Some 250 living species, including animals, reptiles, plants, marine life, birds, and amphibians, all native to Virginia, thrive at the Virginia Living Museum. Located in Newport News, just north of Virginia Beach and bordered by the Chesapeake and Burwell bays, the museum offers exhibits, hands-on activities and discovery centers, and even introduces visitors to outer space with its planetarium and observatory, making a visit an exciting adventure for children and adults alike.
The facility, at 524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., has operated as a museum since 1966. It has been expanded over the years and was named the Virginia Living Museum in 1987 as a wildlife park, science museum, aquarium , botanical reserve and planetarium. Past and future come together at the museum, with fossilized dinosaur tracks in one exhibit and a futuristic “green” building known as the Goodson House in another.
The Goodson House is made of recycled materials, has a roof covered with living plants, gets its energy from solar panels and has geothermal pumps for heating and cooling. In order to inspire others, the museum has installed a computer kiosk where visitors calculate their carbon footprint.
Walk and explore natural habitats
Visitors to the museum can immerse themselves in various natural environments as they make their way through glass-covered habitats. At Appalachian Cove, a waterfall, mountain stream, and lake feature various fish and birds. In Cypress Swamp, visitors will see all kinds of swamp creatures, including an alligator and a snapping turtle.
The Coastal Plain Gallery takes a deep dive into the habitat of the Chesapeake Bay, where exhibits include the 30,000-gallon Noland Chesapeake Bay Aquarium, home to large sea creatures, and an underwater view of marine life that l can be found on wooden stilts under the ocean.
The Piedmont and Mountains Gallery is inspired by the James River in Richmond and teems with smallmouth bass, catfish, yellow perch, wood turtles and spotted turtles.
Suspended from the ceiling above the museum’s main staircase is a six-foot-diameter globe intended to show the earth as seen from space. Below, visitors will see a scientifically authentic replica of a dinosaur that is believed to have lived in Virginia 200 million years ago.
Dinosaurs are the focus of the Virginia Living Museum. Several years ago, he opened the Dinosaur Discovery Trail, an outdoor exhibit highlighting 16 dinosaurs that roamed the earth for more than 150 million years. Visitors can walk along the wooded trail to see dinosaurs from the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras, some of them life-size. Youngsters will surely be delighted to see a 16-foot-tall Brachiosaurus and a half-size T. rex. The trail includes a children’s playground, digging pits for amateur paleontologists, and exhibits of dinosaur fossils.
Fossils of other animals are found in the Virginia Underground Gallery, which shows a cross-section of the fossil layers found along the James River.
Children can play the role of animal guardians
The Virginia Living Museum offers several learning opportunities designed just for children, such as the Wild and Well program. In this section of the museum, kids can pretend to be animal sitters and help staff prepare food for the animals. There’s a play kitchen with food bins, animal diet cards and animal cages with soft toys. Youngsters can also pretend they are vets, using play props such as x-ray walls and stethoscopes.
Other kid-friendly activities include the Chesapeake Bay Touch Tank and the Children’s Garden. Designed for preschoolers, the garden’s natural playground features a hobbit house as well as plants that attract pollinators, plus lots of birds and butterfly caterpillars.
Look up into the planetarium and observatory
The museum’s Abbitt Planetarium is a 70-seat theater with a digital simulation that can project the sky as seen from anywhere on earth, according to the museum. The projection system allows internet access, allowing the planetarium to show real-time images of events in space, including NASA TV streaming. Various shows are held, and these vary according to the season. Open Friday through Sunday, the planetarium charges a $6 admission fee, plus museum admission. Star Party/Laser Nights are held the second Saturday night of each month and cost $8 to attend.
Meanwhile, for those interested in learning more about outer space, visitors to Abbitt Observatory can see daytime views of the sun as well as nighttime views of stars, planets, and galaxies. Stargazing takes place on the second Saturday evening of each month and is free. Use of the observatory and its 16-inch Meade Telescope depends on weather conditions.
Entrance to the museum is by timed admissions
The Virginia Living Museum offers timed entry, but once guests enter the facility, they can stay as long as they wish. Visitors without tickets are welcomed as space is available in timed admission slots. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Admission fee : Adults 13 and over, $23.95; children 3-12, $16.95; children two and under, free.
- Visits: Behind-the-scenes tours: aquarium, $20; Garden, $20; Live VIP exhibits, $30.