Welcome to a veritable treasure trove of learning and play. With equal amounts of fun indoors and out, the DMLS is an excellent choice for an outing no matter the weather. Inside you'll find a sound room, an extensive play area for toddlers (with separate quarters for those under two and those from 2-6), a large room stocked with blocks and tables, live animal displays, space, weather, geology, math and health exploration areas and a gift shop. Outside, there are "music" stations, a giant play structure with giant sandbox, a water play area, a caboose, a barnyard with live animals, a dinosaur trail, a wind exhibit, remote-controlled sailboats, and a pretty walking path that takes you by bears, wolves and lemurs. Additionally, there's a separate indoor butterfly garden/insect zoo complete with its own gift shop, in addition to a nice cafe. And did we mention the train? The museum offers programs and special exhibits as well.
What we like:
The museum is huge and has so much to explore that no child will ever complain of being bored. It's spacious, with plenty of open areas so even when it's busy, you don't feel too crowded. There's plenty to interest a wide, wide age range--you can enjoy it with a 6-month-old or a 10-year-old (or, um, a 29-year-old). The animals are very well-kept and always look comfortable. Best of all: if you're a Durham resident, you can visit the museum for free on Wednesdays after 1:00. Once you're hooked, buy the membership for $85.00, and enter free for a year (starting at 9:00 am, by the way, instead of the 10 am allotted to the general public). It's worth it.
What we would change:
At $12.50, the price admission is quite high, we thought, so it'd be hard to cough up that much money unless we could spend the whole day, which most people with napping kids can't. The free Wednesday afternoons get fairly crowded in inclement weather and in the summer when kids are out of school (however, at other times they're surprisingly manageable since the museum is so big and spread out).
How to find it:
The museum is in north Durham, not far from the hospital. Directions are provided on the website.
You'll find more photos on their website, but here are a few from our last visit (a dreary day in January)
A play stable in the toddler play area. A play kitchen is behind it. The horses are "ride"-able.
An inspiring room in which to build with blocks (or, my favorite, see what everyone else is building--there are usually some pretty structures!)
Indoor live animal displays
A weather exhibit area (fossil exhibits are in the background)
"Music" station with play structure in the background
Dinosaur trail, with Fossil Dig area in the background