Road Trip: Perot Museum of Nature and Science

Although we are lucky to live in Austin where we have so much fun stuff to do, there is certainly something to be said for a road trip. For most kids, simply the idea of staying somewhere other than your own bed is thrilling (can you say hotel pool?), and chances are, you have friends in other cities that you can visit while you explore someplace new. Even if it’s only for a weekend (or, even, a full day), there is plenty within driving distance of Central Texas.

I’m lucky to have a great friend (and one of my bridesmaids!) who lives in the Dallas suburbs with her family. We try to make it up there at least once a year, and since we didn’t travel to see family during winter break, it gave us the perfect excuse to have a mini-vacation, visit my friend and her family and check out the newest addition to the museum lineup there: the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

The Perot opened in December, and yes, you guessed right if you wondered if there is some connection to former Presidential candidate Ross Perot (in fact, Perot’s five children donated $50 million in honor of their parents to make the museum a reality). The building itself as an impressive addition to the surrounding area, with its modernist look and a glass tube placed on the diagonal on the side of the building which serves as your elevator view up to the fourth floor. In addition to what’s inside, there is ample outdoor space for kids to explore, complete with xylophone-like instruments and an as-of-early January incomplete pond, complete with larger-than-life-sized frogs.

Looking down on the Then and Now Hall from the Hall of Birds.

Here are our observations and helpful hints to plan your visit:

  • Tickets are timed, starting at 10am daily. Due to a high demand, tickets were selling out when we visited, so we made sure to reserve ours a few days out. When we arrived (granted, this was a month after the Museum opened, and during winter break) all tickets were sold out until 5:00pm that day. The Museum still seemed pretty full, but there had been a power outage the night before and the Museum had to close early, so I’m guessing a lot of folks had to return when we were there.
  • Parking is paid and is located a 5-minute walk away. Just something to keep in mind in case you visit during colder months and have to plan for a coat or need a stroller.
  • The exhibits were great. It was a good variety to appeal to all ages and interests. Perhaps what surprised me most was how much appeals to older kids and adults. The Museum had a lot of touch screens at kid-level which our “digital natives” naturally seemed to gravitate towards. The museum was very hands on, which makes it very family-friendly.
  • I’d suggest starting on the bottom floor. The layout encourages you to go straight to the 4th floor, but the bottom floor may have been our favorite. First, there were the musical steps, which was super cool. Then we made our way to the Sports Hall. Near the entry is a wall which lights up as you touch it, so of course we had to stop there. The Sports Hall was full of interesting exhibits, but perhaps the favorites were getting to run on a life-sized track against a virtual T. rex, cheetah, gymnast or pro football player; “scanning” a body using a variety of rays (x-rays, CT scan, gamma rays, etc.) and having our sports moves filmed so we could compare them against the pros. On the same floor is the Children’s Museum, which was designed for kids 5 and under. Since we had a four-year-old with us, we were able to go in, and I’m glad we did. It was a small(er) space, but it was packed with a bunch of cool stuff. Our kids’ favorite part was an area designed like the Dallas skyline with conveyer belts to transport soft “bricks” from one area to another. Our two almost-seven-year-olds probably could have done this for hours, if we did not tear them away. My friend remarked that her four-year-old could have easily spent his whole time there. We did see the docents ask a few obviously older kids (siblings, I assume) to leave when it was crowded and/or when they were too rambunctious.
  • Since we had 10:30am tickets, we were ready for lunch after visiting the bottom floor. The café offered a great selection of healthy and appealing food, but it seemed a bit cramped. Granted, we were there at the peak of lunchtime, but we couldn’t find four seats together so we took our food outside. This actually turned out to be a great plan since the weather was nice and the kids could play while we all finished up.
  • After lunch, we decided to start at the top floor and work our way down. After waiting a while with a few other befuddled guests, we ditched the seemingly inoperable elevator (not the cool one on the side of the building, but one in the interior) in favor of some stairs to visit the Rose Hall of Birds. Although our kids weren’t patient enough to wait in line, we enjoyed watching others put on glasses and enter into the bird flight simulator and the kids got to experience hands-on what it would be like to have different types of beaks. There were also screens where you could Build Your Own Bird, but that required a login, which turned me off a bit and which the kids didn’t want to wait around for. Since the Hall of Birds was constructed a bit like a loft area, we pretty quickly moved on to the fourth level.
  • The fourth level housed the Then and How Hall and the Expanding Universe Hall. The Then and Now Hall houses some of the things you expect at a natural science museum: a T. rex skeleton and other fossils. In our frenetic drive to see all we could, we passed through this area quickly, but if you have a dino lover, I’m sure you could spend some time here (also, if you have a wee dino lover, the Children’s Museum has a small outdoor “dino pit” that we were too cold to check out — plus, we weren’t sure about carrying around sand the rest of the visit). I would have thought the kids would have spent some time in the Expanding Universe Hall, but it was pretty packed when we went there.
  • After the lower level, the kids seemed to enjoy the second level the most. After briefly stopping at the Discovering Life Hall, the kids were drawn to the Engineering and Innovation Hall. Although we probably spent an hour there, we barely scratched the surface. The kids spent time building a model skyscraper to withstand an earthquake (although, in truth, they spent all the time on building, and then moved right onto building a track which I am not sure what the significance was.) Then the kids spent time putting pieces of paper up a tube meant to simulate a tornado and did some moving by a wall with sensors which turned in response to how you move in front of a screen. We had hoped to race robots, but the kids were fried by that point. We passed a bunch of exhibits on the way out that looked really great. This part of the Museum was probably the busiest and most crowded, so that did take a little wind out of our sails.
  • My last observation is that there were quite a few things that were in various states of disrepair throughout the Museum. I couldn’t tell if things simply weren’t ready by Opening Day or if some of the exhibits didn’t work out as planned, but quite a few had signs saying they were “working the bugs out”. This was not really something the kids noticed, until we ran to something that was free of other patrons and we realized why. Just an observation and perhaps a recognition that hands free museums get a lot of love!

Here is just some of the fun stuff you can find on the Lower Level.

Where I hope to spend the most time our next visit: Level 2.

I think we could visit 3 more times and feel like we covered all the exhibits, which I think is pretty great. I’d definitely start at the Engineering and Innovation Hall on our next visit, and I’m sure my almost-seven-year-old will get even more out of it when he’s older. I’d probably try to slow things down next time, since we were all caught up in the excitement of our visit. All that said, I’m really glad we made it and am already looking forward to a future visit!

Have you made it to the Perot Museum yet? If so, what were your impressions?

Disclosure: LiveMom received no compensation to run this post and Nicole attended as a guest of her friend, who purchased a museum membership for her family.

A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 6-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.