This fall my family was looking forward to experiencing the many kid friendly things to do in Harrisburg, PA including the Pennsylvania State Capitol. Part of the fun of home/first-hand-experience schooling, besides visiting caves, car museums, and chocolate tastings, is the ability for my kids to jump around in their homeschooling curriculum. On this specific trip my daughter was able to move ahead in her history text to the Keystone State. Alas, our family’s schedule fell apart when our grumpy toddler finally fell asleep. So, we pulled into a parking spot and tried to figure out what to do. Waking her up was not an option. We tweaked our plans, pushing our Capitol tour to a later time while my husband and the older kids attended Mass at the nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral (1907) and I sat in the car with her as she napped.
Check out this beauty of a State Capitol:
You can see why we were excited. The 272-foot, 52 million-pound green dome topped with 14-foot-six-inch gilded statue Commonwealth can’t be missed. It comes as no surprise it was inspired by Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. President Theodore Roosevelt is often quoted saying about the Capitol, “This is the handsomest building I ever saw,” when he attended the building dedication on October 4, 1906. The structure was designed in the American Renaissance style by Philadelphia architect Joseph Huston (1866-1940) with hints of Renaissance designs and Greek, Roman and Victorian influences.
Capitol Tours: Free
8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday
9:00, 11:00 a.m., 1:00 & 3:00 p.m. Saturday, Sundays and most holidays
After our little napper awoke we ventured to The State Museum of Pennsylvania. What a treasure. Plan to put aside several hours aside for this in-depth museum. A planetarium and 11 permanent exhibits plus 4 (as of this writing) visiting exhibits are spread over three floors. The planetarium was closed the day we visited so I can’t comment on that but I can tell you it’s hard to pick a favorite exhibit because each one was special and well done. I had fun browsing the Transportation & Industry section and learning about the Pennsylvania Turnpike while the kids, well, they loved everything. As you can see above the were discussing something interesting in the Life Through Time exhibit. I wonder what they were saying.
The Mammal Hall was by far our toddler’s favorite exhibit. The life sized dioramas depicting common and rare Pennsylvania species in the wild piqued her curiosity. She was surprised to learn the animals aren’t all called dogs. My favorite moment was when she saw a beaver and leaned forward in her stroller, pointing at the animal, and shouting to my husband Jeff who was standing across the room, “Da! Da!” She didn’t want him to miss this amazing creature.
The Exhibit Objects of Valor: Commemorating the Civil War in Pennsylvania especially resonated with my husband and older children by the way it brings visitors back in history through stories, artifacts and memorabilia. Most impressively, it features the largest Civil War scene painting on a single canvas at sixteen feet high by thirty-two feet wide. The work is called Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge by artist Peter Frederick Rothermel (see photo above)
We spent hours at The State Museum of Pennsylvania and could have stayed longer if stomachs weren’t growling.
Admission: Adults $7 Seniors $6 Children (1-11) $5; Planetarium $3
Our final plans of the day were to visit the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts where there are three floors of hands-on science exhibits. My daughter was especially looking forward to the Carnival Health and Move it! exhibit while my son had Forces of Nature on his itinerary. The 4-story-tall screen inside the Select Medical Digital Cinema sounded especially cool! Sadly, by the time we ate a late lunch the museum was near closing time and, yes, we also missed the last Capitol tour because we were so immersed in the State Museum. It’s been weeks and I’m still disappointed we missed these great opportunities. That’s the story of family travel though. You have to be flexible (even if it’s not in your name) and remember – you can’t do it all. But if you can – do! It looks like we have a couple of good reasons to return.
Do you have any suggestions for kid friendly things to do in Harrisburg, PA? If so, please share in the comments below.