This blog post was updated on September 24, 2019.
The concept of a “science museum” may sound boring, but these days that’s far from the case. All across America, science comes alive at interactive museums and in such a way that non-nerd visitors, especially kids, will love while thanks to hands-on exhibits that bridge the gap between observer and participant.
Here’s a rundown, from west to east, of the coolest museums where visitors can explore and learn science via thousands of engaging and creative activities. But PARENTS BEWARE: the kids (and probably even you) won’t want to leave these museums at closing time.
San Francisco’s Exploratorium
Any adults and kids visiting San Francisco will find oodles of hands-on displays throughout the six galleries at the Exploratorium. Future inventors will fall in love with the Tinkering Studio where they are free to use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways. Long lines shouldn’t deter a visit to the popular Tactile Dome. The sense of touch becomes supreme when navigating through chambers and mazes in complete darkness.
The California Science Center in Los Angeles
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A must-visit for all space enthusiasts looking at flights to Los Angeles, the California Science Center is famously home to the retired NASA space shuttle Endeavor. Tikes under seven can have a hands-on experience in the Discovery Rooms for Little Learners. Inquisitive kids from pre-K through high school will adore the annual Hands-on Science Camp offered in weekly sessions throughout the summer months. Don’t forget to check the website for special exhibits.
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry
If you’re taking any flights to Chicago and want to visit the largest science center in the western hemisphere, you’re going to need to plan ahead. Interactive experiences abound throughout Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. The Wanger Family Fab Lab should be the first stop for kids itching to design an idea using cutting-edge software and equipment. Youngsters under ten years old can test out scientific principles in the Idea Factory. For an interactive human mind-body exhibit, don’t miss— You! The Experience.
The Center of Science and Industry in Columbus
The Center of Science and Industry is a kid-friendly museum that’s designed with 300+ hands-on exhibits organized into themed exhibition areas. Television fans are waiting for the reopening of WOSI, an interactive broadcast studio where participants can reenact the science behind broadcasting. In the Gadget Café, visitors can dismantle everyday appliances to learn how they work.
The Museum of Science in Boston
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Three color-coded wings of Boston’s Museum of Science houses more than 500 interactive exhibits. Many look forward to the walk-through Butterfly Garden that overlooks the Charles River. Kids visiting the Microrobotics Takes Flight exhibit can test new methods for developing RoboBees, tiny, flying microrobots. Active kids will enjoy Science in the Park. Here they’ll be able to evaluate their everyday activities using scientific perspectives.
The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Arguably the original “cool science museum,” the Air and Space Museum will instantly engage kids with the hands-on science activities in the How Things Fly exhibit. Future aviators over 48 inches won’t be able to resist the opportunity to fly combat sorties that include 350-degree barrel rolls in one of the Interactive Flight Simulators. Space and flight mavens shouldn’t pass on the world’s largest collection of aviation and space artifacts.
Has one of your kiddos had a unique “wow” moment at an interactive science museum? Don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comment section below.