When is the next time you will get the chance to tour a submarine or build your own robot? If a museum visit is part of your next student-group itinerary, it might be sooner than you think. The notion that museums are stuffy and boring has been thrown out the window thanks to the highly interactive exhibits and displays offered today. Whether it be art, history or science, these museums provide a hands-on approach to learning.

Here is a sampling of U.S. museums worth including in a student-group itinerary:

1. California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences Rainforest ExhibitThe California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco features a planetarium, aquarium and natural history museum all under one roof. The building’s sustainable design is a major reason to visit. Walls insulated with recycled blue jeans, a 2½-acre living roof, an expandable solar canopy and a water reclamation system could make this museum’s design the greenest of all. It is home to nearly 40,000 animals and provides up-close views of these magnificent species. Come face to face with an African penguin, feel the humidity as you walk through the four-story Rainforests of the World exhibit or shake things up and feel the Loma Prieta earthquake simulation in the Earthquakes exhibit. (415-379-5210, calacademy.org)

2. Denver Museum of Science and Nature

The Denver Museum of Science and Nature offers the Phipps IMAX 3D Theater, Gates Planetarium and numerous interactive exhibits. In the Lizards and Snakes exhibit, see over 60 live slithery creatures and learn about their eating habits and movement. Explore the complexities of the human body as you see your own cells under a microscope in the Expedition Health exhibit. Follow the mine shaft into the Gems and Minerals exhibit to explore Colorado’s mining history and see sparkling varieties of gems like topaz and opal. (303-370-6000, dmns.org)

3. Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago holds one of the most impressive collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artwork of any museum. Second in size only to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute covers one million square feet and is located in downtown’s Grant Park. Represented are artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet. Also on display are African, American and Asian collections. (312-857-7104, artic.edu)

4. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the largest institution dedicated to African American culture and is located in the Cultural Center of Detroit. The museum contains a research center, seven exhibition areas, a facility for live performances and over 30,000 artifacts. And Still We Rise: Our Journey Through African American History and Culture” is the museum’s interactive core exhibit that transports visitors through time and around the world. Take your group on a guided tour, and sign up for an educational workshop on topics such as jewelry making or African flags. (313-494-5800, thewright.org)

5. Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, a legacy of the great Centennial Exhibit of 1876, contains more than 200 galleries. Besides its main building, the museum includes the Rodin Museum, the Perelman Building and historic homes of Fairmount Park. Collections on display include: Oriental, American, European and modern art. (215-684-7863, philamuseum.org)

Atlanta History Museum6. Atlanta History Museum

The Atlanta History Museum is one of the largest museums in the nation and aims to show the lives of the region’s people from the time of settlement to today. Signature exhibits include: The American Civil War, Metropolitan Frontiers and Folk Arts. After checking out the museum, your group can visit other Atlanta History Center attractions, including Smith Family Farm and Swan House. (404-814-4000, atlantahistorycenter.com)

7. St. Louis Science Center

The St. Louis Science Center gives visitors a chance to create their own “virtual fish” or see a life-size T-Rex replica. The science center comprises the main building, the EXPLORADOME and James S. McDonnell Planetarium. There are over 700 hands-on activities throughout the center including opportunities to program your own robot, experience a flight simulator and participate in a scientific demonstration. (314-289-4400, slsc.org)

8. Oklahoma City National Memorial

The Oklahoma City National Memorial has an outdoor memorial and indoor museum. Each area strives to educate visitors on the “senselessness of terrorism and violence.” The 3.3-acre memorial site contains a reflecting pool, survivor tree and the fence that protected the crime scene of the 1995 federal building bombing. The museum is highly interactive and walks visitors through the tragic day with sights and sounds that people experienced. (405-235-3313, oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org)

9. Cincinnati Museum Center

Cincinnati Museum Center is home to six organizations: Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History and Science, OMNIMAX Theater, Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Railroad Club and Duke Energy Children’s Museum. The children’s museum, continually ranked in the top 10 children’s museums in the United States, fosters exploration and imagination through interactive exhibits like Energy Zone and Kids’ Town. The museum center’s Art Deco building was originally a train station called Union Terminal but has been transformed into a beloved hotspot for locals and visitors alike. (513-287-7000, cincymuseum.org)

10. Milwaukee Art Museum

The Milwaukee Art Museum boasts notable collections of folk, German expressionism, Haitian and American decorative art. The museum holds over 25,000 pieces of art and is a work of art itself, having won architectural awards for its Quadracci Pavilion. (414-224-3842, mam.org)

11. Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City is centered on one of the most successful U.S. ships in history, WWII aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. The museum has welcomed over 10 million visitors since opening its doors in 1982. Visitors can see historical re-enactments, ride the A-6 Cockpit Simulator, tour a submarine and see a Concorde supersonic plane. (212-245-0072, intrepidmuseum.org)

Newseum in New York City

12. Newseum

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. fuses five centuries of news history with current technology and interactive displays. It is located right between the White House and U.S. Capitol. Exhibits in the seven-level building include: New York Times Great Hall of News, an interactive NBC Newsroom, Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery, Berlin Wall Gallery and a Journalists Memorial. The goal of the museum is to show visitors how and why news is made. You can’t miss the building with its 74-foot-tall marble engraving of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. (888-639-7386, newseum.org)

By Coley Nelson