If you’re looking for a great day out for you and all the family, you’ll not do much better than the Austin Nature and Science Centre (ANSC). Offering a range of nature-based programs, interactive exhibits, and educational activities, the center is guaranteed to get you learning, having fun and engaging with nature. Located in the northwest corner of Zilker Park just off Stratford Drive, the center is open from Monday- Saturday between the hours of 9am to 5pm, and from noon-5pm on Sundays. With free admission and enough on offer to keep even the most demanding of visitors entertained, there’s no reason not to make the ANSC your next calling point. If you need any more convincing, keep reading to discover more.
1. It won’t cost a dime
The only thing better than a great day out is a free one. At the Austin Nature & Science Center, you’ll get both. If you’re an individual or family looking to check out the exhibits or take a tour of the site, you’ll not have to part with a dime to get in. Organized groups are less lucky, but at just $1 per head, the cost of admission is unlikely to break the bank.
2. You can dig for fossils
If your kids are reluctant to spend the day at an “educational facility”, say the words “dino pit’ and watch those frowns turn to smiles while in Austin. The ANSC’s outdoor paleontology exhibit was developed in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin´s Texas Memorial Museum, the Austin Community Foundation, and the architectural firm of Graeber, Simmons & Cowen, to give a unique opportunity to learn more about paleontology while experiencing it hands-on. With dinosaur trackways, an observation deck, and 19 oil paintings giving a hint of some of the fossil casts that can be found in the pit, the exhibit gives kids (and grownups) the perfect chance to release their inner Indiana Jones and get digging.
3. It offers access to the Zilker Nature Preserve
The ANSC is situated right next door to the Zilker Nature Preserve, a stunning area of natural parkland that offers the perfect opportunity to pull on your hiking boots and get exploring. If you want to get down and dirty with nature, head for the trailhead near the Visitor's Pavilion or at the back of the Birds of Prey exhibit during the ANSC's operating hours to access the park.
4. It hosts regular special events
Even if you’ve visited the ANSC before, the seasonal special events should be enough to entice you back for more. The events (which include such celebrations as the Austin Nature Day and the Fall Festival) are the perfect opportunity to experience the best the ANSC has to offer in a fun, family-friendly environment.
5. It’s primely located
Once you’re done exploring the delights on offer at the ANSC, you’ll find a host of other treats awaiting you on its doorstep. If you’re a fan of horticulture, don’t miss a visit to the nearby Zilker Botanical Garden, a spectacularly beautiful spot filled with statuesque trees, creative water features, natural grottoes and such “gardens within a garden” as the magnificent Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden, the fragrant Mabel Davis Rose Garden, and the fascinating Hartman Prehistoric Garden.
6. It’s got a Birds of Prey exhibit
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the majesty of an eagle, get up close and personal with an owl, or look a hawk in the eye, the ANSC is your perfect opportunity to do it. The center provides a place of refuge for injured Central Texas birds, providing them with a safe, secure place to live and all the medical attention, quality food, daily care, and grooming they need to flourish. Through its Birds of Prey exhibit, the center allows visitors to witness the magnificent creatures up close, as well as providing the opportunity to learn more about them in the process.
7. There’s a butterfly garden
What could be a better way to spend a few hours than in the company of some of the country’s most beautiful butterflies? Release your inner child and delight in the colorful occupants of the ANSC’s Monarch Waystation, a garden that’s been specially created to provide the perfect habitat and breeding ground for the stunning Monarch Butterfly.
8. You can learn about the nanoworld
With the support of the National Science Foundation, the ANSC has created a 400 square foot exhibition that allows visitors to explore nanophenomena, its applications, and its implications. Find out how material displays different qualities and behaviors at different sizes, get the chance to build a life-size model of a carbon nanotube, or see how you fare at building and balancing a stable nanoworld. Whether your 5 or 65, you’re guaranteed to learn something new and have lots of fun in the process.
9. It’s a hands-on experience
One of the best things about the ANSC is that it allows you to fully engage with the learning experience. Touch an exhibit in most museums and you’ll get a stern telling-off or even a fine. At the ANSC, you’re positively encouraged to feel, pick up and engage with the various specimens on display. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the Naturalist Workshop, a space that warmly invites you to touch, weigh, smell and inspect its range of fur, rock, bones, plants, insects, and fossils.
10. There’s a forest trail
If you’re ever wanted to find out more about trees, the Forest Trail at the ANSC is your place to do it. The permanent, self-guided exhibit offers a tour of 45 tree specimens, each accompanied by signage (in both English and Spanish) identifying the tree by both its common and botanical name, as well as giving lots of interesting “tree trivia”. While it aims to entertain, the exhibit also intends to inform, serving as a useful reminder that before choosing to plant a tree, it’s best to do some research into its preferred habitat and growing habits to ensure the best possible outcome and avoid any potential pitfalls.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson