An exceptional children’s museum, a zoo, an art museum and a historic site with kid-pleasing features make Wilmington a family-friendly city. Here are our kids’ favorites.
The bright yellow building stands out in Wilmington’s recently reclaimed Riverfront area, attracting kids’ attention before they even get inside. The Delaware Children’s Museum is just as bright and cheerful inside, where kids are immediately surrounded by wonderful things to do. Right in front of them is Stratosphere, a three-dimensional climbing experience that feels like they’re in a jiggly maze. Its top level is wheelchair-accessible, so all children can enjoy it. The highlight of the museum for most kids, though, is the Tree Pavilion, a 350-year-old Sycamore tree that’s 7.5 feet across and 21 feet long. This giant is hollow, so kids can climb inside and walk through it. It’s the museum’s prime selfie spot.
There’s a grocery store of faux foods and a child-sized café to serve them in, a money exhibit where they can design their own dollar bills, a construction site and a carpentry shop with precut wood and furniture plans. Art and creativity are paramount here, and a large bright studio has tables all set up for creative projects, such as printing or fiber arts. For little kids there are water features, vehicles to ride, an auto shop with tools and a plastic kid-sized car to work on. One room is filled with a box maze of big colorful cardboard shapes for little kids to find their way through. Someone is always in the “tower” to help them find their way if lost. The museum’s exhibits are clever and creative, interesting enough to keep parents from being bored.
On the scenic banks of the Brandywine River, the Hagley Museum & Library make up a complex that covers centuries, multiple generations and the evolution of American industry. But more than that, it has so many different attractions inside its 235-acre grounds that there is plenty for all ages and interests to enjoy. The list is impressive: a stately home filled with antiques (and stories), a collection of antique vehicles that includes an original Conestoga covered wagon (a great favorite with the kids), a worker’s home, a schoolhouse where employees’ children studied, gardens, a Visitor Center filled with action exhibits, and the original powder works and machine shop driven by water power. The latter fascinated me, but also the children, as they could see how the great cogs worked together to transform running water into power that turns giant machines. In the machine shop they watched original machines create a gear from start to finish, and outside they saw a demonstration of gunpowder.
Also on the same river, closer to the city center, the Brandywine Zoo is home to a pair of adorable red pandas sure to be everybody’s favorites. But kids are also quick to notice the big ears on the serval, and watch to see if the notoriously slow-moving two-toed sloth ever moves at all. They can watch live animal demonstrations to learn about furred, feathered and scaled zoo inhabitants at regular weekend Keeper Talks, Creature Features and Reptile Shows, where they may get to meet a gecko or porcupine with a prehensile tail. The zoo is free December through February, and at other times admission is only $5 for ages 3 through 17.
While an art museum may not be the first place you’d think to take children, the Delaware Art Museum will give you several reasons to change your mind. The first is pirates. Yes, pirates. The museum has the largest collection anywhere of works by American illustrator Howard Pyle, and exhibits here show how his work created our vision of how pirates looked and dressed. Kids will learn how he researched period clothing and let his imagination take it from there. Be sure to walk across the gallery above the entrance to see up-close the brilliantly colored giant glass flowers by Dale Chihuly. Outside is a sculpture garden with a labyrinth. Watch the calendar for hands-on art programs for kids.
Good for family accommodations near all these attractions are the spacious suites at Homewood Suites by Hilton Wilmington-Brandywine Valley. It’s within walking distance of several family-friendly restaurants, but on weeknights a buffet of hot dishes is free to guests. A hot breakfast is included every day.