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12 Must-See American Museums: An Ultimate Guide

From fossils to the future, the US is bursting with exciting and educational museums. Here are 12 of the best

Neil Armstrongs Apollo 11 spacesuit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
Neil Armstrongs Apollo 11 spacesuit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC

1. Pretend City Children’s Museum, California

A girl looking through a telescope at Pretend City Childrens Museum in California
A girl looking through a telescope at Pretend City Childrens Museum in California
Combine a trip to Disneyland Resort in California with a visit to the nearby Pretend City Children’s Museum, which features a small, interconnected city. It’s designed to “build better brains” through 17 interactive exhibits and activities that encourage purposeful play, hands-on learning experiences and role-playing.

2. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

Lunar module 2 on display at Smithsonians National Air and Space Museum in Washington
Lunar module 2 on display at Smithsonians National Air and Space Museum in Washington
See the Wright brothers’ first plane, the third space shuttle to fly into outer space, and touch a lunar rock sample at this museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft. The museum commemorates the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing this year, with Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit showcased in a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled display case specially created to protect the iconic outfit.

3. The Empire State Building Observatory Experience, New York

The Observatory Experience on the second floor of the Empire State Building in New York Image Evan Joseph
The Observatory Experience on the second floor of the Empire State Building in New York. Image: Evan Joseph
Learn about the history of the famous Empire State Building, from construction through to its current place in pop culture, as you make your way to the 86th floor observatory. The revamped galleries on the second floor include a black and white panoramic photo of the site in the 1920s, cast sculptures of construction workers, and the voice of a newsboy announcing the opening of the building as he sells papers on the street in the 1930s.

4. The Natural History Museum, California

Learn about animals at The Natural History Museum in LA
Learn about animals at The Natural History Museum in LA
Step back in time and discover a lush continent full of trees, giant amphibians and dinosaurs at the Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibition at The Natural History Museum in LA. One of the city’s oldest cultural institutions, it has more than 35 million specimens and artefacts on display. Kids can pretend to be a palaeontologist in the Paleo Play Zone in the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation Discovery Center, marvel at the variety of bugs in the Insect Zoo, and check out mini dioramas.

5. Museumlab, Pennsylvania

MuseumLab was created by the Childrens Museum of Pittsburgh Image Renee Rosensteel
MuseumLab was created by the Childrens Museum of Pittsburgh Image Renee Rosensteel
Children aged 10 and over can use cutting-edge technology to create everything from furniture and interactive art to apps at this museum created by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. It all takes place in the former Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, right next door to the Children’s Museum.

6. Seattle Children’s Museum, Washington

The Cog City exhibition at Seattle Childrens Museum which explores cause and effect and the science behind motion
The Cog City exhibition at Seattle Childrens Museum which explores cause and effect and the science behind motion
Imagination comes to life at this museum, which has a construction zone for budding builders, an eye clinic where kids can take turns being a patient or doctor, and a global village where they can sail the seven seas, create an African drum circle and pretend to be a master sushi chef in Japan. It also offers daily programs including plays, story times and art classes.

7. Space Center Houston, Texas

Have a blast at Space Center Houston Image Visit Houston Julie Soefer 4 3
Have a blast at Space Center Houston. Image Visit Houston Julie: Soefer
Kids can dress up in an astronaut suit, see real samples of moon rocks and other artefacts collected on space programs like Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, and check out the space simulator at this terrific Texas museum. There are more than 400 things to see and do, including getting up close and personal to NASA facilities and astronauts!

8. The Museum of Northern Arizona

A young Navajo dancer
A young Navajo dancer
Star Wars fans can see works by Native American artists who were inspired by the franchise in The Force Is with Our People exhibition, which runs until March 2020. They include a working R2-D2 replica designed by a Hopi artist and a nearly life-sized storm trooper etched in native designs. The Flagstaff museum has four festivals each year, including the Day of the Dead Festival and Navajo Festival of Arts and Culture, in which kids have the opportunity to take part in Indigenous craft and workshops and watch puppet shows.

9. The Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai’i

Bishop Museum in Honolulu Image Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson
Bishop Museum in Honolulu Image Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson
See ancient Hawaiian and ancient Polynesian artefacts at this cultural institution, which includes a large science centre where kids can learn about native Hawaiian animals, volcanoes, natural weather events, the ocean and more. Alongside the museum, the J. Watumull Planetarium immerses the audience in the night sky, travelling from Hawai‘i to Tahiti by the stars.

10. The Doseum, San Antonio, Texas

The DoSeum in San Antonio 4 3
The DoSeum in San Antonio, Texas
Kids can don a fake moustache and trench coat before taking part in covert missions and breaking codes at the Spy Academy exhibit, and role play at Little Town, which includes a child-scaled supermarket, vet office and airport. They can also experiment with light and sound at Sensations Studio, which features a DJ station and lasers, and learn to build at the Innovation Station.

11. The Orlando Science Center, Florida

Take part in a fossil dig at Orlando Science Center
Take part in a fossil dig at Orlando Science Center
Wannabe scientists can take part in a dinosaur dig, visit the observatory and delight in the KidsTown interactive play area for little ones aged seven and under, at this four-floor museum. It also has exhibits about Florida wildlife, art and the planet. It’s a definite must to add on to any trip to the nearby Walt Disney World Resort.

12. US Olympic and Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame, Colorado

Torches on display at the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado
Torches on display at the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado
Located in Colorado Springs, this is a one-of-a-kind tribute to Team USA’s athlete journeys and the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. An inspiring visit for the whole family. Kids can try interactive sports demonstrations, see Olympic torches dating back to 1936, and converse with an Olympian or Paralympian at the Ask an Athlete Artificial Intelligence exhibit.

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