The Scoop: The Strong captivates the attention of children and adults alike with its nostalgic exhibits of toys, dolls, video games, and other play things. This national museum of play is one of the most dynamic and engaging date spots in Rochester, New York. The Strong gives couples the chance to share a unique experience at colorful exhibits and feel young again while playing the games they loved as a child.
Many couples rely on the standard dinner-and-a-movie formula when planning their dates. It’s an easy way to put love on autopilot and play things safe. It may be safe, but it’s not incredibly exciting.
Couples can get in a rut if they continue doing the same-old routine night after night, and that’s when it’s time to cancel dinner reservations and shake things up at a more interesting venue.
If you’re game for an out-of-the-box date, you can stop by The Strong, a museum devoted to playtime. This Rochester institution includes the National Toy Hall of Fame, a 215,000-volume research library, and the world’s most extensive collection of toys, dolls, board games, video games, and other historical artifacts revolving around play.
The Strong’s eye-catching and interactive displays spark conversation and laughter between couples, friends, and family members. The museum appeals to people of all ages from small toddlers to retirees. Over 550,000 people visit the museum each year.
Visitors can play classic video games or board games, learn about the history of comic books, or stroll through butterfly gardens. The Strong is open 362 days a year (closed on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, and Oct. 25), and it welcomes people who want to play around and enjoy a unique, fun experience.
“The Strong is the only museum in the world dedicated to the history and exploration of play,” said Noelle K. McElrath-Hart, Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator. “We have something to offer most everyone.”
Explore Arcades, Adventurelands & Other Fun Exhibits
The Strong’s playful spirit tantalizes hundreds of visitors every day, and it’s hard not to enjoy yourself as you wander from aquariums to dance labs to the Video Game Hall of Fame. Some exhibits highlight particularly beloved childhood classics, including Peanuts and the Berenstain Bears, while others tackle popular forms of entertainment, including egames and comic books.
Sometimes walking through these exhibits can feel like walking down memory lane. You’ll hear people saying “Oh, I had that lunch box” or “I used to play that game” as they look at different displays.
Of course, The Strong isn’t just about looking and learning — it’s about doing and enjoying. These fun-filled exhibits invite visitors to rediscover the joys of childhood by playing classic games, including foosball, air hockey, Connect Four, and pinball.
“It’s really a wonderful place to work,” Noelle told us. “You walk around and all you see is smiling faces.”
The Pinball Playfields take visitors through 80 years of pinball history. It’s always game time here, and you can test your skills on 26 pinball machines ranging from 1972’s Fireball to 2015’s Game of Thrones: Limited Edition. The game room’s collection also includes the world’s largest pinball machine, The Hercules, and some of the earliest pinball machines from the 1930s.
Reading Adventureland is a wonderful sight to see with its giant pirate ship, colorful dragon, and other fairy tale play areas. Children love to run around this imaginative space and follow the Yellow Brick Road through a forest, an upside-down house, and a wizard’s workshop.
This fantastical exhibit is designed to feel like a life-size pop-up book, and the visitor’s magical journey is fun for the whole family. The Strong is also part of the Monroe County Library System, so avid readers can borrow books here.
Special Happy Hour Events Appeal to People Over 21
The Strong appeals to people who are young at heart, but some adults may feel shy about coming to the playland without a child in tow. That’s why the museum’s leadership team came up with the Happiest Hour, which cater to visitors who are over 21.
Three times a year, The Strong hosts the Happiest Hour event to give adults the opportunity to come out of their shells and enjoy themselves. The event includes food from local restaurants and a cash bar — plus a lot of engaging puzzles, crafts, and games.
The Happiest Hour gives adults free rein of the museum, encouraging them to dig in sandboxes, create paper crowns, compete in costume contests, or sing car-a-oke in a foam car. No matter what the game, the night is full of adventure, and no one judges adults for wanting to play around.
Dozens of couples jump on this opportunity to share a fun date night at The Strong and let go of their grown-up inhibitions and responsibilities for an evening of pure joy.
“I haven’t had this much fun in forever!” said Paige in a Facebook comment.
The Happiest Hour is a ticketed event not covered by museum membership plans, and guests must be over 21. All proceeds from the Happiest Hour go toward The Strong’s educational programs. The next Happiest Hour event is slated for August 15th.
“Having toys on display helps people understand play and its impact on American history,” Noelle said. “Something great about toys is they spark nostalgia, and that also helps you trace your own history growing up.”
There’s Something for Every Generation to Enjoy
The Strong team makes a concerted effort to be inclusive and have displays that engage and excite people of all backgrounds. The museum continually reaches out to members of the community and sets up play dates that’ll draw a diverse audience.
On Sensory Friendly Sundays, The Strong turns down the lights and volume on its exhibits and invites visitors with special needs to come inside and play. The museum tries to keep the crowds down on this day — there’s a 250-guest limit — so differently abled folks can feel comfortable and have enough space to play at their own pace.
Many parents have expressed gratitude to The Strong for hosting these inclusive Sunday events. “I have a 4-year-old son on the autism spectrum, and this is just a really nice place to have quiet and be around other families who have similar situations,” one mother said.
“It gives families the opportunity to explore in a calmer environment,” Noelle said. “It’s a great space where many different people from different generations come together.”
Visitors can soak in a quiet and peaceful space on these special Sundays. Not only are all the exhibits up and running, the museum also keeps the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden open in the afternoon. This tranquil area is one of the only indoor butterfly gardens open year round.
“My absolute favorite and a must-see for visitors is the butterfly garden,” according to a TripAdvisor review. “There were so many rare specimens, and the staff was very knowledgeable and friendly. The place is beautiful and a real asset to the Rochester community.”
Couples can visit the butterfly garden to immerse themselves in a serene, romantic atmosphere surrounded by chameleons, turtles, birds, and tropical flowers.
The Strong is an Ultimate Playful Date Destination
Couples who are stuck in a dating rut can liven things up the moment they set foot in The Strong. This one-of-a-kind museum is packed with interactive exhibits that fill people with nostalgia. The playful atmosphere is ideal for people looking to explore something new together.
Whether you’re challenging your date to a game of skee ball or enjoying a happy hour on a giant pirate ship, you can turn your day into an unforgettable adventure at The Strong.
The Strong is currently undergoing renovations to offer more immersive entertainment, more inclusive exhibits, and a massive parking garage. The expansion campaign will transform this beloved museum into the ultimate play destination, complete with high-adventure ropes courses and outdoor play spaces.
“We’re a special place that’s able to give joy to others because of our team.” Noelle said. “Play is something that connects people as a whole, and we’re happy to give people that experience.”