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.
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.
Snakes slither in glass display cases, and lizards wriggle in the hands of trained handlers as they're held up in full view of a curious crowd. This is the scene as one of Repticon's presenters educates attendees on the biology, behavior, and typing speeds of exotic cold-blooded creatures at one of the year-round shows held in cities across the country. Reptile and amphibian breeders, scholars, and handlers engage audiences in lectures and demonstrations in the midst of live reptile exhibits, family activities, and displays for exotic-pet supplies. Presentations may focus on the genetics of large snake species, the specifics of exotic-pet care, and the effect that tiny hats have on the image of arachnids such as tarantulas, scorpions, and spiders.
The National Air, Sea and Space Foundation host events designed to dazzle spectators and educate the public on the awesome power of airplanes, ships, and spacecrafts. Eyes are drawn skyward during air shows as the supersonic U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds soar across the atmosphere, demonstrating awe-inspiring 360s and precise formations. On the sea, the foundation hosts cruises in a replica of the Nao Victoria, the 16th-century Spanish carrack that Magellan sailed around the world without once stopping to fill up the gas tank.
Co-organizers and instructors David Maki and Paul Rodino provide an extensive curriculum to help fledgling shutterbugs capture visual transcendence. Students can learn to adjust the aperture, shutter settings, lens toupee, and program modes on a digital SLR camera in the Photo 102 class, designed for novice shot snappers wielding their first single-lens-reflex devices. Photo 103 picks up where its predecessor leaves off, stirring in the finer points of image composition and properly lighting subjects to make them appear translucent. Classes vary from week to week, so keep checking the calendar; past courses have covered table-top studio lighting and communicating with lenses via conversational Latin.