From the November 2019 issue

3 Natural History Museums Worth a Visit

Treat your kids to a little historic exploration and dinosaur excavation at these cool natural history museums in Michigan and beyond.

A family looking at a display at a natural history museum
Photo courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Do you have a child that loves dinosaurs? Then there’s no better treat than a visit to a local natural history museum.

Southeast Michigan is home to several of these historical attractions – and the one in Ann Arbor is gearing up for a big display reveal in November, 2019. Here’s the low-down on what’s happening at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History – plus details on two of our other favorite natural history museums.

Close to home: Your neighborhood Jurassic Park

The pint-sized dinosaur enthusiasts in your house won’t want to miss another big addition at the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. The Ann Arbor spot reopened in April with loads of prehistoric displays.

And now, on Nov. 10, it’s launching three exhibits for kids of all ages to explore. Check out life-size dioramas and get hands-on in Exploring Michigan – or go Under the Microscope to step inside a giant version of a human cell. Finally, People and the Planet dives into how culture and people impact the world.

What makes the museum such a great place for families? “Dinosaurs and mastodons!” says marketing/communications manager Lori Dick. “And prehistoric whales, a 25-foot flying reptile and other awe-inspiring creatures. There’s something for everyone in the family, from mystery touch boxes for the littles to the latest research by U-M researchers for the grands.”

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Dick recommends coming on weekends when it’s easier to park, since school isn’t in session. Bonus: Find free parking at the staff and faculty parking structures on Sundays. There are more activities available at the museum on weekends too.

“You can go on a Highlights or Wonderful World of Whales tour, watch a science demonstration or listen to a scientist describe her current research,” Dick says. “Plus, you can see a planetarium show on weekends.”

A day trip: Digging for dinos

In the Bone Hunters’ Quarry, kids pop on safety glasses and use the same kind of tools as grown-up dinosaur researchers, aka paleontologists. That’s part of the fun at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, which is one of the top natural history museums in the country.

Exhibits walk kids through the Age of the Dinosaurs – they’ll even stare down a towering T. rex. Definitely point out that about 75 percent of the dino fossils on display are real (a lot of museums use casts of dinosaur bones).

While dinosaurs are a big draw, families should take time to explore other museum favorites, says marketing director Sloan MacRae. “We also have a world-class gem and mineral display and daily live animal shows featuring exotic and adorable animals from our Living Collection,” McRae says. “We have 10,000 treasures on display, so there’s something for everyone – from butterflies to ancient Egyptian artifacts.”

Starting in mid-November, see the National Geographic: 50 Greatest Wildlife Photographs exhibit, which runs till May 25, 2020.

Even farther away: History in a big city

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County includes not one but three museums. At the Natural History Museum in L.A., see world-class exhibits like the Age of Mammals and the Dinosaur Hall. In the William S. Hart Museum, explore a silent movie film star’s 22-room mansion.

And, perhaps most unique, the La Brea Tar Pits – an active excavation site where kids can watch as fossils are prepared for exhibiting. This Ice Age treasure trove includes cool finds like saber-toothed cats and giant sloths.

While in L.A., catch other sites like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier and Universal Studios Hollywood.

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