No trip to Houston would be complete without visiting its exciting museums. With so many great exhibits offered, it can be hard to choose. The world famous Houston Museum District boasts 18 different museums, all within a 1.5 mile radius of the lovely Mecom Fountain. Hop on the METRORail and make your way to the Museum District.

Houston Museum of Natural Science
The Houston Museum of Natural Science recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Did you know that it's the third most visited museum in the United States, and the second most popular attraction in Houston? It includes 11 halls, a planetarium also used by NASA astronauts for training, and an IMAX theater. Two new exhibits are opening just in time for the annual conference: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, and the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit. And don't miss seeing the year-round Cockrell Butterfly Center, where thousands of butterflies surround you in a mini-rainforest environment — complete with a waterfall. The "Insect Zoo” at the center is also creepy but informative, with some creatures I doubt you've ever seen!

A picnic lunch or dinner on the hill outside the Museum of Natural Science, overlooking the Miller Outdoor Theatre, is a great way to break up the day and refresh yourself before heading to your next destination.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) is one of the biggest art museums in the United States, with more than 40,000 varied and interesting pieces. Check out the second floor "roof lanterns,” which allow the Houston sun to dapple through. There is an excellent sampling of Impressionist, Post-impressionist, Renaissance, African tribal, Asian, South Pacific, Central and South American, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century American art. If you have time, also visit the Menil Collection and Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. I'm especially excited about the Cultural Evening at the MFAH, an event open exclusively to NAFSAns. Tickets are selling out quickly, so if you're interested, don't delay!

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
The CAMH is free! With no permanent collection, there are always surprises. The awarding-winning architecture is worth seeing.

The Health Museum and the Children's Museum of Houston
These two museums are fun and thought-provoking for both adults and children. Be sure to check out the gift shops, too, which are fun and vastly different from your typical museum gift shop. For the non-squeamish, The Health Museum has both organ dissections and the interactive Amazing Body Pavilion, where one enters the human mouth and moves through the body as if a piece of food.

The Children's Museum is one of the best-ranked in the United States, and boasts a fun, interactive outdoor water exhibit.

Outside the Museum District
If you're still looking for museums outside the Museum District, be sure to add these to your list:

Space Center Houston
This great place has already been covered in a previous blog post , but the NASA/Disney creation also has an exhibit I want to highlight: Creatures of the Abyss, free with admission, takes you to the deep ocean to discover animals, landscapes, and science. Additionally, former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao is scheduled to be at the Space Center June 1 to meet visitors.

George Ranch Historical Park

The Orange Show

Todd Patterson is the Center Director at ELS Language Centers/Houston-Clear Lake at the University of Houston-Clear Lake