New Jersey State Museum: A Visit Filled With FREE Adventures


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)

New Jersey State Museum

There are a bunch of kid-friendly, interactive activities at the New Jersey State Museum. 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.

New Jersey State Museum

See fossils close up at the New Jersey State Museum. Photo taken at the New Jersey State Museum

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). 

New Jersey State Museum

History comes to life at the New Jersey State Museum. Photo taken at the New Jersey State Museum

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.

New Jersey State MuseumYou 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 to learn more and register.

For more information, visit the New Jersey State Museum website, Instagram and Facebook

New Jersey State Museum – Main Building
205 West State Street
Trenton, NJ 08608
(609) 292-6464

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About Author

Samantha Adams lives in Wall, NJ with her husband Greg and three children, Gavin, Jackson and Andrew. With a BA from Rutgers in Economics and a Masters from Monmouth University in Business, Samantha is an unintentional advocate for nutrition, health and overall wellness. She wants her children to lead the best life possible, and she feels a foundation of healthy living is the greatest gift she can give them. She wants to show her children that passion leads to change and she hopes to be an example to them. Samantha enjoys her career in the Medical Device industry while writing weekly for the Asbury Park Press in the Health section. Samantha loves taking her kids on outdoor adventures throughout the state of NJ. Her favorite destinations are State and County parks, the boardwalk, and any walking or biking path she can find.