So you want to take the kids somewhere special but want to make sure the trip is educational, too? Then take your children to one of the many museums, nature centers, and landmarks in and around the Cedar Park area. Being right next to Austin means you have access to dozens of educational destinations that feature a variety of fascinating subjects. Here are six of Crème de la Crème of Cedar Park on Palmer Lane‘s favorite educational destinations around Cedar Park, Texas.
Austin Steam Train Association
“Austin Steam Train” licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr by Nedarus
Located right here in Cedar Park is the Austin Steam Train Association. This nonprofit railroad runs a multi-car passenger locomotive with restored vintage interiors, and its mission is to educate people about the rich history of steam locomotive transportation in Central Texas and throughout the country. You can book tickets for you and your family to take a round-trip excursion throughout the region for up to 2.5 hours. On your trip, you can expect to learn more about the car you’re seated in, including its history and restoration. You also get to see local landmarks, like the Association’s historic depots.
The Austin Steam Train Association hosts these excursions throughout the year, but they also hold special events during the winter holiday season. The North Pole Flyer train excursion involves meet-and-greets with Santa, story time, and other fun Christmas activities to take part in during your journey.
The Austin Aquarium features many interactive and hands-on activities that get you and your kids more involved in learning about the fascinating animals that call the aquarium home. In addition to exploring the aquarium to view and learn about water-loving mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, you can meet real-life mermaids, too.
You can also participate in one of many animal encounters; pet and hold Ring-tailed or Red Ruffed lemurs, get up close and personal with a sloth, and feed stingrays, sharks, tortoises, otters, tropical fish, and iguanas. Or, get to the aquarium early for the Morning Rounds experience where you get to watch the caretakers feed the animals, clean the exhibits, and otherwise care for the creatures. This would be a great educational experience for any aspiring veterinarians, zoologists, or other scientists in your family.
Thinkery is an interactive science center teeming with cool exhibits that explore all sorts of interesting science topics in a fun way that sparks kids’ imaginations. Train Town is a train-loving toddler’s paradise, with different stations to run their trains along different tracks and play with other kiddos. The Innovators’ Workshop features creative problem-solving puzzles that test cause and effect, kinetics, and other concepts. In the Spark Shop, you and your kids can tinker and create art or a machine. And at the Fresh! Farmers Market, you and your littlest ones can learn about nutrition and food production.
While there’s plenty of space to spread out across the near dozen exploration zones, Thinkery also sets aside time slots so the youngest learners and their families can explore and enjoy the exhibits only with kids their age. So, if you have an infant or child up to age 3, you can book tickets for the Baby Bloomers session.
Austin Nature & Science Center
The Austin Nature & Science Center features dozens of hands-on exhibits that explore the animals, habitats, and natural history of Central Texas. Here you’ll find indoor and outdoor animal exhibits featuring birds of prey like owls and hawks and even native animals that can no longer live in the wild. You can hunt for dinosaur fossils and learn all about paleontology in the Dino Pit, and then inspect furs, rocks, bones, insects, and more in the Naturalist Workshop.
There are also outdoor areas where you can get fresh air and exercise while learning. The Human Sundial is part-science, part-art and allows you to stand on a grounded sundial sculpture and tell the time. The Pond Walk is a relaxing stroll around the on-site pond, and you can learn about the facility’s ponds and the animals, like turtles and fish, that call these waterways home. Be sure to visit the Pollinator Gardens, where you can see beautiful flowers and the butterflies and other insects that help keep them alive.
Inner Space Cavern
The Inner Space Cavern is a cave system that had previously been unexplored for over 10,000 years until the 1960s when the Texas Highway Department discovered it. Now, you and your kids can tour this expansive and fascinating underground structure and learn about the geological history of the region. Get to know the different rock and cave formations, hear about prehistoric fossils that were found, and enjoy the amazing sights and sounds of large, cavernous rooms and narrow passageways.
Depending on your children’s ages and how adventurous you are, you can choose between a few different tour options that include age-appropriate and risk-averse features. Just don’t miss out on the zip line!
The Science Mill
The Science Mill is a science center that focuses on educating children on the subjects and career paths within STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art, and math. This educational destination is a farther drive than others on this list, but it’s well worth the day trip. That’s because this facility features more than 50 exhibits that explore a wide variety of concepts. In addition to exhibits, they also hold educational seminars and events to teach children about the different careers they can pursue in STEAM fields.
What sets this science center apart is that there aren’t any instructions on the exhibits; you and your kids work together to apply the information in the exhibit and experiment to figure out solutions. However, there are helpful staff members who can also guide you through any interactive exhibits that stump you. This approach to exploring the center and the exhibits ensure that you have a unique experience, are challenged and are more likely to remember the concepts you’ve learned.
So there you have it, six of the best educational destinations in and around Cedar Park, Texas. Did we miss any of your family’s favorite spots for learning and fun? If so, contact us to let us know. We’ll be sure to add your favorites to our growing list!