Greensboro Science Center has been around since the 1950s, but it's making big strides toward becoming a major family destination in North Carolina.
This summer, the center opened the Carolina Sciquarium, a 22,000-square-foot aquarium where you can touch sting rays, watch penguins, follow a fishing cat and study creatures in a 90,000 gallon shark reef exhibit. It's the first phase of a three phase master plan aimed at turning the decades-old center into a place to travel to from across the state.
And it seems poised to do just that. In the first couple of months that the Sciquarium was open, more than 130,000 people visited the spot. In previous years, about 50 to 60 people would visit the center daily. Now those numbers are in the hundreds with as many as 600 people visiting on weekdays and 2,500 people on the weekends, said Glenn Dobrogosz, the center's executive director.
"The idea is to put Greensboro on the map for tourism other than just ACC basketball," Dobrogosz tells me.
The center opened in 1957 with the help of the Junior League of Greensboro. Today, the complex, with 30 acres and 100,000 square feet of building, includes the aquarium, a small outdoor zoo, the OmniSphere Theater and a museum with a variety of hands-on exhibits.
The aquarium isn't huge, but it does offer a unique opportunity to see aquatic creatures in the middle of our state. There are animals that live in and around water - the fishing cat from south and southeast Asia, otters, penguins, a two-toed sloth and tamarin - and sea creatures, including all kinds of fish, sting rays, shark, jelly fish and more. Destination: Greensboro Science Center
But that's just a small piece of what's here. The indoor exhibits focus on animals, health, dinosaurs, weather and all sorts of science-related subjects. There's a large indoor play space for young children to play. And the theater screens a series of kid-friendly, short films, perfect for a quick break in the action during a trip here.
The outdoor zoo is spacious. Kids can pet farm animals and see crocodiles, tigers, wolves and more.
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect during our visit there earlier this fall. Here in the Triangle, we're spoiled with Marbles Kids Museum, the Museum of Life and Science and the state history and natural science museums. I was pleasantly surprised. We spent most of the day there - from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. - and my kids, age 8 and 4, were engaged the entire time.
We spent most of our time in the Sciquarium. In the otter exhibit, the kids could stick their head into a dome to get a view of the action at otter level. At the 10 a.m. penguin feeding session, we watch penguins swallow fish whole as we learned more about their habitat and how they live. The girls gazed at the 90,000 tank. And they considered touching a sting ray.
Not only are there animals and creatures here, but you'll also find little pods where you can learn more about specific aquatic topics.
Then we ventured into the museum, which has seen some changes and upgrades over the decades, but still has some dated exhibits (case in point: the dinosaur exhibit).
The favorite section here for my preschooler was Kids Alley for kids ages 5 and under. We spent about an hour here as my older daughter and her grandma watched a movie in the theater. It's sort of like Marbles but on a smaller scale - there's a pretend market, kitchen, water table and more. I loved the bouncy airplane which several kids could sit on and bounce at the same time.
The zoo was our last stop. Some of the animals, including the wolves, were tricky to find in the exhibits. But my eagle-eyed older daughter found them all for us.
Dobrogosz tells me the dated features we saw, including Kids Alley and the dinosaur exhibit are all slated to get upgrades as part of the multi-phase project. In the spring, there are plans to open a giant ropes course in the zoo that will be able to accommodate 300 people a day. A third phase calls for doubling the size of the zoo, including making an orangutan conservation center a focal point.
Those are just more reasons to go back and visit.
The Greensboro Science Center is about 90 minutes from Raleigh. Admission is between $11.50 and $12.50. Kids two and under are free. There was plenty of parking when we got there at 9 a.m. just as the center opened, but I know this summer parking was at a premium because of the number of visitors traveling there to check out the new aquarium.
Check the website and watch my video with Dobrogosz to learn more.