49 inspirational tourist attractions for science lovers in North America

When I’m not in the lab, or now sharing the science stories of some incredible researchers in my new job, you will probably find me sat at a computer browsing the latest holiday destinations, flight prices and top things to do in wherever that flight is to – in fact we have just booked our next trip for next month!

I have a passion to travel the world but unfortunately still not enough time or money to do all the travelling that I want to do just yet. But in the name of science education and my insatiable wanderlust, I thought it was about time that I shared the next installment of my ‘science travel’ series, leave the UK and Europe behind and head across the pond to the continent of North America for my next source of STEM travel inspiration.

So, whether you are looking for some inspiration for your next trip or checking out whether I mentioned your favourite place to visit for some science inspiration, let’s grab our passports and explore just some of the STEM delights that are found in the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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  1. Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA
Space shuttle launch from Cape Canaveral. Image credit: Bill Ingalis, NASA, Getty Images

This is the very top of my travel bucket list – to watch a rocket launch and in my opinion there is no better place to do that than Cape Canaveral. If watching missions launch from here doesn’t inspire anyone to be amazed by the wonders of space and space exploration then I have no idea what will.

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2. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, USA

Not only is this an iconic tourist spot in San Francisco but an engineering marvel. You can take tours to learn more about the engineering and construction of the bridge and more. Perfect for a budding engineer.

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3. Niagara Falls, New York, USA

A magnificent natural wonder. An attraction to appreciate the power of the natural world and water and inspire any geologists or ecologists in the making.

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4. Holmdel Horn Antenna, New Jersey, USA

Image credit: Erik Dunham, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

A large microwave antenna used as a satellite communication antenna and radio telescope in the 1960s. A site credited with detecting the first signs of the Big Bang and that our universe is expanding.

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5. El Caracol, Chichen Itza, Mexico

Image credit: Rob Shenk, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

You might recognise the name Chichen Itza; a world famous ancient Mayan town in Mexico, but I bet you never realised it’s STEM links. Aside from the engineering feats in the town, El Caracol is one of the world’s oldest observatories and takes astronomy back to it’s basics.

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6. Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, USA

Image credit: Al_HikesAZ, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

A national park comprising such natural variety on top of a volcanic hotspot. Explore the lush forests, dramatic canyons, alpine rivers. hot springs and geysers like it’s most famous Old Faithful. All whilst encountering so much wildlife such as bison and elk. There will almost definitely be something here for any science lover.

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7. National Museum of Mathematics, New York, USA

The more scicomm I do, watch and read about the more I wish I was good at maths – yes not all scientists are maths wizards! – and I appreciate it more and more. So, quickly heading to the top of my list of ‘things to see in New York’ is the museum of mathematics so I can really appreciate the beauty of the mathematical world.

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8. Harrisons Cave, Barbados

At the heart of Barbados lies one of its greatest wonders – the magnificent Harrison’s Cave. Located in the central uplands of the island, this crystallised, limestone cave is characterised by flowing streams, deep pools of crystal clear water and towering columns.

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9. The Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California, USA

“Southern California’s gateway to the cosmos”. Take a trip up to look at the stars and gaze into the wonders of space. Perfect for any budding astronomer or space geek. Plus look at that view over LA!

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10. Glacier Skywalk, Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Image credit: Marc Roy, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

In the depths of Jasper National Park, you can walk out along this 1km platform into the valley with a 280m drop below. So probably not for those who are scared of heights unless you want to do some experiments or learning about adrenaline. But this feat of engineering reveals to you these incredible glaciers that might inspire the next glaciologists, or engineers and more. One destination that is high on my bucket list to see, but not sure if I’ll manage to walk out there. But I really think so many STEM lessons can be learnt from this including the physics behind keeping the platform there and also the way glass is made.

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11. The Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA

Image credit: Grand Canyon National Park, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

This attraction is another that is flying high on my North American bucket list. The vast deep canyons are just something not to be missed. Plus who doesn’t love looking at the power of the natural world to inspire your inner geologist.

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12. Ontario Science Centre, Toronto, Canada

There must be hundreds of science museums across the whole of North America, but I have heard a lot of good things about the science centre in Toronto, Canada. Perfect for anyone to exercise their scientific curiosity.

