Whether it's for educational student groups or a fun side trip for vacationers, science museums gather in visitors by the millions annually. Although there are thousands of museums in the United States, only a handful have the distinction of being the best. Below, several hand picked science museums have been ranked according to what they are best at to help you better choose which to visit on your next student trip!
Best for Interactive Learning
- California Academy of Sciences - San Francisco - A natural history museum, hands-on learning center, and an accredited zoo and aquarium, the California Academy of Sciences blows away the competition year after year. Located in stunning Golden Gate Park, the Academy of Sciences showcases and educated visitors on sustainability practices, ecology and environmentalism, animal conservation, the basics of natural science, and so much more. The Steinhart Aquarium will bring you face to face with amazing creatures of the deep, the Kimball Natural History Museum will usher you into the past and future through teaching the evolution of life, and the Morrison Planetarium will take you far beyond the Earth's atmosphere to galaxies far, far away. There's even a full four-story rainforest inside the museum that you can walk through!
- Franklin Institute - Philadelphia - Named for the noted scientist, politician and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, this Philadelphia institute spans the full run of scientific learning. With a Planetarium, IMAX, hands on exhibits and a plethora of educational displays, you'll never want to leave. Temporary and permanent exhibitions explore the science of sports, how your brain works and a walk through exhibit taking you through the inner workings of the heart, a playful exhibit on Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Physics, and of course, electricity! While you're here, you can also visit the Ben Franklin Memorial, a nationally recognized landmark.
Best for Interdisciplinary Learning
- The Leonardo - Salt Lake City - Named for one of history's most prolifically intellectual humans, The Leonardo is designed to emulate the quintessential Renaissance man and his multi-disciplinary endeavors. This museum isn't just for kids, although they find it fascinatingly fun, as it connects learning from all areas of life using interactive displays and multi-media galleries. Some of the interactive galleries test your perception and teach about illusions of the eye while others test your kinetic abilities in physical laboratories, making building block constructions and testing hypotheses. Think using only math or play in a Pixel Playland of technology, visit mummies in sarcophagi and explore the world around you as Leonardo da Vinci would!
- Exploratorium - San Francisco - San Francisco's interactive museum bills itself as a "museum of science, art, and human perception," giving you an idea about what kind of interdisciplinary education you can find within. The Exploratorium's passion lies in wanting to change the world learns, combining passions and pursuits into a single museum attraction. Explore the Human Phenomena exhibit and experiment with thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and then head over to the Cinema Arts Program gallery or the Bob Miller exhibitions throughout the museum. Discover the science of light, sound, and motion or learn about the weather and what makes wind blow, clouds rain, and tornadoes form.
Best for Kids Under 10
- Children's Museum of Indianapolis - A crowd pleaser and a family-friendly favorite, the Children's Museum of Indianapolis consistently ranks as top dog among children's science museums in the U.S. You can see why by the full-size dinosaurs coming in and out of the building's facade, intruding into the interior learning zones. This goes to show you how fun and multi-sensory this Indianapolis museum makes their exhibits. Currently, you can see the inner workings of nature and technology, explore eras past via dinosaur bones and Egyptian mummies, travel to China and other parts of the world, and learn the science behind flight!
- Boston Children's Museum - For over a hundred years, Boston's premier children's museum has been endeavoring to change the way the world learns using interactive and hands-on activities. While most museums do this nowadays, the Boston Children's Museum was the pioneer which first created the concept of "hands-on" exhibits. Today you can let your young one loose in exhibits such as Art Studio where they can paint with their hands, build creative works in Construction Zone, perform in a theater or dance number at KidStage, and so much more.
Best for Middle School and High School Students
- National Museum of Natural History - Washington, D.C. - If it holds the distinction of being a Smithsonian, you know the museum must be good. In fact, the Natural History Museum of Washington, D.C. is typically known as one of the best natural science museums in the country. Located on the National Mall, the Natural History Museum is the one-stop destination to see everything from giant centuries old redwood trees, halls full of dinosaur bones and prehistoric animals, learn about the science of volcanoes, the history of Egyptian death practices, and much more. Given the more in depth and focused nature of many of the exhibits, the Natural History Museum is perhaps best suited for middle school aged and older students who have a basic understanding of the subjects at hand. There aren't nearly as many interactive exhibits as the other museums on this list but the depth of the information makes it an undeniably wonderful resource - and free!
- Museum of Science and Industry - Chicago - A Chicago staple, the Museum of Science and Industry is the largest museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. This massive building is located in Chicago's beautiful Hyde Park though you wouldn't be able to guess what's inside by looking at it. Walking indoors, you'll be surprised to find a full-sized replica of a coal mine into which students can descend to learn better from the inside. Also see a real steam locomotive, an Omnimax theater, a U-505 Submarine - the only German submarine in the United States - a mirror maze, and so much more. See full size real airplanes hanging over your head, explore farm equipment and tractors, actually feel the physical effects of natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes, and see the world's largest pinball machine!