10 of the best aviation and aerospace museums in the country

  • Not even the sky is the limit

    From the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart to Neil Armstrong and the Mars Exploration Rovers, our successes in aeronautics have made it possible to fly all over the earth and beyond. To further feed our curiosity, we’ve also created numerous museums to educate ourselves and future generations on the importance of taking flight – each dedicated to various aviation-related interests. It’s difficult to narrow it down, but here are some of the nation’s top air and space museums to keep inspiring you to look up.

    Photo courtesy of Priscilla Blossom

  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center | Washington

    It’s no coincidence that the most visited museum in the nation also happens to be at the top of our list. Boasting 60,000 air and space artifacts in its permanent collection, visitors can learn about the rich history of aeronautics by viewing the first successful aircraft – the 1903 Wright Flyer – and everything that came next. From pilot uniforms to NASA spacesuits, engines and equipment, you’ll find it all at this Washington museum and their satellite Udvar-Hazy Center (which also happens to be the home to the Space Shuttle Discovery and the World War II bomber Enola Gay).

    Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution

  • Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex | Cape Canaveral, Fla.

    For lovers of outer space, there is no greater treat than a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral. For over 50 years, KSC has offered the public a chance to witness rocket and shuttle launches, as well as the chance to learn more about NASA’s history and present work. Visitors can view numerous artifacts from NASA’s Space Shuttle programs, test their skills on astronaut training simulators, watch informative videos in their Hubble Space Telescope Theater, and even get up close to the Space Shuttle Atlantis. And that’s just scratching the surface.

    Photo courtesy of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

  • National Museum of the U.S. Air Force | Dayton, Ohio

    If your main interests lie in military aviation, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force just outside of Dayton, Ohio will have everything you’ve ever wanted to see in a museum. Home to the infamous Memphis Belle, this museum features exhibits on World War II, the Korean War, Southeast Asia War and the Cold War. They’ve also got a Missile Gallery as well as a Space Gallery where visitors can walk inside a full-size replica of a NASA shuttle payload bay. And FYI, this is actually the world’s oldest and largest aviation museum (and is totally free to visitors) – pretty impressive if you ask us.

    Photo courtesy of Ken LaRock

  • Pima Air & Space Museum | Tucson

    The massive Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson is another impressive attraction for aeronautics lovers. The privately funded museum has been in operation for over 40 years and has over 300 historic aircraft on display. You’ll also find more than 125,000 artifacts in their collection, and several exhibits that span from seaplanes and aircraft carriers to paper airplanes and women in flight. One of the biggest draws, though, is their extensive “boneyard” (a collection of over 4,000 U.S. government and military aircraft that are either being recycled or regenerated).

    Photo courtesy of Scott Youmans

  • Museum of Flight | Seattle

    Located in Seattle, the Museum of Flight is the largest independent, non-profit museum of its kind in the world. Dedicated to educating the public about all things air and space, this museum features numerous exhibits including World War I and II model collections, an interactive SR-71A Blackbird cockpit exhibit, flight photography, a 3D movie theater and more. The museum also houses 175 aircraft and spacecraft (including a Lockheed M-21 Blackbird and the Bell UH-1 Iroquois), plus tens of thousands of artifacts to teach visitors about the importance of flight.

    Photo courtesy of Museum of Flight

  • Air Zoo | Kalamazoo, Mich.

    Just south of Kalamazoo is Michigan’s Air Zoo – an air and space museum featuring over a hundred rare, historic air and space crafts, as well as over 100,000 artifacts in its collection. From a Montgolfier balloon to a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, each exhibit brings you up close and personal to a "zoo" of flying machines. What makes this one especially unique and truly fun for younger kids are the amusement park-style rides, including a Century of Flight Ferris wheel and a Flying Circus bi-plane ride. But if you’re seeking even more of a thrill, try booking an actual bi-plane ride (available from June through September).

    Photo courtesy of AirZoo

  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum | New York

    This Manhattan-based museum is literally located within and around the aircraft carrier Intrepid, a National Historic Landmark. Opened in the early 1980s, here you’ll find numerous military aircraft from an F-4N Phantom II to the Space Shuttle Enterprise. You’ll also be impressed to find the Growler here, which is the only American guided missile submarine currently available for public viewing.

    Photo courtesy of Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

  • Wings Over The Rockies Museum | Denver

    Located in Hangar #1 of Denver’s old Lowry Air Base, the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum features a multitude of exhibits and experiences across 182,000 square feet. Take a look at a Ball-Bartoe Jetwing and a B-52 Stratofortress, learn about Colorado’s own astronauts and see a piece of real moon rock, then hop aboard the futuristic Doron flight simulator. And for those who truly want to take their love of aviation to the next level, the Blue Sky Aviation Gallery features interactive exhibits and simulators, including a tumbling gyro chair.

    Photo courtesy of Wings Over the Rockies

  • U.S. Space and Rocket Center | Huntsville, Ala.

    Space fans know this museum in Huntsville, Ala. to be the site of the original Space Camp (including the film by the same name), but there’s plenty more to see here. The Center has a number of exhibits both indoors and out, numerous play areas for younger kids, plus several simulators like the G-Force Accelerator and the Moon Shot. 3D movies, multiple planetarium shows and live science shows add to the appeal, but one of the most amazing experiences to have here is by way of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour.

    Photo courtesy of iStock / James Deitsch

  • Cosmosphere International SciEd Center and Space Museum | Hutchinson, Kan.

    Deep in the heart of Kansas is another truly incredible museum dedicated to all things space. Opened in 1980 in its current iteration, the Cosmosphere’s greatest draw is their collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts (the largest in the world), which includes a flown Gemini X spacecraft, a flown Russian Vostok, a flight-ready backup of Sputnik 1, and an engineering model of Sputnik 2. Visitors will also enjoy shows in Dr. Goddard’s Lab, the Carey Digital Dome Theater and the Justice Planetarium.

    Photo courtesy of Cosmosphere International SciEd Center and Space Museum