Looking for a fun museum to take the kids, somewhere out of the ordinary, where both parents and children can remain engaged?
Cincinnati’s American Sign Museum checks all the boxes. The homage to American signage is on the small side, meaning short attention spans won’t have hours to complain of boredom, but the flashing lights, moving parts and elaborate displays are enough to keep anyone enthralled.
With 20,000 feet of indoor space, you can choose to walk through the museum or take a small group tour, like I did. The guides do their best to give you a thorough overage of the museum’s features, with plenty of humor and interesting fun facts. The exhibits cover more than 100 years of American sign history, showing off the progression from wooden and glass signs from the late 1800s through the neon era to the regional barn signs to those from the 1970s.
I have to admit — I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I showed up for my tour, but it wasn’t the discovery that signage history can be, in fact, riveting. The most interesting area of the museum is Main Street USA, which displays various signs in all their neon glory, many requiring you to crane your neck back to take in the full effect. Walk along Main Street and you’ll see mock storefronts displaying all kinds of interesting signs from every era.
If you’re lucky, the on-site neon shop will be open during your visit and you can walk right in to get a glimpse at how neon signs are made (it’s probably not how you expect!).
One aspect of the museum I found appealing (and most children would as well) is just how accessible all of the exhibits are. The signs aren’t hidden away behind glass or out of reach. You could walk right up and touch the majority of the signs on display (though it’s not exactly recommended). There’s also so much to take in — it could take hours upon hours to notice all the little details of the almost endless array of signage displayed on the walls, the ceiling, everywhere. You’ll for sure notice all the big brands, but you’ll also possibly see some signs that surprise you (for example, did you know church signs were once made in bright, Las Vegas-esque neon?).
The tours last about an hour, and cover almost every inch of the small museum, with time at the end to get photos with your favorite signs and explore anything that particularly caught your eye, up close and personal. Plus, guided tours are included in your ticket price ($14 for adults, free for children 12 and under) and no reservations are needed. Just show up at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m., Wednesday–Saturday, or 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Even if you don’t have children, you’ll still enjoy the American Sign Museum and the often-overlooked history it contains. Before you visit, check the museum’s website. They offer many events throughout the year, and you can catch a musical performance, workshop or comedy.
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