If you love museums, don't you wish there was one place you could go spend the day, exploring a number of completely different museums, in pleasant surroundings? Well, that place is in Dallas, Texas, and it is called Fair Park. Easy light rail transportation (via Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Green Line, Fair Park Station), a number of bus routes, and proximity to downtown Dallas make access to Fair Park simple. Home of the Cotton Bowl and the State Fair of Texas, Fair Park has numerous events going on all year, from an Irish festival held the first weekend in March to the State Fair, held in late September to mid-October, the park is a 277-acre delight, with something to keep everyone interested. Just take a look at everything you can see at Fair Park!
The Hall of State -- This magnificent building, a prime example of Art Deco, or Secession, architecture, was built in 1936, and newly restored to its original glory. This building houses six bronze statues and a thirty foot by eighty foot mural depicting Texas heroes. The frieze on the outside of the building honours another fifty-nine Texas heroes. The state's historical archives are here, and the archives can be visited by appointment (for example, you can see Sam Houston's written account of the Battle of San Jacinto, the last battle in the Texas War for Independence from Mexico, here).
The Parry Avenue Gates -- restored for the opening of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Green Line Fair Park stop, these beautiful gates are graced with a pylon eighty-five feet high, and greeted fairgoers at the first fair held here in 1936.
The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future -- the brainchild of Cathy Bonner, this affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum opened in 2000, in what had been the city's first municipal coliseum (originally used for livestock shows at the Fair). You can explore the accomplishments of women in the history of the United States through interactive exhibits. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors and students ages 13 - 18, $3 for students ages 5 - 12, free for children under five years of age.
The D. A. R. building -- originally the Conoco Travel Bureau Hospitality House at the 1936 opening, this house, built to honour Mount Vernon, houses the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Texas Discovery Gardens -- Housed in what was originally the Horticulture Building, and since remodeled with a minimalist design, the Texas Discovery Gardens houses 345 kinds of native plants and has just opened a Butterfly House and Insectarium, where during appropriate times of the year, butterflies are released daily. The Texas Discovery Gardens has been certified to use 100% organic practices for maintaining its 7.5 acre facility. The Texas Discovery Gardens are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission to the Butterfly House (which includes access to the gardens) is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for children under twelve years of age, and free for children under three years of age. If you wish only to see the gardens, admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, and $2 for children under twelve years of age.
The Dallas Aquarium -- a beloved fixture, this museum was recently remodelled, and now has exhibits with a more child-friendly emphasis (there wasn't anything child-unfriendly before, it was merely intended more for adults). The aquarium is open from 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. 7 days a week, and admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and children ages 3-11 (discounts apply if you are a Dallas Zoo member). This building was originally the Christian Science Monitor building when it was opened in 1936.
The African-American Museum -- opened in 1979, the African-American Museum has four galleries devoted to African-American art, historical documents, and includes a research library and other exhibits, including live events. This museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, and admission is free.
The Museum of Nature and Science -- The merger of three separate cultural institutions: the former Science Place, the Dallas Children's Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, and once the home of the Dallas Fine Art Museum, this museum houses exhibits on dinosaurs, the human body, wildlife dioramas, a planetarium, a miniature farm, and many more exhibits, as well as travelling exhibits on loan from scientific institutions or other museums. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission to the museum exhibits is $10 for adults; $7 for children under twelve years of age; free for children under three years of age; $9 for students, ages 12 to 17, and seniors. Planetarium admission is $3.50 for everyone over three years of age. The Museum of Nature and Science also houses an IMAX theatre, and admission to the IMAX movie is $7 for adults, and $6 for everyone else. The Museum of Nature and Science plans a second location in Victory Park soon.
If this all sounds a bit expensive, not to worry! You can take advantage of the Fair Park passport, which will allow you unrestricted access to basic museum exhibits for ninety days, and costs only $24 for each adult and $14 for each child. (You will still have to pay the additional fees for the IMAX movie or the planetarium; these are not included on the Fair Park passport.) Or, if you live in the area, and are interested in one or more of these museums, you can ask about reciprocal memberships with other area museums. Usually a museum membership will allow free access to the permanent exhibits at the museum, and free or discounted memberships to certain other area museums, as well as discounted admission to special exhibits at both the museum of which you are a member and certain other area museums. Each museum has a different policy on reciprocal memberships, so check in advance.
While you're there, don't forget to check out the beautiful lagoon, where you can see turtles sunning themselves, as well as a number of different local wild species. Fair Park has plenty of restaurants, or you can picnic on the grounds if you prefer. Parking is free if you are visiting the Texas Discovery Gardens and park near there. So make your visit to Dallas, Texas a memorable one!
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