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Who Knew? Educational Attractions

When it comes to leisure travel and tourism, the word “educational” may scare off some people. Maybe travelers imagine a stuffy lecture, a dusty display or a boring guide droning on. But educational attractions are anything but dull.

At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, visitors can experience a simulated rocket launch or train like an astronaut in a G-force accelerator. Guests can watch for whales spouting in Monterey Bay at the Monterey Bay Aquarium or chat with George Washington during a visit to Colonial Williamsburg.


U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville, Alabama, is ground zero for rocket science. It’s where Wernher von Braun launched the rocket program in 1950, a project that eventually sent American astronauts to the moon. Today, the city is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, an attraction that is equal parts museum, educational program and research center.

As a Smithsonian affiliate and the official visitor center for NASA’S Marshall Space Flight Center, the complex houses a massive collection of spaceflight artifacts, including moon rocks and the Apollo 16 moon capsule, said media manager Pat Ammons. It’s also home to the 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket, which is the Smithsonian’s largest artifact and a National Historic Landmark.

“When you see this massive rocket over your head — it doesn’t matter who you are — you say, ‘Wow,’” Ammons said.

Marshall Space Flight Center is located on Redstone Arsenal, an active military base. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center can arrange tours of the base — guests must be U.S. citizens — where groups will visit the center that’s in touch with the International Space Station and see where NASA tested the Saturn V rocket.


Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey, California

A group of local marine scientists founded the Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation in 1978. So it’s no surprise that today, 30 years after opening its doors, the aquarium’s mission remains one of conservation and education.

Exhibits are divvied up by habitat, from near-shore to open-sea environments, said Claudia Tibbs, senior education communications specialist. The “Rocky Shore” touch pool features barnacles, mussels and eels, and the “Open Sea” exhibit showcases the wonders of the deep, including sharks, tuna and shimmering schools of sardines. The sea otters, penguins, jellyfish and giant octopus are also crowd favorites.

“Usually there’s always one animal that sparks your interest,” Tibbs said. “Sometimes it’s the teeny-tiny ones you can hold in your hand, like a hermit crab, that make a huge difference for people.”

One of the aquarium’s most magnificent exhibits is the one outside its door: the bay itself. Staff are always on the lookout for wildlife, such as migrating whales, and visitors can try out the Otter Spotter stations on the decks. Groups can also arrange for guided tours and behind-the-scenes experiences.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.