Austin Nature and Science Center

Location: Central,
In/Outdoor: Both
Activity level: Moderate

Features: The Austin Nature and Science Center provides education and recreation with exhibits featuring rescued animals, a dino pit, a nature trail, and an indoor lab and educational exhibit.

Cost for a family of four: free; $2 adult, $1 child donations are suggested

Best for ages: 2 and up

The Experience: The Austin Nature and Science Center seems to be a place with several different personalities. The displays in the small museum exhibit area when you enter the visitor's pavilion are mostly underwhelming. However, the pond outside has a pretty waterfall that can be viewed best through the window of the visitor's pavilion. The other cool feature of the visitor's center is the honeybee exhibit by the door. It is amazing how industrial those little bees are. When you leave the center, you walk around the pond, always rather murky and swampy, but now made murkier, swampier, and much smaller by the drought. It is possible to see turtles and fish in the green water, and there is a pretty trail all around the pond. The dino pit represents the new, stylish side of the nature center. It features several large dinosaur reproduction fossils that are buried with sand each morning so that kids can come unearth them during the day. Informational signs tell what kinds of bones may be found, and lots of shovels and brushes are provided. There are dinosaur footprints in the rocks to follow, and a cool dinosaur ribcage to walk underneath (a good photo spot). There is a covered seating area off to the side, but the dinosaur pits themselves are not covered and, except for some of the outer edges, are in full sun. We saw many kids, including our own, start digging and then stop after three or four minutes, dragged into inertia by the incessantly pounding sun overhead. Something about the sand seems to attract extreme heat; even when we have gone there in the spring and fall we have come away hot and sweaty. (We will have to try again in January.) Leaving the dino pit, you can walk on the stepping stone trail easily right now, because there is no actual water in the stream to cross. The rescued mammals are in cages above the pond, including animals such a a coyote, raccoons, a bobcat, and ducks. Most of the animals are long-term residents and represent the traditional flavor of the center. We enjoyed reading the animals' stories that were posted for each one, including their names and how they came to be at the center. Sad tales of unwise pet choices and animals getting hit by cars abounded, but it seemed to make us feel closer to the animals when we knew their history and could call them by name. The small wonders exhibit nearby is an indoor room with snakes, lizards, tarantulas, a centipede, and other smaller animals. Outside the small wonders exhibit is another of our favorite features: the roof is covered with dozens of hanging model bats. When you press the button, you can hear the noises that bats make. Near the small wonders exhibit is a trail that leads to the birds of prey exhibit. Various large birds of prey, mostly hawks and owls, are located in large cages, grouped by species. Again, there are informational signs. The personality of this part of the center is peaceful and quiet, a true nature spot. There is a nature trail you can keep following past the birds of prey exhibit if desired. There is also a beautiful scenic overlook right off the beginning of the path. No matter which of these personalities suits you best, you are sure to find something you like here.
Before you go: Bring water, sunscreen, and a camera.

How to go cheaper: Not possible.

Birthday Parties: The center offers birthday parties only during the school year, with a wildlife or dinosaur theme. More information will be available during the fall. The center also offers various summer camps.

Accessibility: Coming soon.

Fun Factor: 7/10
Yum Factor: N/A
Value Factor: N/A

The Lowdown: A fun, educational, and free way to spend time with your family.

Hours: Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 12-5

Website: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/ansc

Address: 301 Nature Center Dr., Austin (in the northwest part of Zilker Park) Map: Google Map Phone: (512) 327-8181