With more than two million visitors annually, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is not only one of the most visited museums in Texas, it is one of the most popular in the country. Situated in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the HMNS is a vast complex, featuring a wide array of both permanent and temporary exhibitions, including a planetarium and giant screen theatre.
In addition to all that is offered onsite, the Museum also has two offsite locations: the George Observatory, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land. These three facilities enable the Museum to deliver its mission to preserve knowledge of, enhance the public knowledge of, and foster interest in the natural sciences, while delivering a first-rate museum.
2.More Permanent Exhibitions
Houston Museum of Natural Science
- History, Photo: Courtesy of phaitoon - Fotolia.com
- More Permanent Exhibitions, Photo: Courtesy of Budimir Jevtic - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of domsever - Fotolia.com
The Earth Forum is an exhibit focusing on developing a sense of wonder in the world around. With eleven interactive stations, visitors can look deeper into some of the Earth’s natural phenomena. These stations include the Seasons Interactive, Sand Dune Maker, Earthquake Table, Cloud Maker, Wave Machine, Spinning Currents Globe, Tornado Tube, Population Tubes, and the Tropical Terrarium that reproduces a rainforest ecosystem.
Hamman Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology
The large and engaging Hamman Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology pays homage to the coastal ecosystems which provide so much business, life and joy to the state. Divided into zones representing Texas’ two coasts, the hall highlights the coastal regions’ ecologic, as well as economic importance. Visitors will explore dioramas showcasing various habitats including oyster reefs, or learn about the recovery of species such as the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. This exhibit not only examines the importance of healthy coastlines, but also covers coastal restoration and conservation.
Vintage Texas Wildlife Dioramas
For those looking for even more dioramas than those found in Hamman Hall, visitors need only look to the next permanent exhibit, Vintage Texas Wildlife Dioramas. A part of the Museum for several decades, the oldest among the collection dates back to the 1940s. These dioramas have been painstakingly conserved, not only preserving the original educational intension of the scenes, but the style of the time in which it was created. Habitats represented in the collection include the Prairie, Big Thicket and the Gulf Coast, among other scenes showcasing the wildlife that call these habitats home.
Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife
As the early dioramas of the Museum’s past were restored and moved to the vintage diorama exhibit, new ones were created to take their place in Farish hall. These scenes represent Texas wildlife, including such habitats as the Wetlands, Coastal Prairie, South Texas Dry Forest, and more. Representing more some 250 species across 450 specimens, these displays emphasize rare or endangered creatures. These diorama exhibits help the HMNS to fulfill its mission of education, representing the habitats of these animals prior to human colonization.
Strake Hall of Malacology
The study of mollusks, known as malacology, takes center stage at the Strake Hall of Malacology. These diverse creatures range in size from minute snails to giant squid, captivating us in tide pools and seas stories alike. This exhibit educates visitors about these fascinating creatures through fossils, models and even living specimens.
Wortham Giant Screen Theatre
Since its opening in 1989, the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre has captivated millions of viewers. Now, with state of the art equipment, including an upgrade to the IMAX experience, this 394-seat auditorium continues to amaze and entertain. Showing such breathtaking films as National Parks Adventure 3D, Wild Africa and Extreme Weather 3D, audiences feel almost as if they are transported to these captivating locations.
Cockrell Butterfly Center
The Cockrell Butterfly Center and Brown Hall of Entomology welcome visitors into the fascinating world of insects. Highlights of the exhibit include the Rainforest Conservatory, complete with a 50-foot waterfall. In this glass structure, butterflies live among rainforest plants, fluttering past the visitors who walk through the exhibit. From the Conservatory, guests can venture into the Brown Hall of Entomology. The various levels of the hall showcase different creatures: arthropods on the upper level, insects on the lower level, and a special exhibit for kids on the main level. As Cockrell Butterfly Center also hosts seasonal events, such as the fall plant sale or the OktoberPest celebration, visitors will want to review the Center’s website prior to arrival to partake in any upcoming festivities.
Located about half an hour outside of Houston, in Sugar Land, Texas, this satellite location of the HMNS boasts even more unique permanent exhibitions. The Life Science Exhibition at Sugar Land includes a living collection of frogs, from the Giant African Bullfrog to the Amazon Milk Frog. This exhibit also contains a variety of skulls from animals from all over the world. The Earth Science Exhibit showcases natural gem and mineral wonders, including a massive amethyst and impressive citrine geodes.
At the Space Science exhibit, visitors will view some of the most awe-inspiring images to have been captured by the Hubble telescope, as well as view fascinating films in Sugar Land Planetarium’s Digital Dome Theater. Sugar Land’s Hall of Paleontology displays dynamic dinosaur fossils, showcasing these creatures’ journey through time. Finally, the interactive exhibits at Discovery Works get visitors involved in the science of motion, learning while engaging in the activities. In addition to these permanent exhibits, HMNS at Sugar Land also hosts special attractions and exhibitions. Visitors can view these, as well as opening times which vary, on the Museum’s website.
With three domed telescopes giving an incredible view of the starry sky, the George Observatory is well worth the drive out to Needville, Texas. The 36-inch telescope, dubbed the Gueymard Research Telescope, is one of the largest that is regularly available for public viewing in the whole of the country. Depending on weather and time of year, visitors can see such amazing sights as Saturn’s rings, the Milky Way, the cloud belt on Jupiter and more. The sky truly is the limit. The Observatory’s Expedition Center makes for an even more engaging visit, sending guests on a simulated mission to space.
In addition to the practically infinite learning opportunities provided by a visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, there are also educational programs available to make it an even more enriching visit. Such programs include Student Overnights, providing incredible sleepovers to classes studying a variety of subjects, from ancient Egypt to chemistry. An abundance of resources for educators, as well as field trip opportunities make the HMNS an ideal please to extend classroom learning. Outside of school, families will also find myriad opportunities to enhance the learning at the Museum.
From an Evening with Owls, to Dino Day with Dave, to International Archaeology Day, there is always something available to bring the learning to life. In addition, the Museum also hosts Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) events. These special occasions, hosted by the Girl Scouts of San Jacinto Council, bring people into the Museum to engage in hands on science and math experiments, working with professionals in these areas to foster interest in these fields. Educational opportunities for adults include Corporate Teambuilding events, special science excursions, international travel opportunities, lectures, classes, feasts and even behind the scenes tours. With so many educational events, far too many to list them all here, there is something special for every visitor to the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is a world-renowned institution with education at its roots and entertainment in its branches. From classes, events, and lectures to mixers, parties and fundraisers, guests will want to review the Museum’s calendar of events prior to arrival in order to take part in what they find most engaging. The Museum does not have its own café, however there is convenient access to restaurants and fast food establishments nearby in the Museum district.
Hours of the various exhibits and satellite locations vary daily, so it is advisable to consult the Museum’s website prior to visiting. The HMNS strives to make as much of the museum accessible to those with disabilities as possible. Information on the Museum’s accessibility is available on the organization’s website. With so much to see, do, explore, examine, and learn, a day at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a day well spent.
5555 Hermann Park Dr, Houston, TX 77030, Phone: 713-639-4629