Georgia history runs deep and while it’s past is tricky for little ones to understand, there are some local attractions that do a great job of breaking down the highlights. Kennesaw’s Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History brings history to life for kids. With hands-on exhibits, sensory-friendly events and plethora of artifacts, kids love the museum and it’s worth the drive from Atlanta.
Kennesaw has grown into a major Atlanta suburb. Located just 45 minutes north of the city, Kennesaw balances original historic landmarks with the new construction. Kennesaw was a central location in pivotal Civil War history and they embraces their roots – learning from history.
Originally, the museum opened its doors in 1972 as The Big Shanty Museum. It’s always been a local favorite, but the museum eventually grew to 50,000 square-feet. From floor to ceiling, it’s bursting with artifacts, making it an interesting worthwhile attraction.
For a fun and adventurous day with the kids, I recommend planning a full day in Kennesaw. Hike Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in the morning (don’t pass on their visitor center museum), have lunch in historic downtown Kennesaw and finish your day with a trip to the Southern Museum.
Can’t Miss Family Fun At The Southern Museum In Kennesaw
Families don’t have to be Civil War buffs to appreciate the Southern Museum and everything it offers. Hands down, the gem of the museum is The General Locomotive exhibit. It’s the actual train used in the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862 in North Georgia.
The General is one of six featured museum exhibits that are available to guests year round. Plan on spending 1 1/2 – 2 hours at the museum – maybe even longer if your kids absolutely love trains (like mine do).
Kids Exhibits At The Southern Museum
While it’s undoubtedly The General Locomotive is a visitor favorite, kids will tell you they love the Jolley Education Center most. It’s an interactive area where hands-on exhibits engage children’s senses as they discover the joy of trains.
The Education Center has learning stations where kids can play and engage in activities that will help them understand history. Kids can operate a diesel train simulator, tap out and receive messages in Morse Code, and even play with wooden train sets.
A special part of the Jolley Education Center is dedicated just to toddlers. It’s an area where they crawl and climb on a train foam play set. I love that there’s a safe space for the youngster to play, where parents can easily watch them.
Don’t miss Georgia’s Merci Boxcar while the kids play. It’s part of the “French Gratitude Train,” – a series of 49 railroad boxcars (one for each state plus a shared boxcar for Hawaii and Washington, D.C.) filled with personal gifts from the people of France. The boxcars were a way of saying thank you for the aid the U.S. for providing aid to France after World War II.
Go On A Scavenger Hunt Throughout The Museum
Older kids may not be able to fully grasp every historic detail that the museum offers (and there’s tons of great information), but they’ll love exploring the museum while going on a scavenger hunt. Kids can pick up a scavenger hunt worksheet at the admission booth and work their way through the museum – find artifact highlights that they might overlook otherwise.
Programs Dedicated To Kids
The Southern Museum offers a variety of programs that are geared towards kids – on the weekdays and special events on the weekend. Families with preschool-aged children love the museum’s Mommy and Me program on Thursday mornings. Kids and caregivers get to play, create, and learn through guided lessons and activities.
For kids who prefer a quieter environment, the museum offers Sensory Friendly afternoons on the last Tuesday of each month. They eliminate extra noise and offer a quiet room where kids can focus and not feel overwhelmed.
Mark your calendar for their holiday events. Every December, the museum offers a Holiday Fun event that’s themed around the popular Polar Express children’s book. There’s even a special visit from Santa himself! As a bonus, the kids can see the city of Kennesaw’s Christmas tree light up at night.
Throw A Birthday Party At The Southern Museum
Birthday kids (especially train enthusiasts) love to party at The Southern Museum. They provide a whole classroom for your guests with the party package. The cost for the party includes museum admission for 25 guests. Outside food and beverage is allowed. The birthday space is near the Jolley Education Center, where kids can play.
Tips For A Great Southern Museum Visit
- Wear Comfortable Clothes. When you’ve got little ones that are crawling and climbing, it’s best to wear comfortable clothes to play in!
- Bring A Stroller. There’s not a lot of walking, but active toddlers do best in a stroller as you walk through the museum exhibits. Stroller parking is available in the Jolley Education Center.
- Plan On 2 Hours. Depending on how much you enjoy history, plan to spend about 1 1/2 – 2 hours in the museum. It’s hard to pull the kids away from the fun learning stations and they’ll want to stay longer.
- Stay Healthy. Throughout the museum, especially in the kids area, there’s hand sanitizer available. I recommend bringing your own as well if you’re picky about germs from kids play areas.
- There’s A Gift Shop. If you’re bringing train enthusiasts, be prepared to walk through the museum’s gift shop on your way to the exist. They sell some amazing educational train toys for kids.
Where To Eat Near The Southern Museum In Kennesaw
Luckily, you can easily make a full day of visiting the museum with plenty of restaurant options nearby. Downtown Kennesaw is beautiful area to shop, dine and walk around. There’s also a park, across the street from the museum, where you can bring a picnic lunch, that has a small playground.
Family-Friendly Kennesaw Georgia Restaurants Near The Southern Museum:
- The Nest – A great BBQ spot with indoor and outdoor patio seating
- Trackside Grill – Stick with the train theme and dine on southern cuisine
- Frozen Cow Creamery – Grab a bite of ice cream after your museum visit