Located on the Upper West Side, at 79th Street and Central Park West, the American Museum of Natural History is one of the world’s largest museums. It has 45 different halls, occupies more than 2 million square feet, and has some 33 million different specimens—only a fraction are on display at any time. It includes an abundance of dioramas and reconstructed skeletons, and “cultural halls” that extend natural history into anthropology. The museum makes a valiant effort to constantly keep its exhibits relevant by adopting new interactive technologies and displays as it battles the preconceptions of many that natural-history museums are old-fashioned institutions. In 2000, it also added the Rose Center for Earth and Space, which has proven popular with young aspiring astronauts and astronomers. If you are headed to New York with kids and they haven’t already watched Night at the Museum, you may want to rent it before your trip (even if most of the interior scenes were actually shot on a set in Vancouver).

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Renowned for a Reason: Experiencing History with Children

Securing a private audience with a vulcanologist is unnecessary, like AFAR writer Chris Colin did when he took his 4-year-old to the Museum of Natural History. Adventure programs, an array of drop-in science events, and the hands-on discovery room will delight families, though it’s the museum’s timeless and oddly affecting old dioramas that really capture the imagination.

One Step Beyond: Interplanetary Dance Party

This DJ Dance Series at the American Museum of Natural History does not disappoint! I’ve been a few times and had fun every single time because when you mix world-class DJs with an interplanetary setting, it’s the perfect night out on the Upper West Side. The party gets going at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, where party-goers dance amongst galactic displays of the solar system and beyond. Unlike most clubs, you don’t feel cramped on a crowded dancefloor as you sip beer or wine while watching visual displays being projected behind the stage.

Hall of the North West Coast Indians

The dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History are usually the highlights for visitors, and they are indeed beautiful and worthy of praise, but the Hall of the North West Coast Indians is a gem that most people miss. The Hall is the oldest display in the museum, and has hardly changed since its creation in 1900. The artifacts were collected by Franz Boas, often referred to as the Father of American Anthropology, and the exhibit features woven baskets, incredible ceremonial masks, every day implements for fishing and cooking, and great (in all sense of the word) carved totem poles. The lighting is terrible, and the Hall is said to be due for some renovation, which is perhaps why people use it as a corridor and don’t stop to look. It’s quiet due to its neglect by visitors, and the smell so comforting and nostalgic that you can almost imagine Holden Caulfield passing through the great doors, as he did in the Catcher in the Rye.

Feeding My Inner Child at the American Museum of Natural History

It was difficult to constrain my eight year old inner child, the one who read pop-up books and look books about Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, and Brontosaurus and fancied himself the next great paleontologist destined to find the most complete set of Pterodactyl bones when he wasn’t otherwise catching touchdown passes for the Detroit Lions: All I wanted to do when I saw the fossils at the American Museum of Natural History was yell, “Look at all the dinosaurs!” I did control myself though, barely. In the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs bright light fell on the bronze frames and I stood in awe at the size of prehistoric beasts and supposed, like I suspect one tends to do, what it might be like to see a dinosaur strolling down Fifth and Broadway. In the Ornithischian Hall, I spent time examining Stegosaurus and its armored plates, which contrary to what I had learned previously, may have been used more for display than for protection. The theories about the dinosaurs and how they were and how they died is more hypothetical than what I learned thirty years ago as if scientists now are more interested in discussing possibilities than in promoting conclusions. And this approach, one of inquiry, lends itself well to the wonder and curiosity the museum naturally encourages. The museum even has an app which gives you more details about the dinosaur exhibits, a feature which might have made my eight year old head explode if he had seen the app then.

Walk amongst the Dinosaurs

My three year old nephew recently visited us in New York City for the first time. I always love being able to view a place anew through the eyes of someone else. My nephew was, as expected, wide eyed and amazed with the city. At his age, he is obsessed with dinosaurs. I knew visiting the American Museum of Natural History needed to be on our itinerary. I visited often as a kid with my grandfather and it is really a special experience at any age. We ended up spending one afternoon in the Dinosaur hall. We watched as my nephew ping-ponged from dinosaur to dinosaur with excitement. Tourists, locals, old and young were all there to view these impressive displays. While I always love seeing the dinosaur relics it was even more special to share the experience with my nephew. The American Museum of Natural History is always worth the visit. Photo by Leslie Parrott www.leslieparrott.com

New York Must See: American Museum of Natural History

Nothing makes me feel as small (in the best possible way) than a day at this extraordinary museum. I am as happy going by myself as taking out-of-town guests there—but I especially love going with friends who have young kids, because I feel like a kid there also. I could spend the whole day in the Dinosaur wing!

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