I feel like a kid again when I visit the American Museum of Natural History. Curiosity and wonder fill my mind as I navigate towards the dinosaur bones, check my weight on a Giant Red Star, and see a 500 foot blue whale up close. (I am possibly more excited than the children I brought with me.) I’ve visited this museum countless times since a school field trip in 5th grade and I still discover something new every time I go. Not only is the Museum of Natural History huge, but it also continually updates its exhibits and shows. This is a learning institution you can’t pass up.
New York City is filled with museums, but none of them can compare to this one. The variety of exhibits span from prehistoric dinosaurs, ocean life, meteorites, and mammals to primates, reptiles, and human origins. (That doesn’t even cover everything!) The American Museum of Natural History was first created in 1869, but the first display was in 1871. The museum’s original home was in the Central Park Arsenal located across the way on the east end of Central Park. In 1877 the museum opened at its current location. It has expanded over the years as more and more exploration and research has opened our eyes to our global community. Almost 150 years later you can explore the extensive Halls: Earth and Planetary Science, Human Origins and Culture, Biodiversity and Environment, Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Mammals, and Fossils; visit the Rose Center for Earth and Space, the Exhibitions Lab, and Research Library; and participate in several activities offered daily.
The dinosaurs are a family favorite and they are everywhere here. You are greeted in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda by a Barosaurus, chilled by a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Saurichian (lizard-hipped) Hall, humored by a Duck-Billed (Anatotitan) dinosaur in the Ornithischian (bird-hipped) Hall, and wowed by the biggest of them all in the Wallach Orientation Center- the Titanosaur. You can easily spend the bulk of your time visiting and learning about all of these once-mighty past inhabitants. They have over forty kinds. Dinosaurs are also the best part of the museum to tour at night with a flashlight (Night at the Museum)! We had a blast on a Cub Scout sleepover as we crept around in the dark, shining our lights on the skeletons.
The Hall of Primitive Mammals is fascinating. There are some real scary looking animals here. (I’m not happy about anyone’s extinction, but I would be terrified of these guys.) The Lestodon is a favorite due to his bear-like appearance and the fact that he‘s an armor plated ground sloth. The next room is the Hall of Advanced Mammals. Here you will find such amazing exhibits as the great standing Mammathus, a mammoth, and the ever popular saber-toothed cat.
No museum tour would be complete without seeing the life size model of the Blue Whale in the Hall of Ocean Life. Can you even imagine being in the ocean next to one of these magnificent whales? Unfortunately, they have been hunted to near extinction. Each display contains lifelike replicas of each sea creature’s home. Some a little too realistic for our sensitive nature (polar bear feasting on a seal), but all giving us a glimpse into nature. (The dioramas in this hall put all of our elementary school projects to shame.) The center of this hall is wide open for special presentations, group coordination or just taking a relaxing break. This is also one of the areas reserved for their overnight guests. (We had the pleasure of sleeping next to the whale on the balcony during our overnight.)
Right next to the Hall of Ocean Life is the Hall of Biodiversity. This is a small area compared to the rest, but it always interests us. This hall’s focus on the diversity of life is what makes it so interesting. There’s a lot to take in in this smaller hall, especially if you look up. The history of mass extinctions and species lost along with the evolution of our diverse ecosystems, will hopefully get you thinking.
The Hall of North American Mammals houses 46 different animal species in very impressive dioramas of their environment. Here you will find the majestic natives of our continent- Alaskan Brown Bear, Big Horn Sheep, American Bison, Black-footed Ferret and much more. The influence of Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation legacy is evident when you view the dioramas of what is now mostly a picture of protected wildlife refuges. #Resist
You definitely should make time in your visit for the Rose Center for Earth and Space. You can breeze through and check out the highlights or stay awhile and enjoy some of the presentations, programs and “space shows.” The lower level, Cullman Hall of the Universe, is one of our favorites. This floor is an open exploration of interactive fun with astronomy and astrophysics. This is a place that makes science fun. As you venture upwards on the Heilbrunn Cosmic Pathway, you’ll follow the 13 billion year timeline of the Universe. This pathway leads you to the Big Bang Theater. (You can also take the elevator straight to the theater and walk the pathway down.) The top half of the sphere houses the Hayden Planetarium’s Star Theater. Every seat has an amazing view due to the hemispheric dome. If you still have time, venture into the Hall of Planet Earth. You’ll get a crash lesson on the geology of Earth’s evolution into a habitable planet.
