Museum of Life and Science: Awesome Kids Museum in Durham NC

Amy Hartle

We LOVE the Museum of Life and Science! In fact, after our first visit with a friend, I went online and purchased a family membership for us. Since then, we’ve been to the museum a dozen times. There’s so much to do and we haven’t even tackled all of it yet.

I want to tell you all about the Museum of Life + Science and why it’s one of my favorite places to go with kids in the Triangle. Here is what you can expect when you visit, and my personal recommendations, especially for visiting here with a toddler.

A visitor with a backpack approaches the 'Explore the Wild' entrance at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, framed by a serene woodland setting and a welcoming sign featuring a black bear image.

Museum Essentials: Ticket Prices, etc.

If you just want the nitty gritty details, let’s talk about those right off the bat.

Address: 433 W. Murray Avenue, Durham, NC 27704

Admission Prices:

Members – Free
General – $23
Seniors (Ages 65+) – $21
Children (Ages 3-12) – $18
Children (Ages 2 and under) – Free
U.S. Military (with ID) – $21

Open Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm

Durham Community Days: If you are a resident of Durham County, you can enjoy free admission to the museum on certain dates. Proof of residency is required. Each adult admitted can bring up to 5 children.

2024 Durham Community Days:

Thursday, February 22
Wednesday, March 6
Thursday, March 21
Tuesday, April 9
Sunday, April 21
Friday, May 3
Tuesday, May 21
Sunday, June 2
Tuesday, June 25

Official Museum Website:

About the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC

The museum first opened in 1946, and was then known as “The Children’s Museum.” Since then, it has grown and expanded tremendously into what it is today: an 84-acre campus housing dozens of exhibits, one of the largest butterfly conservatories on the East Coast, and an AZA-accredited zoo that is home to 60+ species.

This museum is massive, offering both indoor and outdoor things to do. While the museum is definitely geared towards children, adults can have a great experience here as well. There is plenty to engage the grown-up mind alongside those of the littles!

Interactive exhibit space at the children's museum in Durham, NC, with a 'TINKER LAB' sign, featuring hands-on learning stations and a projected geometric display on the ceiling, inviting creative exploration and educational play

Indoor Exhibits at the Museum

The Indoor Exhibits at the Museum of Life and Science include:

  • Weather
  • Aerospace
  • Carolina Wildlife
  • Butterfly House
  • Flip It, Fold It, Figure It Out
  • Insectarium
  • Launch Lab
  • Leafcutter Ants
  • Investigate Health!
  • Math Moves
  • The Lab
  • Play to Learn
  • TinkerLab

As of now, with a 22 month old, we have not spent time in all of these indoor exhibits. Some of them, such as Aerospace, haven’t interested Malcolm much yet. However, this is one of the exhibits I think adults will find most fascinating! Here you can see some cool artifacts of space travel, including the Mercury-Atlas 5, the first American spacecraft to orbit the Earth carrying a passenger. That passenger was a chimpanzee named Enos.

Exhibit at a children's museum in Durham, NC, showcasing a large geometric satellite model with golden elements, set against the backdrop of a space-themed display and interactive learning stations.

We have explored the Carolina Wildlife exhibit, our favorite residents being the adorably tiny American Alligators swimming in their pond.

The Insectarium is also a popular spot. I’ve brought my young adopted siblings to the museum with us a few times (ages 6 and 7) and they love observing the exotic insects. As for mom, well, I’ll pass on the hissing cockroaches and herd us instead into the adjacent Butterfly House.

Tranquil walkway inside the Museum of Life and Science Butterfly House in Durham, NC, featuring a rich array of green plants and a sunlit glass atrium overhead, inviting visitors to a serene, natural escape.

The Butterfly House is lovely. It’s a warm, tropical respite on a chilly day, and it is a serene place to watch dozens of colorful butterflies flapping through the air. If you are lucky, quiet, and still, you just might have a butterfly grace you by alighting on your shoulder, hand, or even head!

