By day, museums can be overwhelming. The lines and crowds can turn an otherwise enjoyable visit into a nightmare. By night, however, with fewer visitors and shorter lines, the very same cultural institutions offer a wonderfully unique experience. A number of museums across the country offer nighttime programs. Check out our 5 favorites.
The Original Night at the Museum
New York, New York
If you've seen the film, "Night at the Museum," you know that the notion of an overnight in New York's American Museum of Natural History can send creative minds aflutter. That's precisely what makes the museum's overnight promotion, aptly titled "A Night at the Museum," so much fun. Participants ages 7-13 can roll out their sleeping bags (atop cots) under the blue whale in the Hall of North American Mammals; before bed, they can watch "The Mysteries of the Great Lakes" in the LeFrak IMAX Theater, explore special live-animal museum exhibitions or embark on a number of flashlight-illuminated fossil scavenger hunts. Admission includes an evening snack and light breakfast.
Liking the "NightLife" by the Bay
San Francisco, California
San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences turns into a nightclub every Thursday evening from 6 to10, as part of a weekly "NightLife" event. The year-round shindig, which is open to visitors 21 and over, is designed to re-create a night-on-the-town feel, complete with DJs, cocktail bars, food stations and hipsters. Visitors have full access to the museum's regular and traveling exhibits (including the aquarium and 4-story rainforest). They can also go up to the "living" roof for a one-of-a-kind perspective on the city skyline. For serious types, the weekly party also includes informal science programming, such as lectures and films.
Night for Shutterbugs
Long Beach, California
Hardcore photographers can be a curious and independent breed; if given their druthers, they'd rather shoot with no one around. Fitting, then, that the Aquarium of the Pacific's one-night-only "Photographer's Night" lets shutterbugs take over the museum, by themselves. Museum personnel keep most exhibit lights on all night, and encourage photogs to come and snap pictures of a variety of exhibits, including jellyfish, moray eels, stingrays and sardines (the lone exception: the sea dragons, which don't do well with direct light). A local camera outfitter also stays on-site for lens rentals and other pointers. Included in admission is a pass for a photography workshop with a guest speaker, scheduled to be held before doors open for the night.
Talking Through the Night
Lectures are on the docket for a new nighttime program series on Friday nights at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. The program, which starts in June and concludes in late August, is called "Mixed Taste." The show specializes in off-beat lectures about wacky and eclectic things. Talk topics have included Bigfoot and time travel. Other lectures follow a tag-team style: One guest speaks for a half-hour, while the next speaks on a completely unrelated topic for another half-hour. The 2 speakers must answer questions from audience members in a press-conference-style format.
No mention of nighttime activities would be complete with a spotlight on at least 1 astronomy-oriented event. This free event, dubbed "Starry Night," is held every autumn at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. It is put on in conjunction with the University of Florida Department of Astronomy, the Alachua Astronomy Club and the Florida Space Grant Consortium. Almost all the night's activities are family-oriented, including 3-D moonscape tours, lectures and plays. All participants also have full access to on-site telescopes, most of which are trained on planets, exploding galaxies or both. The sights are fairly conclusive proof that we're not alone in this great, big universe. Life affirmations simply don't get any better than that.