There’s a museum in Texas to suit any fancy. From fine art to space science, from military and presidential history to the Old West and ranching heritage, the Lone Star State’s many world-class museums boast collections able to educate and inspire visitors of any age.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
H ome to the renowned Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is itself “a hidden gem of sorts, because we really do have a lot of items in our collections that are considered the best in the world,” said Latha Thomas, the museum’s vice president of marketing and communications. “The depth and variety of our mineral collection, and gem vault, in particular, offer a chance to see things you can’t see anywhere else.” That includes a 2,000-carat blue topaz crystal and a 600-piece collection of Fabergé creations, the largest private collection of Fabergé in the world.
The museum also boasts an impressive dinosaur hall, which opened in 2012 and offers visitors a chance to “go on a prehistoric safari through periods of time,” Thomas said. Dinosaur bones are displayed in action: chasing, eating, or escaping in relationship to their nearby predators and prey. “You can stand right up next to our dinosaurs and get a real sense of how big they really were,” Thomas said.
Other permanent exhibits celebrate Texas wildlife, ancient Egypt, African wildlife, the art and culture of Native Americans and more. Guests to the museum will also want to make time to visit the living butterfly habitat at its Cockrell Butterfly Center, as well as the many special exhibitions that help each visit feel fresh.
National Museum of the Pacific War
As the only museum in the continental United States dedicated solely to the history of World War II as it played out in the Pacific, the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg preserves the stories and sacrifices of the 8 million Americans who served in the war against Japan, including the 100,000 who lost their lives in the conflict.
But the museum doesn’t only describe the war from an American point of view. Its three exhibit halls — the Admiral Nimitz Gallery, the George H.W. Bush Gallery and the Pacific Combat Zone — include artifacts and details that help provide chronology and context for the events leading up to the war with Japan.
“We pride ourselves on telling the human story of the war in the Pacific and not just focusing on the American side,” said Brandon Vineyard, the museum’s director of marketing and public relations. “We actually go back about 100 years or so before the attack on Pearl Harbor and lay the groundwork [to explain] why Japan launched the attack.”
The museum has numerous rare, large-scale battle artifacts. Highlights include a Japanese Kawanishi N-1K “Rex” floatplane fighter that Vineyard called “the only one of its kind on display anywhere in the world” as well as a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, the same type of plane that George H.W. Bush flew during WWII. There are also intimate, personal letters and mementos that shed light on the individual lives of soldiers caught up in the conflict.
George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center
When he died late last year, George H.W. Bush was laid to rest alongside his wife, Barbara, at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Center, located on the west campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. The center includes an expansive museum that highlights the 41st president’s life and decades of public service.
Exhibits span Bush’s career, from his time in World War II to his rise to political leadership and years as a congressman, diplomat, CIA chief, vice president and, finally, president. Must-see museum highlights include a World War II Avenger torpedo bomber like the one Bush piloted, a piece of the Berlin Wall and a precise replica of Bush’s Camp David Situation Room.
Other permanent exhibits include an in-depth look at symbols of the presidency, a look at Bush family traditions and a spotlight on the work of first lady Barbara Bush, who spearheaded efforts to promote literacy, AIDS awareness and prevention, and volunteerism during her time in the White House.
El Paso Museum of Art
In the heart of El Paso’s downtown arts district and less than a mile from the bridge to Juárez, the El Paso Museum of Art greets more than 100,000 visitors each year. “We serve as a major cultural and educational resource for west Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico,” said Andrea Macias, a marketing and public relations assistant at the museum.
The museum features masterpieces spanning multiple centuries and continents. Guests can enjoy exhibitions of European art of the 13th-through-18th centuries; colonial paintings from the 1600s and 1700s in Mexico; and an impressive range of 19th-century, modern and contemporary American works.
The museum’s Contemporary Collection highlights living artists from Texas and the US/Mexico border region — as well as the broader Southwest — working in a wide variety of media, from sculpture and photography to video installations.
Roughly a dozen rotating exhibitions throughout the year showcase additional art. Special exhibitions scheduled this spring include “Julie Speed: East of the Sun and West of the Moon” through April 7 and “Power and Piety: Spanish Colonial Art” through May 5.
Bullock Museum of Texas State History
Since its opening in 2001, the Bullock Museum of Texas State History in Austin has welcomed roughly 9 million visitors, all of whom leave with a richer awareness of Texas’ dynamic past thanks to exhibits that span more than 4,000 years of history.
“One of the things that is most exciting about the Bullock Museum is that our exhibits are dynamic, meaning that we borrow every artifact that’s on the floor,” said Kate Betz, the museum’s deputy director. “Roughly 600 artifacts come and go every year in our core Texas history galleries. What that means is every time someone comes, they’re going to have a new experience here.”
The museum includes three floors of core galleries as well as two special exhibition galleries. Betz and her staff work diligently to ensure that guests of all interests can find something that resonates with them among the displays.
Upcoming exhibitions range from aerial photography around the Texas border to a showcase of the intersection between Western culture and science fiction called “Cowboys in Space.”
Though the displays are ever-changing, guests might expect to see items such as early Native American tools and textiles, Stephen F. Austin’s long-leaf pine desk, a rancher’s branding iron, an oil field tool known as a Christmas Tree and even a 1960s-era NASA mission-control console.