The Commonwealth of Virginia is blessed with an uncommon wealth of natural wonders more diverse than most other parts of the country. At the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, this abundance of natural heritage is on display in interactive living exhibits that feature furry, feathered and finned animals from the mountains to the sea.
Inside, visitors will find a variety of Virginia ecosystems, among them the Coastal Plain Gallery, where there’s a massive 30,000-gallon tank swimming with sea creatures. In the Piedmont and Mountains Gallery, visitors can view fish, turtles and swift-climbing red squirrels, while nocturnal animals such as bats, tree frogs, jellyfish and pine voles can be spotted within the Virginia’s World of Darkness Gallery. In the Virginia Underground Gallery, there’s shiny gems, ancient fossils and cave critters on display, and in the Cypress Swamp, a recreated Virginia wetland houses alligators, fish and turtles. But that’s not all to see or even hear, as in the Appalachian Cove environment guests can listen to the sound of a mountain stream and spy some free-flying birds.
Besides the impressive geographies, the Virginia Living Museum has many kid-friendly displays that provide opportunities for animal encounters and imaginative play. “Hands-on discovery centers challenge children to interactively role-play as an animal keeper, a veterinarian or a paleontologist,” says Judy Triska, the museum’s marketing director.
The museum offers even more outside of its walls. While strolling along the 3/4 mile boardwalk, museum-goers can steal a peek at the red wolves, one of the world’s most endangered creatures, and then check out other outdoor animal habitats, which include beavers, river otters, bald eagles, wild turkeys, foxes, skunks, bobcats and coyotes.
Though it doesn’t feature living beasts, there’s a Dinosaur Discovery trail starring notable dinosaur replicas. Here, find not only unique photo opportunities, but also a chance for children to try their hand at excavating “dinosaur bones” while camping out in rustic cabins.
Once done exploring land and sea, guests can look upward and take in daytime observations of the sun, planets and other galactic wonders in the Abbitt Observatory. Those that aren’t quite ready for the fun to end can extend their adventure by purchasing a ticket to a regularly scheduled full-dome planetarium show.
After all that exploring, guests can top off the day by either grabbing a snack from the museum cafe or venturing down the road to the family-owned Harpoon Larry’s Fish House and Oyster Bar, which offers fresh seafood in a lively, eclectic atmosphere.
“Families are surprised at all there is to experience at the Virginia Living Museum,” says Triska. “Exhibit signage is easy to read and interpret. Indoor and outdoor exhibits feature over 245 species of mammals, birds and fish. We make learning fun.”
Virginia Living Museum
524 J. Clyde Morris Blvd., Newport News
Open daily 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Dec. 24, 25 and Jan. 1