Family Itinerary: American Museum of Natural History

Andrew Rosenberg

New York City is an exceedingly family-friendly place, where you can tailor nearly any experience to your clan’s needs. That includes a visit to the American Museum of Natural History, an attraction on many itineraries. It’s the kind of place you could get lost in, moving from hall to hall to examine fossils from 100 million years ago, high-tech displays in the planetarium and almost every type of specimen found in biology—the collection is said to have 3.5 million examples of moths and butterflies alone.

Courtesy, American Museum of Natural History

We’ve got some ideas of how to focus your visit (but also check for special exhibits as well), where to grab a bite after and how to let your kids blow off some steam following a few hours of museum-going.

Note: though this itinerary presumes hitting the museum right when it opens, you can easily rearrange the order. Other good times to go are midday and late in the day.

Zabar's. Photo: Daniel Krieger

Early to mid-morning

Arrive on the Upper West Side—unless, of course, you happen to be staying there. The closest subways to the museum are the B and C lines, which stop at 81st St-American Museum of Natural History, and the 1 train to 79th St. If you need a little sustenance, you might pick up some bagel sandwiches at Zabar’s Café (provisions at the adjacent proper store would also work) or coffee and pastries at Parliament, a café located off the lobby of the New-York Historical Society. Sections of Theodore Roosevelt Park, which surrounds the museum, are open seasonally and make a fine place to enjoy your meal; otherwise, there are plenty of park benches as well as Central Park right across the street.

Central Park West entrance, American Museum of Natural History. Photo: Marley White


Be on line to get in. Note that you can enter the museum directly from the B, C subway station (77th Street exit) as well as from the main doorway at the Rose Center (81st Street exit). There are also entrances on Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.

Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Courtesy, American Museum of Natural History


The museum opens. It’s time to start your tour. Here are a few suggestions of what to see:

  • The Dinosaur Wing
    The two halls here are popular—very popular. Head up to the top floor and see them before the daily rush begins in earnest. There’s a 122-foot titanosaur, a dinosaur mummy and lots of fossilized bones and skulls, just the kinds of ancient artifacts most kids love.

  • Hall of Biodiversity
    The centerpiece here is a walk-through of a recreated rainforest, but the riot of specimens on the Spectrum of Life walls is also pretty impressive.

  • Akeley Hall of African Mammals
    You’re not getting out of here without seeing some classic dioramas of taxidermied creatures. This bi-level section holds the cream of the crop, with a mass of charging elephants at its core.

  • Milstein Hall of Ocean Life
    Hanging from the ceiling of this two-floor exhibition is the model of a giant blue whale—some 94 feet and 21,000 pounds of fiberglass and foam. Interested in how it stays up there? We thought so, and we think your kids will be too. Read about it here.

  • Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites
    The halls of gems and minerals are closed for renovation , but wandering among the meteorite examples and moon rock displays should satisfy any petrology lovers. You can even touch a 4.5-billion-year-old giant meteorite that dominates the center of the room.

  • Rose Center for Earth and Space
    Taking a walk along the Cosmic Pathway is informative and cool, as is seeing the Neil deGrasse Tyson–narrated Dark Universe.

  • Gift Shops
    Multiple stores exist for you to pick up some scientific keepsakes; model solar systems and replica dinosaur skulls are just a few of the items for sale.

Photo: William Brinson


Shake Shack
A ShackBurger, crinkle cut fries and a “concrete” (frozen custard) might be the quintessential post-museum meal.

Jacob’s Pickles
If you need a little more time off your feet, head to this Southern-themed sit-down restaurant. BLT biscuits, fried chicken, sweet tea—you get the picture. Oh yeah, pickles too.

Explore further dining options with our collection of Upper West Side restaurants.

Pintetum Playground. Courtesy, Central Park Conservancy

After Lunch

Central Park is right across the street from the museum. So head to one of the nearby playgrounds to get a little bit of a workout. Little kids will enjoy the swings, slides and water feature of the Toll Family Playground; those slightly older might find more to do in the open spaces of the Pinetum Playground or the climbing structures of the Diana Ross Playground. All are on the west side of the park between 80th and 85th Streets. Feel free to switch this time block with the lunch one above, in the event your young ones need to do some running around right after roaming the museum halls. Either way, here’s a good idea for finishing off your visit to the area: a trip to Levain Bakery. You’ve all earned those giant chocolate chip cookies.

To explore more of the Upper West Side, see our neighborhoood itinerary; to enjoy additional adventures in Central Park, check out our list of 26 fun things to do there.