Science Museums near the Great Lakes

science museums of the great lakes

We just returned from a six day road trip exploring science museums and children’s museums in Michigan and Ohio with our 12 year old.

This is our fourth such trip, and I’ve documented many of the places we’ve visited on this blog – see Destinations. And I have a google map you can use to plan your own trip:

The Road Trip

On this trip, we were flying into Detroit (my husband had a conference in Ann Arbor) and would road trip from there. We decided to do this trip a week before we did it, so our planning was super basic. We used a few resources to plan our stops.

  • look at the reciprocal lists for ASTM and ACM (see below) to see what options there were
  • go to the websites for individual museums to get a quick picture of what they are like and make sure they’d be open
  • skim through online reviews of the museums (on Yelp, Facebook or Trip Advisor) to see what people thought
  • check out some online lists of “Best Science Museums in the US” (note: none of these lists gave information on how these determinations were made – if there’s a job traveling around to all the museums to make these lists, I’d apply for that job!)

For lodging, we’d booked our first two nights before we flew. Otherwise, I book our hotel rooms on Expedia, or book an airbnb while we drive. We decide where we’re eating by reading yelp reviews while we drive.

We originally considered going as far as Chicago, but didn’t because a) we had more than enough museums to fill six days in Michigan, Ohio and Northern Indians and b) there’s enough in the Chicago area to be worth it’s own trip.

Our final route was as follows – if you click on the museum name, the link will take you to my review of that museum.

  • Sunday: Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum (then 1 hr drive to…)
  • Monday: water park day at Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth, MI. Museums are closed on Mondays, plus we love lazy rivers and water slides! (then 2.5 hr drive to…)
  • Tuesday: Air Zoo in Portage, MI (then 4 hr drive to Columbus… that was a long drive day – if we’d had an additional day, we would have broken this up with Science Central in Fort Wayne)
  • Wednesday: COSI in Columbus (then 90 minute drive to…)
  • Thursday: Cincinnati Museum Center (then 3.5 hour drive to Detroit… another long drive that could have been broken up with Imagination Station in Toledo)
  • Friday: Michigan Science Center in Detroit

This road trip might not appeal at all to some families, but it works for ours. It becomes a vacation where: my husband can sleep late in the morning while I read and my son plays video games. We all have a relaxing brunch together, then spend ~3 hours wandering a museum and playing together, then we drive (my husband likes driving – I like working on projects on my laptop while we drive and my son likes watching videos), then dinner and a relaxing evening (in a hotel room or a hotel pool or a movie theater.)

Reciprocal Programs

Many of these museums participate in the travel passport program of the Association of Science-Technology Centers. This is a reciprocal membership program where if you are a member of one museum, you get free admission to other museums. I also included on the map all the children’s museums that participate in the reciprocal program through the Association of Children’s Museums. The ASTM sites have blue pins, the ACM sites have orange pins, and there are a few gray pins where I included attractions that are not part of either of these programs. Since we have free admission, we find other ways to support the museums when we visit: we eat in their cafeterias, or buy tickets for IMAX movies, shop in their gift shops, or drop donations in the box on our way out.

More ideas:

If you’re looking for reviews of other science museums in the area, check out A Geek Daddy blog, where he covers visits to the Field Museum in Chicago, Carnegie Science Center and Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, U Mich Museum of Natural History and more.


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