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13. Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA

If you are in Arizona visiting the Grand Canyon, then you may as well head further east to visit this magnificent sight. It is the best preserved meteorite crash site in the world according to their website. It is just mindblowing that something that big came from space and left this behind. A must see attraction in my opinion.

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14. Bioluminescent Bay, Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Quite a spectacle don’t you think? In each gallon of water in this way, there are around 750,000 dinoflagellates; which are a type of algae that can glow. Swirl your hands in the water and it will look like the water is sparkling. A magical sight for any budding marine biologists perhaps?

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15. National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C, USA

Image credit: Pedro Szekely, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Back to the museums, but this time for the engineering or astronomy lover. Commemorate the history of all human flight, learn about all aspects of space travel and flight and inspire the next generation who will help us travel and explore further.

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16. Great Blue Hole, Belize

Off the coast of Belize lies this enormous marine sinkhole. You can take helicopter trips that fly over the sinkhole, or you can even scuba dive and explore within the sinkhole’s own little ecosystem where you could encounter several different species of reef sharks.

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17. Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Badlands National Park draws visitors from around the world and you can see why. These striking geological deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds. The perfect adventure to get anyone excited about geology or fossils. Not to mention all the wildlife you can spot on your journey too.

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18. Palomar Observatory, San Diego, California, USA

The observatory is owned and operated by Caltech and a popular destination in Southern California. The tens of thousands of visitors each year often come to see the famous 200-inch/5.1 metre Hale Telescope which for decades was the largest effective telescope in operation. Yes, it is another observatory on my list of inspirational STEM places – but come on, who doesn’t love space?!

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19. Isla Mujeres, Mexico

A tiny and beautiful little island located off the coast of Cancun surrounded by bright blue water and white sandy beaches but full of opportunities to get up close and personal with a myriad of wildlife. Whether it is the giant iguanas that walk over your foot sometimes, or the marine life you encounter on a dive around underwater Mayan ruins like turtles, dolphins or swordfish. There are also coral reefs that are under threat and may inspire the next generation of scientists who are going to help solve these issues.

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20. The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Another museum, and another opportunity to be exposed to such a variety of science fields. And is there really a better place than the biggest science centre in the Western Hemisphere? In Chicago you can explore clean energy, genetics, storms and the mind-body connection to name a few. But I really want to see the numbers in nature exhibit featuring a mirror maze. Check out the possibilities.

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21. Yosemite National Park, California, USA

If you are astounded by nature, then this is the place to go. Yosemite National Park is perhaps best known for it’s waterfalls but you can also explore deep valleys, meadows, lakes, glaciers and sequoias. The biodiversity is incredible, so is a perfect source of inspiration for our future scientists.

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22. Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Best known for coral reefs, you can explore an ecosystem that is on the edge of extinction. Something that may trigger passion and inspiration in future environmentalists who can strive to fix the problem. It also holds a tropical rainforest environment and all its inhabitants. Again full of inspiration!

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23. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii, USA

This volcano last erupted only last year in 2018 so is very much still active. But is an opportunity to learn more about volcanos on a trip and how this eruption is changing the landscape of the Hawaiian island.

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24. Silicon Valley, California, USA

A region in the San Francisco Bay area in California that is a global centre of technology and social media innovation comprising some huge names like Google and Facebook but also home to thousands of start up companies. You can visit the area and have your mind-boggled by all the technological possibilities. Perfect for our software engineers and programmers of the future.

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25. The Neil Armstrong Museum, Wapakoneta, Ohio, USA

Back in the hometown of the first man to walk on the moon, there is a museum that celebrates this incredible feat. This museum shares the story of Neil Armstrong and all other Ohioans who have attempted to defy gravity, the Space Race and current exploration. There can’t be many other places that are going to inspire a love of the moon in anyone.

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26. Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

A town on the west shore of Hudson Bay and is also known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. Besides that, there is also opportunities to spot Beluga Whales and also the Aurora Borealis.

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27. Main Ridge Forest Reserve, Tobago

The Main Ridge extends about two thirds of the length of Tobago and is protected specifically for conservation reasons. A trip to this Caribbean island could help a young mind realise what they can do to help protect some of our planet’s species.

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28. Hoover Dam, Nevada, USA

Quite simply an astounding accomplishment of engineering. A concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River.

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29. The Computer History Museum, California, USA

Another for the future software engineers and programmers, but also anyone that is interested in how far we have come when it comes to computers and the possibilities that we have at our disposal now and in the future.

