A Christmas Break Escape to the Florida Museum of Natural History
December launched upon us like a cast net over unsuspecting wild shiners, and now we face Christmas in only a few short weeks. The Florida highways have filled with snowbirds escaping the blustery north (flurries in Michigan already), making it a challenging time to navigate the Florida traffic. For a quick escape during those hectic Christmas shopping trips – and a short drive from the ever popular Oaks Mall in the University of Florida town of Gainesville, Florida, awaits one of North Central Florida’s hidden gems: The Florida Museum of Natural History.
From Butterfly Rainforests to Wicked Plants and even a limestone cave, the Florida Museum of Natural History has fun for the whole family. Entrance to the main museum is free (but there is a donation box for donations), and there are many interactive exhibits to explore, boardwalks and paths through diverse Eco-systems like a hammock bog and tidal marsh, to Florida fossils and even the interior of a Calusa chieftains hut- during a ceremony!
Visiting the Butterfly Rainforest
The Butterfly Rainforest is a trail through an enclosed atrium over streams, by waterfalls and past botanical wonders, with an incredible amount of butterflies roaming. It IS worth the extra fee, and children (and adults) of all ages love it. Unfortunately, strollers are NOT allowed in the Butterfly Rainforest. Florida residents & UF students $11; non-residents $13: kids 3-17 $6. Senior discounts also available.
Last Chance to Check Out the Wicked Plants Exhibit
There is still time to catch the “Wicked Plants” Exhibit. The dark and nefarious world of plants around us runs until January 15th. One of the neatest exhibits we have experienced, my kids and their friends loved it as much as me. You can read more about our trip through the spooky interactive exhibit at Wicked Plants. The Wicked Plants exhibit is an extra fee and is great for older kids- tween/teen. It may be too scary for young children. Florida residents $6.50; non-residents $7.50; Kids 3-17 $4.50. Senior discounts available.
**If your child gets an A in Science, bring their latest report card for an free exhibit entrance**
- The Florida Museum of Natural History is located at :3215 Hull Road, Gainesville, FL 32611-2710
- The Museum is Closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
- Parking is $4- cash only. So bring your change.
**A note on parking** The museum is located on the University of Florida campus, and they have their own fleet of traffic police who love to issue tickets. I know this from personal experience. Trying to figure out the confusing Red/Green/Yellow/Every color under the rainbow parking system needs a UF course in itself. Whew! Save yourself the hassle, park in the official Museum parking lot and pay the parking fee.
Check out our Florida Museum of Natural History YouTube video:
Tips on adding to your Florida Museum of Natural History adventure:
- On our last trip there we started noticing the snakes hidden in several displays and kept a count and photo log of snakes. This would work with birds and fish as well.
- If you visit the Butterfly Rainforest, be sure to pick up the butterfly species card on the way in to identify the different butterflies.
- Also in the Butterfly Rainforest, keep an eye out for the tiny birds that fly and roam around. They are adorable!
- There is a little known wild flower and butterfly garden behind the museum. Follow the path between the Florida Museum and the Harn Art Museum by the bamboo (to the right of the museum main entrance) to reach the outdoor butterfly garden. It has some eclectic art as well to enjoy, and it’s FREE!
- A series of nature trails run through the various different ecological communities around the museum. Explore areas like scrub pine, hammock, a meadow and even the wetland trail. Access these short trails ( 1/4 mile or less) by heading down the boardwalk to the left of the museum main entrance.
- There are picnic tables outside the museum, so bring a picnic lunch to enjoy!
- While there IS a gift shop, there is no food available on site. The Harn Museum next door does have a cafe. You can reach it on the path to the outside butterfly garden by the bamboo.
- There are many places to eat within driving distance of the museum. Take a left onto SW 34th Street and a right onto Archer Road and you will hit restaurant central, from Bonefish Grill to Panda Express. The traffic can get crazy in that area, so stay safe!
- Hiking with Gators on Gainesville’s La Chua Trail
- Kayking Dunnellon’s Rainbow River
- Zip-Lining Across Canyons in Ocala
- The Top 5 Places to Find a Manatee
- 11 Family Fun Adventures in Tampa