Must-see things at local museums, straight from the experts

If you’re looking for an interesting way to spend a cold, winter day, our local museums are a good option for either a solo outing or fun times with friends or family.

Shortly before Christmas, we asked some of the museum directors in our region to share some of their favorite spots at their institutions. Take your excursion up a notch with this insiders’ advice.

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David Tillotson, Director of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

My two favorite spots in the Museum represent the diversity of thoughts that always color the holiday season for me. First, I am pulled to the Warrior Airmen exhibit in the left corner of Building 3. While a bit somber for the holiday season, I cannot ever forget about my brothers and sisters in all the services who will find themselves spending the holiday season apart from family members. I take comfort in the fact that I know they will support each other during the season, and will take time to remember each other and their families back home.

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My second spot represents the continuing quest to explore and push the boundaries — the Space and Research and Development Galleries in Building 4. After the trials of World War II, the nation embarked on a series of explorations of the boundaries of air and space. Using balloons, aircraft, rocket planes, and finally space ships, the nation broke speed barriers, soared into space, and even found our way to the moon.

The era culminated with the world’s first reusable space ship — the shuttle. During this period, the world demonstrated an ability to cooperate with the establishment and continued support of the international space station. Visitors can marvel at the incredible range of shapes and concepts that we pursued, including our very real flying saucer. Walk on board the shuttle and think about what it would be like to live in space. Try your hand at landing the shuttle with the simulators. As the nation works toward a return to space, and perhaps a trip to Mars, a ride on the Virtual Reality simulator will inspire you to reach beyond your boundaries.

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Tracey Tomme, President and CEO, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

Shortly after I arrived at the museum, I was touring the facility, familiarizing myself with the wonderful variety of experiences available to our visitors. At one point in my journey I found myself in the Discovery Zoo where I came upon a little girl seated on a bench with her mother near the otter enclosure.

As I engaged the pair in conversation, the mother shared with me that they visit every week and that her daughter loved reading stories to the otters! Of course our 3-year-old otters, Eno and Sikwa, are some of the most popular attractions in the museum, and are favorites of so many of our guests. They are North American river otters born at the Oakland Zoo in January 2016, and have lived at the museum since the summer of 2017.

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The Discovery Zoo at the Boonshoft Museum displays over 25 different species of animals from all over the world, and is home to over 150 different animals. In addition to the animals in the Discovery Zoo we also have educational ambassador animals that visitors can meet up close and personal.

Another area that is a favorite of mine, is our Explorer's exhibit, a curated selection of some 1.8 million objects and specimens housed in the Dayton Society of Natural History's collections. I am continually amazed at the number and variety of objects we have.

Frederic Bertley, president and CEO, COSI, Columbus

Two of my favorite places at COSI are the Unseen Oceans exhibit and our Dinosaur Gallery. The first, Unseen Oceans, is our latest traveling exhibition from the American Museum of Natural History. This immersive exhibit explores the diversity of life underneath the surface of the ocean, which represents approximately 85 percent of life on our great planet. It also helps us to better understand our ecosystem and how we can impact it. Guests will learn about everything from the ocean's tiniest creatures to its biggest residents. Unseen Oceans is at COSI through Feb. 2, 2020.

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The second coolest spot to me offers an up close look at everyone’s favorite — dinosaurs! The American Museum of Natural History Dinosaur Gallery not only gives guests a personal look at a full-size cast of Tyrannosaurus rex, but they will also learn how dinosaurs are actually walking (or flying) among us today. The Dinosaur Gallery has been a fantastic addition to COSI’s permanent galleries.

Michael Roediger, director and CEO, Dayton Art Institute

The first space I selected is the Bonbright Gallery of African Art at the Dayton Art Institute. It is stunning and is one of the gallery renovations that has happened as part of the DAI's Centennial Celebration. Our curatorial and education teams have been working hard to enhance the look and experience in the galleries, and the gallery renovations will continue throughout 2020.

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The second space I selected is the Lange Family Experiencenter. This unique art and learning space was the first of its kind in 1976 and has now become the standard in most museums. Founder Pamela Houk incorporated actual art objects from the DAI's collection to create a space with art, engagement art activities, reading and play for the entire family. Every year we introduce a new theme with rotations throughout the year – the current theme is "Color, Line and Shape." We encourage all of our guests to visit the Experiencenter, whether you attend with a child or on you own. Every Thursday the museum hosts the PNC Tiny Thursdays program that inspires preschoolers through reading, art actives and time in the galleries with their caregiver. It is truly a special place, and the museum is so thankful for the legacy Pam Houk created.

Eric Rose, executive director, Newport Aquarium 

My favorite exhibit in Newport Aquarium is Stingray Hideaway. We're inspiring lasting change with all of our guests. When guests come here and have a personal connection with a live animal, it's magical. Guests will develop a lifetime of love and respect for these animals and the ocean they live in.

Stingray Hideaway has a special place in my heart. My first job in this profession, I was an aquarist taking care of stingrays. Every time I walk into Stingray Hideaway, it’s like a warm, tropical retreat and it reminds me of my time living in Florida.

Another favorite is the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit. It's 385,000 gallons of water. Having spent a lifelong profession diving with and taking care of sharks, I've come to learn their mystique very intimately. Despite them being a respected apex predator critically needed for healthy oceans, they also have individual personalities that we get to know and love very closely.

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Brady Kress, director and CEO, Dayton History

Certainly one of my favorite spots is Wright Hall with the 1905 Wright Flyer III … the airplane that changed the world. But my other favorite spot is the Corliss Engine Building,  one of the original buildings opened at the museum in 1950. Its life at NCR — as the factory's power plant from 1902-1948 — seems to mirror the most amazing career of Carillon Park's founder Edward Deed's life.

He installed the engine at NCR as a young engineer and then moved it to Carillon as head of the entire company. The building is quiet and has a unique quality. I think many guests walk by this special little spot without knowing how special it is to the museum and how special it was to the founder of Carillon and so many other landmarks in the Dayton region.

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Whitney Owens, Chief Learning Officer, Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal

Holiday Junction featuring the Duke Energy Holiday Trains is an absolute must. The trains have been a touchstone for Cincinnati families for so many years. I love the intergenerational sharing that I always see in that gallery. Our older guests love sharing their memories of the trains, and little ones love the gallery updates, like scuffing up virtual snow or taking a turn on the riding train. (Editor's note: Holiday Junction is open through Jan. 5, 2020.) And the new "Superpower Dogs" film is a perfect companion for a group visit that includes several generations: not only are the four-legged heroes inspiring, but I love how it covers rescue stories from all over the world. I'm even a cat person, and I loved it!

Destination Moon evokes the same wonder in a different way: how often can we stand before a national treasure, something that's actually made it to space and back? Cincinnati is so lucky to have the Apollo 11 command module here for a limited time. As someone who wasn't alive during the first Moon landing, I also found the "Apollo 11: First Steps " film thrilling. The film's un-narrated footage — all original to 1969 – was utterly transfixing and kept me riveted until the final splashdown.

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