A toddler gazes curiously at a delicate butterfly perched on a visitor's hand in the Museum of Life and Science Butterfly House in Durham, NC, highlighting a magical moment of interaction with nature

Play to Learn – The Indoor Playground for Young Kids

In this guide to the Museum of Life and Science, I want to spend some time talking specifically about the indoor play space. This is called Play to Learn and it is a wonderful area for children under 5 to play and explore.

Colorful indoor playground at a facility in Durham, NC, featuring a wall-mounted ball track and interactive play areas with educational elements designed for children's creative learning and play

We have been here many times; in fact we began coming here when Malcolm was not yet walking, and he would crawl around the Gentle Zone, the infant and toddler space. Gradually, I have watched him gain skills and grow up in this space. Now he tackles the steps and the slide with ease, and eventually, we left the Gentle Zone to investigate the other kids’ activities.

Now, his absolute favorite activity is Ball Play, where he can roll, drop, and bounce balls along a series of obstacles. He may not know it, but Malcolm is learning about physics and gravity!

A young child engages with an interactive exhibit at an indoor play space in Durham, NC, with hands-on activities designed to stimulate learning and physical development in a playful environment
Two young children play together at a circular activity table in a Durham, NC, venue, which is one of the fun and educational things to do with kids in the area. The background is adorned with an interactive wall display featuring ball tracks and colorful patterns

We love the Gentle Zone. This shoes off area is a nice safe space for crawlers and beginning walkers. There is a mini-version of the Ball Play, too, so the littlest can explore that. There is plenty of seating space in here for Moms and Dads, although I always found myself sitting on the floor! Soft mats line one wall, where kiddos can attempt standing by holding onto a tiny ballet barre.

Toddlers enjoy playtime in a cheerful indoor play area, featuring a wooden playhouse with a red slide and a ramp, creating a lively and safe environment for young children to explore and interact
Malcolm, last year in the Gentle Zone

Outside of the Gentle Zone, the Building Section is another of our favorites. There are blocks and building mediums of all kinds, including extra large soft blocks, which seem to be beloved by all the kids.

In each section there are also some books you can read with your little one. It can be a welcome break from the busy activity.

A soft play area for kids with brightly colored foam blocks on a wooden floor, large round windows providing natural light, and educational wall art, creating a safe and inviting space for imaginative play and motor skill development.

My thoughts about this indoor playground as a toddler mom

I really like this indoor play area and it was one of the reasons I chose to get a membership to the Museum. The carpeted Gentle Zone was ideal for when Malcolm was moving from crawling to walking and it was a blissful indoor respite on hot summer days.

The overall Play to Learn space is clean, welcoming, and the perfect size. Malcolm can run all over the room and I can still have him in my sights. I appreciate that this space is 5 and under, as that means we don’t have to worry so much about “big kids.”

Children engage in playful learning at a kids' museum in Durham, with interactive exhibits, foam building blocks, and colorful, informative displays, providing a dynamic environment for educational play and discovery.

This area can get quite busy, however. I’ve come to accept that this is just par for the course in the Raleigh area; we live in a busy, growing area, so all the best things are going to attract crowds. But that said, you may wonder when is the Museum of Science the least crowded? While I have no crystal ball to predict this with accuracy, I have found that mornings are the most crowded in the Play and Learn section, even on weekdays. We’ve had the best luck having the space to ourselves in afternoon hours, from 3pm-5pm on weekdays.

Bear in mind that weather affects this as well. If it’s sweltering hot or pouring rain, the indoor spaces are far busier. When the weather is fair, guests tend to spread out over the museum’s massive acreage and it feels far less busy!

Spacious and modern children's playroom with colorful foam blocks scattered across the floor, large circular windows, and educational wall graphics, providing a bright and inviting space for interactive learning and play.

