Science and Natural History Museum Day Trips

Four museums near NYC that make for fun family day trips.

Do you feel as if you've memorized every inch of the American Museum of Natural History? As mammoth as it is, we've visited so frequently I think I could find even the most remote corner of it blindfolded. We've also explored every inch of the New York Hall of Science in Queens and liberated all the science at New Jersey's Liberty Science Center (although the recently revived Touch Tunnel is worth a visit if you haven't been yet).

If your family's looking for new fun universes to discover, here are four other science and natural history museums outside of New York City that make great day or overnight trips (and you can even get to them by bus or train).

Bruce Museum 1 Museum Dr Greenwich CT This modestly sized museum's science and natural history exhibits include a touchable meteorite, a wigwam, and a collection of brightly colored minerals and fossils. It has a local focus, with visually interesting exhibits that explore the Connecticut coastline and the region's woodland ecosystems. The institution isn't exclusively devoted to science; there's also a fine art collection. Cindy Sherman's powerful (and mature) photos are on view through April 23. Check the website for periodic kid-pleasing events and projects.

What makes it worth the trip? Its proximity to New York City (Greenwich is just under an hour by train) and its small size make it a great choice for preschoolers. Plus, the adjacent Bruce Park Boundless Playground is a great place for little ones to let off steam. It's got clean restrooms, picnic tables and views of the Long Island Sound, so it's a nice spot for an alfresco lunch, if the weather cooperates.

Practical Information Closed Mondays. $7 for adults, $6 for children ages 5 to 22, under 5 free. Free on Tuesdays. Take the Metro-North New Haven line from Grand Central Station to Greenwich. The station is only a few minutes walk from the Bruce.

 

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History 170 Whitney Ave New Haven, CT The Peabody's comprehensive collection will keep the family busy all day long and you still won't have time to cover everything. Special attractions include the Discovery Room, which features hands-on exhibits and a colony of leaf-cutter ants, visible through clear plastic tubes. The Hall of Minerals, Earth and Space showcases giant, colorful mineral specimens.

What makes it worth the trip? Dinosaurs are the big draw. The Great Hall boasts awesome dinosaur skeletons and one of the world's largest fresco secco murals The Age of Reptiles, which runs the length of an entire wall. It's got dinosaurs from several periods, and should be a big hit with kids. Each November, the Peabody hosts the Paleo-Knowledge Bowl: an oral competition in which fourth, fifth and sixth graders from Connecticut and beyond answer some very difficult questions about the extinct creatures. The public is allowed to view the final round. This may be the inspiration your budding paleontologist has been looking for.

Practical Information Open daily. Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for children ages 3 to 18, under 3 free. Free admission on Thursday afternoons from 2-5pm from September to June. Take the Metro-North New Haven line from Grand Central Station to New Haven and catch a taxi at the station.

 

The Franklin Institute 222 North 20th St Philadelphia, PA The Institute's founding purpose was to honor Benjamin Franklin and advance his inventions. Today, it showcases science and technology in ways that would certainly delight him. One of the original hands-on science museums in the country, it's my family's favorite. It's also huge, and its permanent exhibits never get old or boring. There are numerous interactive, strategically located science carts, where you can try your hand at activities like paper-making or constructing a retractable suspension bridge with Lincoln Logs. The temporary exhibits change several times per year; you have until May 22 to explore Leonardo da Vinci's Workshop, which allows you to peek into the mind of the scholar, artist and all-around genius. Get acquainted with his masterpieces The Last Supper and The Mona Lisa by using touch screens as your guide. The Franklin is often packed, so get there early or be prepared to wait on line.

What makes it worth the trip? You won't want to miss the permanent Human Heart exhibit, where you can walk through a 220-foot model of the circulatory organ. See how fit you are in the sports exhibit, ride on a full-sized train that blows actual smoke, and bike across a high wire on the SkyBike. Philadelphia is a great museum city, and you could spend days there with your family exploring the possibilities, including the hands-on Please Touch Museum.

Practical Information Admission is $15.50 for adults, $12 for children ages 4 to 12, under 4 free. Certain attractions, like the IMAX theater, cost extra, so it's not an inexpensive playdate. Happily, getting to Philadelphia is cheap. Megabus and Bolt go from midtown Manhattan to the 30th Street Station in about two hours. A taxi will get you to the Franklin in minutes, or you can walk it in about 20.

 

Museum of Science 1 Science Park Boston, MA Many of the 700-plus exhibits are hands-on, so this is a great place to learn scientific concepts while having a ball. Friday nights from 8:30-10pm, go stargazing at the Gilliland Observatory, located on the roof of the museum's parking lot, free of charge. There's a Butterfly Garden similar to the one at the AMNH. You'll want to shed a few layers because it's warm in there to accommodate the exotic plants and title residents.

What makes it worth the trip? Beyond the X-Ray is a fascinating look at the history and development of medical imaging technologies, from the discovery of the X-Ray in 1895 to MRIs and 3-D ultrasounds. You can learn about different techniques in action as you become a Radiologist for a Day, which is a must-see for school-age kids. There are numerous live presentations every day throughout the exhibit halls. If you get lucky, you may catch The Amazing Nano Brothers Juggling Show, in which performers toss around tennis rackets atop unicycles to teach viewers about the mysteries of matter. There's so much to see and do at the Museum of Science, we usually spend the night. The Hotel Marlowe is steps away from the museum's entrance and provides fun extras like complimentary mountain bikes, pet goldfish for your room and gift packs full of toys to keep young guests amused. The on-site restaurant, Bambara, has a well-priced kids' menu and serves tasty American cuisine.

Practical Information Admission is $21 for adults, $18 for children ages 3 to 11, free under 3, but this institution is a worthwhile splurge, especially if you take into account all of the live performances. Certain attractions like the IMAX theater and Butterfly Garden cost extra. We used to come here for birthdays, instead of a party. The bus from NYC is approximately a four-hour ride. Megabus and Bolt will bring you to South Station at discounted rates, and you can take the T Green Line a few stops to Science Park Station.

Check out other great day trips here.

location: 
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
06830 Greenwich , CT
Phone: 203-869-0376
41° 1' 8.8968" N, 73° 37' 21.3132" W
Connecticut
The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
170 Whitney Ave
06511 New Haven , CT
Phone: 203-432-5050
41° 18' 54.3996" N, 72° 55' 15.0672" W
Connecticut
The Franklin Institute
222 North 20th St
19103 Philadelphia , PA
Phone: 215-448-1200
39° 57' 29.3004" N, 75° 10' 21.4608" W
Pennsylvania
Museum of Science
1 Science Park
02114 Boston , MA
Phone: 617-723-2500
42° 22' 3.9756" N, 71° 4' 15.4344" W
Massachusetts