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Lesser-known museums to visit before summer ends

There are at least 65 museums in the Philadelphia area, but those that are smaller or outside Center City tend to get eclipsed by the major attractions.

The Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion.
The Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion.Read moreAvi Steinhardt

Miriam Steinberg-Egeth and her two children have spent so much time at The Franklin Institute, it's almost like a second home.

"I've literally been to The Franklin and the Academy of Natural Sciences every day for the past month," she said recently.

So Steinberg-Egeth sought to find other nearby places to take her kids. The Fairmount Water Works is one of her daughter's favorites, as is the Institute of Contemporary Art. And she remembers the day last summer they discovered the Fireman's Hall Museum.

"All three of us were like, how did we not know about this before?" she said.

It's true in any city, said Meryl Levitz, President and CEO of Visit Philadelphia: Big names dominate the museum scene.

There are at least 65 museums in the Philadelphia area, but those that are smaller or outside Center City tend to get eclipsed by the major attractions.

"When people come to Philadelphia they really want to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and that's all they know about," said Jenna Tshudy, the treasurer of Philadelphia's Historic Neighborhood Consortium. "What do they do next?"

To help solve this problem, the Consortium has a pamphlet, website, and social-media accounts called "Beyond the Bell" about all the things visitors and locals can do in the historic neighborhoods.

"Even the same person wants a different experience on a different day," Levitz said. And part of her job is to connect people with the hidden gems of the city.

Although, Levitz noted, she doesn't use the word "hidden." Few museums can match the Liberty Bell's 2.3 million annual visitors, but every museum has its own dedicated patrons.

Fireman's Hall, just north of Elfreth's Alley, gets 30,000 visitors a year. "It's not the 200,000 Christ Church gets, but nonetheless, it's significant," said Carol Smith, secretary of the Philadelphia Fire Department Historical Corporation, the nonprofit affiliated with the museum. "We have some where the kids come in once a week with the grandparents."

Amy Walker of Philadelphia toured the museum with her 4-year-old son, Casey Pettit, on a recent morning. They had never heard of the museum before; they just happened to be passing it on a bus tour while exploring their own city.

The Rosenbach Museum and Library, tucked away on residential Delancey Place, has increased programming and exhibits geared toward a younger audience, such as the "Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives" exhibit presented in partnership with the Free Library.

They get about 8,000 visitors a year, said, Sara Davis, manager of marketing and communications, which works just fine for their small space and delicate archive.

"We certainly get a number of people who were just walking around in the neighborhood and stumble across it," Davis said, "so it's like they discovered this secret."

Here are just a few area museums to visit during the last few, hot days of summer.

Institute of Contemporary Art

While the changing exhibits at this museum on University of Pennsylvania's campus might not always be kid-appropriate, Steinberg-Egeth said her children love it, the staff is friendly, and it's free.

118 S 36th St., Philadelphia.

SEPTA Museum

Tucked into the SEPTA gift shop, this unassuming museum has transit memorabilia and a vintage trolley.

1234 Market St., Philadelphia.

Rosenbach Museum and Library

"Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives" runs until Sept. 1, and the museum hosts regular tours for visitors to see rare books and historic letters up close.

2008 Delancey Pl., Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Insectarium and Butterfly Pavilion

Two floors of praying mantises, stick insects, tarantulas, and more, plus a 7,000-square-foot ecosphere filled with butterflies.

8046 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia.

The Wagner Free Institute of Science

This science museum is full of dinosaur bones, fossils and other specimens.

1700 W. Montgomery Ave., Philadelphia.

Pizza Brain

Is it a lunch stop? A museum? With a Guinness World Record for pizza memorabilia, the restaurant is a little bit of both.

2313 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia.

Fireman’s Hall Museum

Learn the history of firefighting in Philadelphia, see historic engines, and even try on gear.

147 N. Second St., Philadelphia.

Chemical Heritage Foundation

A stone's throw from some of the city's most historic sites, this museum shows how chemistry affects everyday life.

315 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

Woodmere Art Museum

This art museum in a mansion in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood focuses on art from around the region.

9201 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia.

Philadelphia History Museum

Tucked away on Seventh Street, one block from Independence Mall, this museum delves into the city's history.

15 S. Seventh St., Philadelphia.

Wells Fargo History Museum

Some kids might be interested in the history of banking, but mostly they'll like taking pictures in the refurbished stagecoach.

123 S. Broad St., Philadelphia.

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum

With 65 cars on display, including Ferraris, Mercedes and Corvettes, it's a car lover's dream.

6825 Norwitch Dr., Philadelphia.

Fairmount Water Works

Learn how water moves through the city and what, exactly, happens when you flush your toilet.

640 Waterworks Dr., Philadelphia.

American Helicopter Museum

Learn the history and science of helicopters and try out a helicopter simulator.

1220 American Blvd., West Chester.

Garden State Discovery Museum

Venture out of the city and visit this nearby children's museum, which has a little something for everyone.

2040 Springdale Rd. No. 100, Cherry Hill.