Once the balmy winter retreat of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates now lets visitors roam through 20 acres of gorgeous gardens, historical buildings, and fascinating scientific exhibits. In the course of an hour, a fact-filled science sherpa will lead groups through the environment that incubated some of America's greatest inventions, including the light bulb, the modern automobile, and the fruit tree. Hands-on exhibits spark wide-eyed excitement in adults and offspring and grand-offspring alike as they hear the ghostly sounds of an original phonograph, pick up a short shift on a Model T assembly line, or create a bouncy, stretchable polymer to take home and use to cover the sinkhole in the kitchen. Finally, each party will be set loose with an orientation session, map, and self-guided audio tour to explore the entirety of both homes, the gardens, and the Edison Botanic Research Laboratory at its own pace.
The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum's colorful exhibits and collection of rare specimens entertain and educate visitors on a wide range of nature's shell-encased organisms. The multi-chambered museum houses about 150,000 lots of mollusks from all over the world and 28 exhibits that give museum goers a glimpse at notable shell collections, fossilized shells from Florida, and humans' use of shells throughout history. Inside the exhibit Calusa: the Original Shell People sits a life-sized statue depicting a father showing his son how to use tools fashioned from scavenged shells. A short walk across the building takes patrons to the Children's Learning Lab, where interactive displays, games, and a live shell tank prove to youngsters that shells don't only exist in mermaids' underwear drawers.
The Holocaust Museum & Education Center of Southwest Florida traces its origins back to a middle-school classroom exhibit curated by teachers and their students. More than a decade since its opening, the museum’s modest initial exhibit has expanded into a permanent collection of more than 1,000 artifacts and original photos from the Holocaust and World War II, arranged chronologically from Nazism's rise to the Nuremberg Trials. In addition to these historical artifacts—a majority of which have been donated or loaned by local survivors and liberators—the museum regularly hosts special exhibits and tours.
On loan to the Museum from the Nortman Family is a 10-ton railway boxcar from the Holocaust era, which travels to local schools as part of an exhibition known as the Boxcar Transportation & Education Project. Additional educational programs include talks from survivors and liberators, teacher training, and a film lecture series.
At Crowley Museum and Nature Center, a pioneer museum set up like a general store, historic structures, and a sugar-cane mill depict a Florida homestead as it would have existed between 1850 and 1920. At the heart of the homestead is the Tatum-Rawls House, which was built as a single-story house between 1888 and 1892, and is the oldest example of rural architecture in Florida. Over time, it was expanded to accommodate the Tatum clan, by the addition of a second floor, consisting of William Tatum and his wife and eight children, and was recently restored to its original glory with a wide front porch. Elsewhere on the 185-acre expanse, the Crowley Farm continues to pluck away at the land with pigs, cows, and a horse named Sugar who pulls the cane press to make the juice that is later boiled to syrup crystals. Boardwalks and nature trails traverse the delicate swamp, flat woods, and Tatum Sawgrass marsh that contain a variety of wildlife species including white pelicans, swallowtail kites, and eagles.
Stingrays, dinosaurs, and faux hurricanes can all be found at the Imaginarium Science Center, which soaks spongy young brains in knowledge via hands-on exhibits and 3-D movies about the natural world. Families can observe moray eels and other marine life in the Window to the Sea aquarium, or reach out to gentle stingrays in an open tank. Several daily shows with live animals compete for attention with a dino dig where patrons learn how archeologists excavate fossilized bones using nothing but the power of their minds. Kids can emulate their favorite sports heroes in the Sporty Science Arena simulator, then imitate their favorite TV weather-reporting heroes as they witness a simulated hurricane.