Don't Miss the Many Lancaster Family Museums

A great thing about the Lancaster family museums is that they can provide an educational experience while truly be entertaining for the entire family.

I actually find it very difficult trying to choose some of my favorite Lancaster family museums. In my opinion, most of the museums in Lancaster County are fun places which stimulate the senses as well as the mind. Many offer an interactive experience where you can explore an Amish farm or Amish village; observe traditional arts & crafts being created by local Lancaster artisans; and, sample the local culinary delicacies.

In any case, many of these Lancaster family museums involve walking among some of the prettiest scenery in Pennsylvania. That alone makes for a superb family experience.

Here are some of the Lancaster family museums which I feel will appeal to kids of all ages. Please keep in mind that there will be some overlap with some of the other categories of museum that I've included on this site.

Also, some of the places mentioned may not fall within the strictest definition of what a museum is generally thought to be. The Lancaster family museums selected here are sites where I feel that your family is most likely to learn about the region's fascinating cultures and as well as others subjects --- while having loads of fun at the same time.

Candy and Food Museums

Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery
219 East Main Street, Lititz, PA 17543
Phone: 717-626-4354
The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery began operation in 1861 and is America's first commercial pretzel bakery. The building, itself, offers further historic value. Built in 1784 by Er Bauet Von Peterkreiter, the house is one of the original structures built in Lititz. Today, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Legend has it that, in 1850, a hobo had hitched a ride from a train that ran behind Julius Sturgis' bread bakery in Lititz, Pennsylvania. Looking for a job and something to eat, he immediately followed the smell of freshly baked bread until he arrived at Julius' bakery. Although Julius couldn’t offer the man a job, he extended his hospitality and invited the hobo to sit down at the family dinner table.

In return for this act of kindness, the hobo gave Julius a pretzel recipe. Julius had never baked pretzels and was full of doubts. He decided to test the recipe on his wife and fourteen children. The result was a whopping hit, and Julius added pretzel baking to his business.

In 1861, eleven years after he baked his first pretzel, Julius stopped making bread and established the first commercial pretzel bakery in America.

Today this famous Pretzel bakery is still going strong. It also doubles as a popular Lancaster family museum. During your visit, your family will have the opportunity to tour the original pretzel bakery, learn how to twist your very own pretzel, see delicious soft pretzels being made on the premises and shop for delicious treats and souvenirs in this historic bakery store.

Wilbur Chocolates Candy Americana Museum
48 North Broad Street, Lititz, PA 17543
Phone: 717-623-1131
This is a very nice little candy museum. Wilbur Chocolates began as H.O. Wilbur & Sons of Philadelphia. They relocated to their present address in 1930. Today the factory is best known for its Wilbur Chocolate Buds. The factory produces more than 11 million pounds of chocolate, candy and other related food products each year.

Although the factory is not open for tours, the museum provides an interesting exhibit of tools used to make the candy; antique signs; old-fashioned candy packaging and more. There is even a movie explaining the process of how the chocolate is made. And, in case you're wondering, there is a gift shop where you can buy as much candy as you please.

Farm Museums

The farms open to visitors in Lancaster County can be defined as museums in the very broadest sense of the word. However, I wanted to include some of them in this little subsection of "Lancaster Family Museums" because I feel like they will provide some educational (yet, very fun) insight into the culture and lifestyle of the region.

Since agriculture is such a vital part of the social and economic make-up of the region, I think it is essential to check out some of the farms for an enjoyable way to increase your understanding of Lancaster County.

If you plan on staying in Lancaster County for a few days, you may want to stay in of the farms that also serve as Bed and Breakfasts. Usually the proprietors of these farms Bed and Breakfasts go out of their way to provide your family with an intimate first-hand look into life on a farm. They often even allow your kids to help out with the chores such as helping to milk cows, gathering eggs, and feeding the goats, sheep, calves, and pigs.

Cherry-Crest Farm
150 Cherry Hill Rd, Ronks, PA 17572
Phone: 717-687-6843
Although it can be very touristy, Cherry-Crest Farm offers lots and lots of activities for your entire family. This Lancaster family "museum" offers a wide variety of "agri-tainment" from farms tours to farm animal petting zoos. From hay wagon rides to giant hay chute rides. There is even their famous, annual interactive 5-acre corn maze with over 2.5 miles of paths, scenic bridges, and clues to help your family find your way out. Each year the maze presents a different challenge.

There is plenty of fresh food and, throughout the year, there are special events such as the Harvest Festival, Sweet Corn Festival, and the Potato Fest.

Be sure to budget at least 4-5 hours for your visit so you don't miss anything.

Lapp Valley Farm
244 Mentzer Road (between Routes 23 and 340), New Holland, PA 17557
Phone: 717-354-7988
This is a really great place for the entire family to walk around and watch the farm animals roaming about as well as the herd of deer grazing by the nearby meadow. Lapp Valley Farm is famous for their delicious creamy ice cream farm-made fresh from their herd of Holsteins. Tours of the dairy farm are highly recommended.

Interactive Learning Museums

2380 Kissel Hill Road, Lancaster, PA 17601
Phone: 717-569-KIDS
This is a Lancaster family museum mainly for young children under ten years of age as well as their parents. Assorted interactive exhibits encourage the children to learn as they play.

Lifestyle Museums

The Americana Museum of Bird-in-Hand
709 Old Philadelphia Pike(Route 340), Bird-In-Hand, PA 17505
Phone: 717-391-9780
This Lancaster family museum transports your family to the dawn of the 20th Century to experience life in a small American town. Exhibits include a barber shop, woodworking shop, tea parlor, print shop, millinery, toy store, blacksmith shop, tobacco shop, apothecary, wheelwright shop, and a country general store. Victorian carriage rides through Bird-in-Hand and surrounding farmlands are offered on select days during the season.

