Within the confines of a museum’s walls, children can explore our planet’s rich history, dive deep to the bottom of the ocean, and discover what other galaxies look like. These institutions of wonder also often feature some incredible opportunities for youngsters to go beyond the usual exhibitions – museum slumber party, anyone?

Some of us have been fantasizing about what it’s like to stay overnight at a museum since reading The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or seeing Night At The Museum. While an organized sleepover at your local museum might not include an epic mystery or an ancient Egyptian curse, odds are it will be one of the most memorable evenings of your life. Consult our list below to discover which museums in the country have the best sleepovers.

Three kids and one adult lie in sleeping bags in front of a giant aquarium filled with brightly colored fish and coral © California Academy of Sciences
Museums all over the country invite kids for overnight adventures with dinosaurs, mummies and undersea creatures © California Academy of Sciences

Dinosaurs, mummies and neanderthals, oh my!

The Penn Museum

During the Penn Museum’s overnight experience "40 Winks with the Sphinx," kids ages six through 12 (and their guardians) are encouraged to explore the darkened Philly museum with a flashlight and participate in an evening scavenger hunt that takes them from Ancient Egypt to the land of the Maya and everywhere in between. Afterward, catch some winks beside the world’s third-largest Sphinx and pillars from Pharaoh Mereneptah’s 3,200-year-old palace. Breakfast awaits in the morning, as does the rest of the museum — this time, by daylight.

Field Museum

Who wouldn’t want to spend the night sleeping among dinosaurs? By attending "Dozin' with the Dinos" at Chicago’s Field Museum, you can do exactly that. Kiddos from six to 12 years of age should come prepared with a sleeping bag, flashlight, and of course, their sense of adventure. Learn about the terrible lizards by watching the 3D movie "Walking the T-Rex," and then see all there is to see in the museum’s various exhibitions. If you purchase a premium package, you’ll also get a behind-the-scenes tour.

Four kids and an adult study a T. Rex skeleton with flashlights © AMNH/D. Finnin
Hunt for dinosaurs after dark at the American Museum of Natural History © AMNH/D. Finnin

American Museum of Natural History

Surely one of the country's most popular museum sleepover experiences, the American Museum of Natural History's "A Night At The Museum" gives attendees ages six through 16 the opportunity to hang out after hours at one of New York City’s top museums. Spend time with the dinosaurs, get to know our earliest ancestors, or learn about underwater creatures all without the usual crowds. You’ll also enjoy a viewing of the 3D film "Earthflight," just before winding down. PS: Parents, the museum offers a separate sleepover experience for grown ups you might want to check out, too.

Furry, finned and feathered friends

Monterey Bay Aquarium

While it’s not exactly the Marine Life Institute, this aquarium in Monterey served as the inspiration for the wildly popular Finding Dory, and they’ve got a year-round sleepover experience for Dory’s biggest fans. During "Sleepovers at the Aquarium," museum guests will be treated to light snacks and breakfast, access to the aquarium (including an all-day pass the following morning), special activities, plus a guided wildlife watching in the morning where you might even get to see a pod of wild dolphins.

Children circle a open view tank into the reef lagoon © California Academy of Sciences
Kids can catch a glimpse of rays swimming at the reef lagoon in their pajamas at the California Academy of Sciences © California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences

Fans of the California Academy in San Francisco need to know about "Penguins and Pajamas." The alliteration-friendly event gives kiddos ages five through 17 (and their adults) access to museum exhibits in the evening, live animal demonstrations, the four-story Osher Rainforest (complete with free-flying birds and other tropical creatures), a planetarium show, and of course, museum admission the next day.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Colorado Springs is home to Colorado's top zoo and has been recognized as one of the best in the nation – now you can even sleep there. Sign up for "WildNights" and enjoy a moonlit tour of the zoo plus a variety of animal encounters, including feeding the giraffes. Top it all off with a pizza dinner, a s’mores roasting and free zoo admission the next day and you have an animal adventure dreams are made of. Kiddos ages 5 and up are welcome.

Gadgets, gizmos and things that go

Museum of Flight

Aviation lovers will be thrilled at the chance to spend an evening at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Its sleepover program (for kids five and up) includes a number of shows and experiences, from guided tours to rocket-building activities. Each overnight event can be customized, so you can choose an hour-long planetarium show, an hour-long Flying Gizmo show, or a two-hour interactive flight or space program.

Excited girl experiments with spy equipment at the International Spy Museum © International Spy Museum
Experiment with disguises and contraptions worthy of James Bond himself at the International Spy Museum © International Spy Museum

International Spy Museum

Kids ages nine through 13 go wild for this intriguing, mission-based sleepover experience in Washington, DC.  The International Spy Museum's "Operation Secret Sleepover" brings guests (or “recruits”) in for special, top-secret spy training where kiddos learn how to adopt new identities, create and break secret codes and more. Adult guests even get their own secret missions — guaranteed fun for the whole family.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

How often does one get the opportunity to climb aboard a submarine, much less sleep in one? At this Portland-based museum, kids in grades 3 to 12 experience life in retired Navy sub, the USS Blueback. They'll have the chance to wander the entire underwater vehicle, have dinner, rest up, and then explore the rest of the museum (plus a planetarium show) the following day. They’ll forever get bragging rights about sleeping in a submarine.

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