The Museum of Life and Science in Durham (also known as “MLS”) is THE outdoor place to be in Bull City. This 84-acre space is one of the state’s best children’s museums, but great for people of all ages.
The museum’s extensive indoor and outdoor sections make it a fun time of the year, rain or shine. And if you haven’t been yet, join us as we share our favorite things about this go-to spot in Durham.
This post is also a part of our series on Durham and other awesome places to visit in Central North Carolina. We originally created it on July 16, 2019. It has been maintained and updated, as of December 23, 2019.
Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC
For quick info about MLS (including hours and admission info), please scroll to the bottom of this post.
Before we get into the things we love about this museum, we thought it’d be important to share a few tips.
First, I’d recommend arriving early, meaning when the museum opens (9:00 for members & 10:00 for non-members). The place starts filling up at around 11:00 and seemingly clears out at around 3:30 or 4:00.
That gives you an hour at the beginning and end of each day to enjoy the museum sans crowds.
Prepare for the Outdoors
If you’re spending time outside, bring bug spray. The outdoor exhibits are extremely well maintained but are also a great representation of the outdoors, so prepare accordingly.
Oh, and one last thing, if you’re planning to enjoy outdoor exhibits like Into the Mist or the stream near Hideaway Woods, bring a change of clothes for your little one and yourself, too!
Okay, now it’s time to share our favorite things about this museum.
Daily and Monthly Programs
There are daily programs throughout the year at the museum. For example, you can meet the animal keepers and watch special programs.
One thing we can’t leave it out is “Community Day,” when admission prices are waived for Durham residents. We also included that among our favorite free things to do in Durham.
The museum’s indoor exhibits have just as much to offer as the outdoors. See if you can find your house from the satellite mapping table in the Aerospace section or get up close with the wildlife of North Carolina.
Either way, something for every age and interest awaits inside.
Play to Learn
Play to Learn is where we found ourselves when first bringing our little one to the Museum of Life and Science. This section has a toddler and a baby exploration area. And in the winter, you can usually find us on the climbing wall.
The museum also has a really fun Aerospace exhibit. Here, you can explore a satellite mapping table, look at displays on loan from the Smithsonian, and climb inside a command module.
It’s great for kids and even space nerds like my husband.
One of our favorite indoor exhibits is Carolina Wildlife. You can see a variety of animals local to our state, including alligators, muskrats, and barred owls.
There are more fun indoor exhibits at the Museum of Life and Science to explore. If you’ve been before, do you have a favorite that you’d like to share?
There’s plenty of outdoor space to explore at the Museum of Life and Science! Thankfully, North Carolina has pretty mild winters so we can spend most of the year outside here.
Ellerbe Creek Railway
Each day (weather cooperating), the CP Huntington replica train runs through the outdoor nature park and you can hear its whistle throughout most of the day. It’s a 10-minute train ride but our favorite, after testing quite a few throughout North Carolina and beyond.
Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. However, special programs like the Santa Train and Pumpkin Patch require advanced ticket purchases.
For more information about daily, monthly, and special programs, all you have to do is check the museum’s schedule, which is updated regularly here.
One of the most unique features of the Museum of Life and Science is the Hideaway Woods. The treehouse is the main attraction, surrounded by a variety of walkways, slides, and more fun.
Next to the treehouse is a cool stream, perfect to cool off in during hot summer days. With a play zone for kids under three, this section is attractive for everyone.
Don’t miss getting up close and personal with creatures from the Cretaceous period in the museum’s Dinosaur Trail. Not only are there life-sized dinos, but future archeologists can dig for 5-to-23 million-year-old marine fossils anywhere from our own Carolina shores.
Catch the Wind
Catch the Wind is a fun collection of outdoor exhibits where you can guide a sailboat, launch vapor rings, and explore in more ways.
Into the Mist
Into the Mist is very popular, especially on hot days.
There are tunnels, landforms, and rocks work with push-button mist fields to simulate humidity and wind working together over small valleys. And if you brought a little one, this is a great spot for them to cool off and enjoy the droplets of water.
