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Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville

North Florida, FL, USA


Usually I don't like Natural History museums but the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville is an exception! Its exhibits are unusual and modern, teaching visitors about interesting aspects of Florida geology and wildlife. Colorful and lifelike exhibits in a huge, light-filled building reveal life in a hammock forest (kids can lift up the rocks to peek beneath them), Florida caverns with stalactities and stalacmites (kids can go in a dark cave and climb into a hidden part), and coastal environments where sea turtles lay their eggs. An exhibit on huge fossils and bones found in Florida is lit up magically with colored lights in a darkened hall. For some reason these last two exhibits don't have anything for kids to touch or manipulate (why not let the lights switch on and off by buttons kids can push?). Without interactive things at the bottom of exhibits, adults can't read the plaques because kids get bored and run off! Museums that think of this are the best I've been to.
An exquisite series of halls show butterflies from every region of the world, pinned. Kids can also watch as scientists work with live cocoons behind glass. The pinned butterflies are luminous and incredible, and though it's sad that they are pinned, it is truly beautiful and makes you appreciate the wonder of nature. This makes you long to enter the butterfly rainforest, which is well worth it!
The butterfly rainforest is the best I've been to! It is filled with the loveliest butterflies, and the way it is laid out makes the butterflies flitter about you rather than fly far off. There are little alcoves of delicious flowers for the butterflies to explore and you can stand there and see them up close. The ones with blue wings are gorgeous, as are all of them, of so many unique designs. There is a waterfall and stream, and the loveliest flowers (this in and of itself is a joy to see). 
The gift shop inside the museum has some special things that kids will love. Butterfly keepsakes, garden decorations, and stained glass galore! And butterfly wings, wands, and rings for girls to wear.
The museum is near the lively red-brick University of Florida campus, next door to another free and modern museum, Harn Museum of Art.
After your visit, eat at Reggae Shack Cafe on University Ave, for some delicious Jamaican curries and smoothies, in a clean and colorful atmosphere.
While in Gainesville, make sure you walk down into Devil's Millhopper Sinkhole- it's gorgeous! And take a 45 minute drive to Ichetucknee Springs for a blissful swim!
Another nearby attraction is Haile House, a historic house where the owner, who was a bit nuts from the heat I think, wrote on the walls. Skip on this attraction, especially in summer, because the house is not very well cared for and the mustiness and heat inside makes you feel sick. The tour is long and there is no air-conditioning.
Other butterfly conservatories to check out are Butterfly World in Coconut Creek and Wings of the Tropics at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden in Miami.

Photo Gallery

The butterflies are very much up close at the rainforest area!

A butterfly sits atop an orange flower.

Pink tropical flowers...what a delight!

Looking up in the butterfly rainforest garden.

Pink leaves!

A butterfly with stripes like a flag!

The lush butterfly rainforest garden.

Flowers aren't that common in Florida so this is a treat!

Light catches the leaves of a palm frond, and stream below.

Blue-winged butterfly.

Stripey butterfly and stripey leaves...nature at its finest!

Pink tropical flower and shiny leaves.

A lovely black and yellow butterfly!

Monarch butterfly exhibit.

Butterfly wings and wands in the gift shop.

Butterflies from Florida and all over the world.

Giant colorful butterflies.

Luminous butterflies that awe you.

A scientist taking care of the butterflies and cocoons behind the glass.

Prehistoric sloth.

Gavial-like crocodile fossil.

Extinct Florida animal bones.

The Florida fossil gallery, which is very impressive, but not interactive for kids.

Rendition of a Florida prehistoric animal.

Sand dollars!

Mastodon jaws!

Florida coastal environment exhibit, with turtle eggs below sand.

Florida hammock forest exhibit, with rocks you can lift.

A boy looks up in awe at a prehistoric animal.

The entry hall is pretty.


This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.

Florida Museum of Natural History is located at 3215 Hull Rd, Gainesville FL 32611, call (325) 846-2000.
Hours are M-S 10-5, Sn 1-5. Closed Thanksgiving (Fourth Thurs in November) and Dec 25. Closes early at 1pm on Dec 24.
Entrance is free! Entrance to butterfly garden is $10.50 for adults, $9 for seniors, FL students, and FL residents, $6 for children aged 3-17, and free for UF students.
Reggae Shack Cafe, 619 W. University Ave, Gainesville FL 32601, call (352) 377-5464.
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