Houston is home to many world-renowned art venues, but did you know that there are tons of science and history museums in town, too? While I am a little biased about my own science and history museum – The John C. Freeman Weather Museum in the Houston Museum District – I know that there are many others also worth exploring.
I recently came across a great resource – www.10best.com and saw their picks for the Top 10 Science and History Museums in Houston, which included George Ranch Historical Park, Houston Fire Museum, Museum of Printing History, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Space Center Houston, Children’s Museum of Houston, John P. McGovern Museum of Health & Medical Science, Holocaust Museum Houston, Heritage Society and The Forbidden Gardens (which recently closed down).
What’s so special about these venues, you might ask? How did they make the top 10? Well, it was no surprise to me to see some museums on the list; the ones that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit absolutely stand out in my mind as quite deserving of the recognition. However, there are many on the list that I haven’t been to (even though I’ve lived in Houston for five years, I must admit, I haven’t made a lot of time to explore. I work a lot! What can I say?!?)
I did a little research and it didn’t take me long to figure out why all these places made the cut. I definitely need to get on the ball and check them out. And I encourage all my museum friends – from Houston and beyond – to visit them soon.
Here’s what I learned….
At George Ranch Historical Park, visitors can get a feel for present-day Texas and trace the state’s history through the homes and lives of the Jones family. A living history park with costumed characters and real hay rides! I’m not a native Texan, so I can’t think of a better place for me to learn more about my new state. I pulled my boots out of the closet and have them ready to go to the George Ranch for the evening event they are hosting during AAM, complete with a big BBQ dinner with all the fixings, singing cowboys and a campfire sing along. Yeehaw! (isn’t that what Texans say?! Haha!)
The Houston Fire Museum explores firefighting in the city from its earliest days and displays vintage equipment which ranges from antique helmets to a 1938 REO salvage truck that kids can climb on. I know a fewHouston firefighters myself, so it’ll be a real honor to pay tribute to them and their courageous calling by visiting the Houston Fire Museum.
Houstonians and visitors from around the world can learn about the diverse history of the Houstonregion by visiting The Heritage Society, a museum complex located at Sam Houston Park. I’ve seen their beautiful buildings set against the backdrop of the Houston downtown skyline. Quite picturesque! They too are hosting an evening event during AAM that is sure to delight! Where else will you be able to feast on “armadillo eggs”?!
The Museum of Printing History not only displays ancient and modern printing tools but also lets visitors participate in the process. And – they have a sheet from the Gutenberg Bible from 1455 and colonial documents, including a Pennsylvania Gazette printed by Ben Franklin in 1765, which I am very curious to see so that I can get a taste of home. I hail fromPhiladelphia, ya know.
While at the Holocaust Museum Houston, which is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and teaching the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy, guests can trace the persecution of Jews and other minorities in 20th-century Europe through photographs, films and text. This museum is just down the street from The Weather Museum, so I can walk there, pick up a COEXIST bumper sticker for my car and do my part to Stop Hate, Starting Here.
From dancing under the dinosaurs to the exciting IMAX shows to star gazing in the planetarium to the eye catching bling in the gem vault — there’s something for everyone at Houston Museum of Natural Science. And it’s about to get bigger! HMNS is expanding. In the Summer of 2012, the Museum is opening its new two story, football field sized Paleontology Hall, and adding over 15,000 square feet of combined exhibition, education and classroom space. Between now and then, though, there’s still a lot to explore and learn. In the Wiess Energy Hall, I learned that one barrel of crude oil produces 19.9 gallons of finished motor gasoline. In the Earth Forum, I saw firsthand how the wind shapes and reshapes dunes and witnessed the formation of a cloud using cool air and water vapor. The meteorologist in me LOVED that! I can’t wait to go back!
Voted America’s No. 1 Best Children’s Museum by Parents magazine, the Children’s Museum of Houston is truly a playground for your mind, offering a multitude of exhibits bursting with action-packed fun that engage kids in the ultimate learning experience. I wish there was a museum like this in Philly when I was growing up! I am a kid at heart, so I need to borrow some of my friends’ kiddos (Jess, Jaleigh, Sarah, Scarlett or Maverick, are you ready?!?!) soon for a trip to CMH. (All my nieces and nephews live in New Jersey and Philadelphia so I can’t take them.) We can start in Kidtropolis, the city for kids, run by kids (this is my chance to run for mayor!) and then solve brain teasers in Think Tank. And the day won’t be complete without making a splash in FlowWorks and coming up with the next big idea at the “Inventors Workshop” in Invention Convention. Should I apply for a patent now?!?
Another interactive museum experience awaits at The Health Museum, right next door to the Children’s Museum. This museum is ALL ABOUT YOU! Walk through the human body (can you say “22-foot-long backbone?!?!) in the Amazing Body Pavilion and tickle the vocal cords and keep your eye on the eyeball. Then, picture yourself as another gender or ethnicity and see what you might look like in 30 years in You: The Exhibit. Plus, you can catch a whiff of the McGovern Theater,Houston’s only 4-D experience!
This being Space City and all, it’s only natural for our city to be home to out-of-this-world adventures at Space Center Houston (SCH). SCH is the only place in the world where visitors can see astronauts train for missions, touch a real moon rock, land a shuttle and take a behind-the-scenes tour of NASA.
AAM attendees, are you ready to explore these exceptional institutions?
Houstonians, what local science and history museums make your top 10 list?
–Maureen Maiuri, Executive Director, The John C. Freeman Weather Museum;
Hospitality Information Event Task Force Co-Chair; Hospitality Subcommittee member