Sometimes it seems as if the only venerable civic institution not founded by Ben Franklin is the science museum named after him, which opened in 1825—making it one of the country's oldest scientific education centers—and moved to its current location on Logan Circle a century later. It features the usual science museum features: An IMAX theater (as well as the newly 3D-upgraded, cinema-style Franklin Theater), a planetarium that ranks as the nation's second oldest, exploded views of everyday mechanical devices, and plenty of exhibits on the history of various scientific and mechanical innovations.

The Franklin Institute is also remarkably hands-on, from meteorites you can touch to interactive exhibits that allow you to test the laws of physics through a variety of adrenaline activities. The opening of the museum's Aviation Hall was presided over by Orville Wright and Amelia Earhart, and to this day the Franklin Air Show exhibit includes an original 1911 Wright Model B Flyer, along with some of the Wright brothers' scribbled notes. You can also climb into the cockpit of a fighter jet, fly a simulator, test paper airplane designs, flap your wings in a wind tunnel, and take the controls of a genuine 1948 T-33 jet trainer.

The museum goes on that way for room after room. One narrow wing filled with historic trains, where kids get to "drive" a locomotive (just a few yards, but still). The five rooftop telescopes let you observe bright sky objects (special nighttime stargazing happens the second Thursday of each month from 6–9pm). Among the marquee exhibits are the 1810 Maillardet automaton, or clockwork puppet, that inspired the book (and later movie) "Hugo," and every local's favorite: the slightly creepy, giant-but-cramped, continuously beating, walk-through heart.

Scheduled to open in summer 2014: The Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, a massive (53,000-square-foot), $10 million expansion that will include a new permanent exhibit entitled "Your Brain," plenty of temporary exhibition space, and a new education center.