AI: Museums

Sorry I’m late! I was being used as a human jungle gym. Take from that what you will.

I really like to visit museums. Luckily, living in Philadelphia means I’ve got a lot of options. I could do like I did last Thursday and spend a couple hours wandering the halls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Just a few blocks from there is the Academy of Natural Sciences, where I can teach Spencer about dinosaurs and take a stroll through the butterfly sanctuary.

An interesting visit can always be had at the Mutter Museum, where medical oddities and conjoined twin fetal skeletons abound. The Franklin Institute is constantly hosting interesting exhibits which change regularly enough to not stagnate. They also have a planetarium and a giant IMAX theater which wraps above and around you like a snowglobe.

I’d really love to do some sort of museum roadtrip one day. Where would you suggest I go? Is your city known for one in particular?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.


Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

Related Articles


  1. The Bristish Meseum in London is fantastic.

    It also has the advantage that the reset of the world is already in it!

    Recently they have been doing a radio series looking at human history through 100 objects there.

    For a goulish taster, try the Maya bloodletting relief

  2. It’s not a museum, per se, but the one I keep going back to is the National Center for Atmospheric Research up on the hill above Boulder. Excellent presentation with lots of good information about weather, the atmosphere, and our planet for the young and old. I especially like their hands-on displays like the tornado generator. Best of all it’s Boulder. Some of the loveliest hiking trails in the area run right across NCAR’s property. It’s nice to round out a trip to the museum with a little leg stretcher.

  3. The British Museum is worth another visit for me. I like the Royall Tyrell Museum in Drumheller AB too. I took my kids there and was pulled in opposite directions, each daughter not letting me look at what I wanted.

    They forgot the family Golden rule about roadtrips: Who ever has the car keys and knows where the car is parked makes the rules!

  4. The one museum I would recommend is the Natural History Museum in New York. I could spend days and days there.

    If you’d rather do art try the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Skip the Getty. That might be a long road trip from PA, though.

  5. @davew: i agree, that place is awesome and always has all kinda of interesting things to look at!
    My favorite science museums are the American Museum of Natural History (with the Hayden planetarium!) in new york and the national museumof science and nature in tokyo (though i image that’s not really road trippable). the art institute of chicago is amazing and has a whole room full of armor!!! Also, i love love love the Sci Fi Museum and Experience Music project in Seattle. They’re in the same buidling and as a huge sci fi nerd i love that part and the music part was innovative i thought. I also hear that the big all hands on Adventure Science Center (children’s museum) in Nashville has adults only nights called “way Late Play Date” complete with a bar. I’ve always wanted to hit one of those night up, but i live in Denver.

  6. Actually, I should also mention that while I do genuinely love the Wexner and love that I get to work there, Columbus also has the #1 science museum in the country – COSI. My skeptic family friends and I often take the kids there.

  7. For some reason I never take the time to go to the museums where I live (Chicago) but I love going to museums when I travel. England is great for that-so many of the museums are free.

    My favorite museum so far has been the Museum of Communism in Prague. It is small, low-budget, hard to find, and in the same building as a casino. It walks you through the rise and fall of communism in the region with photos, artifacts, and a lot of text. It ends with a video on the Velvet Revolution that will leave you in tears. A fascinating piece of history that I was completely unaware of until we began planning that trip.

    The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, just north of Chicago, is supposed to be amazing. I really want to go, I’m just really uncomfortable with the amount of public, heaving, gasping sobbing I will probably do.

  8. If you come to Scotland you could try The Paisley Museum which hosts a fine collection of looms and on occasion out of place modern art.

  9. There’s always the Creation Museum:-) I’m unfortunately right down the road from that “museum.” Good for a laugh, at least. However, up the road in Dayton, the National Museum of the US Air Force, at Wright Patterson AFB is pretty cool, if you like airplanes. It’s also free. Considering you have to go through Ohio to get anywhere better, it could make a nice road trip stop.

  10. The Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS is one of the best museums in which I have ever been. It focuses on the space race and apparently has the largest collection of US and Soviet artefacts outside Washington or Moscow. It also has a large number of Apollo 13 artefacts, including the command module.

  11. I live in New York and I heard there are a few good museums here :)
    BUT since you’re not so far away from it, you should take Spencer to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City NJ. They just expanded not too long ago and they had lots of kid friendly things there. And they also have a snow globe IMAX.

  12. @Bandon Decker: The Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS is one of the best museums in which I have ever been.

