When it comes to hunting dinosaurs, there’s only one address in Houston: the Houston Museum of Natural Science. And while T-Rex and stegosaurus might be the first things that come to mind when thinking of this gem in Hermann Park, dinos are far from the only thing the mega-museum has to offer. In addition to a series of rotating and traveling exhibitions, the museum is home to its own planetarium, a butterfly center, and so much more. In fact, there’s so much to do there, the museum has become a go-to for families, date nights, and special events.
Here are some tips and frequently asked questions to help you plan your day.
Where is the Houston Museum of Natural Science ?
The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is located in Hermann Park, at 5555 Hermann Park Drive. You can get there via light rail by taking the red line to the Museum District stop and walking along Fannin Street to Hermann Drive. The museum is between San Jacinto and Caroline streets. Obviously, you can drive there, too, and there’s a parking garage attached to the museum. Bonus: each level is marked with a different dinosaur to help you remember where you are.
When is the best time to go to HMNS?
The museum is open seven days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The last entry time is at 4:30 p.m. for the permanent collection. For special exhibits, the giant-screen theater, and the planetarium, the last entry is at 4:00. Weekends are naturally more crowded than during the week, and early entrants will encounter fewer crowds than those turning up mid-day or early afternoon.
How much does it cost to go to HMNS?
Adults tickets (for those 12 and up) are $25 each. Admission for kids, seniors over 62, and college students with ID is $16. Museum members enter for free, with access to the permanent collection, and discounted pricing for special exhibits, the planetarium, the Cockerell Butterfly Center and the giant screen theatre. The most popular membership is a family pass, which is good for two adults and up to four children, at a cost of $115 a year.
The museum is free to everyone on Thursday from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. with the last entry at 4:30 p.m.
How long does it take to visit the museum?
It’s easy to spend a whole day at the museum, given all the things to see. Combining a visit to the permanent collection with a special exhibition, a movie in the theater and a showing at the planetarium offers a full day of activity. Haven’t got that much time? Figure on at least two hours, then.
What are the must-sees?
The dinosaur exhibit, for sure. The Morian Hall of Paleontology features a collection of life-size predators and prey, guaranteed to produce gasps of awe. The Herzstein Foucault Pendulum is another breathtaking spot; the giant pendulum, suspended from a 60-foot cable, is a demonstration of the earth’s rotation. Watching it swing is a contemplative experience, reminding us of where we are on the planet and the spirit of discovery of how our world moves through the universe.
The Cabinet of Curiosities harkens back to a time of Victorian adventures, with items like an old-fashioned diving helmet, shells, animal skulls and other pieces once considered oddities. In the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, more than 450 dazzling pieces showcase the beauty nature and pressure create from rocks. Take it a step further and see how rocks create gems and how jewelers fashion those into glittering artistry in the Lester & Sue Smith Gem Vault. For a look at how our Texas Gulf Coast was formed and the important role it plays in our ecosystem, a visit to the Hermann Hall of Texas Coastal Ecology is a must. And the exhibits showcasing ancient Egypt and the Americas blend science with cultural details and artifacts. All of those are found in the HMNS Permanent Collection, accessible with museum admission.
At an upcharge, visit the Burke Baker Planetarium, for an awe-inspiring look at the cosmos. Films here document everything from an understanding of night sky constellations to black holes. For the holiday season, there’s a special musical, Let It Snow, which blends traditional and contemporary holiday songs with eye-popping animation. General admission to the planetarium is $9 for adults and $8 for children.
The Wortham Giant Screen Theatre is a near-immersive experience in the city’s very first IMAX theatre. Screening options let you explore the vastness of the oceans, play with sea lions, understand the secrets of mummies and more. Showtimes and prices vary, but don’t skip a showing, whatever you do.
One of the coolest things on offer is The George Observatory, open every Saturday night for stargazing, after shuttering for reservations in 2019. It’s the perfect way to see the night sky, and amateur astronomers are happy to discuss what you’re seeing, whether it’s through a telescope or a live camera feed. You can purchase tickets for a viewing online; they’re $10 per person.
A HMNS favorite is the Cockrell Butterfly Center, where you can see hundreds of the delicate creatures in a natural habitat with trees, flowers and more. It’s currently closed for renovations, but is expect to open again in early 2023.
What are special exhibits and how do we find out more?
In addition to the museum’s massive permanent collection, it’s also a home for traveling, limited-time exhibits. When Body Worlds came to Houston in 2020, it offered breathtaking views of the inner workings of the human body. The Titanic artifact exhibit gave viewers a glimpse at pieces pulled from the sunken wreckage of that doomed maiden voyage.
There are currently three special exhibits available for viewing. The King Tut’s Tomb Discovery Experience allows guests an up-close look at the world of the legendary Egyptian pharaoh, taking them through a winding tunnel to his burial chamber. The exhibit closes on May 30, 2023. Admission is $30 for adults and $21 for kids. Lovers of miniature shouldn’t miss Dreher Masterworks, on display through May 29, 2023. The exhibit showcases exquisite gem carvings of plants and animals in rubies, sapphires and other rare stones. And for the holiday season, the museum has Trains Over Texas, a massive model railroad that shows miniature trains passing through the Lone Star State with depictions of Enchanted Rock and Big Bend National Park, among others. Admission to this exhibit is included with permanent collection tickets.
Is there food at the museum?
Yes! Those who need some sustenance to keep exploring can grab a bite at Elements Grill or Periodic Table, both of which offer a selection of items such as artisan sandwiches, burgers and other family-friendly fare.
Suppose I love it so much I want to throw a party there. How do I do that?
Few things are as impressive as a dinner among the dinosaurs or cocktails with gorgeous gems in the background. HMNS is a popular spot for weddings and other events. Learn more here.
HMNS in Sugar Land is a freestanding, full-on science museum that has its own exhibits, summer camps and events. It’s open Thursday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with special hours during school holiday breaks. Tickets are $13 for adults and $10 for kids.