The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Museums

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Houston's Museum District is a favorite destination for both locals and tourists. But choice museum offerings aren't limited to that one location. And while we have several world-class museums (the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Menil Collection leap immediately to mind), those aren't the only ones on our Houston's Top 10 Museums list. We looked at programming, offerings and settings in choosing our favorites. And for at least one museum on the list, being smaller translated into being better. See who made the list and who didn't.

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

The thing we like best about Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts is its dedication to local artists and collectors. Many of its exhibits are based on the private holdings of local residents. Currently on display is "Northwest Houston Collects: Selections from the Home of Ginger and Fred Palumbo," an exhibit of paintings by two Texas artists, Emma Lou Powell and Diana Powell, grandmother and mother respectively of collector Ginger Palumbo.

Also on exhibit is "Wetlands Portfolio: Photography of Joel K. Barr," with a selection of images by Barr, a professor at nearby Lone Star College. "Wetlands Portfolio" is part of the Lone Star College System Faculty exhibition series.

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

Lots of museums have a strict "do not touch" policy. Children's Museum of Houston has just the opposite, encouraging kids to touch, handle and manipulate almost everything on display. There are standing exhibits such as the EcoStation (an indoor/outdoor environmental gallery with a native plant garden, pond, woodlands and pavillion) and a Cum Yah Gullah village (a kid-sized village capturing the Gullah customs, language, storytelling, music and food). Touring exhibitions have included art from children's books and miniature car collections. There's a full schedule of performances, guided activities and weekly themed celebrations.

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

The Blaffer Art Museum is dedicated to contemporary art. The most recent exhibit, "Tony Feher," is a survey covering 20 years of work by the American sculptor with 60 important works on display. The Blaffer staff does a great job of programming events and lectures to deepen the viewers' appreciation of the works. There have been performances and film screenings in conjunction with "Tony Feher." Coming up are solo exhibits by Andy Coolquitt and Pamela Fraser.

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

Not all of the museums on our Top 10 list are art museums. The Holocaust Museum of Houston is a hybrid of sorts, presenting a standing history exhibit and seasonal art exhibits. In the permanent exhibition "Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers" artifacts, photographs and film footage document life in pre-war Europe, the Holocaust and its aftermath. Among the items on display are a 1942 Holocaust-era railcar and a 1942 Danish rescue boat. Art exhibits bring the story of the Holocaust to life in a different way, with paintings, drawings and sculpture by survivors, their children and others inspired by the Nazi's "Final Solution." Past shows include exhibits by Samuel Bak and Hans Molzberger.

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

Some of our favorite exhibits ever have been at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. 'The Puppet Show," "Splat Boom Pow! The Influence of Comics in Contemporary Art" and "Bert L. Long, Jr.: Looking and Seeing in Rome," are just a few. The museum's Perspectives series and its dedication to artists in all phases of their careers, as well as its sense of humor in programming win the CAMH a spot on our Top 10 list.

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

Another in our list that isn't primarily an art museum is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, although geologists, paleontologists, scientists and archeologists certainly see some of the museum's exhibition pieces as works of art. (Ditto thousands of wide-eyed school kids who visit throughout the year.) Current touring exhibits include "Faberge: A Brilliant Vision," "Gems of the Medici" and "Maya 2012: Prophecy becomes History." There are plenty of lectures, classes and trips to add to the fun.

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

Nobody does blockbuster exhibitions better than the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Unfortunately, the expense of mounting such exhibits means most of the MFAH's visiting shows require a separate entry fee. Some are as much as $20. Ouch! We understand that's a reflection of the economic reality of today's museum world, not the MFAH's desire to gouge art lovers. And we have yet to see a major exhibit there that wasn't worth the extra fee. Current shows include "Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado," "Picasso Black and White" and "Arts of Islamic Lands: Selections from The al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait." Each of them a must-see.

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

The Station Museum of Contemporary Art won the number three spot on our list with its recent exhibit of mostly local artists, "Houston Times Eight [HX8]." The show included work by our favorite street artist Daniel Anguilu, along with Robert Pruitt, Prince Varughese Thomas, Forrest Prince, Serena Lin Bush and Floyd Newsum. Past shows include "Iraqi Artists in Exile" and solo exhibits by Mel Chin and Carlos Runcie-Tanaka.

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

The award-winning Menil Collection's Montrose-area campus is an architectural delight. It's amazing permanent collection and exciting visiting exhibits make the Menil Collection a favorite for local art lovers. Past exhibits have included shows by Maurizio Cattelan, Joaquín Torres-García and Willem de Kooning. Upcoming shows include "Byzantine Things in the World," "Late Surrealism" and "Art and Truth: Gandhi and Images of Nonviolence." If you have time to visit only one museum in Houston, make it the Menil Collection.

1.The John C. Freeman Weather Museum 5104 Caroline, 713-529-3076

Surprise, it isn't a multi-building art museum with internationally known staff and a long litany of mega-shows that takes our number one spot. It's the John C. Freeman Weather Museum. We think of as the little museum that could. Sitting in the shadow of its bigger, shinier cousins, the Weather Museum is housed in what was once a private two-story home. Each room downstairs has been transformed into an exhibit area, the most popular of which might be the WRC TV Studio, which features a camera, teleprompter, lights and a green screen. Visitors can become faux meteorologists and tape themselves delivering a weather report (you have a choice of intense weather conditions to report on). There's also the Cyclone Room, with its own cyclone chamber; the Weather History exhibit, with antique meteorology equipment; a theater with a variety of videos; and the Weather Wizard Corner, with demonstrations by museum meteorologists. Given Houston's history with extreme weather, it makes sense that we have the country's first weather museum, don't you think?

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