    I agree. It is very impressive. Do you know how such a cool museum wound up, and pardon me for saying this, the middle of nowhere? I grew up in Kansas and even by my lowered standards Hutch is a bit out in the sticks.

  13. Personally, I like the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. It really “brings the Bible to life.” The great thing about it is that you realize that all the hundreds of big science museums in the world, that all kinds of people with fancy educations put so much effort into, all get it completely wrong, and this tiny little museum sets you straight in one afternoon of perusing. It’s a real feel-good underdog story. Don’t miss it.

  14. My home town of St. Louis has a few great museums that I quite enjoy. My personal favorite place to go that is not exactly a classic museum is Lameiur sculpture park: big park with lots of truly gigantic installation art in a lovely setting.

    I also really liked the Jimmy Hendrix Experience when I was in Seattle.

  15. Holy crap, my friend and I are going to Philadelphia this Thursday and Friday, specifically for the Mutter Museum and the Darwin exhibit at the Philosophical Society, among other nerdy science things. I can’t wait!!

    As for Rochester NY… well, we have the Rochester Museum & Science Center (, the Memorial Art Gallery (, the Strong National Museum of Play (, a Dinosaur BBQ location (, Nick Tahou’s and Steve T’s -famous for the Garbage Plate ( and, respectively), plus mad crazy film, flower and art festivals, wineries, somewhat questionable beaches, and someday soon a clean and hospitable downtown area! We even have a revolving restaurant! Of course, it doesn’t revolve anymore and it’s not a restaurant anymore, but once it did and was!! :-)

    In all srsness, though, Rochester’s cool enough and I cannot wait to get my nerd on in Philadelphia!!

  16. I don’t know if you would consider them museums per se, but don’t overlook the botanic gardens. I am particularly fond of the one here in Chicago but when I lived in Philly, I was very close to Longwood Gardens and thought that was a great way to spend a day. Anytime I’m on vacation, if I can find the time I try to find a botanic garden, arboretum or large public park to spend some time and just take in the wonders of nature (and get a little outdoor time).

  17. @dpaul: Good call. Chicago Botanic Garden is fantastic, we try to go once a month. That might be another great fantasy roadtrip: zoos/botanic gardens. (Lincoln Park Zoo – another winner in Chicago).

  18. @B Hitt: OH! I didn’t even think about the zoos! Good idea and I call shotgun for the road trip.

    Yeah, I enjoy museums (and can spend hours in almost any of the ones in Chicago) but something about a static display that I know will be the same tomorrow just seems to be missing that last little element. A botanic garden/zoo/aquarium/etc. where you can watch behavior and where the display is different moment-to-moment never mind day-to-day just makes it that much more interesting to me. I find myself lingering longer so I don’t miss anything whereas in a museum I find myself going “right, done reading/looking at this display. What’s next?”

    I guess it goes back to childhood and the encouragement my parents gave us about discovering the joys of science for ourselves. A museum is like a textbook. It’s learning, pure and simple but the “nature stuff” always feels like more of a journey of discovery.

  19. I live near Chicago and must represent.

    You’ve got the usual suspects; The Field Museum, The Museum of Science and Industry, The Art Institute, The Shedd Aquarium, The Adler Planetarium, and The Museum of Contemporary Art.

    Then you’ve got a million offbeat and ethnic museums, some of my favorites are; The National Museum of Mexican Art, DuSable Museum of African-American History, The Chicago History Museum, Chicago Children’s Museum, Jane Aadams’ Hull-House Museum, The Museum of Broadcast Communications, and while it is not a museum an architectural tour is in order.

    And near but not in Chicago; The Burpee Museum in Rockford, The Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio tour (with walking photo tour) in Oak Park, the afore mentioned Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Volo Auto Museum in Volo (duh), The Milwaukee Museum (straight out of the 70’s), and the Historic town of Galena Illinois.

    I do NOT work for the tourist bureau. Yet.

  20. The Detroit Institute of Arts really is awesome. As is the Detroit Zoo.

    On the West Coast, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is pretty cool, and surrounded by different garden-type things.

  21. If you come to Chicago, get one of us with a library card to hook you up with one of the Kraft Great Kids museum passes! And check out the freebies: the Garfield Park Conservatory, the Museum of Mexican Art, and the Lincoln Park Zoo.

    I have to agree with @Elizabeth that the DIA and the Detroit Zoo are both pretty awesome… the DIA has a whole courtyard full of Diego Rivera murals, and the zoo has an AWESOME polar exhibit.

