If you love aviation, and a short trip on a commercial flight doesn’t feel like enough, why don’t you check out one of the many aviation museums in the US?
Flying has been men’s greatest fascination since the beginning of time, but it’s only recently that flying has become available to the masses.
Explore the technological advancements in aviation, from military aircraft to passenger planes, to the space race.
Here are a few of the best aviation museums in the US that feature the best exhibitions, activities, and collections.
5 Best Aviation Museums in the US: Exploring the Wings of History
1. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum – Washington, DC
- Address: 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560, United States
- Tickets: Admission to the Smithsonian Museum is free. Parking is $15.
- Contacts: +1 202-633-2214
When it comes to aviation museums in the US, one of the most famous and comprehensive destinations is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The museum is reopening next month after more than one year of renovations, and there is a lot of new content, shows, and exhibitions.
While the Smithsonian includes a huge section dedicated to space, there are several upcoming exhibitions that any aircraft enthusiasts should check out.
What are the best things to do at the Smithsonian?
Here are some of the most interesting new exhibitions that will be available after the reopening:
- America by Air: in this newly renewed exhibition you’ll learn everything about the history and evolution of passenger air transportation in the States.
The experience has been updated to be much more interactive and stimulating, and
will feature several new airplanes such as the Huff-Daland Duster and the Lincoln-Standard H.S.
- Early Flight: this exhibit is perfect for those that love a well-preserved historical aircraft.
Early Flight explores the history of flying in the US, tracing back to the beginning of the 20th century with the Wright Brothers’ first aircraft, and the II World War military aviation technology.
Another exhibition will focus solely on the history of the Wright Brothers and will be called the Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age.
- Thomas W. Haas We All Fly: the exhibition will focus on the amazing impact that flying and aviation have had on society, with a particular focus on the lives of those that make it possible, from pilots to flight attendants and more.
2. Pima Air & Space Museum – Tucson, AZ
- Address: 6000 E Valencia Rd, Tucson, AZ 85756, United States
- Tickets: 1-day entrance tickets are $18.50 for adults and $12 for children ages 5 to 12. There are several discounts available for residents, seniors, and larger groups. You can book tour tickets here.
- Contacts: +1 520-574-0462
The Pima Air & Space Museum’s huge grounds and a super extensive collection of aircraft can keep a visitor busy for the whole day.
Even if you just want to see the very best, the tour will likely take you 4 to 5 hours.
The exhibition is developed both insides of the indoor museum area, and outside in the park/grounds of the museum.
This means that you have to come prepared for the weather, and possibly for hours of walking.
I highly recommend wearing comfortable gym clothes for this museum, and if you were planning on hitting the gym after, maybe consider skipping your workout for the day.
If you need to take a break, there is a restaurant and snack bar within the museum called Flight Grill. You can check out the menu in advance.
What are the best things to do at the Pima Air & Space Museum?
- Take a guided tour of the museum: The private guided tour can include up to 35 people and only costs $75 in total. The tour lasts around 45 minutes and only covers the main hangar of the museum (where the SR-71 is).
- The Tram Tour: If walking outdoors (especially under the sun) doesn’t seem like your favorite activity, there is a tram running across the park.
The tram is a great option for covering hours of the exhibition in around 45 minutes while sitting comfortably.
The cost per person is $8 and, unfortunately, tickets cannot be booked in advance. Make sure to reserve your spot as soon as you arrive at the museum.
3. Virginia Air and Space Center – Hampton, VA
- Address: 600 Settlers Landing Rd, Hampton, VA 23669, United States
- Tickets: General admission tickets are $22.50 for adults and $19.00 for children.
There are discounts for seniors and active military and NASA employees. Book your tickets here.
If you love the Air and Space Center, you may want to become a member. Members can enter the museum and any exhibition for free without limitations, and some of the membership options are convenient.
For example, the couple membership is only $90, and the family membership is $165. Check out all of the options to become a member.
- Contacts: +1 757-727-0900
The Air and Space Center is the main visitor center for NASA, and as such a lot of the exhibitions focus on space.
However, the Aircraft exhibition features some interesting planes and is a very much loved section of the center: from full passenger jets to dozens of military aircraft from the last 100 years, the center covers a lot and will certainly satisfy any aircraft enthusiast.
What are the best things to do at the Virginia Air and Space Center?
- Visit the Aircraft Exhibit and admire in person a DC-9 Passenger Jet, YF-16 “Fighting Falcon”, the iconic F-104C “Starfighter”, F-84 Thunderstreak, F-4E “Phantom II”, and much more. You can check out the full list of featured aircraft.
- The Adventures in Flight exhibition is much more than just a showing of technological advancement in aircraft engineering.
What makes it fun are the various interactive stations that allow you to try out firsthand how principles of physics can apply to flying. There is even a “design your airplane” activity you can try out after learning the basics of building an aircraft.
2 Best Aviation Museums in the US for Families with Children
4. EAA Aviation Museum – Oshkosh, WI
- Address: 3000 Poberezny Rd, Oshkosh, WI 54902, United States
- Contacts: +1 920-426-4800
The official museum of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) cannot be anything short of spectacular and is a top choice for aviation enthusiasts.
While this museum can be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone, it is particularly suited for families and children because of the dedicated children’s area.
If you think your child would have a blast sitting in a small jet, then the EAA Aviation Museum is the way to go. It also makes for a great and fun photo opportunity.
What are the best things to do at the EAA Aviation Museum?
- The many education programs for kids: between virtual learning activities, and the museum webinar series, there is plenty to learn without even having to go to the museum.
These science classes and physics workshops can be found on the website, and are divided by topic and even grade level.
A perfect opportunity to have fun with science at home, and pleasantly generate passion in STEM.
- The EAA AirVenture: this amazing festival will be held again from July 24 to July 30 2023. Last summer, the AirVenture featured more than 10 thousand aircraft, 500 thousand people, and almost 4 thousand show planes.
This is such an anticipated event that there is even an official real-time countdown. Here you can find the countdown and more information on the festival.
5. The Museum of Flight – Seattle, WA
- Address: 9404 E Marginal Way S, Seattle, WA 98108, United States
- Tickets: Day tickets for adults are $25, while for children up until 17 years old are $17. Entrance is also Free every first Thursday afternoon from 5 PM.
- Contacts: +1 206-764-5700
Almost 200 aircraft and spacecraft are on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, making this one of the prime spots for flight history enthusiasts.
This museum is a great option for families with children, both English speakers, and Spanish speakers.
Several events and tours are routinely hosted in both languages to ensure inclusivity. Contact the museum for more information on the Spanish-held events.
What are the best things to do at the Museum of Flight?
The museum of flight holds several exhibitions of aircraft, and are all worth visiting, but there are also many fun activities available every month.
From family events to open university classes, here are my recommendations for your visit to the Museum of Flight:
- The Weekend Family Workshops: available only on Saturday and Sunday, the family workshops are a great way to introduce your children to physics and engineering in a fun, playful way.
- The In-Person Docent Tours: One thing is to explore the museum on your own, and another is to have a university professor guiding you through the exhibitions and answering your questions. You can book your spot at the next Docent Tour.
- The Film Screenings: every month, at least 2 movie nights are hosted at the museum. The movies are of course space or aviation related. You can check out this month’s schedule for the events by selecting “this month”.
Some Non Aviation Museums in the US to Visit this Fall
For those reading that can never have enough great museums, check out the 30 of the Best Museums in Texas or theBest 15 Museums in Florida.
If you love to visit museums with your kids, you’ll find some useful tips in my guides on the22 Best Dinosaur Museums in the US, and the 10 Best Children’s Museums in the US.