Families can find fun and science in Jacksonville

Education and fun rule at Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville

It takes a lot to entice me away from the boardwalk, fishing pier and 22 miles of beaches in Jacksonville, but there's an enormous city to explore beyond the sand.

On a recent visit, I explored the hub of museums, restaurants and walkways along the Main Street Bridge over the St. Johns River. It's only a few miles off Interstate 95 at exit 350)to the Museum of Science and History (themosh.org), a family-friendly stop that's educational with enough whimsical touches make the lessons fun.

The entertaining approach is apparent at the entrance to The Body Within, where visitors step through the gaping mouth of an enormous sideways face to explore exhibits on human anatomy. With bulging eyes and teeth the size of school lunch trays, the face looks like surplus from an old Nickelodeon game show.

Beyond the mouth, kids will enjoy a variety of hands-on opportunities to operate the digestive tract, the heart and other organs. It's a pretty noisy corridor, considering all the internal organs at work, but the mood is quieter in the nearby Florida Naturalist's Center, home to a variety of live animals.

The center offers the chance for up-close observation of owls, snakes, turtles and tortoises, among other creatures in a display that explains the essentials of their natural habitats. Other exhibits on the first-floor science museum showcase the history of energy production and explore the lifestyles of manatees and other underwater creatures.

Upstairs, Currents of Time is a walk-through history of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida with displays that recount a timeline from the ancient Timucua Indians, through the Spanish explorers and 20th Century struggles for Civil Rights. It doesn't unfold with the show-biz pop of the science displays, but adults will find the history stroll to be a dandy respite from the excited kids.

Upstairs also is home to a new traveling exhibit: Odyssey's Shipwreck! Pirates & Treasure features more than 500 artifacts recovered from famous shipwrecks, along with interactive displays that include a robotic arm to pick up treasure and a hurricane simulator to challenge a storm.

The museum is only a few minutes from an assortment of restaurants in Jacksonville's San Marco dining district. For breakfast or lunch, visit The Southern Grill (thesoutherngrilljax.com), a fixture since 1998.

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