Originally published in Everett Potter’s Travel Report
What could be better for families than an entire 282,000-square foot museum devoted to the history and exploration of play?
The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York is the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of historical objects related to play. We’re talking about more than 480,000 toys, dolls, board games, video games, other electronic games, books, documents, and historical materials.
There are more than 20 exhibits. Pinball Playfields presents the history of pinball machines – and you can play most of the games. America at Play charts more than 300 years of play and pastimes through a blend of rare artifacts and hands-on activities. American Comic Book Heroes delves into seven decades of super-powered iconic characters that inspired our imaginations and channeled our play. The history of video games unfolds in the eGame Revolution with more than four dozen video games, classic consoles, a giant Tetris, and a variety of interactive games that allow you to engage and explore the evolution of electronic gaming.
Other exhibits include a recreation of Sesame Street, a Berenstain Bears town, a history of vehicles called ‘Build, Drive, Go’, and the Wegmans Kids Supermarket. Virtually all the exhibits will engage and inspire younger kids while tweens and teens (and adults too) will most likely enjoy the pinball and eGame exhibit, the Toy Halls of Fame, and America at Play.
As if that’s not enough, ‘The Strong’ also home to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, the Woodbury School, and the American Journal of Play.
‘The Strong’ is not to be rushed. Plan an entire day to explore it with your family – maybe even two.
But while The Strong is a highlight of fun things to do in Rochester, it’s by no means the only family-friendly thing to do there.
The Rochester Museum & Science Center presents 200 hands-on exhibits and 1.2 million collection items focused on science, technology, engineering, and math. Your budding scientists can build robots, launch catapults, and shoot lasers – all while actually learning about our natural world in the process. The museum also operators the Strasenburgh Planetarium, located right next to the museum, and the 900-acre Cumming Nature Center near Naples, New York.
The George Eastman Museum is located on the estate of film pioneer George Eastman. It’s the world’s oldest photography museum and one of the oldest film archives. Older kids will enjoy touring the mansion and gardens, the History of Photography Gallery, a classic film, and other exhibits on photography and cinema. The Discovery Room includes fabulous crafts and activities to teach younger kids about photography and light (including a full-sized camera obscura).
The Seneca Park Zoo is a surprisingly diverse, detailed and modern 20-acre zoo, strung along a walking trail perched above the Genesee River. There are 90 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, and arachnids. Notable species include elephants, lions and other big cats, sea lions, wolves, rhinos, and giraffes.
Need to expend a little physical energy (and build confidence at the same time)? Head to RocVentures Indoor Climbing Center which offers 18,000-square feet of climbing space and an indoor high ropes course. Fridays are Kids Night Out, where you can drop off kids as the staff belays them while Saturdays offer ‘Family Time’ packages for a family of four.
While there are all sorts of things to do in Rochester proper, there is also a great opportunity to get out into the country, stretch your legs, get some fresh air, and immerse yourself in local history. Just 20 miles outside the city, the Genesee Country Village & Museum is a 19th-century living history museum that covers 600 acres. There are 68 buildings that span the pioneer days (1790-1820), development of towns (1830-1860), and the post-Civil War era (1860-1900). Costumed interpreters provide live demonstrations of candle-making, pottery, cooking, spinning, and metal-working. Kids will particularly enjoy the one-room schoolhouse and 19th-century games. Check their calendar for a variety of special events and be sure to explore the five miles of themed nature trails, including Geology, Web of Life, and Maple History Trails.