When I heard the New Jersey State Museum, located in Trenton, was completely free, I knew I had to explore it with my family. With more than two million artifacts, collections of natural and cultural history, archaeology and ethnography, and fine art, there was plenty to keep my crew engaged—all at my husband’s favorite price (FREE). And my kids were more than happy to go along, especially when I mentioned we’d see dinosaurs. Overall, it was a great time exploring The New Jersey State Museum with the whole family, and now that we have that under our belt, we’re ready to check off a few more NJ museums from our bucket list. Scroll down for what we did there and how we spent our visit. (featured photo taken at the New Jersey State Museum)
Exploring the museum
We went on a Wednesday when it opened at 10 AM and easily parked on the street in the metered spots in front of the museum. Walking up to the museum is impressive—it’s located right next to the capital buildings, and the whole area is quaint, historic, and beautifully decorated. Once inside the museum, we were ready to experience four floors of fun and education.
Stepping back in time
We prioritized our visit by hitting up the second floor first, where the “Written in the Rocks: Fossil Tales of New Jersey” exhibit is located. If you have dinosaur lovers like I do, this is a must-visit exhibit. Walking into the room is like stepping back 3.5 billion years. With life-size replicas all around us, we felt immersed in the experience. My kids beelined over to New Jersey’s own Dryptosaurus, the world’s first known carnivorous dinosaur, reconstructed and displayed here—my kids were in awe of his ginormous size. Next, they went to the life-sized cast of New Jersey’s state dinosaur, Hadrosaurus foulkii, and a Mosasaurus maximus – a 50-foot marine reptile discovered in southern New Jersey. They enjoyed exploring the geology of New Jersey and learning about the oldest fossils from the state and the progression of life. They also learned about Ice Age animals and their modern-day relatives. Thanks to the two paleontologists on staff who answered all my kids (seemingly never-ending) questions, we learned a lot more than we could from reading the plaques. And we were excited to know one of the paleontologists we were talking to had been a regular on Shark Week (mom-win for pointing out that fact to my kids).
History coming to life
After lunch, we explored more and roamed through some of the exhibits we hadn’t hit up yet. The “History Beneath Our Feet: Archaeology of a Capital City,” which focuses on the long history of human activity in Trenton, New Jersey, as told through the lens of archaeology, was fascinating. “Cultures in Competition: Indians & Europeans in Colonial New Jersey” was also an exhibit that caught our eye. The exhibit explained how the colonists and Native Americans competed to establish a successful fur trade. My kids spotted the rare dugout canoe and Indian fishing equipment and were interested in seeing that they hadn’t changed much from that time. Next time, we hope to be able to experience the massive planetarium and watch a show there. Unless you book a group in advance, the planetarium is only open on the weekends and does require you to purchase a ticket. There is also a revolving gallery where artists show their work and “Pretty Big Things: Stories of NJ History,” an educational exhibit with large artifacts and hands-on activities for families that delves into the stories of New Jersey history using some of the “biggest” artifacts from the museum’s Cultural History collection.
You never know what you will see next at the New Jersey State Museum. Photo taken at the New Jersey State Museum
What to know before you go
Free parking is available on weekends in lots adjacent to the museum and on the street in front of the museum. On weekdays, metered street parking is available, along with a limited number of free visitor spots in the nearby State House garage. While admission to the museum is free, Planetarium Admission is $10 for adults, children 12 and under are $5, and Seniors 65 and over are $1 off. Planetarium tickets are purchased in the Planetarium Box Office, located on the lower level, and learn about their Calendar of Events for current show titles. Because my kids always ask about food, we planned ahead and packed our lunch since there were no concessions on site. Feel free to pack your lunch and enjoy it at the picnic tables in front of the museum, or you can also visit the list of restaurants in Downtown Trenton. Families are welcome to register for the Small Explorers program, which takes place in the Discovery Den on the second Saturday of the month. The program is free, but space is limited; advance registration is required. Contact Susan.Kozak-Buckley@sos.nj.gov to learn more and register.
New Jersey State Museum – Main Building
205 West State Street
Trenton, NJ 08608
Become an NJMOM Insider! For all the best things to do with your family around New Jersey, sign up for our weekly newsletter delivered right to your inbox each week, and don’t forget to tag your photos #NJMOM and @njmom for a chance to be featured on our social media.