Best Museums in the US For Dinosaur Lovers and Paleontology Fans

There is certainly room for debate when building the definitive list of US museums for dinosaur lovers. Diversity of species, number of specimens, presentation, architecture, accessibility and interactivity are all factors in the museum experience. Fortunately, the United States offers a rich diversity of dinosaur museums sure to please everyone from the most casual dinosaur fan to the hardened paleontologist.

These are the top five picks, plus some honorable mentions.

American Museum of Natural History, New York

There is no greater city in the world than New York and any trip to the Big Apple should include a stop at its wonderful American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). This museum has gained added notoriety due to the popular Ben Stiller comedy, “Night At The Museum.” However, when it comes to dinosaur exhibits, the AMNH is definitely not kid’s stuff.

Boasting wonderful diversity of specimens (over 100 on display in their Dinosaur Halls), the exhibits are structured to demonstrate the evolutionary connections between species, offering a different perspective than the more traditional “chornological order” structure most often seen in similar exhibits. Highlights on your trip to the AMNH are the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs where the T-Rex and Apotasaurus can be found and the Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs, home to the Stegosaurus and Triceratops.

On the IMAX screen, the museum is exhibiting “Dinosaurs Alive!” The 40-minute film follows AMNH paleontologists on an expedition to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico as they search for dinosaur remains. Fans of this museum note good lighting in the dinosaur halls for snapping quality photos. Detractors balk at the suggested donation of $15 for adults.

Pros: Rich specimen diversity, good lighting for pictures, dinosaur night light the iconic T-Rex, Apotasaurus and Triceratops

Cons: Can get very crowded, long lines for tickets

Tips: For big families, the $15 price tag can be a strain but it’s only a “suggested donation.” Let the ticket agent know you’d like to make a smaller donation that fits your budget.

Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.

No visit to our nation’s capitol is complete without a trip to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). The nation’s oldest dinosaur museum, the diversity of exhibits is on par with the AMNH, though visitors are sometimes disappointed with the poor lighting and sometimes confusing or missing labels and displays. Still there is much to enjoy here, with both Saurishian and Ornithischian dinosaurs being well represented. The vicious Allosaurus is quite popular along with the Triceratops, which was returned to exhibit after a recent restoration. This free admission museum is just one of the Smithsonian’s many fascinating collections and a “must” for anyone exploring Washington D.C.

Pros: FREE! Other Smithsonian Museums are right nearby

Cons: Poor lighting, expensive cafeteria, crowded

Tips: Parking is a hassle so use the Metro, cafeteria prices are high so pack a lunch and save some cash

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Visiting the Windy City? Promising an awe-inspiring journey through 4 billion years of evolution, The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago offers a wide variety of dinosaur fossils in its Genius Dinosaur Hall along with animated videos, hands-on interactives that tell the story of when dinosaurs ruled the Earth with their “Evolving Planet” exhibit.

The McDonald’s Fossil Preparation Lab offers a unique glimpse into the behind-the-scenes work of the paleontologist. Star of the show is “Sue” the T-Rex, a nearly complete specimen discovered in South Dakota in the 1990s. Also of note is the rare Cryolophosaurus, the only dinosaur ever discovered in Antarctica.

Pros: Sue the T-Rex, up-to-date “Evolving Planet” exhibit, lots more to see beyond dinosaurs

Cons: Noisy, steep ticket price ($15 for adults), closes at 5 p.m. every day

Tips: Save the rental fee by downloading the audio tour from their website and add to your iPod before you go.

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh PA

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History boasts the third largest display of real mounted dinosaurs trailing only the AMNH in New York and the NMNH in Washington D.C. With 19 dinosaurs on display in two halls, the “Dinosaurs in the Time” exhibit boasts a number of holotypes (considered the premier and defining fossil for a given specimen) including Diplodocus canegii, Apatosaurs louisae and Camtosaurus aphanoecetes. Others specimens of note are the Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, and Camptosaurus.

Pros: Recent renovations in 2007 and 2008 offer a more modern scientific view of dinosaurs

Cons: High price tag, $15 for adults

Tips: 50% discount for military, museum open until 8 p.m. on Thursday

The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia PA

A thorough collection of fossils and replicas from the Mesozoic era with about 30 species represented, half being full skeletal mounts. Popular attractions include the Big Dig, a hands-on exhibit for would be paleontologists and the Fossil Prep Labs where visitors can view live demonstrations of fossil preparation. A great stop for those in the Philly area. Kids will especially enjoy the many interactive displays.


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