.
It was also ridiculous hot the day we were there, so we only spent a couple hours in the morning at the village. I wish we could’ve lasted longer, but summer won that battle.
It’s quite different, in that it’s like a living history museum. There’s so much to see and do there, from re-enactments to riding in a real Model T. You can walk into the Wright Brother’s bike shop, watch farm hands work at a Victorian era farm… and my kids’ favorite, eat delicious custard. Don’t skip the playground, too. It’s open seasonally, mid-April through October, and there’s a water play area to cool off.
The other must-visit museum is in Detroit itself: Detroit Institute of Arts. This would probably be more of my favorite than the kids’, however, they definitely loved the special exhibit that there this summer, “Star Wars™ and the Power of Costume.” The exhibit was there in 2018. It’s an additional fee to see the exhibit.
So that exhibit is impressive and has a great kid’s audio tour that engaged my family. But, there’s a lot more to see at the museum (and you should allow more than two hours to see its collection of 6,000+ artworks on display, like I did).
Highlights include the Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” frescoes, the knights armor, and this really fascinating projection called “Art of Dining” of a fancy French meal from the 18th century. And too many priceless paintings I’m embarrassed to say we only paused to glimpse at.
More Museums For Families To Visit
Detroit, more than any other city on our trip, had an abundance of museums and cultural opportunities to explore. It was hard to choose where we should go.
One of my kids’ other favorite stops was the Michigan Science Center. At this point of the trip, I was pretty wiped out by stress, so I wish I could say I enjoyed it more. Don’t let my stress stray you from visiting with your kids, though. There was a ton to see and do at the museum, and many of it catered to the city’s history in the car of industry.
We were able to make use of the reciprocal membership perks of our Omaha Children’s Museum membership in order to visit the Michigan Science Center for free. Read more about how that program works here.
Since the city is the home of Motown music, I thought it was important to go to where it all started: Hitsville U.S.A. Update: The museum is temporarily closed until Summer 2022.
I had big hopes for visiting Motown Museum, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t the best fit for my kids, who at age 6 and 8 just weren’t quite ready for an hour-long guided tour. They typically do well at museums where they can go at their own pace. I would recommend this museum for families with older children.
Related post: Things To Know Before Taking Kids To Motown Museum
Me? I thought it was great and enjoyed learning more of the history behind the stars. The highlight was standing in the studio where so much magic was recorded. It was like hallowed ground.
Know that the tour groups are kept small and do sell out, so it’s recommended to buy tickets online well in advance of your visit.
What else can you do in Detroit
Detroit is so much more than those four museums, and so I recommend you check out my Detroit Bucket List. I was going to do a lot on that list while on this trip, but as I mentioned earlier, we had a family emergency (involving an extended stay in a hospital). As a result, all the extras I was going to do, like visiting parks and exploring downtown and eating at the classic restaurants…well, I didn’t make it to them as I had been planning.
Of the unique dining experiences we have, I can point you toward two places. First, if you’re at the Detroit Institute of Arts and hungry, try Kresge Court for a beautiful setting for lunch. They serve salads, sandwiches and desserts, like huge cookies kids cannot resist. There wasn’t a kid’s menu.
The other place my kids liked was actually a local chain restaurant near our hotel in Troy, Mich. Since there isn’t one in Omaha, I feel fine recommending it. It’s called PizzaPapalis, and the draw here is that kids can build their own pizza at the table and they’ll bake it up for them.
As for hotel recommendations, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites By Marriott in Troy, Mich. Troy isn’t the most centrally-located part of Detroit, and as such, I can’t really tell you that it’s the best one to book for your trip to Detroit. However, it was pretty near my husband’s hospital. And, it was near a mall, a Target, and an abundance of familiar chain restaurants, which is appealing to some.
If we return, I’ll aim for staying closer to downtown Detroit (and not have any family member end up in the hospital).
Read more about things to do in Detroit
Planning a visit to Detroit? Start with the Detroit Bucket List, and then check out these posts for further details about Detroit museums:
“Star Wars and the Power of Costume” At Detroit Institute Of Arts
Things To Know Before Taking Kids To The Henry Ford
What To Expect When You Take Kids To The Motown Museum
This was the final stop of an epic Michigan road trip. Learn about all of our fun stops here.
Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox
Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.
Thursday 26th of July 2018
My daughter and I have a few museums in Detroit on our travel list, but didn't know about some of these. Thanks for the additional inspiration! Now we need to find a long weekend to head north to Detroit!
Thursday 26th of July 2018
Glad I could help with inspiration. Thanks, Sage!
Tuesday 24th of July 2018
What fun. We took kids to the Henry Ford Museum when they were little and it was a success. I want to go back now minus the little ones and take my time. I also want to go to the Ford home, its on my list. What a wonderful list you compiled! The Motown Museum sounds great.
Wednesday 25th of July 2018
I'd go back without kids, too! I had barely any time to read any of the signs that interested me before my kids ran on to the next exhibit.