    Also! The City Museum in St. Louis has the word “museum” in the title, so it counts even though it’s more like a monster art playground. For everyone… they tell you when you walk in the door that you’re supposed to go into every tunnel and crawl through every hole, because they “haven’t gotten anyone stuck yet.”

  22. I’m a big fan of interactive museums for kids. Philly has the Please Touch Museum which I hear is pretty excellent. I used to (and need to start up again) volunteer for a similar one in CVille. And ditto on the Liberty Science Center suggested by @Skept-artist!

  23. In my neck of the woods (no cities within 30 miles in any direction) there is only one place worthy of the name of museum – the Lost City Museum. It’s very small, but it makes up for it by allowing the possibility of actually getting inside one of the old Anasazi dwellings underground. Also, every year they have a Native American day in the Fall, and if you happen to be driving through, that is worth going to. You’ll hear Native American dances explained and see them demonstrated and you’ll learn to dance while you’re sitting outside surrounded by these native dwellings. With any luck, you’ll even be invited to join in. It’s a fascinating hour or two.
    A word of warning: the gift shop is FULL of gorgeous and authentic Native American art and crafts, as there is a reservation not ten miles from there. If you like that sort of thing, enter at your own peril. Bringing credit cards could cost you – BIG.

  24. Just to fill in, Boston has the Museum of Fine Arts, the nearby Gardner Museum, various historical museums, such as the Paul Revere house in the North End, the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), the Boston Museum of Science (including the planetarium and the Discovery Center which is a great interactive place for little kids – my niece decided to be a paleontologist as a result- she’s already (in the 3rd grade) picking her university), the New England Aquarium, the various Harvard Museums and other college museums. A little further afield, the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem (along with a bunch of tacky witch museums, but this one is for real – lots of Asian stuff from when Salem was a major clipper ship port), the De Cordova in Lincoln (loads of sculpture), and also in Lincoln, but not quite a museum, Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm, which kids love. Another that I’ve never visited, but which is on my list, is the Museum of Bad Art in the basement of an old movie theatre in Dedham.

  25. Heh, I just grumbled to myself that Austin has nothing interesting around here then realized I’m a complete idiot.

    The Harry Ransom Center (possibly fav place on Earth,) library and archive of University of Texas. From a Gutenberg Bible to the papers of Tennessee Elliott and millions else in between. Seriously cool stuff.

    However, Austin is still best known for the bars and the asymmetrically-dressed hipsters playing music inside. Meh.

  26. I know Field, Adler, Shedd, Museum of Science and Industry, and the rest of the Chicago museums have already been mentioned, but I’ll second that.

    Also, Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It’s a brilliant museum, covers all the major disciplines in science and natural history, and has elves painted into a few of the dioramas and Yoda and the Millenium Falcon painted into the mural by the IMAX theatre. ( There are other good museums in and around Denver, as well, but that’s the one I grew up in, and is still one of my favorites.

    Oh, and if you want to detour to Middle-of-Nowhere, Wyoming, for a museum, Wyoming Dinosaur Center is also awesome. It has the only Archaeopteryx in North America (I think). Way worth the trip. (

  27. @Elizabeth: Also, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, which the latter is basically a historically accurate Ren Fair, mostly 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries though. If you get to Michigan in the spring, in Port Huron, we do the Feast of St Clair. Not a museum as such and is only a couple of days out of the year (Generally around Memorial day Weekend) but again, another historically accurate Ren Fair type deal.

  28. This winter, you should come to Houston. While Philadelphians are freezing their cheesesteaks off, we’re generally in the 70s… sometimes the 60s, but usually the low 70s. It’s so nice that you can keep someone bound in an outdoor shed for months, as Sam will be if you don’t come visit us. Not to pressure you, or anything.

    And we’ve got museums. There’s the free Menil collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), Houston Museum of Natural Sciences (including the butterfly center), and a score of other museums throughout our museum district. You can hardly swing a bound and kidnapped Sam without hitting a museum or three, in pretty much every part of town.

    Also, we have excellent food. A huge variety of restaurants, enough to satisfy the finickiest of captive Skepdudes. Mexican food is an obvious specialty, but we’ve got great food from Cuba, Columbia, and all throughout South and Central America. Many people don’t realize we have a sizable Vietnamese population, and some really excellent Vietnamese food, some of the best Cajun I’ve ever had, and a Japanese restaurant I’ve heard described as “The best Japanese food I’ve had since I left Japan.” This doesn’t include the Indian food, the Thai food, and the good ol’ American food, from Texas barbecue to damn near anything you could want.