Other things to know: There is a single bathroom that can be accessed from the children’s area, as well as a curtained changing table space. There is also ample “stroller parking” at the entrance to the exhibit.

Outdoor Exhibits at the Museum

There are so many things to do at the Museum of Life and Science outside that I don’t even think I have seen the entire property!

The Outdoor Exhibits include:

  • Catch the Wind
  • Dinosaur Trail
  • Earth Moves
  • Explore the Wild: Black Bears
  • Explore the Wild: Lemurs & Tortoises
  • Explore the Wild: Red Wolves
  • Explore the Wild: Wetland
  • Gateway Park
  • Hideaway Woods
  • Into the Mist
  • Sound Garden
  • The Farmyard
  • Wander Away
  • The Train

The Train, aka the Ellerbe Creek Railway, is definitely one of the most popular activities for kids at the Museum. And it’s a lot of fun! Each trip is two rides around the track, and includes sightings of dinosaurs, passing through a tunnel, and enjoying the pleasant “toot toot” of the train horn!

A heartwarming moment as a grandmother and toddler enjoy a train ride surrounded by the serene woods at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, capturing a family experience at the educational attraction
My mom and my son on the train

The Train is an additional cost to your entry ticket, however, and these are sold at the front desk daily on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ticket prices are $4 per person for members and $5.50 per person for non members. Children under 2 are free when riding on an adult’s lap.

We don’t ride the train every time we come to the museum, but if it’s on your list, make sure to get your tickets and reserve a ride at the front desk. These spaces seem to fill up quickly!

When exploring the outdoor part of the museum, come prepared to walk. Things are spread out here, and you will likely want to bring your stroller along for younger kiddos.

Walking along the Dinosaur Trail is lots of fun, as kids love spotting the gigantic dinosaurs set into the brush.

Two fluffy, brown cows stand beside a vibrant red barn within a fenced enclosure, showcasing a slice of farm life against a backdrop of leafy trees under a clear blue sky.

And non-extinct animals are also to be found, in the Farmyard and in the various Explore the Wild exhibits. We love the silly lemurs; it’s lots of fun watching them swing and climb through their treetop exhibit with their iconic long tails.

The black bears are also cool to see, if you can catch them awake! On a recent visit one of the newest additions to the bear clan was exploring his new enclosure, so we saw him pacing right up close! Very exciting!

A solitary black bear explores a rocky outcrop beside a small waterfall within a naturalistic habitat, surrounded by the bare branches of trees and the tranquil sounds of flowing water.

And then there are all the interactive exhibits, like Hideaway Woods with its impressive Treehouse Village and Into the Mist, where you’re sure to get wet! These are ones we haven’t explored as much yet, but we plan to this spring and summer!

Programs, Camps, Parties, + Events

In addition to all the neat exhibits and activities, the museum has a full calendar of special events, camps, classes, and you can even have your birthday party there!

They occasionally do “After Hours” events geared toward adults, which is a nice way to experience the museum in a unique way. Kids can also hang out at the museum on Kids Night Out, so Mom and Dad can enjoy a much-needed date night while the kiddos spend 3 fun hours at the museum.

Is Membership to the Museum of Life and Science Worth It?

If you live fairly close to the museum (we are within 20 minutes), I absolutely think the membership is worth it. It could even be worth it if you live farther away. The membership pays for itself in only a couple of visits, so if you plan on going even 2 or 3 times per year, it may be worth looking into.

We’ve taken advantage of the membership for the last several months, and have especially enjoyed having the plan that allows us to bring guests. I’ve brought several extended family members, and it is such a treat to be able to bring friends and family visiting the Triangle area to such a cool museum (for free!)

If you have school-aged kids, membership has the benefit of giving discounts on summer camps and other programs.

Finally, your membership offers reciprocity with certain zoos and museums all over the United States. My family took advantage of this on a recent visit to Boston, where we toured the Museum of Science for free. That saved us $48, which I think is amazing.

You can read all about the membership benefits here.

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