Hands on History – new exhibit at State Historical Museum of Iowa

I’ve been taking my kids to the free and wonderful State Historical Museum of Iowa for a few years (my husband and I were married there, too!) but always shared about it with the caveat that it isn’t exactly designed for younger kids. Well, that’s totally changed with their brand new exhibit, “Hands-on History”. It is geared towards younger kids with tons of things to touch, play, and explore- all in a relatively enclosed space that makes talking with other adults easy. We had such a great time and will definitely be back again soon! They also have regularly planned programming in this new space, read more about it here.

You can see more specific details on the State Historical Museum of Iowa page below or check out its location on the interactive map.

State Historical Museum of Iowa – Des Moines, Iowa

hands on history iowa museum

It is on the first floor, to the left. I really appreciated how close it was to the bathrooms/drinking fountains.


When you first walk in, there is a semi-secluded reading nook with comfy beanbags and a lot of Iowa-centric kid’s books.

new exhibit at iowa historical museum

My kids normally love books but they were completely not interested when they saw the *amazing* train table and giant tractor in the back. You can see a lego building of the Principal Building off to the back right; my kids didn’t care but I thought it was cool!

geodes iowa historical museum

I was distracted by the cool geode display in the middle, with magnifying glasses.

historical museum train table des moines

Kids can actually climb under and up inside the train table, like little prairie dogs at the zoo, and it has both roads and rails to play on. I’ve never seen one like this, and it was awesome!

iowa free indoor places to play

The little kitchen was also a hit, alongside a duplo building table. I didn’t snap a picture but there was also a crayon rubbing table and lots of paper for drawing.

kids tractor to climb on des moines

The tractor was probably my kids’ favorite – they both love trucks and tractors, so “steering” and shifting the gears did not get old!

This is an incredible play area to use for free, especially in the freezing cold weather. It wasn’t bad today, so we walked with friends to get cookies at Thelma’s down the street and popped into Raygun as well! I hope lots of other families check out this new, fun space.

Another fun review with more pictures and tips below!

Family Fun at the State Historical Museum of Iowa

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