Do your kids love science? Lucky you! Here are some of the best science museums for kids and families that you can visit on your next family vacation. The cities that we cover in this post are Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC. If you live in one of those cities, or if you’re heading there for your next family vacation, check out this handy guide of must-see destinations!
#1. Chicago: Museum of Science and Industry
Photo Credit: Annette Stahelin
Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is among the top 10 science museums in the US, according to Mensa. It’s located in the beautiful Hyde Park neighborhood, just steps away from Lake Michigan and minutes from downtown Chicago.
Among the museum’s exhibits are a full-size replica coal mine, a German submarine U-505 that was captured during World War II, a 3,500-square-foot model railroad, and the Apollo 8 spacecraft that carried the first humans to orbit the Moon.
The museum offers plenty of interactive, hands-on learning opportunities for kids. Riding on the rails in the coal mine, kids can learn the technology of coal mining. At the Baby Chick Hatchery, they can discover the complex interplay between genes and environmental cues that produce new life. Kids can also learn about physics and chemistry of natural phenomena like tornados and avalanches, and experience the inner workings of the human body.
Location: 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60637
Phone: (773) 684-1414
Cost: $18 / adult, $11 child (ages 3-11), free (under 3)
#2. Dallas: Frontiers of Flight Museum
Photo Credit: Mike Petrucci
The Frontiers of Flight Museum is conveniently located just north of downtown at the southeast side of Dallas Love Field Airport. Housed in a modern 100,000-square-foot facility, the Museum invites visitors to explore the history and progress of aviation.
We take flying for granted when we travel, but seeing the history of aeronautical engineering first-hand makes us appreciate how much human ingenuity went into perfecting the modern airplanes.
The Frontiers of Flight Museum houses over 30 aircraft, from the Wright Flyer to the one-of-a-kind Flying Pancake, as well as the Apollo 7 spacecraft, 13 historical galleries and exhibits, from the Early Flyers to Space Flight, and over 35,000 artifacts. It’s also home to the Living History program and the acclaimed STEM education program.
This one-of-a-kind museum is fun to visit with the whole family.
Location: 6911 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas, TX 75209
Phone: (214) 350-3600
Cost: $10 / adult, $7 / youth (ages 3-17), free (under 3)
#3. Houston: Museum of Natural Science
Photo Credit: Tom Adams
This very kid-friendly museum consistently ranks among the most visited museums in the US, and for good reason. An all-new, massive Paleontology Hall houses more than 450 dinosaur fossils.
There’s also a stunning 3-story glass tropical rainforest conservatory filled with exotic plants and hundreds of gorgeous live butterflies. (If you want another butterfly fix, visit the Cockrell Butterfly Center and walk through a living butterfly habitat, marvel at spectacular live and preserved specimens of some of the world’s largest and weirdest arthropods, and enjoy interactive games and quizzes).
The museum also hosts monthly Family Fun Labs, where families can engage in craft classes together. Sugar Land’s satellite location of the museum boasts a dino dig pit and a children’s art gallery, showcasing local students’ creations. There’s also an Observatory and an IMAX theater. You’ll never want to leave!
Location: 5555 Hermann Park Drive, Houston, TX 77030
Phone: (713) 639-4629
Cost: $25 / adult (ages 12 and up), $15 / child (ages 3-11), free (under 3)
#4. Los Angeles: California Science Center
Photo Credit: Sam Howzit
The California Science Center, named as one of top 10 Science Museums in the US by Mensa, was originally established in 1951. It’s one of the few science museums in the country that is completely free, including the spectacular IMAX theater.
The California Science Center offers fun and informative exhibits where visitors can learn about human inventions and innovations, the life processes of living things and more. One of the most popular exhibits is the Air and Space museum – home to Space Shuttle Endeavor, a retired orbiter that flew 25 missions between 1992 and 2011.
The Ecosystems exhibit showcases the connections between plants, animals, people, weather, water and soil in 8 different environments like the Forest Zone, the River Zone, and a (very unique!) Rot Room. From digital imaging to solar cars and earthquake-resistant buildings, Creative World showcases advances humans make to fill the needs for structures and transportation. The Discovery Room is a hands-on activity area specifically designed for younger kids.
