Local Color: One Museum. Triple the Fun.


When you’re vacationing in the Bradenton Area with young kids, lounging on our beaches for hours on end (as beautiful as they may be) isn’t quite realistic. You’re going to need a break from the sun – and luckily that doesn’t have to mean a break from the fun! Downtown Bradenton is home to The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, the most exciting museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast and a supercool way to score some shade or spend the rare rainy day.

exterior of The Bishop Museum of Science + Nature at dusk

And just why is it so exciting, you ask? Because aside from it being the area’s largest natural history museum, The Bishop is also home to a state-of-the-art planetarium for exploring astronomical wonders and the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat, where you can observe manatees up close and underwater.

“I have yet to hear of another institution anywhere in the world that has all three of those things,” says Ashley Waite, Director of Museum Experience. The museum takes pride in its “eclectic collection that appeals to everyone … so whether you’re super into fossils or archaeology or astronomy, we have something for you,” she adds.

three manatees in the aquarium at The Bishop Museum of Science + Nature

And that really is something for families looking to find an activity that will please a variety of interests and ages! Budding archaeologists are sure to dig the massive mastodon skeleton near the entrance. Future astronomers will be over the moon stargazing in the 50-foot, full-dome, dark-sky-like theater. And the next generation of marine biologists will be filled with inspiration, just watching those graceful manatees frolic about.

However the most popular attraction for families has to be The Bishop’s Mosaic Backyard Universe – or “Southwest Florida’s Coolest Backyard.” Here kids of all ages (and their grown-ups!) can explore the fascinating world of science and nature. The play space features a 30-foot, ADA-accessible Mighty Oak and Tree House Platform, decked out with telescopes and binoculars for looking out into space. A freshwater pond serves as a calming spot to watch tiny turtles and learn about their ecosystem. There’s even a giant cardboard box rocket ship for kids to climb aboard and take off on their own virtual adventures. It’s the perfect playground for the young and curious!

Families visiting on a weekend should check out the Backyard Science program, a hands-on learning opportunity for elementary-aged children. It’s included with admission and held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. They can also swing by for Tales Under the Tree, a science-themed story time under the Mighty Oak that takes place every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Priscilla the mastodon at the The The Bishop Museum of Science + Nature

With so much to see and do for explorers of all ages, The Bishop is a no-brainer for families to visit. Plus, the museum’s location makes it super easy to tack on some other family-friendly fun, too. “We not only have a lot to do here at The Bishop, but [also] we’re here in the middle of downtown, so you can … take a stroll on the Riverwalk or go grab some ice cream or catch lunch at one of the many restaurants out here. You can build a whole day in downtown Bradenton,” recommends Waite.

Ready for discovery? The Bishop is open six days a week, Tuesday through Saturday. Buy tickets, see what traveling exhibits are on display now, and plan ahead at bishopscience.org.