What do astronauts, butterflies, and electricity all have in common? Science! And these science museums for kids are some of the best in the bunch for hands-on learning in a stimulating and welcoming environment. So if you’ve got a budding explorer, geologist or doctor, heading out to one of these epic science museums can be a trip the whole family will never forget. Click through the gallery to see our favorites and see if your top museums made the list.

photo: Kate Loweth

California Academy of Sciences—San Francisco, CA

An aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum all in one, the California Academy of Science is a must-visit for Bay Area locals and tourists alike. Take a stroll through the four-story rainforest, where you'll see free-flying birds, butterflies and loads of tropical flora. Kids can also touch urchins and starfish, check out a towering T. Rex skeleton and watch a coral reef dive. Get all the details on how to plan your day at Cal Academy by clicking here.

Golden Gate Park
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA
Online: calacademy.org

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photo: Science Museum of Minnesota

Science Museum of Minnesota—St. Paul, MN

From the moment you walk in the door of this multi-story building located on a bluff above the Mississippi, the fun (and science) begins. Kids can amuse themselves with a massive pressurized ball display while you wait in line for the tickets. Once inside, project your image on a giant astronaut, catch an iMax show, explore dinosaur fossils, navigate the river and listen to the sounds of the earth’s many quakes on the seismophone—a spiny wind-chime like sculpture that projects notes based on a seismograph. Bring a few natural treasures from your travels to trade in the collectors' corner. Rotating exhibits and amazing summer camp programs that teach coding, scientific concepts and creative thinking make this a gem of the Midwest.

120 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN
Online: smm.org

Oregon Museum of Science & Industry—Portland, OR

Portland parents know the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is a permanent fixture on the list of top activities before kids turn 10, but if even you're just visiting the area, this museum is well worth the trip. Want to know what a black hole really is? Or maybe you’d like to tour a real submarine? From physics to chemistry to space and beyond, your kids will learn new concepts and discover phenomena without even trying (there’s a 7,000-square-foot Science Playground!). Plus, its location along the Willamette River in Portland ain’t too shabby either.

1945 SE Water Ave.
Portland, OR
Online: omsi.edu

The Exploratorium—San Francisco, CA

When it comes to hands-on, the Exploratorium has been a leader in interactive museums for almost 50 years! Dubbed the museum of science, art and human perception, It’s like a big, sophisticated science fair where you get to touch, taste, dance around in and hop up and down on all of the experiments. The location right along San Francisco’s scenic waterfront can’t be beat. Ongoing special events like movies, free days and changing exhibitions make this a local’s favorite and one of SF's top tourist destinations. Check out our handy insider's guide to make the most of your visit.

Pier 15
The Embarcadero & Green St.
San Francisco, CA 94111
Online: exploratorium.edu

Natural History Museum of Utah—Salt Lake City, UT

At the base of the Wasatch Mountain Range rests the Natural History Museum of Utah’s Rio Tinto Center, part of the University of Utah and an active research center. Inside you’ll find fascinating fossils (dinosaurs!), bugs from six continents, and some 40,000 marine mollusca (a.k.a. seashells and the like). Among a full calendar of family and kid programming are STEAM-based Saturday Discover Classes targeted for Kindergarten and 1st graders, 2nd and 3rd graders, or 4th and 5th graders. All ages can bug out!

301 Wakara Way
Salt Lake City, UT 
Online: nhmu.utah.edu

Buehler Challenger & Science Center—Paramus, NJ

Whether you want—or wanted—to be an astronaut, everyone can have a shot at space glory at Buehler Challenger & Science Center. You can fly space missions in their simulator and learn about the Solar System in their StarLab planetarium. Public programs include a “Mini Mission” or “Full Mission” for grades 5 & up as well as Overnight Camp-Ins.

400 Paramus Rd.
Paramus, NJ 
Online: bcsc.org

Center of Science and Industry—Columbus, OH

This not-for-profit museum’s current 320,000-square-foot home was designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Dedicated to understanding both the past and future progress, kids can explore the museum’s many areas that are both playful and educational. Access the Ocean through a “cave” that takes you through a crashed shipwreck and learn all about SCUBA diving, submarines, water pressure and more. The Space exhibit includes a replica space station, remote vehicles, and lots of hands-on experiments with gravity and more. There’s also an Adventure Area, a Gadget area (full of tinkering fun) and more.

333 W Broad St.
Columbus, OH
Online: cosi.org

Museum of Science—Boston, MA

The MOS mission is to help kids and grown-ups alike foster a love of technology and science without being intimidated and their approach has proved popular so far! Permanent exhibits include dinosaur fossils, a live animal care center, hands-on engineering play, math mysteries and much more. There’s also a beautiful butterfly garden and the Thrill Ride 360: a dynamic simulator that rocks, twists and turns as you ride a roller coaster or fly over Boston!

1 Science Park
Boston, MA
Online: mos.org

National Air & Space Museum—Washington, D.C.

Part of the Smithsonian family, the Air & Space Museum houses the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft anywhere in the world. Want to know what happens to your body when you go up in space? Or maybe you're curious about the future of space travel? This is where you'll find all your questions answered! You'll also find Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright Brothers Plane, and the Apollo 11 command module. The museum hosts regular Family Days with themes like Space Day, African American Aviation History Day and more. New exhibits are always rotating through, and on select nights you can look through the telescopes at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory. Oh, and did we mention admission is free?

