American Museum Of Natural History
Destination: New York, New York, USA
How many children have fallen in love with dinosaurs in the echoing galleries of this world-class New York City museum? And the dinosaurs are only the tip of the iceberg: Over the years, Holden Caulfield brooded over its collection of Northwest Indian totem poles in The Catcher in the Rye; in the planetarium, Woody Allen wooed Diane Keaton in the 1979 film Manhattan; and curious scientists plunked Darryl Hannah's mermaid into a tank to examine her in the 1984 movie Splash.
When you enter the rotunda at the top of the Central Park West steps -- named for Theodore Roosevelt, the outdoors-loving President who helped found the museum -- a rearing skeleton of a mommy dinosaur protecting her baby from a small, fierce predator clues you in that the interactive fourth-floor dinosaur halls are the perennial attraction. Must-see sights are the dioramas in the North American Mammals -- the grizzly bear raking open a freshly caught salmon, elks lifting their massive antlers, wolves loping through eerie nighttime snow -- or, on the floor above, the bi-level African Mammals Hall, where you can circle around a lumbering herd of perfectly preserved elephants or check out the giraffes browsing by their water hole. In the dimly lit Ocean Life room, a gargantuan model of a blue whale swims overhead while dolphins arc through plastic waves. Around the corner, the North American Forest dioramas are a peaceful part of the museum where you can hunt for blue jays in oak trees and rattlesnakes behind the cactus.
The Rose Center for Earth and Space, a 95-foot-high glass cube, includes an interactive exhibit on the nature of the universe, where you can step on a scale that shows your weight on Saturn, see an eerie phosphorescent model of the expanding universe, and touch cosmic debris. There are an IMAX theater, a space show, and always at least a couple of traveling exhibitions (be prepared for substantial extra fees charged for these, on top of an already hefty admission price). Luckily, there's enough to do here that you don't need to go for the extras.
Information: Central Park West and 79th St. (tel. 212/769-5100; www.amnh.org).
Nearest Airport: John F. Kennedy International, 15 miles. Newark Liberty International, 16 miles. LaGuardia, 8 miles.
Accommodations: Excelsior Hotel, 45 W. 81st St. (tel. 800/368-4575 or 212/362-9200; www.excelsiorhotelny.com). Le Parker Meridien, 118 W. 57th St. (tel. 800/543- 4300 or 212/245-5000; www.parkermeridien.com).