    Oh, and alcohol. While I don’t drink much myself, Sam assures me during his three free minutes each day that the beer in Houston in awesome, and our local liquor stores have an awesome variety. Small craft brews, the glory that is Shiner, a wide variety of Texas wines… he waxes quiet eloquent before the ether kicks in.

    So, come to Houston. For museums. For food. For the weather. And, most of all, for Sam.


    (No Sams were hurt in the production of this message. We cannot be held responsible for future actions.)

  29. You definitely should check out Cincinnati Museum Center. I work in the Museum of Natural History and Science. We do our best to counter the nonsense from the creation ‘museum’ that is just down the road.

    We also house a Children’s Museum and Cincinnati History Museum, as well as an Omnimax theater and traveling exhibits.

    If that wasn’t enough to convince you, look at my avatar. I work in the Hall of Justice. Seriously. The Hall of Justice was modeled after Cincinnati Union Terminal, the home to Cincinnati Museum Center

  30. If you are ever in the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend the Maryhill Museum of Art ( – an eclectic mixture of Native American art & culture, Rodin scultpures, Marie, the Queen of Romania memorabilia, plus a lot more. There’s also a reproduction of Stonehenge (a WWI memorial) a few miles away.

    It’s about 100 miles east of Portland, OR – it’s a beautiful drive along the Columbia Gorge.

  31. Bygdøy peninsula in Oslo has, almost next door to each other:
    Norsk Folkemuseum
    Norway’s largest museum of cultural history featuring the world’s oldest open air museum and large indoor collections. (according to their webpage). Several hundred years of Norwegian building history, including a stave church.

    The viking ship museum
    With three 1100 year old burial ships, two of which were reasonably complete and preserved, and the grave goods from the burial mounds.

    The Kon-Tiki museum
    With Thor Heyerdal’s famous raft and exhibitions on his explorations and excavations. He might have been wrong more than he was right, and a bit of a pseudo-historian at times, but he was pretty amazing nevertheless.

    The Fram Museum
    With the vessel Fram with which Nansen’s expedition drifted to 85°57’N frozen into the Arctic ice sheet, and Amundsen sailed to Antarctica to beat Scott to the South Pole.

    The Norwegian Maritime museum, including objects from the 16th and 17th century ships being excavated in Bjørvika, and a 2000 year old log boat from the Norwegian iron age.

    The Holocaust museum in Vidkun Quislings old residence Villa Grande.

    Lovely view of the center of Oslo, and then you can go to the beach.

  32. @killyosaur: I almost mentioned Greenfield Village, but I haven’t been since I was very young, and even then my most vivid memories are of trick-or-treating there.

    I also used to be totally in love with Frankenmuth.

  33. When I lived in Brussels with my daughters we LOVED exploring the museums. Tourists kind of stop in Brussels at the large town square, go “wow” and then move on to Germany of France. Living there we enjoyed the the Museum of Musical Instruments. I’ve never been to a museum where you are handed headphones when you go in. You wear them the entire time and when you stand in front of an instrument, you hear it playing. People are dancning, they are waving hands to say “come HERE now!!”, everyone of every age…from todders to grandparents are smiling and enjoying music. It’s fabulous.

    Throw in the small natural history museum with the IGUANADONS! At one point a bunch of Iguanadons fell down into some sort of cave. A lot of them actually. It’s fantastic, with Iguanadons as they fell, and rebuilt.

    Crazy King Leopold had nothing to reccomend him. But he was crazy. So he build like a mad man. His Chinese pavillion and his Japanese pagoda (his version of China and Japan) are a surreal visit, and mostly deserted.

    Once a year the royal palace is open for free. Also, the royal greenhouses. We are talking MILES of greenhouse. Wonderful, if also a bit sad because the money to build all this was from the rape of the Congo.

    It’s fun to just BE in a place for a long time so you can explore every corner. Brussels has a lot of corners!

  34. The only interesting “museum” around here is the Wilhelm Reich Museum, aka Orgonon, where you can learn all you ever wanted to know about orgone energy (oh yeah, and apparently sex). There’s also the Stanley Museum nearby, which is where the Stanley Steamer automobile was invented.

    I finally got to visit the Mutter Museum about 2 weeks ago, when I was on a trip home to South Jersey for a high school reunion. I was sooooo happy! What a cool place!

  35. Yesterday someone mentioned going to the Warren Museum at Harvard Medical School for her birthday… Loads of 19th century medical tech, preserved body parts, etc. It’s in the library and apparently the security guard took some convincing that it was in fact open to the public and you didn’t need a student ID to get in.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button