We hear plenty about Fair Park being a national treasure of art deco architecture. But historical buildings aside, Fair Park is just plain fun, offering enough attractions to exhaust even the most zealous tourist.

Oddly enough, it’s often the visitors from the burbs and beyond that give Fair Park a fair shake. On weekends, they drive in from Carrollton, McKinney, Lewisville and even from outside Dallas County. Bus-loads of students from school districts I didn’t know existed unload at Fair Park’s museums regularly on weekdays.

But when I ask neighborhood friends if they’ve been to Fair Parks lately, I usually get a response like “no, we’ve been meaning to see that exhibit at the Science Place, but…”

When quizzed further, these folks tell me they didn’t know Fair Park had a garden center, and no, they’ve never been to the Natural History Museum, the Aquarium or the Planetarium.

This from people who live just minutes away. Why?

Maybe it’s our proximity that keeps us from taking advantage of Fair Park’s offerings. We simply take for granted what’s in our backyard. Since Fair Park is so accessible, we know there’s always tomorrow or next weekend, to do the tourist bit. But time escapes us, and before we know it, that great exhibit will have moved on to another big city, and those spring flowers at the Dallas Horticulture Center will have long since bloomed.

So what are you waiting for? This spring, treat yourself to the following attractions at Fair Park.

Dallas Museum of Natural History

Now through June 2, you can learn all about butterflies through hands-on exhibits featuring videos, live butterflies, computers and more. This traveling exhibit is tri-lingual (French, Spanish and English) and appropriate for all ages.

Particularly noteworthy among the museum’s permanent exhibits is the Hall of Prehistoric Texas. Here, you’ll find real dinosaur skeletons discovered in Texas, including the largest prehistoric sea turtle skeleton in the United States.

The museum is open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children, seniors and students. Call 421-3466.

Science Place

Perhaps the most famous of Fair Park’s museums, and deservedly so, is the Science Place. The museum’s extensive permanent exhibits – exploring the laws of motion and sound in one wing, the human body in another – make learning fun. The secret? A plethora of hands-on exhibits that children, teens and adults find irresistible.

There’s always a hot touring exhibit. The current exhibit, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, targets children and closes May 5. Look for announcements of the next touring exhibit and for the grand opening of the new IMAX theater June 15.

The Science Place is open daily from 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children and seniors, and free for children under 3 years old. Call 428-5555.

Science Place Planetarium

Now through July 31, you can participate in “The Great Constellation Hunt,” an interactive star show. If you’re age 6 and older, you’ll receive a great freebie – a night sky chart to take home. Shows are weekdays at 2 p.m., and Saturdays at 1 and 2 p.m.

Through mid-May, you can see “Orion Rendezvous: A Star Trek Voyage of Discovery” on Saturdays at 3 p.m. Shows are $3 for adults and $1 for children with Science Place admission and $6 for adults and $3 for children without Science Place admission.

Call 428-5555 for information on either show.

Dallas Aquarium

Over the past three years, the Aquarium has undergone an $800,000 renovation project that culminated in its largest permanent exhibit: The Amazon Flooded Forest. The tank is nine feet tall and holds 10,500 gallons of water that support 20 species of fish found in the Amazon river. Don’t miss the five-minute video related to the Amazon exhibit.

Other aquarium highlights include an observation window to the breeding lab, which focuses on breeding endangered species of fish, such as the Barton Springs Salamander.

And here’s one more tip: the piranha and shark tanks are most exciting at feeding times. Call 670-6842 for the schedule.

Dallas Horticulture Center

This may be the most relaxing part of Fair Park – and it’s free.

Outdoors you’ll find beautifully manicured gardens featuring roses, herbs and seasonal flowers. If strolling the ground wears you out, perch on one of the benches lining a lovely walkway – it’s crowned by a majestic fountain and flanked with azaleas in early spring.

Bring a picnic, and enjoy a leisurely lunch. Rain or shine, you can slip into the glassed Balchly Conservatory, featuring a lush collection of African plants that thrive in this simulated tropical habitat. The conservatory is so beautiful that many a bride poses here for her portrait. They also book the grounds and the adjoining hall for receptions.

Call 428-7476 for details.

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