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30. The Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois, USA

From ancient cultures to the latest scientific discoveries, there is something for everyone to learn at the Field Museum. Explore dinosaurs, gems, mummies and Antartica to name a few.

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31. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Santa Cruz, California, USA

Home to 36 species of marine mammals, this sanctuary protects these animals and gives you the opportunity to volunteer and learn more about them.

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32. The Discovery Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Another trip up to Canada and another opportunity to learn more about some incredible species and the natural world around us.

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33. Redwood National Park, California, USA

Something that is very high on my personal bucket list – going to see the giant redwoods in Redwood National Park; the tallest trees on Earth.

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34. National Dinosaur Monument, Utah and Colorado, USA

Walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs. Some of their fantastic remains are still visible embedded in the rocks. Who doesn’t want to know more about the dinosaurs?

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35. Cave of Crystals, Chihuahua, Mexico

Photo credit: Carsten Peter, Speleoresearch & Films, National Geographic,Getty Images

The giant main chamber contains giant selenite crystals – some of the largest natural crystals ever found. The largest was 12 metres in length. An incredible natural feat that is going to spark many curious questions in young minds.

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36. Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York, USA

This lab advances the fundamental research in nuclear and particle physics to gain a deeper understanding of the small matters of matter, energy, space and time. The Brookhaven Lab hosts concerts and lectures throughout the year which are open to the public.

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37. Butterfly Pavilion, Westminster, Colorado, USA

Immerse yourself in a world full of hundreds of native butterflies. But this insect zoo isn’t just home to butterflies. Discover more about tarantulas, coral reefs and other ocean invertebrates to name a few.

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38. Montana Dinosaur Trail, Montana, USA

Another opportunity to head back in time and walk with the dinosaurs. This trail is a series of 14 dinosaur-themed museums, state parks and attractions.

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39. Magnetic Hill, New Brunswick, Canada

There is a hill in Canada that if you drive to the bottom and put your car in neutral it will start to move back up the hill completely unassisted. It was thought that this was to do with magnetism but is actually just an incredible optical illusion. But it is a great opportunity to learn about some neuroscience, gravity and magnetism.

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40. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Home to tens of thousands of animals swimming in over 10 million gallons of water, you can observe whales and other marine species through some of the largest viewing windows in the world.

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41. Royal Gorge Bridge, Colorado, USA

While the look of this bridge makes me feel very anxious, I can’t help but admire how on earth this bridge was constructed. But it opens the door to any budding engineers about what is possible.

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42. Cushing Brain Collection, Connecticut, USA

There is nothing that is more incredible than seeing an actual brain. This collection in Connecticut is full of diseased brains assembled by pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing. His life was dedicated to studying the brain and developing new and radical diagnosis and surgical techniques to help patients suffering from brain tumours.

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43. Pekelmeer Salt Flats, Bonaire

Salt flats but also a flamingo sanctuary. The pools appear pink against the white salt flats because of an abundance of shrimp in the water. But quite an incredible sight too.

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44. Barrier Reef, Roatan, Honduras

The second largest barrier reef in the world. A marine region that stretches over 1,000 kilometres where you can snorkel and explore corals and the ecosystem that lives there.

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45. Canadian Rockies, British Columbia and Alberta, Canada

A perfect spot for a hike but also to be inspired by nature and how incredible our planet is to be able to create landscapes like this.

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46. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Canada’s oldest national park laced with turquoise glacial lakes, mountain peaks and abundant wildlife

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47. Sailing Stones, Inyo, California, USA

Spot an incredible geological phenomenon where rocks move without assistance. The answers to how these stones are able to move combines physics, meterology and geology which can ignite so many curious sparks.

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48. Carnivourous Plant Garden, Wilmington, North Carolina, USA

Carnivourous plants are not something we all encounter everyday so why not take a trip to learn more about them and maybe inspire a mind that is going to unlock more of their secrets.

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49. Devil’s Postpile National Monument, Mammoth Lakes, California, USA

Take a trip to see this unusual rock formation of columnar basalt that was created by lava flow, and maybe inspire a future geologist.

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So much STEM inspiration and such little time!

I hope that this has inspired your next trip. If this isn’t enough, then please check out my other suggestions in the UK and Europe.

Where else in North America would you send a science lover? Or have you visited one of these attractions? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

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