Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Museums

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Among Houston's biggest and most popular destination areas is the Museum District. It's jammed with a variety of world class organizations dedicated to art, culture and history. Of course, not all of the city's museums are inside the district, as our top 10 list shows.

Before we get to the list, here's a note about the museums that aren't on the list. We considered several other organizations including the Funeral Museum, the Houston Museum of African American Culture, the Museum of Printing History, the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and a previous winner in the Best of Awards, the Weather Museum. We decided to look at those and several other smaller museums that focus on one subject in another list.

10. The University Museum at Texas Southern University 3100 Cleburne, 713-313-7145

This is the first time on our list for this university-based museum. With collections such as those of famed painter John Biggers (who started the art department at the Texas State University for Negroes - now Texas Southern University - in 1949), well-known sculptor Carroll Harris Simms, and an impressive African art collection and ongoing touring shows, the museum is much less well known than its University of Houston counterpart but no less an important resource to the community. Recent exhibits include "Traces of Confucius," an extensive look at the life of Chinese philosopher.

9. Children's Museum of Houston 1500 Binz, 713-522-1138

The standing exhibits at the Children's Museum of Houston include the water filled FlowWorks, the indoor/outdoor environmental area with a native plant garden, pond and woodlands known as the EcoStation and the Inventors Workshop. In the past, touring exhibitions have included art from children's books (work from the Dr. Seuss series was recently on display). Performances, guided activities and weekly themed celebrations are scheduled throughout the year.

8. Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts 6815 Cypresswood Drive, Spring, 281-376-6322

We like the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts because while it's a fine arts museum, it has a low-key, family-friendly atmosphere. Dedicated to exhibiting local artists and the private holdings of area collectors, the Pearl Fincher has hosted "Texas Art Quilts," and in its Northwest Houston Collects series, "Selections from the Home of Ginger and Fred Palumbo" and "France." There's a community gallery; past exhibits there include "Ray Sherrod."

7. Holocaust Museum of Houston 5401 Caroline, 713-942-8000

The Holocaust Museum of Houston isn't just a history museum. And it isn't just an art museum. Or just a library. Or just a garden. Those are all covered by the museum's standing exhibition ("Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers," a collection of artifacts, photographs and film footage showing life for Jews and other minorities in pre-war Europe, as well as during the Holocaust and its aftermath) and other permanent facilities. But the museum doesn't focus only on the past. Along with "Never Forget," the museum is equally dedicated to the idea of "Never Again."

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6. Station Museum of Contemporary Art 1502 Alabama, 713-529-6900

For a long while, the Station Museum of Contemporary Art was considered to be on the wrong side of Main Street (it's a few blocks east). Thankfully, with the addition of the Asia Society Center and other museums in the immediate area, that's not the case any longer. The current exhibit is "Collective Reaction: 6 Exhibitions by Democracia, Adel Abidin, Hito Steyerl, Mohammed Al Shammarey, Prince Varughese Thomas, and Maura Sheehan." (Really six individual exhibits that have been grouped together for FotoFest 2014. Past shows include "Iraqi Artists in Exile" (a particularly strong hitting group show) and solo exhibits Carlos Runcie-Tanaka and Mel Chin.

5. Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston 4800 Calhoun, 713-743-9521

The Blaffer's adventuresome spirit in programming is what caught our eye this year. The Antena @ Blaffer project is more than just an exhibit, it's a re-imagining of the use of the space. Antena, led by Jen Hofer and John Pluecker (recently profiled in our 100 Creatives series). Antena focuses on language justice (a person's right to use whatever language is most comfortable regardless of the dominant language). So how do you turn an abstract idea about language and justice into an exhibit? With books, readings, workshops and training sessions. Past exhibits at the Blaffer include, "Tony Feher," a 20 years survey of work by the American sculptor.

4. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston 5216 Montrose, 713 284 8250

These days, the key word for the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston is contemporary. Along with innovative and exciting exhibits of art, the museum has a robust programming schedule. Our latest favorite? The new 20Hertz speaker series. Houston rapper Fat Tony kicked off the series with his presentation Smart Ass. Visual artists in all phases of their careers are spotlighted in the museum's Perspectives exhibition series.

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3. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7300

The harsh reality of today's museum scene is that many blockbuster exhibits require a steep entry fee. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the exhibits are always worth the price of a ticket. Our recent favorites include "Georges Braque: A Retrospective" and "John Singer Sargent: The Watercolors." Past exhibits include "James Turrell: The Light Inside," a multi-room installation of light that transformed the galleries from mere physical space into works of art. Other past favorites include "Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado" and "Picasso Black and White."

We love the museum's extensive programming (thank you MFAH film department!), high quality publications and frequent family friendly events.

2. The Menil Collection 1533 Sul Ross Houston, 713-525-9400

We often tell visitors, "If you have time to visit only one museum in Houston, make it the Menil Collection." Not only are the art exhibits wonderful, the Menil Collection's campus is an award-winning architectural wonder, designed to fit in perfectly with the surrounding Montrose neighborhood and yet provide a huge amount of exhibition and performance space. Recent exhibits include "Lee Bontecou: Drawn Worlds" and "Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938." We also like the frequent non-visual art programming such as the jazz concerts and indie book fair.

1. Houston Museum of Natural Science 5555 Hermann Park Drive, 713-639-4629

Our top three museums are pretty close to a three-way tie in terms of exhibits, programing and wow factor, so how did HMNS snag the top slot? The palatial new Hall of Ancient Egypt. A 10,000-square-foot addition to the museum complex houses hundreds of artifacts and a what curators call "a permanently changing exhibit" of objects related to the Pharaohs and Egyptian art, religion and, yep, mummies. Add that to the museum's Cockrell Butterfly Center, Burke Baker Planetarium, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, dinosaurs, African wildlife and gems exhibit, and you've got the top museum for 2014.

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