Earth Movies is an awesome exhibit that recreates our changing planet. With a waterfall and plenty of sand and mud, this place is perfect for the kids and adults to get dirty.
Did we already mention the need for a change of clothes? Here’s another reason why you should bring one for everyone!
Butterflies and Insects
Museum of Life and Science’s Magic Wings Butterfly House is one of the largest on the East Coast. Inside, there’s a 35-foot tall glass conservatory, hundreds of tropical butterflies, and 250 species of tropical plants.
Butterflies are released daily by their Lepidopterist and definitely an experience worth witnessing!
The Bayer Insectarium
In the same building, the Bayer Insectarium displays rare and exotic insects from around the world, including The Philippines, Central America and more.
You’ll find plenty of outdoor wildlife at the Museum of Life and Science inside the Explore the Wild section and their Farmyard.
The museum serves as ambassadors for the Red Wolf Species Survival Program. Red wolves are one of the rarest animals in the world and the SSP gives the museum recommendations to ensure their “long-term diversity and stability.”
Did you know that the Museum of Life and Science has four bears? And that it doesn’t get cold enough in North Carolina for them to hibernate?
They may sleep for several days during the winter or be a little slower, but unlike other colder parts of the US, bears are more alert.
Museum of Life and Science is also home to seven ring-tailed lemurs. These social animals can put on quite the show as they climb around, balance themselves on ropes, or just hang around and groom themselves.
Alpaca some snacks for The Farmyard, which is a great way to say hello to traditional farm animals. Here, children (and you) can learn more about what these animals’ daily lives look like.
Two Miniature Hereford cows, donkey, a family of alpacas, pigs, chickens, and even a rabbit or two live here.
Is there a favorite part of the Museum’s outdoor section that stands out to you? Let us know in the comments section!
Food at Life and Science
Whether you pack a lunch or grab a delicious meal from the Sprout Café, spending an entire day at the Museum of Life and Science is definitely possible!
If you’re bringing food from home, make sure it comes in resealable food containers. Parents and adults can stay fueled up with healthy options or enjoy locally roasted Joe Van Gogh coffee from the Elements Coffee Bar.
And if you’re planning a field trip, the Sprout Café can accommodate your group with affordable lunch box options!
If you live in Durham or plan to come more than twice a year with your family, membership is absolutely worth the price.
Members can enter the museum an hour early, and you’ll also get special discounts to camps, classes, and super fun after-hours adult-only events!
The Museum of Life and Science is a member of the Association of Zoo & Aquariums. This means that members can show their card at other are museums and zoos across the country and gain free access or discounted rate.
Camps and Classes
Various science-based programs are offered throughout the year at the Museum of Life and Science, including a Summer Camp, Spring Break Camp, Homeschool Program, and more.
This is something we’re going to look into as our little one gets older, but we’d love to know if you’ve tried something like this before.
See Why We Love the Museum of Life and Science?
Do you see why we love the Museum of Life and Science now? This place is perfect for any time of year, whether it’s hot and sticky, rainy, or cold.
If you’re there with a little one, this museum provides so many great opportunities for them to interact, learn, and enjoy themselves. And you can join the fun, too!
Have you ever visited Durham’s Museum of Life and Science? What do you think of it? What’s your favorite part? And if you haven’t been yet, what’s the first part you’d like to explore?
Museum of Life and Science Quick Info
Address: 433 W Murray Ave, Durham, NC 27704
- Labor Day to Memorial Day: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Closed Mondays
- Memorial Day to Labor Day: Open Every Day from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Note: Museum Members can Enter at 9:00 am.
- Members and Children Ages 2 & Under: FREE
- General: $21
- Seniors & Military: $19
- Children Ages 3 to 12: $16
- Arrive Early
- Bring a Change of Clothes for Everyone!
- Pack Bug Spray
- Enjoy the Museum Rain or Shine (Indoor and Outdoor Exhibits)
- Have Fun!