Location: 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90037
Phone: (323) 724-3623
#5. Miami: Museum of Discovery and Science
Photo Credit: Museum of Discovery and Science
Bring the entire family for a day of exploration at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, a 35-minute drive from downtown Miami.
Take a ride on the Everglades Airboat Adventure, enjoy the playful antics of river otters, experience hurricane force winds in the Storm Center, dig for fossils alongside a giant megalodon shark, and see exciting science theater shows. Watch sharks and the largest living Atlantic coral reef in captivity, hang out with bats, be charmed by a 12-foot snake, plus pet alligators, turtles and iguanas.
Test your pilot skills in nine cockpit simulators and learn about Florida’s amazing Everglades in the Living in the Everglades exhibit. Discover our place in aerospace at Runways to Rockets, an interactive space exhibit, and take a simulated trip to the Moon or Mars. If you have kids under 7, they will particularly enjoy the Discovery Center, designed especially for younger visitors.
Location: 401 S.W. Second Street, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Phone: (954) 467-6637
Cost: $16 / adult, $13 / child (ages 2-12)
#6. New York: Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History
Photo Credit: bradhoc
The Hayden Planetarium is part of the American Museum of Natural History, without a doubt one of the best attractions in New York, and one of the top 10 planetariums in the world.
The planetarium opened in 2000 and is directed by no other than Neil deGrasse Tyson. The structure is a complete sphere divided in two. The top half is the Star Theater, presenting space shows, and the bottom half is the Big Bang Theater, presenting the birth of the universe.
The Space Show in the Hayden Planetarium uses state-of-the-art technology to communicate cutting-edge science. A digital video system projects across the theater’s 67-foot-wide hemispheric dome, and every seat has an amazing view.
After you visit the Planetarium, be sure to check out the rest of the American Museum of Natural History, one of the top science museums in the world. It has 45 halls to explore, but the museum’s fossil halls are by far the most popular attraction. Housing the world’s largest collection of vertebrate fossils, the museum showcases nearly one million specimens.
Few museums feature dioramas as famous as those found in the American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Mammals. These still-life scenes, originally proposed by the renowned taxidermist and naturalist Carl Akeley, were meant to bring a snapshot of global ecosystems to New York museum visitors
Other must-sees include the Hall of Human Origins, which traces human evolution and the Hall of Meteorites, which boasts a 34-ton iron meteorite fragment called “Ahnighito.” The Discovery Room gives families a great overview of the museum. There are also behind-the-scenes displays and explanations for every major field of museum science and research, from anthropology to zoology.
Location: 200 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 769-5100
Cost: The cost of admission to the Rose Center for Earth and Space is included in the General Admission to AMNH ($22 / adult, $12.50 / child (ages 2-12). Planetarium shows can be purchased for an additional $5 for adult and $3.50 per child.
#7. Orlando: Science Center
Photo Credit: Rain0975
Orlando Science Museum provides hands-on learning about science and technology for Orlando families and visitors. With four floors of exciting exhibits, giant screen movies and engaging live programs, the Science Center is the perfect family destination in Orlando.
NatureWorks will have you up close and personal with some of nature’s most fascinating reptiles. At DinoDigs, you’ll step back into the prehistoric age. Discover the dynamic forces and systems that shape our Earth, as well as other planets in Our Planet. Explore the fundamentals of forces, such as electricity, gravity, Newton’s Laws and much more in Kinetic Zone.
No visit to the Science Center is complete without a trip to KidsTown, an interactive world for younger kids. The miniature town introduces science concepts through whole-body experiences, hands-on interactives and imaginative role-playing, and includes water tables, automotive garage, orange juice processing plant, and more.
Location: 777 E Princeton Street, Orlando, FL 32803
Phone: (407) 514-2000
Cost: $19.95 / adult, $13.95 / youth (ages 3-11), free (under 3)
#8. Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexler University
Photo Credit: Jim Capaldi
Founded in 1812, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is the world’s oldest museum for natural science. It’s also among the best 10 science museums in the world, according to Mensa.