Landis Valley Museum
2451 Kissel Hill Road, Lancaster, PA 17601
Phone: 717-569-0401
Landis Valley Museum needs to be seen to be believed. It is actually a historical village comprising 18 buildings with over 200,000 items.

This Lancaster family "museum" convincingly portrays how rural Pennsylvania Dutch life was like. Your family will witness authentic demonstrations on a variety of activities such as gunsmithing, blacksmithing, weaving, lace making, traditional Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and more.

Furthermore, there are many special events held throughout the year such as the Pennsylvania German Christmas celebration known as the Days of Belsnichel; Harvest Days; and the Herb Faire which is the largest sale in Pennsylvania of rare, traditional plants and herbs.

Lancaster Railroad Museums

Although all the museums listed in the Railroad museums section would be fun for the whole family, I've selected four places which I feel would provide the most enjoyment for the entire family.

Strasburg Railroad
Route 741, Strasburg, PA 17579
Phone: 717-687-7522
Because the Strasburg Railroad provides 45-minute rides aboard coal-burning locomotives along the panoramic countryside, this is an ideal place to take the entire family. Along the way, you're likely to see many scenes of community life such as Amish farmers working in their fields; Amish children playing nearby; livestock grazing; and, colorful crops waiting to be harvested.

Your family can have lunch aboard the dining car or you can disembark at the Groff's Picnic Grove and take another train back to the station.

During the nine-mile ride, you can choose from different restored coaches including the plush parlor car, the Marion as well as an open-air observation car.

Additional activities designed specially for the kids at this unconventional Lancaster family museum include:

  • The Cranky Car: these hand-propelled cars, which date back to the 1930s, allow little children to take charge as they "crank" their way around a track.
  • Cagney Train: Children will love this miniature steam train that was built in around 1920 and was originally used at an amusement park.
  • Pump Car: Operate one of the vintage Pump Cars - with attendant - along a short track.
  • Switch Tower Tour: Your whole family can tour this 1885 Pennsylvania Railroad signal tower. Get a bird's eye view of the beautiful countryside as well as approaching trains.

Rough and Tumble Engineers Museum
4997 Lincoln Hwy, Kinzers, PA 17535
Phone: 717-442-4249
Your kids will have fun at this Lancaster family museum which features a large collection of early 20th Century American farming and railroad equipment as well antique autos and trucks. It is very entertaining to watch live demonstrations of the machines and engines in operation. At the museum your family will see:

  • Kerosene and gasoline powered farm tractors going back to the early days of 1900.
  • Stationary Engines powered by steam, kerosene and gasoline, including some truly huge pieces retired from factories and ships.
  • Threshing Machines , sometimes linked to old Bailing Machines that do live threshing of local grains
  • Mammoth Steam Traction Engines that used to roam the prairies and power threshing and other farm machinery.
  • An operating, full size Saw Mill.
  • Antique Automobiles and Trucks.

Additional activities at the Rough and Tumble Engineers Museum include rides aboard the museum's Shay Railroad which will take you around the vast museum grounds; the "Little Toot RR" which is a miniature steam engine especially designed for young kids; and Model Engineering where those interested in steam and internal combustion engines can learn about building miniature engines.

The Choo Choo Barn
Route 741 East, Strasburg, PA 17579
Phone: 717-687-7911
The Choo Choo Barn is a model railroad museum designed for railroad enthusiasts of all ages. This Lancaster family museum's 1,700 square foot train layout features over 150 hand-built animated figures and vehicles and 22 operating model trains.

Please note that the Choo Choo Barn is closed each year from January through March. This is so the museum can completely clean their display, repair any broken parts, and add new features and layouts.

National Toy Train Museum
300 Paradise Lane, Ronks, PA 17572
Phone: 717 687-8976
This toy railroad museum contains one of the most extensive toy train collections in the world. The collection includes miniature trains that are accurate replicas of their full sized counterparts as well as toy trains that are pushed, pulled or rode upon by children. The museum exhibits trains from the mid-1800s through the present day.

The National Toy Train Museum building resembles a Victorian Era railroad station and the walls are literally lined with rows of shelves with even more toy locomotives and rail cars.

Your entire family will have the opportunity to help operate this Lancaster family museum's five train layouts. Each large layout represents a different period of the 20th Century and boasts an interesting array of period accessories and extensive scenery.

Train videos run continuously on a large screen television system.

Science Museums

The North Museum of Natural History and Science
400 College Avenue, Lancaster, PA 17603
Phone: 717-291-3941
This Lancaster family museum features extensive hands-on, minds-on exhibits focusing on natural history, science, geology, and archeology. You and your children will have hours of fun exploring interactive exhibits showcasing subjects from outer space to local Native American peoples; from rocks and minerals to dinosaurs. The museum contains the largest planetarium in central Pennsylvania.

Hopefully, this selection of Lancaster family museums provided some ideas to help make your visit to Pennsylvania Dutch Country that much more unforgettable.

If you are interested in learning about other Lancaster County museums, see also the following. Please note that since the themes of the museums often overlap, some of the museums may be listed under more than one category.

Mennonite and Amish Museums
Pennsylvnia Dutch Folk Art Museums
Railroad Museums

On a final note, I might be stretching the definition of what constitutes a Lancaster family museum, but if you are looking for fun ways for the entire family to learn about Pennsylvania Dutch County as well as the Mennonite and Amish culture, you can't go wrong by exploring the area's numerous Farmers Markets; Country and Amish Stores; and, Pennsylvania Dutch Auctions.

These Lancaster County attractions offer sights, sounds, smells, and colors, and tastes that are unique to the region.

You and your family will be enlightened and entertained by what you discover.

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