Florida Museum of Natural History
Florida Museum of Natural History-Exhibits, Hull Road, Gainesville, FL, USA
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday 1-5 p.m. Sunday Open year-round. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
indoor-activities, museums, fun-paid-activities
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The Florida Museum of Natural History is a free, hands-on, immersive, and fun introduction to natural sciences with a butterfly rainforest!
While the museum itself is free, the butterfly rainforest is an additional cost ($14 for adults, $7 for children with discounts available for military and FL residents). As soon as you go through the main entrance, you are entering a wide-open lobby with an augmented reality screen revealing that you are walking among mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and snakes.
As you walk along to the left side, you will encounter the Children’s Discovery Zone. As the name says, this is a hands-on discovery area. Park your stroller at the entrance and let your little one explore it all. We went with my parents and my kids and we all discovered something new there! From learning about types of fossils to local fish to life cycles of insects and plants the experience runs the gamut of science subjects. We spent over an hour in the discovery area alone, and if this is the only part of the museum you see, it will have been worth the trip.
On the other side of the museum, there is a walk-through exhibit featuring life-size (and larger) models of prehistoric Florida wildlife and indigenous people. The section on caves is a low-light area, but not too scary for those little ones who don’t like the dark. The butterfly rainforest, while not stroller-friendly, is worth the money. There are hundreds of butterflies in a large, lush tropical garden. There are plenty of docents who are glad to answer your questions. And, if you are lucky like I was, a butterfly may even land on you!
But, even if you don’t want to pay for the rainforest itself, there is plenty to see just outside of it. They have a butterfly nursery where dozens of chrysalises hang, awaiting the hatching of the butterflies. During our visit, at least four were just hatching. There is a two-story collection of butterfly specimens lining the hallways as well. Bathroom facilities are easily accessible, but there isn’t a restaurant so be prepared with snacks if your kids get hangry like mine. There is a parking lot immediately outside the museum as well as a parking garage nearby. Parking was free for us, but be sure to read the signs and ensure you are not in a lot requiring a permit. All in all, a great way to spend a rainy day or to escape from the heat of the summer, with a little learning for everyone!