The Academy is dedicated to advancing research, education, and public engagement in biodiversity and environmental science. It is home to dozens of scientists who work every day to discover new species, pioneer new research techniques, and monitor the health of our environment.
The museum holds a collection of over 18 million specimens, including the famous 43-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that greets all visitors on arrival. Other renowned treasures include John James Audubon’s birds and Lewis and Clark’s plant collection. The Academy’s Library and Archives are internationally recognized for their rare and historic collections, with more than 250,000 volumes from the 1500’s to the present.
Location: 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: (215) 299-1000
Cost: $17.95 / adult (ages 13+), $13.95 / child (ages 3-12), free (under 3).
#9. San Francisco: California Academy of Sciences
Photo Credit: Ray Bouknight
California Academy of Sciences – located in the beautiful Golden Gate Park – is listed on Mensa’s top 10 science museums in the country, and for good reason. You can easily spend a day – or more – exploring the Academy’s world-class aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, a magnificent four-story living rainforest, and even a swamp with an albino alligator.
The Natural History museum houses fascinating exhibits where you can learn what earthquakes tell us about the movement of tectonic plates, compare fossils of our early human relatives, and see adaptations that make life possible even in the harshest environments, all while strolling beneath the bones of some of the planet’s largest inhabitants.
The Living Rainforest stretches 90 feet into the dome. As you follow the spiral path up through the sphere, you’ll encounter four levels of rainforest from four distinct ecosystems: an Amazon flooded forest, a Bornean forest floor, a Madagascan mid-story, and the canopy of a Costa Rican forest.
No visit to the Academy will be complete without a visit to the Morrison Planetarium. The planetarium shows are fueled by cutting-edge scientific data, resulting in stunning visualizations of the latest findings, discoveries, and theories about our Universe. Every star or galaxy you encounter in the planetarium precisely mirrors its real-world counterpart.
When this virtual cosmos is projected onto Morrison’s 75-foot-diameter screen, the dome itself seems to disappear, resulting in a uniquely immersive experience. Mimicking the tilt of planet Earth, the frame of the dome – composed of 100 percent recycled steel – supports a NanoSeam projection screen that creates a true-to-life recreation of luminous, faraway space and skies.
Another must-see exhibit at the Academy is the Steinhart Aquarium, one of the most advanced and biologically diverse aquariums in the world. It’s home to the world’s deepest indoor living coral reef, an albino alligator, a colony of African penguins, a shark lagoon and more than 38,000 live animals representing over 900 species. Through partnerships with Academy scientists, who travel the world in search of new and little-known species, Steinhart’s biologists often display animals you won’t find in any other public aquarium.
The original Steinhart Aquarium (which opened in Golden Gate Park in 1923) was the model for many of the public aquariums that followed. Today’s Steinhart carries on that tradition. The aquarium’s expeditions, research, and advances in animal husbandry result in a wide range of awe-inspiring exhibits, including the world’s deepest living coral reef tank, a four-level rainforest dome, the unique, ever-changing Water Planet gallery, and more.
Location: 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
Phone: (415) 379-8000
Cost: $34.95 / adult, $29.95 youth (ages 12-17), $24.95 child (ages 4-11), free (3 and under).
#10. Washington, DC: National Air and Space Museum
Photo Credit: m01229
The National Air and Space Museum in Washington is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is the world’s best aviation and human flight history museum, and the #1 science museum in the US, as ranked by Mensa.
The museum maintains the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft. The 1903 Wright Flyer, the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, and the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia are just a few of the historic firsts on display.
The museum take you on a journey from the earliest attempts at human flight, trough the fascinating era of the beginning of the space exploration with the first man in space and the moon landing, all the way to modern space exploration and the International Space Station. You will also witness a display of objects that were actually in space. You can also take in an IMAX film, a planetarium show, and observe the Sun and nearby planets at the Public Observatory. The museum is a truly wonderful place for everyone who is interested in aviation and space.
Location: 600 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20560
Phone: (202) 633-2214
We hope you enjoy visiting these amazing science destinations with your family. For more great ideas, check out our guide of 101 Science Museums in the US, or get a guide just for your city: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Washington DC. So many great places to visit, so little time!