Believe it or not, this review has only covered less than half of the exhibit halls! Clearly our family spends most of their museum time on the first and fourth floor. There are some areas you will venture into simply to get to another destination in the museum. We have frequented the Hall of New York State Environment and North American Forests on the first floor as a walk through, but enjoyed the exhibits just the same. However, we rarely get to the Hall of Human Origins.
The second floor seems to get bypassed about one out of every three visits for us. When we are short on time, this is where we make adjustments to our plan. Checking out the website and floor plans in advance will help you plan out your visit and the items you really want to see. These exhibits are spectacular as well- Hall of African Mammals, African Peoples, Asian Mammals, Asian Peoples, Mexico and Central America, South American people and Birds of the World. (It seems our family prefers animals and rocks to people.)
- Central Park West & 79th Street, NY, NY 10024
- The Museum is open daily from 10 am–5:45 pm
- Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
- NYC school and camp groups receive free admission
- Pay-what-you-wish admission is available only at ticket counters, where the amount you pay is up to you.
- Tickets can be purchased online or at the museum
- Coats, umbrellas, and bags may be checked for $2 per person, space permitting. All articles must be claimed before the Museum closes.
- Items not accepted in the coat check include perishables, wallets, purses, musical instruments, bikes, computers, and other items deemed to be of high value.
- The Museum reserves the right to inspect any parcel brought onto the premises.
- Luggage, small carry-ons, and oversized backpacks are not allowed into the Museum and cannot be checked.
Family Adventure Rating ♥♥♥♥♥
Cost– One of the reasons we give this adventure ♥♥♥♥♥ is due to the cost. Yes, you still have to factor transportation and food, but to have a pay-what-you-wish option is a tremendous bonus that allows so many families to enjoy this world famous museum. You can cut down costs by bringing your own food and enjoying a picnic in Central Park. Parking is an expense, but the rates are fair considering the city. When we did our research, parking in the museum garage was pretty close in price to all of the garage options in the area. Overall, it was worth the extra $1-2 to park so close (you’ll be doing a lot of walking inside the museum). I have seen people manage street parking (which is free), but that’s a gamble. The food courts and gift shops are exactly what you would expect in a “tourist attraction.” Be sure to give family members a budget before letting them loose in the souvenir sections! A family of five driving into the city could manage this trip for $100 ($20 pay what you wish, $34 parking, gas, tolls, picnic lunch).
Parking & Transportation– This adventure is easily accessible by city bus, subway, or car. They have a parking garage on the premises and the bus and subway stops are literally in front of the museum. Parking can cost between $27-49 depending on how long you stay. We typically stay about 5 hours and spend $34. There are other options in the area, but they’re about equal in price. Street parking is free but scarce. (Check your street for metered parking and arrive early.) If you really want to be savvy, there are many parking apps that help you find terrific deals. (Note: Night at the Museum does not include parking in the price.)
Location– You’re on the upper west side of Manhattan. It’s not as busy here as some other city locations, so driving and walking around are slightly more relaxed. The museum is directly across the street from Central Park which really boosts your visit. The neighborhood is spread out but you can find familiar food and shopping if you’re up to exploring. Right at the intersection across from the Rose Center you will find the Diana Ross playground in Central Park for little kids. Keep venturing into the park and you will discover Belvedere Castle, Swedish Cottage Marionatte Theater, Delacorte Theater, and Strawberry Fields (John Lennon memorial). Central Park is way bigger than you can imagine!
Day Trip or Overnight- This is a terrific day trip. You can explore the museum and Central Park in the course of a full day. If you’re really adventurous, you can try their sleepover, Night at the Museum, and then spend the day in the park.
Experience– This is another reason we give this adventure ♥♥♥♥♥. This is a world famous museum that offers an abundance of information, interactive exhibits, and special features. This is an immersive experience in the world of science, exploration and conservation. The variety of exhibits will make sure everyone in the family/group is happy. You will definitely see things here that you could not experience elsewhere.
Combination– It’s NYC and the world is at your fingertips. (We use a pocket city map for exploration.) However, you are uptown so you’ll want to combine this with items in the immediate area unless you are planning to stay for more than one day. The easiest thing to add is a stroll into Central Park. Some of the highlights nearby in the park are the Stone Arch, Diana Ross Playground, Belvedere Castle, Central Park Conservatory, Shakespeare Garden, the Delacorte Theater, and the New York Historical Society. Don’t forget an outdoor blanket for your picnic or relaxation on the lawn.