If you’ve been in the Quad Cities for any length of time, chances are you are familiar with the Quad City Botanical Center, Niabi Zoo and Putnam Museum.
These are three premier locations for kids and families in our area, and for good reason. They are jam-packed with awesome ways to entertain kids and adults. There is something going on all year long – in the heat of summer as well as the cold of winter (and every day in between).
But what if I told you there are spots in these area hot spots that most people (even life-long Quad Citians like me) don’t know about?
That’s why I’m excited to be sharing a list of 10 hidden gems to check out at these three locations. I hope it’s a good reminder that there is always an opportunity to explore something new.
And bonus – these three locations are part of the FunBundle, a pass that gives your family entry into all three locations all-year long. And by bundling them together, you save 20 percent on family memberships.
And guess what? One QCMB reader has the chance to win their own FunBundle today. (Details at the end of this post.)
But first … here are 10 hidden gems you may have missed. Bookmark this page and refer to it on your next visits. And chime in with your favorite hidden gem at any of these three locations.
FIRST STOP – QUAD CITY BOTANICAL CENTER
If you haven’t made a trip to the Botanical Center recently, you don’t know what you are missing! It’s a true oasis for kids and adults. In the summer, it can easily fill an entire day outdoors. And in the winter, it’s a place to escape to a tropical paradise. (Did you know they have a sand play area in the indoor garden during the winter?)
Here are a few areas that you may have missed …
1. Child-Size Delta and River
This has become my family’s very favorite place for water play in the Quad Cities. The water features are tucked back inside the beautiful and unique children’s garden.
This child-sized version of the Mississippi River, with a meandering shallow stream provides the opportunity for children to interact with water, people and the environment. Kids love the boat, the alligator and all the spraying water. And as you go further “up-river,” don’t miss the opportunity for kids to interact with the water and create a dam.
2. Children’s Obstacle Course
Just beyond the water features is a fun new obstacle course for kids.
My son loved going through these obstacles – reading the instructions and figuring out how to complete them on his own. Bowling, potting flowers, and more. And there are plenty of great environmental learning opportunities. As a bonus, much of the area is created from recycled and upcycled materials, proving that it can be beautiful and Earth-friendly.
3. The Woodland Garden
As you head into the Children’s Garden and water play area (which you definitely should do), there is a cute little playhouse that kids love to explore.
But did you know that there’s a woodland garden right behind the playhouse, which often gets passed by? It is one of the only areas at the center that kids can actually pass under trees without walking over other plants. There’s also a small table and chairs set up under a spruce tree for reading, eating or most popular – hiding from parents.
NEXT UP – NIABI ZOO
Niabi Zoo is a Quad City staple, and most families have fond memories of giraffes, big cats and farm animals. But there are so many new and exciting things to see at Niabi. Every time we visit, we spot a new hidden treasure. Here are a few favorites you may have missed …
Animal Encounters are small-group, personalized experiences unlike anything else at the zoo. It’s one of the more pricey experiences ($40 for members and $50 for non-members) but totally worth it! Plus for non-members, the price includes admission to the zoo.
You can pick between doing an encounter with the big cats, giraffes, or NEW this year, the Bactrian camels and Aldabra tortoises. All of the experience are about 30-45 minutes and are exclusive to your group one-on-one with the zookeeper. The keepers are SO nice and knowledgeable, and they show you a training session with the animals (which is amazing!). After you get an up-close photo with the animal.
HINT: ALL of the encounters are cool. But if you’re looking for a more hands-on experience, go with the giraffe encounter or tortoise encounter. You’ll get to feed the giraffe and touch the tortoise shell. (Other experiences include big cats and Bactrian camel.)
Why is the giraffe’s tongue blue? Do you really train the zoo animals? What does a snow leopard eat? Is that an Amazon box in the leopard cage? What is that for?
Ask all these questions and more at Niabi’s daily Zookeeper Chats. Chats happen two times per day at noon and 3 p.m. – best of all, they are FREE. Make sure to check the Zookeeper Chat schedule when planning your next visit to the zoo.
For example, we recently had the opportunity to check out the reptile feeding time zoo keeper chat. It was interesting to see the snakes get fed (rats). And then my son had the chance to ask the zookeeper about what the different snakes like to eat and how they are cared for.
This is educational and totally fun!
Breakfast with the Animals features a different animal every month and the experience differs slightly depending on which one you attend. You can always expect a warm breakfast buffet and a very comprehensive program lead by a zoo educator or zookeeper and some kind of behind the scenes tour or up close animal encounter!
The price is $20 for zoo members and $25 for non-members, but during the season that includes admission to the zoo so really it ends up being around $10 per person which is a steal for the full experience plus the meal! (Did we mention in December there is Breakfast with SANTA complete with a meet-and-greet with the big guy himself and Mrs. Clause? Plus a ride on the “polar express” AKA Niabi Zoo express train!)
Right up there with the train and carousel – the parakeet feeding is a MUST DO! New in 2017, Niabi brought in over 150 parakeets which you can feed from a seed stick in your hand. They energy of these colorful little guys is well worth the $3 and the zookeepers in the area are very helpful and knowledgeable.
This is my son’s very favorite experience at the zoo – and it’s pretty fun for mom and dad to see those cute little birds eating, too.
FINAL STOP – THE PUTNAM MUSEUM
The Putnam Museum has so many amazing educational opportunities for kids and adults. The Science Center is truly a place that every child in the Quad Cities should explore, but that’s only the beginning. There are exhibits for every interest and age. Here are a few you may have missed …
8. Water: Molecules in Motion – NOW OPEN!
The weather is wonderful, the sun is shining and it is a perfect day to come enjoy the NEW Science Center outdoor exhibit – Water: Molecules in Motion!
The exhibit features tanks filled with water, plant life, vegetation and fish as well as an interactive watershed table perfect for kids of all ages! Visitors will learn a variety of water-related careers that are highlighted and about ways we can impact water quality here and now in our daily lives.
My son especially likes the opportunity to spot aquatic life inside aquariums.
9. Outdoor Dino Dig
Can you dig it? The Dino Dig is now OPEN for the season, and when you have a future paleontologist like we do, it’s the first and best spot. While you’re enjoying the beautiful weather outside, stop by for some hands-on fun searching for Dinosaur bones in the outdoor addition to the Science Center.
Brushes are provided, and shade and benches are also in abundant supply. Great for these hot summer days.
10. Augmented Reality
Have you ever waddled with the penguins? Or pet an orca? Now you can!
The newest Augmented Reality experience gives you a seaside look at playful animals in a 3D experience such as a beautiful orca and an easy going walrus as they splash and engage with the environment around you in “Ocean Adventure”. SOON TO COME: In August something BIG is coming to the Augmented Reality exhibit. J
TIME TO WIN
Now, are you ready for a chance to win your own FunBundle? This giveaway is an opportunity for one reader to get free admission to all three attractions for two adults and four children in a household.
Or purchase your own FunBundle here. (These make amazing gifts for the kid who has everything.)
Thanks to FunBundle QC for sponsoring today’s post and providing an awesome giveaway for one QCMB reader. We at QCMB love working with local organizations to share positive information and make our community a better place to live, work and play.