Independence Ave. at 6th St. SW
Washington, DC
Online: airandspace.si.edu

The Bakken Museum—Minneapolis, MN

This unique museum combines science and the history of electricity to teach kids about concepts like brain waves, the body, magnetism, medicine and medical technology and—the best of the best—Frankenstein! Enjoy a 12-minute show that introduces kids to Mary Shelley, her monster and reanimation. There’s tons of STEM-based learning, including camps and special events. In addition, the museum is home to the Florence Bakken Medicinal Gardens and an impressive collection of medical instruments, scientific books, journals and manuscripts.

3537 Zenith Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN
Online: thebakken.org

New York Hall of Science—Queens, NY

With over 450 exhibits, events, workshops and more, this museum not only offers 100,000 square feet of indoor space, there’s 60,000 square feet of outdoor museum to explore, too. Parents in the know love this museum not just for their impressive collections and ongoing exhibits: the museum also offers drop-in Little Makers classes and an entire Preschool Place—a wonderland for the under-six set.

47-01 111th St.
Corona, NY
Online: nysci.org

photo: The Field Museum

The Field Museum—Chicago, IL

Where else can your kids see gems and diamonds from around the world, human and animal mummies, meteorites, animal dioramas and SUE, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever discovered? The Field Museum is famous for a reason and it should definitely be on your museum (or any attraction) family bucket list. Check out these 13 current reasons we're crushing on The Field.

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.
Chicago, IL
Online: fieldmuseum.org

Pacific Science Center—Seattle, WA

Among all the wonderful things to see and do at the PSC, one of the big highlights, especially for the under-five crowd, is the large saltwater tide pool where you can see and touch native Puget Sound creatures. Kids delight in the butterfly house too, and there's a big-screen IMAX showing the latest scientific wonder flicks. Ongoing and rotating exhibits will ignite curiosity and a love of the earth and biological sciences. Be sure to check out our insider's guide to make sure your visit goes off without a hitch.

200 Second Ave. N.
Seattle, WA
Online: pacificsciencecenter.org

Arkansas Museum of Discovery—Little Rock, AR

No trip to Arkansas is complete without a stop in Little Rock, but we think the Museum of Discovery is worth an entire day to itself. With cool one-off programs and a variety of ongoing events, no matter what time of year you visit, you’ll find something new and spectacular. We love that they offer free admission to families living in shelters and campaign for girls in STEM to provide opportunities for all kids to learn, thrive, get curious and excel. Permanent exhibits include the Amazing You gallery with an inside peek at bodily functions; Discovery Hall, a mathematical wonderland; and the popular Tinkering Studio.

500 President Clinton Ave. #150
Little Rock, AR
Online: museumofdiscovery.org

Museum of Science Center—St. Louis, MO

This science center dedicates itself to making science a fun, immersive and interactive experience for all ages. With everything from science music to classes to shows, a Life Science Lab and dedicated MakerSpace, hours will fly by here without even seeing it all. They get all the big exhibits too, like Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission (through Sept. 2018), and you can watch jaw-dropping films on the giant OMNIMAX screen. Looking for more St. Louis fun? Check out our family road trip guide here.

5050 Oakland Ave.
St. Louis, MO
Online: slsc.org

Arizona Science Center—Phoenix, AZ

One of the Southwest’s premier science museums, don’t miss the high-wire physics of the Evans Family Sky Cycle, and the large community makerspace. There are 3D printers, laser cutters and more alongside crafting tools to sew, solder and paint. You’ll find plenty of earth and space science displays and interactive weather models, too. Their programs are tailored to different age groups, including day camps, junior workshops and overnights.

600 E. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ
Online: azscience.org

The Franklin Institute—Philadelphia, PA

This innovative museum offers a lot more than the (awesome) history of Benjamin Franklin, although its collection of Frankliniana, including marble busts, scientific instruments and writings, is well worth the visit alone. This museum boasts its own Escape Rooms, a planetarium, Live Science demos every day and exhibits on virtual and augmented reality (so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about). This museum is as lively and spontaneous as Franklin's own experiments!

271 N. 21st St.
Philadelphia, PA
Online: fi.edu

photo: California Science Center

California Science Center—Los Angeles, CA

Located in Downtown’s Exposition Park, this is a science lover’s heaven. But even if your little one isn’t a future lab dweller, there’s plenty to get their minds working. The IMAX Theater is a big draw for older kids. The three Discovery Rooms are perfect destinations for the 6 & under crowd—they are filled with tons of hands-on experiences like a construction zone, a kitchen, a garden and even a kid-sized TV studio complete with costumes. Plus, there’s the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the fabulous Ecosystems exhibition where you can visit an icy land, go under the sea and even get grossed out in the rot room. Plus, keep an eye out for the special limited exhibits that come to the museum, like the King Tut exhibit, open through Jan. 2019.

700 Exposition Park Dr.
Los Angeles, CA
Online: californiasciencecenter.org

Houston Museum of Natural Science—Houston, TX

With a planetarium, impressive gem displays and the newly reopened Wiess Energy Hall 3.0 dedicated to the latest advancements in hydrocarbon energy, the Houston Museum of Natural Science has something for every kind of scientific curiosity. Learn about everything from mapping to insects to pruning trees. That is, if you can get the kids out of the incredible Cockrell Butterfly Center.

5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston, TX
Online: hmns.org

Denver Museum of Nature and Science—Denver, CO

Mummies? Dinosaurs? Gems? Native American culture? The Denver Museum of Nature and Science will keep your kiddos enraptured for hours (and possibly days) with its extensive permanent collection and ongoing rotating exhibits. Kids can experience weekend workshops nearly every weekend and with occasional family overnights, you can go all Night at the Museum in real life. 

2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO
Online: dmns.org

—Amber Guetebier

with Susie Foresman, Wendy Altschuler, Meghan Rose, Gabby Cullen & Jennifer Massoni Pardini

 

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